Rumi was no suicide bomber

By Irfan Yusuf

I am Australian. My parents are from Delhi. My ancestry is Mughal. I am basically a Turko-Mongol. Or a Mongolian Turk. Depends on my mood.

My ancestors were not nice people. In fact, they were pretty damned awful. The Mongols turned war crimes and terrorism into an art form and a sport, all at once. They plundered cities, burnt buildings, massacred men and children and raped women before killing them.

Mongol atrocities make my hair stand on end when I read about them. They used to grab infants and babies by the feet and smash them against the wall to make their skulls crack open. They used to cut foetuses out of the wombs of mothers using swords. These were sick people.

When they reached Baghdad, it was the London or New York of its day. They just decimated the place. Baghdad was a city boasting thousands of libraries. Virtually all books were burnt. Jews and Muslims fled to India and other places.

The Mongols were my ancestors. Comparable to the Coalition forces in Iraq? Comparable to the Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza? Worse. Much worse.

My grandfather was a lawyer. He is one of my heroes, though I never met him. Actually, my greatest hero was also a lawyer. His name was Jalal ad-Din.

Jalal ad-Din was born in a place called Balkh, now in modern day Afghanistan on 30 September 1207. As a young boy, he was exposed to the horrors of the Mongol invasion. His parents fled with him to the safety of a city called Konya in what is now Turkey.

Jalal saw his family members and friends butchered as he was fleeing the Mongols. He was among a large group of asylum seekers that arrived in Konya, then the capital of the Seljuk Turkish Empire. Jalal’s father was a lawyer, and Jalal was trained to be a lawyer.

And he was no ordinary lawyer. Jalal had a phenomenal intellect. He was an awesome writer, a great judge and a brilliant teacher. He was perhaps the greatest lawyer of his time. He was a senior judge, a professor of law and had thousands of students. He also received a generous stipend from the state, a house and servants. Jalal lived the highlife.

Then at age 37, at the height of his career, Jalal met a man who … um … I’m not exactly sure what the man did. The man’s name was Shums. He was an asylum seeker from a place called Tabriz, a city also ravaged by the Mongols. Who knows what horrors Shums had seen. He was old and dishevelled. Most people in Konya looked upon Shums with disdain, especially when he made an appearance in the esteemed presence of Professor Jalal ad-Din.

The Professor didn’t see it that way. I believe one reason for this was that Professor Jalal ad-Din recognised the reasons behind the dishevelled appearance and the painful eyes. This man was a holocaust survivor, just as Jalal was.

But the people of that time were truly amazing. This man and Professor Jalal both had every reason to hate the Mongols. They had every reason to attack Mongol lands and terrorise the Mongol hordes. They even had the backing of powerful states.

These men had every reason to preach a theology of hatred. Instead, Professor Jalal learnt from Shums the message of divine love. That love was and is so powerful that to this day people of all faiths are benefiting from the message of Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi.

Yes, that Professor Jalal is none other than Rumi, the great Muslim mystical poet. He started out as an asylum seeker, rose to the top of the worldly ladder and then left it all behind temporarily to learn the message of divine love. Had he not joined the dishevelled Shums, he would have remained Professor Jalal.

But filled with divine love, he became the Mevlana, the spiritual leader of millions of people across the world. Now, almost 900 years after his birth, people are still discovering the Islam of surrendering to divine love through Rumi’s words.

Rumi returned from his spiritual retreats completely transformed. He taught and wrote with such force that his lengthy Mathnawi is often described as “the Persian Qur’an.”

Eventually the Mongols caught upto the region of Rum, the old Byzantine Roman heartland conquered by the Seljuks. One of Rumi’s students is believed to have set a noble example of kindness and generosity to the Mongol leader who felt inspired to adopt Islam. His entire army did the same. They settled down and intermarried with Turkish Muslims.

The ancestors of these converted Mongol Turks eventually came to India and conquered the place. Had they not been inspired to put down their weapons, the Mongols may have raped and pillaged as far as Paris or London. Instead, they founded one of the greatest and most tolerant Muslim civilisations India had ever witnessed.

So now, reader, you might be able to guess why Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi is my hero. He taught a message that was more powerful than all the suicide bombers and all the terrorist attacks in the world. He taught a message that defeated the enemies by transforming them into friends and brothers.

Rumi had every reason to hate the Mongols. They killed half his family. They almost killed his spiritual teacher Shums. But neither Shums nor his student were students of hatred, vengeance and violence. They were students of divine love.

If the Muslims of Rumi’s time could win over the Mongols, what is there to stop us living in the relative freedom of the West from winning over our countrymen and women? Filled with divine love, we can win over anyone with God’s permission.

Terror pushes the hearts away from God. Terror breeds hatred and more terror. But love is the divine magnet that drags people back to their Lord. Love turns your worst enemy into your bosom friend.

As Saul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to the people of Corinth:

If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I dole out all my goods, and if I deliver my body that I may boast but have not love, nothing I am profited.

Love is long suffering, love is kind, it is not jealous, love does not boast, it is not inflated. It is not discourteous, it is not selfish, it is not irritable, it does not enumerate the evil.It does not rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices in the truth

It covers all things, it has faith for all things, it hopes in all things, it endures in all things.

Love never falls in ruins; but whether prophecies, they will be abolished; or
tongues, they will cease; or knowledge, it will be superseded. For we know in part and we prophecy in part. But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will be superseded.

When I was an infant, I spoke as an infant, I reckoned as an infant; when I became [an adult], I abolished the things of the infant.

For now we see through a mirror in an enigma, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know as also I was fully known.

But now remains faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
And as Mevlana wrote in his Diwan-i-Shums:

Love means to reach for the sky and with every breath to tear a thousand veils.
Love means to step away from the ego, to open the eyes of inner vision and not to take this world so seriously.

Congratulations dear heart;
You have joined the circle of lovers, tell me in your own words when did this throbbing begin?

“I was absorbed in my work in this world but I never lost my longing for home.
One day, exhausted with no strength left, I was lifted suddenly by the grace of Love.
To describe this mustery there are no words”(translated by Maryam Mafi & Azima Melita Kolin)

Two men, one message. The time has come to use the weapons of divine love to win the hearts of our country men and women.

(This article is written for my noble sister Yasmin, may God lighten her burdens.)

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney-based lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. He is a columnist for the Australian Islamic Review, Online Opinion and He is also 1 of 3 Muslim Ambassadors for the 2005 White Ribbon Day campaign in Australia.


Khalid Anis Ansari


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