Jalal Ud-din Rumi of Persia (1207-1273)

Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
Little more than a century after the death of Mohammed, Muslim armies had created a vast empire. The piety, poverty, and temperance of the first califs were replaced by luxury, power, and despotism. The empire was losing its connection with Islam. While the upper classes knew cultural splendor and extravagance, most of the populace lived in poverty and had few rights. At the height of this decadence, the Sufi movement voiced its protest.

Sufis risked imprisonment and even death in their opposition to materialism and tyranny. Orthodox Muslims considered Sufis a scandal because they rejected formalism in external ritual. While Sufis always maintained an outward connection with Islam, their doctrine began to embrace all religions.

Jalal Ud-din Rumi was born into a wealthy family in what is now Afghanistan. They slowly migrated southwestward into modern Turkey to escape Mongol invasions. As an adult he was standing one day by a goldbeater’s shop, repeating the name of God, when he was caught into ecstasy. He heard the name of God in every sound and began to whirl. Later he founded the Mevlevi Sufi Order, also known as Whirling Dervishes. His followers repeat, "There is no God but God" as they turn in circles. They empty their hearts of all but the thought of God and whirl in the ecstatic movement of God’s breath.

Rumi is often called the Sultan of Love. He taught that love flies into the divine presence, while philosophy and theology lag slowly along dusty roads. He is considered the greatest Sufi poet in the Persian language, and his book, the Hassawi, is called the Persian Koran.

In this icon Rumi wears the tall felt hat and turban of the Mevlevi Order. The gold circle he holds contains an endless repetition of "There is no God but God," in stylized script. His face is based on a miniature portrait from an old manuscript.


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