Apr 17 | Fire in the Wine Glass: A Journal for Ramadan

While working on the “Radical Love Journal” series in the season of Lent, I began corresponding with Radical Love author Omid Safi, professor at Duke University and scholar of all things Rumi. The pandemic has given him time to work on projects he has wanted to bring to fruition for many years, and one of them is an online course, “The Heart of Rumi’s Poetry.”

With his encouragement, I signed up. My experience with the Radical Love book and the necessary deepening of my spirituality in this strange time were only further reasons to do so.

It occurred to me as I began the work that the holy season of Ramadan was coming. Ramadan, the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is a month of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. I had been considering marking it in some way, and it seems now that I have the perfect opportunity to do so.

Cloistered in my home like so many of us, I sat at my computer to begin my new adventure, alongside some of whom Cem Aygodgu refers to as “Allah’s crazy ones,” to learn more about Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, one of (if not the) greatest mystical love poets of all time.

A great Sufi mystic, Rumi was born either in Afghanistan or Tajikistan to Persian-speaking parents. His father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, was a theologian, jurist, and mystic from Balkh, in Afghanistan. Rumi’s family profession for generations was preaching, and he continued this legacy.

Rumi had several influences besides his parents, chief among them the poet ‘Attar, whose work was quoted a few times in my Radical Love Journal. During childhood and adolescence, his family moved a lot in order to avoid trouble with the invading Mongol forces. Rumi met many Sufis in these travels and was formed by their wisdom. He passed through many places, including parts of Syria, before finally settling in Konya, Turkey, which is where Sherif Baba and Cem live, although he still traveled from time to time. Rumi inherited his father’s position as head of a religious school and was known as a preacher, teacher, and jurist.

In November of 1244, Rumi’s life changed forever when he met a dervish known as Shams-e Tabrizi. There are many stories of how they met and their deep, mystical friendship.

About four years after they met, Shams left and was never seen again. There are rumours that he may have been murdered. Whatever happened, Rumi was shattered, and spent a long time searching for him. During this time, he arrived in Damascus, and realized:

“Why should I seek? I am the same as He.

His essence speaks through me.

I have been looking for myself!”

Those who read the entry “Majnun on Fire” from my Radical Love Journal may remember Majnun’s ecstatic pronouncement: “I am Layla.” I did.

The rest of Rumi’s life was taken up in gathering students, who were drawn from all types of folks, many of them working class and rather uncouth, as Omid-jan explains (which is good news for those of us who fear our appropriateness as students of such an august teacher), and in writing truly stunning poetry. He spent twelve years dictating the Masnavi to his beloved student Hussam.

In December 1273, Rumi died in Konya, and was mourned by all, Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. He is buried there, beside his father, with the epitaph: “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”

The work of Omid-jan’s course is in exploring the Masnavi in sections of his arrangement. I’ll share my own reflections on the course, which follows selected passages, before, during, and after the month of Ramadan (it’s a twelve-week course).

To all who will be observing this holy month, blessings on your observances, and may the Creator, the Beneficent and endlessly Compassionate, be most pleased with you.

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