Mevlānā Djalal ad-Din Rūmi (1207-1277) and
Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī (1184-1247) by Mohamed el-Fers

“Mevlānā“ by Mohamed el-Fers (ISBN 90 5330 049 X)
© 1993 by Jan Mets Publishers, Amsterdam, used with permission author.

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Come, come, whoever you are, come again...
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale...
complaining of separations...

More than thousand words can tell...
Listen to the music... Listen to the reed...

It was the passion of love...
that mixed with the tune of the flute...
most intimate manifestation of profound mystic

Madonna reads Mevlana poems

English translations of Mevlana's poems read by actresses such as Madonna and Goldie Hawn were released in a CD. The influential New York Times newspaper stated that Oliver Stone wanted to make a film on the life of Mevlana and gave wide coverage to the commemorative ceremonies of Mevlana. The newspaper noted that Mevlana was one of the great mystics in the world and had millions of followers (Aksam December 30 1998)


On December 17th, 1273 AD, the universal genius and one of the greatest servants of humanity died at Konya. For the first and only time in history Moslems, Jews and Christians fought for the hounour to carrie him to his grave. His tomb and a monastery of the whirling dervishes are to be found to this day as sort of "museum" in Konya. Both Rumi's places of birth and death are significant in the spiritual history; Balkh for being where the Persian prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) is reputed to have died, and Konya the place where the great Sufi Ibn Arabi taught for a while.

Mevlānā Djalāl ad-Din Rūmi was born on September 30th 1207 in Balkh, in that time in an Iranian county called Khorassan (now Northern Afghanistan). In 1212-13 the family left Balk. In Nishapur (Iran) the young Mevlānā met the great Farid ed-Din Attar, who told his father `This son of yours will cause a stir in the world in a short time“ and presented him with a copy of his great work, the Esrarname (book of mysteries). After Baghdad and Karaman, the family arrived in Konya, where Rumi's father, a theologian and mystic, was called to a post.

According to a Phrygian legend Konya was the first city to be created after a deluge that had destroyed mankind. Konya has been inhabited from the most distant times; various archaeological finds have even pushed the dates of the city back to 7000 B.C. Around the middle of the 6th century B.C. the city became Persian. Its name comes from the Romans, and is apparently tied to an "icon". In the first century A.D. the city witnessed the Christian apostate of Paul and Barnabas who played an important role in the evangelization of this area. In the first half of the 3rd century, a church council was held in Konya, while the early Middle Ages witnessed the usual comings and goings of various peoples.

It was capital of the Seljuk sultans from the 11th century. On May 3, 1228 Mevlānā and his father arrived here from Balkh. After his fathers death, Mevlana took over his father's post as madrasa teacher , and began to teach a large group of students who gathered around him, and to preach to the people of Konya. His knowledge of the main 'madrasa' sciences of the time such as canonical jurisprudence, interpretation, tradition and theology was considerable, and he engaged in research into the philosophies of the leading Iranian, Indian and Arabic scholars of the day. He also knew Greek, and both read and interpreted the major classic philosophers. Before long, his madrasa became a centre of  learning, attracting some of the leading philosophers of the day, such as Kadi Siraceddin-i Urmevi, Shamseddin-i Mardini and Sadreddin-i Konevi.

Mevlana himself, highly respected among a formidable body of learned men, continued both to address popular audiences in the mosque, and to train students at the madrasa for some time. He became a leading authority on matters of jurisprudence, and was generally regarded with awe by all sections of society  it was at this time that his popular sermons were written down by his followers and inscribed in the seven part work entitled the Mecalis-i Seb'a.

Mevlana was widely loved by his contemporaries as a philosopher and a person of extraordinary intellectual maturity. He was, however, dissatisfied with the extent of his knowledge and understanding, and began gradually to move towards a mystic approach to philosophy which was to contribute much to esoteric notions of devotion in its dynamism.

On the 25th November , 1244, Mevlana left the madrasa as usual, tired and pensive at the end of the day. Mounting his ass, he made his way home, when suddenly the reins of his ass were grasped by a stranger who came face to face with him.

The figure was that of a crazed itinerate dervish, dressed in rags, with beard and hair knotted, an unkempt creature who stood, however, steadfast before Mevlana. As Mevlana stared at the strange figure, he asked ''Are you not Celaleddin of Balkh?'' and on receiving the reply, he went on... ''Tell me...'' asking Mevlana several questions.

The answers seemed to excite him greatly, as he grasped Mevlana's hands. This was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship between the dervish and Mevlana, who dismounted, taking the elderly man to his house. For days, even weeks, Mevlana did not return to the madrasa but remained with the dervish, deep in philosophical discussion. His new acquaintance was Shamseddin of Tabriz.

Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī (1184-1247)

According to Mevlānā he learned about everything from this wandering dervish. Called from Tabriz, but actually born in de district of Alfaristan, north of Tabriz.

He saw “this wild animal“ for the first time during a journey to Damascus. Without being able to speak a word with his later “Sultan al-Ma“shūkin“ (Prince of love). Rumi about yhis first encounter with Shams: "The God which I have worshipped all my life appeared to me today in human form."

In Damascus Mevlana lost trail, whatever he searched. But Shams wandered to Konya, where he arrived on 26 djumada II 642 (November 29, 1244).

According to some sources, Shams became a mystic at a tender age, and studied with a number of cheikhs. But unable to find the answers to his philosophical queries, he wandered from place to place, seeking out Sufis in every city he passed, searching for a guide to his spiritual ecstasy . Hearing at last of Mevlana Celaleddin, he was urged by an inner voice to go to Anatolia and meet the sage. Arriving in Konya he enquired after Mevlana at an inn, followed him and approached him on his way home one evening as has been said. Receiving from him the replies he had long sought, he engaged in long discussions with Mevlana, in whom he was convinced he had found the companion of his soul. For a long time after this first meeting, Mevlana and Shams became inseparable.

Mevlana's son, Sultan Veled describes the first meeting of the two sages, and thejr subsequent friendship in his work the ibtidaname as follows: "Shamseddin appeared, suddenly, and found Mevlana. He spoke to Mevlana of the philosophical heights of spiritual love. He drew back the curtain of esoteric devotion, bringing light to Mevlana's world. The shadow of Mevlana was dissolved in his light. At first all his followers were guided by Mevlana, and drew from him spiritual strength. Now, Mevlana was guided by Shams. Together they attained a vision of the graces of God." Through Shams spiritual guidance, Mevlana attained the ultimate level of mystical understanding of God. Shams, for him, was the manifestation of all that was of everlasting beauty. He was inebriated with the divine beauty in him, and Shams delighted in the extremity of his passion. He enlightened Mevlana by their discussions, and at the same time found in him the answers to questions of his own. In one of his lyric poems, Mevlana exclaims: "it was the time before dawn. In the sky rose a shining moon, it rose and stared at me. it hunted me as the hawk hunts its prey , rising with it into the sky . Rising with me into the heavenly spheres, it drew my soul from its human frame. In that sphere of spiritus, I was blind to all but the moon which bore me upwards.."

While Shams and Mevlana were engaged in such ecstatic exchanges, Konya was disturbed by the change in its great spiritual and philosophical leader. His sudden disappearance from the mosque and madrasa was incomprehensible to the majority of his followers. At first they were tolerant towards his new-found mystical relationship with Shams, but when their intimate discussions went on for weeks and months, some opposition was felt, some saying 'Who is this dervish named Shams that he takes him away from us to another sphere? He has distanced him from his followers, his students, from his books. Is he a magician or a sorcerer , what is he?' In time, Jealousy of Shams grew to a pitch among Mevlana's followers, some of whom began to threaten him, and finally one day in February, 1246, Shams disappeared quite without trace, as he had come. 

Mevlana was greatly distresses by Shams' sudden disappearance. He was left in a spiritual emptiness which he expressed in lyric poems full of longing for Shams. His only solace was in Sultan Veled, his son and the only one of his followers to sympathise with him. For several years nothing was heard of Shams until one of the dervishes, returning from a visit to Damascus, brought news of him, saying that he had seen him in Damascus. Mevlana immediately gave a letter to the dervish, and sent him back to Damascus to bring Shams to Konya. Shams, however , refused to come. Two more letters of invitation were sent without success. Finally Sultan Veled himself took the fourth letter to Shams (who was still in Damascus) to whom he repeated Mevlana's entreaties. Shams was finally persuaded to return with him.

On his return, Mevlana again closed the doors of the madrasa and engaged in long discussions with his spiritual mentor. He gave Kimya Hatun, his adopted daughter to Sems in marriage and ensconced him in a corner of the madrasa. Meanwhile those opposed to Shams renewed their schemes to remove him, this time drawing Mevlana's younger son, Alaeddin Celebi into their plots. They blamed Shams for the death, at an early age of his wife, Kimya Hatun. ''The poor girl died of grief'' they said... ''Who could bear this Shams?'' Plots against Shams began to take shape, and on the night of the 5 December, 1247, he was waylaid with great cunning, it is thought, and was never seen again. Hiding the truth from Mevlana, his followers tried to comfort him saying: ''Shams has gone again, but he will be back one day''.

Mevlana, however, was inconsolable. He gave himself up to mystic ritual-sema-and devotion. He wrote poetry in an ecstasy of grief an longing. In one such poem, he addresses Shams:

''Oh, the essence of a thousand rose gardens, you masked yourself from the jasmine. Oh my soul's essence, how did you hide yourself from me? The sky is filled with your light, so why do you hide yourself? This frame lives through you, so why do you hide? 

Oh, sultan of men, you have hidden from God's jealousy, you have hidden from men and women alike, for the beauty of your face overwhelms. Oh, light of the nine heavenly spheres, how can it be that you have surpassed the uppermost sphere, and yet you hide under a basin? True, you may hide from me, and from the two worlds, but how strange that you should hide from yourself, a moon beyond existance, you hide also from yourself.

Oh, star Canopus, even the sun, on sight of you, fades in ecstasy. And yet you hide even from Yemen. What is this? Be it a good omen, I pray. The musk of the land of the Tartars, in its fragrance, constantly expresses long life to all, and yet it cannot be seen. You are sultan of the skies and yet you hide from the ephemeral world. Oh, beloved of all confessed, you are so secreted that you have completely concealed yourself. You are so plain to see, this is more than concealment. Shams of Tabriz, you have fallen in the well, like Joseph. Oh, water of life, you hide yourself even from the rope.

Mevlana travelled to Damascus several times in search of Sems, but was unable to find him.

There are several stories of what happened with Shams. He was probably murdered (the story is not entirely clear) or just escaped that killing, fleeing back to far away territories.

Rumi never gave up the hope that one day Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī should pop-up again. But finally established him so firmly in his own heart that he discovered the spirit of Shams in his own body and wrote the following: ''Seekers, see what you will, him or me. See either him, or me, for I am him, and he is me''.

Rumi appears to have been transformed into a Master in his own right, to become one of the greatest minds in world history. In his own time he was one of the best known philosophers and regarded as one of the greatest mystics of Islam. But not at all of the orthodox type with his doctrine advocating unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.

Like Shams teached him Rūmi looked with the same eye on Muslim, Jew, Christian, Zarathustrian or non-believer a like. Rumi's fame spread and people came from all over the region to him. His peaceful and tolerant lessons and teaching has reached men and woman of all religions, sects, creeds, as well as the atheists.

While still mourning the loss of Shams, Mevlana was one day confronted with "another Shams" in the person of Selahaddin Zerkub Yagibasanoglu - a renowned goldsmith from Kamil near Beysehir.

One day, seeing Mevlana dancing in time to the rhythm of the hammers from his goldsmiths' workshop, he was greatly moved and became his follower. Mevlana praised him as ''cheikh of cheikhs, axis of the era, God's grace among men'', saying that the sun which set on the exfstance of Shams rose again in Selahaddin. His son Sultan Veled married to Selahaddin's daughter Fatma Hatun, sealing the bond between them with marital ties.

There followed a period of joyful and ecstatic devotion for Mevlana, during which he tried to rid himself of his longing for Shams in the enlightened wisdom of Selahaddin. Where he had previously used the synonym Shamseddin in his poetry, he now adopted the synonym Seyh Selahaddin. Selahaddin remained Mevlana's closest companion for ten years, until his death in 1258. He was buried beside the grave of the father of Mevlana.

Sometime after the death of Seyh Selahaddin, another figure emerged in Mevlana's Iife who was to inspire him to write his great work, the ''Mesnevi'', That person was Celebi Husameddin.

After the death of Shams and edge of love and faith, generous divine devotion, Selahaddin matured Selahaddin, Mevlana Celaleddin 'Husameddin." He effectively took his esoteric leanings, while gradually attained a level of mystical the place of Shams and Selahaddin for Husameddin was responsible for gnosis by which his early ecstasy Mevlana, So much so that he went encouraging the great was transformed into a state of nowhere without him, it was as it philosopher-poet to express the controlled, mature rapture, Celebi Shams had re-emerged in Husameddin, essence of his devotive notions in the Husameddin, observing this Shams had been responsible for six volume work, the Mesnevi, which developmentin his spiritualleader-pir, creating the sufic personality of was to be a work of great importance took it upon himself to translate this Mevlana, for nurturing his mystic self for mystic literature, mystical message, this naturity into communicable terms, so that the enlightenment Mevlana expressed in his person could betransferred to mankind in general. Mevlana's work, the Divan, an anthology of his poems, was completed by this time, and he began work on the Mesnevi on Celebi Husameddin's suggestion, presenting him with the first 18 verses, saying: "From now on I will recite and you will write the rest."

The years passed quickly. Mevlana, aged from toil, fasting and self-deprivation, fell ill during the winter of 1273, a particularly harsh winter during which Konya was struck by a number of earthquakes. News of his illness shook Konya. The ailing Mevlana was visited by the Selcuk Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhusrev III, and his viziers and emirs in turn. Two imperial physicians, Nahcivanli  Tabib Ekmelülüddin and Gazanferi were constantly at his bedside.  Mevlana, however, after lying ill for forty days, passed away. His son,  Sultan Veled, who was at his side to the last, took down his final verses he lay dying on the 17 December 1273:

"Go, go rest yourself, leave me alone. Stop this hopeless, helpless, grieving despair that paces and turns in the night. I struggle with waves of devotion from night to morning, night after  night. If you will, come and pardon me, or if you will, go and torment me".

His funeral was an extremely emotive occasion for the whole of and thinkers of the Islamic world was not merely a philosopher in the conventional sense. He explained his mistrust of conventional philosophy with the words: "The intellect has no explanation for the ecstasy of love. Only love itself can explain its own ecstasy and devotion in the true sense...

Members of all sects and of all inclinations were present. It was Sadreddin-i Konevi, one of the leading mystics and scholars, to lead the ceremony, but he was unable to speak and fainted as he rose to take this duties. Moslims quarreled with the Jews and Christians over the right to carrie the body to its resting place. But it became Kadi Siraceddin to lead the funeral procession that lasted the entire day. Alongside the road all people of Konya, ready to pay their last respects to one whom they considered one of mankind's greatest leaders. Mevlana was buried beside his father's grave.

His son and pupils organised the Mevlana or Mevlevi Order of The Whirling Dervishes and heralded Mevlānā“s grave with an architectural jewel of intense turquoise conical fluted dome.

In 1466-67 Konya was annexed by the Ottoman emperor Fatih Sultan Mehmet II. Many Ottoman rulers were inspired by the love of Mevlana.

After almost 7 centuries Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) as first president of the Turkish Republic, put an end to the existence of the Mevlānā-order. The dervishes and their lodges were considered dangerous centers of opposition to Atatürks plans with the leftovers of the scattered Ottoman Empire. Atatürk feared the mystics so much, that law 677 of 13 December 1925 forbids even the wearing of dervish costumes and the use of titles and descriptions as sheik, dervish, disciple, dede, ēelebi, seyyit, babalik, emir, nakip, halife, faldji, buyudjulur, ufurukēuluk etc.

Law 677 put a minimum of three months imprisonment and a fine to people who are called by any of the mentioned mystical names and those who serve them. Only recenty in our days died the last direct descendent of Rumi: Dr. Celaleddin Bakir Celebi, the 21st generation successor and 32nd family member to hold the post of head of the order.

As said, under Atatürk the order was abolished and the headcentre in Konya transformed into a museum.

The 13th century Mevlana mausoleum with its mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters and school, and tombs of various leading adherents of the Mevlevi order continue to this day to draw pilgrims from all parts of the Muslim world as well as from the non-Muslim world.

In the center of the dancing room is a hat (serpush) and a kerchief of Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī exposed. Outstanding among the innumerable objects within this Monastery-Mausoleum-Museum are the Manuscripts of the Mesnevi, that great a mystic epic poem by Mevlānā, and of his masterpiece, the Divan el-Kebir.

Throughout the Islamic world are several türbes claiming to be the grave of Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī, the Master of Mevlānā. One of them was discovered in Konya . Strange stories go around that grave of Shams. One of them is that it is not the restingplace of Shams but the original burialsite of no one less than Hercules, a Greek halfgod. Anyway, the room where Shams once lived is now the mosque, next to which that grave is located.


* Text from “Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī“ from the manuscripts of Mevlānā Djalal ad-Din Rūmi and “Makalat“by Shams ad-Dīn Tabrīzī. © 2000 by Mohamed el-Fers. .
All other text and illustration from “Mevlānā“ by Mohamed el-Fers (ISBN 90 5330 049 X)
© 1993 by Jan Mets Publishers, Amsterdam, used with permission of the author.

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