Rumi, Shams and Shab-i Arus

I was dead, yet became alive,
I was a tear yet became a smile,
I entered the ocean of love,
And reached the eternal happiness!

Rumi

Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, quddisa sirruh, and his family first settled in Konya. Later, during his thirties, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, traveled to Aleppo and Damascus for higher education. One day, as he was walking in the streets of the market place, a strange person approached him and said:

– Let me kiss your hand; O, the one who has the knowledge of the worlds!

He grabbed the hands of Rumi, quddisa sirruh, and kissed them with great respect and passion. Then, he suddenly disappeared in the crowd. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was shocked by this unexpected event. He was perplexed and greatly amazed by it. The enigmatic person had puzzled him.

Years later one day when Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was conversing with his students, in front of the school in Konya, after they had left class, he suddenly met the same person who had shocked him in Damascus long ago by kissing his hand. This man was named Shams al-Tabrizi, the sun of Tabriz. He also joined the circle around Rumi, quddisa sirruh, and, with great excitement, asked the following unusual question:

– Which one is greater, Prophet Muhammad Mustafa sallahu alaihi wa sallam or Bayazid al-Bistami?

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was terrified by such a question. He loudly retorted with fury:

– What kind of question is this? How can a Prophet, who was sent as a mercy to the worlds, be compared to a saint whose mere capital came from following that Prophet?

Shams al-Tabrizi calmly explained his question:

– Then why did Bayazid pray for Allah to make his body so vast that it would fill the entire Hellfire, thereby leaving no place for other sinners? Bayazid also said: “My glory is great! I glorify myself!” after having witnessed only a few divine manifestations while, on the other hand, the Prophet Muhammad sallahu alaihi wa sallam was continuously asking for more with great humility although he had witnessed endless divine manifestations?

This explanation brought Rumi, quddisa sirruh, to the last point on which reason could shed light and it was impossible for him to reply to the question from the position afforded by his current state of consciousness. Shams then pushed him further ahead from that point with the weapon of divine experience. What was beyond was the endless world of Allah’s presence. Shams thus took his interlocutor, who had been unaware of his spiritual station, on a journey towards the horizon of the spiritual world.

Under the impact of this sudden leap forward; Rumi, quddisa sirruh, replied with the following as if it was a matter of external or rational science he had earlier memorized:

– The words of Bayazid praising himself were an expression of saturation as his spiritual thirst had been satisfied by a limited divine manifestation. Consequently, his soul had no demand for more. His soul entered a state of ecstasy. The ocean was endless yet this had been the amount he could handle. On the other hand, Prophet Muhammad r was blessed with the secret of “Have We not caused thy bosom to dilate?” (Inshirah, 1).

He was surrounded by divine manifestations. Yet, his expanded heart never became satisfied. His thirst ever increased. The more he drank, the thirstier he became. He continuously moved on from one spiritual state to another and repented for being in the previous lower level. He said, “Every day, I ask for forgiveness from Allah seventy or a hundred times.” He asked his Glorious Lord for more intimacy at every subsequent moment. His passion was endless, yet the distance between the Lord and the servant was endless times endless. Consequently, he frequently sought refuge in Allah by praying: “O my Lord! I cannot know you the way you deserve to be known… I cannot worship you the way you deserve to be worshipped…”

The mission of Shams had been to elevate the understanding and insight of Rumi, quddisa sirruh, to a level that could not be reached by positive rational sciences. For this reason, he screamed with joy as he experienced the joy in expansion that arises when a person has crossed the threshold to a sublime goal. He fainted. This is how a current of light, which will last forever, was established between these two stars of the spiritual world.

Afterwards, the hidden ocean in the heart of Rumi, quddisa sirruh, remained in a continuous state of turbulence. From that moment forward, the heart of Rumi, quddisa sirruh, began burning as if it were a sea of petroleum that had been enflamed by a spark. This is how the Shams of Tabriz enflamed the heart of Rumi, quddisa sirruh, but he found himself witnessing an explosion in which he too was burned. From then on, their understandings and shares of divine knowledge became one.

After this event, we see that Rumi, quddisa sirruh, suddenly began living in ecstasy, despite his previous humble life as a teacher in the school, the madrasa. The mission of Shams of Tabriz had been to enflame this ocean of meaning.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, described his life, which consisted of three phases, in three words: “I was raw, I was cooked and I was burned!”

The last phases are called in tasawwuffanafillah” and “baqabillah.”

The servant who is at the level of “fanafillah” completely subdues his ego and surpasses all his mundane passions. At the level of “baqa billah,” the love of Allah prevails in the heart. Divine light illuminates the heart of the servant who reaches to this level.

What is a human being? A human being is a divine manifestation that has descended from the glory of Allah, which may be understood by the human mind only through exploring the reasons and pretexts in this world for multiple levels of manifestation. He is a world in himself embodying different manifestations. He is a living Qur’an. Yet, in comparison to his overall truth, what he understands is almost nothing.

It is a manifestation of the exceptional generosity of the Lord that some individuals are given the ability to approach the horizon of the glory of their human existence. Such individuals are assigned guides. Ordinary events filling hundreds of years of human history are unable to bury their exalted legacy. Shams was such a guide, and he took Rumi, quddisa sirruh, on a spiritual journey. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, would never forget his first experience of the world of divine presence. This world had been hidden in his heart and the remembrance of it was granted to him as a gift. He would always remember Shams with loyalty until the end of his life. In fact, he was beyond Shams. Perhaps, after this spark, Shams found himself to be a disciple of Rumi, quddisa sirruh.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, met Shams in Konya around the age of forty. He can be described before this meeting as a second Imam Ghazali.

Yunus mentioned Rumi, quddisa sirruh, as follows:

Rumi Hudawandighar (the King)!

Spared a gaze on us with the eye of his heart,

Since then his glorious gaze

Became the mirror of my heart!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was only a jurist in the first phase of his life. He was a specialist in law. He was a professor in the university (i.e. madrasa) with many students. He was wealthy. After he met Shams, he did not become a better jurist or a better lawyer. His level of proficiency in positive rational sciences did not change. Instead, he went beyond them.

What emerged after the meeting with Shams was the real Rumi, quddisa sirruh. He was a scholar before he met Shams, but after he met Shams, he became a sufi and a lover of Allah.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said, “There is no teacher like love!”

“I was raw,” he said, referring to the period during which he was merely a scholar. Yet, he described his next state as a lover of Allah also as a scholar with maturity and perfection.

***

The matter revolves around two questions. What did Shams teach Rumi, quddisa sirruh? What did he give him? The answer is that Shams taught him to free himself from the captivity of reason. This is because reason has limits beyond which would be insanity. However, there is no such limit for the heart and the point of its satisfaction is fanafillah.

Shams introduced Rumi, quddisa sirruh, to his own self and to the values he already had hidden within him. He did this for breaking the chain bound to Rumi’s foot. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was an eagle ready to fly. Shams released his foot and showed him the horizons of his heart.

Afterwards, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was bound to burn like a moth circling a flame. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, narrates his adventure with Shams in his Divan al-Kabir as follows:

“Shams said to Rumi, quddisa sirruh:

– You are a scholar, a leader, a guide, and an authority!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, answered:

– I am no longer the scholar, leader, and guide of the external world… I am one of the poor on a journey in the world beyond reason, lit by the torch you sparked.

Shams said again:

– You still maintain rational thinking! Since you could not go beyond reason, you are not a native of this region!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, responded:

– From now on, I will veil my mind with my heart… I became crazy… With your spiritual guidance, I became a native of this land.

Shams said:

– You still make calculations! You are not intoxicated with love! You are from outside of this world! This world is lit not by mind but by love. You cannot even see what is before you!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said to Shams:

– Since that moment, with your spiritual guidance, I became a fire from top to bottom entirely covered by love and ecstasy.

This time Shams said:

– You are the torch of this community! Your place is high.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said:

– From now on, my torch is extinguished. In my eye, it is no different from the May beetle. I am now walking under the light of other torches.

Shams said:

– You are not dead. You still maintain your external life. You cannot cross through this door like that to the other side. You have to completely abandon your mundane existence.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, answered:

– It was in the past. After I met you, I am no longer alive in the conventional sense. I have died as I have come across a new type of existence.

Shams said to him:

– You still rely on your ego at some points. You still maintain your position and titles. Free yourself from them.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, replied:

– From now on, I will be seeking position in the divine presence to which you are drawing me. I have abandoned my earlier existence and whatever belongs to it. I have surpassed it all.

Shams said:

– You still have arms and wings! Therefore, I cannot give you new arms and wings!

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, answered:

– From now on, I will break my arms and wings, so that I can become your arms and wings!”

At that moment, Shams was convinced that his mission was over as he had given him wings to travel to the horizons full of divine manifestations… And he left him alone in the world of blissful separation from the world of union.

***

Muslims gained strength with the conversion of Umar (r.a). Likewise, his mission regarding Rumi, quddisa sirruh, brought Shams maturity. Shams, unknown to people although he was the guide of the world, became renowned as a legendary figure after meeting Rumi, quddisa sirruh. The relationship between these two great masters archetypically reflected the relationship between a disciple and a guide.

The gift Shams gave to Rumi, quddisa sirruh, consisted of abstention, longing, and love, the best examples of which can be seen in the lives of Abu Bakr and Fatima (r.a).

Abu Bakr’s ecstasy increased in every meeting with the Prophet (pbuh). He felt an increasing love and longing for the Prophet (pbuh) even in his presence.

The crown of lovers and the mother of believers, Fatima, said after the journey of the Prophet (pbuh) to the next world: “When the Prophet (pbuh) traveled to the next world, such a great sorrow covered me that it would have changed the color of darkness if darkness had been afflicted by it.”

Likewise, when Shams died, the separation from him burned within Rumi, quddisa sirruh. The great Mathnawi with its twenty six thousand couplets was a consequence of this separation and longing.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, has beautifully illustrated the secret of separation as follows:

Listen to the flute that represents one with wisdom,

Drink the ecstasy of its complaints about separation.

The Mathnawi can be seen as poetry about separation. Since Noor-i Muhammadi (i.e. the light of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)) extended to Rumi, quddisa sirruh, through Shams, his death indeed was a great separation for Rumi, quddisa sirruh.

Since he was guided by Shams to the endless ocean of meaning, he longed for him all his life. He was like Majnun (i.e. the legendary lover who went crazy) whose destiny was to burn with love for Layla.

When someone said, “Shams is living”, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, gave him everything he had on him. His friends told him that it was a lie. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said to them:

– This is what I gave for the lie of it. If I were to hear true news of him, I would give my life.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, expressed the fire of separation in his heart as follows:

Why does my inner world cry and moan?

Who can sympathize with my pain?

Everyone listens to me according to his potential and inclination. The corrupt one understands me by combining what he hears with his own feelings. The traveler on the path of Allah increases in his spirituality and in the ecstasy of his feelings. The flute becomes a medicine for him.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, has articulated in the Mathnawi that it is his desire that those who listen to the flute reach through its voice to higher feelings. He said:

Listen to the flute what it is saying. It is disclosing the hidden secrets of Allah. Its face becomes pale, its inside is empty, its head is cut off, it is left only to the breath of the Nayzan (the one who blows the flute) and screams “Allah, Allah” without tongue or language.

The flute symbolizes the people of love and passion because it is uprooted from the riverbed, its chest is burned with fire, and holes are made in it. Metal rings are put around it as if it was a prisoner. Therefore, its color becomes pale and yellow.

For this reason, the flute, speaking with the language of the body, says:

“I was in the riverbed. My roots and heart were connected to the water and the soil. There, I was waving with happiness in the wind. Yet a time came, when they removed me from riverbed. They dried my body with the fire of love and made holes in it. They opened several wounds in my body. Later, they gave me to a person with a blessed breath. His warm breath passed through me and burned to dissolution everything except love. It melted me in itself. I began crying and disclosed all my secrets.

Briefly, my secrets turned to sounds. Yet those whose eyes, ears and hearts are closed are far removed and are deprived of these secrets.”

People are also like that.

They were also brought to this world from the divine world and put under the chains of being human. Their hearts were also burned and wounded by this separation.

Yet, this truth which exists in every human being becomes manifest when one becomes a perfect human, insan-i kamil. This means it becomes apparent at the level of the mind.

The perfect human is the one who sees divine wisdom and the flow of divine secrets everywhere he looks. Is it possible not to burn in the flames of love after witnessing divine secrets and divine art?

For this reason, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, lamented those who failed to become perfect humans and thus failed to rise to understand divine secrets. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, appeared as if he was on fire. Yunus, who was blessed with a similar experience, said:

I became a strange person,

No one comprehends my state,

I chant and I alone listen to myself,

No one understands my language.

My language is the language of birds,

My homeland is the country of the beloved,

I am a nightingale; my beloved is my rose,

To be sure, the color of my rose never fades.

In the same manner, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, expressed his feelings and his search to find consolation in the verse below:

The Seven Sleepers (Ashab al-Kahf) were put to sleep because they were surrounded by a senseless group of people who did not understand them. When a genuinely spiritual group of people emerged, they were awakened.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was so concerned with being correctly understood that he warned his readers in the introduction to the Mathnawi:

There is only permission to touch this Mathnawi for those who have a refined and clean heart and are acquainted with truth.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was, as many other travelers on the path of truth, disturbed by those who misunderstood his words and reported them wrongly. He warned them with the verses below:

As long as I carry this soul in my body,

I will remain a humble servant of the Qur’an,

I will be the soil of the path of the chosen Muhammad.

Whosoever incorrectly conveys my words,

Know that I am far from him and far from his words!

***

This great friend of Allah proclaimed that the night of his death would be the night of his wedding since on that night, he would be emancipated from this world of separation and his union with Allah would take place.

When you see my coffin being carried after my death, do not think that I have any worldly concern.

Never cry for me; never say ‘separation!’-‘separation!’ when I am buried,

The grave is a curtain, beyond which there is the tranquility of Paradise,

Have you not seen the sunset? Watch the sun rise, too. Can the sunset inflict any harm on the sun or on the moon?

Which seed did not grow after it was sown in the soil? Do not worry that the human seed will not grow.

Do not think that I am buried in the soil. There are Seven Heavens beneath my foot.

The soul of the author of these lines reached beyond doubt to his Lord, passing through Seven Heavens.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said in another poem:

O my soul mate! You carry a treasure hidden by the curtain of soil. There are hundreds of beautiful faces like Yusuf in that unseen world.

When the form of the body is buried, the form of the soul remains alone,

The form of the body is transient, but the form of the soul is permanent,

Indeed, death is the birth pain of the soul to another world. Its name is death regarding this transient world, but it is a birth relative to the eternal world.

Is not the one who takes the soul, Allah? To be sure, death is as sweet as sugar for the intimate servants of Allah.

Therefore, death is a rose garden and an elixir for the friends of Allah even if it looks like a fire.

What makes death look scary is the cage of the body. If you break it like the shell of the mother-of-pearl, you will see that death is as a pearl.

***

One of the most significant characteristics of the friends of Allah is that they burn with the love of Allah. In another verse, Rumi, quddisa sirruh, explained that the fire of separation from Allah in his soul would not be extinguished even by his death.

After I die, open my grave and see how smoke is rising from my shroud because of the fire in it.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, who lived in such a state of love, looked for similar lovers during his lifetime:

I need a love in which the world should be dismantled in fire, and even the fire of your heart should turn the fire into dust! The heavens should look at its light, which is brighter than the sun, and say ‘Mashallah!’, ‘Mashallah!’ (fantastic!)

Similarly, the great Sufi master Es’ad Erbili illustrated, in the following couplet, the spiritual state of those who attain to such love:

In such flames, is it possible to wash the martyr of love?

The body is fire, the shroud is fire, and even the sweet water is fire…

In his deathbed, a lover of Allah was asked:

– How can you laugh at the moment of death?

The lover of Allah answered:

– I fly for joy as if all my body has become smiling lips! Now, the smile of lips is different than ever before.

Rumi said:

Do not compare those who do not smile at the moment of death to a candle! Only those who melt like a candle in the path of love will be able to spread smells like amber.

Rumi passed from this mundane world to the divine world smiling with the lips of his soul as he reached the Night of Wedding (Shab-i Arus), for which he had been longing his entire life.

His community was crying after him, but in the coffin, the traveler who was going to unite with his Beloved was smiling.

Sultan Walad, the son of Rumi, described as follows the funeral of his father in his book Ibtida-name:

The glorious sultan traveled from this world in 672 according to the Hijra calendar (1273 CE). The hearts moaned. Even the non-Muslim neighborhoods were crying. Every pure person was loyal to him; the followers of all religions were in love with him.

The people said:

– He is the light of Prophet Muhammad and he who carries his secrets. He is the endless ocean of virtues.

On that day, no one found tranquility without crying. Everyone said in great sorrow:

– He was a great treasure! He has hidden himself under the soil.

Eflaki, an historian of that time, reported that the coffin in which Rumi’s body was carried broke because of the crowd and had to be replaced six times. Although his funeral began at noon, it only reached the gravesite at sunset.

Doctor Ekmeluddin was reminding people:

– Behave yourselves! Observe good manners during the funeral. This is the sultan of the real sheikhs; he has traveled to the other world…

As Rumi had requested in his will, Sheikh Sadruddin Konawi came in front of the coffin to lead the funeral prayer, but he could not stop crying. He was about to faint. They held him in their arms and took him aside. Judge Sirajuddin took his place and led the funeral prayer.

***

Rumi summarized his life in the expression: “I was raw, I was cooked and I was burned”. On another occasion, he illustrated it as follows:

I was dead, yet became alive,

I was a tear, yet became a smile,

I entered the ocean of love,

And I reached eternal happiness!

The Sufi poet Yunus Emre also expressed it very well:

The body is transient, yet the soul is eternal,

Those who went before us will not come back,

What dies is but the body,

The soul never knows death.

O Lord! Make our death too a bridge to eternal happiness. May our death too become a night of union with the Beloved, a Shab-i Arus.

Amen!

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”