From Balkh to Konya: discovering the spiritual geopolitics of Rumi


KONYA – A mystical poet, Sufi, theosophist and thinker, Jalal al-Din Rumi remains one of the most beloved historical figures in history, East and West. Wandering in search of light, he is characterized as follows: “I am nothing more than a humble lover of God.

The era of Rumi’s father – Sultan Bahaeddin Veled (1152-1231) and his son (1207-1273) – was an extraordinary socio-political rollercoaster. It is absolutely impossible for us today to understand the ideas, the allusions and the parables that run through Rumi’s masterpiece, the six-volume Masnevi in 25,620 verses, without delving into serious time travel.

In the Masnevi written in Persian – the main literary language in West and Central Asia at that time – Rumi used poetry primarily as a tool to teach divine secrets, explaining them through parables. The Rumi project is to show man the path of divine love, leading him from a low level to the highest. Pressed and overpowered by the juggernaut of techno-feudalism, we may now have to heed these lessons more than ever in history.

The Masnevi became hugely popular across Eurasia immediately after Rumi’s death in 1273 – from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. Then, slowly but surely, the man and the opus eventually reached as far as the collective West (Goethe was hypnotized) and inspired a multitude of scholarly commentaries, in Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Urdu and English. .

“The Master of Anatolia”

Let’s start our time travel in the 11th century, when some Turkic tribes, having passed through Transoxiana, began to settle in northern Persia. These new Turkish tribes – from the Ghaznavids to the Seljuks (in fact the branch of a Turkmen tribe) – constituted fabulous dynasties which played a key role in the interbreeding of Turkish and Persian culture (what the Chinese today, in l ‘applying to the New Silk Roads, call “person-to-person contacts”).

Islam spread very rapidly in Persia under the rule of the religiously tolerant Samanids. It was the first stone of Mahmud of Ghazna (998-1030) to form a great Turkish empire, from the northeast of Persia to the most remote regions of India. Mahmud made a big impression on Rumi.

While the Ghaznavids remained powerful in eastern Persia, the Seljuks established a mighty empire not only in parts of Iran but also in the remote lands of Anatolia (called Arz-I Rum). This is the reason why Rumi is called Mavlana-yi Rum (“the master of Anatolia”).

As a child, Rumi lived in the legendary Balkh (part of Khorasan in northern Afghanistan), capital of the Khwarazm Empire. When he and his father were still there, the king was Ala al-Din, who came from a dynasty established by a Turkish slave.

After a series of incredibly messy kingdom clashes, Ala al-Din found himself facing off against the king of Samarkand, Osman Khan. It ended with a massacre in 1212, in which Ala al-Din’s soldiers killed 10,000 people in Samarkand. Young Rumi was shocked.

Ala al-Din wanted to be nothing less than the absolute ruler of the Muslim world. He refused to obey the Caliph in Baghdad. He even started entertaining designs on China – where Genghis Khan had already conquered Beijing.

Ala al-Din sent an emissary to China who was treated very well by Genghis, who had his eye on – what else – good business between the two empires (the Silk Road bug, again). Genghis sends back his ambassadors, full of gifts. Ala al-Din received them in Transoxiana in 1218.

But then the governor of one of his provinces, a close relative, robbed and killed some of the Mongols. Genghis demanded the punishment. The sultan refused. Well, you don’t want to fight with Genghis Khan. He duly began a series of massacres in Persia, and inevitably the Khwarazm empire – with its great cities, Samarkand, Bukhara, Balkh, Merv – collapsed. By then, Rumi and his father had already left.

Like Baghdad, each of these fabulous cities was a center of learning. Rumi’s Balkh had a mixed culture of Arabs, Sasanians, Turks, Buddhists and Christians. After Alexander the Great, Balkh became the hub of Greco-Bactria. Just before the advent of Islam, it was a Buddhist center and a Zoroastrian teaching center. All along, one of the great centers of the Ancient Silk Roads.

On the road with 300 camels

Rumi’s Hero MasneviIbrahim Adham, like the Buddha, had abandoned his throne for the love of God, setting an example for the Sufism that later flourished in these latitudes, known as the Khorasani school.

As a teacher Doctor Erkan Turkmen, who was born in Peshawar and is now a top scholar at Karatay University in Konya, and author of, among other things, a beautiful volume, ‘Roses from Rumi’s Rose Garden’ says he There are two reliable sources for the extraordinary pilgrimage of Rumi Bahaeddin’s father and his family from Balkh to Konya, with books, food and household items loaded onto the backs of 300 camels, accompanied by 40 clerics. The sources, inevitably, are father and son (Rumi’s account is written in verse).

The first major stopover was Baghdad. At the entrance gates, the guards asked who they were. Rumi’s father said, “We come from God and we will return to Him. We come from the non-existent world and we will return there.

Caliph al-Nasir summoned his best scholar Suhreverdi, who immediately gave the green light to the new arrivals. But Rumi’s father did not want to remain under the protection of the caliph, renowned for his cruelty. So, after a few years, he left for Mecca on a Hajj and then to Damascus – which was an extremely well-organized city during the times of the Abbasids and Seljuks, replete with 660 mosques, over 40 madrassas, 100 baths and many famous places. scholars.

The last stages of the family trip were Erjinzan in Anatolia – already a commercial and cultural center – then Larende (now Karaman), 100 km south of Konya. Today Karaman is just a small Turkish province, but back then it stretched all the way to Antalya in the south. It was home to many Christian Turks, who wrote Turkish using the Greek alphabet.

This is where Rumi got married. Subsequently, his father was invited by Sultan Ala al-Din Kayqubad I (1220-1237) to Konya, eventually establishing himself and the family until his death in 1231.

The Seljuks of Anatolia burst into history in 1075, when Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantines in the legendary Battle of Manzikert. A century later, in 1107, Qilich Arslan defeated the Crusaders and the Seljuk Empire began to spread very rapidly. It took a few decades before Christians began to accept the inevitable: the presence of Turks in Anatolia. Later, they even started mixing.

The golden age of the Seljuks was under Sultan Ala al-Din Kayqubad I (the one who invited Rumi’s family to Konya), who built citadels around Konya and Kayseri to protect them from the coming Mongol invasion, and spent his winters in the beautiful Mediterranean. coast in Antalya.

In Konya, Rumi did not get into politics and does not seem to have had close relations with the royal family. He was widely known as Mevlana (our master) or Rumi (the Anatolian). In Turkey today he is simply known as Mevlana and in the west as Rumi. In his lyric poetry, he uses the pseudonym Khamush (Silent). Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP – a highly materialistic company that wallows in shady business – doesn’t really like Rumi’s Sufism.

Under the green dome

As we’ve seen, Rumi spent most of his childhood on the road – so he never attended regular school. His early education was provided by his father and other scholars who followed the family to Karaman. Rumi also met many other famous scholars along the way, especially in Baghdad and Damascus, where he studied Islamic history, the Quran, and Arabic.

When Rumi was about to finish the 6th volume of the Masnevihe fell ill, under a constant fever. He died on December 17, 1273. A fund of 130,000 dirhams was organized to build his tomb, which includes the famous green dome (Qubbat ul-Khazra), originally completed in 1274 and currently under renovation.

The tomb is today a museum (Konya conceals astonishing relics in particular in the museums of Ethnography and Archeology). But for most pilgrims from all lands of Islam and beyond who come to pay their spiritual respects, it is actually considered the shrine of lovers (Kaaba-yi Ushaq).

These lines, inscribed in his splendid wooden sarcophagus, may be a summary of all that Rumi attempted to teach during his lifetime:

“If wheat grows on the clay of my tomb, and if you make bread from it, your intoxication will increase, the dough and the baker will go mad, and the oven will also begin to recite verses out of madness. When you visit my grave, you will feel like you are dancing because God created me from the wine of love and I am still the same love even if death can crush me.

A Sufi is by definition a lover of God. Islamic mysticism considers three stages of knowledge: the knowledge of certainty, the eye of certainty, and the truth of certainty.

In the first stage, one tries to find God by intellectual proof (failure is inevitable). In the second stage, one can listen to divine secrets. In the third stage, one is able to see Reality and understand It spiritually. It is a path that is no different from attaining enlightenment in Buddhism.

In addition to these three steps, there are paths to follow towards God. Choosing a path – Tarikat – is a very complicated matter. It can be any Sufi order – such as Mavleviya, Kadriya, Nakshbandiya – under the leadership of a sheikh of that particular Tarikat.

In these absurd times of grain diplomacy barely able to remedy the toxic effects of imperial sanctions, enrolling in a war of civilizations by proxy, a line from Rumi – “The heavenly mill yields nothing if you have no wheat ” – can open unexpected perspectives.

Rumi is basically saying that if we go to a flour mill without wheat, what will we gain? Nothing but the whiteness of his beard and his hair (because of the flour). In the same vein: “If we have no good deeds to take with us to the next world, we will get nothing but pain in the heart, whereas if we have developed our spiritual being , we will obtain honor and divine love.

Now try to explain this to a crusading collective West.

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