Jalaluddin Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, was perhaps the finest Persian poet of all time and a great influence on Muslim writing and culture. His poetry is still well known throughout the modern world, and he is one of the best selling poets in America.
Jalaluddin Rumi was born in 1207 in Balkh in present-day Afghanistan. Increasing Mongol incursions when he was around the age of eleven forced his family to leave Afghanistan, who travelled to Baghdad, Mecca, Damascus and finally settled in Konya in Turkey. Rumi lived here for most of his life.
Rumi was the son of a renowned Sufi scholar, and it is more than likely that he was introduced to Sufism from a young age. Sufism is a branch of Islam primarily concerned with developing the spirituality, or more precisely the inner character, of a Muslim.
Both he and his father were firm believers in the revelations of the Qur'an, but criticised the mere outwardly legal and ritual practice that was being promoted at the time. In fact, much of his work is dedicated to waking people up, and encouraging them to experience life themselves, rather blindly following the scholars of the day.
Rumi spent his early years, like many Muslims of the time, learning and studying Arabic, law, ahadith (the body of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), history, the Qur'an, theology, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy.
By the time of his father's death he had become an outstanding scholar in his own right, and took over his father's position as one of the highest scholars in the country at the young age of 24.
He spent his time teaching and giving lectures to the public, and until the age of about 35, lived a fairly non-descript life.
Then in 1244 Rumi met a travelling Sufi, called Shams (or Shamsi Tabrizi) and the whole course of his life changed.
Shams became fast friends with Rumi, in whom he recognised a kindred spirit. The two developed a very close friendship and it was at this point that Rumi became more and more secluded, shunning the society of those he previously would discuss and debate matters with.
His relationship with Shams caused great jealousy in his family and other students, and after a few years, Shams disappeared. Many believe he was murdered, but Rumi himself did not think so. He travelled for years looking for his friend, and it was this loss that led to the outpouring of his soul through his poetry.
He wrote numerous lines of love poetry, called ghazals, but though they outwardly seem to be about Shams, it is not difficult to see that they are in fact poems describing his overpowering love of God.
Shams' effect on Rumi was decisive. Whereas Rumi had before preached Islam soberly, he became, through Shams' influence, filled with the love of God. What was inside his soul finally came out.
Rumi rarely wrote down his own poetry. The six books of poetry in the Mathnawi were written entirely by Rumi, who would compose and dictate the poetry, and his student Husam Chulabi, who would write and edit it.
It is believed that Rumi would turn round and round while reciting his poetry, and it is this dance which formed the basis for the Mevlevi Order, or Whirling Dervishes, after his death. Dervish means doorway, and the dance is believed to be a mystical portal between the earthly and cosmic worlds.
Rumi died in 1273 CE, halfway through the sixth volume of the Mathnawi.
The Mevlevi Order has been presided over by a member of Rumi's family for over 800 years.
2007 was designated the UNESCO Year of Rumi.