Saturday, February 25, 2006

God's toy

Until you made me sing, I was a monk.

You made me a rabble-rouser, a hopeless drunk.

I used to sit in prayer, so dignified;

Now I'm a toy that children toss aside.

#1891: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: sing

I'm staying with the theme of singing which leads me to this verse which speaks of the great transformation in Rumi after he met Shams. He was a solid, upright citizen of the declining remnant of the Seljuk Turk Empire, around the central city of Konya. He was an Islamic scholar and jurist, and head of a madrassa (or religious school) inherited from his father. When he speaks of himself as a monk, I guess he means he just stuck to his own affairs and to his small circle of students. He didn't try to reach out and communicate with any larger crowd. When he sat in prayer, he was still and stern, probably much like a seated Buddha statue.

All this changed after Shams turned up. I don't think he literally became a "rabble-rouser", in the sense of addressing large crowds with fiery and persuasive language, stirring up great passions in an amassed audience. Rather, he achieved a similar effect by reaching out through his presence, through the voice of his poetry, and through the example of his gentle nature. Anatolia, at the time, was under pressure from the Mongols to the East and the Christian crusaders to the West. The Islamic fortress was weak and influences from outside would have passed through readily. This shows in Rumi's knowledge and understanding of Christian as well as of Buddhist and Hindu ideas. Within this political and dynastic turmoil, Rumi could see the things that bind humanity.

The last line of the quatrain refers to "a toy that children toss aside". I can only guess that this refers to a spinning top which is the impression one gets when witnessing the whirling dervish dance.

whirling dervish dance

Whirling dervishes from Turkey @



At Sunday, 26 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Yes perhaps when a culture is full of itself, like the swelling Islamic youth, it sees only its own power. When a culture feels under siege, perhaps that's when it looks for the commonalities between itself and its enemies. In that sense, it is the West that seems to have the siege mentality, looking to Buddhism during Viet Nam and to Rumi during the current times.

At Sunday, 26 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Islam has a sick version of looking for commonalities as shown in the proliferation of scientific miracles alleged to be contained inside the Quran. They are under siege from the power and truth of science. They know, deep down, that what science did to Christianity it will do to Islam. Since the former embraces a myth of renewal it has been able to start finding a new energy and a new focus. Only within the Sufi circles do I think that Islam will find something similar. Mohammad and the Quran will be dumped, that's for sure.


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