Program Particulars: The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to web version of audio

(00:09) Bestseller in the West

In recent years, popularized versions of Rumi's poetry have made his name well known in the West. In 2004, book sales prompted Publishers Weekly to describe him as "the most popular poet in America in the last decade." After more than 700 years of influence in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, scholars caution that Western fame has diluted the meaning of Rumi's words and their connection to his Islamic tradition.

In the preface to Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr provides a comparison: "It is as if Dante were to be translated very approximately into Arabic and presented as a 'universal poet,' which he of course is, but without any reference to Christianity, without which Dante would not be Dante. The same truth holds for Rumi, who represents one of the greatest flowerings of Islamic spirituality, a tradition whose roots are sunk deeply in the Koran and whose prototype is to be found in the Prophet of Islam."

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(0:33) Music Element

"Aksak Semai" from The Music of Turkey, performed by Kudsi and Suleyman Erguner

(00:38) Recitation of a Line about Love

"Wherever you are, whatever you do, be in love."

Fatemeh Keshavarz translated this poetic line from Rumi's discourses. In the West, Rumi is better known for his poetry. But, his son and several other followers recorded his conversations and lectures as works of prose, which includes the Fihi ma Fihi (literally translated as It Is What It Is).

(01:12) The Poet Known As…

To many Westerners, the poet Mohammad Jalal al-Din al-Balkhi al-Rumi is more commonly known as Rumi. Scholarly works on Rumi provide a vast array of permutations of his name, which can be confusing. As Franklin Lewis says in Rumi: Past and Present, East and West, "The full complement of names and titles pertaining to [Rumi] would need a small caravan to carry it."

According to Lewis, Rumi's birth name was Mohammad, after his father and the most important prophet in Islam. At an early age, his father also called him Jalal al-Din — a title meaning "the splendor of the faith" — which was common for religious scholars in the medieval Islamic world. The terms al-Balkhi al-Rumi are toponyms (referring to geographical places): al-Balkhi refers to his family's origins in Balkh, one of the major cultural centers of Central Asia (in present-day Afghanistan) in the 13th century. Many scholars believe, however, that Rumi did not live in Balkh itself but in a smaller town nearby named Vakhsh in what is now the country of Tajikistan.

When he moved to Anatolia (present-day Turkey), he became known as al-Rumi (literally, "from Rome"), as Anatolia was considered an extension of Rome from an Islamic perspective. Lewis says other historic people who were born in, or associated with, Anatolia are also known as Rumi. As Keshavarz noted in her conversation with Krista, the poet is not generally called Rumi in the Middle East or Central Asia. In her native country of Iran, he is commonly referred to as Mowlana — meaning "Our Master," — the Arabic title that became recognized as a proper name exclusive to Rumi within a few generations of his death. The Turkish pronunciation is Mevlana.

Rumi referred to himself in much humbler terms, as Lewis writes, at the beginning of the Masnavi: "This meek servant, dependent on the mercy of the Almighty God, Mohammad, the son of Mohammad, the son of al-Hosayn al-Balkhi."

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(01:45) Music Element

"Shabgir Prelude" from Light and Fire, performed by Liän Ensemble

(1:54) A Vast Body of Poetry and Writings

Rumi's best-known poetic works include the Masnavi, or Mathnawi — a six-volume poem in rhyming couplets so revered that it is commonly referred to as the "Qur'an in Persian" — and the Divan, or Diwan, with over 35,000 verses, mostly ghazals, describing mystical states and illustrating various points of Sufi doctrine. The collection of his discourses known as Fihi Ma Fihi ("It Is What It Is") is considered by some scholars to be an abbreviated prose companion to the Masnavi ("It is," meaning his collected discourses, "what it is," meaning the Masnavi).

In Reading Mystical Lyric, Keshavarz describes the tone of the Masnavi as didactic and distinct. "[Rumi] intends to remain visible as does a lighthouse in a stormy sea, so that travelers will not lose their way…. Nothing obscures this ultimate homiletic purpose." In the Divan, Keshavarz continues, he "abandons his narrative style and didactic tone in favor of visual articulation through imagery" and has a "deeply paradoxical mode of expression."

(2:27) Krista Quotes a Line from Rumi

Krista cites two lines from "A Great Wagon" — a poem found in Rumi's Divan, based on Coleman Barks' translation in The Essential Rumi. You can listen to and read along with the recitation, along with other poems by Rumi, on our "Poetry and Perplexity" page:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.

We also feature the stories of fellow audience members' personal encounters with Rumi and his poetry. The range of touch points is vast: from how Rumi helped one listener better understand the geography of Azerbaijan to a couple's struggle in their relationship and learning how to truly love.

(2:40) Rumi's Islamic Tradition of Sufism

Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam that originated in the seventh century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The spiritual movement originated as an expression against increasing worldliness in the expanding Muslim community. There are many Sufi orders or paths (tariqa) in which a follower pledges his allegiance to a sheikh. Sufis aspire to a special intimacy with God and the eternal in this earthly existence rather than only in the afterlife.

In the On Being program "The Spirit of Islam," Islamic scholar Omid Safi describes his own understanding and experience of Sufi tradition. Learn more about this form of Islamic mysticism where the pursuit of spiritual truth is the quest.

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(03:45) Music Element

"Naghme" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

Video Performance: The Musicality of Rumi. View a January 27, 2007 performance of Fatemeh Keshavarz and the Lian Ensemble at a Stanford University event celebrating Rumi's 800th birthday.

Video Performance: "The Musicality of Rumi" View a January 27, 2007 performance of Fatemeh Keshavarz and the Liän Ensemble at a Stanford University event celebrating Rumi's 800th birthday.

(03:39) Often Sets Rumi's Words to Music

Fatemeh Keshavarz co-founded the Persian Poetry Circle of North America and periodically performs her translations of Rumi's poetry to the music of the Liän Ensemble.

(04:50) "Playing Is Very Serious"

In Reading Mystical Lyric, Keshavarz elaborates on how playing is very serious for Rumi:

Of course the profoundly moral and spiritual purposes that infuse all of Rumi's poetry, including the Divan, are serious in that they are central to his poetic creation. Yet the universe, as he sees it, is imaginatively designed and prudently run by God. In it there is room for everything…. In this setting poetry occasionally has the childlike opportunity to find a chance for play. This playfulness is by no means incompatible with seriousness. Indeed…it becomes a key device that enhances the poetic impact of the discourse in which the "spiritual" has a prominent part.

Keshavarz then elaborates on playfulness in Rumi's poetry, offering an excerpt from the Divan:

[The] distinction between Rumi and many of his contemporary fellow poets Rumi's ability to make his poetry an embodiment of his life, yet not take it so seriously as to be overwhelmed by its grandeur. The fun and sense of play persist, even in illustrating matters as grave as the confusion of destiny: I am drunk and you are drunk, who is going to take us home? I told you a hundred times drink a cup or two less.

(05:21) Ghazal About Beautiful Birds

Ghazals are odes, usually eight to 12 lines in length, with the theme of love running through them. They are the primary poetic format of Rumi's Divan and express "flashes of ideas as they come." Keshavarz refers to a ghazal by Rumi titled "Dervish at the Door" (the following translation Coleman Barks):

A dervish knocked at a house to ask for a piece of dry bread, or moist, it didn't matter. "This is not a bakery," said the owner. "Might you have a bit of gristle then?" "Does this look like a butchershop?" "A little flour?" "Do you hear a grinding stone?" "Some water?" "This is not a well." Whatever the dervish asked for, the man made some tired joke and refused to give him anything. Finally the dervish ran in the house, lifted his robe, and squatted as though to take a s***. "Hey, hey!" "Quiet, you sad man. A deserted place is a fine spot to relieve oneself, and since there's no living thing here, or means of living, it needs fertilizing." The dervish began his own list of questions and answers. "What kind of bird are you? Not a falcon, trained for the royal hand. Not a peacock, painted with everyone's eyes. Not a parrot, that talks for sugar cubes. Not a nightingale, that sings like someone in love. Not a hoopoe bringing messages to Solomon, or a stork that builds on a cliffside. What exactly do you do? You are no known species. You haggle and make jokes to keep what you own for yourself. You have forgotten the One who doesn't care about ownership, who doesn't try to turn a profit from every human exchange.

(07:23) Keshavarz Quote of Rumi Poem

"Love whether of this kind or that kind, Shall ultimately guide us to the king."

Keshavarz quotes from Book One of the Masnavi to illustrate how, for Rumi, love is multifaceted. She writes: "Instead of promoting the view that one has to transcend the human level to experience the mystical, Rumi tended to see the mystical as just an aspect of the human experience. With characteristic boldness he crossed the borderline between the spiritual and the carnal to emphasize that the two were indeed one and the same, a view he expressed directly in his didactic Masnavi."

Here is an extended excerpt of the same section of the Masnavi as translated by Rutgers University professor Jawid Mojaddedi in Rumi: The Masnavi, Book One:

Being a lover means your heart must ache,     No sickness hurts as much as when hearts break, The lover's ailment's totally unique,     Love is the astrolabe of all we seek, Whether you feel divine or earthy love,     Ultimately we're destined for above.

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(07:41) Music Element

"Buruq Al-Hayy (Lights from the Dwelling Places)" from La Voie De L'Extase, performed by Noureddine Khourshid & The Dervishes of Damas

The Sema. The dance of the Whirling Dervishes consists of seven parts. Pictured here is the fifth part of the Sema, the whirling. This part of the ceremony consists of a series of salutes testify to his appearance to God's unity.

The Sema. The dance of the Whirling Dervishes consists of seven parts. Pictured here is the fifth part of the Sema, the whirling. This part of the ceremony consists of a series of salutes testify to his appearance to God's unity.

(08:05) The Mevlevi Order and the Whirling Dervishes

As a teacher and religious scholar, Rumi led a group of disciples that became formally known as the Mevlevi Order after his death in 1273. Biographer Franklin Lewis credits Rumi's son, Sultan Valad, with achieving and maintaining the formal structure that allowed the order to thrive beyond Konya, Turkey. The Mevlevi Order dominated the spiritual life of Turkey and many other parts of the Ottoman Empire into the early 20th century. It also served as a thriving environment for poetry and music.

In 1925, with the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, Kemal Ataturk banned the order reportedly out of fear that their religious roots would lead them to revolt against the new secular government. The following copy of the 1925 law banning is taken from Shems Friedlander's book, Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes:


Clause 1. All the tekkes (dervish lodges) and zaviyes (central dervish lodges) in the Turkish republic, either in the form of wakf (religious foundations) or under the personal property right of its sheikh or established in any other way, are closed. The right of property and possession of their owners continue. Those used as mosques and mescits (small mosques) may be retained as such. All of the orders using descriptions as sheikh, dervish, disciple, dedelik (a kind of sheikh of an order), chelebilik (title of the leader of the Mevlevi order), seyyitlik (a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad), bablik (elder of a religious order, a kind of craft), ufurukchuluk (a person who claims to cure by means of the breath), divining, and giving written charms in order to make someone reach their desire: service to these titles, and the wearing of dervish costume, are prohibited. The tombs of the sultans, the tombs of the dervish orders are closed, and the profession of tomb-keeping is abolished. Those who open the closed tekkes (dervish lodges) or zaviyes (central dervish lodges), or the tombs, and those who re-establish them or those who give temporary places to the orders or people who are called by any of the mystical names mentioned above or those who serve them, will be sentenced to at least three months in prison and will be fined at least fifty Turkish liras. Clause 2. This law is effective immediately. Clause 3. The cabinet is charged with its implementation.

Despite this ban, the Mevlevis remain an active Sufi order in and beyond Turkey, though it is still restricted from promoting itself as a living spiritual practice. "There is no Sufi order in Islam," the Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr opines, "in which both music and dance, considered sacred activities that draw the soul to God, have been so elaborately formulated as in the Mevlevi Order." Celebi, the title given to the Mevlevi leaders, include descendants of Rumi to this day.

The Mevlevis are commonly known as the Whirling Dervishes, especially in the West, because of the distinctive dance they perform to music as a central ritual of the order. Dervish is the Turkish form of the Persian word darwish — literally, "the sill of the door" — that describes a Sufi who is "one at the door to enlightenment."

The hagiography of Rumi and the ritual of whirling varies in its description of when and how he began the practice. Some sources refer to accounts of Shams of Tabriz, the wandering mystic who became Rumi's beloved companion, teaching the practice to him; others describe Rumi as innovating it. In Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, Shams Friedlander describes instances of Rumi's whirling, including one related to Rumi's bereavement of the death of his former master and teacher, Shams: "Mevlana refused to see anyone. He confined himself to his house and would often whirl around one of the architectural poles in his garden."

Another story attributes the whirling experience as the beginning of the Mevlevi Order:

One day, as he walked by the goldbeater's shop, he heard the hammers of the apprentices pounding the rough streets of gold into beautiful objects. With each step he repeated the name of God; and now with the sound of the hammers beating the gold, all he heard was "Allah, Allah." "Allah, Allah" became every sound he heard, and he began to whirl in ecstasy in the middle of the street. He unfolded his arms, like a fledgling bird, clasped his robe, tilted his head back, and whirled, whirled, whirled to the sound of "Allah" that came forth from his heart and the very wind he created by his movement. I see the waters which spring from their sources, The branches of trees which dance like penitents, The leaves which clap their hands like minstrels. That was the beginning of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis. … With the continuing outpouring of verse coming from Mevlana, the task of copying it down was given to his friend and disciple Husamuddin Hasan.

Friedlander says that at Hasan's home near Konya, "Rumi would often whirl in the garden, his arms close to his body, holding his robe. His nature was filled with kindness, and so he allowed his disciples to embrace him gently as he turned and, for a short time, turn with him."

Whirling, or sema dancing, represents a mystical journey. In this journey the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at a state of perfection. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey with greater maturity, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination.

The banning of the dervish orders in Turkey in 1925 included the Sema ceremonies. In 1953, the mayor of Konya allowed the ceremony to be publicly performed as long as it was construed as a celebration of a great Turkish poet and not a religious ritual. Since that time, the Turkish government continues to relax restrictions on performances, recognizing the draw for tourists. Visitors flock to Konya and the Mevlevi Museum every December to commemorate Rumi and to see the Whirling Dervishes. The Sema ceremony is performed in many parts of the world by the Mevlevis and other whirling dervish groups.

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(13:54) Music Element

"Pishdaramad" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

(13:54) Reading of Ghazal "Like This"

The reading of Keshavarz's translation of the ghazal titled "Like This" (accompanied in Persian by Soleyman Vaseghi) first appeared in Rumi's Divan. Keshavarz says this poem illustrates Rumi's ability to mold the physical and the spiritual in his verse:

"It is, of course, not uncommon for mystical verse to make use of love imagery, but often the tone is vague and vividly erotic details are avoided. Rumi is aware of this tradition. In his poem, he preserves sensuality precisely because he wishes it to be understood in ordinary human terms rather than in a vague and generalized fashion. … Through sharpening the sensual edge and then giving it a distinct share in the spiritual cosmos, Rumi abolishes the imaginary boundary between the two and creates his specific brand of mystical lyricism."

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(15:23) Music Element

"Pishdaramad" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

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(16:41) Music Element

"Tales from the Ney" from The Music of Turkey, performed by Kudsi and Suleyman Erguner

(17:28) Reading of "The Song of the Reed"

"The Song of the Reed" opens the Masnavi, and its lines are the only couplets considered to be directly written by Rumi. A ney is one of the oldest forms of a flute, dating back to 2500 BCE. Traditional neys are made from a plant reed and are often used to accompany readings of Rumi's poetry.

His disciple Husamuddin Hasan served as Rumi's scribe as well as his inspiration for the poem. The text itself refers to their system of production (excerpted from Rumi: The Masnavi, Book One, translated by Jawid Mojaddedi):

"Hosamoddin, please fetch a sheet or two     And write about the guide what I tell you; Although you're frail, lack strength and energy,     Without the sun there is no light for me, Though you've become the lamp and glass my friend,     You lead the hearts which follow the thread's end: You hold the thread's end, from which you won't part;     Your bounty gave the pearls strung round my heart!"

(21:44) Krista's Quote of Rumi

Krista recites a selected passage from Coleman Barks' translation from Book Five of Rumi's Masnavi, titled "A Basket of Fresh Bread":

    Stay bewildered in God, and only that.     Those of you who are scattered, simplify your worrying lives. There is one righteousness: Water the fruit trees, and don't water the thorns. Be generous to what nurtures the spirit and God's luminous reason-light. Don't honor what causes dysentery and knotted-up tumors. Don't feed both sides of yourself equally. The spirit and the body carry different loads and require different attentions.     Too often we put saddlebags on Jesus and let the donkey run loose in the pasture.     Don't make the body do what the spirit does best, and don't put a big load on the spirit that the body could carry easily.

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(23:30) Music Element

"Improvisation" from Light and Fire, performed by Liän Ensemble

(24:00) Reading of Rumi's "The Promise"

Keshavarz recites her translation of a ghazal, "The Promise," from Rumi's Divan. She read this ghazal to the music of the Liän Ensemble at a Rumi celebration at Stanford University in January 2007. The Liän Ensemble is a group of virtuoso performers and composers whose compositions fuse mystical Persian musical heritage with the contemporary sensibilities of postmodern jazz.

Listen to the complete ghazal read by Fatemeh Keshavarz in English and Persian, as well as Persian readings by two Liän Ensemble performers, Houman Pourmehdi and Soleyman Vaseghi.

(27:05) Rumi's Relationship with Shams

In his late 30s, Rumi met a wandering mystic called Shams al-Din Tabrizi. Many consider this the most important acquaintance in Rumi's spiritual life. Professor Jawid Mojaddedi writes, "The transformation of Rumi as a result of his relationship with Shams cannot be emphasized enough. Although he was already a respected religious authority in Konya and had trained in a tradition of Sufi piety under his father, whom he had even succeeded as master, Rumi was led by Shams to a far loftier level of Sufi mysticism."

In one version of the story of their initial encounter, Shams fainted upon hearing Rumi's response to the question of who was greater: Muhammad or Bestami, because Bestami (a ninth-century Sufi mystic) had said, "How great is my glory," whereas Muhammad had acknowledged in his prayer to God, "We do not know You as we should." Rumi fell to the ground beside Shams and responded by saying that Muhammad was the greater because the way was always revealing itself and unfolding whereas Bestami only took a single drink of the divine and then stopped. As a result, Rumi and Shams developed an instant, inseparable friendship.

Some saintly accounts of Rumi tell of his complete devotion to Shams, which resulted in jealousy and resentment among his followers. Many versions describe the followers of Rumi driving Shams away, Rumi sending his son to find Shams and bring him back, and then the final disappearance and murder of Shams by Rumi's jealous disciples. While the murder of Shams is disputed, many scholars accept that he disappeared and Rumi later believed the news of his death.

Shams-e Tabriz is gone and who will weep for the best among men? The world of meaning's gained in him a bride, but shorn of him the world of forms just weeps

Rumi devoted his most extensive collection of ecstatic verses — the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz (the Divan) — to his teacher.

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(28:10) Music Element

"Naghme" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

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(29:41) Music Element

"Neyreez" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

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(29:57) Music Element

"Voyager" from The Music of Turkey, performed by Kudsi and Suleyman Erguner

(30:12) Popularity of Rumi in the West

Poet and author Coleman Barks has sold more than half-a-million copies of his 17 books of Rumi translations. In a September 24, 2006 Houston Chronicle interview, Barks attributed those sales, in part, to heightened tensions between the United States and Islamic countries, which has sparked Americans' interest in ancient religions:

"Rumi is the bridge. … He is the Afghan national poet, and he is one of the most-read poets in the United States in the last 10 years. For a medieval, 13th-century Islamic mystic to be a favorite poet of American culture and Afghan culture when we're at war with them is something."

(30:22) The Popularizing of Rumi

In 1998, composer Philip Glass partnered with opera director Robert Wilson to produce Monsters of Grace — a multimedia chamber opera in 13 short acts with lyrics adapted from Coleman Barks' translations of the works of Rumi. Interestingly enough, the poem "Like This" appears in the sixth act of the digital opera; you can listen to the version by Fatemeh Keshavarz in our "Poetry and Perplexity" page.

Deepak Chopra's 1998 CD compilation, A Gift of Love, features a host of celebrities reciting the poetry of Rumi, including Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Rosa Parks, and Martin Sheen.

(30:39) Head of a Madrassa

Madrassas are centers of higher learning that grew out of Islam's expansion outside of the Arabian peninsula. The first known madrassa is thought to have been established in the early 11th century in Egypt. Before the spread of Islam, most learning was carried out in mosques. The combination of tribal traditions and mosque-based knowledge served as a functional governing structure. But, Islam's expansion introduced a variety of interpretations because of non-Arabic languages and new cultural customs. Initially, the madrassa tradition was established to create conformity and continuity through uniform teachings of Islam. And, eventually madrassas became centers of "earthly" learning in secular fields such as the sciences, philosophy, and public administration producing renowned scholars who contributed significant achievements to these fields.

In most parts of the Middle East and Asia, the number of madrassas and their influence declined (PDF) during European colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Western forms of education systems were introduced that courted attendance of the elite and a separation of state and religion — the wealthy and the elite received a secular education, and the poor and disenfranchised primarily received a religious education. As a result, more fundamentalist and radical forms of Islam commandeered new forms of madrassas, particular in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

(31:07) Faith as Zikr

The Arabic word zikr means "reminding oneself" or "mention." It is rooted in several Qur'anic passages, such as the Sura Al-Baqara (2:152):

"Then do you remember Me: I will remember you. Be grateful to Me and reject not faith."

Zikr is the ritual prayer practiced by Sufis with the intent of glorifying Allah and striving to achieve oneness with God. It represents not only a ritual but a state of mind and a state of heart. The ceremony takes many forms but often includes whirling dances and transporting chants, which include la ilaha illa 'llah, "there is no god but God"; Allahu akbar, "God is greatest"; al-hamdu li'llah, "praise be to God"; astaghfiru 'llah, "I ask God's forgiveness." It can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. The various Sufi brotherhoods, or tariqahs, practice their own forms of zikr.

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(38:26) Music Element

"Neyreez" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

(40:45) Windows on Iran

Keshavarz refers to "Windows on Iran" — a weekly listserv she sends out for the purpose of providing information and perspective on Iran that is not common in the media. The idea came to her after returning from a visit to Iran in May 2006 and feeling shocked by the disparity between the Iran she knows and the Iran presented in U.S. media. The American Muslim reprints each essay.

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(42:19) Music Element

"Love's Tale" from Pangea: The Tale of Unity, performed by Liän Ensemble

(42:22) Reading from Rumi's Masnavi

The reading of the Keshavarz's translation of a selected passage from the Masnavi titled "On Language" (accompanied in Persian by Soleyman Vaseghi) can be read and heard in Persian and in English on our "Poetry and Perplexity" page.

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(45:01) Music Element

"Desire for You" from Pangea: The Tale of Unity, performed by Liän Ensemble

(45:01) Krista Quotes Passage

Keshavarz says the vision of Rumi is that "all humanity is pregnant with God." She wrote an essay on this theme, title "Pregnant with God: The Poetic Art of Mothering the Sacred In Rumi's Fihi Ma Fih":

Indeed, our God-appointed feeders and guides often helped in the way that distant stars and silent road maps do. While they showed us the way to unravel the mystery, we were the ones who deciphered the message, read the map, penetrated the silence of ignorance, and ultimately found the way: A traveler looks at the stars and finds the way. Do stars ever talk to him? No. As soon as he looks at them, though, he knows the right way from the wrong and arrives at his destination. Such are God's Friends, you may look at them and they may bring about a change of course [in your life journey]. Without a word, a discussion, or an argument, goals may be attained [and] destinations reached. It is not hard to imagine audiences easing into the comfort of well-fed puppies falling asleep in the hope of finding a guiding star, or surrendering happily to the freedom of the clay/potter analogy, relinquishing agency for struggle and growth. Before that happened, however, came the shocking news of the pregnancy. Not only were the lost and hungry puppies close to their goal, but they also embodied it. To be precise, they were pregnant with it. If they could not see or feel the closeness, it was due to the closeness itself. The combination of joy and pain that accompanied the conflicting and mysterious condition led to confusion and the illusion of distance. Knowing that one was not just close but indeed at the destination, yet not able to live the closeness, was a triumph as well as a tragedy. How was one to nurture this God buried like a treasure in the ruin of one's being and let it permeate all of life? It required the ability to grapple with a paradox that overpowered the rational mind. This "being there" was so close to being lost.

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(47:02) Music Element

"Neyshaboorak" from Suite Rastpanjgah - Naghde Sufi, performed by Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun

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(48:32) Music Element

"Nuba" from Le Voyage de Sahar, performed by Anouar Brahem Trio

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is professor of Persian & Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, and the author of several books, including Reading Mystical Lyric: The Case of Jalal aI-Din Rumi.