This Day in World History
December 17, 1273
Persian Sufi poet Rumi dies
As the poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi lay on his deathbed, his wife pleaded with him not to die. “Am I a thief?” he replied. “Have I stolen someone’s goods? Is this why you would confine me here and keep me from being rejoined with my Love?” The love that Rumi sought was for Allah; the poet, a Sufi, or mystic, yearned to achieve union with Allah.
Rumi was born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan to a scholar and teacher. When the boy was in his early teens, the family moved west, perhaps to seek safety from oncoming Mongols. They eventually settled in the city of Konya in what is now Turkey. His name Rumi reflects settling here: “Rum” was the name for the region. Rumi was instructed by his father and others in mystical ideas, and he himself became a mystical teacher. In his thirties, he met a holy man called Shams al-Din who had a profound influence on his life and ideas. Rumi’s family and followers resented the other mystic’s hold on Rumi’s mind, however, and apparently had Shams killed. Soon after, Rumi began writing wrenching poetry of longing for his departed mentor; these poems are collected in the Divan-e Shams. A second collection, the Masnavi was composed at the promptings of a disciple and reflects Rumi’s theology, views of life, and desire for union with God. When he died, tradition says that his coffin was followed by men of several different faiths. The night of his death is called Seb-i Arus, the “Night of Union.” He is buried in a magnificent tomb in Konya called the Green Tomb, where his father and son are also buried.
Rumi’s son organized the Mawlawiyah, an order of mystics sometimes called the Whirling Dervishes because of the swirling dance they do. Each year on December 17, they celebrate Seb-I Arus in Konya with song, dance, and Rumi’s verses.