The Republic of Rumi: A Novel of Reality
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 The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

Chapter 3

'Who is Rumi?'

By Khurram Ali Shafique

Rumi is the most popular poet in America now, and since he has already held that status in the East for seven centuries, he is naturally the best possible bridge between the two worlds. However, there is a trap.

Popularity in two worlds has come at a cost. Rumi has become something like Chinese cuisine. Everybody has their own version and that version is unsavory for everybody else. Rumi as presented by pop singers and pop gurus is good for softening the hearts but it may stop there. Rumi as presented in universities, academies and drawing rooms of the elite may be serving some other purpose that cannot be understood by the uninitiated. Neither of these diverse versions tells us how to change the world to the better. They offer us no insight into the future of our civilization, no vision to fire the imagination of the whole world and bring it together for creating a heaven on earth. Are these not the very things that draw most of us to Rumi (or to any great thinker for that matter)? Yet this is something that cannot be acquired even by combining all these available versions.

This is where Iqbal comes in. His works comprise not only the longest depiction of Rumi in modern literature (they run into more than ten volumes) but they also present the master as something like a force of Nature – someone who can make a decadent world vanish in the blink of an eye and create a whole new one, not just for the intellectual but for everyone. This is the kind of Rumi most of us want to meet.

Rumi in the work of Iqbal does not live in a time capsule of thirteenth century. We find him conversing with Goethe in a corner of Paradise, offering candid comments on Hegel and Nietzsche, and discussing with Iqbal not only the evils of European colonialism and decadent art of the interwar years but also the trends that are likely to emerge in the future.

Hints about a meeting of spirit and matter, and transfer of power from kings to the Sufi are not rare in these writings. In one of his last meetings, Rumi reminds Iqbal, “You should not tell the secrets of lions to jackals, for even if the wolves take away our Joseph it is better than his getting sold to the unworthy.” For a better understanding, we need to know who Joseph is.

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In the works of Iqbal, Mawlana Rumi appears as a character with symbolic relevance to our times.