- Pregnant with God:The Poetic Art of Mothering the Sacred In Rumi's Fihi Ma Fih
Studies of Rumi can no longer stay on the fringes of humanities where Persian literary history is respectfully, but passively, shelved for specialized scholarship. Specialization is vital to ensure that the quality of such studies is not compromised to please the massive Rumi lover readership. However, as a world-class thinker concerned with issues relevant to our painfully compartmentalized world, Rumi has to be brought to the center of larger ethical, philosophical, and methodological debates particularly those of a reformist nature. He is a true child of an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam. His daring acts of subversion, in relation to the principles of speculative mysticism in the Masnavi (27,000 couplets) or in his exuberant songs of love in the Divan (over 35,000 verses) are not signs of disloyalty to this tradition. They are indications of a freedom and maturity that the cosmopolitan minds of many master thinkers in the medieval Muslim world demonstrated. We, in Persian literary studies, can choose to keep these treasure houses to ourselves by limiting our Rumi ruminations to issues of manuscript edition and variant readings. Or, we can make such important textual studies the foundation of broader debates that heed the relevance of Rumi to our current lives. 1
This essay opens a new treasure house in the populated neighborhood that forms Rumi's poetic discourse on the art of sacred making. This time, the riches belong in Fihi ma fih, his sermons in prose, which have hardly been noticed much less understood. Known in English as the Discourses of Rumi, these informal sermons have fallen through the cracks mostly due to our selective looking habits, the tendency to ignore what fits in a "less significant" formal category.2 The exploration of the Fihi ma fih, here, will lead to debates on poetic subversion, re-envisioning gender paradigms, and developing effective models of communication among other things. I will provide something of a context before looking at the Discourses. As my contextualization unfolds into a brief appraisal of our current attempts to make sense of Rumi's poetry, I will add to the mix a few observations on medieval Sufi perception of gender, which will prove relevant to what I intend to show when we delve into the Discourses themselves.
Finding the Elephant in the Dark
Jalal al-Din Mawlavi (1207-73), known to the English-speaking reader as Rumi, requires little introduction.3 His devotion to the mystical way and emphasis on development of the self, though often torn from their religious/historical context, are equally well known. Even his affinity with the fundamentals, if one dares use the term, of the Islamic belief system repeatedly shines through heroic New Age attempts to free him from the "shackles" of the "despotic" religion and honor him instead with the "universal" mantle of spirituality. Despite the flood of publications, either giddy with devotion and wonder, or obsessed with analysis and scholarly nitpicking, much remains unsaid. Many feel that the existing translations of his works are inadequate. Others fear that the facts of his life and the dynamics of textual transmission of his works are not properly understood. Still others would like to set his lopsided popular portrayal right by demonstrating that he was as firmly rooted in his religious tradition as are trees in the soil that keeps them alive. None of these desires are likely to remain unfulfilled for very long. With time, and at the rate that his works are being translated and studied, there should soon be an abundance of styles and approaches among the English renderings for all tastes. The infusion of his world-view, his creativity, and his artistry with Islamic knowledge and devotion is likely to find adequate representation as well. Or, rather, with the wide range of translations and studies of his works becoming available, denials of his affinity with Islam will soon be more ridiculous than disturbing. Indeed, that much will be clear by the end of this short essay even with its literary orientation and lack of emphasis on religious conviction.
Can we place his many...