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Transformation of the Soul in Mystical Islam: The Case of Jalal al-Din Rumi
Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207–1273) is one of the most popular and authoritative Sufi figures in the Persianate world. In the course of centuries, the unsystematic nature of his poetry and the complicated style of his presentation have given much freedom to the commentators and anthologists—from the Balkans to Bengal—to interpret his words under the light of mystical, philosophical, and religious frameworks that are not necessarily compatible with his own principles. Focusing on the practical side of Rumi’s teachings, the current paper tries to present a coherent narrative of his mysticism through the textual analysis of, and intertextual references between, his original Persian works especially the didactic Mathnawī and the voluminous Divān containing his mystical ghazals. The paper defines “practical mysticism” as a specific aspect of the multidimensional complex of mysticism which deals with stages along the path of mystical perfection and practices that should be performed in order to achieve those stages. Such a definition pays due attention to both, and distinguishes between, cornerstones of mystical ethics and can properly highlight its difference from other normative theories such as deontological ethics and consequentialism. Based on this definition, the paper argues that Rumi’s practical system incorporates two major stages and two main practices: The Sufi path begins from the point de départ of the ordinary (wo)man under the control of his/her lower soul (nafs). By means of the first practice of inferior annihilation (fana’), one can attain the first stage of the domination of the intellect (‘aql), and through the second practice of superior annihilation, one may reach the second and final stage of the domination of the heart (qalb). Such spiritual transformation accords with Rumi’s theory of the human soul presented in several ghazals and couplets throughout his poetry, which assumes the existence of hierarchical, cosmo-psychological layers within the soul. Explicating different aspects of spiritual advancement in Rumi’s lyrics also exhibits the use of the ghazal as a mode of intellectual inquiry and spiritual practice. The method suggested in this paper can be utilized in systematizing the practical teachings of other Sufis, and more broadly, other mystics from non-Islamic traditions.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
Islamic World
Sub Area