This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.
Yesterday morning, I saw my cousin retweeted an article called “The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi.” Instantly, I was intrigued because I took a class almost every semester in college with a professor who is a Rumi translator (he’s actually quotes in the article). From my freshman class called Islamic Mystical Literature to my senior seminar on Rumi himself, I received a lot of first-time exposure to Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi—the mystical poet and the Islamic scholar.
I excitedly clicked the article, and came to realize much of my paper from a Sufism class sophomore year (good God, that was almost FIVE years ago) discussed similar issues regarding Rumi as the best-selling poet in the U.S. But what I never mentioned in the paper, which was the premise of Rozina Ali’s entire article, was how many Islamic references are written out of the popular translations. At the same time, references to prophets that would still be recognizable to your average American were left as is.
Although I knew many people quoted Rumi online, at weddings, and in greeting cards for romantic reasons, it never occurred to me the references to Quran and Islam were blatantly left out or reworked in translations to appeal to a general audience. Whether intentional or not, this reworking did erase Islam from much of Rumi’s translated works which spread so far and wide in the Western world. But of course, all the credit for Rumi’s popularity can’t be relinquished to the translated works, which Omid Safi cleverly referred to as “spiritual colonialism” in Ali’s piece. To quote from the introductory paragraph of a paper I submitted my final semester of college about Rumi:
“There is something to be said about a writer who can connect with his or her reader. The conveyance of a message to an audience requires skill. The conveyance of a message to an audience that transcends borders put in place by faiths, languages, and centuries requires great mastery of said skill with a mix of unique flair, clarity, intrigue, and empathy. The writings and poems of Jalal ad-Din Rumi do exactly that. For despite his being a thirteenth century Muslim mystic originating from what is present-day Afghanistan, Mawlana Rumi is a bestselling poet in twenty-first century North America. Rumi the poet, the scholar, the Sufi, and the human was and is a bridge connecting members of his audience from all corners of both the Muslim and non-Muslim, past and present worlds.”
Clicking that article yesterday threw me back into the classroom of my college courses. It reminded me how I’d come across a line of poetry exactly when I needed it most and how fond I grew of Mawlana Rumi’s writings, Alhamdulillah.