Rumi and racism.

Rumi and racism.

I have been a long-time lover&fan of the life & work of the great Muslim mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. I love his work, his philosophy. I have watched the zikr ritual of his tariqa (a.ka. the “whirling dervishes”) many times.

Sadly enough, his work wasn’t free of racism, since he made quite a few racist remarks against black people. Even now, it hurts my heart to write this.

This is what I am talking about: “Or, as Rumi said:
On the Day when faces shall become white or black, Turk and Hindi shall become manifest (shall be clearly discerned) from among that company.
In the womb (of this world) Hindoo and Turk are not distinguishable, (but) when each is born (into the next world) he (the seer) sees that each is miserable or glorious (according to his spiritual nature).
–Masnavi 1:3524-25

Rumi used stock images for different nationalities, used by Persian poets for several centuries before his time. These stereotypes might be be racist if used, for example, in a political speech. But the use of such in spiritual poetry is different, because an essential quality of poetry is that it evokes multiple feelings and interpretations from multiple listeners or readers. Rumi primarily uses them in a symbolic way. Here, the smiling black man symbolizes the faith-rejecting sinner who is pleased with himself–yet unaware of his coming disgrace on the Day of Judgment.

“The Hindu is usually described as lowly and ugly. The zanji, Negro, blackfaced like him, is generally a model of spiritual happiness (the cheerfulness of the Negroes was mentioned in many a book and verse as early as Abbasid times). In spite of his black face, he is smiling and apparently happy [113]–an idea which Sanâ’î has used to interpret the inner meaning of the Prophetic tradition according to which ‘Poverty is blackness of the face.’ Rumi is slightly more critical and thinks that such happiness as experienced by the Negro lasts only as long as the superficial person does not see his own face in the mirror [115]…. While the Turks, Hindus, and Zanji’s belong to the general stock of classical Persian imagery, the Europeans are of course not too often mentioned as a poetical topos…”
–Annemarie Schimmel, “The Triumphal Sun,” p. 197

[*113] In such a (despicable) state (as has been described) thou wouldst fain live and be remembered: in blackness of face (shame and opprobrium), like a negro, thou art rejoicing.
The negro in (his) blackness is pleased (with himself), for he has (always) been a negro by birth and nature;
(But) he that (even) for a day is beloved and beautiful, if he become black, will seek to repair (the misfortune).
–Masnavi 5:817-18
Thou hast given away a casket full of rubies and, like the negro, thou art rejoicing in thy blackness of face (disastrous plight).
–Masnavi 6: 1047
[*115] Like the negro who is happy and pleased, (for) he does not see his face, (though) others see it.”
–Masnavi 6:4535

“Rumi is Turk insofar as he belongs to the world of spirit, beyond the world of Hindu-like dark matter; but on the outward plane he knows not what he is…. More than once he has attested that: “I am sometimes Turk and sometimes Hindu, sometimes Rumi and sometimes Negro. O soul, from your image is my approval and my denial.” [106]
–*[106} Ghazal no. 1458
That Abyssinian negro became white as the full moon, and his night turned into bright day.
He became a Joseph in beauty and in coquetry: he (the Prophet) said to him, “Now go home and relate what has befallen thee.”
–Masnavi 3:3173
If you are a man (bound) for the Pilgrimage, seek a pilgrim (as your) companion, whether he be a Hindoo or a Turcoman or an Arab.
Do not look at his figure and colour, look at his purpose and intention.
If he is black, (yet) he is in accord with you: call him white, for (spiritually) his complexion is the same as yours.”

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