Thursday, July 12, 2007
Rumi was celebrated with great enthusiasm by the United Nations on 26 June 2007.
The event, held at UN Headquarters in New York on the occasion of his 800th birthday, was jointly organized by the Permanent Missions of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey-countries that revere Rumi as a saint, poet, philosopher and cultural treasure.
Maulana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, known in the West simply as Rumi and deeply admired for his poetry and philosophy, was born in the region of Balkh, which is now Afghanistan, but lived in the Khorasani region of Persia.
He died in the Turkish region of Konya, leaving behind a rich body of work in Persian and sowing the seeds for the tremendous following he gained after his death in areas far beyond the Asia Minor.
The marvel of this Asian poet is that his work remains relevant to our world today, even though he lived eight centuries ago. This is perhaps most evident in the religious culture emerging among today's youth, who are increasingly drawn to spiritual movements, such as a secular humanism based on Rumi's philosophy.
As a historical figure, Rumi has come to embody "universality", although he belonged to the Asia Minor region, and his way of thinking, as documented in his poetry and retold through generations of followers, displays interconnectedness and universal unity.
The commemoration began with a panel discussion featuring renowned academics and representatives such as Prof. James Morris, Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter's Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, and Dr. Hossein Nasr, Chairman of George Washington University's Islamic Institute, along with other Rumi specialists of Persian, Afghani, and Turkish background, who highlighted the relevance of Rumi's work to today's world.
The panel discussion was followed by recitation, with translation, of some of Rumi's most famous poetry, a musical performance, and a "Sama" performance by 'whirling dervishes'.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa were present during the cultural performances, with Mr. Ban making official remarks regarding the relevance of Maulana Rumi to present-day issues and in motivating the work of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
While some Rumi specialists discussed how Rumi's words revealed an undeniable relevance to current international politics and regional sociocultural debates, others highlighted how he was remarkably universal and yet keenly particular in his self-exploration, and how his work foreshadowed the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr. Nasr pointed out that even though Rumi's work is often treated as universally applicable, making him widely perceived as beyond national and ethnic boundaries, it remained solidly rooted in Islamic mystical thought, as evident in the traditional title "Maulana" and references to his divine being in accordance with Islam.
The duality of Rumi's poetry, understood as firmly grounded in Islamic thought but simultaneously seen as universal by diverse societies, is proof of the possibility of strong religious values and secularism coexisting harmoniously. The conflicting cultural, political and religious divisions in today's world promise to be reconciled through an open communication, similar to the kind of approach applied by Rumi, focusing on tolerance, compassion, commonality and beauty in diversity.
While the Secretary-General acknowledged that "Rumi's poetry is timeless", he pointed out that "its celebration at the United Nations is extremely timely", noting that it underscored the Organization's efforts to promote a culture of peace through the Alliance of Civilizations and to bridge divides and promote understanding.
Indeed, Rumi's celebration of love for humanity, life, the divine and universality offers solutions to problems we continue to struggle with even today.
[related article: http://sufinews.blogspot.com/search?q=ban+ki]