Redeeming Maulana: How paraphrasing & historical downfalls impacted Rumi’s image
By: AABID SHAH
Though a period of seven centuries have gone by, Maulana Rumi’s mystic sagas still arrest the breaths of million people and retain the capacity to fascinate both Muslim and non-Muslim readership. Rumi descended from a line of preachers and thus grew up into a conventional Islamic intellectual of his era having an extraordinary proficiency in religion and mysticism. Maulana’s spiritual state and his inclination towards Islamic mysticism can be traced back to his father who had been an inspiring force behind Rumi’s mystical propensity and in-depth intuitions. Innumerable scholars like Aflaki, Franklin Lewis, Sipahsalar (Molana’s disciple) & Sultan Walad (Molana’s son) have solidified the claim that apart from being a mystic, Rumi was a strict adherent of his religion & Prophet Mohammad (SAW). For this reason alone, Molana is rightly named as “the greatest mystical & Islamic poet in the history of mankind.”
However, seldom can you witness the mention of Islam with Rumi’s name anywhere, not even in most popularized and widely read versions of his poetry. His devotion to Islam has been highly ignored and his Islamic expertise in theology has been skipped. Such downplays have left Rumi’s poetry out of soul, ingenuity, purpose & have resulted in complete loss of its substance.
Translations and versions written by A.J Berry, Coleman Barks, Deepak Chopra, James Cowan, John Moyne and other numerous linguists have failed to satisfy the inner spiritual hunger among readers. The unfamiliarity of Barks and other linguists with Persian and Arabic outwashes them unqualified to translate medieval Islamic literature. Irony is that Barks shines like an overhead sun; a finest scholar of Rumi’s Sufi poetry in east and west equally. Till date, he has published dozens of translations of Rumi’s works-each crafted in a way different to original texts in Persian. This helped him mint a gigantic sum of money & earn a fame but at the same distorted original mystic poetry, it’s significance, it’s intense taste & led to dramatic prevalence of false quotes attributed to Maulana. For so long now, he and the hacks like him, have been preaching their imaginative Rumi-a Rumi that never existed, erasing the basic Islamic and moral context that Rumi formulated his works in. This caused an irreplaceable harm to Rumi’s long-standing prominence by secularising his ideas and by spreading the resulting outright falsehood to millions.
The wandering Rumi we once had is nowhere now. He is lost in paraphrasing & translations. He has turned a social media formula befitting every scene & occasion. He is razed to a cheap, materialistic & a break-up poet-a poet who provides feel-good renditions & who we put on our WhatsApp and dedicate to our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is the outcome of Rumi’s literary colonisation that enables it to fit below of an Instagram picture only. Eroticism, romance, adultery, nudity, drinking, singing & dancing-these things have no place & appear nowhere in Rumi’s original work.
We need to understand that Rumi was not a break-up poet and he’s not for your girlfriend or boyfriend. He is of and for the timeless love. He advocates the love that is pure from materialism & self-spirituality. But we deceived him. His true poetry suffered a great hurt in the hands of letter-for-letter linguists who altered it’s innermost magic and stripped it of the actual sense. All this was intended to deprive the readers from learning the beauty of Islamic mysticism and the dynamism available within Islamic scholarship. Following western new age thinking and the things they spit at the world, we have gone too far reducing religious context from his out-pouring. It is time to breath life into Rumi’s poetry and save it from further distortions so that it won’t be toyed in the hands of musicians, actors, dancers & imperialistic puppets. Rumi’s concept of true love & exalting human universality needs to be promoted so that world will witness charm of his epics. We can start by boycotting colonising linguists & western re-writers and by promoting original Persian work. Quite a few reading options like Javid Mojaddedi can be considered useful in English. Withholding originality and rapture in Urdu language, we have Maulana Asraf Ali Thanvi’s “Kaleed-e-Mathnavi” & Qazi Sajjad Hussain’s “Mathnavi Rumi.”
Translating Rumi’s verses is a very tough job and there can be no claim of having done justice to his work by anyone. In order to translate better and to deliver Rumi’s mystic insights correctly, one needs to develop an ample amount of understanding and selflessness to dive deep into his verses and decipher their real meanings. However, if taken literally, we’re bound to land into the pitfalls of explicit error. An inner metaphysical context and an exceptional altruism is needed to seek a closer and comprehensive mastery of his verses.
The writer, a student of Mass communication and multimedia productions at the University of Kashmir is author of “Undead Fantasy” and can be mailed at [email protected])