Hawaii events to honor Year of Rumi, Sufi poet of tolerance
Americans who haven't heard of Rumi probably will soon as the world celebrates the 800th birthday of the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared 2007 the International Year of Rumi. Rumi fans are celebrating with concerts and readings, while the Whirling Dervishes, inspired by Rumi, perform their spinning sacred dance around the world on tour.
With the tensions between the Islamic and Western worlds, many may welcome an occasion to reflect on Rumi's message of love and tolerance, of an essential connection that transcends individual religions. While Islam is often perceived in terms of its extremists, its laws and its veils, Rumi shows us the "inner secret" of Islam, an experience of Divine Presence that is transcendent, all-pervading and also imminent.
Jelaluddin Loras, who lives on Maui and in Turkey and is founder of the Mevlevi Order of America, has spent the last quarter-century bringing the teachings of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi to the West. When asked to distill the modern relevance of Sufism, the Islamic mystical tradition into which Rumi was born, Loras said, "Whatever religion you belong to, whatever color you are, whether man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, you are the most precious diamond of God."
The Mevlevi Order of America will produce a celebration of the Year of Rumi with the traditional Whirling Ceremony Dec. 7 on Oahu and Dec. 10 on Maui. Famed Turkish musicians are coming to lend their talents along with whirlers and musicians from Turkey, the United States, Mexico and Palestine.
Rumi was born in what is now Afghanistan, in a city on the verge of invasion by the Mongols. He followed his father as a respected Islamic scholar, but after an encounter with a traveling Sufi dervish, Rumi blossomed within Islam's mystic tradition. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order, one of several Sufi orders that hold Rumi in high esteem.
He is known in America today for his poetry. His best-known work is the Masnavi, five volumes of rhyming couplets in a complex poetic form that incorporate stories, commentaries and prayers. Many consider it a surprising illumination of the Quran. Celebrated foremost in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and South Asia, Rumi translations have been found in American bookshelves since 1995 after poet Coleman Barks translated selections in "The Essential Rumi," which has sold more than 500,000 copies.
Honolulu Rumi fans quietly celebrated Rumi's birthday Sept. 30 in small gatherings or alone savoring lines like these: "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Public celebrations are traditionally held in December, the month of Rumi's death, to celebrate the anniversary of his return to the "Divine Beloved" -- God.
Rumi's poetry has already found a home on our bookshelves, speaking to us in images of love with freshness and immediacy. The Year of Rumi's Whirling Ceremonies in Hawaii, with authentic music and sacred dance, may bring true flavor and aroma to our Western understanding of Rumi.
Valerie Noor Karima Payton
is a board member of The All Believers Network, a Honolulu-based interfaith organization. She leads Dances of Universal Peace (also known as Sufi dancing) and with her husband acts as center leader for Honolulu's chapter of the Mevlevi Order of America. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org