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Cover of "A Moth to the Flame" by Connie Zweig

"The lovers crawl in and out of your alley,
They bathe in drips of blood; and not finding you, they give up and leave.
I am forever stationed at your door like the earth,
While others come and go like the wind."
--Jelaluddin Rumi

 

 

Many Americans first fell in love with the poetry of the thirteenth century teacher and spiritual Jelaluddin Rumi during the early 1990s when the unparalleled lyrical grace, philosophical brilliance, and spiritual daring of his work took modern Western readers completely by surprise. The impact of its soulful beauty and the depth of its profound humanity were so intense that they reportedly prompted numerous individuals to spontaneously compose poetry.

One of the most renowned translators of Rumi's work, Coleman Barks, confirmed that he was aware of such instances where people with a deep passion for Rumi's poetry not only spontaneously composed poetry but recited and sang it too.

That sense of blessed enchantment is one that various readers have come to associate with all things related to Rumi. Consequently, they might very well expect and yearn for some semblance of that enchantment in the novel A Moth to the Flame, the Life of the Sufi Poet Rumi, by Ph.D. Connie Zweig.

From the first page to the last, there is much to admire in Zweig's amazing recreation of the places, people, and events that shaped the life and work of Rumi. The author skillfully brings to life the everyday colors, activities, and diverse religious customs of the Middle East in the thirteenth century. She also--having been for 30 years a student of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism--proves more than a little adept at describing various states of psychological and spiritual consciousness.

A Moth to the Flamebegins as Rumi's father, the spiritual leader Bahaoddin Velad, is dying. The future author of the massive and now classic book of world literature, the Mathnawi, is left to face life alone in Konya, where threats of war and invasion increase daily. As Rumi takes on the mantle of leadership and enters into marriage and fatherhood, Zweig exercises her privilege as author to make readers privy to his thoughts and most intimate moments.

Those who prefer their spiritual heroes presented in their basic humanity may nod approvingly at the portrayal of Rumi's consummation of his two marriages while those who empower the grace of their own spirituality with that gleaned from his may feel differently. In one sense, these brief scenes--in which Rumi experiences both disappointment and erotic intoxication--appear crucial to illustrating the contrast between the nature of carnal desire and the elevated spiritual consciousness towards which Rumi was evolving. In another, they do not, and become even more questionable when the sexual focus is place on his wife Kira's fantasies regarding her mystically preoccupied husband.

It is difficult sometimes to determine whether A Moth to the Flame is intended as a celebration of Rumi's life, as a feminist critique of it, or simply a balanced account presented in the form of fiction. Much of the book's substance is a matter of historical record while much of it is a matter of interpretation of that record. By nearly every account, the Rumi now famed for his boundless defense and espousal of life as a manifestation of divine love, would be unknown to the world had it not been for a spiritual transformation triggered by his meeting, and subsequent friendship with, the wandering dervish known as Shams of Tabriz. That fact is a dominant theme in A Moth to the Flame as well. But it is often difficult to understand exactly why or how this is so when the overwhelming impression of both Rumi and Shams in these pages is that of two men whose esoteric obsessions caused devastating--even fatal--psychological harm to those who loved them, particularly the women in their lives.

Consequently, we note with stunned sorrow the forced marriage of Rumi's young daughter Kimiya to the much older Shams; and the painful desire-filled loneliness that Rumi's wife Kira suffers while her husband engages, seemingly to the exclusion of everything else, in sacred conversations with Shams. Readers even find themselves empathizing with Rumi's son Aloeddin's stinging sense of rejection when his relationship with his father appears to be obliterated by the presence of Shams in their lives. Eventually that rejection leads to Shams' murder.


Please click here for Part 2
: The Concept of Jihad

 

by Aberjhani

Comments
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Sorry about the erroneous line break

I'm not sure what happened with the fifth paragraph beginning with "A Moth to the Flame..." It was supposed to continue on the same line leading into the one below it but I couldn't correct the glitch. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the read.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Very nice, Aberjhani. Rumi

Very nice, Aberjhani. Rumi is one of my favorites.

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And as you can see...

 

He is definitely one of mine too. I could probably write a short book about Rumi's impact upon my life and certain poems I've written. 

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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If I were in charge of

If I were in charge of managing public opinion of Islam in the West, I would definitely promote the writings of the Sufi poets.  They would be eye opening to most people who've not been exposed to them. 

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First Introduction to Rumi

Hello Aberjhani.

I'm familiar with "only" the quotes from Rumi. And now, thanks to YOU, I have this wonderful essay that presented me with my first genuine introduction to Rumi. I truly enjoyed this. You have answered a lot of my questions here.

Thank you very much for the class:-). I intend to bookmark this one!

Truly,
Catherine Nagle

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Glad you enjoyed it Catherine...

 
But when it comes to Rumi I am still very much a student myself :-)

 
Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Thank you for introducing

Thank you for introducing Rumi, Aber.

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Ahhhh Rumi....

Truly he needs no introduction Sumathi :-) What I present here is only one of my many experiences in regard to his continued literary and spiritual presence in the world.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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My discovery was from the

My discovery was from the other direction. Shams Tabrez to Rumi. The way my mother used to describe Hazrat Tabrez to me, he came across as some sort of spiritual superman. With time, and my letting go of the hold of Western thought that had completely permeated my thinking, I went on to discover both.

Aberjhani, you have woven this beautifully to make Rumi's character go beyond his Sufism. In fact, he was himself quite disenchanted with love.

I have been tricked by flying too close
to what I thought I loved.

Now the candleflame is out, the wine spilled,
and the lovers have withdrawn
somewhere beyond my squinting.

Allow me to quote something about his meeting with his master:

Rumi was sitting next to a pond intellectualizing over his numerous religious books - his precious possessions – when Shams Tabrez ‘happened’ to pass by, stopped and asked him, ‘what is this?’ Rumi, without looking up, egoistically said, ‘leave me alone!’ Tabrez then repeated, ‘what is this?’ Then Rumi looked up and said, ‘can’t you see I’m busy; besides, this is a knowledge of which you know nothing about!’ Tabrez then went and picked up the most valuable one of Rumi’s books and tossed it right into the waterpond, which, of course, infuriated Rumi. Rumi screamed, ‘you crazy man! look what you’ve done; my prize possession is ruined!’ Upon hearing that, Tabrez immediately reached into the pond, fetched-out the book and handed it to Rumi – completely whole and dry! Rumi, in total amazement and wonder, asked, ‘what is this?’ – to which Shams Tabrez replied, ‘this is a knowledge of which you know nothing about.’

Outwardly, you are equal to a particle. Inwardly, you are equal to a hundred suns. (Shams Tabrez)

~F

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The Great Shams Tabrez

You are only the second person I've come across Farzana to discover Rumi "from the other direction" and yet there was that period when Rumi would have said that to discover the one--either he or Shams-- was the same as discovering the other.

A few years ago a friend very generously gave me a spiritual fantasy novel based on Shams and while I could appreciate the author's effort, I found it difficult to appreciate his representation of Shams overall because by then I had read so much of the wandering dervish's own ecstatic utterances that anything less was exactly that: less, and therefore not very satisfying. But still, it's amazing to see the different ways that people make the extended connection.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)