A Tongue for Shams of Tabriz: Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi

Although the question has received less attention from historians than it should have received, Shams of Tabriz was evidently incapable of speaking himself about ‘what he has witnessed in the invisible realms’. This was first mentioned by Baba Kemal of Tabriz, one of his early masters, who offered the following prayer for Shams: ‘May God the Glorious assign a friend to you, a friend who can describe the realities and the gnosis on your behalf. Rivers of wisdom may flow from his heart to his tongue, his words may dress this wisdom in letters and sounds, and the adornment of the dress may belong to you.’ The friend who would possess these qualities was, of course, Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi.

Drawing on primary sources as well as on modern scholarship in Persian, Turkish, and English, my paper will reconsider a number of questions that are central to the relationship between Shams of Tabriz and Jalal al-Din Rumi. The intensity of this relationship was obviously of fundamental importance for the transformation of Jalal al-Din Rumi into an ecstatic poet. Any attempt to understand the nature of ecstasy in the poetry of Rumi will therefore naturally begin with Shams.

I shall argue in the paper that the love displayed by Shams, more than any particular ideas that he expressed, assured his elevated status in the eyes of Jalal al-Din Rumi as a sultan of spirituality. The result of this extraordinary mystical encounter was an intellectually sophisticated literary legacy that emerged from experiences in which intellect seems to have played only a secondary role.