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Rumi (1207-1273)  

Perhaps only two noteworthy world religions have grown out of same-sex love affairs. The Roman Emperor Hadrian began the Cult of Antinous following the death of his young companion. However, the legacy of Antinous, based primarily on the boy's physical beauty, was insufficient to rival the growing popularity of Christianity and the cult was short-lived. By contrast, the "whirling dervish" order of Sufis, begun by Jalal al-Din Rumi following the disappearance of his beloved friend Shams al-Din, continues to whirl after more than seven centuries, and the love poems Rumi wrote for and about Shams are still recited and praised throughout Persia and much of the Islamic world.

Rumi was born near Balkh (Afghanistan) in 1207 but lived most of his life in Konya (Turkey). He was a thirty-four-year-old Sufi teacher when he met the wandering dervish and mystic Shams al-Din of Tabriz in October 1244. Shams was nearly sixty. The two men immediately established a spiritual bond and would disappear together inside a house for months at a time, causing great resentment and jealousy among Rumi's followers. Twice the devotees managed to force Shams out of Konya, but both times Rumi sent a friend to Baghdad to retrieve him.

Then, in 1247, Shams abruptly disappeared. Legends (presumably apocryphal) tell of him disappearing into thin air while in the hands of Rumi's followers; more likely, they murdered him. Rumi searched for Shams for many days but eventually gave up and went into seclusion. It was while in mourning for Shams that he adorned the garments now associated with the dervish order he founded and began to dance, or "whirl," and spontaneously chant his poetry aloud.

Following the death of Shams, Rumi developed passionate relationships with two other men. Salah al-Din Zarkub was initially one of Rumi's pupils but became his devoted companion. Following Salah's death in 1261, Rumi became passionately attached to Husam al-Din Hasan, who eventually succeeded him as head of the order upon Rumi's death in 1273.

Rumi was a humble man who treated everyone equally, whether Muslim, Jew, or Christian. He preferred the company of the poor and the needy, although he was looked upon with favor by the royalty of his time. He was so loved that when he died and his disciples bathed his corpse, they caught and drank the water dripping from his body.

Rumi's mystical epic poem The Mathnavi was chanted aloud to Husam beginning around 1258. The series of stories, although unfinished, is regarded by Persians as "the Persian Koran," and is one of the two most important works of Persian literature.

More beautiful, however, is Rumi's The Divan of Shams-i Tabriz, a work written expressly for Shams and titled to indicate that Shams is the author, as if the two men had become one person. Rumi believed Shams to be perfect, in the image of God. Thus, he believed that when he loved Shams, he was loving God in body and soul. Not even Rumi knew exactly how to describe his relationship with Shams. "Even friend and beloved are wrong words for this," he said.

The tone of The Divan is uplifting and Rumi manages to mix mysticism and the deeply spiritual with an eroticism that approaches the sublime: "My mouth tastes sweet with your name in it." For a world more accustomed to reading praises of the older man for the younger (Shakespeare's Sonnets, poems in the Greek Anthology, etc.), in The Divan one finds, uncharacteristically, the younger man providing moving accounts of his love for the older: "I turn my face to you, and into eternity: / We have been in love that long." Rumi's idea of paradise is to be with Shams: "There is a grainy taste I prefer to every / Idea of heaven: human friendship."

At his best, Rumi expresses love for another man more profoundly and more poetically than any other writer except, perhaps, Shakespeare or Hafiz. "I see my beauty in you," Rumi says in another ghazal for Shams. For seven centuries, readers have discovered their own capacity for beauty in the words of Rumi.

Keith Hale


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Arberry, A. J. Classical Persian Literature. London: Allen & Unwin, 1958.

Barks, Coleman, trans. The Glance: Songs of Soul Meeting. New York: Viking, 1990.

Iqbal, Afzal. The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Shah, Indries. The Hundred Tales of Wisdom: Life, Teachings and Miracles of Jaluludin Rumi. London: Octagon Press, 1992.

Shiva, Shahram, trans. Hush, Don't Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi. Fremont, Calif.: Jain Publications, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hale, Keith  
    Entry Title: Rumi  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 15, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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