Rumi, Jalal al-Din

Poet / Religious Figure

Born: 30 September 1207
Died: 17 December 1273
Birthplace: Balkh (modern Afghanistan)
Best known as: Founder of the Whirling Dervishes
One of the greatest of Sufi poets, Jalal al-Din Rumi wrote poems in the 13th century which found a new audience in the U.S. in the 1990s. Rumi was already a teacher and theologian when, around 1244, he encountered a wandering dervish (a Muslim ascetic) named Shams of Tabriz. Spiritually inspired by the dervish to find God in worldly experiences, Rumi founded the Mevlani Order of the Sufi sect. Sometimes referred to as "the drunken Sufi," he became famous during his lifetime for his poetic works, especially Divan-e-Shams, poems praising Shams, and the 6 volumes of Mathnawi (pronounced "masnavi"). His followers, called Whirling Dervishes, combine music and dance, spinning around to achieve a trance-like state as a way to reach God. In the late 1990s, an updated translation by Coleman Barks became a bestseller in the U.S., and Rumi's work was further popularized by celebrities such as Deepak Chopra, Demi Moore and Madonna.

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