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1207 – 1273, Afghanistan
Jalaluddin Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order of Sufi dervishes, was without a doubt one of the most open-hearted and ecstatic consorts of the Beloved of all time. Born in the remote village of Balkh (now part of Afghanistan), Rumi spent most of his life in Konya, Turkey, which in the thirteenth century lay at the western edge of the Silk Road and was a mingling spot for merchants and mystics alike. There Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and even Buddhists crossed paths. In his late thirties, Rumi, a respected scholar of theology, started a school of divinity. He was a consummate Sufi, or seeker of God. Some consider Sufism to be the mystical branch of Islam, others hold it to be the pursuit of truth and communion with the Divine in any aspirant of any tradition. There is no reality, exhort the Sufis, but God; only Love, Lover, and Beloved; mere emptiness to be filled with all that is God.
Without a doubt, the defining moment of Rumi’s life was his meeting, in those same streets of Konya, with Shams (meaning “sun”) of Tabriz. A wandering dervish with no school of his own, Shams sought no great or subservient following. He merely sought one receptive soul spacious enough to contain his teachings and to be a companion in Divine ecstasy. As Rumi rode his donkey through the market stalls of Konya, he was pierced by the penetrating glance of Shams, and would never again be as he was. “Who,” challenged Shams, “was greater – Mohammed or Bestami [a renowned Sufi master claiming to have merged with God]?” Immersed in the question, Rumi came to the realization in that very moment that he need search no further. He stood face to face with God.
Shams and Rumi became inseparable, engaging in shared communion with the Divine, sometimes spoken, often in silence. Their spirits commingled, immersed in contemplation, meditation, revelation, and celebration. Rumi’s students came to be quite jealous of Shams and, in 1247, murdered him, leaving no trace of his body. Rumi was devastated, but eventually came to know that Shams was ever with him; they remained inseparable, in spirit as in body. His sublime odes to Love, Lover, and Beloved, the Sufi trinity, may be considered an ongoing dialogue with his precious teacher and companion.
The Mevlevi order has spread throughout the world, and Rumi’s ecstatic verses continue to set many a heart and soul aflame. Intoxication is the word that most aptly describes Rumi’s love affair with the Divine. Imbibing the delicious nectar of the spirit, turning ‘round and ‘round in absolute harmony with the music of the spheres, Rumi celebrates the absolute harmony with the music of the spheres, Rumi celebrates the dance of the spirit. A Sufi, filled with ecstasy, remarked to his companion that his cup overflowed with the wine of the spirit. So bursting was he with his Beloved that there was no room left for even one more drop of wine. “Never,” the other replied, “can one have too much of God, as he floated a rose petal atop the full-to-the-brim goblet.” So is the bursting heart and spirit of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Followers of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of the Islamic religion, were so convinced of his divine powers that they collected the water he washed in, the hair that fell from his head, and even his saliva, believing that these would work wonders.
While Muhammad himself made no claim to be a miracle-worker, he is said to have performed many wondrous acts during his lifetime from around AD 570 to 632. After his death the faithful flocked to his tomb at Medina, and many still believe this is a place of unlimited miraculous powers. Some of the legends – for example, the story that the Prophet fed a thousand men with the meat of a single sheep – seem to mirror miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also said that at Muhammad’s birth, in the city of Medina, his mother was so brightly illumined that the radiance was seen in distant Syria, resembling the Star of Bethlehem.
Other miracles attributed to him are much more stereotypical – Muhammad made predictions that came true; he knew of a person’s death before the news reached him; and he read the minds of Jewish enemies planning to poison him. When another foe, Abu Jahl, cursed the Prophet, he completely lost his speech. Although Muhammad restored Abu Jahl’s voice, the man still spoke against him. When Abu Jahl threw rocks at the holy man, his hand shriveled and became useless. The Prophet was saluted by a stone, and a wooden pillar wept until it almost broke in two after he stopped leaning against it.
Many miracles are also attributed to some later followers of Muhammad, particularly to the spiritual leaders of various communities scattered through the Islamic world. Muhammad ben Isa, founder of the Isawiyyah order, who died in about 1523, was exiled by the sheik of Mecca. When his starving disciples called on their master to help them to find nourishment, he told them to eat whatever they could find on the road. Showing complete trust, they gathered stones, snakes, and scorpions – and Muhammad ben Isa’s power protected them. In 1868 the German traveler H. von Maltzan discovered a Moroccan community that maintained the tradition. After performing ritual dances, the people consume live serpents and scorpions, followed by broken glass, needles and cactus leaves – all of which they swallowed with wild enthusiasm and no ill effects.
During the sixteenth century Muslim missionaries in India were actively seeking to convert Hindus to their faith. Legend tells that several miracles helped them in their task. When Imam Shah of Pirana saw a group of Hindu pilgrims bound for Benares, he offered to help them on their way. They accepted and instantly found themselves transported to Benares. They bathed in the holy River Ganges and performed their religious duties – then wok to find themselves still in Pirana. Impressed by this feat, the pilgrims immediately converted to Islam.