Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi is one of the greatest Sufi poets of the Islamic world. His ecstatic poetry and spiritual message of love touch hearts worldwide. Rumi: The Animated Biography follows his eventful life in the 13th century under the shadow of the Mongol invasion through the great cities of Muslim lands.
Originally from Balkh in Greater Khorasan, Rumi was born in 1207, his lifetime spanning a highly turbulent period in history as the Mongols swept through and destroyed many of the most important cities of the Islamic lands. Yet from this backdrop of ruin and devastation, Rumi has produced spiritual poetry that has touched hearts beyond borders and achieved worldwide recognition, first within the Muslim world, and more recently in the West, where he has been described not just as a great poet, but as the most popular and best-selling poet in the United States. Some more popular interpretations and translations have been criticised for being too free and leaving out references to Islam. The Mevlevi order, with its easily identifiable whirling dervishes, was founded by Rumi’s followers and his son Sultan Veled.
We know him today most commonly as Rumi, meaning of Rūm, a name used historically to refer to Byzantine Anatolia, and as Mevlana, meaning “our master”. From a long line of Hanafi Maturidi jurists, Rumi also studied Islamic law and became an Islamic jurist and teacher in Konya. Rumi’s childhood was overshadowed by the invasion of the Mongols, going from city to city leaving devastation in their wake. His family left Balkh when he was still a child, before it was sacked in 1220 by Genghis Khan. Describing Balkh over a hundred years later, Ibn Battuta described it as a city still in ruins:
“It is completely dilapidated and uninhabited, but anyone seeing it would think it to be inhabited because of the solidity of its construction (for it was a vast and important city), and its mosques and colleges preserve their outward appearance even now, with the inscriptions on their buildings incised with lapis-blue paints.”
– Gibb 1971 The Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa
One of the things highlighted in Rumi: The Animated Biography is the fact that Rumi’s father was an influential figure. His father’s name was Baha ud-Din Walad, and he was a well-known theologian, jurist, mystic and author. Rumi: The Animated Biography depicts the meeting of Rumi with Attar in the city of Nishapur, which was one of the stops in Rumi’s itinerant childhood, on their route from Balkh, to Baghdad, to Damascus and Mecca, finally settling in Karaman and then Konya in 1228. It is said that Attar, on seeing Rumi’s father walking ahead of him said “Here comes the sea followed by an ocean.”
Rumi: The Animated Biography also depicts the meeting of Rumi and Shams, and Rumi’s transformation from a scholar to a heart-centred mystic. Shams was an enigmatic figure who appeared and changed Rumi’s outlook on life completely, becoming his spiritual teacher. After Shams’ second disappearance, Rumi was bereft and wrote poems, which were collected in the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. He was later encouraged by one of his disciples, Hussam-e Chalabi, to write a book such as the great works of Sanai or Attar. This became the Masnavi, one of the most celebrated works of mystical poetry in world literature.
This animated feature film gives us insight not only into the life of Rumi, but also into the life of a 13th century family of respected Sufi scholars fleeing the Mongol threat. A unique glimpse of Islamic history, it evokes the terror of the Mongol attacks, the splendour of the mosques and palaces of the medieval Islamic world, and the extraordinary life and ecstatic poetry of Rumi himself.