Here’s an example of a very old idea with clear sharp modern relevance.
The idea comes from Rumi’s father Bahauddin (apologies to my Persian friends if I got that wrong – spelling varies here for almost all of the greats). Very little of his famous “Drowned Book” is available in English – but Barkes and Moyne have released one volume of delectable excerpts.
From these small sketches at least, we get the impression that he was a wilder mystic than his son. More ecstatic in some ways – at least until Rumi’s life was upended by his new friendship with Shams – when he too began to draw from an even sweeter and more otherworldly well.
Rumi’s works are also much more polished and purposeful – Bahauddin’s book really feels like an artist’s sketchbook – we feel not a refined program for the seeker, but the thrilling active process of a genius pushing.
As I noted elsewhere, the times in which Rumi lived were not at all ideal – war and ruin had already come to half of Islam – and the once great empire was then fractured into smaller principalities. Refugees were everywhere.
At times like that, tempers get high, crazy rumours seem credible, fights break out in formerly peaceful areas, and mobs do damage, instantly inspiring other mobs. All of this would have been hard for comfy westerners to relate to 30 years ago – but we’re seeing it every night on the news now. This is why Bahauddin’s advice about dealing with a mob hit me so hard.
Confronting their anger is pointless – anger is why they all showed up. The only way to get them to even listen, is to tack alongside.
One final (funny) note – after reading the book many times over, and finding great value in it, I finally had a chance to discuss it with my friend from Somalia, who finds my interest in the Sufi classics by turns charming and hilarious. By then, I had convinced myself that the title of the book was “The Ma’rifa” but as soon as I said that she laughed and said,
“Wow, look at you, you finally know a word. Yes, that is wisdom.”
I did an instant flashback on that time in art-school when I was posing for painting students in my “Traveller from an antique land” costume (inspired by the poem Ozymandias), and I asked an Arab student the proper name for the classic middle eastern long shirt.
He said, “It’s called a Thob.”
So, being mister curious I went one step further and asked – “What does that translate into, literally?”
He gave me a deadpan look and a perfect Catskills pause, then said, “Clothing.”