Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shams Tabriz

Shams-i-Tabrizi, or Shams of Tabriz was a qalandar who visited Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) in Konya, most probably in 1247, and then disappeared. Little else can be verified about him with any degree of historical authenticity. At least two cities claim to be his burial places: Khoy (Iran) and Multan (Pakistan), but how he may have arrived in either of these remains unclear, as are the circumstances of his death. Some classical biographers have also transposed events from the life of Shamsuddin Muhammad, the 28th Imam of Ismaili Shias, who died in 1310.
The layers of ambiguity surrounding the historical personality of Shams are well-matched by the treatment accorded to him by his famous disciple. Rumi not only named a collection of his own ghazals after his mentor, calling it Divan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz, but also referred to him with great admiration in the Masnavi.
The well-known anecdote about Shams Tabriz throwing the books of Rumi in water and then retrieving them, as well as the alternate version used by Iqbal in Secrets and Mysteries (see Chapter 18), may have been floated by the inner circle of Rumi’s disciples as a similitude for the true nature of the epiphany experienced by Rumi upon meeting his mentor: Rumi became aware of a source of knowledge higher than books.
The anecdote, if treated as a parable, offers yet another possible interpretation. Only eleven years after the meeting between Rumi and Shams, the sum total of the five hundred years of Muslim civilization got burnt down in the form of the libraries of Baghdad, and the ashes went down the River Tigris, just as the books catch fire and are thrown into water, respectively, in the two different versions of the parable.
In the two stories, Shams retrieves the books from the ashes, and from water, respectively. Likewise, the poetry of Rumi, inspired by Shams, retrieves the essence of the fallen Muslim civilization, and takes it to a higher plane.


  1. This seems so logical which we never thought that the parable of buring books is befitting in the context of destruction of almost entire written word preserved in the libraries of Bagdad.

  2. My first response was to revisit a body of influential teachings I've returned to from my youth up. Such incorporate similar metaphors and parables...

    As some of you know, like scholars and readers here, I love to find commonalities - and I found many within one hour after reading this post - including that of Fire and Water in similar teachings and lives of other wisdom icons.

    For one example, the end conclusion of Ecclesiastes - as with records of other poets, teachers and the best mystics of our common histories (Hafez, Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwhich, Meister Ekhart, Goethe) - offers that --

    So much in life and the knowledge of human kind is in vain and overmuch study of general knowledge is tiring indeed. So we ask, just WHAT will survive? What is not a waste of time? What can overcome and remain when our lives are done? When our "civilations", libraries, nations, governments and religious institutions crumble?

    Thus, we are wise to be aware that of the making of many books and libraries - although these are more important than many other activities - there is no end to such toil --

    IF these tasks are only or mostly of human composition alone they weary the body without benefiting the Spirit - or offering much if any good to our fellow human beings...

    SO that the entire duty of humankind is to love the Creator and follow the teachings and law which come from such creation and ongoing Love -

    And to FOLLOW the Spirit with authentic love and honesty until the end of our days...

    (As we each ask how such duty bears upon each our own lives and contexts and how we are thus best able to offer such wisdom to others.)

    There are phenomenal parallels among the wise and the way the God-Spirit (Holy Spirit) revives beauty, truth, and wisdom for each new generation. There is such a startling variety and yet such harmony to see how each willing servant both of God and humankind (such as Rumi, inspired by Shams) have lived out these guidelines.

    On the microcosm level, this includes each of us around the world. This teaching is also deeply applicable to each era, each day and even each hour of the personal human life as well in context of family, friends, communities, neighbors, society...

    I particularly take note of the phrase ending your post..."Rumi...takes it to a higher plane." This is what I understand your work, Shafique Sahib, to be.