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Reflections on 'A Treasury of Rumi'

Reflections on 'A Treasury of Rumi'

A Treasury of Rumi: Guidance on the Path of Wisdom and Unity is a work by Muhammad Isa Waley. He was the Curator for Persian and Turkish at the British Museum and the British Library. He completed his Ph.D. in the poetry of Mevlana Rumi and translated The Book of Remembrances Kitab al-Adhkar of Imam al-Nawawi and Mawlid Al-Barzanji.

Based on extensive research and study of Mevlana Rumi's Diwan, Mathnavi, and his various prose works, this book goes some way towards reclaiming Mevlana Rumi as an orthodox, traditional Muslim sage, banishing Western notions that Mevlana was some sort of free-wheeling feel-good New Age guru.

As Muhammad Isa Waley points out, Mevlana Rumi himself seems prescient to this misrepresentation or misinterpretation by (perhaps) well-meaning Western translators, for Mevlana says:

"Everyone has, in their view, become my close friend
but they have not sought out the secrets within me."

Poetry has always been the cornerstone of Islamic civilisation. But poetry is hard to read, especially for modern readers whose Islamic education is bereft of the appreciation of language and poetry. Poetry takes effort to write and effort is required of the reader to uncover meaning. For sure, the impact of poetry is enormous precisely because it takes effort and time, and because in poetry language itself is stretched in order to accommodate juxtapositions of viewpoints and of 'realities'. And most importantly, the medium of poetry and the way in which it predisposes readers to pause and reflect, conduces the realisation of knowledge, not just the acquisition of it.

Muhammad Isa Waley is at pains to point out that Mevlana did not just write his poems out of thin air. Mevlana spent years writing and crafting them. Apart from the sheer volume of work, there is intricate structure, there is planning, there is thematic correlation, and all grounded within a classical Islamic paradigm.

Given Rumi's extensive oeuvre, a work like this can only scratch the surface, and indeed the author laments the inadequacy of presenting Rumi within the concise format of Kube's handy Treasury series. But this is not to say that this work is to be dismissed. It may be best thought of as a gateway to the teachings of Rumi and to classical Islamic teachings on the ethical dimension of the religion. This work also functions as an antidote for those of us who have inadvertently typecast Mevlana Rumi as a New Age guru.

I will just quote this passage below as an example of Rumi's use of imagery. It serves also as a caution for us who this day are quick to judge and quicker to decry and criticise without much reflection.

"The world is like a mountain. Everything you say, be it good or evil, is echoed by that mountain. It is absurd to think that a nightingale could sing to a mountain and that [the mountain] could reply [echo] with the voice of a donkey. Know for certain, therefore, that is was from you that the donkey noise came."

A Treasury of Rumi: Guidance on the Path of Wisdom and Unity
Muhammad Isa Waley
Published by Kube

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