Mevlana’s life is described in Shams ud-Din Ahmad Aflāki’s “Manākib ul-Ārifīn” (written between 1318 and 1353). He is described as a descendant of the caliph Abu Bakr, and of the Khwārizm-Shāh Sultān Alā ud-Dīn bin Takash (1199–1220), whose only daughter, Mālika-ye Jahān, had allegedly been married to Rumi’s grandfather. However, both claims are rejected by modern scholars.
When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220, his father (Baha’ ud-Din Walad, a theologian, jurist and a mystic of uncertain lineage) set out westwards with his whole family and a group of disciples. On the road to Anatolia, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the city of Nishapur, located in what is now the Iranian province of Khorāsān. ‘Attar immediately recognized Rumi’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.” He gave the boy his Asrarnama, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world.
This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Rumi’s thoughts, which later on became the inspiration for his works.
From Nishapur, Walad and his entourage set out for Baghdad, meeting many of the scholars and Sufis of the city. From there they went to the Hejaz and performed the pilgrimage at Mecca. It was after this journey that most likely as a result of the invitation of ‘Alā’ ud-Dīn Key-Qobād, ruler of Anatolia, Baha’ ud-Din came to Asia Minor and finally settled in Konya in Anatolia within the westernmost territories of Seljuk Empire.
Baha’ ud-Din became the head of a madrassa (religious school) and when he died Rumi succeeded him at the age of twenty-five. One of Baha’ ud-Din’s students, Sayyed Burhan ud-Din-e Muhaqqiq, continued to train Rumi in the religious and mystical doctrines of Rumi’s father. For nine years, Rumi practiced Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din until the latter died in 1240-1. During this period Rumi also travelled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there.
It was his meeting with the dervish Shams-e Tabrizi in the late fall of 1244 that changed his life completely. Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could “endure my company”. A voice came, “What will you give in return?” “My head!” “The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya.” On the night of December 5, 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door. He went out, never to be seen again. It is believed that he was murdered with the connivance of Rumi’s son, ‘Ala’ ud-Din; if so, Shams indeed gave his head for the privilege of mystical friendship.
Rumi’s love and his bereavement for the death of Shams found their expression in an outpouring of music, dance and lyric poems, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. He himself went out searching for Shams and journeyed again to Damascus. There, he realized:
Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!