Coldplay’s Chris Martin was in a depressing divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow. A caring companion gifted him a bouquet of poems by Rumi, the thirteenth-century Persian Sufi. The poems changed his life. A track from Coldplay’s most recent album features Coleman Barks reciting one of the poems: ‘This being human is a guest house / Every morning a new arrival / A joy, a depression, a meanness, / some momentary awareness comes / as an unexpected visitor.’ Rumi has aided the spiritual journeys of Madonna and Tilda Swinton who have incorporated Ruminesqued aphorisms into their lyrics. ‘If you are irritated by every rub, how will you ever get polished,’ or, ‘Every moment I shape my destiny with a chisel. I am a carpenter of my own soul.’ The words that Martin featured on his album come from Rumi’s ‘Masnavi,’ a six-book epic poem. Its fifty thousand lines are mostly in Persian, but they are riddled with Arabic excerpts from Muslim scriptural texts that allude to Koranic anecdotes that offer moral lessons. The work remains unfinished.

Rumi was born in Afghanistan. He later settled in Konya, present-day Turkey. Rumi’s theological education was in Syria where he studied Sunni jurisprudence and later returned to Konya as a seminarian. It was there that he met his mentor- Shams-i-Tabriz. Shams pushed Rumi to question his scriptural education, debating Koranic passages with him and emphasizing the idea of devotion as finding oneness with God. Rumi would come to blend the intuitive love for God that he found in Sufism with the legal codes of Sunni Islam and the mysticism of Shams. The tapestry he wove built a large following in cosmopolitan Konya, incorporating Sufis, Muslim literalists and theologians, Christians, Jews and local Sunni Seljuk rulers.

The erasure of Islam from Rumi’s poetry started long before Coldplay got involved. Omid Safi at Duke University claims that it was in the Victorian age that the West began to uncouple mystical poetry from its Islamic roots. Translators and theologians of the time could not reconcile their perspectives about a ‘desert religion,’ with its unusual moral and legal codes with their own. After all, reading Rumi without the Koran is like reading Milton without the Bible. Rumi used the Koran, Hadiths, and religion in an explorative way, often challenging conventional readings. Sufi Islam authenticates a visible creative impulse that has produced architecture like the ethereal Dome of the Rock with light pouring in from stained glass grilled windows located in the drum and exterior walls onto golden Byzantine and Sassanian crowns in the midst of vegetal motifs; flamenco music of Andalusia, Spain; Qawwali at the Nizamuddin Auliya dargahin, India; introspective Ney flute; and Islamic miniature art for frontispiece and decorative margins in handwritten books. Each year in December, commemoration ceremonies are held in Konya, Turkey for Mevlana Rumi. Rumi’s death in mid-December 1273 is described as the Şeb-i Aruz or ‘wedding night’- the night he united in love with the Divine. Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order have been dancing the ‘sema’ on the same date for 750 years to mark the marriage.

There are readings, concerts, and performances in the lead-up to the anniversary of his death with the crescendo being the religious dance of the Whirling Dervishes on December 17th. In ancient Roman times, Janus was the god of ‘duality and doorways’ looking forward and backwards concurrently. Today, persons travel to Syria not to add to the growth of knowledge like Rumi but rather to embrace the clerics of ruin who destroyed the 4th- and 5th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan carved into the side of a cliff in Afghanistan. Adab once gave the Muslim a new dignity where before they were despised by the élites as ignorant and incapable of refined behaviour. The old cosmopolitan rules of courtly conduct or Adab are now replaced by characterless codes. Through Adab they beheld new ideas and created new knowledge learning from the Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, and Babylonians. Euclid was inspiring. The library in Cordoba housed 400,000 volumes- fifty times the size of any contemporary library in Europe.

Within the new political logics of globalization no one can turn to a Janus gaze to frame the origin or the end. The West is not a location- it is an orientation to life; where the Rumi Foundation’s support for the Clinton Foundation-backed ‘Building Tomorrow’ project is building community-based schools across the globe.