I delivered this speech at "Figurations and Conceptions of Evil in Different Religious Contexts," Interdisciplinary and Interreligious Workshop at the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, 19-21 September 2012.
Rumi and the soul-making of evil
Prof. Seyyed Hassan Eslami Ardakani, URD, Qom, member of faculty
Jalal al-din Muhammad al-Balkhi, or as he is well-known in the West "Rumi," is one of the greatest mystical Persian poets. He actually represents the mystical interpretation of Islam and tries to give a unified understanding of its teaching from a Sufi outlook. As a mystic and Sufi thinker, Rumi has much in common with Muslim philosophers and theologians, but at the same time he has his authentic way for dealing with Islamic teachings and confronting problems he faces as a thinker.
His impact and heritage is so deep and profound that after more than seven hundred years of his death (indeed he passed away in 1273 A.D), no thoughtful Muslim can ignore his mystical poems. For instance, in the contemporary Iran, most people of letter and educated persons, even those who oppose mysticism strongly, quote his poems in their writings and use them orally. His impact is not confined to Persian-speaking world; Quite the contrary, his fame and impact is spreading throughout the world.
To solve the problem of evil and to answer some relevant questions, Rumi combines theoretical and philosophical thoughts and arguments with metaphorical and poetical language and then he puts them in long poetical narrations and old fables. As a result, any sophisticated reader can appreciate his thoughtful assertion, while ordinary readers can enjoy his poems and accept his claims.
In my paper, I have discussed Rumi's approach for confronting evil, and have come to a conclusion summarized as below:
1. Good and evil have one origin and are created by one God. So, the Magians, or Zoroastrians, who believe in two sources for good and evil, are mistaken.
2. Evil is willed by God, and without his will no evil would appear in the world.
3. There is no absolute or pure evil in the world and even the worst evil that we can imagine, is in some respect good. At least it is good for itself. In short, good and evil are inseparable.
4. Therefore, good and evil are relative and to name one particular thing as good or evil depends to our outlook. For instance, the poison of the snakes look evil to us, as humans, but it is doubtless good for them and a vital element of the snake life.
5. Furthermore, some sorts of evil are useful for our self-purification.
6. Besides, evil, in some situations, can be a warning from God to us, inviting us to pause and think about our deeds and behaviors.
7. Some sorts of evil, is within our own nature as humans. Indeed, many of wrongdoings are brought in the world by our choice. Since, our souls, as Rumi describes, are sleeping dragons by our actions we awaken them and bring evil to the world.
8. And finally, Rumi invites us, as adult persons who seek spiritual development and evolution, to welcome all kinds of evil which we face in our lives and look at them as opportunities and instruments for self-actualization. From this viewpoint, evil is a gift sent to us from God, in disguise.