Iran's officially recognised "spiritual leader" today may be Ayatollah Khamenei, but for hundreds of years before the current establishment of mullahs and ayatollahs, Iranians of all creeds have looked to another spiritual leader: Jalal ad-Din Rumi. While this 13th-century Persian Sufi poet is known in much of the west as "Rumi", he is referred to more affectionately in Iran as "Mowlaana," or the Master.
Among Iranians, he is a spiritual guide and guru whose words hold unmatched moral authority. More than 700 years after his death, it is nearly impossible to spend a day walking around any Iranian city, suburb or village and not hear his echo. His words live on in everyday parlance – no matter one's station, religion or occupation, everyone in Iran knows at least a handful of Rumi's poems by heart. They are taught in classrooms as an essential part of the basic curriculum, but more than that, they are learned in homes, cafes, bazaars, parks and houses of worship. No place is beyond this poet's influence.
And there is no better way to understand that influence than through Rumi's own verse, although it often defies easy translation. Still, English speakers have a wonderful resource in understanding Rumi – and Iran – through the translations of Coleman Barks, including the following: "Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Understand this poem, and you will understand the soul of Iran – not just the role of religion or dogma, but the spiritual role of faith, love and beauty....
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