Rumi’s Inner and Outer Characteristics

(Notes from Sefik Can Efendi, 1998)


One can find plenty of imaginary pictures, portraits and miniatures of Rumi. There are even mention of painters who painted pictures of Rumi in those days. There are also others like Eflaki who describe his physical characteristics. For example, someone told to Muiniddin-i Pervane that Rumi’s face was pale due to continuous fasting while Sultan Veled had pink cheeks. Can we imagine Rumi’s physical appearance based on these accounts and paintings?


Rumi had a thin and slender body and a pale skin. It has been told that one day he went to a Turkish bath. When he looked at himself in the mirror he noticed that he was very thin. He pitied himself and said: “In my whole life I was never ashamed of anybody; however today when I saw my thin body in the mirror I am ashamed of myself.”


Although Rumi had a pale skin he was very benevolent looking and awe-inspiring. The eyes of the holy saint were very attractive. They were very sharp and filled with exuberance. The glances of his luminous eyes were so powerful that whenever somebody, unaware of the power of Rumi’s eyes, would look directly at his luminous eyes, would come under the influence of these powerful eyes and would have to remove his eyes from him.


All these accounts and descriptions are related to Rumi’s physical characteristics. But how was his inner characteristics? In the Mesnevi, he says:

I wonder how I can see my face. I wonder what kind of a complexion I have. Am I someone with a clean and spotless face? Or am I someone with a dirty and sinful face? How can I observe this? To see my inner face, the picture of my soul, I have been struggling and searching. Yet my inner face was not showing in anybody and nothing was showing my inner face to me. I told to myself ‘For what purpose is the mirror invented? What end does it serve? Is it not invented so that everybody can look into it and see who they are and how they look?’ But the mirrors that we know of are made to show peoples outer faces and physical attributes. Where and how is the mirror that shows the face of the heart? The mirror of the heart is very expensive and very valuable. The mirror of the heart is nothing but the face of the Beloved. The face of the Beloved that shows our inner face, the face of heart, is not in this world. It is in the spiritual world.
(Mesnevi, Vol. 2, Couplet 95)


Where can the Beloved that can reflect Rumi’s inner world and character be found? Who can depict the inner characteristics of Sultan-ul-Ulema’s son? How can Sultan-ul-Ashikeen, the King of Lovers, be described? Nobody can fully understand or describe this great saint who was nourished with the knowledge, manners and character of his father, the King of Scholars, and who was burnt and melted in the pot of Divine Love. He was a superior being that was cleansed from grudge, hatred, evil, selfishness, ostentation and from all human desires with the influence of Divine Love. He was a man of goodness and perfection and a man of love and gnosis. When he dived into the ocean of love he was freed from all contradicting views. He was detached from good and evil. In Mesnevi, he says:

When you reach the ‘world of colorlessness’ just as you were in the eternal beginning, you will find that Moses and the Pharaoh have made peace.
(Mesnevi, Vol. 1, Couplet 2467)


The fact is fluctuating, waving, foaming or looking blue or green all occur on the surface of the ocean. But in the depths of the ocean, there remains neither a wave nor a color. In fact, deep in the ocean, there are no waves, the ocean looks all in one color.


This is the reason why Rumi looked at all the nations and sects with the same view. His approach to everybody and everything was from this point of view. He treated everybody the same. He looked at everybody with the same eye. In his view, Moslems, Christians, Jews and fire-worshippers were all the same. Therefore, he was reminding the people that it was essential not to look down on non-Moslems, and to respect their religions and believes. In the Islamic countries, it is common to see churches and synagogues next to the mosques. The Moslems respect all religions. This view of Rumi, which is completely Islamic, should not be misunderstood. Of course, since Islam is the final religion and since with its coming all other religions became invalid the religion conveyed by Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is superior to all religions. Our Prophet (pbuh) is the prophet of the Latter Day and there came no prophet after him. Rumi’s view of all religions as one should not bring to mind the thought that he saw Islam the same as other religions. In terms of being a religion, all religions are equal. Yet they differ in the practices they prescribe. However, their essence is the same.


Rumi was regarding all religions, sects and nations as the waves of the ocean of Unity. In fact, while God sees all prophets as one, as stated in the Quran 2:285, ….. We make no distinction between one and another of His messengers. ….., in Verse 253 of the same chapter He states that He sees some of the prophets as superior to others: Those messengers we endowed with gifts and made superior some above others. ….. This way while all religions and sects are one they have differed in practices they brought. And since Islam is the final religion it is above all religions.


Rumi touches this issue in another part of Mesnevi and says:

In this world, there are stairs that stretch to the heavens step by step. To every group there is a separate stair. To every walk (of life) there is a different sky to which to ascend. Each of them is unaware of the others. The destination is an infinite land. It has neither a beginning nor an end.
(Mesnevi, Vol. 4, Couplet 2556)


These couplets are illustrating this beautiful Prophetic Tradition. The paths that lead to Allah are as many as the souls of the creatures.


The way to see everybody and everything as one (the view of unity) and leniency were at their peak in Rumi. It is related that one day during a whirling ceremony while Rumi was whirling in ecstasy a drunk entered among the whirling dervishes. He couldn’t control himself. During whirling he would lurch and from time to time hit Rumi. The Rumi’s friends scolded him. Upon seeing this Rumi said: O friends, he is the one to drink the wine, but you are the ones to get drunk. Why are you scolding him?


Rumi was so patient, tolerant and tender that everybody would be amazed. He would never reply badly to the slanders and gossips that his adversaries who spiritual eyes were blind would produce and with his good manners, gentle ways and tolerant views he would bring these people round to the right views.


It is also related that one day Rumi said: I am with seventy-two different sects and creeds. Sirajuddin of Konya was a man of grudge. To hurt Rumi and to discredit him in the eyes of the public, he sent one of his religious friends to ask Rumi in public whether or not he actually said that he was with seventy-two sects and creeds. He advised him to insult, curse and swear at him if Rumi admitted to saying those words. That man came and asked Rumi: It is said that you said: “I am with seventy two sects and creeds.” Is that true? Rumi didn’t deny what he had said, so he replied: Yes, that is what I said. That man immediately started to swear and curse at Rumi. Rumi just smiled at him and said: In spite of all that you are saying I am also with you.