International Sufi Symposium
The Message of Moulana Rumi
"Listen to the Reed How it Tells its Tale
Across two days we journeyed through the luminous richness
of Moulana Rumi's legacy. In this unique gathering we explored,
experienced and celebrated one of history's most important
mystical teachers and poets. We experienced how Moulana Rumi's
illuminating teachings and poetry continue to have a profound
impact and relevance in our lives today, even after seven
From the beginning the gathering radiated the spirit of unity
and love, so often reflected in Moulana Rumi's poetry. For
the first time in Australia, from the far corners of the world
leading experts on this beloved Sufi saint, were brought together.
Fleur Nassery Bonnin
Fleur Nassery Bonnin, the Founder and Director of the Australian
Centre for Sufism and Irfanic Studies opened the conference
with a beautiful and enlightening talk entitled "Listen
to the Reed". Using the major events of Moulana Rumi's
life, she illustrated how "the events of life are
the most direct form of communication between man and God".
Using Moulana Rumi's famous poem that begins -'Listen to the
Reed' which is the opening of his most celebrated book, "Mathnawi",
Fleur emphasised that within this poem Moulana Rumi is revealing
to us how the Beloved manifests in every aspect of life, and
as such the events are pointing to the power behind the scene
which is managing and directing life. In conclusion she said,
"It is very important, when we read Moulana Rumi or
anybody else, to always remember the hand inside the glove,
not just see the glove, which seems to be the message of Moulana
Rumi throughout his poetry."
Next Kabir Helminski from the USA, a leading expert on Moulana
Rumi and a Sheikh of the Mevlevi order spoke on "Rumi
and our Humanness". In this illuminating presentation
Kabir explained, "Something in us has to disappear.
Something in us has to give up its usual strategies.
Something in us has to be vigilantly guarded against, melted,
washed away, and purified. Something in us has to be able
to die moment, by moment, breath by breath. Our self-importance,
our need for attention, our need to be right, our need to
believe that we have the right religion, the right-path. To
come to that openness, simplicity, to have a direct relationship
with the Divine. Rumi says his whole work is about opening
up a window within the heart in order that the beauty of the
Beloved might shine through that window."
An enthusiastic Q & A session followed this. One of the
audience asked, "I think that the Rumi path is non-denominational.
It does not belong to one religion. By emphasising the role
of Mohammed don't we make it a little bit sectarian?"
Kabir replied "Where did you get the idea that
the Rumi path is non sectarian. Do you know that Rumi's practice
was Islamic? He never left that practice, and that Rumi and
Shams, his teacher, were utterly devoted to Mohammed. At times
they would miss the proper time of prayer because they got
so carried away with their conversations, and then they would
feel inwardly contracted and would try to make up for it.
So Rumi was utterly Muslim. And the core of his teaching is
inconceivable without the spiritual vocabulary of the Qur’an
and the moral example of Mohammed.
But where it is universal is that Rumi never demanded conversion
to Islam among the people that sought wisdom from him. In
one case there was an old Christian man who used to come to
Rumi's talks and weep. And one of Rumi's lieutenants said
"Uncle, you get what not one out of a hundred Muslims
get. The only thing remaining is to take the final step and
convert to Islam". And this old Christian man said "Please
don't ask me, I have been faithful to my religion for 70 years.
Don't ask that of me now". When Rumi heard that his representative
had asked this of the Christian man he was extremely angry,
he said, "why are you trying to convert the already converted".
I would maintain that there is Islam with a capital 'I'
and there is islam with a small 'i'. And Islam with a capital
'I' is beautiful, at its best, when it's true it is beautiful.
It is the religion of Mohammed in the example of Mohammed.
But what is also meant by islam in the Qur’an is the primordial
religion of humanity, the self-surrender of the human being
to the order of things. This is islam with a small 'i' and
Rumi taught that islam very beautifully too. He practised
the Islam with a capital 'I' but you can find the islam with
a small 'i' in his writings, and that could make the Christian
a better Christian and a Jew a better Jew etc."
Dr Elahi Ghomshei
Next the erudite and learned Dr Elahi Ghomshei, from Persia,
spoke on "Moulana Rumi the Messenger of Love". During
his talk Dr Elahi told this story about Joseph.
"An old friend of Joseph's came to visit him after
a long journey. Imagine Joseph is sitting on a throne, he
is a king, and is so beautiful. They begin to reminisce about
old times. Joseph says to him "What have you brought
me"- As there is an old tradition that when you go to
or return from a journey you bring gifts. The friend says,
"Well I am so ashamed I don't know what to say, what
could I bring for you. You are King of Kings, you have so
many treasures and all the beauty in the world, what could
I add to your treasury. So I have just brought you a small
mirror so that you can look at yourself, because I realised
there was nothing more precious than your own face - so I
have brought you your own face."
Dr Elahi explained "We cannot bring anything to God. What can we bring for God? What can we do for God? Sometimes we say we are serving God, but who can serve God. He does not need anything. He is independent of all our service. So the best thing we can bring to God, is to be nobody."
Traditional Sufi Music
The first day was brought to a moving end with Traditional
Sufi Music performed by Group Moshtagh. For the first time
in Australia this type of sema music was performed. Using
a number of Daf players and vocalists we heard a combination
of music, chanting, zikr and Moulana Rumi's poetry.
On day two everyone returned full of anticipation and enthusiasm. The program began with the popular and well-loved Dr Elahi Ghomshei sharing his wisdom and insight on "Sufism, Poetry and Music". This was followed by a lively Q&A.
We were then treated to recitations of some of Moulana Rumi's
poetry, first in his native Persian by Fleur Nassery Bonnin
and then translated by Kabir Helminski into English.
In the afternoon Sheikh Abdul Aziz of the Mevlevi order in Melbourne spoke on "Love's work: Hazreti Mevlana and the Dervish Path" in which he said "Rumi's poetry is a way of touching our hearts, inspiring us and guiding us, but it is only part of his legacy".
This was followed by the warm and wise Murshid Ali ElSenossi
sharing his insight on "The Power of the Narrative in
Sufi Teachings": He said: “Travelling to Allah
(swt) is not a collective journey. It is a very unique and
special solitary travel. Because always you are near to Allah
(swt) and you see Allah in all the human faces because He
said that anywhere you turn you will see the face of Allah.
And that’s the wonderful thing about such gatherings
because we always see people in whom the love of Allah (swt)
is burning in their heart and that gives us comfort to see
that there are others who are burning with that desire to
reach their ultimate aim, which they have crystallised within
their deva and higher consciousness. Sheikh Rumi in one of
his stories speaks about travelling to Allah (swt) until your
feel you cannot walk anymore and then you start to crawl until
you can’t crawl anymore and then you start to become
like a lizard with no feet or hands or arms and then you can’t
go any further and then you say I can’t - and that moment
you can. When you give up saying ‘I can’, because
that is the problem for everyone. We have to get rid of that
illusion that ‘we can’ - we can do this, we can
do that – so that reality has to be transformed, so
that you cannot will anything without the will of Allah (swt)."
The program concluded in the intimate environment of a circle.
To begin Kabir Helminski took us through an experiential presentation
on "Presence and the Way of the Heart". He then
led us into a Mevlevi Ayini Jam, (Ceremony of Unity). In this
moving experience of sema and zikr, everyone was swept up
in a sea of unity. Like the tapestry of Moulana Rumi's tomb
in Konya, which dominated the stage, we were all brought together
from many varied countries, cultures and religions. Each different
thread woven together for two days created a tapestry of beauty,
wisdom, unity and love.
From Left to Right: Murshid Ali ElSenossi, Dr Elahi Ghomshei,
Fleur Nassery Bonnin, Kabir Helminski, James Harvey, Sheikh Abdul Aziz