A Study about the Persian Cultural Legacy and Background of the Sufi Mystics Shams Tabrizi and Jalal al-Din Rumi

به نام خداوند جان و خرد

کزین اندیشه برتر برنگذرد

A Study about the Persian Cultural Legacy and Background of the Sufi Mystics Shams Tabrizi and Jalal al-Din Rumi

By Rahgozari Minutalab

October 2009, Open Source. The author is not association with any modification of the current article but any author is free to use the materials within this article.

Note PDF version is recommended here:



Text version


منگر به هر گدایی که تو خاص از آن مایی
مفروش خویش ارزان که تو بس گران بهایی

به عصا شکاف دریا که تو موسی زمانی
بدران قبای مه را که ز نور مصطفایی

بشکن سبوی خوبان که تو یوسف جمالی
چو مسیح دم روان کن که تو نیز از آن هوایی

به صف اندرآی تنها که سفندیار وقتی
در خیبر است برکن که علی مرتضایی

بستان ز دیو خاتم که تویی به جان سلیمان
بشکن سپاه اختر که تو آفتاب رایی

چو خلیل رو در آتش که تو خالصی و دلخوش
چو خضر خور آب حیوان که تو جوهر بقایی

بسکل ز بی‌اصولان مشنو فریب غولان
که تو از شریف اصلی که تو از بلند جایی

تو به روح بی‌زوالی ز درونه باجمالی
تو از آن ذوالجلالی تو ز پرتو خدایی

تو هنوز ناپدیدی ز جمال خود چه دیدی
سحری چو آفتابی ز درون خود برآیی

تو چنین نهان دریغی که مهی به زیر میغی
بدران تو میغ تن را که مهی و خوش لقایی

چو تو لعل کان ندارد چو تو جان جهان ندارد
که جهان کاهش است این و تو جان جان فزایی

تو چو تیغ ذوالفقاری تن تو غلاف چوبین
اگر این غلاف بشکست تو شکسته دل چرایی

تو چو باز پای بسته تن تو چو کنده بر پا
تو به چنگ خویش باید که گره ز پا گشایی

چه خوش است زر خالص چو به آتش اندرآید
چو کند درون آتش هنر و گهرنمایی

مگریز ای برادر تو ز شعله‌های آذر
ز برای امتحان را چه شود اگر درآیی

به خدا تو را نسوزد رخ تو چو زر فروزد
که خلیل زاده‌ای تو ز قدیم آشنایی

تو ز خاک سر برآور که درخت سربلندی
تو بپر به قاف قربت که شریفتر همایی

ز غلاف خود برون آ که تو تیغ آبداری
ز کمین کان برون آ که تو نقد بس روایی

شکری شکرفشان کن که تو قند نوشقندی
بنواز نای دولت که عظیم خوش نوایی (دیوان شمس)


Introduction and reason for this article. 4

On the Persianized Seljuqs. 11

Some distortions due to nationalistic reasons. 15

Shams Tabrizi and his background. 25

Tabriz in the pre-Mongol and Ilkhanid era. 25

The Tabrizi Iranian language as a special case. 30

Example of Shams Tabrizi speaking the North West Iranic dialect of Tabriz. 38

On the importance of Safinaye Tabriz. 39

On the name of Tabriz and its districts. 42

Shams Tabrizi’s work Maqalaat 44

Shams Tabrizi of Ismaili origin? Conclusion. 45

Hesam al-Din Chelebi and other Rumi companions. 46

Baha al-Din Walad and Rumi’s parents. 50

Genealogy of Rumi’s parents. 50

On Vakhsh and Balkh and the languages of these areas. 54

Contribution to Persian culture and Baha al-Din Walad’s native language. 59

Conclusion on Baha al-Din Walad. 62

Rumi 63

The Persian lectures, letters and sermons of Rumi and his everyday language. 64

Response to couple of nationalistic statements with regards to Rumi’s prose and Rumi’s everyday language (not just literary language) 66

Rumi’s Persian poetry. 69

Response to an invalid arguments with regards to the Diwan. 73

Invalid Argument: “Rumi was a Turk because he has some verses in Turkish”. 73

Invalid Argument: Rumi uses some Turkish words in his poetry. 76

Invalid argument: Rumi has traces of Central Asia Turkish in his poetry. 77

Invalid argument: Rumi’s usage of the word Turk shows he was a Turk. 79

Persian poetry images and symbols: Turk, Hindu, Rum, Zang/Habash. 83

Which Turks are described in Persian Poetry?. 144

Views on ethnicity in the Mathnawi 150

Ethnicity in Aflaki 152

Sultan Walad, Rumi’s son. 165

Sultan Walad’s work. 165

Sultan Walad’s admits he does not know Turkish and Greek well 166

Sultan Valad’s view on the Turks. 169

Conclusion about Sultan Walad. 177

The Origin of Sama and a response to a false claim.. 178

On Rumi’s cultural predecessor and The Mawlawiya’s Spiritual lineage. 185

Conclusion of this article. 192

Bibliography. 203

Appendix A: Nick Nicholas: Greek Verses of Rumi & Sultan Walad. 208

Introduction and reason for this article

” If the Turk, the Roman, and the Arab are in love,
They all know the same language, the beautiful tune of Rabab ”

Recently, UNESCO in the year 2007 declared the Persian poet Rumi as one of the world’s universal cultural icon. The Afghanistani, Iranian, Turkish governments all laid claim to Rumi’s heritage and tried to maximize their association with the Persian poet Rumi. Obviously such an association brings about a national prestige despite the fact that Rumi is a universal figure. Also recently, especially with the demise of the USSR, there has been an increase in pan-Turkist nationalist activism in various Altaic-phone regions and a many Persian cultural figures like Avicenna, Biruni, Nasir al-Din Tusi, Eyn al-Qodat Hamadani, Bayazid Bistami, Suhrawardi, Nizami Ganjavi and etc. have been falsely claimed to be Turkic without any serious argument. Many of these like Biruni and Nezami lived in an era when the area they were born in was Iranian. Due to penetration and incursions of Turkic nomads, eventually some of these Iranian speaking regions like Khwarizmia, Arran and Sherwan, Sogdiana, Marv and etc. became Turkified in speech the same as the Greek and Armenian languages gaveaway to Turkic speakers in Anatolia, and Egypt gave away to Arabic. At the time of the mentioned figures, which are claimed today for nationalistic reasons by some of the new countries, all of these men were of Iranian ancestry but more importantly, they all contributed to Iranian culture and have important Persian works. Some of these extravagant claims are impossible (like Eyn ol-Qodat Hamadani, Suhrawardi, Bistami who was of Zoroastrian descent and Nasir al-Din Tusi) that there is no need to respond to them.

On the other hand, figures like Nizami Ganjavi and Biruni were born in areas that are today Turkified or Turcophone. This was not the case during the time of these authors, but many people who study these figures do not have correct information and background on the chronology of the linguistic Turkification in Central Asia, Caucasus and Azerbaijan region of Iran.

For example, during the time of Biruni, the area of Khwarizm spoke the Iranian Chorasmian language.

I refer to the short but very significant contribution of the late French Orientalist to the al-Biruni Commemoration Volume published in India(L. Massignon, “Al-Biruni et la valuer internationale de la science arabe” in Al-Biruni Commemoration Volume, (Calcutta, 1951). pp 217-219.):

In a celebrated preface to the book of Drugs, Biruni states:

” And if it is true that in all nations one likes to adorn oneself by using the language to which one has remained loyal, having become accustomed to using it with friends and companions according to need, I must judge for myself that in my native Chorasmian, science has as much as chance of becoming perpetuated as a camel has of facing Ka’aba. “

Indeed al-Biruni has recorded months and other names in the Iranian Chorasmian, Soghdian and Dari-Persian languages and he states equivalently:

و أما أهل خوارزم، و إن کانوا غصنا ً من دوحة الفُرس

Translation: And the people of Khwarizm, they are a branch of the Persian tree

(Abu Rahyan Biruni, “Athar al-Baqqiya ‘an al-Qurun al-Xaliyyah”(Vestiges of the past : the chronology of ancient nations), Tehran, Miras-e-Maktub, 2001)

The late eminent philologist Professor David Mackenzie on the old Iranian Chorasmian Language(Encyclopedia Iranica, “The Chorasmian Language”, D.N.Mackenzie) states:

“The earliest examples have been left by the great Chorasmian scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni. In his works on chronology and astronomy (ca. 390-418/1000-28) he recorded such calendrical and astronomical terms as some of the tradi­tional names of days, months, feasts, and signs of the zodiac.”

While showing perfect knowledge of the native Chorasmian calendar, as well as other Iranian calendars (Persian, Sogdian) and also Hebrew, Arabic, Greek calendars, Biruni is clear for example that he does not other calendars(like those of the Turks) as well:

“As to the months of other nations, Hindus, Chinese, Tibetians, Turks, Khazars, Ethiopians and Zangids, we do not intend, although we have managed to learn the names of some of them, to mention them here, postponing it till a time when we shall know them all, as it does not agree with the method which we have followed hitherto, to connect that which is doubtful and unknown with that which is certain and known “(Athar)

Biruni collected the months and calendars of many nations, which are recorded in his book.

On the order of the old-Turkic (old Uighur, which he calls toquz-oghuz) month names, which are just ordinals (readily recognizable in any variety) jumbled, he adds a note that:

“I have not been able to learn how long these months are, nor what they mean, nor of what kind they are”(Athar, pg 83).

However, a modern Western scholar whom we rather not name did not know about the East Chorasmian Iranian language and just based on modern geography, has mistaken Biruni’s Iranian Chorasmian language for Turkic. She did not for example read about this Iranian language in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Encyclopedia Iranica, Iranian language sources or other linguistic sources. That is sometimes negligence of the history of the region produces mistakes and this is due to the fact that many scholars of literature do not have a grasp of the history of the region (Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia) during the medieval era. So that mentioned Western author for example mistakenly thought that the Chorasmian Iranian language at the time of Biruni must be the same as the language spoken in Chorasmia (in modern Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan) today.

Another example is Avicenna. For example, Avicenna whose father was a native of Balkh (the same place where Rumi’s father was possibly born) and his mother was from Bukhara (her name was Sitareh which is Persian for star and even today the majority of inhabitants of Bukhara are Iranian Persians(Tajiks)).

Avicenna in the book of “The Healing: (Ash-Shifa) in Chapter 5 (Concerning the caliph and Imam: the necessity of obeying them. Remarks on politics, transactions and morals) states:

“…As for the enemies of those who oppose his laws, the legislator must decree waging war against them and destroying them, after calling on them to accept the truth. Their property and women must be declared free for the spoil. For when such property and women are not administered according to the constitution of the virtuous city, they will not bring about the good for which the property and women are sought. Rather, these would contribute to corruption and evil. Since some men have to serve others, such people must be forced to serve the people of the just city. The same applies to people not very capable of acquiring virtue. For these are slaves by nature as, for example, the Turks and Zinjis and in general those who do not grow up in noble climes where the condition for the most part are such that nations of good temperament, innate intelligence and sound minds thrive”(Chris Brown, Terry Nardin, Nicholas J. Rengger, “International Relations in Political Thought: Texts from the Ancient Greeks to the First World War”, Published by Cambridge University Press, 2002, pg 156-157).

Let us look at the original Arabic of this sentence as well:

و انه لابد من ناس یخدمون الناس، فیجب ان یك.ن هؤلا یجبرون علی خدمه اهل المدینه الفاضله، و كذلك من كان من الناس بعیداً عن تلقی الفاضیله فهم عبید‘’ بالطبع، نثل الترك والزنح، و بالجمله الذین نشأوا فی غیر اقالیم الشریفه التی اكثر احوالها ان ینشأفیها حسنه الامزجه صحیحه القرایح و العقول

In another phrase, Ibn Sina states: “In the languages we know…” and then he brings an example of Persian and Arabic. Had he known any other languages, then he would have given examples as well. Thus he did not even speak Turkish and all his works are in Persian and Arabic.

The statement of Avicenna with this regard is given here from his book Ishaarat (Dehkhoda dictionary):

لكن اللغات التى نعرفها قد خلت فى عاداتها عن استعمال النفى على هذه الصورة…. فیقولون بالعربیة لاشى‌ء من ح‍ ب… و كذلك ما یقال فى فصیح لغة‌الفرس هیچ ح‍ ب نیست

As per Nizami Ganjavi, there exists a detailed article on how USSR nation building and modern ethno-nationalism have forged the most baseless arguments (even false verses) in order to deprive of his Iranian heritage:

Doostzadeh, Ali. “Politicization of the background of Nizami Ganjavi: Attempted de-Iranization of a historical Iranian figure by the USSR”, June 2008 (Updated 2009).


(see PDF file)


Sufficient to say, his mother was Iranic Kurdish(Iranic speaking), he was raised by a Kurdish uncle and his father-line goes back before the coming of the Seljuqs and is of Iranian Anyhow, there is no doubt that culturally, mythological relics, poetry (he considered himself a successor of Ferdowsi) he was Iranian and his stories are rooted in Iranic/Persian folklore. An important manuscript that shows the Iranian culture of the Caucasus before its Turkification in language has come down to us by the Persian poet Jamal Khalil Shirvani:

Mohammad Amin Riyahi. “Nozhat al-Majales” in Encyclopedia Iranica


This article attempts to address the background of Rumi as well as the fact that people have tried to deprive him of his Iranian heritage. Note when we say Iranian, we mean it in the ethno-cultural-linguistic sense rather than citizenship of modern Iran. Thus this term covers the totality of Iranian speaking civilizations and those that have been greatly affected by it enough to be absorbed and melted in to it.

We start by quoting a Turkish scholar with this regard.

Even according to the Turkish scholar Talat. S. Halman:

“Baha ad-din (Rumi’s Father) and his family eventually settled in Konya, ancient Iconium, in central Anatolia. They brought with them their traditional Persian cultural and linguistic background and found in Konya a firmly entrenched penchant for Persian culture. In terms of Rumi’s cultural orientation – including language, literary heritage, mythology, philosophy, and Sufi legacy –the Iranians have indeed a strongly justifiable claim. All of these are more than sufficient to characterize Rumi as a prominent figure of Persian cultural history”(Rapture and Revolution, page 266).

Although Professor Talat S. Halman does not delve into ethnic genealogy of Rumi, he remarks:

“The available documentary evidence is so flimsy that no nation(Iranian/Persian, Arabic, Turkish) can invoke jus sanguinis regarding the Rumi genealogy” and he also mentions: “Rumi is patently Persian on the basis of jus et norma loquendi”.

Thus there is no dispute about Rumi’s culture, literary heritage. And even his native language as mentioned was Persian. However some people try to point to genealogy and we shall look at this issue in this article. The problem with that approach is that the genealogies of many people are not known in the 13th century. And if it is known, up to what ancestor is this genealogy known? We will explore the genealogy issue in this article as well, but if genealogy was a concern, than majority of Anatolian Turks are not of Turkic genealogy but resemble Greeks, Armenians, Kurds and other natives of Anatolia. DNA evidence thus far has established:

“Another important replacement occurred in Turkey at the end of the eleventh century, when Turks began attacking the Byzantine Empire. They finally conquered Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1453. The replacement of Greek with Turkish was especially significant because this language belongs to a different family—Altaic. Again the genetic effects of invasion were modest in Turkey. Their armies had few soldiers and even if they sometimes traveled with their families, the invading populations would be small relative to the subject populations that had along civilization and history of economic development. After many generations of protection by the Roman Empire, however, the old settles had become complacent and lost their ability to resist the dangerous invaders”(Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza , in “Genes, People and Languages”, 2000, pg 152).

So when speaks about the 13th century, one is clearly speaking about culture and native language. If a person’s native language is Persian and their father’s native language is Persian, then that is sufficient to say they were genealogically Iranian. The genealogy of Rumi is not really known well beyond his great grandfather (Ahmad Khatibi) , although some later sources had claimed it went back to the Caliph Abu Bakr. This point is discussed later on this article and we show that this is not accepted by modern scholars.

This study is concerned with the cultural identity and ethnic background of Jalal al-Din Rumi. Although there is no disagreement among serious Rumi scholars about his Persian cultural identity, there have been some groups within nationalist pan-Turkist circles trying to downplay his Persian cultural identity, language and ethnicity. Their politicized theory rests on three or four invalid and false arguments which we shall respond to in detail in this article:

A) Rumi wrote Persian because it was more poetic or common.

B) Rumi was genealogically Turkish

C) Rumi has a few scattered Mual’ammas in Turkish and uses archaic Central Asian Turkish words so he was Turkish

D) Sama’ was Turkish phenomenon

Thus there have been some people from Turkey or Turkic language background who advocate a Turkic genealogy for Rumi. We will show there is no proof of this and all indicators is that Rumi had an Iranic(Persian or other Iranian language group) background. Note, as it is well known, cultural identity, ethnicity (defined by native language and culture) and genealogy are different issues. For example many people in the non-Arabic Muslim world claim descent from the Prophet of Islam (SAW) but culturally they are no different than those who do not have such a background. On the other hand, most Egyptians are descendant of ancient Egyptians rather than Arabs of Arabian peninsula, however culturally they identify themselves as Arabs. Most Turkish speakers of Anatolia are closer genetically to their Greek neighbors than to the Turkic people of Central Asia. In other words, their cultural identity defines their ethnicity and not their 20th ancestor. Given there is hardly if any pure backgrounds in the Middle East, then cultural identity will supersede genealogy when assigning a poet to a particular civilization. Thus repeating for emphasis what the Turkish professor Talat Halman has stated: “Baha ad-din (Rumi’s Father) and his family eventually settled in Konya, ancient Iconium, in central Anatolia. They brought with them their traditional Persian cultural and linguistic background and found in Konya a firmly entrenched penchant for Persian culture. In terms of Rumi’s cultural orientation – including language, literary heritage, mythology, philosophy, and Sufi legacy –the Iranians have indeed a strongly justifiable claim. All of these are more than sufficient to characterize Rumi as a prominent figure of Persian cultural history”(Rapture and Revolution, page 266) and d he also mentions: “Rumi is patently Persian on the basis of jus et norma loquendi”.

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4 Responses to “A Study about the Persian Cultural Legacy and Background of the Sufi Mystics Shams Tabrizi and Jalal al-Din Rumi”

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