Shams-i-Tabrīzī or Shams al-Din Mohammad (1185–1248) was a Persian Muslim, who is credited as the spiritual instructor of Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi and is referenced with great reverence in Rumi’s poetic collection, in particular Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrīzī (The Works of Shams of Tabriz). Tradition holds that Shams taught Rumi in seclusion in Konya for a period of forty days, before fleeing for Damascus. The tomb of Shams-i Tabrīzī was recently nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Life of Shams Tabrīzī
Shams-i Tabriz was, without doubt, a no ordinary person. He had studied Quran and jurisprudence with his father and uncle, both accomplished Jurists, very early in life. He was sent to Tabriz to seek further knowledge. He studied various sciences with Abubakar Sanjasi Tabrizi, a reknown mystic teacher of Najmuddin Kubra order. When Shams-i Tabriz demonstrated his interest in learning the esoteric and the metaphysical, he recommended that he would go to a master teacher, Kamal Jundi.
Shams Tabriz who had an innate and inborn gift for the metaphysical accomplished himself as a master within a relatively short period. He was certified by Kamal Jundi as a master himself and was cautioned that he would stay away from the odinary and the mundane and that one day he will meet with someone who will act as his mouthpiece and speak to the world on his behalf. He was however told that he had to wait until his future student was ready to receive from him the promised gift. He was also advised by his master to stay away from the sufis as well as the faqihs (religious scholars) which he did.
Always traveling from place to place (he was called parinda or flying bird for hat reason), Shams would show up at times at the seminaries and madrisas, however, without revealing his credentials. He disliked the mystics because they had given up the Shari’a (practice). He detested faqihs (scholars) because they indulged in useless polemics and diatribes. He avoided staying at the seminaries and khankahs. Instead he stayed at the Traders inns, showing himself as a traveling salesman. He ate very little. An occasional meal (bread and soup) would be enough for days. He virtually starved his body, as if saying no to his self. In return, he received the uncanny gift of knowing the other person’s mind, predicting the events, even transferring himself from one place to another (ta’y ardh ).
He was capable of doing things that seemed extra-ordinary, uncanny or supernatural to an undiscerning eye. He kept it however from the ordinary people. Rumi saw it when Shams threw his hand-written manuscripts in the water, then taking them out, dry and intact, with no sign of water on the pages. This was no magic or illusion; this was a God-given gift. In Quran, God says ” Kun Fa ya Koon “.(We say, Be and it is). It is said that God lends His power or phenomenon of immediate Being to his chosen people, such as Prohets or Saints.
Some people are born with these gifts, in varying degrees ( they may not even be aware of their hidden potential) while others can get there through personal struggle to get close to God ( taqarrub or salook). It is the human journey from fana to baqa. You give up your ‘ self ‘ to be one with the Ultimate. Shams-I Tabriz was born with the gift and he perfected it through suffering his self. He recognized it early on in his childhod, according to his own admission in the Maqalat ( an authentic record of his conversation with Rumi, recoded in Sultan Vald’s hand. He did not lose any time to perfect the gift of the esoteric in him. Finally, as predicted by his teacher Kamal Jundi, the flowering of Sham’s gift took place and manifested itself in his counterpart, Jalal uddin Rumi.
Shams was able to transfer, his knowledge and wisdom onto Rumi in a rather mysterious manner. Rumi has repeatedly said in his Mathnavi and Divan that it was not him but Shams talking through him. That is why he did not use his name in any of the verses out of more than 50,000 verses that he left behind. Rumi ends most of his poems with the name of Shams of Tabriz. In so long as this phenomenon of transfer of souls had never been witnessed before nor did it happen again in the annals of history, it makes the story of these two oceans unique and one of its own kind.
Shams’ encounter with Rumi
On 15 November 1244, a man in black suit from head to toe, came to the famous inn of Sugar Merchants of Konya. His name was Shams Tabrizi. He was claiming to be a travelling merchant. As it was said in Haji Bektash Veli’s book, “Makalat”, he was looking for something. Which he was going to find in Konya. Eventually he found Rumi riding a horse.
One day Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams Tabriz, passing by, asked him, “What are you doing?” Rumi scoffingly replied, “Something you cannot understand.” On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, “What is this?” To which Shams replied, “Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand.”
A second version of the tale has Shams passing by Rumi who again is reading a book. Rumi regards him as an uneducated stranger. Shams asks Rumi what he is doing, to which Rumi replies, “Something that you do not understand!” At that moment, the books suddenly catch fire and Rumi asks Shams to explain what happened. His reply was, “Something you do not understand.”
After several years with Rumi in Konya, Shams left and settled in Khoy. As the years passed, Rumi attributed more and more of his own poetry to Shams as a sign of love for his departed friend and master. In Rumi’s poetry Shams becomes a symbol of God’s love for mankind; Shams was a sun (“Shams” means “Sun” in Arabic) shining the Light of God on Rumi.
Shams Tabrizi Death
According to contemporary Sufi tradition, Shams Tabrizi mysteriously disappeared: some say he was killed by close disciples of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi who were jealous of the close relationship between Rumi and Shams. It is also said that Shams Tabrizi left Konya and died in Khoy where he was buried. Sultan Walad, Rumi’s son, in his Walad-Nama mathnawi just mentions that Shams mysteriously disappeared from Konya with no more specific details.
Shams Tabrizi’s tomb in Khoy, beside a tower monument in a memorial park, has been nominated as a World Cultural Heritage Center by UNESCO.
Discourse of Shams Tabrīzī
The Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Discourse of Shams-i Tabrīzī) is a Persian prose book written by Shams. The Maqalat seems to have been written during the later years of Shams, as he speaks of himself as an old man. Overall, it bears a mystical interpretation of Islam and contains spiritual advice. Some excerpts from the Maqalat provide insight into the thoughts of Shams:
- Blessing is excess, so to speak, an excess of everything. Don’t be content with being a faqih (religious scholar), say I want more – more than being a Sufi (a mystic), more than being a mystic – more than each thing that comes before you.
- A good man complains of noone; he does not look to faults.
- Joy is like pure clear water; wherever it flows, wondrous blossoms grow…Sorrow is like a black flood; wherever it flows it wilts the blossoms.
- And the Persian language, how did it happen? With so much elegance and goodness such that the meanings and elegance that is found in the Persian language is not found in Arabic.
An array of mystical poetry, laden with devotional sentiments and strong ‘Alid inclinations, has been attributed to Shams-i Tabrīzī across the Persian Islamic world. Scholars such as Gabrielle van den Berg have sometimes questioned whether these were really authored by Shams-i Tabrīzī. However later scholars have pointed out that it may instead be a question of whether the name Shams-i Tabriz has been used for more than one person. Van den Berg suggests that this identification is the pen name of Rumi. However she acknowledges that, despite the large number of poems attributed to Shams, that comprise the devotional repertoire of the Ismailis of Badakhshan, an overwhelming majority of these cannot be located in any of the existing works of Rumi. Rather, as Virani observes, some of these are located in the “Rose Garden of Shams” (Gulzār-i Shams), authored by Mulukshah, a descendent of the Ismaili Pir Shams, as well as in other works.