World’s spiritual tourists: Rumi, Madonna and Tilda Swinton

13th century Islamic mystical poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, becomes US’ best selling poet 800 years after his death, receiving attention from Hollywood stars

Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was a Persian poet and Sufi master born in 1207. Despite being dead for more than 800 years, his works have sold millions of copies in recent years. Now even Madonna and Tilda Swinton read his poems.

Rumi is considered one the world's brightest creative talents and on par with Beethoven, Shakespeare and Mozart.

Eight centuries after his death, British actress Tilda Swinton chose to read Rumi’s “Like This.” Swinton also recently turned to Rumi’s poetry to promote her line of fragrances.

Before Swinton, Madonna read Rumi’s “Bitter Sweet” with her guru Deepak Chopra. It was recorded for the album, A Gift Of Love: Deepak & Friends Present Music Inspired By The Love Poems Of Rumi which also included celebrities such as Goldie Hawn and Demi Moore.

Author Brad Gooch, who is writing a biography of Rumi, describes Rumi as “a traditional Muslim preacher and scholar, as his father and grandfather had been.” 

He says ”That is until age 37, when in 1244, he met a mystic called Shams of Tabriz. The two of them have this electric friendship for three years , lover and beloved or disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” 

“After Shams’ death, possibly by murder, Rumi began writing poetry. Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the Prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Masnavi.” 

Gooch adds “These poems are recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, YouTube videos and tweets.” 

Rumi also inspired the unorthodox Sufi sect known as the “Whirling Dervishes,” who invoke a trance-like state through a rhythmic spinning ritual based on the poet’s own devotional practices.

Coleman Barks, translator of Rumi’s poems, also explained the global reach and popularity of Rumi’s poetry in the introduction to his The Illuminated Rumi. 

Barks said “The poet’s whole life was a witness to the boundless universality of the Heart…. His vision was a whole-world work and the poetry was part of the soul-unfolding done in a learning community.”

When Rumi died, Barks adds “He was mourned by Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims and Buddhists.”