I Died as a Mineral I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was Man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar With angels blest; but even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God doth perish. When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, I shall become what no mind e’er conceived. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’ - Rumi Rumi, Maulana Jalal-’d-din Muhammad and E.H. Whinfield (translator), The Masnavi I Ma’navi of Rumi: Complete. Forgottenbooks.org, 2008.
Could we call Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi, a “Darwinist?”
Does the above poem from his masterpiece, The Masnavi, hint at the scientific idea of evolution and a common ancestor of all life on earth? Was Charles Darwin the most well-known in a long line of evolutionists beginning with Sufis? Some think this passage expresses Rumi’s grasp of evolution nearly six hundred years in advance of the publication of The Origin of Species. The question is intriguing. And the issue is made more interesting considering the potent mix of religion and science involved. Many people today believe these two subjects are polar opposites, and treat them as irreconcilable approaches to understanding the nature of reality. In many places on the globe, particularly in the West, science and religion remain locked in a culture war. Sufi poetry might be one medium both science and religion can share and happily coexist within. This may explain how Rumi’s poetry remains immensely popular in Muslim countries, the West and among both religious and secular people. In what follows, the tension between religion and science is reviewed and the poetry of Rumi is examined as a possible mediator. The particular passage from Rumi’s Masnavi has been debated for many years. Some say it suggests Rumi was ahead of western scientists and discovered evolution hundreds of years before Darwin published his findings. Others are adamant that Rumi made no such case and the couplets are completely spiritual in nature. There are questions about the source of Rumi’s poetic metaphors which need to be explored in order to clarify the relationship between his mystical poetry and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. We can then make some general observations about Sufi knowledge within the science – religion dynamic. The God Wars Scientists, materialists and Darwinists see human evolution as a combination of random and deterministic processes which began with the creation of matter, the creation of the first cell from matter and the evolution of that single cell into the vast variety of plant, animal and human species we see all over the world today. Any talk of spiritual origins or evolution is dismissed.
Sufism: An Inquiry Vol XVI, No. 1