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MSU celebrates Muslim philosopher with conference and cultural event

Monday, October 29, 2007

In the 13th century, the Muslim philosopher, poet, and mystic Rumi taught peace and tolerance. Today, more than 800 years later, Rumi’s teachings will be celebrated at a conference and cultural event that will take place at MSU.“Celebrating Rumi in the 21st Century” will be held Saturday, November 3rd at the MSU Union.

The idea for the conference began when Emine Evered, professor of history at MSU, heard the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had declared 2007 as “The Year of Rumi.”

“I love Rumi. I grew up reading his writings,” Evered said. Evered started planning the event last year and hopes that the conference will help make Rumi known to a wider audience in the community. Doing so will help preserve the mystic’s traditions, poetry, and philosophies of peace.

“Many current stereotypes of Islam and Muslims are very negative; we are bombarded with images that are associated with war, terrorism, and intolerance. But there is a wider culture that has more abundant examples of peace, charity, and acceptance; a culture that is very rich with poetry and philosophy,” Evered said.

Formally known as Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, his work has been influencing the Muslim faith for centuries but his is a relatively new name to the west. Rumi gained significant popularity in the west especially in the last 30 years. This newfound popularity is due largely to translator Coleman Barks. Barks is the author of numerous Rumi translations and has studied Sufism since 1977. Barks will be reading some of his own translations of Rumi’s writings at the cultural event that follows the conference.

The conference has three sessions of lectures with scholars from various universities, from MSU to the Middle East Technical University in Turkey. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon will inaugurate the event in the morning and the cultural event will follow in the evening.

Throughout the cultural event, guests will experience the atmosphere of Rumi with readings of his poetry, traditional Sufi music and whirling dervishes.

A mystic, Rumi is also associated with the symbolic spinning movements of “whirling dervishes.” The movements are an expression if piety and symbolism. The dress of the “dervish” is quite symbolic; one type consists of a black robe with a white shirt and skirt underneath. The black robe symbolizes the outer world of material existence and is cast off as the dervish spins. The white robe is revealed as the pure inner existence. One hand is open and stretched toward the sky while the other is extended toward the ground. This is done with the understanding that the dervish receives grace from heaven and gives it to humanity.

Jyotsna Singh, associate professor of English is a chair of a conference session.

“Reading the poetry of Rumi is like going on a richly rewarding journey,” Singh said. “He combines anecdotes from everyday life with deep emotional and spiritual longings to show us a world in which there are no boundaries between the body and the spirit – and between people of different races and creeds.”

Singh feels that in an age when the Western media and culture generally equate Islam with terrorism and fundamentalism, this conference will refute such stereotypes and introduce guests to the rich Sufi tradition within Islam – perhaps best represented by the life and works of Rumi.

With a day full of Rumi celebrations, Evered is most looking forward to exposing people to Rumi’s messages.

“I am excited for people to discuss his work, and to give them a taste of what his traditions are like,” Evered said. “In focusing on Rumi, we won’t dwell on cultural differences and violence but rather we will examine the aesthetic qualities and traditions of inclusiveness that are found within one of the main Sufi traditions in the religion. We’ll show a different face of the religion – a face more consistent with the daily lives of many Muslims than are the images of conflict and confrontation that are so dominant in today’s media.”

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