Universiteit Leiden

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Earthly and Heavenly: Love, Loyalty, and Music in Persian Mystic Poetry

Friday 14 June 2019
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden

Conference programme and abstracts

Rumi and Shams: Two in the Singular (Prof. Dr Alan Williams, University of Manchester)

Can we even think in such 20th /21st century terms about the nature of the ‘relationship’ between these two great figures of Persian literature and Ṣufi thought? In recent decades, among some popular writers and pundits, there has been a considerable sexualisation of their relationship. In this paper, I aim to stimulate reflection on the problems of understanding their companionship ( صحبت ) and friendship ( دوستی ). One problem is the inscrutability of the subject, since whatever happened between them in private was by definition esoteric. Second is the barrier of anachronism and cultural distance, removed as we are by more than 750 years; another is that the medieval Persian sources are themselves difficult to assess, since they are poetic or hagiographical, or both. The Masnavi, which mentions Shams only four times in its entirety, is very reserved about Shams: a main undercurrent of the work seems to be Rumi’s sense of grief and separation from his beloved Shams. I consider the clues given in Rumi’s works and in the Maqālāt of Shams, as well as the later biographies by Aflāki, Sepahsālār and others. I also reflect on views of modern authorities, such as the Iranian scholar Foruzānfar, and the Cambridge scholar R.A. Nicholson and others, and contrast them with the romanticising and eroticising tendencies of some modern popularists, both pro- and anti-Ṣufi.

Rumi and Music (Prof. em. Dr Rokus de Groot, University of Amsterdam)

What do Rumi's texts say about the concept and practice of music? Are the texts about this subject understandable to us? How can we get access to their meanings? How did music function in samâ? This presentation explores these questions in combination with an analysis of some present-day musical settings of Rumi's texts.

Is There More Than One Way of Reading Nezami? Faith, Facts, and Fantasy in Five Treasures (Prof. Dr Kamran Talattof, University of Arizona)

In my previous works on Nezami Ganjavi (12th century Persian poet), I have shown that he uses numerous concepts, subjects, and themes related to love, women, speech, fantasy, science, and even the holy site of the Muslim faith, the Ka’beh, to construct intricate poetic allegories. In those works, I challenge the notion that religion was the only source of inspiration and creativity for Nezami’s literary output. I have also addressed Nezami’s understanding of poetry arguing that he indeed possesses a systematic and, if you will, a theoretical approach to his art. I have reconstructed his notion of literature based on the meaning of the word Sakhon in his writings. This presentation is a continuation of my overall project on Nezami’s poetry to demonstrate the connection between his treatment of different themes and subjects and his dedication to his poetic profession. To do so, I would argue the need for reading the works of Nezami without attributing / ascribing / assigning / ascribing any ideological advocacy to the poet. To support this contention, I analyze the story of ascension, which has appeared in all of his five books to argue for the possibility of alternative readings. The story of ascension is yet another literary allegory that provides exceptionally religious and yet fantastical material for his poetic process of imagination
and the expression of his cosmic knowledge. As in his other allegorical constructs, all five representations of the story of ascension can be seen as ambiguous. There are clear religious connections, but as my reading shows, they can also be understood in terms of their literariness. In fact, in those five depictions, the poet demonstrates that he understands not only the religious signification of the story, but also his contemporary astronomy, which are all rendered playfully, masterfully, and eloquently.

The Journey of the Faithful to the Place of Return (Dr Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Leiden University)

Ḥakīm Sanāʾī is one of the most influential mystic poets in the Islamic world. Rūmī praises him as his wise teacher, as the ‘eyes’ showing him the vision of mysticism. Rūmī’s Mathnavī-yi maʿnavī is an imitation of Sanāʾī’s masterpiece The Garden of the Truth and the Path of the law. Sanāʾī possesses a massive Dīvān in which he introduces antinomian genre (qalandariyyāt), a collection of themes and motifs praising wine, homoerotic love, and problematizing several Sharia-based concepts such as Islam, faith and heresy. Sanāʾī also wrote several short mathnavīs dealing with various subjects ranging from ethical topics to reflections on the origin of the soul. In this presentation, I will deal with his treatise Sayr al-ʿibād, describing the development of the human being from the moment of conception to the full realization of its qualities as a Perfect Man.

More information?

Please find the conference programme in the menu on the right under 'Documents'. Contact Dr Asghar Seyed-Gohrab for more information (a.a.seyed-gohrab@hum.leidenuniv.nl).

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