Interpreting Sufi Stories of Mevlana Rumi: Layla and Majnun

Village home of Jabal-Al-Toubad hills

The True Story of Layla and Majnun

I was surprised to learn that Layla and Majnun story is a true story. In the 7th century there was a beautiful girl called Layla bint Mahdi who lived in the hilly village of Jabal-Al-Toubad. Qays ibn al-Mulawwah was a poet who fell in love with Layla but her father did not allow them to get married. Instead Layla was married to a rich merchant who took her to live in another faraway village.

Qays lost his mind when he could not wed Layla, and composed many poems in her memory. People called him majnoon as the word denotes someone who is crazy or possessed by spirits.

Qays, or Majnoon as he was known, left his home and spent his time in the wilderness. Soon after Layla died, Majnoon too was found dead near her grave.

Layla and Majnun In Sufi Stories

The tale of Layla and Majnun holds a treasured place in the hearts of all people. It resonates deeply with Sufis, who find profound metaphors within the story, symbolizing the mystical path. Sufi mystics give examples of Majnun to illustrate mystical concepts such as self-annihilation in the path of God. They taught that our remembrance of God should be similar to and even exceed the single-minded love of Majnun.

Layla and Majnun Story in Mevlana Rumi’s Masnavi

Mevlana Rumi mentions Layla and Majnun in his mystical poem, Masnavi.

The Caliph questioned Layla, saying, “Are you truly the one
For whom Majnun lost his sanity and became deranged?
You are not more beautiful than many others.”
Layla responded, “Stay silent; you are not Majnun!”

If you possessed Majnun’s eyes,
Both worlds would be unveiled to your sight.
You remain in your senses, while Majnun is lost in madness,
For in love, to be fully awake is treason.
The more one is awake, the more one surrenders to sleep (of love),
Such wakefulness is more burdensome than slumber.

Our wakefulness ensnares our spirits,
Leaving our souls vulnerable to fleeting desires,
Thoughts of gain, loss, and fears of suffering.
They lose their purity, dignity, and radiance,
No longer yearning to ascend towards the heavens.
Indeed, one slumbers deeply who pursues every whim,
Entangled in endless dialogue with passing fancies.

Mevlana Rumi’s verses enjoin us to seek God through the eyes of a devoted lover. The flaw lies in how people often fail to gaze upon God with the lens of Love.

People often approach Him with the gaze of knowledge, seeking intellectual understanding, the gaze of gnosis, pursuing spiritual enlightenment, or the gaze of philosophy, analyzing and dissecting. Yet, the gaze of Love surpasses these realms. It is an intimate and profound connection, a way of perceiving that transcends comprehension.

To truly understand and experience the presence of God, one must surrender to the gaze of Love, where pure devotion and boundless affection intertwine, allowing the soul to connect and commune with the Divine in a way that surpasses all other forms of knowing.

The article in Al-Jazeera “What was Rumi talking about?” explains how the metaphors in Sufi stories can be misleading if interpreted literally. Amidst a culture consumed by materialism and deceptive facades, the writings of Mevlana Rumi and other Sufi poets serve as guiding lights, pointing towards a realm beyond our sensory perceptions.

Mevlana Rumi’s poetry transcends mere escapism or losing oneself in the allure of worldly attachments. Instead, their profound message reminds us of the timeless truth: the Formless Being from which all forms manifest into existence.

Afterword

In my post Finding Mevlana Rumi: My Journey to Unveil Hidden Sufi Teachings I have mentioned the need to carefully select the translations of ancient Sufi works such that their essence is not misinterpreted.

I would love to see your comments on the channels I have mentioned in the About page.

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