By Maneka Gandhi
For me, food is at the core of every religion because it signifies the most important commandment of the universe: those shalt not harm. People who eat meat cause vast amounts of suffering, not just to the animals but to the planet itself. The five most amazing vegetarians in the world, in my opinion, were the Holy Prophet Mohammad, Jesus, the Buddha, Rumi and Mahatma Gandhi. How sad that all their followers eat vast amounts of meat while mouthing the empty phrases of their religious books.
You should know about Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi known simply as Rumi, a 13th century (1207-1273) Muslim poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, born in Balkh (in Iran then and now in Afghanistan) and died in Konya, now in Turkey. Known as Maulana and Maulvi (master), he is regarded as one of the greatest Sufi spiritual masters and poets, famous for his epic Mas̄navī-yi Maʿnavī (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. Upon his death, his followers, and his son, founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes.
Rumi’s influence has spread across nations and ethnic divisions. Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, Muslims of different nationalities. His poems have been widely translated into most of the world’s languages and have influenced literature hugely, especially Persian, Turkish, Urdu and Pashto.
Sufism, or Tasawwuf, is the inward mystic philosophy, the spiritual dimension/discipline of Islam. It considers the Holy Prophet Muhammad as the perfect being who exemplifies the morality of God. Sufis belong to different orders, congregations, formed around a grand master. These strive for perfection of worship. According to William Chittick, “In a broad sense, Sufism can be described as the interiorisation, and intensification of Islamic faith and practice.” Sufism is perceived as a peaceful and apolitical form of Islam, particularly suited for interreligious dialogue and intercultural harmonisation in pluralist societies; a symbol of tolerance and humanism – flexible and non-violent.
While Sufis strictly observe Islamic law, they are ascetics, firm in their practice of Dhikr, the remembrance of God. Classical Sufi scholars have defined Tasawwuf as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”. Sufis believe that by pledging allegiance to Muhammad spiritually they may connect with God. “Intensive devotion, pious abstemiousness and pondering the divine mysteries” is the Sufi way, the “science of purifying the heart”. Existing in both Sunni and Shia Islam, Sufism is not a sect, but a method of approaching, or a way of understanding, the religion, which “through simultaneously fulfilling the obligatory religious duties” and finding a “way and a means of striking a root through the ‘narrow gate’ in the depth of the soul out into the domain of the pure unimpressionable Spirit which itself opens out on to the Divinity”.
While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to Allah and hope to become close to God in Paradise—after death and after the Last Judgment—Sufis also believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and embrace the divine presence in this life through “repentance from sin, the purging of contemptible qualities and evil traits of character, and adornment with virtues and good character”.
Devotion to Muhammad is an exceptionally strong practice within Sufism. Rumi attributes his self-control and abstinence from worldly desires as qualities attained by him through the guidance of Muhammad. Rumi states, “I ‘sewed’ my two eyes shut from [desires for] this world and the next – this I learned from Muhammad.”
Dhikr is the remembrance of Allah commanded in the Qur’an for all Muslims through a specific devotional act, such as the repetition of divine names and supplications from Hadith literature and the Quran. Ritualised dhikr ceremonies of the Sufis include “recitation, singing (the most well known being Qawwali music), instrumental music, dance, incense, meditation, ecstacy, and trance.”
Sufi whirling originated and is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a dance through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection. This is sought through abandoning one’s egos, personal desires, listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.
At the age of 12, Rumi, born in a Muslim meat-eating world, wrote this quatrain and became a vegetarian till he died.
‘Shadeed-az-kwa nee ast munazin/Ya rafeer ul-qist amnazeer/Choon ke ast shadaaz raftam ke azdaan/Wahen ul-khirama, za dizt’un bu’azir’? (I have existence and I value it so much/So have all the beings on earth and they too, try to preserve it/ Then, how can I kill even the tiniest creature/Just to satiate my palate?).
Rumi believed that all lives were sacred: Taa’shif nifaak b’astz sang (Even a seemingly lifeless stone has a degree of consciousness; respect it). Rumi was a staunch vegetarian and shunned even milk and milk products (Sheer mun-haraam nuzt: To me, even milk is forbidden). He even refrained from sacrificing animal/s as an Islamic ritual on Eid-Al-Adah (Bakrid).
Rumi says in Turkish, ‘Ye’k dez charinda-ul-insaan rish’h’aaz’ (Look at all animals as you look at humans). This is of paramount importance. This creates sensitivity that further blossoms into universal empathy. The sanctity of every life is to be saved and preserved: ‘Kahin nish shudam el-fazeer-un-nisaar.’
Rumi writes that what we eat directly influences our thinking. If we consume an animal, its blood and gore will make us act like a slaughterer: ‘Un qasaab, gosht-e-zakaaf’.
“We began as mineral. We emerged into plant life, and into the animal state, and then into being human, and always we have forgotten our former states, except in early Spring when we slightly recall being green again.” Rumi: Selected poems, Penguin UK.
When Rumi died his body was interred and a shrine, the Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb), was erected over his place of burial. His epitaph reads: When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.
Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path to reach God. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling dervishes developed into a ritual form. In the Mevlevi tradition, worship “represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination.” And that includes animals. There is a belief, expressed by chroniclers, that much of his poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or the drum, the sound of the water mill in Meram, where Rūmī went with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in nature the reflection of the radiant beauty, and felt flowers and birds partaking in his love. Mewlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!”
The Mewlewī order issues an invitation to people of all backgrounds:
Whoever you are
Wanderer, idolater, worshipper of fire,
Come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, and come yet again
Ours is not a caravan of despair.”
I would repeat this invitation to all of you who eat the flesh of animals. Stop killing them, treat them with love and respect as another form of God and see how your happiness increases and the world changes around you.