Human rights, although largely described as a modern term, are indeed as old as the history of mankind. The age we live has been deemed the age of human rights, yet it is also an age of individual and massive violations of these rights at the same time. There is no longer respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, even in democratic countries. What’s more, democratic states, which were champions in defending human rights in the past, have now become a source of violations.
Today, we mark Human Rights Week in a chaotic time where basic rights are easily violated. Interestingly, the following week will include Dec. 17, the day of Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi’s death. Therefore, it is worth remembering that Rumi is still one of the world’s most inspiring scholars when it comes to human rights.
Rumi and his definition
Mawlana Jalal ad-Din (1207-1273), better known in the West as Rumi, was one of the greatest thinkers, spiritual masters and mystic poets of all time. From the 13th century to present day, his legacy has guided whoever wanted to discover himself/herself, to understand the meaning of life and to find truth. Rumi has also been a perfect source of inspiration in terms of social development and finding solutions to universal problems. His influence has crossed cultural and national boundaries.
Rumi has many things to say about the understanding of this age and has made great contributions in the field of human rights. His thoughts are still valid and reveal the unchanging essence inside people and express the basic and universal values of modern societies.
Rumi tells about justice, or what is also called a state of law or rule of law in our age. Many actions that he regards as cruelty, from which he tells people to refrain, are called violations of human rights today.
Human dignity and social justice are at the center of his world of thought. He was called Mawlana (Our Master) because he defended human rights without discrimination and struggled for the prosperity of all people and for fair and good governance.
The holistic approach
Rumi’s human rights understanding is different from today’s definition due to its holistic expression. First of all, from his point of view, a person is not just a simple, ordinary creature that solely consists of flesh and blood, but human beings possess a perfect system with material and spiritual dimensions, the essence of the universe and the purpose of its creation.
According to many, Rumi’s view played a big role in the formation of his understanding of universal human rights. It can be said that there are four principals shaping this understanding: Human dignity, the aim of being, the principle of unity and the principle of equality.
In modern times, the concept of human dignity is directly linked with human rights. It is generally accepted that the main objective of human rights regulations is the protection of dignity.
As Rumi says, a person is the heart of the universe; therefore his/her dignity is of utmost priority. According to him, people are not only earthly creatures but also spiritual beings who have special roles within the social system. Contrary to some prominent philosophers, Rumi views people as not microcosms, small universes, but macrocosms, great universes, and explains this idea in his masterpiece, “Masnavi,” as follows:
“O man, you seem to be a microcosm but in reality actually a macrocosm.”
Undoubtedly, Rumi’s view describing people as macrocosms is far more comprehensive, deeper and more holistic than today’s limited human rights definitions and practices.
Rumi’s description of humanity defined people as “the most honorable creatures on earth.” God created man meticulously, blew his own soul into him and dedicated food and other useful things on earth to him. His following superb quatrains express his thoughts very well:
“You are more precious than heaven and earth.
What more can I say?
You do not know your own worth.”
“You are another version of the divine book.
You are a mirror of the beauty of God that created the universe.
Whatever exists in the world, it’s not outside of you.
Whatever you ask for, ask for it in yourself, seek it in yourself.”
Humans as the focus
“You are the treasure of the world, and the world is not worth half barley. You are the basis of the universe, the universe is fresh because of you.”
“My friend, a human’s life is a precious pearl. This life that is created as the most beautiful form [human form] precedes the ninth heaven. This life that is as the most beautiful form is beyond thought.”
“If I tell you the value of this priceless jewelry, I burn, the listener also burns,” Rumi quotes.
Rumi, in his works, repeatedly emphasized man’s superiority.
“The aim of the creation of the universe is man,” he said.
He describes this idea in terms of the branch-fruit analogy in the continuation of the verse that describes human being as a macrocosm:
“Therefore in form you are the microcosm, therefore in reality you are the macrocosm. Externally the branch is the origin of the fruit; intrinsically the branch came into existence for the sake of the fruit. If there had not been desire and hope of the fruit, how should the gardener have planted the root of the tree? Therefore in reality the tree was born of the fruit, (even) if in appearance it (the fruit) was generated by the tree.”
Sufi performers during a commemoration ceremony of late Muslim scholar Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi in his hometown, Konya, Turkey.
Human rights, in its broadest definition, mean undeniable and indispensable natural acquirements arising from the fact that a person exists as a human being. It is universal and applies without discrimination for all. Based on human dignity and individual value, its ultimate aim is to protect these concepts.