Shams Tabrizi

Shams Tabrizi
Born 1185
Tabriz, Iran
Died 1248
Khoy, Iran
Occupation Weaver, poet, philosopher
Religion Islam, [1]

Shams-i-Tabrīzī (Persian: شمس تبریزی) or Shams al-Din Mohammad (1185–1248) was a Persian[2] Muslim,[3] who is credited as the spiritual instructor of Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi and is referenced with great reverence in Rumi’s poetic collection, in particular Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrīzī (The Works of Shams of Tabriz). Tradition holds that Shams taught Rumi in seclusion in Konya for a period of forty days, before fleeing for Damascus. The tomb of Shams-i Tabrīzī was recently nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Bowl of Reflections, early 13th century. Brooklyn Museum

According to Sipah Salar, a devotee and intimate friend of Rumi who spent forty days with him, Shams was the son of the Imam Ala al-Din. In a work entitled Manāqib al-‘arifīn (Eulogies of the Gnostics), Aflaki names a certain ‘Ali as the father of Shams-i Tabrīzī and his grandfather as Malikdad. Apparently basing his calculations on Haji Bektash Veli's Maqālāt (Conversations), Aflaki suggests that Shams arrived in Konya at the age of sixty years. However, various scholars have questioned Aflaki’s reliability.[4]

Shams received his education in Tabriz and was a disciple of Baba Kamal al-Din Jumdi. Before meeting Rumi, he apparently traveled from place to place weaving baskets and selling girdles for a living.[5] Despite his occupation as a weaver, Shams received the epithet of “the embroiderer” (zarduz) in various biographical accounts including that of the Persian historian Dawlatshah. This however, is not the occupation listed by Haji Bektash Veli in the Maqālat and was rather the epithet given to the Ismaili Imam Shams al-din Muhammad, who worked as an embroiderer while living in anonymity in Tabriz. The transference of the epithet to the biography of Rumi’s mentor suggests that this Imam’s biography must have been known to Shams-i Tabrīzī’s biographers. The specificities of how this transference occurred, however, are not yet known.[6]

Shams’ first encounter with Rumi

On 15 November 1244, a man in a black suit from head to toe, came to the famous inn of Sugar Merchants of Konya. His name was Shams Tabrizi. He was claiming to be a travelling merchant. As it was said in Haji Bektash Veli's book, "Makalat", he was looking for something which he was going to find in Konya. Eventually he found Rumi riding a horse.

One day Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams Tabriz, passing by, asked him, "What are you doing?" Rumi scoffingly replied, "Something you cannot understand." (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned.) On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, "What is this?" To which Shams replied, "Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand." (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned.)

A second version of the tale has Shams passing by Rumi who again is reading a book. Rumi regards him as an uneducated stranger. Shams asks Rumi what he is doing, to which Rumi replies, "Something that you do not understand!" At that moment, the books suddenly catch fire and Rumi asks Shams to explain what happened. His reply was, "Something you do not understand."[7]

Another version of the first encounter is this: In the marketplace of Konya, amid the cotton stalls, sugar vendors, and vegetable stands, Rumi rode through the street, surrounded by his students. Shams caught hold of the reins of his donkey and rudely challenged the master with two questions. “Who was the greater mystic, Bayazid [a Sufi saint] or Muhammad?” Shams demanded. "What a strange question! Muhammad is greater than all the saints," Rumi replied. "So, why is it then that Muhammad said to God, ‘I didn’t know you as I should have,’ while Bayazid proclaimed, ‘Glory be to me! How exalted is my Glory! [that is, he claimed the station of God himself]?" Rumi explained that Muhammad was the greater of the two, because Bayazid could be filled to capacity by a single experience of divine blessings. He lost himself completely and was filled with God. Muhammad’s capacity was unlimited and could never be filled. His desire was endless, and he was always thirsty. With every moment he came closer to God, and then regretted his former distant state. For that reason he said, “I have never known you as I should have.” It is recorded that after this exchange of words, Rumi felt a window open at the top of his head and saw smoke rise to heaven. He cried out, fell to the ground, and lost consciousness for one hour. Shams, upon hearing these answers, realized that he was face to face with the object of his longing, the one he had prayed God to send him. When Rumi awoke, he took Shams’s hand, and the two of them returned to Rumi’s school together on foot.

After several years with Rumi in Konya, Shams left and settled in Khoy. As the years passed, Rumi attributed more and more of his own poetry to Shams as a sign of love for his departed friend and master. In Rumi's poetry Shams becomes a guide of Allah's (Creator) love for mankind; Shams was a sun ("Shams" means "Sun" in Arabic) shining the Light of Sun as guide for the right path evading darkness for Rumi's heart, mind, and body on earth. The source of Shams' teachings was the knowledge of Ali ibn Abu Talib, who is also called the father of sufism.[8][9]

Tomb of Shams Tabrizi
Tomb of Shams Tabrizi


According to contemporary Sufi tradition, Shams Tabrizi mysteriously disappeared: some say he was killed by close disciples of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi who were jealous of the close relationship between Rumi and Shams, but according to many certain evidences he left Konya and died in Khoy where he was buried. There are several sites that claim to his grave, one in a remote region of the Karakoram in Northern Pakistan at a place called Ziarat, near the village Shimshall. Sultan Walad, Rumi's son, in his Walad-Nama mathnawi just mentions that Shams mysteriously disappeared from Konya with no more specific details.[10]

Shams Tabrizi's tomb in Khoy, beside a tower monument in a memorial park, has been nominated as a World Cultural Heritage Center by UNESCO.[11]

Discourse of Shams Tabrīzī

The Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Discourse of Shams-i Tabrīzī) is a Persian prose book written by Shams.[12] The Maqalat seems to have been written during the later years of Shams, as he speaks of himself as an old man. Overall, it bears a mystical interpretation of Islam and contains spiritual advice. Some excerpts from the Maqalat provide insight into the thoughts of Shams:

An array of mystical poetry, laden with devotional sentiments and strong ‘Alid inclinations, has been attributed to Shams-i Tabrīzī across the Persian Islamic world. Scholars such as Gabrielle van den Berg have sometimes questioned whether these were really authored by Shams-i Tabrīzī. However later scholars have pointed out that it may instead be a question of whether the name Shams-i Tabriz has been used for more than one person. Van den Berg suggests that this identification is the pen name of Rumi. However she acknowledges that, despite the large number of poems attributed to Shams, that comprise the devotional repertoire of the Ismailis of Badakhshan, an overwhelming majority of these cannot be located in any of the existing works of Rumi. Rather, as Virani observes, some of these are located in the "Rose Garden of Shams" (Gulzār-i Shams), authored by Mulukshah, a descendent of the Ismaili Pir Shams, as well as in other works.[14]

See also


  1. Ibrahim Gamard, Greatest Works Of Rumi, p. 13
  2. Manouchehr Mortazavi. Zaban-e Dirin-e Azerbaijan (On the Old language of Azerbaijan). Bonyad-e Moqoofaat-e Dr. Afshar. 2005 (1384). منوچهر مرتضوی، زبان دیرین آذربایجان، بنیاد موقوفات دکتر افشار، 1384. pg 49, see comments on the old language of Tabriz as well as Old Azari language
    Claude Cahen, "Pre-Ottoman Turkey: a general survey of the material and spiritual culture and history, c. 1071–1330", Sidgwick & Jackson, 1968. p. 258: "He may also have met the great Persian mystic Shams al-Din Tabrizi there, but it was only later that the full influence of this latter was to be exerted on him."
    Everett Jenkins, "Volume 1 of The Muslim Diaspora: A Comprehensive Reference to the Spread of Islam in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Everett Jenkins", McFarland, 1999. pg 212: "The Persian mystic Shams al-Din Tabrizi arrived in Konya (Asia Minor)". ISBN 0-7864-0431-0, ISBN 978-0-7864-0431-5
    S. Lornejad and A. Doostzadeh, On the Modern Politicization of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi, Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies, edited by Victoria Arakelova, Yerevan, 2012 In a poem from Rumi, the word buri is mentioned from the mouth of Shams Tabrizi by Rumi. Rumi translates the word in standard Persian as biyā (the imperative “come”). This word is also a native word of the Tabrizi Iranian dialect which is mentioned by Persian Sufi, Hafez Karbalaie in his work Rawdat al-Jenān. In the poem of Baba Taher, the word has come down as bura (come) and in the NW Iranian Tati dialects (also called Azari but should not be confused with the Turkish language of the same name) of Azerbaijan, in Harzandi Tati it is biri and in Karingani Tati it is bura (Kiya 1976). It should be noted that Shams Tabrizi was an Iranian Shafi’ite Muslim like the bulk of the Iranian population of Azerbaijan during the preMongol and post-Mongol era.
  3. Ibrahim Gamard, Rumi and Islam: Selections from his stories and poems, Pg Introduction xix
  4. Virani, Shafique N. The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press), 2007, p. 51.
  5. A History of Muslim Philosophy, Vol II; M.M. Sharif. Page 824
  6. Virani, Shafique N. The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press), 2007, p. 51.
  7. Franklin Lewis, Rumi, Past and Present, East and West, pp. 154–161.
  11. 3 Timurid Skeletons Discovered near Minaret of Shams-e Tabrizi
  12. Franklin Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West, Oneworld Publications, 2000
    Shams al-Din Tabrizi, Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, ed. Mohammad-Ali Movahhed (Tehran: Sahami, Entesharat-e Khwarazmi, 1990) Note: This is a two-volume edition
  13. Shams al-Din Tabrizi, Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, ed. Mohammad-Ali Movahhed (Tehran: Sahami, Entesharat-e Khwarazmi, 1990). Note: This is a two volume edition. Actual quote: زبان پارسی را چه شده است؟ بدین لطیفی و خوبی، که آن معانی و لطافت که در زبان پارسی آمده است و در تازی نیامده است»
    Also found in: William Chittick, "Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrīzī", Annotated and Translated. (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2004)
  14. Virani, Shafique N. The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press), 2007, p. 52.

Further reading

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