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Rumi Night Brings Traditional Sufi Mysticism to the Heights

Beyond the bustle of Late Night occurring in Lower downstairs, the Heights Room served as the perfect location to connect the "terrestrial with the celestial" as Rumi Night on the Heights brought students, faculty and guests into the captivating world of Sufi mysticism on Friday, Oct. 16.

Rumi Night on the Heights has been a BC tradition for the past six years, celebrating cultural traditions that stem from almost 1,000 years ago. Organized in part by The Iranian Culture Club, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Student Association (MEISSA), Islamic Civilizations and Societies (ICS), the Department of Music and the Department of Theology, the event was an amazing example of collaboration and teamwork across many different disciplines.

Amanda Ikard / Gavel Media

Amanda Ikard / Gavel Media

The main focus of the event was the famous 13th century poet and mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi, who has been hailed as one of the most famous poets worldwide for centuries, with works translated into dozens of languages. To open the night, Theology professor and Islamic expert Natana Delong-Bas provided context and historical background for the occasion, noting the influence of Rumi on cultures around the world. Rumi lived from 1207 to 1273 in Persia as a poet, jurist, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic. His works transcend national and ethnic boundaries, and he has long been the best-selling poet in the United States.

During the event, acclaimed interpreter Peter Rogen recited various translated renditions of many of Rumi's poems, though at the end we heard a recitation of a poem in the original Persian. In addition, Rumi night offered the musical stylings of Amir Vehab, whose voice seemed to surpass the physical realm, and accompanists on traditional instruments such as the frame drum, or daf, and reed flutes.

Amanda Ikard / Gavel Media

Amanda Ikard / Gavel Media

For many, however, the most intriguing part of the event was the whirling movement of the Dancing Dervishes. Setting aside their long black shrouds, the two dervishes began their reflective movements by slowing walking in time to the music and occasionally bowing in humility. Eventually, as the tempo of the music increased, the dervishes began to open their arms, with their right hands pointing up to the heavens and their left arm symbolizing their connection to the earth. They then proceeded to spin—or whirl—in time with the music in perfect unison.

This practice is just one of many Sufi ceremonies used in an effort to reach religious ecstasy. Indeed, the speakers were clear to distinguish the practice from a performance, noting that it was an exercise in contemplation and prayer rather than in entertainment. Musician Amir Vehab explained that “Whirling is a practice, long and hard, in which one learns to become a mediator between celestial and terrestrial, between divine and creation.” This dance has been declared as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Overall, the night was a reflective and insightful experience for participants and observers alike. Katie Carsky, MCAS '16, said of the evening, "It was amazing to be able to take part in such a unique cultural experience. I had no idea what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised. The neat part about Rumi's poetry is that is was written so long ago, yet it is still applicable to present-day situations." Indeed, the timeless poetry of Rumi Night sparked conversation and contemplation, and will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come.

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