Iran’s Spiritual Leader Isn’t a Hardline Islamist, But a Mystic Poet
by Melody Moezzi, guest contributor
A boy dances and leaps around in the Old City of Yazd, Iran. (photo: Mohamed Somji/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Iran’s officially recognized “spiritual leader” today may be Ayatollah Khamenei, but for hundreds of years before the current establishment of mullahs and ayatollahs, Iranians of all creeds have looked to another spiritual leader: Jalal ad-Din Rumi. While this 13th century Persian Sufi poet is known in much of the West as “Rumi,” he is referred to more affectionately in Iran as “Mowlaana,” or the master.
Among Iranians, he is a spiritual guide and guru whose words hold unmatched moral authority. Over 700 years after his death, it is nearly impossible to spend a day walking around any Iranian city, suburb, or village and not hear his echo. His words live on in everyday parlance: No matter one’s station, religion, or occupation, everyone in Iran knows at least a handful of Rumi’s poems by heart. They are taught in classrooms as an essential part of the basic curriculum, but more than that, they are learned in homes, cafes, bazaars, parks, and houses of worship. No place is beyond this poet’s influence.
And there is no better way to understand that influence than through Rumi’s own verse, although it often defies easy translation. Still, English speakers have a wonderful resource in understanding Rumi — and Iran — through the translations of Coleman Barks, including the following:
“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Understand this poem, and you will understand the soul of Iran — not just the role of religion or dogma, but the spiritual role of faith, love, and beauty.
A Linguistic Resurrection for Reconnecting with Compassion: Krista Tippett’s TEDTalk
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Released a week earlier than planned, we couldn’t post it until now. At the time, we were in suburban Detroit (go WDET!) setting up for Krista’s interview with Sylvia Boorstein (looking like she’ll be our Mother’s Day show, yay!).
The Twitter chatter has been incredible, and it’s great to see how people respond to these ideas. Please take a few minutes to watch, share it with your friends, and weigh in with your response. We’d love to know what you’re thinking.
Krista’s TED Talk at the United Nations and the Charter for Compassion (Live Video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
when: Thursday, November 18th, 2010
time: 11:00 a.m. ET
where: United Nations (New York, New York)
Well, we’re live streaming another event, and this one should be a must-see simply because of the line-up of speakers, including Karen Armstrong and Krista. Oh, and it’s a TED event, which almost always means great speakers! The topic? Creating a compassionate world.
Words matter. They shape the way we see ourselves, interpret the world, and treat others. And as essential as compassion is across our traditions, as vivid as many of us know it to be in particular lives, the word “compassion” is a problem — watered down in culture, suspect in the field of journalism, too safe and too sweet for the power that the 21st century needs unleashed in this virtue. Krista will name that — break “compassion” open into its kindred and component qualities and describe its universe of attendant virtues. In ideas and images drawn from her conversation partners across the years, she will suggest an expanded definition of “compassion” as vital, visible, and embodied.
Please join us here or on our live events page and watch our stream from the United Nations. We’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!
Thank You, Eleanor Roosevelt
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A sleepless night wandering about the Web delivered this 1949 photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest legacy:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
After the act was passed on December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly urged all nations “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.”
I don’t recall a poster of the Declaration ever hanging in one of my classrooms. Ashamed to admit it, I know I’ve never even read the full text of this historic document — even though I’ve watched these videos from Andy’s 60th anniversary post. So I did, and it took me less than five minutes. Five minutes! And I’m 40 years old.
I’m struck by the richness of its language — “human family,” “universal respect,” “spirit of brotherhood,” “security of person” — as I read the news about Haiti and its people, the tumultuous debate about the rights and privileges extended to homosexual couples, or the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are a few articles that especially resonated with me:
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 15. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
Article 16. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. … The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 29. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, visits with Nasrollah Entezam, president of the fifth session of the General Assembly and Marian Anderson, American contralto, on Human Rights Day in 1950. (United Nations)
The Human Scale
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This December, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 years old, and the video above was released in preparation for that celebration. The UDHR (listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Translated Document” in the world) was drafted by the United Nations in response to the Second World War as a means of clearly defining what the UN hoped to protect — namely, the “equal and inalienable rights” that “all members of the human family” are entitled to.
I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog because the issue of human rights is a pretty important one at SOF; so much of what we do here is about taking larger ideas and bringing them down to the level of individual lives. Often issues that seem irreconcilable in their abstract form seem more managable when you hear the stories of those affected.
Case and point: our recent feature "Between the Polarized Extremes of Abortion." Looking through some of the thoughtful and heartfelt responses we received on this topic, I realized that for all of the rhetoric I’ve heard on this subject, I’ve rarely seen it dealt with on such a personal level. Your responses turned out to be refreshing and much-needed antidote to the political and cultural battling this issue tends to invoke.
It seems that if there is going to be any reconcilliation on the issue of abortion, it will probably come through an understanding of the individual lives that are affected by it. And while the UDHR has its critics (I imagine anything claiming to be “universal” would), to me it’s an important step in the right direction — a larger way of acknowledging the need to understand the world on a more human scale.
While doing a little research on this, I discovered that there is also an older (much longer) animation about the UDHR, sponsored by Amnesty International. The tone seems a little different in Amnesty’s video, and I thought it was worth including because, while it is pretty dated, it also strikes me as being a little bit more … well, human.