by Ayeda Naqvi

Yes, our houses are under attack. But as we so desperately cling to the old form, eager to preserve and retain that which we are accustomed to, we must ask ourselves, is it really worth holding onto? Of course, the earth must be protected and civil wars must be avoided but is the destruction of certain patterns necessarily negative?

Tear down this house, writes Rumi in his poem, the Pickaxe. For under it lies a treasure far greater than you could ever imagine. Tear down this house, writes Rumi in his masterpiece, the Masnawi, for hundred thousand new houses can be built from the transparent yellow carnelian buried under it.

Never have the words of anyone echoed the way these words echo tonight, on the eve of Shab-i-Aroos. Reverberating through time and space more than 700 years after his physical death, this December 17, the verses of Maulana Rumi shine more brightly than they have in a long time. Perhaps because it is darker than it has been in a long time.

As countries begin to disintegrate, the environment is under greater threat than ever and people’s dwindling faith leads them into a maelstrom of anger, doubt and confusion. We seem to be plummeting towards more and more destruction, the breaking down of all order as we once knew it.

Yes, our houses are under attack. But as we so desperately cling to the old form, eager to preserve and retain that which we are accustomed to, we must ask ourselves, is it really worth holding onto? Of course, the earth must be protected and civil wars must be avoided but is the destruction of certain patterns necessarily negative?

Not according to Rumi. He speaks of the house that must be demolished to get to the treasure that lies underneath. But the only way to get to the treasure is to do the work of demolishing and digging under the foundation. On an individual level, it makes sense. Just as farmland must be burned every few years to clear it, certain experiences in our lives are needed to burn us, to empty us out. In my study of Sufism, I have seen this process referred to as calcinatto, a radical form of purification by fire. It presents itself as grief, illness or loss, leading to a destruction of the old self and a reformation of a new consciousness.

It is this new consciousness which then, in turn, transforms into collective action a mindset that leads to the rejection of accepted norms  including old systems, ways of thinking and a form of apathy that condones oppression. To use a vernacular farming term, this mindset is part of the khanjar which must be burned. This khanjar includes an outlook which allows the arrogant with ill-gotten wealth to dictate to us, be it in the form of jailing dissidents or even stopping traffic so that a VIP may pass.

Yes, the point works at an individual level, for the destruction of the false self leads to the access to the true self buried below. But what about at the societal level? Is society like the individual? Many argue, no. For underneath the destruction of society there is no true self, only anarchy. Social change comes from changing social patterns, not from destroying social institutions.

And yet we see those who, for their own personal gains, continue to destroy every institution in our nation that has ever kept order. From the judiciary to press freedom to the general trust of the people, they have taken that pickaxe and gone straight to the foundation. Brilliant job of destruction. The question is, who will reconstruct now?

More than 700 years ago, tonight, Maulana Rumi, lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his loved ones, the words of his verses echoing through the streets of Konya: This is a rented house. You don’t own the deed. You have a lease.

As his own lease ran out, Maulana Rumi lay contented, a living testament to his philosophy of disintegration being necessary before reintegration as his real talent was unleashed only after the murder of his beloved friend and teacher, Shamsuddin Tabriz. A teacher of theology, Maulana was transformed into a poetic genius after experiencing the pain of separation. The heart rending cry of the reed flute which opens up his literary masterpiece, the Masnawi, would not be so haunting if Rumi had not felt the longing he wrote about.

Even on his deathbed, as he lay with his eyes closed, his poems, his divine inspiration, continued to flow through him. As his family and friends sat around him, crying, he responded: But if the house is being destroyed, what is the benefit of wailing and weeping? … My friends are drawing me to this side, and Hazrat Mawlana Shamsudin is calling to that side.

He was old, but not broken; the same pain that had destroyed his old self had given birth to a new one. Sometime during the night, after composing this poem, Maulana Rumi died. It was December 17, 1273, Sunday the fifth of the Islamic lunar month, Jumada lakhir. AH.

Today we celebrate this day as it is the moment he waited for his entire life the moment of return and union with the Divine. He left us with many jewels, wisdom for all who dare to learn. But on his Shab-i-Aroos, it is difficult not to wonder, what would he think of us today as we self-destruct? Is this the form of destruction he wrote about or are we just bad learners? If he turns in his grave, it is not in sema.

Ayeda Naqvi has been a journalist for 16 years and a teacher for three. She specialises in Sufism and can be contacted at ayedanaqvi@yahoo.com