The Secret of the Secret: Sultan Walad

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“Rumi had a son, eh? Sounds weird, doesn’t it? I am very surprised to hear this. I always thought he wouldn’t have any children because he is Rumi and no ordinary person…” This is how a friend of mine reacted when he heard about the international symposium The Secret of the Secret: Sultan Walad, organized by Cemalnur Sargut, president of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association, and her colleagues to introduce Sultan Walad to wider communities. Sultan Walad was Rumi’s son and the founder of the Mevlevi Order. Actually, my friend’s reaction proves how closely we embrace Rumi, but on the other hand, it also shows how little we know about him. Most of us have heard his name and know about his great work “Masnavi,” but that doesn’t mean that we know him well. Most of us don’t know that he had a son who established the Mevlevi Order as a key to unlock Rumi’s works and followed Rumi’s teachings. Although Rumi is an important symbol of Turkish culture, we don’t understand his true importance and value. Cemalnur Sargut and her colleagues first made Rumi and then Shams Tabrizi a current issue in our lives. Now they introduce us to Sultan Walad, the son and natural heir of Rumi, who called him his “Secret.” 

Sultan Walad as Rumi’s Masterpiece

Cemalnur Sargut, who managed to introduce Sufism to as far afield as China’s academics, highlights the importance of Sultan Walad by quoting Rumi’s own words: “Hey, my dear son Bahaeddin! The reason for my existence in this world is for your development. All I say is just words. However, you are my mission, you are my masterpiece.” As you can see from his own words, Rumi gave massive importance to his son’s development. He let his son constantly accompany him among learning communities. He showed his son a special kind of love and compassion. Most people thought they were brothers rather than father and son. As a matter of fact, Rumi once told his son, “You are the one who resembles me the most,” and he gave his son over to Shams Tabrizi, his beloved friend and teacher, on his educational journey to find the right path. American academic Omid Safi explains the secret of Rumi’s closeness to his son: “Rumi and his son, Sultan Walad, were so close to each other that Rumi conveyed all his moral thoughts through this relationship, and in this way, he delivered his messages to humanity.” Thanks to being very close to his father, Shams Tabrizi, Husameddin Celebi, and Selahaddin Zerkubi, and gaining their ethical manners, Sultan Walad became the key to delivering their messages to future generations.

However, these were not the only things that made Sultan Walad valuable. He turned Rumi’s teachings into a more systematic order. In other words, the Mevlevi order reached its position today thanks to Sultan Walad. He established the basics of Mevlevi rituals in a specific order and method. After his father’s death, he established good relationships with both Seljuk and Mongolian elite statesmen during the mayhem of the invasion of Anatolia. Thanks to his close relationship with Giyaseddin Mesud, he enabled the Mevlevi order to become widespread. The Mongolian emperor, Kehatu Han, met Sultan Walad after Rumi’s and Shams Tabrizi’s death. It is said that the emperor was so impressed with the depth and elegance of Sultan Walad’s teachings that he became one of his close murids (a Sufi term meaning “committed one”), and later on Sultan Walad dressed him with a Mevlevi hat.

 The Secret of Rumi, or in Other Words, the Secret of the Secret

Cemalnur Sargut describes Sultan Walad as the secret of Rumi, who is a secret himself too. This description is not just a literary statement because, according to Sargut’s view, if Rumi and Shams Tabrizi are widely known today, it is thanks to Sultan Walad and his work. Rumi’s many secrets and state of mind can only be conveyed to today’s world by someone who knew his private life well and shared considerable time with him.

This person is Sultan Walad, who was also Rumi’s friend during long discussions and knew all his private matters. Rumi had an underlying purpose in showing great love and affection to his son: He had chosen his son Walad to explain his secrets in the future. Rumi spoke this to his son: “Bahaeddin, please look at me carefully, very carefully indeed.  When my seeds turn into a tree, you will be the one who will understand me. Try to understand my inner meaning deeply and thoroughly, so that you can take the pleasure and good ideas from it. Always be aware that the bodies of prophets, saints, and their loved ones never die. It is true that seeds falling on the ground from the branches seem to die and disappear. However, after a while, these seeds come back to life again, with each of them turning into a tree. The bodies of prophets and saints are just like this.” Omid Safi says that Sultan Walad reached perfection with Rumi’s thoughts. After becoming his seed, he turned into a tree of meanings nourished by Rumi’s divine light. In the end, he became a perfect spiritual guide after receiving the moral education of both Shams and Rumi.

 Shams Tabrizi explained, “I give my head to Rumi and my secret to Bahaeddin.”

According to a rumor, Sultan Walad, with the help of his dream, found out where Shams was buried after his murder. It continues that Walad found Shams’ body, took him out, cleaned the body with rose water, and reinterred him in the Madrasah of Rumi. In addition, Sultan Walad compiled the conversations of Shams Tabrizi in his work Malakat-i Sems-i Tebrizi.

Again, it was Sultan Walad who Rumi sent to find Shams when he disappeared from Konya because of the jealous rumors. When he finally found Shams and convinced him to return to Konya, Shams told him to get on his horse. Instead, Sultan Walad bent down before him and said, “Shah is on the horse, and his slave is on the horse too? No, I cannot accept this.” He followed him on foot all the way from Damascus to Konya. Later on, Shams started sharing his secrets not only with Rumi, but also with Sultan Walad.

Esin Bayru Celebi, one of Rumi’s living descendents, explains the importance of Sultan Bahaeddin Walad with these words: “Shams Tabrizi said, ‘Rumi is like a diver throwing himself into the bottomless and endless sea, and I am the merchant buying his pearls.’ On the other hand, Sultan Walad helped those pearls survive to our time and showed us how we could also dive into the sea with Rumi and Shams to find pearls.”

Once again, Shams explained the importance of Sultan Walad: “God conferred on me two things: One is my head, the other one is my secret. I sacrificed my head to Rumi’s path sincerely, and now I give my secret to Bahaeddin.” According to records, it was also Shams who taught the Sufi whirling to Sultan Walad.

For seventy years, Sultan Walad, always beside his father in assemblies from the age of 10, tried to explain his father’s sayings in an open manner. He achieved great success in explaining his father’s secret with the help of his knowledge of religion, sharia, and Sufism, as well as his interpretation of the hadiths. He used Turkish more often than his father did, and he wrote a Divan, three Masnavis, and his famous work “Maarif.” Now, after 700 years of history, Sultan Walad is also becoming a worldwide figure.

What do the Authorities say About Sultan Walad?

Cemalnur Sargut — Sufi:

Sultan Walad made the meaning in Rumi’s work clearer. He became the one who enabled the meanings in Mesnevi to come to light. Special people like him act like mirrors to enable other people to get to know the truth in themselves and in God. We also learn from his explanations that Rumi, Shams, and Burhanettin Tirmizi were parts of this mirror.

Sultan Walad had a secret gift for delivering the deepest meanings with very simple examples. We generally observe this in the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings, because he had the gift of explaining the deepest and most complicated meanings with very clear and simple language, and so did Rumi. He spoke with a correct and clear language. Likewise, so does Sultan Walad. He explains with an even simpler language, but his words have very deep meanings. In this respect, it is essential to know him well. In order to know a perfect teacher (a spiritual guide) very well, one must strongly know his students and his works well too. Sultan Walad is the king of meaning with the way he teaches and explains to us his teachers’ works and sayings. He, as a master of meaning, conveys the messages of Rumi and Shams to future generations. People who wish to know Rumi well can achieve this through Sultan Walad. My master, Kenan er Rifai, defines Walad as the great sultan who wears Shams’ manners perfectly. We know that Shams told Rumi, “I sacrificed my head to you, and I gave my secret to him,” yet Ahmed er-Rifai also tells that the manners of the sheikh become visible in his murids through all means. According to Sultan Walad, a hallowed saint is God’s secret, and the only way to discover these secrets is to know the saint. Finding God is possible by conversing with the perfect saint. Sultan Walad says you definitely need a perfect human next to you in order to find God and be with God.

Camille Helminski:

Sultan Bahaeddin Mohammed Walad told many stories about his sincere moments with his father and the beauty of Rumi’s soul, just as Shams experienced himself and narrated as a disclosure of his secrets. … Sultan Walad was fully aware of the mystical and spiritual situations and stages. He was always with his father and fully at his service when Rumi was secluded in a trance or exhilarated during his prayers. … Sultan Walad traveled between different worlds, witnessed and narrated the mystery between Rumi and Shams, calmed those who became jealous of Rumi and Sham’s time together, and reassured those who missed Rumi while he was secluded. He always acted as a bridge between Rumi and others. As he told in his work Maarif, “God created the universe so that you could realize his existence; not to make you fall in love with the things around you.” And this fact makes it possible for us to position ourselves in truth.

As Sultan Walad tells us, “Look around yourself for the sake of God and love God, because God is essential for all creatures. Those glorious prophets came to this world to inform people about God and lead them toward obeying and loving God. God’s obedient lieges are fond of obeying him, and through this way, they progress on their stages of existence. That is the truth of this world.”

Omid Safi – The University of North Carolina

In order to get closer to a person in power, you should know someone else as a mediator, someone who is close to him. Sultan Walad was the mediator of Rumi. He didn’t just establish the basics of the Mevlevi order; he also explained Rumi to future generations. We observe that Sultan Walad had the function of acting as a gateway to Rumi and his blessings. According to Eflaki, Rumi and Sultan Walad were so close to each other that people assumed they were brothers rather than father and son. Rumi told him, “Among all people, you are the one who resembles me the most.” It is also said that Sultan Walad, Rumi’s heir, used to sit across from him. Rumi made great use of this father and son relationship as a way to educate Sultan Walad spiritually. Thus, he managed to deliver his messages to all human beings through Sultan Walad.

Sultan Walad was far more than just a narrator, interpreter, or systematist. He is the most reliable source about Rumi’s life. He kept Rumi’s spiritual secrets and then let them come to light. Today, we are able to discuss Rumi’s deep secrets thanks to the questions Sultan Walad persistently and constantly asked him. Also thanks to him, it was possible to put Rumi’s anecdotes in order and preserve them until today.

Carl Ernst:

Sultan Walad took the Quran as a model in his Masnavi trilogy. Thus, he tried to make people comprehend the divine messages and awaken them from their sleep (ignorance) by repeating the same message in various forms. Like the Quran, he repeatedly highlighted the elements that form the essence of his works. These are the key elements of Sultan Walad’s quest to end the unawareness of human beings. Through repeated emphasis, he draws the reader’s attention to the saints protected by God, especially to Shams and Rumi.

Janis Esots — The Islamic College, The United Kingdom:

In my opinion, Sultan Walad’s trilogy—İbtidaname, Rubabname, and İntihaname—should be regarded as a complementary work to Rumi’s Masnavi, as it magnifies and processes the meanings in Masnavi. It interprets the unprocessed opinions in Masnavi thoroughly and creates new opinions from them.

The article I presented at The Sultan Walad Symposium highlights Walad’s views about the saints, namely The Friends of God. My article also shows how he provided new approaches and contributions to his father’s doctrines. Sultan Walad highlights his view about “Lovers of God” by mentioning the innovative approach he brought to Masnavi. He categorizes the saints both openly and secretly, and he explains this approach with God’s jealousy. In other words, he says that God does not show his best friends (the secret saints) to other people openly, just like the sultans did not show their wives and female slaves to the public.



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