Rt. Hon. Bob Doris,
Councillor Jennifer Laydon,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour to be here tonight to celebrate the work of Burns and Rumi, the bonds of friendship between Afghanistan and Scotland, and our shared heritage.
I want to congratulate Glasgow Afghan United and NG Home for hosting such a lovely event, acknowledging the strong bond of friendship between Afghanistan and Scotland.
Rumi, the most prominent poet of Afghanistan, and Burns, the national poet of Scotland, lived in different geographies and in different times of history. They were 5 centuries apart and 5000 miles away. However, a closer look reveals close similarities between the two legends.
Robert Burns, an eighteen-century poet from Scotland, is celebrated globally, and Rumi, a thirteen-century poet of Afghanistan, is read world-wide.
Burns, a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, has been a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. His life and work became a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Like Burns, Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic boundaries. Rumi was born in Balkh in northern Afghanistan. He travelled from his birthplace to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Damascus and Aleppo in Syria and to Iran.
In 1786 Burns booked, though later cancelled, a controversial passage on a ship to go to Jamaica to work on a plantation as a bookkeeper.
Rumi’s final stop was Konya, in Turkey, where he spent the last 50 years of his life.
Burns had little regular schooling and got most of his education from his father. Rumi’s first teacher was his father, a clergyman in Balkh, Afghanistan.
Millions of copies of Rumi’s work have been sold in recent years, making him the best-selling and most popular poet in the US. His Mathnawi poems are translated into over 30 languages. Similarly, Robert Burns has been featured on bank notes and his books have been translated into over 40 languages.
Burns’s style is marked by directness and sincerity. His themes included Scottish patriotism, class inequalities, poverty and sexuality. He was concerned about a wide range of political themes and issues including revolutionary change, war, radicalism, migration and self-determination.
The fundamental theme of Rumi’s thought is the concept of tawhid, unity and union. The unity of the universe, the union of love, lover and beloved, and the longing for unity after separation. The unity and equality of creation, without discrimination with regards to belief, race, class and nation.
Burns was not perfect and neither was Rumi. The transformative moment in Rumi’s life came in 1244, when he met a wandering mystic known as Shams of Tabriz. They forged a deep bound of friendship for three years. They became lover and beloved, student and teacher, follower and master. It is never quite clear what they were.
After three years, Shams disappeared. Possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi; possibly leaving Rumi to teach him the ultimate lesson of separation.
Rumi coped with the physical and spiritual separation of Shams by writing timeless masterpieces.
After Shams disappearance, Rumi continues to masterfully incorporat poetry, music and dance into religious and spiritual practices. The restless Rumi would whirl and dance while composing poetry. This mystic dance was codified after his death into an elegant art of Sufi Dance with lovers and devotees all over the world.
Like Rumi, Burns was conscious of the environment and the delicate balance between human activities and nature.
Burn’s love of nature and animals is revealed in his poems, such as The Wounded Hare. Similarly, Rumi symbolically uses birds and animal to illustrate his mystical view on life and nature.
Burns was clearly influenced by the Enlightenment ideas of reason, evolution and detested religious hypocrisy. Rumi, too, was a rationalist, and a brave critic of the religious hypocrisy, institutionalised religion and the radical clergy of his time.
Both men ran into trouble with the formal Mosque and Church. Burns was often characterized as a “drunk”, which Rumi was also accused of, on a number of occasions.
The extra-ordinary and romanticised portrayal of Burns is very similar to that of Rumi among their followers.
Centuries after his death, Rumi’s work is recited, chanted, set to music and used as inspiration for novels, poems, music, films, YouTube videos and tweets.
Why does Rumi’s work endure? Because he is a poet of joy and of love, which have universal appeal. His work is based on unity, love, separation and longing, our basic emotions.
Rumi’s message cuts through all boundaries and communicates to the heart and soul.
Beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field, this is where we meet Rumi and Burns.
Across time, place and culture, Rumi’s poems articulate our basic emotions of what it feels like to be in love and in pain.
Similarly, Burns is not just important to Scotland, he is a world-wide iconic figure.
Today, we celebrate Burns and Rumi as lovers of life, enlightenment, joy, liberty, as well as champions of beauty and humanity.
People of all religions came to Rumi’s funeral in 1273. Because, they said, Rumi helped deepen their faith.
Rumi and Burns inspirational words prove that the love of poetry is a vital part of our lives and creates external bonds.
I hope that some of my friends here get the time and opportunity to translate more of Burns work into Farsi and Pashto to further enhance the bond of friendship and mutual understanding between our people.
Again, thank you so much to Glasgow Afghan United, especially my friend Mr. Abdul Bostani.
We wish you all continued success.