Mevlana Jalalludin Mohammad, the Persian Sufi Sage and Poet, was born in Balkh on the 30th September, 1207. His proper name was Mubammad, title Jalalludin and later "Khudawandagar", "lord". In his poetry he used the pen-name "khamush" (meaning "silent") and from the 15th century came to be known as Mawlawi, the term deriving from his earlier title of Mulla-yi rum, "the learned master of Anatolia". His disciples, such as Ahmad Aflaki called him "The Greatest Mystery of God" (sirr Allah al-a'zam), while the Persian speaking world usually refers to him as Mawlana. In the West where his fame has spread steadily since the 19th century he is usually known as Mevlana Jalalludin, (meaning from Roman Anatolia).
Mevlana Jalalludin's father Muhammad ibn Hussain Khatibi, known as Baha' al-Din Walad (entitled Sultan al-'ulama'), was an outstanding Sufi in Balkh. He is the author of the Ma'arif , a masterpiece of Sufism, which left its mark upon Mevlana Jalalludin's Mathnawi.
When Mevlana Jalalludin was about twelve or thirteen years old (around 1220), Baha al-Din Walad left the eastern provinces of Persia with his whole family and a group of disciples and travelled westward. This may have been as a result of the threat of invading Mongol armies. It is said that in Nayshapur he met the renowned Persian Sufi poet Farid al-Din 'Attar and presented Jalal al-Din to him. Apparently Sheikh 'Attar was very impressed by the young Mevlana Jalalludin, and told Baha' al-Din Walad, 'soon this son of thine shall set the spiritual aspirants of this world afire'.
From Nayshapur Baha' al-Din Walad and his entourage set out for Baghdad where they were highly respected, meeting many of the scholars and Sufis of the city. From there they went to the Hejaz and performed the pilgrimage at Mecca. It was after this journey that most likely as a result of the invitation of 'Ala', al-Din Kayqubad, the ruler of Anatolia, Baha' al-Din came to Asia Minor and finally settled in Konya, a city associated with his family to this day. The family of Baha' al-Din Walad was welcomed warmly in Konya, which was witness at this time to many immigrants from the eastern cities of Persia, since Anatolia offered a peaceful haven in the Islamic world during the turbulent years of the Mongol invasion. Baha' al-Din rapidly gained fame as a religious scholar and Sufi and died with honor when Mevlana Jalalludin was 24 years of age.
Around a year after his father's death, Mevlana Jalalludin met Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq Tirmidhi, a Sufi master of high quality who was himself a disciple of Baha' al- Din Walad. It was through Burhan al-Din that Mevlana Jalalludin inherited the spiritual heritage of his father and became initiated into the mysteries of Sufism. For nine years Mevlana Jalalludin practiced Sufism as a disciple of Burhan al-Din until the latter died in 1240-1. During this period Mevlana Jalalludin also travelled to Damascus and is said to have spent four years there.
Having become a master of both the Shari'ite sciences and Sufism, Mevlana Jalalludin established a circle around him in Konya, and from around 1240 to 1244, he was occupied with teaching, meditating, helping the poor, and other activities of a religious scholar. It is said that he was a popular teacher and that as many as four hundred students attended his formal classes. In 1244 Mevlana Jalalludin's life was transformed through his encounter with Shams al-Din Tabrizi, who had entered Konya that year after spending some time in Baghdad. Shams was a mysterious and powerful Sufi, who fled social connections. Even his death remains a mystery and he has several tombs which have remained sites of pilgrimage, to this day.
There is no doubt that Shams al-Din Tabrizi was not just a Sufi master for Mevlana Jalalludin. had already practiced Sufism for many years before meeting Shams al-Din. It seems, rather, that Shams al-Din had a spiritual influence on him. Mevlana Jalalludin was the type of Sufi who needed spiritual companionship in order to express himself in words. The companionship that Shams al-Din provided, was so powerful that it transformed the sober teacher Mevlana Jalalludin, into an ecstatic poet. The first poem ever written by Mevlana Jalalludin is in a letter to Shams, and from the time of their encounter until Mevlana Jalalludin's death, the latter never ceased to compose poetry. The spiritual, friendship between these two towering figures is rare in the history of Sufism and has become proverbial in the East.
Harassed by some of the disciples, who had become jealous of the fact that Jalal al-Din spent all of his time with Shams, the latter left Konya. Mevlana Jalalludin became so distressed that he sent him many letters and messages containing his first poems in Persian and Arabic and finally, after having discovered that he was in Damascus, sent his own son Sultan Walad after him. Shams finally accepted to return to Konya, he stayed at Mevlana Jalalludin's home and again the mystical conversation began, leading to a renewed jealousy among some of Mevlana Jalalludin's disciples. On the night of December 5, 1248, as Mevlana Jalalludin and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the door. He went out, and was never seen again. It is believed that he was murdered. The mystery of his absence engulfed Mevlana Jalalludin's world and he searched for him for two years travelling as far as Damascus, but to no avail. It was there that he came to the following realization:
Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been searching for myself!
Mevlana Jalalludin returned to Konya, began his open instruction of Sufism and devised the spiritual dance (sama), for which the Mawlawi order has been famous for the past seven centuries.
The rest of Jalal al-Din's life from 1249-50 to 1273 was the period of dissemination of Sufism and the esoteric sciences contained in it. He trained numerous disciples, some of whom like Salah al-Din Zarkub Qunyawi and Husam al-Din Chalabi were themselves spiritual guides. According to Mevlana Jalalludin, Husam Chelebi was the one who understood the vast, secret of the Mathnawi, that great work that shifts so fantastically from theory to folklore to jokes to ecstatic poetry. For the last twelve years of his life, Mevlana Jalalludin dedicated the six volumes of this masterwork to Husam.
In December 1273, Jalal al-Din fell ill. He knew that the moment of encounter with the Beloved was near, a moment which for him could not but be the most joyous moment of life.