Rumi, Bulleh Shah, and The Last Jedi


Guest post by Jahanzeb from Hearts of Khyber on the new Star Wars movie and Islam.

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee...

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self...

~ Bulleh Shah

There is a moment in The Last Jedi that touches upon the theme of this beautiful poem by Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. Before I continue, I have to warn that MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead! Don’t read further if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet!

SPOILERS start now:

One of my major disappointments with The Last Jedi was the way Rian Johnson handled the Star Wars lore. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking, “Man, Rian really went all Order 66 on the Star Wars mythos.”

But I actually think he did some things that were more thoughtful than I initially suspected. In fact, I remember watching the scene with Yoda and thinking, “Hmm, this reminds me of a Sufi poem I once read.” I couldn’t remember which poem or story exactly, but I figured it must have involved Jalaluddin Rumi. I didn’t think about this scene later because I was too caught in processing the rest of the film.

When Yoda burns the sacred Jedi texts, he’s basically teaching Luke that the Force cannot be found in books, but rather within one’s self. The larger message is one that challenges religious dogma and rigid orthodoxy. By the way, it’s interesting to see Yoda’s own arc when we compare his anti-dogmatic stance with his rigid principles in the prequels.

But even more interesting to me is how this scene seems to carry similar themes with spiritual traditions in our own galaxy. Whether Rian Johnson is familiar with Islamic or Sufi literature, I don’t know, but it is interesting how similar the Yoda scene is with a particular story about Rumi. The following tale is about the first time Rumi met his teacher Shams-e Tabrizi:

“Rumi was sitting in his library with some books and his pupils gathered around him. Shams came along, greeted them, sat down and gesturing toward the books, asked: ‘What are these?’

Rumi replied, ‘You wouldn’t know.’

Before Rumi finished speaking, the books and the library caught on fire.

‘What’s this?’ cried Rumi.

Shams retorted, ‘You wouldn’t know either,’ and got up and left.

There is actually another version of this story, as mentioned below:

“Jami, Amin Ahmad Razi and Azar all tell a version of this mythical encounter, but substitute water for fire.

Rumi was sitting near a garden pool with a few books when Shams arrived and asked, ‘What’s this?’

Rumi replied, ‘These are called debates, but you needn’t bother with them.’

Shams touched them and threw them in the water. Rumi got upset at the ruin of these rare and precious books. Shams reached in the water and retrieved them one by one. Rumi saw that there was no trace of water damage on them.

‘What secret is this?’ he asked.

Shams replied, ‘This is spiritual inclination and entrancement, what would you know of it?’

The excerpts cited above were quoted from the book, Rumi: Past and Present, East and West – The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (p. 166).

Yoda setting fire to the Jedi texts also reminded me of this poem by Bulleh Shah:

Masjid dha de, mandir dha de,
dha de jo kucch dainda,
Par kisi da dil na dhain,
Rab dilan vich rehnda

You could tear down the Mosque and the Temple,
break all that can be broken,
but never break anyone’s heart,
ecause that is where God lives.

Emphasizing one’s inward relationship with self and God, and challenging the outward, dogmatic aspects of religion is a common theme in Bulleh Shah’s work. We’ve seen this throughout the Star Wars films as well. As Luke laments the fact that Kylo destroyed his Jedi Temple, Yoda reminds him that the Force lives within us all.

Here’s another poem by Bulleh Shah that carries a similar message:

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee,
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee,
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee

Yes, you have read thousands of books
But you have never tried to read your own self,
You rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques
But you have never tried to enter your own heart,
Futile are all your battles with Satan
For you have never tried to fight your own desires

This is perhaps Bulleh Shah’s most quoted poem and it serves as a reminder to not only confront our own egos, but also establish a deeper and honest connection with ourselves. When Yoda tells Luke, “The greater teacher, failure is,” it makes him realize that he never really processed his failure. He avoidedit rather than confront it.

As disappointed as I am that Luke was not physically on the planet to fight Kylo Ren, I can appreciate the deeper, spiritual theme Rian Johnson seemed to be going for. Luke had entered his own heart and became at peace with himself.

He became One with the Force.

1 Comment

  1. Overall a disappointing movie – I felt it works only because they’ve calculated the exact formula for hitting all the right buttons with Star Wars fans to keep them hooked, so the substance of the actual content is largely irrelevant.
    Having said that, I find your take on the whole ‘burning the Jedi books’ sequence quite fascinating, with interesting references. And I do believe that we, as Muslims, often get so tied up in rules and rituals, that we forget the deeper spiritual context of our belief which really ought to live in our hearts, not in our hijabs and halal kebabs. It’s not about the books – they are the evidence to the miracle of God – but about our oneness with God from within, for which we don’t need evidence but purely faith.
    By the way, as an aside, doesn’t a later scene seem to suggest that Rey had already stolen the books and stored them on the Falcon?

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