When I woke up to the news that Beyoncé and Jay-Z had named one of their twins Rumi, the first thing I did was text my mother. Persian poets like Rumi and Hafez were threaded throughout my childhood, and I couldn’t believe that the reigning queen of American music had seen fit to tie herself and her family into an ancient Persian tradition — but also, I totally could. By bringing Rumi into their family in such a prominent, lasting way, the Carters have woven their story into a much larger tapestry of art and spirituality that stretches back centuries.
The Persian poet, Sufi philosopher, and Muslim scholar Rumi — full name Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, though “Rumi” is actually a Persian shorthand for “Rome,” or “West” — was born in 1207, and has long since influenced artists and thinkers with his insightful poetry and prose. While Rumi has been a crucial voice throughout the Middle East for centuries, he is also one of the all-time best-selling poets in the United States, thanks to the enduring ubiquity of his words of wisdom.
Even if you think you don’t know who Rumi is, chances are you’re familiar with his poetry. Lines like “Wherever you are, whatever you do, be in love” have become so omnipresent that their origin is frequently overlooked by the Western tendency to share quotes in self-help books and on Pinterest. But make no mistake: Rumi’s words are beautiful, meticulously chosen, and more layered than meets the eye.
Consider this excerpt from “On Language,” a poem about the intangible power of love that not even words can express; it could easily be dissected into palatable sound bites, but as a whole, it’s far more layered and beautiful (translation courtesy of my mother):
The language of companions stands alone
Sharing a heart
is better than
sharing a language.
a hundred thousand
come from the heart.
In keeping with Sufi tradition, Rumi’s poetry tends to emphasize the connection between mind and body. As Rumi scholar Fatemeh Keshavarz points out, he even may have inspired the Islamic tradition of whirling dervishes by reciting his poetry while spinning around columns, using dance to underline the lyrical nature of his words. “Everything in the universe is whirling, is quickened with the force of love,” Keshavarz explained in 2012. “... We are like planets. We have to appreciate that. And in order to appreciate that, you have to join the dance.”
In that context, it isn’t at all surprising that the deeply spiritual Beyoncé has gravitated toward Rumi in particular, as far as spiritual sources of inspiration are concerned. And as the Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi recently pointed out, Jay-Z hinted at learning more about Persian tradition, rapping on his newest album 4:44 that he’s come so far he could “probably speak Farsi [Persian]/ That’s poetry...”
By naming their daughter Rumi, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are paying homage to a poet who loved to express his spirituality in passionate words and exuberant dance, to the endless gratitude of those who encountered his work. There’s almost certainly more than meets the eye here — with the Carters, there always is — but it’s hard to deny that Rumi is at least a fitting legacy for them to honor.