‘Abd al-Rahman Jami
Life of the Poet and Scholar
Jami spent much of his life in the ancient Iran's city of Herat. He lived during the reign of descendants of the conqueror Timur (1336–1405), known in Europe as Tamerlane («Timur the Lame»). After winning a victory over the other claimants to the throne in 1410, Shah Rukh (1377–1447), the youngest son of Timur, moved the capital of his state to Herat, and appointed his son Ulugh Beg (1394–1449) the governor of the former capital Samarkand. A long reign of Shah Rukh – a peace-loving, educated and religious rular, was marked by cultural growth, the development of sciences, crafts, literature and arts.
Shah Rukh's favorite son Crown Prince Mirza Baysonqor (died 1433–1434) became the governor of Herat in 1417 and invited to his court the most skilled and talented poets, painters and calligraphers to create richly decorated and illustrated books for his library. Baysonqor especially valued the art of calligraphy which he knew himself. At this time, in Herat there were built many mosques, schools, madrassas, caravanserais and other public buildings.
‘Abd al-Rahman spent his childhood and received his primary education in his father's house in the city of Jam. At the age of eleven, the boy was brought to Herat for education in the celebrated Nizamiyyah school, where he studied traditional Muslim schools disciplines: Arabic, philosophy, logic, theology, Muslim Traditions (The Hadith). The talented youngster continued his self-education, studying languages, literature, history, mathematics and astronomy, and then went to Samarkand, where the famous astronomical observatory, built by Ulugh Beg, was located.
The teachings of the Naqshbandi Order advocated voluntary poverty, but it does not require its followers to go away from the world, seeking a way to understand God. On the contrary, they followed the principle of khalvat dar anjuman – "a state of spiritual seclusion in the midst of company". That means to surrender all thoughts to God, living amongst society and communicating with people. Adepts of the brotherhood did not beg. Everyone, as a rule, had a profession: many of them were craftsmen, and all of them earned a living by working at their jobs. They led a modest life and donated all excess to charity or to help their brethren. Recognized spiritual authorities of the Sufi order, such as, for example, Khwaja 'Ubayd-Allah Ahrar (died in 1490), had considerable political and economic influence and actively participated in the most important events in the life of society.
In 1452–1453 , Jami left Samarkand for Herat where he officially became a member of the Naqshbandi Order. Perhaps, Jami returned to Herat due the political situation emerging after the death of Shah Rukh in 1447: the Timurid princes resumed the struggle for power, Timur's empire was partitioned into three parts. As a result, quite a significant portion of the state, including Herat, was captured by Abu Sa'id Mirza who ruled it until 1468.
In 1470, Herat passed under the power of Sultan Husayn Bayqarah (1438–1506). By this time, Jami had earned the authority and respect of the people in the city as a scholar, poet and spiritual leader. Famed for his patronage of the arts and sciences, Sultan Husayn revived the diminished flame of cultural life in Herat. The ruler himself wrote poems, so poets enjoyed the special protection at his court. The great Turkic writer and poet Ali-Shir Nava'i (1441-1501), a statesman and philanthropist, served as the Vizier and Chief Advisor to Sultan Bayqarah.
A close friendship arose between Nava'i and Jami. They appreciated sincerely each other's talent and knowledge, shared mutual opinions and advice. Nava'i also joined the Naqshbandi Order, and Jami became his official spiritual mentor.
In 1472, Jami went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina (Hajj), on the way visiting the many political, cultural and religious centers of the Muslim world - Baghdad, Karbala, Damascus, Aleppo, Tabriz. He was so widely noted for his scholarship, that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II send him an invitation to his court. Jami rejected this proposal and, in January 1474, returned to Herat.
After the pilgrimage, the poet married to the granddaughter of his spiritual teacher Sa'd al-Din Kashgari and fathered a total of four children, but only one son - Ziya ad-Din Yusuf survived. In his declining years, Jami made another trip to Samarkand to meet with the spiritual leader of the Sufi brotherhood Khwaja 'Ubayd-Allah Ahrar.
Jami died on 9 November 1492 in Herat and was buried near the tomb of Sa'd al-Din Kashgari. Ali-Shir Nava'i witnessed that inhabitants of Herat and Sultan Husayn himself bitterly mourned Jami's death and sons of the ruler carried the body of the poet in the burial stretcher.
Soon after the death of Jami, the Safavid dynasty came to power in Iran. The political, religious and cultural landscape of Iran and Central Asia changed dramatically: Shīite Islam was established as the state religion of Iran, and a very fanciful modern "Indian" style began to dominate in poetry. Jami, known for his relations with the Sunni Naqshbandi Order, was the last outstanding poet, writing in the "old" style, and his works were kept out of the mainstream of Iranian literature for several centuries. However, in Central Asia, his prestige and popularity have always been extremely high, Jami has a significant impact on many generations of poets.
It is not surprising that Soviet scholars such as E.E. Betels, J.S. Braginsky etc. were the first to provided a comprehensive look at the life and work of Jami. And critical texts of most Jami's works were published through the efforts of the Tajik researcher Alokhon Afsahzod.