This is a book of two parallel narratives, the historical one of the 13th century mystic poet Rumi and his friend Shams, and a far weaker and somewhat unnecessary one of a forty year old housewife in Massachusetts. The novel celebrates the radical transformation of Rumi from scholar to poet, and his evolution from devoted spiritual teacher to visionary.
The “Rules of the Religion of Love” are articulated by Shams as the book proceeds. They state universal truths that resonate deeply and are worth reading the book for. I quote several here and found even more in the memes below on the internet.
- “The ego is the only enemy Muslims should be warring against.”
- “The path to the truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind… Knowing your self will lead you to the knowledge of God.”
- “Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually, it is best to find a person, the person who will be your mirror. Remember, in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.”
- “The quest for love changes us. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.”
- “If you want to change the way others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself. Unless you learn to love yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others may throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.”
- “The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.”
- “A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And the lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”
- “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”
- “The world is like a snowy mountain that echoes your voice. Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you. Therefore, if there is someone who harbors ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights say and think nice thing about that person. Everything will be different at the end of forty days, because you will be different inside.”
- “Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”
- “The past in an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a single line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.”
- “It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again.”
- “Life is a temporary loan, and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for the real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy balance.”
- “Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission – a power that comes from within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquility and peace even when the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.”
I have long read Rumi and have been attracted to the Sufi mystics, being a bit of a sage myself. This is the first historical fiction I’ve read of Rumi’s life, and I think it shares well the pearls of that wisdom tradition, so different than we stereotypically associate with Muslims. (It’s always interesting to me that Muslims condemn Sufi’s as extreme, while to me it seems the other way around. And yes, I read the whole Quran about 40 years ago.)
The Forty Rules of Love is enjoyable for the Rumi and Sufi aspects, but the housewife from Massachusetts, unfortunately subtracted from that, so I can only give this novel four stars. Those that desire fresh spiritual insights will put up with plot weaknesses, however, in order to enjoy the sagacious philosophy contained within. Read this with a pencil in hand to catch the profound bits, and enjoy mulling them over. I agreed with many (most?) but not all.