I didn’t always use to read.
I was more of a sportsman than a scholar growing up and couldn’t bring myself to turn to books in high school or even throughout much of university. It was not until much later, during the winter of 2008, that I became interested in reading. At the time, the world economy was in the dumpster and I was tired of watching my Bloomberg screen bleed every day. With some of my friends losing their jobs, and others slowly waking up to the reality that they won’t get a bonus, the world had changed and people complained, not really understanding why they were suddenly beset by misfortunes they did not create. Even though I had been on the right side of the trade, I was dominated by my emotions as I began to consider the generally unfavorable picture of the years ahead. I was worried about the human toll of the crisis and about potential risks and vulnerabilities that engendered most people.
On December 17, 2008 I jotted down this entry:
“In the area of personal behavior, the human toll will compel part of the population to become more conservative and part to seek more hedonistic pleasures. On the emotional path to virtue, I for one have something else in mind. I loathe listening to people talk about the vagaries of financial markets. Everyone seems to be an expert when it comes to sharing their views. I choose not to converse in such affairs; spares me much emotional expenditure. Silence is far better. I refrain from intimately tracking prices and avoid newspapers altogether, preferring to read real prose instead. I am aware of my need to ruminate on fresh and lovely mornings in the solace of my garden. There, in that moment, suddenly, the world seems such a perfect place…”
The weekend before I had locked myself at home and spent 8-hours on Amazon’s site browsing for reading material. By the time I submitted my credit card details I had selected 128 books in my cart across a variety of topics and themes. Over the next three years, my personal library would grow to more than 400 titles. My favorite place in the world was a bookstore.
And then, I got married.
My wonderful wife moved in with me and my simple life has not been the same ever since. On our first day living together, I woke up to a lovey-dovey letter placed neatly on my bedside table with the following kind request: “Can we please remove the book shelf? Please? :)”
“NO”, I said. But the smiley face says it all. I would wake up every morning and discover that a few of my books have disappeared. My innocent wife knew nothing about it, she claimed. I didn’t believe her and soon discovered she had hatched a plan to export all of my books from the bedroom to the office. Unwilling to break her heart so early in our marriage, I relented – in return for me to be “allowed” to keep 10% of my favorite collection of books in the bedroom I would “promise” to stop wasting money on new books.
So when I saw my younger brother reading a book that I hadn’t seen before and which seemed very interesting, I begged him to give it to me. The Forty Rules of Love it was called by Elif Shafak, who is one of Turkey’s foremost female writers. I believe the book is the first attempt at writing a novel about Rumi.
Rumi is by far one of the most widely quoted poets in the world, yet he is also perhaps the most misunderstood. When the famous German writer Goethe became acquainted with Rumi’s Mathnavi through German translations, he found it too complicated and difficult to comprehend as he initially failed to fathom the depths of Rumi’s thought. Allama Iqbal had an identical experience and in his early stage of life mistakenly believed that Rumi was a heretic.
Rumi’s relationship with Shams of Tabriz, the 13th century wandering Sufi dervish, has been the source of most of the confusion. Shams is credited as the spiritual mentor of Rumi and stormed into his life in 1244. Rumi was already a distinguished Muslim scholar at the time, but Shams would force him to unlearn everything he knew on the way to becoming one of the greatest and most passionate poets in world history. The Forty Rules of Love is a fascinating account of the inspirational relationship between them and explores their quest for beatitude.
Shafak does a wonderful job outlining the Sufi spiritual path that lies at the heart of Islam. Take for example Rule #16: “Real faith is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure water, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul.” Rumi, it is observed through the pages, stood up for an inner-oriented jihad where the singular aim was to struggle against and ultimately prevail over one’s ego, nafs. He believed the undisciplined person doesn’t wrong himself alone – but sets fire to the whole world.
We excerpt from the book as follows:
“This world was full of people obsessed with wealth, recognition, or power. The more signs of success they earned, the more they seemed to be in need of them. Greedy and covetous, they rendered worldly possessions their qibla, always looking in that direction, unaware of becoming the servants of the things they hungered after. That was a common pattern. It happened all the time. But it was rare, as rare as rubies, for a man who has already made his way up, a man who had plenty of gold, fame, and authority, to renounce his position all of a sudden one day and endanger his reputation for an inner journey, one that nobody could tell where or how it would end. Rumi was that rare ruby.”