The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak

Review adapted by Ron Esposito - February 2013

In this lyrical, imaginative novel, author Elif Shafak unfolds two parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when the Sufi poet and mystic Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the infamous wandering dervish known as Shams of Tabriz. Both stories together incarnate Rumi’s timeless message of love.

American housewife Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on a work of fiction called Sweet Blasphemy, written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Zahara’s novel, which is told in many different voices, tells of Shams’s search for Rumi and the dervish’s role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. In an age of deeply embedded bigotries and clashes, Rumi dared to break free of all conventional rules, to stand for a universal spirituality and an inner-oriented jihad, where the aim was to struggle against and prevail over one’s ego. Not everyone welcomed these ideas, however, and the powerful spiritual bond between Rumi and Shams became the target of rumor, slander, and attack.

Becoming increasingly mesmerized by this tale, and growing more distant from her husband, Ella begins to question her protected, insular life and to reach out to Aziz, who lives in Amsterdam. She is also taken with Shams’s lessons, or rules, which offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all peoples and religions and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As Ella reads on, she realizes that Rumi’s story mirrors her own and that Aziz—like Shams—has come to set her free, to transform her in a way she never could have imagined.

The Forty Rules of Love brings together East and West, past and present, to provide a compelling, dramatic, and exuberant account of how love works in the world.

Here are some of my favorite Rules of Love:

Rule 1

How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves.  If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us.  If we see God as full of love and compassion , so are we.

Rule 2

The path to the Truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head.  Make your heart your primary guide!  Not your mind.  Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs (ego) with your heart.  Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God.

Rule 9

East, west, south or north makes little difference.  No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within.  If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.

Rule 13

Try not to resist changes which 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?

Rule 24

Hell is here and now.  So is heaven.  Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment.  Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven.  Every time we hate, envy or fight someone we tumble straight into the fires of hell.

Rule 28

The past is an interpretation.  The future is an illusion.  The world does not move through time as if it were a straight 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.

Sending much Love to all!

Ron Esposito, M.A. is a certified Life Coach, Enneagram Teacher/Trainer and Addiction Recovery Facilitator at the Conscious Living Center as well as a teacher in the School of Conscious Living. Ron is recognized as an Accredited Teacher by the International Enneagram Association.


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