There are numerous translations of Rumi’s poetry into English, but there was still a need for a book on Rumi’s life and personal character in English. Almost all the translators were Westerners who were mere observers of Sufism and the Mevlevi order. “Rumi: A Mevlevi Perspective” stands apart from all other books on Rumi as it has been written by someone who is our contemporary and someone who has devoted a lifetime to the poetry of Rumi. The book is written by Sefik Can, the most authoritative spiritual figure on the subject and the head (ser-tariq) of the Mevlevi order in Turkey as of 2004, and has been translated by Zeki Saritoprak and Cuneyt Eroglu.
The foreword, written by M. Fethullah Gulen, provides a good summary of the main ideas in the book. Both the foreword and the book try to make it clear that while many enjoy the poetry of Rumi, in many cases, the reader does not pay much attention to the source of his poetry, the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet of Islam. This is unfortunate and misleading. This book establishes the strong connection between Rumi’s poetry and Rumi’s utmost respect and love for the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad by presenting samples of his poetry. In fact, Rumi says, “I am the soil under the feet of Muhammad.”
The book contains numerous anecdotes, some with references, which shed light on aspects of Rumi’s colorful personality. In the narration of his life, the book provides some interesting details. It is suggested in the book that the death of Shams, in whose persona Rumi first found the light of the Beloved, might have had something to do with the fact that Rumi did not have a close relationship with his eldest son. Another important person in Rumi’s life was his father, Baha al-Din Valad. Rumi’s father was a prominent Islamic scholar, while his son, Rumi, was anything but a scholar. As I read the book I came to an understanding that after the death of his father, Rumi started searching for a path for himself. But the path he chose for himself was not the path of his father. In fact, Rumi had distaste for the sort of encyclopedic knowledge of God that his father had pursued. Rumi longed for an ever-present and imminent experience of God. “The knowledge of the heart is not learnt from books” is how the author expresses it, while Rumi states, “Love shies away from the light of reason.”
Mr. Can, after presenting Rumi’s biography with many colorful and insightful anecdotes, continues with his presentation of Rumi’s views on some important subjects in the second half of the book, such as unity and union with God, love, salvation, beauty, women, poetry, free will, and reincarnation. While making his case, the author draws on numerous examples from Rumi’s poetry. The author’s aim, as he himself confesses, is not to make an objective criticism of Rumi’s views. This is why some of his comments may at times seem to be excessive. Contrary to being a weak point, I think the author’s unquestioned devotion to Rumi makes the book warm, bringing Rumi ever closer to the reader.
Another very valuable contribution of the book is in the cross-references between Plato and Rumi, and Iqbal and Rumi. The author’s wide background is a tremendous help to the reader in finding the common thread and the differences between Rumi and the philosophers of the West and the East. “Rumi: A Mevlevi Sufi Perspective” is not a book that is exclusively concerned with Rumi’s life and views; it actually can also be seen to be a book on Sufism from Rumi’s perspective as well.
Sefik Can’s book, “Rumi: A Mevlevi Perspective” fills a significant gap in the literature on Rumi. The book does an excellent job of collecting a specific composition of roses from the rose garden of Rumi. After reading the book, the reader wishes to learn Persian in order to listen to Rumi and to be able to collect their own samples from that beautiful garden. This book is a must for anyone who desires to have a thorough, heartfelt introduction to the beloved Rumi.