cover image The Gift of Rumi: Experiencing the Wisdom of the Sufi Master

The Gift of Rumi: Experiencing the Wisdom of the Sufi Master

Emily Jane O’Dell. St. Martin’s Essentials, $17.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-26137-3

This sharp debut from O’Dell, a professor at Sichuan University–Pittsburgh Institute in China, examines the role of Islam in the writings of 13th-century poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Lamenting that Western appropriations of the poet “have often stripped his poems of their religious references and spiritual richness,” she explores how Islamic mysticism permeates Rumi’s writings and outlook. She offers close readings of Rumi’s poems and traces their recurring Sufic themes of “abstaining from the desires of the body” and working to overcome personal imperfections. Placing the poetry in historical context, O’Dell suggests that Rumi’s wandering spirit may have stemmed from fleeing Mongol invasions in his youth and that his tolerance toward diverse religious traditions may have resulted from his exposure to numerous faiths during his travels. Peppered throughout the textual analysis are stories from O’Dell’s time as a dervish apprentice in Istanbul, where she spent 40 days under the spiritual tutelage of a Sufi master memorizing the 99 names of God, learning to “whirl” in worship, and making Turkish coffee for fellow devotees. The author’s personal anecdotes usefully illustrate what Rumi’s spirituality looks like in contemporary practice, and the historical context opens up fresh ways of looking at the poet’s works. This makes for an excellent primer on Rumi. (July)