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

The Forty Rules of Love

The novel starts its lines with a stunner.

Scented, beautiful words:

“Between your fingers you hold a stone and throw it into flowing water. The effect might not be easy to see. There will be a small ripple where the stone breaks the surface and then a splash, muffled by the rush of the surrounding river. That’s all.

These words narrate the love story that captured Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, who was a great poet, lover, Sufi, and thinker, with Shams al-Tabrizi, also a Sufi, who is looking for the soul that completes his. Since the first few words, the author asks us to get ready to sail; but this sailing, ladies and gentlemen, is quite different from any sailing you have ever known. It is a sail in oceans of love by a ship of 40 paddles of love.

This will be a tour of introspection, to find ways to communicate with people and understand the world. Life in Sufi philosophy is very simple, very quiet and very beautiful – where all the people are equal. The tour starts to go deep enough inside our feelings and our souls to find the mirror that shows us what we miss. It is easy to find a friend, but it not to find a soul mate. It is easy to find a wife, but it is not easy to find a beloved, as Shams said:

“Bountiful is your life, full and complete. Or so you think, until someone comes along and makes you realize what you have been missing all this time. Like a mirror that reflects what is absent rather than present, he shows you the void in your soul—the void you have resisted seeing. That person can be a lover, a friend, or a spiritual master. Sometimes it can be a child to look after. What matters is to find the soul that will complete yours’’

Some Sufis and people think that Sufism requires isolation: to be far from people, to go to the caves, to go to the top of the mountains where you can fill this deep emptiness in a human being’s soul. Absolutely no! Escaping is not the way to tranquility, but it, the way, is in our souls. Elif Shafak has originated her novel in this legendary story of Sufi legends and life, which made her novel fascinating.

The story is set in the 13th century. That age was very similar to ours. It was full of battles, conflicts, contradictions, and disputes. The astonishing, unforgettable and touching story dawns in spite of all the darkness that was common and all of life’s obstacles, into? a spiritual, mystic tour. That story inspired this Turkish author, Elif Shafak, to narrate it and she married it, with a women’s whisper. Ella, her protagonist, lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is living a bored life trying to get rid of her boredom by working in a literary agency. That integration between the two stories was one of the novel’s successful principles.

Moreover, there is no doubt that the rules that Elif used have a great Sufi value next to their literary and artistic ones. They are one of the best Sufi works, and they are a unique ideal of a pure Sufi’s thinking. They are the bright pages of Sufism that address the human being’s consciousness, soar his soul, purify his mind, and raise it to higher degrees of purity, chastity, and spiritual perfection. Released from repugnant materialism — that’s how a human being soars his soul, mind, morality and behavior — so he rises above his lusts and rises above his instincts, in order not to be a salve of them.

The author, Elif Shafak, is a global soul, full of passion and brimming with love. Her feminist voice penetrates through the work and it was very clear. She wrote the book with a sensitive feeling to express her outstanding thoughts and to purify hearts.

It’s an excellent time to read the novel, in advance of a movie about the life of Rumi, or Mevlana (as he is called in Turkey). It is rumored that Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio will play the role of Rumi on the silver screen. This should attract many more tourists to Konya, Turkey, where Rumi is buried. Rumi’s grave, with his family, is a destination for thousands of tourists from all the parts of the world. They come to tour where Rumi lived, see his grave, and to visit the ‘semas’ of whirling dervishes held each weekend where Sufis dervishes spin in worship. Readers may want to come visit in person, to learn more both about Rumi, and about the novel, and to say “thank you, Elif Shafak, for every single line you wrote.”


Nuri Al-Khalaf
Nuri Al-Khalaf

Review by Nuri Al-Khalaf

Nuri al-Khalaf was born in Aleppo, Syria. He studied English literature in Al-Baath University in Homs, Syria. Now, he lives in Turkey.


4 thoughts on “‘The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi’ by Elif Shafak

  1. This was the first of her novels I read and I just loved it, especially the 13thC story, I’m so glad she found a way to share her knowledge and passion for Rumi with her readers and did so, so well. Thanks for the reminder, and wonderful to hear there will be a film about Rumi, although I wish they could someone from the region or with a connection to his birthplace to play the role.


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