Review: The Forty Rules of Love (Elif Shafak)

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General Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: April 2nd, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 358

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Discover the forty rules of love…

Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness at the heart of Ella’s life – an emptiness once filled by love.

So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down. She embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work.

It is a quest infused with Sufi mysticism and verse, taking Ella and us into an exotic world where faith and love are heartbreakingly explored.

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Talk about a book that changes your perspective on everything.

The Forty Rules of Love has been on my wishlist for so long ever since a blogger friend recommended it to me when I wanted to learn more about Rumi. I thought she was going to recommend a poetry book by Rumi but she said I’d appreciate Rumi better after reading this book.

And she was right.

Rarely do books touch me in the way The Forty Rules of Love did. This book focuses on not only on the budding love between Ella and Aziz, but more importantly on the spiritual friendship between Rumi and Shams. This book is a cross between general fiction and historical fiction since the events that occurred between Rumi and Shams in the book are based on true events.

Sufism is huge theme in this book, and this was what made it special. Reading The Forty Rules of Love during Ramadan was the cherry on top. Sufism is a teaching derived from the main teachings of Islam where it focuses on spiritual oneness with God and His creations.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.” 

We see the budding love between Ella and Aziz after Ella reads Aziz’s manuscript of the famous friendship in 13th Century Konya, Turkey. While Ella goes through a very difficult and unhappy marriage, the forty rules written in Aziz’s book are what changes her life leading her to start all over again. The story runs paraller with the spiritual friendship between Rumi and Shams that brought about a new perspective towards Sufism and how love is encompassed in Islam. How Islam is both religious and spiritual and having the right balance in these two can bring the ultimate happiness and tranquility into our lives. I became more aware of our capacity for love amidst terrible political and social situations that we face now. Sufism was described in high detail and it was really easy to relate since Malaysia does incorporate Sufism into its Islamic teachings. So not only did I learn more about Rumi and the Persian culture, learning more about my own religion in a way I could implement to my life made reading this even more precious.

“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighborhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful!”

Shams was this wonderful character that brought about many priceless messages about love, being grateful and optimistic in life. I love his interactions with the commoners of the town in Konya: the harlot, drunk and begger. He made them feel special again and inspired them to be kind despite what life has thrown into their faces. Because giving up and blaming God seems like the easiest thing to do, but still believing in His grace and love is what brings us out of despair.

His “lessons” with Rumi throughout the book was a life-changing experience. To see him detach Rumi from his social status and wealth to see everyone the same in the eyes of God. To make Rumi understand that being kind and loving everyone the same with no judgement is the biggest struggle as a human being. And using religion as an excuse to divide society brings out terrible consequences.

I remember Shams describing himself as a more spiritual man than a religious one, and I felt the ring of truth within these words. Personally as a Muslim, I struggle to be religious in a way that other people so effortlessly do. But I’ve always been a spiritual person and it was nice to know someone else feels this way too.

Each of the forty rules described in this book was so beautifully written and described by Shams that even if you’re a non-Muslim, you’ll feel the truth behind the words. And the most wonderful thing about these rules? They promote love and understanding, and anyone will be able to relate to these rules…

“Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be so shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.”

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Overall this book was a great reminder of what it means to be a human being connecting with others through kindness, gratitude, understanding and most importantly: love. This book changed my views (for the better) on Islam and how there are so many things left to discover of the beautiful religion. You get so many negative press about Muslims that reading something as beautiful as The Forty Rules of Love is a much-needed change.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

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