The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

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I’ve just completed reading The Forty Rules of Love and cannot get it out of my mind. I was encouraged by a good friend and my sister to read this book (years ago, in fact). As much as I am sorry that it took me this long to read it, I don’t think it’s possible to feel like it’s ever too late.

The Forty Rules of Love, penned by Elif Shafak, is a novel that follows the lives of many in the form of flashbacks between the 1200s and present day (2008-2009). But it is predominantly about the interaction and exchanges between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and Shams’s views on spirituality and Sufism.

Who is Rumi and Shams of Tabriz?

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was a Persian poet, theologian, Islamic scholar and a mystic who lived in the 1200s. His quotes on love are widely known and shared (at times among youth who perhaps are unaware that the ‘love’ that Rumi refers to is actually the spiritual love that one has for his Creator rather than a crush 🙂 ).

Shams al-Din Muhammad was a Persian scholar born and raised in Tabriz, and lived in the late 1100s to mid-1200s. He was the spiritual instructor and advisor to Rumi and it is believed that he spent 40 days in seclusion with Rumi, in Konya. In that time, Shams had taught and advised Rumi, turning Rumi from a respected and well-loved Islamic scholar to one of the greatest poets in Persian literature.

Why is The Forty Rules of Love that good a book?

The book was about love, but more about spiritual love. The content and matters discussed went beyond what you would typically expect from a novel about love. There’s a constant interchange between the present day and back then, where in the present day you can relate so closely to the life of the protagonist and her struggles, insecurities, and passion. While at the same time, the flashbacks (especially between Rumi and Shams) explore a dimension that our busy lives do not necessarily allow us to delve into very often.

A friendship between Rumi, a famous, educated and wise scholar, and Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish who made enemies rather quickly with his blunt (yet truthful) speech seemed highly unlikely, yet their friendship far surpassed that of a strong bond between two people. It is no wonder that their friendship was envied, and disgusted, by many in Konya. As a reader, you can’t help but feel a little envious of such a bond between two great minds… Are you the Shams of Tabriz or the Rumi to your best friend?

The book was thought-provoking, encouraged introspection, and at the same time left you in awe as you can emotionally connect to the happenings of both eras.

Quotable Quotes from the Novel

While the stories unfold, so too do the ‘forty rules of love’ that Shams of Tabriz had devised (according to history, there weren’t any forty rules but his idea of love, spirituality and Sufism has been organised into ‘forty rules’ by Elif Shafak). Some of my favourites include:

God is a meticulous clock-maker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.

Rule #37

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

Rule #40

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 will travel the whole wide world and beyond.

Rule #10

If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss or fright, one way or another, we are all faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental, and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before. The only way to get closer to truth is to expand your heart so that it will encompass all humanity and still have room for more love.

Rule #31

Hell is in 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 #25

Have you read The Forty Rules of Love? Share your thoughts about the novel below; I’d love to know other readers’ journeys and thoughts on the book.

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Freelance digital copywriter; animal-lover; reader; photography enthusiast; and a tea drinker.

  1. Arins

    This book was such a beautiful read! This post makes me want to reread it!

Your thoughts?