AN INTRODUCTION TO ELIF SHAFAK’S FORTY RULES OF LOVE

Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love is the bestselling novel. It is certainly one of her masterpieces, published in 2009. Elif Shafak is beyond any doubt the most acknowledged and the bravest of the authors and feminists in Turkey.

The title “Forty Rules of Love”, actually alludes to the forty lessons of Mysticism explained by Shams Tabriz. And other characters at different occasions to some characters. In fact, the two stories of the novel revolve around these forty lessons or rules of Sufism. I am of the opinion that the motive of the authoress behind writing. This novel is to bring these rules of Sufism to light for public.

The novel mainly deals with Mysticism, love, spiritualism, life of a Sufi, and oneness of being. The novel consists of five sections: “The Earth”, “The Water”, “The Wind”, “The Fire”, and “The Void”; And each section has been treated accordingly.

Another interesting point which is worthy to be stated. Is that all the chapters of the novel start with the letter B.

Moreover, the author uses plain language some Urdu words as well as some specific terminologies of Sufism. For example, “Chilla”, “Fana”, “Baqa”, “Sima”, “Khaneqah”, “Dervaish” etc.

The Novel describes two parallel stories at a time: Ella’s story and Rumi’s story. Ella Rubenstein is forty-year old, unhappy, married woman living in Northampton with her unfaithful husband. She works for a literary agency and she is given a book named Sweet Blasphemy to go through. And to write a review of the book. Ella becomes acquainted with Aziz Zahara (the author of Sweet Blasphemy) and ultimately she falls in love with him after extremely affected by the Sweet Blasphemy.

The Sweet Blasphemy narrates the second story i.e the story of Rumi and Shams. Rumi is the well-renowned and proud Islamic Scholar who considers himself a special, unique and learned human. Shams (who is the brightest star of the novel), however, is a humble and wandering Sufi. In the novel, both Ella and Rumi are at first void of true love; thus, their emptiness of hearts is filled with pure love by two Sufis (Aziz and Shams). In other words, they are transformed spiritually into true Sufis.

At the end of first story, the spiritual master of Ella dies owing to his incurable illness ; while, at the end of second, Shams( the spiritual master of Rumi) is secretly killed by a mob. Who looks upon Shams as an apostate. And is of the view that Shams has misled Rumi altogether.

The difference between thinking and the way of leading life of a Sufi. And layman has been perfectly portrayed by Elif Shafak in her novel: Shams. The Sufi, is a wanderer who lives among people like an ordinary person. He is free of vanity, ill will, malice, envy, selfishness, greed etc. He spiritually assists many people in realizing the blessings of God, true essence of life, the reality of the world. And in peering into their inner world. Rumi, on the other hand, is proud of his knowledge and wisdom. He is fond of listening to his praise and merely comes out of his home to deliver Islamic lectures.

Shams Tabrizi is aware of his inner world that is why his way of describing the world. And events taking place in it is quite different from that of others. Rumi in fact knows nothing about the depth of his heart, inner world. And philosophy of true love before meeting Shams Tabriz. He is just having the knowledge of books. While Shams has the knowledge of the reality of life and the world.

Thus, in the novel he explains ostensible as well as inner meaning of a verse. Of Al – Quran to Kimya (Rumi’s adopted daughter).                                          

Love is mainly focused in the novel and so the heart for both are deeply connected to each other.

Shams and Aziz are the men of heart ( love ); while, at first, Rumi and Ella are the followers of head ( mind ). Elif Shafak, comparing head and heart, reveals second rule of Mysticism through the Shams. Which is about love, “The path to the Truth is a labour of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God”. Similarly, the novel ends with the philosophy of love which is “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…”

Ella and Rumi realize after the death of their spiritual masters that nature brought them close to sufis. In order to fill the emptiness of their hearts with love. And to bless them with some special and spiritual qualities. Ella intends to become hermit in order to cement her relation with God at the end. And Rumi becomes a true Sufi, poet and a great spiritual master.

Rumi’s son tells the words of Rumi, uttered by him after the death of his beloved Shams, in the novel. “This is what losing your beloved does to you. It dissolves your king-self into dust and brings out your dervish-self. Now that Shams is gone forever, I am gone, too. I am not a scholar or a preacher anymore. I am the embodiment of nothingness. Here is my fana, and herein my baqa” .After Shams’ death, Rumi looks upon him as a part of his own being; thus, he says, “My chest is a cave where Shams is resting”. He has clearly stated in Diwaan e Shams in the form of a couplet. Which is mentioned below, that he could not become a Sufi if Shams had not assisted and transformed him:

literature legends

In short the novel instructs, and advises its readers to contemplate the reality of the apparent. As well as the inner world. And to spread love among people like Shams Tabrizi. Moreover, one must come across these forty rules if he cannot go through the complete novel. In addition to it, this novel would definitely be a source of knowledge. And aesthetic pleasure for those who are interested in Mysticism, Love, their philosophy and mutual relationship.                                                                                                                                            (Writer: Asad Ur Rehman)

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