Omid Safi’s “Radical Love” recenters Sufi poetry within Islam

Religion News Service | 6/11/2018 | Staff
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(RNS) — Omid Safi’s latest project was a labor of love, in the most literal sense.

Safi lives in North Carolina, where he leads the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. His fiancée is based in Switzerland. “We had a long-distance romance, a kind of old-fashioned courtship with us exchanging letters every few days,” he said. So he began translating his favorite poetry from Islam’s mystical Sufi tradition to send to her.

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“You know, you should publish this,” she told him after a few years. “It touches my heart, and I bet it would touch other people’s hearts as well.”

With her encouragement, he compiled all the verses he’d translated into a book, “Radical Love,” published in May 2018 by Yale University Press. It contains more than 200 poems translated from their original Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and Persian, including those by the 13th-century Sufi master Rumi.

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The collection situates Safi’s translations of love-drunk Sufi poetry alongside selections from the Holy Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, showing the deep Islamic roots of the writings of Sufi mystics like Rumi and Hafez.

In a time when most headlines about Muslims revolve around violent extremism, Safi says one of his aims is to show non-Muslim readers that they can’t divorce Rumi’s popular poetry from Islamic scripture and tradition. But, perhaps more important, he also wants to re-educate Muslims to show them the forgotten Islamic roots of these mystical works.

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Safi, who edited the 2003 volume “Progressive Muslims” and authored a biography about the Prophet Muhammad, spoke to Religion News Service about his switch from academic writing to translation, what the popular memory of Rumi misses, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of radical love. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The poetry of Rumi and Hafez, among other mystics, has been translated countless times. Was...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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