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The Forty Rules of Love is a bestselling novel by the acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak. In this post I’m going to summarize the plot and go into the theme through quotes.
So, what is The Forty Rules of Love about?
It’s about an unhappily married housewife, Ella, living in the States. She is forty years old and works for a literary agency. When she is given a book named “Sweet Blasphemy” written by Aziz Zahara, the second narrative of novel-within-the-novel begins, unfolding the story of the meeting and ‘mystical union’ of Shams of Tabriz with Rumi, in the 13th century.
Wandering dervish, Shams, knows his death is coming and seeks a companion on his travels: someone to whom he can deliver his knowledge, his ‘forty rules of love’. And this someone, he finds out, is none other than Rumi. One thing leads to the next and he unites with Rumi in Konya.
While Ella is reading this novel and getting more and more captivated by it, she starts an email correspondence with its author, Aziz. On both sides, there is an exchange of a mystical love between Ella and Aziz; and Shams and Rumi.
In the end, Shams faces his inevitable death after setting Rumi on a different path to his life of sermons, by revealing to him that he is a born poet.
Similarly, Ella is set free from her old life: she decides to give up her role as a housewife and walk out on her family (including her adulterous husband) to be with Aziz – as far as I know, their relationship is platonic. He tells her that he has cancer and not much time to live.
After his death, she continues life with an open heart, to see where her path takes her now that she has learned to live in the present moment and listen to her heart.
There is a radical transformation in both narratives.
So, what is The Forty Rules of Love *really* about?
This aspect is most obvious in the character of Shams. He is responsible for Rumi’s ‘Scholar to Poet’ transformation. He challenges a scholar-teacher in front of his young class. He goes into the tavern and the prostitution house to bring potent wisdom to those who need it and are ready to make a change. He sees God in everything and everyone and is quick to challenge those who comfortably stick to dogmas, book knowledge and societal tradition.
His message is: you can find God anywhere and everywhere, even in the most unlikely places, those places that society shuns or condemns. His forty rules make spirituality practical, attainable and more heart-oriented than fear-based or head-based.
Meet life with an open heart and see where it takes you! Be light, be free and find out what you are meant to do. Be present to what is needed of you: it will be different for each person and situation. This is what Rumi and Ella needed to learn for their life to flow again.
We either try to fight against the flow of life and resist it or we throw up our hands and give up. It’s easy to ‘get on with life’, even if we don’t find any meaning in what we do.
This quote encourages us to intentionally take hold and yield to life’s unpredictable, fast-moving and sometimes incomprehensible ways. It encourages us to trust and be awake at the same time.
In short, trust in higher reasons for the events of your life. Submission is a form of accepting wisely.
Our focus in life should be love. Love has many sides to it, so we need to be open and flexible to ask for each situation and each person we encounter: ‘What is needed? How can we approach this from a place of love?’
Shams and Aziz embodied love; and Rumi and Ella were the ones who had come to a place in life where they needed to take the next step on the inner journey. Their mystical companions came to set them on that path to Oneness: looking at the world through the eyes of love.
For more life-changing quotes from this novel, visit Thought Catalogue.
Image is the cover of the book
Sahya Samson is a writer and Eurythmy artist, with a self-published book and a
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