Book Review: The Masnavi of Rumi Translated by Jawid Mojaddedi
A little later than I planned, I finished the second book before I even sat down to write a review for the first one! So both of them are presented here together.
As I mentioned before, Mojaddedi’s rendering of Mawlana Rumi’s Masnavi into English is much better than Coleman Barks’s efforts. One good thing about the Masnavi being translated by a Muslim is that the Masnavi is a no nonsense Islamic text, you will not find any kind of hippy-loving universality tripe in this. Mojaddedi provides good notes to certain phrases and Qur’anic quotes that non-Muslims readers would struggle to understand. The only real minor criticism I would have is how he describes the term fana or “Annihilation in God”, a deeply misunderstood term in Sufi metaphysics. Some define the concept as “Becoming one with God”, which is a completely unacceptable thing in Orthodox Islam, as the Unity of God is the most fundamental aspect of the religion. A more solid understanding would be that fana is coming to the realisation the only true reality is God and filling your entire mind with thought of Him alone. Which is why we some people performing Sufi acts falling into a “trance”, Allah knows best what is their true state. Although Mojaddedi does explain it in this way he also seems to hold the former definition true as well, it’s a matter of how you see his words and interpret them.
In conclusion the two books are an excellent read and can be found in most online bookshops. A definite read that needs to be approached with an open mind, as some of Rumi’s writing, even the stuff I define as ‘Orthodox’, can seem wayward to the everyday Muslim. One needs to understand a lot of Rumi’s writing is symbolic, (as is nearly all poetry), and that the story or image he is trying to portray should not be taken in the literal sense. A methodology of reading that has unfortunately become more widespread in the Muslim world in recent years due to the growth of neo-Salafism which has hindered and damaged artistic licence in many parts of the Ummah, but that’s another debate and topic for another day.