It's often touted that Rumi is one of the best-selling poets in the United States. That may be the case but popular renderings of the writings of this 13th-century Muslim have largely detached him from the Islamic tradition, and specifically Sufi mysticism. In Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition (Yale University Press, 2018), Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, places Jalal al-Din alongside luminaries within the rich archive of Islamic Sufi poetry. In this anthology of newly translated poetry Safi focuses on love, especially ‘ishq/eshq, what he renders as “radical love.” The volume organizes translations of Qur’an and Hadith, Sufi mystics and poets into four thematic sections: God of Love, Path of Love, Lover & Beloved, and Beloved Community. Radical Love does an excellent job of introducing readers to key ideas from Islamic mysticism that are rooted in first hand knowledge of Arabic and Persian texts. This book is valuable to both the scholar and the student because of Safi’s informed nuance in both the careful selection of source passages and the subtle lyricism of his translations. In our conversation we discussed the translation of Sufi poetry in English, strategies to translation work, love in the Islamic tradition, the reception of Rumi, Ahmed Ghazali’s first book in Persian on love, Qawwali singers, contemporary sheikhs, and several key Sufis authors.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.