The unknown face of Rumi – Sufism and Spiritual Consumerism in the West

The “creed of love” is not a free-floating, universalistic form of mysticism. Sufism is a complex phenomenon that includes a number of irreducible cultural, political and psychological elements as well as spiritual ones. Sufism is multiplex phenomenon and the essence of Sufi spirituality can not be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and socio historical contexts.

– Dr. Yannis Toussulis –
Author of Sufism and the way of Blame: Hidden sources of a Sacred Psychology


I have been wanting to  write this post for a long time but it never came through until today. I wanted to present to you some of the main ideas of Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology.  Dr Toussulis addresses in the first part of his book some of the more biases that contribute to the obfuscating mystique that hangs over the sufi study.

The first bias Dr Toussulis lances is the assumption that Sufis have to be Islamic (In a parochial sense) or universalists who exist outside of  any particular religio-cultural context. If Sufis are universalists, goes the assumption, then they can’t be mired in any one particular tradition. The distinction lost in this formulation, of course, is that one can be grounded in a particular tradition without becoming rigid or doctrinaire. The distinction Dr Toussulis brings to mind is one that is very simple but often overlooked namely that one can be grounded in a particular tradition without becoming rigid or doctrinaire.

Another contradictory position Toussulis brings to mind which I have encountered a lot is that all sufis are more or less orthodox muslims, “bound to a particular region or culture, and that authentic Sufism must therefore conform to the doctrines of a particular school or interpretation of Islam.

He presents very compelling arguments and shows through out the book that most if not all Sufis tend to embrace a certain form of universalism which is based upon the doctrine/belief/experience of what is called Tawhid, or Divine Unity or God’s Absolute Singularity.

What I wanted to do in this post was to talk about the central figure of Rumi. Rumi’s popularity with the readership in North America is certainly known, even outselling Shakespeare at some point. However the media’s portrayal of him and the way that he has been used has presented a different face if you will of Rumi than how he is portrayed from within the confines of a living breathing tradition.

Mohammad Jelaluddin Balkhi

Mohammad Jelaluddin Balkhi is the name of the Poet known in the West as Rumi. The sobriquet Rumi simply means one who is from Rum – the traditional name for the region in Anatolia, modern day Turkey. It has been not much discussed or mentioned that Rumi was a very devout practicing Muslim. Dr. Toussulis cites Ibrahim Gamard a translator of Rumi saying that the most popular American rendering of Rumi were not what they appeared to be.Instead they were mostly New Age reinterpretation of Rumi’s Islamic metaphysics. They avoided completely Rumi’s specifically religious mooring. What I personally find interesting is that Rumi’s Masnavi is known throughout many lands as the Quran in Persian. But, always what was missing was the fact that Rumi could be a Muslim and a universalizing mystic at the same time.

I think Dr Toussulis summarizes it well when he says that “During the Rumi craze, the premises of Sufism were almost completely reversed in the interest of Spiritual consumerism, In the process the actual discipine of the Sufi path was utterly neglected, and replaced by a  more marketable sentimentality that fit New Age expectations. “

Stayed tuned for part 2

2 responses to “The unknown face of Rumi – Sufism and Spiritual Consumerism in the West

  1. Pingback: My First Day Working At The Outside Jewelry Stand « thescribeblog·

  2. Pingback: Spirituality Therapy: A Great Experience!, Holistic Health Daily·

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