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Reviewed by:
  • Rumi’s Spiritual Shi'ism
  • James Bockmier
Rumi’s Spiritual Shi'ism. Edited by Seyed Ghahreman Safavi . London: London Academy of Iranian Studies: 2008. Pp. 86.

Rumi’s Spiritual Shi'ism, edited by Seyed Ghahreman Safavi, gathers together five essays with each author addressing the task of establishing a common thesis: the mystic poet Rumi was a “spiritual Shi‛a.” By virtue of being a “spiritual Shi‛a” Rumi was also a true Shia—this despite Rumi having been a Sunni in both jurisprudence and dialectical theology. The five essays are “Shi‛ism and Sufism” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr; “Shi‛ism, Sufism and Gnosticism (‛Irfan)” by Hajj Nor Ali Tabandeh; “Spiritual Walayah or Love in the Mathnavi Mawlawi” by Sharam Pazouki; “Rumi’s View of Imam Husayn” by William C. Chittick; and “Rumi’s Spiritual Shi‛ism” by Seyed Ghahreman Safavi.

Throughout these five essays, Rumi’s Spiritual Shi'ism makes the rather daring claim that one need not follow the Jafari school of Islamic law and theology to be a true Shia. The true Shia accordingly is the “spiritual Shi‛a”—one who accepts Imam ‛Ali’s spiritual mission regardless of one’s theological school (madhab). This is likely to ruffle some feathers in sectarian and conservative Shi‛a circles. How many more feathers would this same thesis ruffle if the authors had framed the question around “spiritual Muslims” who follow other religious traditions (or perhaps only a natural theology)? Yet this is the very question triggered by this book. While it explores ecumenical dialogue and pluralism from a mystical standpoint, the philosophy of religion developed by al Farabi and Ibn Sina suggests a parallel model for addressing the [End Page 240] question at an interfaith level. Such a model manages to walk a tightrope between perennialist theories of religious pluralism on the one hand and the non-reductive religious pluralism that Mutahhari’s writings inspired Legenhausen to develop on the other.

In his contribution to this volume, Nasr outlines the historical interplay between Shi‛ism and Sufism. According to him, there is a record of rich cross-pollination. Be that as it may, much of the point of Nasr’s essay is to oppose any sort of r eductionism—whether it be the reducing of Shi‛ism to Sufism or vice versa. He is careful to consider Sunni Sufism as having its own historical role. Nasr speaks of Shi‛a-Sunni differences as divinely prescribed for different individuals and collectivities as these differ on the basis of ethnicity and temperament.

In the next essay, Tabandeh makes perhaps the most explicit statement of the theme unifying this book: “anyone who believes in the walayah of ‛Ali may be considered Shi‛a.” Furthermore, Tabandeh strenuously opposes attempts to separate 'irfan from Sufism. According to him, the distinction is merely terminological—attempts to tease the two apart unnecessarily and inappropriately narrow the scope of both Shi‛ism and Sufism. To deny the substantial intersection—and, indeed, for Tabandeh, the essential identity of the two—is sectarian gibberish.

Pazouki brings to the fore the esoteric meaning of walayah as love and n earness—the latter even serving as the etymological root of walayah. Sprinkling his essay liberally with quotations from Rumi, Pazouki is really the one author in this volume to tackle the most important task it occasions: beyond the historical person of ‛Ali, what is the underlying concept and reality of walayah? Rather than focusing primarily on the relation of Leader and followers, Pazouki makes clear that u ltimately the distinction of the wali is in the Leader himself being a follower—namely of Allah. Only, the wali is not a blind follower (mullaqid), but an intimate of God. This intimacy extends to the point of the removal of all distance and veils—to full union, albeit not true identity. In this sense, esoteric walayah is far too close to a logos theology for strict Ash‛aris (let alone Salafis), but retains its distinction from an incar-nationist version of logos theology such as Christianity generally provides.

The final two essays are largely quote-hunts (most particularly Safavi’s). In the case of Safavi’s essay, this feature limits...