Beginning in 1979, just as the soon-to-be-popular (and popularised) books on Rumi and his poetry began to flood the western market, The Octagon Press, the publishing predecessor of ISF, printed two important titles on Rumi. Both books were produced for the general public and remain authentic landmark works about the Sufi luminary.
Those titles are: Teachings of Rumi: The Masnavi, translated by E.H. Whinfield and The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi, by Afzal Iqbal.
We offer brief descriptions of, and links to, the books below.
Teachings of Rumi: The Masnavi
Translated by E.H. Whinfield with an Introduction by Idries Shah
The Octagon Press, 1979
In 1979, The Octagon Press published Teachings of Rumi: The Masnavi which contained selections of verse from Rumi’s literary masterpiece, Mathnawi-i-Manawi (Spiritual Couplets), translated by Edward Henry Whinfield (1836–1922).
Whinfield was a British scholar of Persian literature, who also translated the works of the medieval Persian luminaries Hafez and Omar Khayyam.
Teachings of Rumi includes a poignant introduction by the late Sufi writer and thinker Idries Shah. In addition to offering the reader a rare personal anecdote about his travels to Konya, Turkey (where Rumi lived) and what he discovered there (a deteriorated tradition of Rumi worship), Shah also sets straight Rumi’s fundamental message to humanity:
‘In common with all Sufis, Rumi holds that material existence is impermanent and deceitful in the sense of being illusory,’ Shah writes. ‘Humanity has problems because it does not see things as they really are, only as they seem when filtered through an imperfect organ, the Commanding Self. Those who have experienced this are unable to render the situation in concrete words: but they can affirm it and allude to it by elimination of the factors which are secondary, paving the way for the perception of the Primary.’
Teachings of Rumi is an important work because the selections of prose represent a distillation of relevance and readability for a modern audience.
The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi
By Afzal Iqbal
The Octagon Press, 1983
In 1983, Octagon reissued a new edition of this 1956 title by eminent Pakistani scholar Afzal Iqbal. The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi is considered the first ever biography of Rumi written for a wider non-academic audience. It is still considered to be one of the most authentic works on the subject ever written.
Afzal Iqbal studied Rumi in Tehran under the tutelage of Iranian Professor Farozan Far, considered the greatest living authority on the Persian poet at the time. While immersed in the early source literature, Iqbal noticed that Rumi’s real-life personality was obscured by what he describes in his preface as ‘a halo of mystery’.
As a result, Iqbal decided to produce a biography of Rumi for the modern student of literature, stripped of excessive mystique and set within as much context as could be salvaged, or reliably inferred historically. No previous study of the poet placed Rumi in his milieu in such a manner.
The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi provides a historical backdrop to the 13th century, during which Rumi lived and worked in Persia. The book explores the biographical watersheds of Rumi’s life, including his pivotal meeting and friendship with the mystic Shams of Tabriz – after which Rumi emerged as a fully formed poet:
‘Rumi is perhaps the only example in the history of literature where a man devoted to prose suddenly bursts forth into poetry in his middle-age and becomes the greatest mystical poet in any age,’ Iqbal writes.
The book also delves into Rumi’s writing and ideas, even resurrecting passages singled out for obscenity and censorship in Professor R.A. Nicholson’s translation of The Mathnawi.
Partially quoting another famous Rumi scholar, Iqbal wrote that he hoped his book would be ‘read with some interest by those who are concerned with the spiritual predicament of the modern man, for “the world of today needs a Rumi to create an attitude of hope, and to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for life.”’
The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi includes a foreword by Professor A.J. Arberry.