The best books about Rumi’s path of radical love

Who am I?

I fell in love with Rumi when I was 15. My parents introduced me to him, and lines of his poetry show up in daily conversation with them. Rumi had insights about life put much more eloquently than I could have expressed myself. I have devoted myself to studying this path of Radical Love for over 35 years now, and have the great joy to share these teachings with people in both academic and communal settings. I lead spiritually oriented tours to Turkey and Morocco through Illuminated Tours. I also teach online courses on Rumi and spirituality through Illuminated Courses and courses on Islam and Islamic spirituality at Duke University.


I wrote...

Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition

By Omid Safi,

Book cover of Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition

What is my book about?

Most of the classical Sufi poets like Rumi, Hafez, Sa‘di, Nezami, and Attar come out of this tradition of Radical Love. The main idea in the Path of Radical Love is the powerful notion that radical love (Eshq in Persian, ‘Ishq in Arabic) represents One Love, one reality that brings together God’s love for us, the love for nature, love for humanity, and our love for God. This love is simultaneously spiritual and sensual. It is this cosmic river of love that brought us into existence, it nourishes and sustains us here, and if we can but get over our ego for a breath or two to merge with it, it will carry us back home. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sawānih: Inspirations from the World of Pure Spirits

Omid Safi Why did I love this book?

If you love platonic dialogues, you will love this book. Its author is Ahmad Ghazali, the younger (and cooler!) brother of the much more famous Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, usually considered the greatest theologian of Sunni Islam. It is the younger Ahmad who wrote the first Persian book on Radical Love, in which he specifically asserts that he will write a book on love if there is no bifurcation between human love and Divine Love.

By Ahmad Ghazzali, Nasrollah Pourjavady (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sawānih as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1986. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.


Book cover of The Speech of the Birds

Omid Safi Why did I love this book?

Attar’s masterpiece is a Sufi classic. It represents the journey of the birds—which in Islam as in so many traditions represents the spirit. 30 birds set out to see the “Big Bird”, the Phoenix, and in doing so travel through seven valleys which represent the stages of the spiritual path. In one of the more famous puns in Islamic literature, when they reach the destination, they see God as a mirror of themselves, the thirty birds (in Persian “si-murgh”, si=30, murgh=birds) recognize themselves as a reflection of the Simurgh, the phoenix.   Peter Avery’s translation is a wonderful resource, as it is accompanied by incredibly helpful notes.

By Faridu'd-Din Attar, Peter Avery (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Speech of the Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mantiqu't-Tair is one of the masterpieces of Persian literature of which a complete and annotated translation into English is here presented for the first time as The Speech of the Birds. The text revolves around the decision of the birds of the world to seek out a king. Their debilitating doubts and fears, the knowing counsel of their leader Hoopoe, and their choice of the Simurgh as a king, is in reality an allegory of the spiritual path of Sufism with its demands, its hazards and its infinite rewards. The poem contains many admonitory anecdotes and exemplary stories, including numerous…


Book cover of Farid ad-Din ‘Attār’s Memorial of God's Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis

Omid Safi Why did I love this book?

This is the most complete biography of the lives of Sufi saints, better known in Islam as “friends of God.” So many of them are here, Rabi’a the famous female mystic, Hallaj the martyr, and Bayazid Bistami. There are earlier translations, but those are abridgments that leave out many of the miraculous accounts.

By Paul Losensky (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Farid ad-Din ‘Attār’s Memorial of God's Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Farid ad-Din 'Att?r's Memorial of God's Friends, readers will explore the sole extant prose work of the great Persian Sufi poet Farid al-Din 'Att?r (d. ca. 1230). Integrating the writings of generations of Sufi scholars and historians, it relates the saga of Islamic spirituality through the lives and sayings of some its most prominent exemplars. 'Att?r combines popular legend, historical anecdote, ethical maxim, and speculative meditation in lively and thought-provoking biographies. 'Att?r's lucid and economical style encourages readers to participate fully in the efforts of these pioneers of the sacred to live out and express their unfolding encounters with…


Book cover of Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam

Omid Safi Why did I love this book?

This is a contemporary work by a young 21st-century Muslim in America, and one that comes out of that same tradition. It is a widely popular gem, filled with beautiful insights.  If you had to hand a book to a young aspiring spiritual seeker, this may be it. 

By A. Helwa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secrets of Divine Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are you longing to experience a more intimate and loving relationship with Allah?

Do your imperfections leave you feeling unworthy of love from a perfect Creator? Has your holy journey left you with more questions than answers? Internationally acclaimed, award-winning author, A. Helwa, has inspired over half a million readers with her passionate and poetic approach to faith. Now she’s here to show you how to unlock your spiritual potential and unveil your true purpose.

Secrets of Divine Love draws upon spiritual secrets of the Qur’an, ancient mystical poetry, and stories from the world’s greatest prophets and spiritual masters to…


Book cover of Beauty and Light: Mystical Discourses by a Contempoary Female Sufi Master

Omid Safi Why did I love this book?

Cemalnur Sargut, whose own first name literally means Beauty-Light, thus the title of this volume, is a reminder that this Path of Love is a living tradition. She is a living Sufi female teacher in Istanbul, who offers brilliant insights into the Qur’an, Rumi, and Ibn ‘Arabi with effortless grace. To listen to Cemalnur or read her book is a reminder of the gates to heaven are still open.   

By Cemalnur Sargut, Tehseen Thaver (editor), Cangüzel Zülfikar (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beauty and Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the first memories I have from sitting with Cemalnur is from a magical night in Istanbul, where we were treated to a night of her sohbet, mystical discourse. Hour after hour went by, and Cemalnur was sharing stories, anecdotes, Sufi aphorisms, commentary on the Qur’an, and more. It all seemed so… effortless. These were not her stories. They were pouring through her. It was as if she had simply emptied herself of her own ego, and she was a channel of grace to the magical Beyond.

There’s something about experiencing a sohbet with her that is a reminder…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Rumi, Sufism, and Islam?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Rumi, Sufism, and Islam.

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