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Sugar House Journal

Sugar House author spreading appreciation for ancient Sufi poet Rumi

Feb 13, 2020 15h46 ● By Sona Schmidt-Harris

Rasoul Shams is the author of three books about the Persian Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. (Cover art by Setsuko Yoshida)

By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected]

Love is love no matter the place and time. And no one illustrates this better than the 13th-century poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. The poet is alive and well in the Salt Lake Valley in part because of Sugar House resident, Rasoul Shams.  

Shams is the enthusiastic founder of the Rumi Poetry Club, which he established in 2007.

Trained as a geologist, Shams was drawn to the tangible earth. Science connects us to the natural world,” as he described it. However, he was also drawn to the etheric and intangible, which Rumi is. A Persian Sufi poet, Rumi is still one of the most widely-read poets today.  

Sufis are the mystics of the Islamic world. The online Cambridge dictionary describes a Sufi as “a member of an Islamic religious group that tries to become united with God by living a simple life and by praying and meditating.” Rumi himself defines a Sufi as someone whose heart is pure as white snow.

Shams said, “As a Persian-speaking person, we are all exposed to Rumi in Persian literature classes, courses and textbooks. So Rumi is a big part of the Persian literature and culture. But as I left (Iran), I was reading and contemplating big questions of life. I kind of rediscovered in the sense that his poetry is beautiful, but also his vision. His way of thinking and his inclusiveness and conclusiveness.”

Shams described himself as a “world citizen.” He has lived in Japan, India and the United States.  He is now happy to call Sugar House home.

Speaking with Shams is a bit like having one foot on earth and one foot stretching for heaven.  Of Rumi Shams said, “He's a mystic. So a mystic is kind of connected to the source. We cannot name that source, or we can name it in many ways, but it's the same source and we all come from the same source.”

“We are companions. brothers and sisters not only with humans but even animals and rocks,” Shams said.

Rasoul Shams founded the Rumi Poetry Club, which meets monthly at the Anderson-Foothill Library. (Photo courtesy Rasoul Shams)

“If the sky were not in love, / its chest would not be pleasant. / If the sun were not in love, / its face would not be bright. / If the Earth and mountains were not in love, / no plant could sprout from their heart. / If the Sea were not aware of love / it would have remained motionless somewhere.”Rumi’s poems focus on love—many kinds of love, which all come from that source.

Shams is a prolific writer and translator. He has published three books: “Rumi – The Art of Loving,” “Rumi Essays: On the Life, Poetry, and Vision of the Greatest Sufi Poet,” and “The Words of Rumi.” His articles have also appeared in many journals.

Utah has been a huge influence for Shams. He draws inspiration from the varying landscapes.  Sugar House residents will be happy to know that their biggest park was an inspiration for Shams’ essay, “Inspiration: Be Like Melting Snow.”

Shams was inspired by the spectacular backdrop of the mountains and the lake wherein ducks and geese gather. It was a spring day, and he contemplated the literal melting of snow with Rumi’s words: “Be like melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.”

Rumi wrote close to 70,000 lines of verse, nearly all of it having to do with love.

February is the month of love. By referencing Rumi, perhaps people can celebrate not only romantic love, but all love. 

“Through love / bitter things become sweet. / Through love / bits of copper turn into gold. / Through love / dregs taste like pure wine. / Through love / pains are healed.”

Poems quoted here are translated by Shams in “Rumi Essays — On the Life, Poetry, and Vision of the Greatest Persian Sufi Poet.” (Rumi Publications, 2017)

If you would like to learn more about Rumi, the Rumi Poetry Club meets monthly, usually the first Tuesday of the month at the Anderson-Foothill Library (1135 S. 2100 East), 7-8:30 p.m. For more information, visit: www.rumipoetryclub.com.