Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

Tales From Rumi: Mathnawi Selections for Young Readers

Tales From Rumi: Mathnawi Selections for Young Readers edited by edited by A Fuat Bilkan © 1999 – ISBN: 9781597841245

It seems that all of Western Civilization has heard of Aesop’s fables. For many, they represent a slice of childhood, one where good and bad can be explained, where values are clear and morals given. They are the stories we most associate with animal fables or, really, with fables themselves. Some might think of Kipling, but those are few and far between.

And yet, often their morals are translated to but one line meant to give a snappy, memorable saying reminiscent of a Benjamin Franklin entry from the Farmer’s Almanac – true and wise but short with not much to them. For a story that is supposed to lay out a life lesson, there isn’t much meat outside of what you can interpret from the story and what you can expand upon from the moral given. You are more at the whim of your own interpretation than of the author’s true intent when a snappy one-liner can sum up an entire lesson.

In contrast, Rumi’s magnum opus, the classic from the Islamic Golden Age known as the Mathnawi, which is also filled with fables/parables and life/spiritual lessons, gives each fable at least a paragraph of explanation, fleshing out what each element represents and how it helps in one’s spiritual and intellectual growth. His explanations nearly always have the feel of a poem about them. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know of Rumi and his poetic contributions to the world, he is after all the most read poet in the United States.  However, Tales from Rumi is a highly abridged translation of the full title. To manage to do so in this manner shows that the translator has a strong grasp of Rumi’s poetry as well as his prose to keep that poetic feel.

Tales from Rumi is small, compact, lightly illustrated, and full of fascinating short little fables. While some of the explanations/morals might find themselves to be a little over-the-head for some younger readers, for those with the will or for those slightly older such as upper middle school or lower high school, this book should prove a fantastic read with a little more substance than your standard fable meant for mass consumption.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.