Listen: Commentary on the Spiritual Couplets of Mevlana Rumi

Victoria Holbrook


Rumi’s six-volume Masnavi is recognized as a classic of the mystical epic, which employs narratives in verse form to convey the terms of spiritual experience. Due to its complexity and the layers of symbolism, the Masnavi has typically been read through the medium of a commentary.

In this commentary of the Masnavi, Kenan Rifai (1867-1950) clarifies the narrative line, comments on symbolic implications, and connects Rumi’s verse to passages from the Quran, the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, and the sayings and poems of Sufi masters in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. It is this rich multilingual texture that gives Kenan Rifai’s commentary its particular flavor. His explanation conveys the multiple levels of reference and allusion that were typically brought to bear in study circles where Rumi’s verses were recited and discussed. There is a certain informality in the style of Kenan Rifai’s commentary that distinguishes it from the more scholastic approach of its predecessors.

  • 9781891785870
  • 536

Product Description

A commentary by a major learned figure of late Ottoman Sufism, which presents Rumi as his principal heirs understood him – with the multiple levels of reference and allusion that were typically brought to bear in Turkish study circles , as well as the symbolic implications and connections in the Masnavi to Qur’anic passages, hadith, and the sayings and poems of Sufi masters in Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

An excerpt from the book:

‘Consider what is said in in the seventh chapter of the Gracious Koran: “When your Lord took their offspring from the loins of the children of Adam and made them bear witness concerning themselves—’Am I not your Lord?’—they said, ‘Yes, we bear witness!’ Lest you say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were heedless of this.””

And consider that the spirit coming away from that gathering does not, can not forget that testimony. So, for the spirit the pre-eternal gathering is both an inconceivably ancient past, and something always and everywhere before us. In the divine realm and from God‘s perspective, there is no yesterday or today, just as there is neither night nor day.

In that realm night is the same as day, and the end is side-by-side with the beginning.

Everyone who is born comes from that beginning, and everyone who leaves the world returns to the reality of having said “yes” to God the Truth. And in reality, the One who at that gathering asks, “Am I not your Lord?” and the One who answers “yes” to His own question is He.

That is why my saying that trees and stones hear the call of God is also based on wisdom, on a story. If you want to understand that wisdom a bit more clearly, listen with the ear of your heart! Learn from this tale that the inanimate night and day call out, “God!” and that the vegetal kingdom is possessed of awareness.’

Kenan Rifai, Listen! P. 269, commentary on Rumi vol. 1, line 2140




Most readers of Rumi in the West are unaware that, for centuries, muslims in much of the world have looked upon him as an outstanding guide on the path of achieving oneness with God. Holbrook’s highly readable translation of Rifai’s Listen! goes a long way toward showing how rumi has been understood in his own cultural context down to modern times.
— William C. Chittick, Professor, Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies, Stony Brook university
For all of us Rumi lovers who have adored Rumi’s sublime poetry, here is the answer to our prayers: a rich, profound, and yet accessible commentary on Rumi’s masterpiece, the Masnavi. The lovely translation, by the superb scholar Victoria Holbrook, of Kenan Rifa’i, stands out as the definitive English language commentary on Rumi’s writings. Kenan Rifa’i stands as an heir to the ottoman wisdom of Sufism, yet is fully situated as a modern being whose sensitivities make this commentary a bridge between our world and the world of Rumi, even as Rumi’s own being and writings bridge earth and heaven. Drink it with heart and soul!
— Dr. Omid Safi, Religious Studies: UNC-Chapel Hill
Rumi’s Masnavi is a monument of spiritual wisdom, a roadmap for the soul, a cleansing for the heart, an illumination for the spirit. it is a blessing to have a companion like the respected Kenan Rifai when entering the paradise of the Masnavi. He offers us something rare in these times: a perspective that comes from great knowledge and a living tradition of gnosis.
— Kabir Helminski, Sufi author, Mevlevi Shaikh
What a gift! We are grateful to Victoria Holbrook for conveying into English Ken’an Rifai’s beautiful commentary on Rumi’s Masnavi. For the lovers of Mevlana Rumi this will be a great blessing, enlivening their researches and enlightening their hearts.
— Camille Helminski, translator of Rumi & author of Women of Sufism; co-director of The Threshold Society
This book is a wonderful exposition of Jalaluddin Rumi's teachings.There is nothing else like it in English, and I believe should be in the hands of anyone interest in the spiritual message of Jalaluddin Rumi. A great many people are casually interested in the message of Mevlana Rumi. However I believe that this book has the power to transform casual interest into enthusiasm.
- Douglas Arsalaan Fay
Required Reading: This book is required reading for anyone serious about learning about the spiritual message of Jalaluddin Rumi. It contains an original translation of the first of the six books of Mevlana Rumi's Masnavi and an almost line by line commentary, like you might expect from an Ottoman Turkish sufi teacher. There is nothing else like this English. The translator is to be praised not only for translating the Turkish original into easily readable English, but also for translating the original Persian. That is not to say that I do not like some word choices. "Rumi" sells many books of versions re-written from English to English. This is a real translation with genuine Sufi commentary. It should be first on the list of Rumi books.
Amazon customer
Life Changer: I'm so grateful for this translation of Molana's poetry and Refai's commentary--it reached me at a most essential time and I will continue to return to its wisdom like prayer. I've gifted another copy and sending people to this work. Thank you.
Amazon customer