Former Colgate professor Omid Safi discussed radical love and the literature of the Sufi tradition during his lecture on Thursday, January 24.
Safi taught at Colgate from 1999 to 2006. During this time, he aided in the creation of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies minor and an extended study program to Turkey. Safi now works as a Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. The lecture was organized by Director of the Fund for the Study of the Great Religions and sponsored by that department with support from the Office of the Chaplains.
Safi’s talk focused on Sufism, which is an aspect of Islamic faith focused on the mystical experience of God, particularly God’s love. According to Brittanica.com, the tradition is concerned mostly with Muslim spirituality and has contributed to Muslim society in important, large-scale ways.
Safi discussed his book, “Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition,” which focuses mainly on the famous Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi. Rumi was a 13th-century Muslim spiritual teacher and poet whose work is some of the most translated existing Islamic texts, closely following the Quran. This is incredibly important, Safi explained, because it indicates that the themes found in Rumi’s poems can also be considered important themes within the Islamic faith.
Sufi poetry and mystic worship can allow pious people to strip complicated religious stories to their core to find the beautiful grace of God, Safi said, and Rumi’s poetry did just that. His poems were focused on the encounter of God’s love and its extension to a love of all humanity. Safi believes that religion, and particularly Sufism, can contribute to social justice.
Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program and Professor of Religion Georgia Frank was excited to see the work of her former colleague.
“It was thrilling to see how his [three] interests in the history of Sufism, the poetics of Islamic Culture and real work of social justice came together,” Frank said.
In addition to his lecture, Safi gave the keynote speech at the first-annual MLK Unity Dinner that evening. Though the ALANA Cultural Center has hosted similar events for community cooperation, this Unity Dinner is the first of its kind. In his address, Safi discussed Martin Luther King and his faith as a social justice leader, citing religion as a way to find true justice within society.
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