The influence of Muslim literature in the United States has grown stronger
By Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer

America's best-selling poet is not Billy Collins, whose folksy, humorous work won him two terms as U.S. poet laureate. It's not Robert Frost, the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose reading at John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration is still studied by students. ("The land was ours before we were the land's ...") And it's not Edgar Allan Poe, whose "The Raven" has been called "the best-known poem in the Western Hemisphere." If you want to meet the most popular poet in the United States, you must board a plane and fly to Konya, Turkey, where you'll find the mausoleum of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi, who is better known by his Westernized name, Rumi. Born in the early 13th century in what is now Afghanistan, Rumi was a Muslim religious leader whose name in Arabic means "greatness of faith." Thanks to the faith of Rumi's US fans, his books have sold more than 500,000 copies in the past 10 years.

Khalid Faruqi, son of Salahuddin Faruqi and Sabiha Faruqi of Florrisant, Missouri, married Ruba Khalid, daughter of late Muhammad Arshad and Ghizala Tabassum in Lahore on January 11,2005. Picture shows the bride and the bridegroom with the groom ’s parents

Rumi calendars, Rumi CDs, Rumi posters, Rumi T-shirts, even Rumi coffee mugs have also found a market in the United States. Madonna, Demi Moore, Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen, Debra Winger and Rosa Parks are among the big names who have publicly proclaimed Rumi's greatness as a poet. Americans' fascination with Rumi is just one way in which Muslim literature and writing, from "A Thousand and One Nights" to the Qur’an, has influenced readers in this country seeking heightened spiritual awareness, approaches to the dilemmas and mysteries of life, or just a good read. An ironic fallout of Sept. 11 has been an even greater interest in Islamic writing -- not just among university students and general readers, but in the American military. Lt. Gen. John Vines, who takes over command of US ground forces in Iraq this month, has required his top officers to read several books on Muslim culture, including "Islam for Dummies" (which has a chapter on the Qur’an) and "Islam: A Short History." Rumi's poetry refers often to God, but many of his poems aren't overtly religious. Rather, they could be classified as "spiritual" or "soulful." Rumi tells stories of people wrestling with problems. He uses metaphors and aphorisms to guide lovers together again, or to explain the bonds of friendship, or to teach the quality of patience… (Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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