Internationally renowned Islamic studies professor gives lecture at SVSU


S VSU hosted Omid Safi, an internationally renowned scholar of Islamic studies, on Wednesday, March 28, in the Curtiss Hall Banquet Rooms.

The event was hosted in conjunction with the Raana Akbar Memorial Lecture Series and the Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion Series.

Safi is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. His lecture, “Teachings of Rumi for Today’s World,” discussed the love poetry of Rumi, a 13th Century Sufi mystic.

“Many faculty and administrators from this university came together to make this happen,” said David Nichols, an associate professor of philosophy and the chairperson of the Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion Series. “It was unusually easy this time to get a speaker to come because there were so many people who wanted it to happen.”

To the nearly 300 people in attendance, Safi asked, “How wide is your circle of compassion?”

“We have to keep expanding the circle until it encompasses the whole of humanity, and we’re willing to say, “‘Absolutely no exceptions,”’ Safi said.

One of the main points Safi emphasized in the lecture is the way Rumi conceived of love.

“If there’s one thing that I’m going to ask that we learn from this talk is that love, for people like Rumi, is not an emotion,” Safi said. “There’s a love for a friend, there’s a love for a neighbor, there’s a love for a parent, there’s a love for a child and, if you know your Bible and your Quran, there’s a love for a stranger.”

Another important metaphor Safi discussed was the idea of love being an ocean.

“Love is actually all around you,” Safi said. “You’re not lacking for love; you’re swimming in it.”

Rumi emphasized that love affects one’s everyday encounters with people.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘I have faith in a loving God,’” Safi said. “If your God is a loving God, shine that love towards people. I’m not concerned about the faith that you profess. The measure of it is in how you treat humanity.”

Mechanical engineering junior Victoria Anglin appreciated the scope of the lecture.

“I think it’s kind of cool to be able to see everyone in the community come in here and listen to someone who we don’t really have an opportunity to listen to about a whole new culture in comparison to what we live in,” Anglin said.

Daniel Gates, an associate professor of English at SVSU, also enjoyed Safi’s lecture.

“I liked how inclusive the event was,” Gates said. “What he said could apply to anyone, regardless of their particular religious beliefs. The poetry by Rumi that he presented was very moving.”

Nichols was pleased with the overall turnout of the event.

“We want the larger community to come here and see what we have to offer, to learn from SVSU and to see that we can do these things,” Nichols said. “We can bring in these high-caliber speakers.”

Nichols believes that speakers such as Safi help to broaden students’ perspectives.

“I want people to see a different side of Islam than what they usually get to see,” Nichols said. “Mysticism … (is) the heart and the soul of the religion, speaking for the best of what it has to offer. And the best it has to offer is not fanaticism, and it’s not compelling people to conform into something simple. It’s about the playful interpretation that keeps pulling out greater depth of meaning.”