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Lesson Plan

Sufism, Rumi and Radical Love


Students will get an overview of Sufism and will dive into Rumi’s poetry in connection with Sufism and Islam. They will learn about radical love and the connection with the mystical Sufi practice.

Learning Objective

Students will be able to

  •   Explain how Sufism and Rumi are connected
  •   Explore the term “radical love” in connection with the topic
  •   Explain the significance of Rumi and his work
  •   Be able to describe the ideas behind the whirling dervishes
  •   Understand and explain the ways in which artwork can be “read.”

Lesson Details

  • Contributor: Diana Degnan
  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Subject: English
  • Topics: Art & History, Love, Poetry, Religious Figure

Essential Question

How do the spiritual elements of Sufi Islam, specifically radical love,  manifest through movement and Rumi’s poetry?



Students should have background knowledge of Islam before they engage in this lesson.


  1. Slips of paper with Rumi quotes
  2. Rumi memes
  3. Projector and sound
  4. Power Point
  5. Handouts of poetry with questions for group work



Discussion Question: Using the PowerPoint, open class discussion asking the students, “What do you think the term ‘radical love’ means?” Define the concept of “radical love” and explain that this will be the central theme for this exercise. (2 minutes)


  1. Ask students what they think of this quote (on PowerPoint) “The word love, that most divine of qualities, has become flat, ubiquitous, and, ironically, cheap.”  The love the Muslim mystics speak of is “something more fiery, fierce, and alchemical. It is a love that by their own reckoning constantly spills over again and again, overflowing whatever cup seeks to contain it” (from Islam’s Path of Radical Love by Omid Safi). (2-3 minutes)


  1. Introduce Sufism and explain the basic components. (5 minutes)


  1.     Introduce Rumi- talk about his life and importance. Discuss Rumi’s connection with Islam and introduce the origin of the whirling dervishes and ecstatic paths to the divine. (5-6 minutes)


4.     Show students the embedded video on the Power Point of the whirling dervishes. Ask

students to share their thoughts. Ask the questions- what do you see here? What do you imagine the dervishes are experiencing? How does this connect with Radical Love? How does the music add to the ritual of the whirling? (5-7 minutes, depending on number of responses)


  1.     Explain the importance of the reed flute in Sufism. Explain the whirling and the point of it in Sufism. Talk about hand positions and what they mean. (2 minutes)


  1.     Show the beginning of the whirling dervishes again pointing out the hand positions and the accompaniment of the reed flute. (2 minutes)


  1.     Expound more on Rumi. Discuss his impact on modern day society as well as his importance as far back as the 13th century. (5-6 minutes)


  1.     (optional depending on age group- better for older students) Project the poem analysis with picture together (Laila and Majnun). Read the poem together and have students answer questions about tone, mood, color, symbols, etc. of painting. Ask students, “What do you see in this painting that reflects the poem?” Ask them to support their comments with evidence from the painting.
  2. (optional depending on time and age group) Alternatively, project “The House Guest” (included in this lesson) to have a full class discussion about radical self love. (10-12 minutes)
  3. Hand out the pre-cut quotes from Rumi. Give students a couple of minutes to think about their quote. Go around the room and explain the quote. (5-8 minutes depending on class size).
  4. Divide the class into small groups or pairs, depending on number of students. Hand out different Rumi poems with “love” as a subject. Tell each group to designate one member who will write down all the comments. Each group should read their poem aloud two times, pausing between readings to discuss first impressions of the poem. Leading questions can include: What is confusing? What is clear to you? How is radical love conveyed in this poem? How does this poem make you feel? (If we have time, they can draw a depiction of the poem or this can be an assignment that extends the learning). (13-20 minutes depending on group)IF THIS LESSON IS BEING DIVIDED INTO TWO DAYS, THIS WOULD BE A GOOD PLACE TO PAUSE. TELL STUDENTS THEIR RESPONSES WILL BE



    1. Go over the poems with students explaining what they discussed in small groups. (10-16 minutes- if class is broken into two classes, students can share artistic representations as well)
    2. Talk about western use of Rumi now and how it is often not mentioned that, at the core of his poetry, is his Islamic roots. (8-10 minutes)
    3. Show some Rumi memes. Is this cultural appropriation? Why or not? (12-15 minutes)


    Closing/Exit Ticket:


    Go around the room and have students say one word each that encapsulates the concept of  radical love.



Students should create an artistic representation (drawing, simple sculpture, vision board etc.) to reflect their ideas about their group poem. They should write a short paragraph to go with it explaining their ideas.

Please read these poems written by Rumi and answer the questions. Tomorrow, we will break into groups, and each group will present one of the poems for discussion.


“The Guest House”

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.



  1.     How does this poem reflect “radical love?”
  2.     What is the extended metaphor running throughout the poem?
  3.     What does he think we should do with dark thoughts and shame? How do you interpret this?
  4.     How does the perspective reflected in this piece apply to your current life?
  5.     How can one treat each guest as though it is a guide?




“The True Sufi”


What makes the Sufi? Purity of heart;

Not the patched mantle and the lust perverse

Of those vile earth-bound men who steal his name.

He in all dregs discerns the essence pure:

In hardship ease, in tribulation joy.

The phantom sentries, who with batons drawn

Guard Beauty’s place-gate and curtained bower,

Give way before him, unafraid he passes,

And showing the King’s arrow, enters in.



  1.     What makes a real Sufi?
  2.     What metaphors can you find?
  3.     How are parts of this oxymoronic?
  4.     What is the message?



“Two Kinds of Intelligence”


There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,

as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts

from books and from what the teacher says,

collecting information from the traditional sciences

as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.

You get ranked ahead or behind others

in regard to your competence in retaining

information. You stroll with this intelligence

in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more

marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one

already completed and preserved inside you.

A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness

in the center of the chest. This other intelligence

does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,

and it doesn’t move from outside to inside

through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead

from within you, moving out




  1.     What are the two kinds of intelligence? How are we, as a society, used to thinking of intelligence?
  2.     Underline the metaphors in the piece and analyze what they mean.
  3.     What is the message, and how does it pertain to your life?

Contributor Bio

Diana Degnan-LaFon has been teaching at Notre Dame Preparatory School, which is an independent, Catholic school for girls, since 2007, and has served as the English department chairperson for the last five years. She has a B.A. in English and Fine Arts from Loyola University Maryland, an M.A. in Communications and Theatre from Montclair State University, and a Ph.D. in English from Morgan State University. She studied secondary English and Special Education at Notre Dame of Maryland University and holds an A.A.S. in massage therapy from the Community College of Baltimore County.