Divine Love: Roots and Manifestations

omiMuhammad Suheyl Umar,
Iqbal Academy, Pakistan

In what follows I have tried to make a few remarks on the themes that Omid Safi has taken up in his presentation, taking up strands of thought that augment our understanding of the issue of Love. I have focused on the later developments of these themes taking as a point of reference two of the greatest figures of Islamic civilization in order to highlight further aspects of the themes under consideration. The materials presented here have been selected from Dr. W. C. Chittick’s works.

Direct references to the other two presentations will not be found though the participants from the Judeo-Christian tradition would, perhaps, recognize the same spirit energizing the Islamic discourse and a familiar worldview informing the Islamic mode of expression.

I find myself in complete agreement with Mr. Safi in avoiding “a naïve protestant reading” and to look at the question through the “interpretive communities” that have gone before us. Our approach should be focused on bringing out what Islam has thought of itself in terms of Love. By “Islam,” we mean the great texts that have been universally acknowledged (until recent times) as the highpoints of the tradition. Like any great religion, Islam has its towering landmarks, and it is from these that one should seek to understand it. Such texts are rooted in the Qur’an. In a very deep sense, Islam is the Qur’an, and the Qur’an is Islam. The basic interpretation of the Qur’an is provided by Muhammad himself. Following in his wake, numerous great figures—sages, saints, philosophers, theologians, jurists—have elucidated and interpreted the nature of the original vision in keeping with the needs of their times. While looking at any intellectual or theological question related to a tradition one should try to pry open the door to the universe of discourse of that particular tradition. I am personally not interested in evaluating Islam from within those dominant perspectives of modern scholarship that make various contemporary modes of self-understanding the basis for judging the subject. Instead, I would prefer to portray Islam from the perspective of those great Muslims of the past who established the major modes of Qur’anic interpretation and Islamic understanding. This is what Safi has successfully done.

This is not to say that one should simply translate passages from the classical texts in the manner of an anthology. Along with presenting the texts themselves, we have to try to step backward from the texts and delve into the point of view that informs them.

The Way of Love

From about the thirteenth century onward, few themes play as important a role in Sufi teachings as love. Historians have commonly spoken of a gradual development of Sufism that begins in a mysticism of asceticism and fear, slowly changes to an emphasis on love and devotion, and then turns to stressing knowledge and gnosis. Some have suggested that these three ways of approaching God correspond with the three basic Hindu paths—karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga. Whatever the heuristic value of such schemes, there can be no doubt that from earliest times Muslims who strove to gain nearness to God did so through activity, love, and knowledge. Any close reading of the Qur’an will make clear that it prefigures the diverse possibilities of the soul’s unfolding. And any close reading of Sufi literature will reveal sophisticated insights into the soul’s complexity at every period.

It might be argued that Islam is built on karma yoga, since everyone without exception must observe the Shari’ah, which sets down the path of conforming to God’s will through activity. One can also argue that Muslims and Sufis stress jnana yoga, because, generally speaking, they place a higher value on knowledge than do Jews or Christians. Nonetheless, Sufism gives a certain pride of place to love. Especially in later times, when ihsan comes to be discussed as one of Islam’s three dimensions, [1] love is placed at center stage and one of the words that is most closely connected to everything implied by ihsan is hubb (love). The question that gains importance, then, is in one word, what is the right attitude of the human being toward God? The answer is Love. But this is too much of a summary answer. Islam has a rich tradition going back to the earliest times wherein “interpretive communities” have responded to this question. One of these explications i.e. the path of love has been explored by our learned presenter. In what follows, a few brief suggestions are gathered elucidating the significance of love as expressed in the two great watersheds of the tradition, Rumi and Ibn ‘Arabi. There is no suggestion here that either neglected the paths of knowledge and activity, and indeed, in the case of Ibn ‘Arabi, a strong argument can be made that he gave priority to knowledge. [2] It is only an attempt to bring out the basic Sufi understanding of love’s reality, given that love is so often the central concern of the Sufi texts. The point is often obscured by the fact that the expressions of this central concern take on different forms that defy a neat categorization and do not often fit into a single “typology”. Some of these, moreover, transcend the usual dichotomies of sobriety and drunkenness. Although sobriety represents the highest stage of the Sufi path, this does not imply that the sober are no longer drunk. What it means is that the true Sufi, having realized fully the pattern and model established by the Prophet, is inwardly drunk with God and outwardly sober with the world. Of course, the joy of intoxication may occasionally appear outwardly, but the sobriety of discernment remains a necessary concomitant of faith. The world is the domain of doing what is right and proper, and this needs to be established in terms of a clear distinction between do’s and don’ts. Observing the necessary distinctions demands sober awareness of our actual situation in the world and society. Inwardly, however, those who have reached sobriety after drunkenness revel in the intimacy of living with God.

Intoxication is the fruit of finding God. The Sufis commonly express the quest for God in the language of love, the most intense and profound of human experiences. In employing this language, they are following not only the realities of human nature, but also explicit Qur’anic verses and hadiths . Especially significant is this verse: “Say [0 Muhammad!]: “If you love God, follow me, and then God will love you”(3:3I). There is hardly any verse in the Qur’an more important for specifying the rationale for Islamic and Sufi praxis. Why is it that Muslims strive so hard to follow the Prophet’s Sunnah? The simple answer is that they love God and God has commanded them to follow Muhammad so that God may come to love them.

In a typical Sufi reading of this verse, love for God drives the seeker to search for the mutuality of love, which is to say that the lover wants to be loved by his Beloved and to taste the wine of his Beloved’s embrace. No lover is satisfied short of reciprocity. The verse tells us that the only way to show that you love God is to adopt the sobriety of Muhammad, and this means that you must follow his practices, that is, the Sunnah, which is codified in the Shari’ah. If you can sincerely follow Muhammad, that will make you worthy of God’s love and open you up to the intoxication of His presence.

In a hadith that is constantly cited in Sufi works, the Prophet describes what happens when lovers of God devote themselves wholly to their Beloved. Such devotion demands two sorts of practice—obligatory and supererogatory, both of which are codified in the Shari’ah. True lovers can never be satisfied with doing what the Beloved asks and nothing more. They give fully and freely of everything that they hope will please their Beloved. In this authoritative saying, the Prophet quotes God’s words concerning the servants who love Him and who follow the Prophet’s Sunnah so that God may love them in return.

My servant draws near to Me through nothing that I love more than what I have made obligatory for him. My servant never ceases drawing near to Me through supererogatory works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks.

Once the seekers love God, they will be loved by Him in return. God’s love may then intoxicate them and annihilate all their human failings and limitations. It may drive away the darkness of temporality and contingency, leaving in its place the radiance of God’s own eternal being. Note here that the hadith says, “When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears.” As some Sufis have pointed out, the words I am alert us to the fact that God is already our hearing with which we hear, our sight with which we see, and our hand with which we grasp. The problem is not God’s nearness to us, because He is eternally near to us and closer than our jugular vein. The problem is our nearness to God, which we cannot see and cannot fathom. The seeing of God’s nearness has to be achieved, and the way to do so is to devote oneself to the prophetic model. Although we do not see Him now, we can achieve the seeing of Him if we worship and serve Him as if we see Him.

* * *

Although love is rarely emphasized in the earliest expressions of Sufism, the Qur’an speaks of love in a number of key verses that clarify its essential role. [3] We have already remarked on one of these verses above, which tells us that God’s love for people grows up in keeping with their success in conforming themselves to the Prophet’s example. Although this verse speaks of love for God as a precondition for receiving God’s love in return, all the great lovers recognized that what stirs up love for God in the first place is God’s love for human beings. People could not love God if He did not already love them. The Hadith of the Hidden Treasure [4] makes precisely this point— God created people out of love for them. [5] The most often cited Qur’anic proof text for this hierarchy of love is the verse, “He loves them, and they love Him” (5: 54). First God loves human beings, then human beings love God. Once they come to love Him, His love for them will increase to the extent that they follow the Prophet, purify and cultivate their souls, remember God ceaselessly, and become perfect human beings.

Whether or not love is mentioned, the earliest expressions of Sufism’s reality tend to take the form of pithy sayings touching on a great variety of topics having to do with the path to God. Two or three figures appear who are looked back upon as exemplars of the life of love, like Rabi’ah and Hallaj. But from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries—the fifth to the seventh Islamic centuries—a number of extremely important authors appear who map out a detailed psychology of love. The famous Ghazzali sometimes writes about human and divine love, but his less well-known brother, Ahmad Ghazzali (d. 1126), devotes most of his relatively short Persian work, Sawanih , to love as the underlying, unitive reality of the soul. This work then provides inspiration for dozens of later treatises. Ahmad’s disciple ‘Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani [6] (d. 1131) played an important role in formulating a psychology and metaphysics of love as we have observed through Safi’s paper. Perhaps most profound and original in approach—in a period of many great masters—was Ahmad Sam’ani (d. 1140), even though he has remained almost completely unknown to modern scholars. [7] Somewhat later appeared the great Persian poet ‘Attar (d. 1221), whose works mapped out all the themes of love.

Despite the large number of authors who wrote on divine and human love, Ibn ‘Arabi [8] and Rumi [9] can be considered the two greatest masters of the tradition.

Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi belong to two different strands of Sufism. Each in his own way marks the high point of the tradition. Most formulations of Sufi teachings after them are inspired to some degree by the writings of one or both. Their perspectives differed in many ways, but they also share numerous common themes, especially on the issue of love. In what follows, we can have a glimpse how Ibn ‘Arabi explains something of love’s reality and can see a few appropriate examples of Rumi’s poetical expressions of the same ideas.

Love’s Creativity

Love cannot be defined, though its traces can be described. On this point Ibn ‘Arabi the theoretician and Rumi the poet agree completely:
Love has no definition through which its essence can be known. Rather, it is given descriptive and verbal definitions, nothing more. Those who define love have not known it, those who have not tasted it by drinking it down have not known it, and those who say that they have been quenched by it have not known it, for love is drinking without quenching. [10]

* * *

Someone asked, “What is loverhood?”
I replied, “Don’t ask me about these meanings “When you become like me, you’ll know;
When it calls you, you’ll tell its tale. [11]

* * *

What is it to be a lover? To have perfect thirst.
So let me explain the water of life. [12]

On the divine level, love can be called the motive force for God’s creative activity. In one of his many commentaries on the Hadith of the Hidden Treasure, Ibn ‘Arabi tells us that the kind of knowledge that God loved to achieve through creation was a knowledge that had its origin in time, since He already knew Himself and all things in eternity. Ibn ‘Arabi makes this remark while drawing a parallel between sexual union for the purpose of having children and God’s love to be known for the purpose of creating the universe.

When the marriage union occurs because of the love for reproduction and procreation, it joins the divine love when there was no cosmos. He “loved to be known.” So, because of this love, He turned His desire toward the things while they were in the state of nonexistence. They were standing in the station of the root because of the preparedness of their own possibility. He said to them, Be!, so they came to be, that He might be known by every sort of knowledge. This was temporal knowledge. As yet it had no object, because the one who knows by it was not yet qualified by existence. His love sought the perfection of knowledge and the perfection of existence. [13]

In another passage, Ibn ‘Arabi explains the meaning of God’s love to be known while commenting on the Qur’anic verse, “And He is with you wherever you are” (57:4). God’s love for human beings means that He never lets them out of His sight.

God’s love for His servants is not qualified by origin or end, for it does not accept qualities that are temporal or accidental…. Hence the relation of God’s love to them is the same as the fact that He is With them Whatever they are [57:4I. . . . just as He is with them in the state of their existence, so also He is with them in the state of their nonexistence, for they are the objects of His knowledge. He witnesses them and loves them never endingly… He has always loved His creatures, just as He has always known them. . . . His existence has no first point, so His love for His servants has no first point. [14]

In one of his prose works, Rumi explains the significance of the Hidden Treasure by referring to the two categories of God’s attributes—mercy and wrath, or gentleness and severity. God created the world to make all his attributes manifest, and this demands infinite diversity:

God says, “I was a hidden treasure, so I loved to be known.” In other words, “I created the whole cosmos, and the goal in all of it was to make Myself manifest, sometimes through gentleness and sometimes through severity.” God is not the sort of king for whom a single herald would be sufficient. Were all the atoms of the universe His heralds, they would fall short and be incapable of making Him known. [15]

Rumi frequently points to love as God’s motive for creation by commenting on a divine saying addressed to Muhammad: “But for you, I would not have created the heavenly spheres.” The Prophet is the fullness of realized love, through whom and for whom the universe was created.

Love makes the ocean boil like a pot,
love grinds mountains down to sand.
Love splits the heaven in a hundred pieces,
love shakes the earth with a mighty shaking.
Pure love was paired with Muhammad-
because of love God said to him, “But for you.”
Since he alone was the goal of love,
he was singled out from all the prophets.
“If not for pure love,
why would I give existence to the spheres?
“I raised the celestial wheel on high
so that you might understand love’s elevation.

The True Beloved

God created the world through love, so love produces the multiplicity that fills the universe. He never ceases loving the creatures, so He never ceases creating them, and this keeps the universe in a perpetual state of transformation and flux. All things are infused with love, because God’s attribute of love brings them into existence and motivates all their activities.

The Prophet said, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty” and this is an established hadith . So, He described Himself as loving beauty, and He loves the cosmos. Hence, there is nothing more beautiful than the cosmos. And He is beautiful, while beauty is intrinsically lovable, so the whole cosmos loves God. The beauty of His artisanry permeates His creation, while the cosmos is the loci wherein He becomes manifest. Therefore the love of some parts of the cosmos for other parts derives from God’s love for Himself. [17]

* * *

God’s wisdom through His destiny and decree
made us lovers one of another.
That foreordainment paired all the world’s parts
and set each in love with its mate….
The female inclines towards the male
so that each may perfect the other’s work.
God placed inclination in man and woman
so the world may subsist through their union.

Love’s creative power does not stop at the externalization and maintenance of the cosmos. Although the jewels of the Hidden Treasure have been thrown out into the open, most creatures do not recognize them for what they are, nor do they understand that their own loves and desires externalize God’s love. Their love is simply God’s own love reflected in the creatures. It follows that, as Ibn ‘Arabi puts it, “None loves God but God,” [19] and “There is no lover and no beloved but God.” [20] Lovers grasp this when they reach the point of seeing God in everything that exists. This is the fully realized love mentioned in the hadith , “When I love My servant, I am his hearing through which he hears, his sight through which he sees.” Ibn ‘Arabi writes,

The soul sees that it sees Him only through Him, not through itself, and that it loves Him only through Him, not through itself. So He it is who loves Himself – it is not the soul that loves Him. The soul gazes upon Him in every existent by means of His very eye. Hence it knows that none loves Him but He. He is the lover and the beloved, the seeker and the sought. [21]

Rumi provides many parallel accounts of God’s love that courses through all things. But his perspective focuses more on practice than theory, so he constantly reminds his readers of their own situation. Here is one of his ghazals:

It is incumbent on lovers to seek the Friend,
flowing like floods on face and head to His river.
He himself does the seeking, and we are like shadows.
All our talking and speaking are the words of the Friend.
Sometimes we rejoice like water running in His stream, sometimes we’re trapped like water in His jug.
Again we boil like carrots in a pot while He stirs
with the ladle of thought – such is the Friend’s temper.
He puts His mouth to our ear and whispers
and our soul quickly takes on His fragrance.
He comes like the spirit’s spirit, leaving no escape
never have I seen a spirit that was an enemy of the Friend!

He will melt you with coquetry, making you frail as a hair but you would not take the two worlds for a hair of the Friend.
We sit with the Friend saying, “Friend, where [ku] are you?”
Drunk, we keep on cooing [ku] in the lane of the Friend.
Unhappy pictures and ugly thoughts
come from an idle nature – not from the Friend.
Be silent, so that He Himself may describe Himself!
What does your cold “hey, hey” have to do with His “hey, hey”?

Ibn ‘Arabi and especially Rumi constantly remind their readers that love for any creature can only be love for God. Only ignorance veils people from perceiving what they love. Ibn ‘Arabi writes,

None but God is loved in the existent things. It is He who is manifest within every beloved to the eye of every lover – and there is no existent thing that is not a lover. So, the cosmos is all lover and beloved, and all of it goes back to Him. In the same way, no one is worshiped but Him, for no worshiper worships anything without imagining divinity within it. Otherwise, he would not worship it. Thus God says, “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him” [I7:23].
So also is love. No one loves anyone but his own Creator, but he is veiled from Him by love for Zaynab, Su’ad, Hind, Layla, this world, money, position, and everything loved in the world. Poets exhaust their words on all these existing things, but they do not know. The gnostics never hear a verse, a riddle, a panegyric, or a love poem that is not about God, hidden beyond the veil of forms. [23]

In his major prose work, Rumi makes the same point with these words:

All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things – father, mother, friends, heavens, earth, gardens, palaces, sciences, deeds, food, drink – all these are desires for God, and these things are veils. When people leave this world and see the Eternal King without these veils, then they will know that all these were veils and coverings and that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing. All their difficulties will be solved, all the questions and perplexities that they had in their hearts will be answered, and they will see all things face to face. [24]

All love is in truth love for God. Love is good because it is divine, but it remains a deceptive veil so long as lovers do not recognize its true object.

Love is an attribute of God, who has no needs-
love for anything else is a metaphor.
The beauty of the others is gold-plated:
outwardly it is light, inwardly smoke.

When the light goes and the smoke appears,
metaphorical love turns to ice.
The beauty returns to its own root, the body is left-
putrid, disgraced, ugly.
The moonlight goes back to the moon,
the moon’s reflection leaves the wall.
Water and clay remain with no picture without the moon, the wall becomes fiendish.
When gold jumps from the face of counterfeit coin,
it returns to sit in its own mine.
The disgraced copper stays like smoke
and even more ashamed is its lover.
Those with eyes turn their love to the mine of gold,
each day their love increasing.
The mine has no partner in its goldness-
hail, 0 Mine of Gold! In You there is no doubt.

Love is an ever-present reality, but it tends to be dispersed and dissipated because people fall in love with the Beloved’s reflections. Here we come back to the centrality of knowledge. Even though Rumi devotes all his works to love, he frequently reminds us that true love depends upon discernment. The lover must be able to distinguish gold from gold-plate.

Love makes bitter sweet,
love turns copper to gold,
Love makes dregs into wine,
love turns pain into healing,
Love brings the dead to life,
love makes kings into slaves
But this love results from knowledge.
When did a fool sit an this throne?
How can faulty knowledge give birth to love?
It gives birth to love, but love for inanimate things.
When it sees the color of its desire in the things,
it hears the call of the beloved in a whistle.
Faulty knowledge does not know the difference
it thinks that lightning is the sun.

In short, love for God grows up from the basic declaration of faith, the assertion of God’s unique reality -“No god but God.” Since love is a divine attribute, it follows that “There is no true lover and no true beloved but God.” Once the lovers see things clearly, they find that they love everything in creation, because all of creation displays God’s beauty, and their own love displays God’s love. Ibn ‘Arabi tells us that when the seekers pass beyond “natural” and “spiritual” love, they reach the stage of “divine” love, where they love God in all things through God’s own love of the things. Then they love all things in every dimension of existence.

The mark of divine love is love for all beings in every domain – spiritual, sensory, imaginal, and imaginary. Every domain has an eye that it receives from His name Light, an eye with which it looks upon His name Beautiful. [27]

When their love is complete, the lovers live in the joy of experiencing their own union with the One who is both lover and beloved. As Rumi puts it,

The joy and heartache of lovers is He,
the wages and salary for service is He.
If they were to gaze on other than the Beloved,
how could that be love? That would be idle fancy.
Love is that flame which, when it blazes up,
bums away all except the everlasting Beloved.
It slays “other than God” with the sword of no god.
Look carefully: After no god what remains?
There remains but God, the rest has gone.
Hail, 0 Love, great burner of all others!
It is He alone who is first and last,
all else grows up from the eye that sees double.

The Religion of Love

The precondition for love is the ability to see straight. This demands that we understand our own inadequacies and limitations. We must acknowledge that we do not know who we are. Knowing our own ignorance and inadequacy, we know that God alone is adequate. We are far from the Real, far from wholeness, far from balance, equilibrium, wisdom, compassion, and every other desirable quality. Truly understanding and savoring this inadequacy yields a deep longing in the soul, which Rumi commonly calls “pain.”

Whoever is more awake has greater pain,
whoever is more aware has a paler face.

Dwelling on one’s pain and imperfection can only call down the remedy. Rumi frequently urges his readers to seek out pain and suffering, to become thirsty and not to look for water.

Since the world’s Remedy is searching
for pain and disease,
we have cut ourselves off from remedies
and are the companions of pain.

The knowledge of human inadequacy is knowledge of our essential nothingness. The Qur’an sometimes calls this human nothingness “poverty” ( faqr ), a word which, in Islamic languages, is a far more common designation for what we have been calling “Sufism” than the word tasawwuf itself. Both fakir (Arabic faqir ) and dervish (Persian darwish ) mean “poor man,” that is, a traveler on the Sufi path. The term is taken from the Qur’an, especially the verse, “0 people, you are the poor toward God; and God – He is the Wealthy, the Praiseworthy” (35:I5). As Ibn ‘Arabi says, “Poverty is an affair that is inherent in everything other than God. There is no way to escape from it. [31] Rumi writes,

Poverty is not for the sake of hardship
no, it is because nothing exists but God.

Sufism is poverty toward God. To be poor toward Him is to acknowledge one’s need for Him, and the deeper and more sincere this acknowledgment becomes, the more it turns into an overpowering drive to reach the Beloved. Few pains are as deep as the lovers’ pain in their separation. Knowing their own pain, the lovers yearn for the cure of every pain, and that is their Beloved. The end result is deliverance from pain and union with all joy, but without pain, the journey will never begin.

First You empty the lovers at the hand of separation, then You fill them with gold to the tops of their heads! [33]

Rumi has thousands of verses on the interplay between separation and union, hope and fear, sobriety and drunkenness, annihilation and subsistence, pain and joy. This is the dialectic of love. No love is possible without the ups and downs inherent to the created realm. He constantly invites his readers to leap into the fray. This ghazal is typical:

How much the Companion made me suffer until this work settled into the eye’s water and the liver’s blood!
A thousand fires and smokes and heartaches all named “Love”!
A thousand pains and regrets and afflictions all named “Companion”!

If you are the enemy of your own self, come – in the name of God!
Welcome to the soul’s sacrifice! Welcome to a pitiful slaughter!
Look at me – I see Him worth a hundred deaths like this.
I neither fear nor flee from the Heart-keeper’s slaying.
Like the Nile’s water, love’s torture has two faces-
water for its own folk, blood-drinking for others.
If aloes and candles didn’t burn, what good would they be? Aloes would be the same as the trunk of a thornbush.
If battles had no striking of swords and spears and arrows, how would a catamite be different from Rustam the hero?
Rustam finds the sword sweeter than sugar,
he sees the arrows raining down better than coins of gold.
This lion takes her prey with two hundred coquetries
the prey runs in desire for her wave after wave.
The slain prey keeps on screaming in the midst of the blood- “For God’s sake, kill me again!”
The eyes of the slain gaze at the living-
“0 heedless and frozen, come, don’t scratch your heads!”
Silence, silence! Love’s allusions are upside-
down too much speaking keeps the meanings hidden.

If Rumi objects to his own poetical expressions of love, all the more would he object to the attempts by Ibn ‘Arabi and other theoretically minded Sufis to explain love’s reality. Love needs to be tasted and experienced, and poetry is far more adequate than rational disquisition to expressing experience where love is the dominant theme with an infinite variety of images. It is also true of Sufism, where love is typically presented as the key to Islamic life and practice. In other words, for a large body of Muslims, love has always been Islam’s life-blood. In their view, without the animating spirit of love-Islam’s third dimension-the religion dries up and desiccates, and we are left with sterile debates over the fine details of activity, or polemical attacks on anyone who does not toe the dogmatic line concerning issues of faith.

We have already explained that love is a divine attribute or, in other words, that God is love. Love needs to be distinguished from mercy. God’s general mercy is directed toward all things, while his specific mercy becomes manifest in paradise, which is given to the god-wary. The opposite of God’s specific mercy is wrath, which finds its clearest reflection in hell. The Qur’an associates God’s love with his specific mercy, not with his general mercy. God loves those who do what is beautiful, but he does not love those who conceal the truth and do what is ugly. If he did love them, he would not place them in hell. None of this is to deny that God’s mercy takes precedence over his wrath, and that hell itself is a mercy for those who enter it, but this is another issue that would lead us too far from the question of love.

The Sufi stress on love for God grows out of their emphasis on the priority of tashbih over tanzih , of mercy over wrath. When the theologians and jurists discuss God, with their rational categories and their commands and prohibitions, the result can only be a human feeling of distance and fear. But Sufis place their emphasis on God’s nearness and his love for human beings. Instead of stressing rational arguments and abstract discourse, they employ every sort of analogy and image to make the experience of God concrete. Their underlying message is that God loves us and desires the best for us. To bring this home, they stress God’s beautiful and lovable qualities in the language of everyday speech. It is only human to love someone who loves you. Anyone who has that much sense has to be lovable. The Sufis were supremely aware of this psychological tendency. Moreover, they were fully informed of the metaphysical fact that God’s goal in creating human beings was to actualize love, given that no other creature can truly love God.

Innumerable Sufi texts could be quoted to support these points. Some of these we have quoted above. We would like to conclude with a different genre of Sufi texts. Instead of quoting what is already available in English, we now present below a short text that has been translated by Dr W. C. Chittick in his The Vision of Islam . It is from one of the greatest classics of Sufi literature—a work, however, that has largely been ignored by modem scholars—known as Kashf al-asrar (The Unveiling of the Mysteries) by Rashid al-Din Maybudi. This is a Koran commentary which, the author tells us, he began writing in the year 520/1126. Since it fills eight thousand pages in its modern edition, one can suppose that it took a few years to complete. Only about one quarter of Kashf al-asrar is devoted to Sufi interpretations of Koranic verses, since the main body of the text is concerned with translating the Koran into Persian, explaining its apparent meaning, and then explicating its literal and historical context and significance. Then the author turns to the more hidden meaning of the text. He often quotes in these sections from his teacher, the famous Sufi and jurist, Khwaja ‘Abdallah Ansari (d. 481/1088). Ansari is noted for important works in both Arabic and Persian. His Persian prose is among the most beautiful and poetic of the language, and hence it is especially difficult to translate. The author is explaining the meaning of the most commonly cited Koranic verse about love, already quoted above: “0 you who have faith, should any of you turn back on your religion, God will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him…” (5:54). Here is Maybudi’s text:

“0 you who have faith, should any of you turn back on your religion. ” This verse contains an allusion for the knowers and good news for the faithful.

The allusion is that God is the protector of the community of Islam, the primordial religion, the Muhammadan Shari’ah, and that it will always remain. Nothing will be lost if some people turn their back on this religion and become apostates. The Lord of Mightiness will bring others who embrace this religion with soul and heart and nurture it lovingly. God will preserve the signposts of His commandments and the pillars of His prohibitions through them. He will decorate the carpet of the Shari’ah by their dignity. He has inscribed them with the letters of love, for He says, “whom He loves and who love Him.” He has written upon the page of their hearts with a divine script: “He has written faith in their hearts” [58:23]. He has illuminated their inmost eye with the lamp of true knowledge, “So he is upon a light from his Lord” [39:22]. The Divinity is their upbringer, the lap of prophecy is their cradle, eternity without beginning and eternity without end are their warder, the playing field of gentleness is the lodging place of their gaze, and the carpet of awe is the resting place of their aspiration. God makes the same point when He says in another place, “So if those cover its truth, we have already entrusted it to a people who do not cover its truth” [6:89]. The Prophet said, ”A group among my people will never cease to support the Truth. None who oppose them will harm them until God’s command comes.” The good news is that whoever does not turn his back is counted among the objects of love. They are the people of love and faith. Those who do not fall into the abyss of apostasy have the good news that the name of love will fall on them. God says, “Should any of you turn back on your religion, God will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him.” First He affirms His love then the love of the servants. Thus you come to understand that as long as God does not love the servant, the servant will not love …

Khwaja Abdallah said,
The sign of finding love’s well is contentment,
that which increases love’s water is faithfulness.
The substance of love’s treasure is light,
the fruit of love’s tree is joy.
If you fail to separate ‘yourself from the two worlds
you are excused from love,
If you seek recompense from the Friend,
you are ungrateful.
Love is love for God,
the rest is all idle fancy.
‘Whom He loves and who love Him” is a great work,
a marvelous bazaar-it lifted up water and clay.
Thereby God became love’s kiblah
and the target of union’s arrows.
How could the traveler not be delighted
that love is the nearest house to the Lord?
love. is a tree that produces only joy’s fruit,
an earth that grows nothing but intimacy’s flowers,
a cloud that rains nothing but light,
a wine whose potion is nothing but honey,
a road whose earth is nothing but musk and ambergris.
Love was written in eternity without beginning,
Love’s brand lasts till eternity without end From the time when love for the Friend became my habit and character all of me comes from the Friend, and the Friend comes from my all.
Behold how long love’s fortune lasts!
Hear how beautiful is the tale of lovers!
Love’s playing field is as wide as the heart,
paradise is one branch of the tree of love.
Those who drink love’s wine are promised the vision,
whoever is sincere will reach the goal.

* * *

[1] For an illuminating discussion of the three dimensions of Islam see W. C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam , Paragon House New York, 1994, reprinted, Suhail Academy, Lahore, 2000, p. xxxii. The whole book is in fact an extended commentary on the Hadith of Gabriel that describes Islam in its three dimensions, right activity, right understanding and right intentions or motivation.

[2] A separate document details Ibn ‘Arabi’s views on the question of human love and its roots in the Divine. See appendix. I— Ibn ‘Arabi on Love .

[3] See appendix II— Love verses of the Qur’an .

[4] In the presentation as well as in the comments this is constantly referred to as a hadith qudsi . This saying, attributed in Sufi texts to the Prophet, is better known in the form, “I was a Hidden Treasure, so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures that I might be known.” The scholars of Hadith consider it a forgery. Ibn ‘Arabi quotes it very often and he is well aware of the objections. However, in his view its authenticity has been proven by unveiling ( kashf ), or vision of the Prophet in the imaginal world. Hence he writes that this hadith “is sound on the basis of unveiling, but not established by way of transmission ( naql )” ( Futuhat II 399.28). His views on establishing the soundness of hadiths through unveiling are given in appendix III.

[5] Ibn ‘Arabi has given us perhaps the most sophisticated and nuanced interpretation of Hadith of the Hidden Treasure and relates it to a more fundamental issue of the Divine Principle and the “necessity” of its manifestation.

[6] The author on which our presenter has focused his discourse.

[7] For a recent treatment of Sam’ani see “Fall of Adam” in W. C. Chittick, Sufism—A Short Introduction , One World, Oxford, 2000, pp. 111.

[8] Ibn ‘Arabi was born in Murcia in Spain and died in Damascus in I240. He wrote prolifically in Arabic and came to be considered the foremost Sufi theologian and philosopher. In later centuries, his name became almost synonymous with the expression wahdat al-wujud , “the Unity of Being,” a doctrine that was often taken as encapsulating his perspective though it could be quite misleading. He composed more than 500 prose works, some of them enormously long. He also wrote something like twenty thousand verses of poetry.

[9] Rumi, younger contemporary of Ibn ‘Arabi, was born in Balkh in present-day Afghanistan and moved in his youth to Anatolia, eventually settling in Konya in present-day Turkey, where he died in I273. He composed about 65,000 verses of breathtaking Persian poetry along with three short prose works. The Persianate world, from Turkey to India, looks back upon Rumi as the greatest spiritual poet of history, just as the whole Islamic world considers Ibn ‘Arabi the greatest Sufi theoretician.

[10] Futuhat 11 111.12; cf. 11 325.13, translated in W. C. Chittick, “The Divine Roots of Human Love,” Journal of the Mubyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society XVII, 1995, pp. 55-78 (p. 57).

[11] Rumi, Kulliyyat-i Shams , edited by B. Furuzanfar (Tehran: Danishgah, 1336-46/1957-67), vss. 29050-1; for more on this theme, see W. C. Chittick, Sufi Path of Love , (SPL) Suhail Academy, 2000, pp. 194-5.

[12] Kulliyyat 17361.

[13] Futuhat 11 167.12.

[14] Futuhat 11329.5

[15] Fihi ma fihi , pp. 176-7; SPL 48.

[16] Mathnawi V 2735-40; SPL 198.

[17] Futuhat 11114.8; for an English translation of the passage in context, see M. Chodkiewicz et al., Les Illuminations de La Mecque (The Meccan Illuminations) (Paris: Sindbad, 1988), p. 97.

[18] Mathnawi 1114400-1, 14-15; SPL 198-9.

[19] Futuhat 11 113.2.

[20] Futuhat 11 114.14; Chodkiewicz, Illuminations , p. 98.

[21] Futuhat 11331.17.

[22] Kulliyyat , ghazal no. 442.

[23] Futuhat 11326.19; On Ibn Arabi’s “ontological” reading of the Koranic verse, see Sufi Path of Knowledge (SPL) 342-3.

[24] Fihi ma fihi , p. 35; SPL 201.

[25] Mathnawi VI 971-80; cf. SPL 202-3.

[26] Mathnawi 11 1529-35.

[27] Futuhat 11 113.6.

[28] Mathnawi V 586-91; SPL 215.

[29] Mathnawi 1629.

[30] Kulliyyat 35477; SPL 209.

[31] Futuhat 11600.32

[32] Mathnawi 113497.

[33] Kulliyyat 29753.

[34] Kulliyyat , ghazal no. 1138.



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