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Love has no religion

I begin with the statements of two renowned Sufis: The thirteenth-century Sufi theorist and practitioner, Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273) declared:

In Every Religion There is Love, Yet Love Has no Religion.

Love is Like an Ocean, Without Borders or Shores where so Many Drown, Yet Regretful Cries Are Not to be Heard.

The thirteenth-century Andalusian/Spanish Sufi master, Muhiyy al-Din Muhammad b. 'Ali Ibnal-'Arabi (d. 1240), popularly known as Shaykh al-Akbar (The Greatest Master), declared:

I practise the religion of Love;

In whatsoever directions its caravans advance, The religion of Love shall be my religion and my faith.

Universal Phenomenon

Mysticism is a universal phenomenon. It is a current that runs through many great religious traditions of the world including Hinduism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, Hellenism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In Islam, this tradition is referred to as Sufism or tasawwuf, which is the esoteric dimension of Islam, as distinct from the exoteric dimension represented by the Muslim law or shariah. So Sufism can be considered the spiritual streak of Islam or its esoteric component; the follower of this tradition is known as Sufi, i.e. a person who surrenders his will for the will of God; which also includes the service to the creation of God without discriminating them on the basis of race, color or religion.

By treading on this path a Sufi gets all of his desires and emotions burn in the material mind for self-gratification and self- glorification. Sufism has originated from the injunctions of the al-Quran, the Sacred Scripture of Islam, and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

However, as a distinct and popular movement, it acquired its specific contours at a later stage.

Sufism has been defined as the mysticism of love. Love itself is a multi-dimensional concept in Sufi lexicon. The love for the Absolute, or God, or intimacy with God, often referred to as mahabbah (derived from hubb) or uns is one of the core principles of Sufism, though love has many other dimensions and manifestations as well. It is the notion of love of God that separates Sufism from mere asceticism. To the Sufis, God is not a transcendental Reality; rather He is accessible and friendly.

That is why, the Sufis emphasised the divine attribute of God being 'the Loving One', which is one of the 99 attributive divine names. Moreover, to the Sufis, God is comprehensible and His gnosis or knowledge of the spiritual mysteries and truths is achievable and possible.

The Sufis also believe that to know Him is to love Him. In other words, knowing someone or trying to know someone is one of the manifestations of love. It implies the Sufi belief that God is essentially comprehensible, and His gnosis or knowledge of the spiritual mysteries and truths is possible and achievable. According to the Sufi doctrine of ma'arifah or the intuitive knowledge, it is granted as God's blessing to those who sincerely sought nearness to Him. Moreover, the Sufi notion of universal love embraces the entire universe and the creation; in fact, according to the Sufis, it is the cosmic love which is the cause behind all causes.

Cosmic love

It is cosmic love which brings out all existence out of nothingness. The universe and the entire creation have been created by God for the purpose of His Self-disclosure. Therefore, the quest of a Sufi is to unveil the mysteries of the creation and the Creator, and seek His nearness and proximity through love. However, the material desires of the human beings act as a veil or an obstacle that hinders the vision or nearness of the Divine.

As a central idea in a Sufi's life, love for God requires exertion, discipline and patience, but it is Sufi belief that he or she may be blessed with love inspired by God, love satisfied with nothing less than God.

The notion of disinterested love of God was articulated by an eighth-century Sufi woman named Rabia of Basrah for the first time. Because of her advocacy for disinterested love of God, she became the model of selfless love among the Sufi circles. She urged the worship of God out of love, instead of owing to the fear of hell or desire for paradise. She taught that a Sufi must love God for Himself alone.

In Sufi language, death of physical body is referred to as the union of the soul with its Source, i.e. God. In Sufi philosophy, the notion of the Unity of Being is another extension of the notion of love of God. It is the highest stage when a Sufi realizes union with God, and the separation between I and thou or the Creator and the Creation ceases to exist. This idea of Sufi love for God or 'ishq has further been developed by the Sufis.

The Sufi philosophy of 'ishq cannot be simply translated as the philosophy of love, since the concept of 'ishq refers to intensified love coupled with passionate longing. However, for convenience, the term Divine love is used in this paper.

'Ishq or Divine love is one the most consistent themes found in the works of the great Sufi masters, and it is often expressed as the longing of the human lover for the Divine Beloved. In this narrative of parted lovers, the pain and longing symbolize the urge of the human soul to return to its Source, i.e. God Himself. Being trapped, the human soul is separated from its Source.


A Sufi dance

It is the carnal/animal or bestial self within us and its predilection for worldly engagements that obstruct the union between them. Those who travel on the path of Sufism learn to overcome the hurdles and tame the bestial self within.

They are the ones who achieve the goal of union, as their own Self, once cleaned, comes in harmony with the Divine Self. According to the Sufis, love leads to the entering of the qualities of the Beloved (God) in place of the qualities of the lover (human being).

Sufism, love and modernity In the contemporary world, the human existence and the fundamental integration of human self are torn apart by competing aspirations and demands. It is Sufism which teaches us how to tame our inner carnal or animal self, and thus bring the Divine self within us in harmony with the Divine entity.

Only the Sufi means and methodology can save humanity from the anguish of existence which has enveloped the modern man.

A Sufi tries to unveil the inner secrets through contemplation, but he also tries to strike a balance between contemplation and action, whereas the life of the modern man is oriented towards action only.

A Sufi does not reject this material world altogether. He only rejects and resists the lures of sheer materialism which serve as a barrier between him and the vision of Reality. In other words, a Sufi deals with things without getting involved and immersed in them.

In the contemporary post-Enlightenment world, where reason or rationality has become the only yard stick for assessing the truths, including the higher truths of life, one wonders as to how many questions of life, including the existential questions, can be answered through reason and rationality.

Can reason lead the way to the higher truths of life? Can reason unveil the mysteries of the inner self? Can reason bring peace and harmony within us? Can reason lessen our differences, and eliminate our hostilities? Can reason put an end to hatred, and teach us love?

Definitely not! It's time to rethink our excessive reliance on and faith in the power of reason. It's time to balance our reason with love and emotions. It's time to chant the melodies of love in order to make this world more liveable.

Sufism and Buddhism: some parallels

In the contemporary war-torn and conflict-ridden world, there is a need to highlight and advocate the concept and value of love as the panacea of many ills and evils. It reminds us of a saying that the world does not need successful people anymore; it needs lovers.

Unfortunately, most of the contemporary ideologies based on a static conception of reason and rationality are preachinghatred, pitting man against man, and thus adding to human misery and sufferings. It is only love which can heal the wounds of humanity by restoring human dignity and bringing peace and harmony.

Love transcends the bounds of religion; as Rumi reminds us that every religion has the concept of love, yet love has no religion of its own.

Generally speaking, Sufism or the Sufi ideology is inclusive and all-embracing. It respects other mystical traditions of the great religions of the world, and also accords reverence to their practitioners.

As far as Buddhism and Buddhist practices are concerned, the Sufis hold a special reverence for them. There are many reasons for it. Most importantly, the Sacred Scripture of Islam, al-Quran refers to the Buddha as a messenger of God, among many others. Al-Quran refers to a Prophet named ZulKifl in Chapter 21 (Surah Al-Anbiya),verse 85-86 and Chapter 38 (Surah Sad), verse 48.

According to the scholars and commentators on these Quranic verses, ZulKifl (literally meaning the One from Kifl) is none other than the Buddha, since the Buddha was born at a place called Kapila Vastu. Since the phonetic sound and alphabet "P" is not found in the Arabic language, and which is often substituted as "B" or "F",

Kifl refers to Kapil, and ZulKifl refers to "the One from Kifl or Kapil".

Apart from that, many parallels between Sufism and Buddhism can be expounded. Both Sufism and Buddhism have various things in common: the life style of the Sufis and Monks has many similarities; simplicity, humility, self-denial, reliance on God, trust, truthfulness and service to humanity are among the few values and doctrines that they both share.

Practices such as less eating, less sleeping and less talking are common to both. In fact, in some Sufi circles, the Sufi detachment from the world is symbolised by a fourfold cap of renunciation (kullah-i chahartarki), which symbolise detachment from (i) this world, (ii) the hereafter, (meaning detachment from everything but God), (iii) food and sleep, except whatever is necessary to keep body and soul together, and (iv) the desires of the self.

Meditation is considered the most important exercise in all the spiritual or mystical traditions.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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