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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.