Mahabbah (love) means fondness, tender and kind feelings, and inclination. When love affects and invades all feelings of man, it is called passion and when it gets so deep and irresistible as to burn with the desire of union, it is called fervor and enthusiasm. Love has been defined by the sufis as the relation of the heart with the Truly Beloved One or the irresistible desire felt for Him, or trying to comply with His desires or Commandments in all one’s acts and thoughts, or being enraptured and intoxicated without ‘sobriety’ until the time of union. All these definitions can be summed up as ‘standing’ in the Presence of God and being freed from all transient relationships and worries.

True love means that a lover is set wholly on the Beloved and is always and inwardly with Him, and that he always feels Him and is freed from all other kinds of desires and wishes. The heart of him who has such a degree of love always beats with a new consideration for the Beloved at every moment, his imagination always travels in His mysterious climate, his feelings receive new messages from Him at every moment and his will takes wings with these messages and he passionately desires to meet Him.

While a lover who transcends his self with the wings of love and reaches his Lord at the points of passion and enthusiasm carries out his responsibilities toward the King of his heart, his heart is set on His vision. His nature is ‘burned’ with the lights of Divine Grandeur and lost in wonder and amazement. With the cup of love on his lips, while the veils of the Unseen are lifted before him one after the other, he is intoxicated with study of the meanings coming in rays from behind those veils and enraptured with the pleasure of watching the scenes behind them. He walks by the command of God, the Truth, and stops likewise by His command. When he speaks he does so by the inspirations coming from Him, and when he keeps silent, he does so in His name. Sometimes he is on a journeying toward Him, sometimes is in ‘His company,’ and sometimes is occupied with communicating His messages to others.

Some have defined love as doing good and favor when it is used as God’s love of His distinguished servants, and as obedience, devotion and unconditional submission when it is used as a servant’s love of God. The following couplets of Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiya are significant in expressing this meaning:

You talk about loving God while you disobey Him;
I swear by my life that this is something very strange..
If you were truthful in your love, you would obey Him,
For a lover obeys whom he loves.

Love is based on two important pillars:

The first is that which is manifested by the lover’s acts. A lover tries to comply with the Beloved’s desires.

The second relates to the inner world of the lover, who should inwardly be closed to everything else unrelated to Him. True men of God mean this when they talk about love. According to them, emotional concern with or love of any kind of pleasure including spiritual ones or interest cannot be called love in its true sense. It can only be figurative love.

Every lover cannot feel the same degree of love for the Beloved. Love varies according to the spiritual and emotional depth of the lover and the degree of his consciousness of and care in his obedience to the Beloved.

1. The love felt by those who are yet at the beginning of the way is not established and constant. They dream of being able to acquire the rank of Perfect Goodness and can at times receive some signs of Knowledge of God. There are times when they thrill at the twinkle of the ‘lights’ appearing on their horizon and vaguely feel amazement and wonder.

2. Those who have taken a long way fly in the heaven of love toward the highest point. They live in the bright climate of the Qur’an as embodiments and examples of the good morals of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. While trying to represent the good morals of the Prophet, they are never in expectation of any reward material or spiritual and demand no pleasure. Even at the summit of this holy representation, like fruit-bearing trees whose branches bend with the weight of their fruits, they lower their wings of humility and always mention the Beloved. If they are shaken with a fault or error, they severely criticize their selves and fight with them.

3. Those who are the most advanced in love of God are like rain clouds in the ‘heaven’ of Islam. They feel existence by Him and live with Him, seeing and breathing by Him. In a never-ending, never-stopping cycle, they are filled with the pangs of separation (from Him) and the desire of meeting with Him, and when relieved or emptied, they mount on a light and descend to earth to embrace the whole existence animate or inanimate.

In whatever degree of love, one who turns to Him with heart-felt desires and sincere enthusiasm gets his reward according to the depth of his feelings and concern with Him. The first of those three groups mentioned above receive special favor and mercy, while those of the second group reach the horizon of perceiving the Attributes of Grace and Majesty, being freed from defects of character. Those of the third group are illumined by the lights of His Being and awakened to the reality of things, getting in touch with the dimension of existence behind veils. That is, the Almighty manifests the lights of His Grandeur to burn up the attributes of those whom He loves coming from their corporeality and ‘elevate’ them to the realm of Divine Attributes such as the All-Seeing and All-Hearing. He makes them fully awakened to the fact that they are poor and helpless before Him by themselves and fills their hearts with the lights of the existence of the Divine Being.

A lover with such degree of love, and who is rewarded with so much Divine favor, attains to an eternal life which cannot be described in terms of either existence or non-existence. Like a bar of iron put into fire and therefore seen as if a bar of fire, he may not be able to distinguish the Divine Being and His manifestations and therefore expresses his feelings and experiences in the terms associated with such false beliefs as incarnation and union (with God). Whereas in such circumstances, what must be taken into consideration is the established criteria of the Sunnah. The expressions uttered by men of profound spirituality lost in love of God while they are intoxicated with love cannot be taken as criteria to judge them. Otherwise we may be feeling enmity toward such friends of God who are favoured with continuous ‘company’ of God according to the Prophetic Tradition, A man is with him whom he loves, and, as declared in the hadith qudsi, Whoever becomes an enemy of My friends has waged war on Me, we have waged war on God the Almighty.


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