Ghazal poetry in Arabic/Persian and Urdu in general and Sufi poetry in various genres is basically, a love poetry. Ghazal, which is an Arabic word, has several meaning one of which is to talk to ones beloved. Many Sufis wrote in ghazal form and many others used other forms like masnavi (duet). Sufis belonged to many silsilas (different schools) of thought. These schools differed on certain issues but were one on core issues.
Islam as such became part of ruling establishment and hence in popular and even theological stance, came to be associated with power and hence general people began to believe that in Islam religion and politics cannot be separated. This formulation, though not correct, became people's belief. This association with power politics began to influence religious outlook.
As there was complete legal vacuum in Arab society before Islam, a whole now legal system had to be worked out based on Qur'anic pronouncements and Holy Prophet's sayings and doings (called sunnah). And since political rule had to be based on some written law, Islamic legal corpus called shari'ah developed by several Imams, both Sunni and Shi'ah, became central to Islamic establishments.
The Sufis, on the other hand, were basically spiritual personalities and did not like association with any political establishment and wanted to spend their time on matters spiritual, controlling their desire, concentrating on inner discipline and spending their time on remembrance (dhikr) of Allah. Though they did not renounce world altogether as renunciation of the world is not preferable (though not forbidden), their involvement with matters worldly was minimum.
Psychologically speaking when you want to concentrate on someone, you end up developing unbreakable attachment and this leads to intense love of, and involvement with, that person. And in case of Sufis, that person was none other than Allah. Thus sufi poetry is full of love of Allah. And to express their love of Allah, Sufis had to use existing genres of poetry i.e. ghazal or masnavi.
And traditionally love in poetry-represented love of a human beloved, Sufis also had to use existing human terminology while expressing their love of Allah. In other words, Allah had to be personified though Allah is beyond all our perceptions and cannot be likened with human form. Thus in sufi poetry though beloved appears to be human but it is due to constraints of human language and actual beloved is Allah. Thus one finds sufi poetry deeply immersed in love of Allah.
Thus it will be seen that there is basic difference in the concept of sufi's and theologian's Allah. While Sufis stress love of Allah and invoke this love again and again, central to theologian's Allah is fear. A theologian always asks us to fear Allah and consequences of disobedience, sufi asks us to love Allah and be immersed in love of Allah.
This difference is quite understandable. A theologian, directly or indirectly, is associated with ruling power and has to be concerned with maintaining order in the society and those who are entrusted with enforcement of law and order; he has to create fear of authority. This probably explains why theologian is so concerned with fear of Allah as Allah also personifies authority.
The Qur'an was of course contains both types of verses - fear of Allah and love of Allah as the situation of Arab society was very complex. There was no ruling establishment and society allowed often licentious behavior within the limits of tribal customs and traditions. However, new commercial relations which were breaking tribal customs, needed to mind more complex social order and hence Qur'an and sunnah met this demand by giving clear legal instructions.
In a tribal society where social order was the last thing on their mind needed fear of authority and later a strong centralized state structure emerged within few decades of Prophet's (PBUH) death. The legal structure of Islam also developed in this political atmosphere and hence its emphasis on fear of Allah.
The Sufis, on the other hand, as pointed out, were more concerned with inner spiritual being and hence their priority was love of than fear of Allah. Though fear of Allah was not totally absent in them, priority was of love, not fear. Thus we find popular legend about Rabi'ah Basri, a noted woman sufi saint, that one day she was seen carrying bucket of water in one hand, and a burning rag wrapped around a rod, in the other.
When someone asked her Rabi'ah why are you carrying water in one hand and fire in the other, she replied she wants to put out fire of hell with this bucket of water and so that people do not worship Allah for fear of hell and to set fire to paradise so that people do not worship Him for greed of paradise. Thus the message was that Allah should be worshipped for pure love, nothing else.
Unfortunately today due to political struggle between a section of Muslims and western powers, particularly represented by the USA, violence and fear has come to be associated with Islam. This uni-dimensional approach to Islam has done all the damage to understanding of rich and complex world of Islam. Islamic civilization is far too rich and carries various trends within it.
Scholars like Prof. Huntington by writing Clash of Civilizations has created one dimensional Islam to be condemned as promoting violence and terror. Thus in the western world scholars like Huntington have done more damage to Islam to fulfill US political ambitions. One needs to focus on other aspects of rich heritage of world of Islam. Sufi Islam is Islam of love and universal humanity. We must come out of our obsession of political Islam. Political Islam is advocated and practiced by a small section of Muslim elite whereas Sufi Islam inspires the silent majority of Muslims. The silent majority of Muslims is as much victim of political Islam.
We would throw light, in this paper, on Sufi Islam and its doctrine of love. The great Sheikh popularly known as Ibn Arabi who was born in Spain (1165 A.D.) and died at the ripe age of 76 in 1240 A.D was founder of famous Sufi school known as School of Wahdat al-Wujud (Unity of Being). The real being, according to this school is one and entire creation is His manifestation. This is most universal in its outlook and demolishes all barriers of religion, race and nations.
The Sheikh-i-Akbar (the Great Shiekh) as he is known as, was a great poet and profuse writer and said to have left some 800 works, though not all authenticated. Love was central to his philosophy and understanding of religion. Thus he writes in one of his poems: I believe in religion of love. Whatever direction its caravans may take. For love is my religion and my faith (hubbi dini wa shari'ati).
In one place he writes:
Now I am called the shepherd of gazelles,
Now a Christian monk,
Now a Zoroastrian,
The Beloved is Three, yet One;
Just as the three are in reality one.
In his poem "My Heart Can Take on Any Appearance" he writes: "My heart can take on any appearance. The heart varies in accordance with variations of the innermost consciousness. It may appear in form as a gazelle meadow, a monkish cloister, an idol-temple, a pilgrim Kaaba, the tablets of the Torah for certain science, the bequest of the leaves of the Qur'an.
My ditty is the debt of Love, I accept freely and willingly whatever burden is placed upon me. Love is the love of lovers, except that instead of loving the phenomenon, I love the Essential. That religion, that duty, is mine, and is my faith. A purpose of human love is to demonstrate ultimate, real love. This is the love which is conscious. The other is that which makes man unconscious of himself.
Yet in another poem "While the sun's eye rules my sight", he says:
"While the sun's eye rules my sight,
Love sits as sultan in my soul,
His army has made camp in my heart-
Passion and yearning, affliction and grief,
When his camp took possession of me
I cried out as the flame of desire burned in my entrails.
Love stole my sleep, love has bewildered me,
Love kills me unjustly, and I am helpless,
Love has burdened me with more than I can bear
So that I bequeath him a soul and no body.
Thus we find many more such verses penned by Ibn Arabi which indicate that love is most fundamental in his understanding of relations between human and the Ultimate Being. He clearly DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN PHENOMENON AND ESSENTIAL. He reaches for Essential, not phenomenon. Phenomenon is bound to vary but essential is one. Ghalib, the great Urdu poet, who was also essentially a sufi in his approach, says in one of his verses: "Nahin kuch subh-o-zunnar ke phande meinh geerai, Wafadari men hai sheikh-o-barehman ki azmaish.
It means there is not much in the knot of rosary or thread (which a Brahmin wears) but real trial of Sheikh (a Muslim priest) and Brahmin (a Hindu priest) is in their loyalty to what they believe in i.e. God. Rosary, a Muslim symbol and thread, a Hindu symbol, differ in form but the Essential, the Ultimate Being, whom they worship, is One and their trial is in not carrying a rosary or wearing a thread but in their steadfast love or loyalty to God.
This was approach of Sufis to religions. They were not enamoured of the form but were concerned with the contents. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, who is known for his seminal work called Mathnavi M'anavi which many Muslims considered as Qur'an in Persian, also lays emphasis on love. He was, to begin with, a great 'Alim and a jurist, had place of honour in the court of Quniya, a town which his father migrated to.
The Maulana was greatly revered as an 'alim and jurist. He had thousands of disciples who would regularly attend his sermons. But once he came into contact with a sufi Shams Tabriz from Syria, it all changed. Shams Tabriz caste his spell on him and he was completely transformed from an 'alim and a jurist issuing fatwas to a sufi absorbed and immersed in love and leading life of ecstasy.
Afzal Iqbal, a noted scholar of Islam, writes in his Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi, "A person who was once considered the last word on religion by his own generation, and who had, according to his own light, ruled out music as undesirable, had now become so enamoured of it that he threw all 'decorum' to the winds, listened to music with rapt attention at odd hours of the day and danced in ecstasy.
Afzal then quotes his son's description of his father Rumi: (translation from Persian verses)
Day and night he danced in ecstasy,
On the earth he revolved like the Heavens.
His (ecstatic) cries reached zenith of the skies,
And were heard by all and sundry.
He showered gold and silver on the mutriban (singers);
He gave away whatever he had.
Never for a moment was he without music and ecstasy,
Never for a moment was he at rest.
There was an uproar (of protest) in the city,
Nay whole world resounded with that uproar.
(They were surprised that) such a great Qutb and Mufti of Islam
Who was the accepted leader of two Universes?
Should be raving like a madman in public and private.
The people turned away from religion and faith (on his account)
And went crazy after love.
Such was the impact of Shams Tabriz that a great mufti and 'alim turned into a mad mendicant. Such was the appeal of love of Allah on the person of Jalaluddin Rumi that 'alim and theologian of Rumi's standing had now very different view of religion, from legalistic Shari'ah centred to spiritual love centred. It was great change indeed and it was Rumi's meeting with Shams Tabriz that world was rewarded with Mathnavi full of gems of wisdom.
The transformation was so complete that the Maulana addressed Muslims as follows:
What is to be done, O Muslims? I* do not recognize myself
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor of Gabr, nor Muslim.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling heaven
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqain.
I am not of the kingdom of 'Iraqian, nor of the country of Khorasan
I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of paradise, nor of Hell.
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan'.
My place is placeless; my trace is Traceless;
'This neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
I have put duality away; I have seen that the two worlds are one;
One I SEEK, One I know; One I see, One I call.
He is the first, He is the last, He is the outward, He is the inward;
I am intoxicated with Love's cup, the two worlds have passed out of my ken;
If once in my life I spent a moment without thee,
From that time and from that hour I repent of my life.
If once in this world I win a moment with thee'
I will trample on both worlds;
I will dance in triumph forever.
This poem is of great importance to understand Maulana Rum's philosophy and his being drunk with love. It is fundamentally different view of religion. When religion becomes theologians' play and dogmas rule our lives, and we seek power-reducing religion to mere instrument of our quest for power, rather than quest for truth, we have all the complex problems on hand including hatred and violence.
One may argue, however, if as Maulana Rum says in above poem, human beings loose all their identities and are immersed in ocean of love, how can one live? If one has to live conscious life on this earth, we need certain identities, certain distinctions and certain goals. How can we function? What Maulana Rum says is mere utterance of a mendicant absorbed in love of God.
True, absolutely true. But if we reflect on Maulana's utterances we will find great relevance in our life. If Maulana is immersed in love of God and looses all sense of identity and duality, we too are immersed in this world and give excessive importance to identity and duality and result is so much conflict, so much violence in the name of these identities. These identities and interests linked up with these identities have caused so much havoc in the history of the world.
Apart from other major wars in the past in last century alone we saw two world wars causing death of millions of people. Are such identities leading to such barbarism worth its while? Yes, we all cannot become mendicants, we have to live in this world and identities are important but Maulana makes us conscious of limitations of these identities and wants us to remember we all have emanated from that Ultimate Being and will return to It. This also should never be lost sight of.
And this approach which Rumi and Sufis of his ilk preached is so close to what we have come to know through science about our Universe. It is so huge, so large, its dimensions expanded over billions of light years, beyond all our imagination and we human beings, like tiny specks on this earth which is nothing more than tiny dot, even smaller than that, and still we fight so fiercely for worldly possessions, to grab other's properties, other's territories.
If we remain even slightly drunk with love of that Ultimate Being Who has created us all we will love all His creation and not destroy even a speck of those who co-exist with us. Our sense of identity should also be inclusive of sense of non-identity, we should also remain conscious of non-duality between this universe and its creator, we can shed so much hatred and destructive actions.
Also, we get such one-sided view of Islam, Islam of political world, Islam of violence and war. There is need to know this Islam too where power plays no role, only love and complete identity with the Creator remains at the centre stage. In our over-politicized world, rich contributions made by highly revered Sufis, philosophers and scientists, have been totally forgotten or deliberately avoided.
Our view of Islam is so one sided that any alternate view based on love and peace, is disbelieved. Here I have quoted from most respected Sufis followed by millions of Muslims to draw attention to this alternate Islam. On ground, it is this Islam which is followed and becomes deep source of inspiration for vast masses of Muslims throughout the world, irrespective of the country they live in.
Let us hope slowly this alternate Islam will displace political Islam from space in media and world would come to know more and more of this Islam of peace and love. Of course media will not easily yield space to this alternate Islam. That remains our main problem.