By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
12 Oct 2017
Nothing makes sense except in the light of love.
Love is central to answering all the three ultimately important questions:
“(1) What can I know?
(2) What should I do?
(3) What may I hope?”
What is the most basic term in light of which every other term in the scripture of life or religion needs to be understood? It is love/metaphysic of love. In order to understand what religion means, one needs to master the hermeneutic of love. What constitutes the Royal Road to God and Religion’s most basic demand? Surrender of ego/self will before the non-self/God. And this transcendence of ego is an opening of love. God as Wudood can’t fail to attract/love us and we can’t resist the Irresistible Subduer (al-Qahar) – who is not willing to be subdued by love? Man can resist it only at the cost of hell which is choosing self exile from the Beloved. There is really only Heaven – God/Pure Consciousness as Joy/Bliss – here and now but most men, most of the times refuse to be here and now and chose to be distracted by day dreams or chose to evade encounter with depths of their own selves or avoid seeing things as they are or resist gazing at blinding Beauty and these we call denizens of hell. We are not thrown into hell to begin with but jump into it by covering truth (kufr) and ingratitude and arrogance of self assertion and personal opinion against the Truth that shows itself to a humble/ open heart and mind.
What are we doing here in this world? Loving. What for? For the pure joy of loving that is its own reward. What is the basic determining or deeper meaning of all commandments? Love of God and neighbour. What is this world of form and colour? A drama or play of love. Who are you and me? Actors in the drama of love hired for playing our part well. Why so much suffering in this world? To let us learn the value of love. What is the secret meaning of every experience? God seeking to tell us “I love you” as Simone Weil has noted.
How do we comprehend the “obsession” of poets, film directors or artists in general, mystics, most of traditional and many modern philosophers, with the theme of love? Scriptural answer is simple: they need to be because “God is love.” Simple reflection on a host of important phenomena around us – the existence of motherly/fatherly affection, passion for/of women, celebration of youth, attraction of childhood, the power of music, our deepest motivations and attractions – convinces us why all books and doctrines can be evaluated in terms of their relationship to love.
For the Greatest Master of Islamic Tradition all love is essentially holy or divine because it is really (though many are not conscious of this) directed towards God who alone is and who is the only Beloved smiling in every form. He is for progressive Platonisation of love; he is for moving from phenomena to the One which manifests yet hides in them.
Iraqi perfectly expresses Akbarian understanding of Islamic Shahadah’s metaphysical content in his Lam’aat by saying “There is no love but Love.” In the end he reduces everything to this statement of Iraqi. Akbarian vision of love as the path to Truth or the Truth itself is presented in these famous lines from TarjumanuI Ashwaq: “I follow the Way of Love,/and where Love's caravan takes its path,/there is my religion, my faith." Creeds are ideally supposed to be pointers or marks towards the oasis of love that is God and if we fail to perceive this, the problem is with our reading of creeds. Iraqi’s following lines also express the same vision: “Expressions are many but Thy loveliness is one;/Each of us refers to that single Beauty."
Sufi poets in general often choose to speak of Reality or Absolute in terms of Love. Akbarian Sufi doctrine put in the language of love states that "there is but One Reality: Love or Sheer Being, which manifests Itself in two forms, the lover and the Beloved." The author of the Futûhât states:
"By God, I feel so much love that it seems as though the skies would be rent asunder, the stars fall and the mountains move away if I burdened them with it: such is my experience of love.”
Love is the end and ground of Taqwa (what we love, we can’t take casually or trivialize) and thus the ultimate measure of one’s spiritual attainments.
All beliefs or commentaries of scriptures must be tested against the touchstone/commandment of love. It has been well said that “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” “And, in the end, we were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love could heal our brokenness.”
In order to see the moon (Batin/Haqiqa/metaphysic) itself rather than the finger pointing to it (Zahir, laws, creeds, commentaries) and thus really comprehend Islam, one must ask sages, saints and poets (the role great traditional philosophers are supposed to synthesize in themselves), who don’t report about God/Truth/Reality but report out of/from ground zero of the same by bridging distance between knowing and being through love/realization. Mystics, it has been well remarked don’t talk about God but talk God. The word “about” makes all the difference between mere belief and its science theology and gnosis and its science metaphysics. Creedal statements defining terms of religion are these reports or reflections in rather limiting medium of language about what the ideal course would have been silence or invitation to realization.
In every religious tradition it is philosophers or more precisely sages (Hukama) who wedded heart and mind or love and knowledge who have emerged as the most authoritative expositors of self understanding of given traditions. In order to see why wisdom and its lovers philosophers/sages are important for better appreciation/understanding of religion/scripture and show how most of us would benefit from them, let me conclude by a lengthy quote from Kreeft in The God Who Loves You:
“Kant said there were ultimately only three important questions:
(1) What can I know? (2) What should I do? (3) What may I hope?
What I can know is truth, truth about being. Since the ultimate nature of being is love–either in God or in some creature that reflects God–God's love is the answer to Kant's first question.
Love is also the fundamental value. It is the answer to Kant's second question, "What should I do?" On the two commandments to love God and neighbour "depend all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:40).
Finally, love also gives my life meaning and purpose. It gives me a goal or a hope to shoot for. Hopelessness means purposelessness. Since the ultimate purpose of my life is to learn to love, love is also my hope.
Thomas Aquinas said that there are only three things we absolutely need to know, and they correspond nicely with Kant's three questions: what to believe, how to live, and what to pray for. Aquinas then says that the Creed answers the first question, the Commandments answer the second, and the Lord's Prayer answers the third…On close inspection, each article of the Creed, each of the Commandments, and each petition of the Lord's Prayer is a form of love.
“Scriptures are divine love story.”
Love forces us to reach out into the heart of the beloved, to be one with the bride called truth. It means it requires us to seek wisdom, to seek help of philosophers in comprehending depths and mysteries of scriptures. One needs to resort to the unavoidable task of philosophizing in dealing with religious issues/creeds at some point – before choosing religion against irreligion, before choosing one religion over another, adjudicating rival theological or scholarly interpretations/opinions and clarifying the content of religion. Each term from God to Tawhid to belief to revelation to religion/Din/Sharia that we find in creedal manuals or elementary expositions of Islam requires, for most comprehensive understanding, scores of Uloom and encyclopaedic explorations in the world of classics, traditional and modern, to clarify nuances and relationships and contexts. It needs asking such questions as: Who is the “I” who says I attest oneness of God and believe that Islam is the last religion/revelation? What is revelation if not intellection basically?
All kinds of interpretative endeavours and questions – existential, phenomenological, psychological, anthropological, historical – may be developed at some point in our deeper engagement with these terms. And all enquiries are ultimately motivated by our love for truth/knowledge. And love is not a matter of temperament or a sentimental issue but a metaphysical one. We love only what is absent as Ibn Arabi showed and this means we love truth only if we don’t claim to have it. We need to love absent God as Simone Weil argued. The Beloved is ever sought; He never comes and that implies our need for worship never drops.