By Asghar Ali Engineer
Some friends of mine often ask me why I support Sufi Islam so strongly when many Muslims not only disapprove of it but even call it a deviation from Islam. My simple answer is that Sufis love Allah, rather than fear Allah. Love is the central doctrine for them. Sufis like Muhiyudddin Ibn Arabi, who founded the school of Wahdat al-Wujud, demolished all walls of separation between one faith and another and made love of all human beings the basis of their religion. Ibn Arabi went to the extent of saying "Hubbi Deeni Wa Shari'ati" i.e. “Love is my religion and my Shari’ah”.
This is a very meaningful statement for those who believe in the entirety of humanity and want to build human civilization on love, not on hatred. Love not only leads to tolerance but also destroys all movements based on extremism and "exclusive truth." One who loves the entire humanity always adopts an inclusive approach and feels that truth cannot be the monopoly of an exclusive group.
Sufis, in that sense, are far more democratic, with their pluralist approach. They feel Allah has created diversity (Qur'an 5:28), and we must respect diversity as Allah's creation. One who has a doctrinaire approach believes in exclusivity, and disparages diversity, as for him diversity negates the concept of exclusive monopoly of truth by one group. And if truth is not an exclusive monopoly, no one community can be privileged as the possessor of truth.
Moreover, Sufism is based on a deep spiritual approach and on looking into one's inner self. Spiritualism is like an ocean, and narrow identities are like small rivers bounded by banks with their course predetermined. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, when asked his identity, replied 'love,' as love is inclusive of all identities.
Now, the question arises: what is love? Often, we are mistaken and think that we possess the one whom we love. In fact, such a sense of possession is the very negation of love. We must respect the dignity and integrity of the person we love, and this is possible only when we concede full freedom to that person. Where there is a sense of possession, we deny freedom to that person. Thus, when a man thinks he loves a woman, his love cannot be genuine unless he allows her full freedom and respects her dignity and integrity.
For Sufis, too, love of humanity is based on these principles and they respect the dignity and integrity of all faiths, which are sincerely held by any human being or a community of human beings, provided these faiths are sincerely held. Also, love cannot be genuine unless it is pure and purged of all traces of selfishness and personal desires. All selfish desire has to be renounced to make love genuine, and hence Sufis speak of Tark (renunciation). The highest degree of this renunciation is described as Tark-E-Tark i.e. renunciation of renunciation -- i.e. one should not even feel that one is renouncing for the sake of one's loved one. It should be absolutely painless renunciation.
Thus, a Sufi renounces his material comforts and selfish desires for the sake of Allah, whom he/she loves intensely. Sarmad [Khashani] Shahid, whom Aurangzeb beheaded [in 1661 CE], as he would not recite the Islamic Kalima "La Ilaha Illallah" (there is no god but God) but only "la Ilaha" (there is no God), when asked as the sword was raised to behead him, "Why don't you recite 'Illallah' (except one God)?" replied "How can I say 'Illallah' when so many gods of desire are still in my heart?" Thus, Sarmad asked how, when so many idols of desires were still in his heart, one's love of God could be sincere and genuine. A true believer or lover of God has to purge all idols of desire installed in his heart.
The lowest degree of love is that which is polluted by selfish desires. The highest degree of love is one which is purged of all desires. Great Sufi saints who renounce all desires (though living in this world and involved in all its ties) manage to achieve the purest form of love. I accept Sufi Islam for its adherence to love in its truest form and selfless love of the entirety of humanity in all its diverse cultural manifestations.
Sufi saints believe that total submission to Allah, the beloved, is part of their love of Allah and hence accept it as part of their love of Allah. They also call it Tawakkul, i.e. total trust in Allah as God does whatever He does for the good of God's servant. A lover has to accept the will of his/her beloved, having full faith in the beloved.
Submission here does not mean submission without efforts. 'Amal (action, effort) is a vital part of human existence, and one must make constant efforts to overcome contradictions and conform to the fundamental values of one's faith. One must make constant efforts to uphold values and curb desire, anger and greed. This is an absolute requirement of love, and of the relation to the beloved.
(Note: This text, taken from http://www.islamicpluralism.org/2102/why-i-love-sufi-islam, has been slightly edited to make for smoother reading)