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On Becoming an Authentic Human Person from the Perspective of Islamic Sufism


 By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam

05 November 2018

Tonight, I spent a great deal of my time reflecting at length how Islamic mysticism, otherwise known as "Sufism" understood the process of becoming an authentic human being. According to the spiritual teaching of Sufism, the process of becoming fully human and truly humane, of becoming free, and of growing spiritually (i.e., more integrated in one’s inner self) is an effortful, tedious and difficult process. This struggle for our spiritual and emotional growth is analogized by Sufi mystics as “dying before one’s death in order for one to be transformed into a new creation”. (Ali Osman Veli, “Die Before Death: A Sufi Way to Detachment”, p. 13.). Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi taught that to know God is the key to become an authentic human person; but to become an authentic human person, one needs to die to his old carnal and depraved nature and arise to the newness of life through a change of heart and soul. To quote from Hazrat Maulana Rumi himself:

“My heart wanted only a kiss from You;

The price You asked for that kiss was my soul...

Heart leaped within me and flowed alongside my soul;

Said the heart, advising my soul: ‘Close the deal! The price is cheap—it’s only your life.’

In ecstasy, I replied: ‘What a bargain! Here's my life—in exchange for Your kiss.’

My heart and soul know the true worth of kissing You—but alas, my mind does not and cannot understand.” (From the book, “Rumi and the Openness to Life and Being”; p. 41.)

For the Sufis, there is a divine force inside each human person that gently persuades and prods individuals to grow against the natural resistance of apathy, lethargy, sloth and entropy. There is a virile power that makes persons undergo the tedious process of pain and suffering towards achieving their integrated selves—and this divine force hidden in each of us is Love. The famous psychiatrist-philosopher, Dr. M. Scott Peck, defines Love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or other’s spiritual growth.” (“The Road Less Travelled”, p. 14-16.). He explains the motivation of love as the altruistic nurturing of one’s and other’s life for the purpose of mutual spiritual growth. As per M. Scott Peck, maturing spiritually, i.e., to become more and more an integrated person happens because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves and we love others.

It is through love that we elevate or transcend our own petty selves. And it is through our love for others that we assist them to elevate themselves. Love, then is the extension of the self to other selves, it is the very principle and the dynamic act of divine evolution—spiritual evolution in the progress of one’s inner self towards wholeness, authenticity and integration. According to Scott Peck, the evolutionary force present in all of Life “manifests itself in mankind as human love”. (Ibid., p. 268.). It is Love that is the motivating force of spiritual progression that stirs people to become more and more of their true selves in each other’s presence, and to become more and more steadily alive and sensitive to each other’s needs and concerns.

Furthermore in Sufi mysticism, a person who is conscious of his own inner self, who is attuned to the inner selves of other people, of the world (and the ongoing cosmos), and who is conscious of the Divine Self indwelling in his innermost self, will love all things and all beings only on account of God, as contrasted with loving things without reference to God, but only for themselves. (Osman Nuri Topbas Effendi, “Rumi Selections: Tears of the Heart from the Garden of the Mathnawi”, p. 58-59.). This Sufi Muslim view is indeed very similar to the perspective of Augustinian mysticism and Lutheran Pietism in Christianity. St. Augustine called the Christian virtue of loving all things only in God as the Centre of true love, a straight way or path to love, “amor rectus”. Sin, on the other hand, loves creatures without further reference to God, and therefore St. Augustine called it “amor curvatus”, a crooked, tortuous, and winding love, a love curved away from God, a diffused love that wanders and meanders and eventually ends merely in creatures themselves. (See, Arnoldus Milano, “Augustine in the Eyes of Luther”, pp. 221-224.)

At this juncture, I feel that it is relevant to quote from one of the greatest woman Sufi saints of Islam, Hazrat Sayyidah Rabi’ah Basri Adawiyyah. She was reported to have prayed in this manner:

Oh Allah, my Beloved: if I adore You out of fear of Hell, then burn me in Hell!

If I adore you out of desire for Paradise, then lock me out of Paradise!

But if I adore you for Yourself alone, then do not deny me to partake of Your Eternal Beauty!” (See Zishan Jafar Ozbegh, “Sayyidatina Rabi’ah Basri Adawiyyah: The Second Aishah and the Second Fatimah of Islam”, p.49.).

It is interesting to note that at its purest, this profound insight that humans should love God only for Himself (i.e., for His own Being/His very own Person) and not so that they might gain happiness or heaven, or anything else for themselves, will make humans truly altruistic, instead of selfish. Loving God in pursuance of results, rewards and merits would be to reduce one’s love for others or even for God, ultimately to the vanity of “self-love” or “self-worship”—the worst form of utilitarianism, self-serving vanity, and self-idolatry called egotism or narcissism.

The Sufis teach that the object of the search and the struggle towards achieving an integrated self is to become more and more an “authentic self” (in Arabic; "Insan-al-Kamil", which means an “integrated and divinized person”) reflecting the divine attributes of the Beloved (i.e., God) within the person’s own being. The "Insan-al-Kamil" is one who loves all sentient beings and the whole ongoing universe only for the sake of God. (Muinuddin Sarwar Ahmed. “Therapies of the Heart: Love and Longing in Sufism”, p. 209-212.). To be an “authentic human” means to be in union with all, whose  character is becoming God-like by imbibing the unfathomable empathizing and unconditional love of God or becoming the Truth embodied by manifesting sincerity and authenticity in one’s being towards one and all. To become like God in one's character and behaviour means to be a responsible creature who manifests and acts-out his stewardship ("Khilafah") of God’s world according to God’s expressed will, only out of pure and unconditional love for God.

More than submission to the demands of a legalistic God, the “authentic human” as “Insan al Kamil” loves God by becoming an embodiment of love himself/herself; and loving to save all sentient beings and not loving God to be simply saved. To be an “authentic human” entails an immeasurable loving kindness that enables one to realize the common bond of existence that ties together all real existents in this ongoing universe. It is this common bond of existence that allowed St. Francis of Assisi and Hazrat Rabi’ah Basri Adawiyyah to claim brotherhood with the sun, sisterhood with the moon, and kinship with every being that exists in the cosmos. Such bond is possible because St. Francis and Hazrat Rabi’ah (likewise, all saints of various faith-traditions) viewed every being within the context of a loving Father/Mother God who is the Divine Progenitor, Generator, Divine Source and Womb of everything that is. Therefore for Islamic Sufism, our human authenticity and our true humanity will only find its full expression and authentic manifestation in union with this Divine Oneness of Existence (Wahdat-Ul-Wujud)—through God, with God, in God and for God and God alone.

Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. He is the present Coordinator of Gender and Development (GAD) Office at UP Cebu. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, Classical Sunni Islamic pedagogy, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Middle Eastern Affairs, Peace Studies, Ataturk Studies, Mughal Studies, and Public Theology.


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