By Asghar Ali Engineer
There are two different approaches to worship God for fear, greed or sheer love and devotion. Most of us ordinary people worship God either for fear of punishment or greed for reward in paradise. In Sufi lore it is said once Rabia Basri, a great Sufi woman of 23nd century hijrah (8th century A.D.) once was carrying bucket of water in one hand and a burning torch in the other. When people saw her they asked O! Rabia why are you carrying this bucket of water and burning torch?
She replied I want to set fire to paradise with this torch and put out fire of hell with this bucket of water so that people do not worship Allah out of greed for paradise or fear of hell but out of pure love. Rabia loved God so much that she would say I have no time to hate Satan. My heart is filled with love of God and has no place even for hate. This is pure love and most meritorious way of worshipping God.
All saints and Awliya Allah (noble souls, friends of Allah) only talk of love, not of fear. From India Rabia’s counter-part is Meera. She was great devotee of God in the form of Lord Krishna whom she calls by different names – Girdhar, Gopala, Krishna, Natwar and so on. She composed verses in common people’s language like Rajasthani, Marwari, Gujrati Biraj bhasha and so on. She is greatly loved by people even five hundred years after her death.
It was love of her Lord which made her fearless and she broke all royal traditions. Her devotion to her Lord made her renounce everything, her royal palace and she took life of common people and moved around with sadhus and sans. Her royal family put tremendous pressure on her but she did not budge. Love really makes one truly fearless. Her devotional songs are sung by millions of people even today. One wonders at the intensity of love found in her poetry. It overwhelms us all.
Maulana Rum is another shining example of love and devotion. He was a great ‘alim and jurist. He used to deliver sermons and had highest place in the court of king. Thousands of disciples would come to listen to him and his sermons. He would have not been known to the world despite his euridite knowledge if he had not met one day a Darvesh (mendicant) called Shams Tabriz One day he was delivering sermon as usual and heap of books lay before him which he used to consult.
This mendicant intruded and looked at the books and said what is this? Maulana annoyed with him and said you would not know. Shams Tabriz looked at the books again and they caught fire. Maulana Room said what is this and Tabriz said you would not know. Maulana understood that this mendicant is no ordinary person and went after him. Shams completely transformed him from an ‘alim to a great sufi saint who renounced everything, his status in the Court, his wealth and comfortable living and became a mendicant like Shams.
He became restless in love and composed many ghazals (love poems) which were collected as Diwan-i-Shams Tabriz. And subsequently he wrote his epic the most revered Mathnavi in several volumes and which came to be known as Qur’an in Persian. It is one of the world classics. It is love, devotion to Allah that made him immortal. Like Meera he was so engrossed in love that he would say my only identity is love, not any religion, region, not even earth and heaven.
On the other hand those who emphasise fear of God, usually the priests and theologians, in fact generate hatred for all others and ultimately through this fear of God they want to establish fear of their own authority in their followers. They try to induce fear in us of hell fire and how we will be punished if we do not obey their authority. It is true Qur’an does talk of hell fire but it is for hardened sinners who do not want refused to give up oppressing others, who are arrogant of their wealth and power.
For ordinary sinners Allah is great pardoner, reconciler and Merciful. His love and Mercy is ever flowing for those who repent and are ready to be good. One should seek this Mercy and Grace through love and devotion. It is love which completely transforms even a most evil character. Those who realize power of love, like Meera and Maulana Rum, never hesitate to renounce love of power.
It is love of power, arrogance and wealth which leads to all evils in the world and it is power of love which negates all these evils and makes this world a paradise. Now it is or us to go for love or for fear. One who loves is truly fearless and indeed it is love which is God and it is God who is love.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai