Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Love and Spirituality in Ecstatic Sufism

During the 12th and 13th centuries, Islam witnessed continued intellectualization. Ahmad Ghazali (d. 1126) established some of the central doctrines of the ecstatic school of Sufism. His treatise on love exalts complete devotion to the beloved linked with the ideas of the qalandar – the wandering libertine mystic, and ’ayyar – the rogue or brigand[1]. In a three-way relationship, he views love, the lover, and the beloved to all be the same divine essence. The true lover loses himself in the love of his beloved, and begins to think of himself as his beloved, while his base self and human attributes pass away in fana’, or annihilation. Ghazali’s conceptualization of the relationship between love and spirituality from a liberal perspective influenced a great deal of subsequent Persian literature. A potential example is Rumi’s Divan-i Shams-i Tabrizi, the title of which itself means "the work of Shams of Tabriz”, Rumi’s beloved. As legend goes, Rumi no longer thought of his own self as being distinct from that of Shams, and therefore viewed his own work as also that of his lover. Poems from The Divan by Hafiz of Shiraz, written in the 14th century, further articulate some of Ghazali's ideas:

“But thou that knowest God by heart, away!
Wine-drunk, love-drunk, we inherit Paradise,
His mercy is for sinners; hence and pray”[2]

“All my pleasure is to sip
Wine from my beloved’s lip;
I have gained the utmost bliss –
God alone be praised for this”[3]

In both poems Hafiz emphasizes the connection between love, sin, and spirituality. In each instance, Hafiz attains a higher state of being through love and wine drinking, acts that are treated as the same in the second poem. Hafiz's references to sin have been seen as reactions to the orthodoxy of the religious establishment in his time (by E. Herzig). The interrelatedness of sin and love, though libertine in essence, could have also served to make the statement that one can achieve a spiritual connection without having to dogmatically follow institutionalized faith.

I had lunch with a very special person today. She seeks to help others understand themselves better, and in doing so performs a great service to society. 

I said to her,"if I had just one moment of selfless love, I would be able to transcend my petty current state and achieve lasting happiness. Just for a minute, I want to completely lose myself in someone else". 

She replied, "the connection you're looking for with someone exists all the time, between every individual. We're unable to access it mostly because of our own spiritual inadequacies. You should seek to love everyone and if you're love is genuine and you realize that connection, you will be happy. This could take a lot of time, but I see that you're looking inside, and trying to identify your internal difficulties, and that is the first step."

(Wine drinking?)

[1] Julian Baldick, Mystical Islam (London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 1989) 66.

[2] Gertrude Bell, The Hafez Poems of Gertrude Bell. (Ibex, Inc, 1995) 18.

[3] A.J. Arberry, Fifty Poems of Hafiz. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1947) 50.