A universal passion

March 20, 2020


The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

LIKE light, water, knowledge, love is another aspect of human life, celebrated universally. Love is a passion that has been eulogised by all — in primitive as well as advanced societies. Poets and prose writers, singers and dancers, mythology narrators, qissa khawans, all have sung the beauty of love — its pains and pleasures.

In faith-based traditions, the love of God, with whatever name, and the inspirers of faith, whether prophets or gurus, the devotees have expressed immense love for them; aspiring to live or die for them. In Muslim tradition, the love of Allah, followed by that of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have been the core passion in all communities of interpretation. Often, this has been expressed through a whole genre of poetry called hamd (Allah’s praise), naat (Prophet’s praise), manqabat (Hazrat Ali and Ahlul Bayt’s praise) or the praise of Sufi masters such as Shahbaz Qalandar and Data Ganj Bakhsh.

Often all these genres have been combined in another genre called qawwali, sung with soul-nourishing passion by a group of singers. In this regard, Maulana Rumi’s love for his murshid, Shams Tabriz, is proverbial, and he gives the highest regard to him (Shams) to the extent of dedicating his whole divan to him, called Divan-i-Shams Tabriz. Allama Iqbal humbly called himself ‘Murid-i-Hindi’ of Rumi.

When in intense love, it is often called ‘ishq’, the culmination of love. ‘Ishq’ is an Arabic word, which stands for an insect. For humans, metaphorically, it means if one is touched by intoxicating love, it culminates in the ‘annihilation’ of its beholder. In a spiritual sense, what this means is that when a person is engulfed with love, he or she becomes ‘extinct’ as an individual, but at the same time, resurrects itself in the Being, leading to what is known as ‘fana fi Allah, baqa bi Allah’ (Annihilating in God and becoming Ever-living with Him). This is also called ‘enlightenment’ in a mystical sense.

Love is no monopoly of any one culture or nation, faith or community.

Love also expresses itself in human relations. Human societies are dotted with popular stories of love between two humans. Laila-Majnoon, Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Punnu are just a few examples. Similarly, love of human ‘service’ is also a remarkable story in human history. Men and women have devoted their entire lives to the service of humanity, risking even their own well-being.

Beyond religion and human relations, love expresses itself in many other ways. Love of wisdom (philosophy) and love of exploring and investigating the secrets of the universe have been equally strong passions. Scientists, both in social and hard sciences, researchers and writers often spend much of their lives passionately researching, discovering and writing for the love of discovery and innovations to ease human and animal sufferings.

In Muslim contexts, the passion of love of discovery is expressed in a complex way. It is reflection on God’s signs (aayaat) spread from heaven to the earth. Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan appropriately calls the reflection on the verses of the Quran the word of God and the universe as the work of God, supplementing each other. As the verses of God are loved so is the work of God, the living verses of God, which the verbal verses refer to.

As one gets ‘enlightenment’ through ‘meditation,’ so does one through ‘contemplation.’ What a mystic sees is perceived by one who contemplates. Therefore, in many Muslim traditions, these two paths of reaching the truths have been accepted as complementary, though some have seen them as opposing paths.

A glimpse of this complementarity (of mystical meditation and intellectual contemplation) can be seen fused together in the Quranic verse: “Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of Night and Day, there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. Men who celebrate the praises of Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth (with the thought): ‘Our Lord! Not for naught hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! ...” (3: 190-191). This verse gives a powerful message towards remembering God as worship and contemplating on the nature — the living verses of God — as practical worship, the twin ways of loving and celebrating God’s creation, and through it, God Himself.

Thus, love is all-pervasive, expressed through numerous ways to quench the eternal thirst in human beings to love all those or all that worthy of it. To love is no monopoly of any one culture or nation, faith or community. The language of love, like that of music, and dance, art and architecture, is universal.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2020