THERE are different approaches to worshipping God: out of fear, greed or sheer love and devotion. Most of us ordinary people worship God either out of fear of punishment or greed for reward in this world and in the hereafter.
In Sufi lore it is said that once Rabia Basri, a great Sufi woman of 2nd century Hijrah (8th century CE) was carrying a 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 the burning torch?” She replied that she wanted to set fire to paradise with the torch and put out the hellfire with the 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 Basri loved God so much that she would say that she had no time to hate Satan. “My heart is filled with the love of God and has no place in it for hate.” This is pure love and devotion, and indeed the most meritorious way of worshipping God.
All saints and auliya Allah (noble souls, friends of Allah) only talk of love, not of fear or hate. In Indian lore Rabia’s counterpart is Meera. She was a great devotee of God in the form of Lord Krishna, whom she called by different names — Girdhar, Gopala, Krishna, Natwar and so on. She composed verses in the common people’s language like Rajasthani, Marwari, Gujarati, Biraj Bhasha and so on. She is greatly loved by people even 500 years after her death.
It was love of her lord which made Meera fearless and she broke all royal traditions. Her devotion to her lord made her renounce everything, including her royal palace, and she took to living the life of common people, moving around with sadhus and sants, the Muslim counterparts of dervishes. Her royal family put tremendous pressure on her but she did not budge.
Love really makes one truly fearless. Meera’s 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 Rumi is another shining example of love and devotion. He was a great alim and jurist. He used to deliver sermons and held the highest place in the court of the king. Thousands of disciples would come to listen to him and his sermons. He would not have been known to the world despite his erudition if he had not met one day the dervish called Shams Tabriz.
One day when Rumi was delivering a sermon as usual and a heap of books that he routinely consulted lay before, Shams Tabriz intruded and looked at the books and said, “What is this?” The maulana was annoyed with him and said that he (Shams) would not know. Shams Tabriz looked at the books again and they caught fire. Rumi, agitated, asked, “What is this?” and Tabriz replied, “You would not know.”
Rumi understood that this mendicant was no ordinary person and went after him for further guidance. Thus, Shams Tabriz completely transformed Rumi from an alim to a great Sufi saint who renounced everything, his status in court, his wealth and comfortable living, and became a mendicant like Shams.
Rumi was thence set to become restless in pursuit of divine love; he 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 in hyperbole as the Quran in Persian.
It is one of the world classics. It is love and devotion to Allah that made Rumi immortal. Like Meera, he too became 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, many of those who emphasise only fear of God, usually common priests and theologians, end up generating hatred for others. Ultimately, through this rigid fear of God many, like the Taliban, want to establish fear of their own authority amongst their followers. They try to induce fear in us of hellfire and of how we would be punished if we did not obey their authority.
It is true that the Quran speaks of hellfire in detail, but it is the destiny mostly for those who deny existence of God, and those hardened sinners who do not want to give up their oppressive ways, those who are arrogant because of their wealth and power.
For ordinary, minor sinners, Allah is the Great Pardoner, Reconciler and the Merciful. His love and mercy are ever-flowing for those who repent and are ready to mend their ways. One should seek this mercy and grace through love of and devotion to God. It is love which can completely transform even an evildoer. Those who realise the power of love, like Meera and Maulana Rumi, never hesitate to renounce their love of power, which both these personalities had if they wished to exercise it.
It is love of power, arrogance and wealth which leads to all evils in the world and it is the power of love which negates all these evils and makes this world a paradise. Now it is for us to go for love or for fear. One who loves God is truly fearless and true to the Sufi doctrine; indeed, it is love which is God and it is God who is love.