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For the Sake of Love

The tendency to categorize matters is a deeply ingrained aspect of our human nature. This quality is useful in most cases such as communication, self-protection, organization et al. However, in the encounter of spiritual matters, this innate reaction is less efficient due to the liquid and unidentifiable essence of the metaphysical world. From a theological perspective, this labeling becomes most prominent within the theory of opposites, or more precisely, good or not good. Though the simplest, and usually the first step of tagging, the comfort labels bring into our lives create issues when we attempt to discern the justice or the mercy of God through what He provides. Our shallow judgment on what is good and what is not sucks us into a vortex where we disregard the unity behind the duality. In hindsight, nothing is as binary as it appears— the seek for duality simply acts as a form of escape in need. To embrace “one” and abandon “the other”, thus establishing a sense of belonging, is the main ingredient in cultivating our comfort zone we eventually befall hostage to. Almost as if through conventional indoctrination, we have been collectively forced to polarize the “yins” and the “yangs” of this world and deviate towards a conclusion where the two do not coexist. Surely, “looking at the brighter side of things,” is a frequent saying to be heard in common language, though its prevalence has drained out its genuineness, making it tacky and feeble to the ear. Nevertheless, similar to how in the origin of all things that have become tacky and feeble today lay some degree of truth, in addition to the noble aspiration to unveil the hidden beauties within adversities, this entry will also deliver the concept that humans are simply incapable of knowing any better, or in the words of, namingly, the first existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “God’s definition of the distinction between good and evil outranks that of any human society,” therefore one should practice perfect contentment, ridha.

When contemplating on the justness or the ‘adl name of God, it is important to understand that His judgment parallels His mercy in accordance with the Divine Law. Id est in Judaic mysticism, God’s judgment is reprimanding hot water that if poured alone in a cup, it would break it; His mercy, on the contrary, is freezing cold water, that, again, if poured alone into a cup, would break it. His justice however, is the combination of the two, therefore through neutralization, prevents the cup from breaking once poured[1]. According to this allegory, humans resemble the cup in the metaphor, who if exposed to either one of the two could neither handle His mercy, nor His judgment solo. Therefore, similar to how in the yin-yang fashion, the yin exists within the yang and vice versa, the judgment and mercy of God exist within one another in harmony and to divorce them contradicts the very definition of God’s justice. Essentially by human depiction, “justice is when you get exactly what you deserve— but what can we earn in a relationship to a God who needs nothing [yet] gives us everything? Can you pray enough to the One who gave you a tongue, a mouth, a body and an existence [to pray with]? How can God be unjust if He takes something from you, when He is the owner of everything in existence including you?” By default, no aspect of our finite existence could satisfy an Entity of Infinity, nor could our barren scope of comprehension ever grasp His all-encompassing qualities. Vicadent, as stated in the 23rd verse of Surah al-Araf, it is we who have “wronged ourselves” by result of our free will; and not God who has imprisoned us into a foul life. The idea that lies in the foundation of this quote has led early mystics like ‘Attar to delve in the following poetic expression,

“I am not, but all evil is from me,

There is nothing but Thou, but all beneficence is from Thee.”

Obviously, the “wronging of self” alluded to in this case is not only meant as a cause for evil, but also as in how one responds to it— because though some capacity of evil stems from the choices of individuals, there is also other evil that comprise rather “natural occurrences” that surpass human will. In this case, one is evaluated based on their reaction to the occurrence. They can submit to the greater will of God willingly or begrudgingly, be selective, or be so filled with their egotistical desires that they refuse to do so altogether, thus “wrong themselves”; afterall, the outcome is indifferent to God regardless of their decision. But submission plays a key role for the individual in order to reach contentment in this world, and by extension the next, because, concurring with the earlier mentioned statement of Kierkegaard, human capacity is incapable of differentiating good and evil to make a judgment call to begin with. This is best summarized by the Quran where God states: “[...] Perhaps you dislike something which is good for you and like something which is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know,” (Qur’an 2:216). Scilicet, though we have some qualities that reflect the thorough justice of God, our oversimplified perspective on good and evil averts us from being (the most) just per se. Ergo, one should submit by what Kierkegaard will later refer to in his philosophy as, virtue of the absurd. The absurd arises when one’s desire to comprehend the certain philosophies of life clash with their delinquency to do so with certainty, hence the “Allah knows and you do not know,” portion of the before stated verse of the Qur’an. From a theological perspective the absurd is, then, where the mortality of humankind contradicts the omniscience of God. On this account, it is only natural for humans to submit to a Greater Virtue and “accept” God as opposed to defying their mortal qualities.

Submission by virtue of the absurd takes a slightly different toll within the frames of Sufism, since, the perfect state of contentment, ridha, requires one to not just submit, but also submit in gratitude for the sake of love. In the words of early Egyptian ascetic and Sufi Dhū’n-Nūn, “Ridha is the joy of the heart in the bitterness of the Divine decree,” and derives from selfless love where one is content with all that is provided by the Beloved. Introduced by a Sufi woman saint from Basra, Rābi’a al-‘Adawiyya, the concept of ‘absolute love for God’ displayed utter importance amongst Sufis, shortly becoming one of the central topics of the tradition. Requiring the display of an indifferent attitude regardless of the Beloved’s will for His servant; the Sufi way of welcoming all that comes from God with gratitude, notwithstanding it being good or bad, has outlined the concept of love within this milieu. In Sufi tradition, the relationship between a mystic and the Creator resembles that of a lover and Beloved— as mysticism alone can be defined as love of the Absolute: “[...]for the power that separates true mysticism from mere asceticism is love: Divine Love that makes the seeker capable of bearing, even of enjoying, all the pains and afflictions God showers upon them.”[2] Yearning to unite with the Beloved, the longing for God eradicates the significance of all that is created in time and space for the Sufi, making them immune to any worldly pain or gain. Siding with the neutral state of constant remembrance and thanksgiving of / to the Divine, the adopted philosophy is “not to be happy for what is, and not to be sad for what is not.” Consequently, in spite of the blessing or suffering coming from God, exactly how in a platonic relationship the lover is content with any acknowledgment that comes from their beloved, the Sufi pine for God in that same fashion aside from bestial desires. The state of ridha however, becomes most striking in Sufism when this already-beyond-world love transforms into one that forgoes the pains and the gains of the afterworld / eternal life also. Followed by Rābi’a, almost every drunk lover of the Beloved has expressed the idea that “the lover must be [so] in the way of love that they do not remember Hell or Paradise.” From this perspective, those who do good deeds and expect Paradise in return, or refuse to commit sin out of fear for Hell are insincere with their faith, “for ‘a few hūris and castles’ promised to the pious in Paradise are mere veils hiding the eternal Divine Beauty.” This understanding supports why one can never gain salvation through their own means in Islam and instead it is God’s mercy which merits them the salvation. This idea is best depicted by Imam al-Ghazali in his ostensibly small, yet substantially influential book O Son!, where he tells the story of a pious man who prostrated in prayer for 70 years. In order to test the man’s faith and reveal to His angels that even a man of such devotion, in essence, can not earn another step beyond the gates of Paradise without His mercy, Allah assigned two angels to inform the man that he was bound for Hell. Although he had done nothing but to be mindful of God his entire life, upon hearing his judgment, the man showed no difference in reaction and said: “We were only created to worship the Creator, truly worshiping Him is the only thing that suits us,” then continued with his prayers. By virtue of the man’s level of ridha, at the end of the story, Ghazali relates that the Merciful grants him Paradise. Abridge, the mortal qualities of the worshiper lead to the acknowledgment that one should only seek refuge in God's mercy and justice, thus continue obeying their duties, as surely, He is the most Just and Merciful.

[1] Halwa, A. Secrets of Divine Law [2] Schimmel, Annmarie, The Mystical Dimensions of Islam

1 Comment

I can't remember the last time I was completely engaged in reading a piece. It is beautifully written and the content is so powerful and easy to comprehend. You awakened my passion for Sufism. Thank you for sharing with us your valuable insights.


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