Love cannot be defined, though its traces can be described. On this point Ibn Arabi the theoretician and Rumi the poet agree completely:
Love has no definition through which its essence can be known. Rather, it is given descriptive and verbal definitions, nothing more. Those who define love have not known it, those who have not tasted it by drinking it down have not known it, and those who say that they have been quenched by it have not known it, for love is drinking without quenching.
Someone asked, “What is loverhood?”
I replied, “Don’t ask me about these meanings –
“When you become like me, you’ll know;
When it calls you, you’ll tell its tale.”
What is it to be a lover? To have perfect thirst.
So let me explain the water of life.
On the divine level, love can be called the motive force for God’s creative activity. In one of his many commentaries on the Hadith of the Hidden Treasure, Ibn Arabi tells us that the kind of knowledge that God loved to achieve through creation was a knowledge that had its origin in time, since He already knew Himself and all things in eternity. Ibn Arabi makes this remark while drawing a parallel between sexual union for the purpose of having children and God’s love to be known for the purpose of creating the universe.
When the marriage union occurs because of the love for reproduction
and procreation, it joins the divine love when there was no cosmos. He “loved to be known.” So, because of this love, He turned His desire toward the things while they were in the state of nonexistence. They were standing in the station of the root because of the preparedness of their own possibility. He said to them, Be!, so they came to be, that He might be known by every sort of knowledge. This was temporal knowledge. As yet it had no object, because the one who knows by it was not yet qualified by existence. His love sought the perfection of knowledge and the perfection of existence.
In another passage, Ibn Arabi explains the meaning of God’s love to be known while commenting on the Koranic verse, “And He is with you wherever you are” (57:4). God’s love for human beings means that He never lets them out of His sight. God’s love for His servants is not qualified by origin or end, for it does not accept qualities that are temporal or accidental . . . Hence the relation of God’s love to them is the same as the fact that He is with them wherever they are [57:4] . . . Just as He is with them in the state of their existence, so also He is with them in the state of their nonexistence, for they are the objects of His knowledge. He witnesses them and loves them never-ending . . . He has always loved His creatures, just as He has always known them . . . His existence has no first point, so His love for His servants has no first point.
In one of his prose works, Rumi explains the significance of the Hidden Treasure by referring to the two categories of God’s attributes – mercy and wrath, or gentleness and severity. God created the world to make all his attributes manifest, and this demands infinite diversity:
God says, “I was a hidden treasure, so I loved to be known.” In other words, “I created the whole cosmos, and the goal in all of it was to make Myself manifest, sometimes through gentleness and sometimes through severity.” God is not the sort of king for whom a single herald would be sufficient. Were all the atoms of the universe His heralds, they would fall short and be incapable of making Him known.
Rumi frequently points to love as God’s motive for creation by commenting on a divine saying addressed to Muhammad: “But for you, I would not have created the heavenly spheres.” The Prophet is the fullness of realized love, through whom and for whom the universe was created.
Love makes the ocean boil like a pot,
love grinds mountains down to sand.
Love splits the heaven in a hundred pieces,
love shakes the earth with a mighty shaking.
Pure love was paired with Muhammad –
because of love God said to him, “But for you.”
Since he alone was the goal of love,
he was singled out from all the prophets.
“If not for pure love,
why would I give existence to the spheres?
“I raised the celestial wheel on high
so that you might understand love’s elevation.
~ Sufism: A Beginner’s Guide – William C. Chittick