Love’s Creativity

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



The Sharīʿa & Ṭarīqa

In his preface to the fifth book of the Mathnawī Rūmī summarizes
the relationship between the exoteric law (the Sharīʿa), the spiritual
wayfaring which the Sufis undergo (the Ṭarīqa), and the Truth which
is Sufism’s goal (the Ḥaqīqa). He says that the Mathnawī is:

. . . setting forth that the Religious Law is like a candle showing the
way. Unless you gain possession of the candle, there is no wayfaring
[i.e., unless you follow the Sharīʿa, you cannot enter the Ṭarīqa]; and
when you have come on to the way, your wayfaring is the Path; and
when you have reached the journey’s end, that is the Truth. Hence
it has been said, “If the truths (realities) were manifest, the religious
laws would be naught.” As (for example), when copper becomes
gold or was gold originally, it does not need the alchemy which is
the Law, nor need it rub itself upon the philosopher’s stone, which
(operation) is the Path; (for), as has been said, it is unseemly to
demand a guide after arrival at the goal, and blameworthy to discard
the guide before arrival at the goal. In short, the Law is like learning
the theory of alchemy from a teacher or book, and the Path is (like)
making use of chemicals and rubbing the copper upon the philosopher’s
stone, and the Truth is (like) the transmutation of the copper
into gold. Those who know alchemy rejoice in their knowledge of
it, saying, “We know the theory of this (science)”; and those who
practice it rejoice in their practice of it, saying, “We perform such
works”; and those who have experienced the reality rejoice in the
reality, saying, “We have become gold and are delivered from the
theory and practice of alchemy: we are God’s freedmen”. . . .21
The law is [theoretical22] knowledge, the Path action, the Truth
attainment unto God.

Foot Notes:
21 On the spiritual significance of alchemy see Burckhardt, Alchemy: Science
of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul (London, 1967).
22 It should be remembered that the original meaning of the Greek word
theôria is “viewing” or “contemplation”; doctrine is therefore “a view of the
mountain to be climbed.”

The Initiatic Chain (Silsila)

“Whoever has no master (shaykh) has Satan as his master” say the
Sufis, thereby dooming to failure those who dare undertake by their
own means the travel to God. The conditions surrounding the selection
and the reciprocal acceptance of a master and his disciple—the
latter committing himself to his master “like the cadaver in the hands
of the washer-of-the-dead”—and the brotherly and caring feelings
expected to reign between the members of the Sufi orders have been
amply described in the handbooks of Sufism. It will suffice here to
mention the fact that all relevant practices of the Sufis tend to perpetuate
the initiatic pact which was sealed at Hudaybiya when, on their
way back from the “lesser holy war” against the Meccan unbelievers,
Muhammad’s (s.a.w.s) closest Companions took a solemn oath with him to
wage a “greater holy war” against their own inner enemies. Since that
momentous event, a continuous chain of masters and disciples has
carried to the core of the Islamic Community, in all regions and at all
times, the esoteric teachings contained in the Quranic Revelation and
the influence of blessedness (baraka) inherited from Muhammad (s.a.w.s)

~Jean-Louis Michon – October 2005, Ramadan 1426
Sufism: Love & Wisdom – Edited by Jean-Louis Michon & Roger Gaetani

Robert Frager, Heart, Self & Soul

We have all had the experience of failing time after time in changing old habits. Then suddenly these old habits lose their hold on us. What was so attractive suddenly becomes unattractive. This is a sign that God has accepted our repentance. At this point, my sheikh used to say that we are no longer responsible for those old sins. We have truly changed and we are now someone who is not even tempted to commit them.

Robert Frager, Heart, Self & Soul, The Sufi Psychology of Growth, Balance and Harmony  p. 71