ANY one acquainted, however slightly, with the mystical poetry of Islam must have remarked that the aspiration of the soul towards God is expressed, as a rule, in almost the same terms which might be used by an Oriental Anacreon or Herrick. The resemblance, indeed, is often so close that, unless we have some clue to the poet's intention, we are left in doubt as to his meaning. In some cases, perhaps, the ambiguity serves an artistic purpose, as in the odes of Hafiz, but even when the poet is not deliberately keeping his readers suspended between earth and heaven, it is quite easy to mistake a mystical hymn for a drinking-song or a serenade. Ibn al-'Arabi, the greatest theosophist whom the Arabs have produced, found himself obliged to write a commentary on some of his poems in order to refute the scandalous charge that they were designed to celebrate the charms of his mistress. Here are a few lines:

  "Oh, her beauty--the tender maid! Its brilliance gives light like
    lamps to one travelling in the dark.


  She is a pearl hidden in a shell of hair as black as jet,
  A pearl for which Thought dives and remains unceasingly in the deeps
    of that ocean.
  He who looks upon her deems her to be a gazelle of the sand-hills,
    because of her shapely neck and the loveliness of her gestures."

It has been said that the Sufis invented this figurative style as a mask for mysteries which they desired to keep secret. That desire was natural in those who proudly claimed to possess an esoteric doctrine known only to themselves; moreover, a plain statement of what they believed might have endangered their liberties, if not their lives. But, apart from any such motives, the Sufis adopt the symbolic style because there is no other possible way of interpreting mystical experience. So little does knowledge of the infinite revealed in ecstatic vision need an artificial disguise that it cannot be communicated at all except through types and emblems drawn from the sensible world, which, imperfect as they are, may suggest and shadow forth a deeper meaning than appears on the surface. "Gnostics," says Ibn al-'Arabi, "cannot impart their feelings to other men; they can only indicate them symbolically to those who have begun to experience the like." What kind of symbolism each mystic will prefer depends on his temperament and character. If he be a


religious artist, a spiritual poet, his ideas of reality are likely to clothe themselves instinctively in forms of beauty and glowing images of human love. To him the rosy cheek of the beloved represents the divine essence manifested through its attributes; her dark curls signify the One veiled by the Many; when he says, "Drink wine that it may set you free from yourself," he means, "Lose your phenomenal self in the rapture of divine contemplation." I might fill pages with further examples.

This erotic and bacchanalian symbolism is not, of course, peculiar to the mystical poetry of Islam, but nowhere else is it displayed so opulently and in such perfection. It has often been misunderstood by European critics, one of whom even now can describe the ecstasies of the Sufis as "inspired partly by wine and strongly tinged with sensuality." As regards the whole body of Sufis, the charge is altogether false. No intelligent and unprejudiced student of their writings could have made it, and we ought to have been informed on what sort of evidence it is based. There are black sheep in every flock, and amongst the Sufis we find many hypocrites, debauchees, and drunkards who bring discredit on the pure brethren. But it is just as unfair to judge Sufism in general by the excesses of these impostors as it would be to condemn all


Christian mysticism on the ground that certain sects and individuals are immoral.

  "God is the Saqi {Cupbearer} and the Wine:
  He knows what manner of love is mine,"

said Jalaluddin. Ibn al-'Arabi declares that no religion is more sublime than a religion of love and longing for God. Love is the essence of all creeds: the true mystic welcomes it whatever guise it may assume.

  "My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for
    gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
  And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim's Ka'ba, and the tables
    of the Tora and the book of the Koran.
  I follow the religion of Love, whichever way his camels take.
    My religion and my faith is the true religion.
  We have a pattern in Bishr, the lover of Hind and her sister,
    and in Qays and Lubna, and in Mayya and Ghaylan."

Commenting on the last verse, the poet writes:

"Love, quâ love, is one and the same reality to those Arab lovers and to me; but the objects of our love are different, for they loved a phenomenon, whereas I love the Real. They are a pattern to us, because God only afflicted them with love for human beings in order that He might show, by means of them, the

falseness of those who pretend to love Him, and yet feel no such transport and rapture in loving Him as deprived those enamoured men of their reason, and made them unconscious of themselves."

Most of the great medieval Sufis lived saintly lives, dreaming of God, intoxicated with God. When they tried to tell their dreams, being men, they used the language of men. If they were also literary artists, they naturally wrote in the style of their own day and generation. In mystical poetry the Arabs yield the palm to the Persians. Any one who would read the secret of Sufism, no longer encumbered with theological articles nor obscured by metaphysical subtleties--let him turn to 'Attar, Jalaluddin Rumi, and Jami, whose works are partially accessible in English and other European languages. To translate these wonderful hymns is to break their melody and bring their soaring passion down to earth, but not even a prose translation can quite conceal the love of Truth and the vision of Beauty which inspired them. Listen again to Jalaluddin:

  "He comes, a moon whose like the sky ne'er saw, awake or dreaming,
    Crowned with eternal flame no flood can lay.
  Lo, from the flagon of Thy love, O Lord, my soul is swimming,
    And ruined all my body's house of clay.


  When first the Giver of the grape my lonely heart befriended,
    Wine fired my bosom and my veins filled up,
  But when His image all mine eye possessed, a voice descended,
    'Well done, O sovereign Wine and peerless Cup!'"

The love thus symbolised is the emotional element in religion, the rapture of the seer, the courage of the martyr, the faith of the saint, the only basis of moral perfection and spiritual knowledge. Practically, it is self-renunciation and self-sacrifice, the giving up of all possessions--wealth, honour, will, life, and whatever else men value--for the Beloved's sake without any thought of reward. I have already referred to love as the supreme principle in Sufi ethics, and now let me give some illustrations.

"Love," says Jalaluddin, "is the remedy of our pride and self-conceit, the physician of all our infirmities. Only he whose garment is rent by love becomes entirely unselfish."

Nuri, Raqqam, and other Sufis were accused of heresy and sentenced to death.

"When the executioner approached Raqqam, Nuri rose and offered himself in his friend's place with the utmost cheerfulness and submission. All the spectators were astounded. The executioner said, 'Young man, the sword is not a thing that people are so eager to

meet; and your turn has not yet arrived.' Nuri answered, 'My religion is founded on unselfishness. Life is the most precious thing in the world: I wish to sacrifice for my brethren's sake the few moments which remain.'"

On another occasion Nuri was overheard praying as follows:

"O Lord, in Thy eternal knowledge and power and will Thou dost punish the people of Hell whom Thou hast created; and if it be Thy inexorable will to make Hell full of mankind, Thou art able to fill it with me alone, and to send them to Paradise."

In proportion as the Sufi loves God, he sees God in all His creatures, and goes forth to them in acts of charity. Pious works are naught without love.

  "Cheer one sad heart: thy loving deed will be
  More than a thousand temples raised by thee.
  One freeman whom thy kindness hath enslaved
  Outweighs by far a thousand slaves set free."

The Moslem Legend of the Saints abounds in tales of pity shown to animals (including the despised dog), birds, and even insects. It is related that Bayazid purchased some cardamom seed at Hamadhan, and before departing put into his gaberdine a small quantity which was left over. On reaching Bistam and recollecting what he had done, he took out the


seed and found that it contained a number of ants. Saying, "I have carried the poor creatures away from their home," he immediately set off and journeyed back to Hamadhan--a distance of several hundred miles.

This universal charity is one of the fruits of pantheism. The ascetic view of the world which prevailed amongst the early Sufis, and their vivid consciousness of God as a transcendent Personality rather than as an immanent Spirit, caused them to crush their human affections relentlessly. Here is a short story from the life of Fudayl ibn 'Iyad. It would be touching if it were not so edifying.

"One day he had in his lap a child four years old, and chanced to give it a kiss, as is the way of fathers. The child said, 'Father, do you love me?' 'Yes,' said Fudayl. 'Do you love God?' 'Yes.' 'How many hearts have you?' 'One.' 'Then,' asked the child, 'how can you love two with one heart?' Fudayl perceived that the child's words were a divine admonition. In his zeal for God he began to beat his head and repented of his love for the child, and gave his heart wholly to God."

The higher Sufi mysticism, as represented by Jalaluddin Rumi, teaches that the phenomenal is a bridge to the Real.

  "Whether it be of this world or of that,
  Thy love will lead thee yonder at the last."


And Jami says, in a passage which has been translated by Professor Browne:

  "Even from earthly love thy face avert not,
  Since to the Real it may serve to raise thee.
  Ere A, B, C are rightly apprehended,
  How canst thou con the pages of thy Koran?
  A sage (so heard I), unto whom a student
  Came craving counsel on the course before him,
  Said, 'If thy steps be strangers to love's pathways,
  Depart, learn love, and then return before me!
  For, shouldst thou fear to drink wine from Form's flagon,
  Thou canst not drain the draught of the Ideal.
  But yet beware! Be not by Form belated:
  Strive rather with all speed the bridge to traverse.
  If to the bourne thou fain wouldst bear thy baggage,
  Upon the bridge let not thy footsteps linger.'"

Emerson sums up the meaning of this where he says:

"Beholding in many souls the traits of the divine beauty, and separating in each soul that which is divine from the taint which it has contracted in the world, the lover ascends to the highest beauty, to the love and knowledge of the Divinity, by steps on this ladder of created souls." "Man's love of God," says Hujwiri, "is a quality which manifests itself, in the heart of the pious believer, in the form of veneration and magnification, so that he seeks to satisfy his Beloved and becomes impatient and restless in his desire for vision of Him, and cannot

rest with any one except Him, and grows familiar with the recollection of Him, and abjures the recollection of everything besides. Repose becomes unlawful to him, and rest flees from him. He is cut off from all habits and associations, and renounces sensual passion, and turns towards the court of love, and submits to the law of love, and knows God by His attributes of perfection."

Inevitably such a man will love his fellow-men. Whatever cruelty they inflict upon him, he will perceive only the chastening hand of God, "whose bitters are very sweets to the soul." Bayazid said that when God loves a man, He endows him with three qualities in token thereof: a bounty like that of the sea, a sympathy like that of the sun, and a humility like that of the earth. No suffering can be too great, no devotion too high, for the piercing insight and burning faith of a true lover.

Ibn al-'Arabi claims that Islam is peculiarly the religion of love, inasmuch as the Prophet Mohammed is called God's beloved (Habib), but though some traces of this doctrine occur in the Koran, its main impulse was unquestionably derived from Christianity. While the oldest Sufi literature, which is written in Arabic and unfortunately has come down to us in a fragmentary state, is still dominated by the Koranic insistence


on fear of Allah, it also bears conspicuous marks of the opposing Christian tradition. As in Christianity, through Dionysius and other writers of the Neoplatonic school, so in Islam, and probably under the same influence, the devotional and mystical love of God soon developed into ecstasy and enthusiasm which finds in the sensuous imagery of human love the most suggestive medium for its expression. Dr. Inge observes that the Sufis "appear, like true Asiatics, to have attempted to give a sacramental and symbolic character to the indulgence of their passions." I need not again point out that such a view of genuine Sufism is both superficial and incorrect.

Love, like gnosis, is in its essence a divine gift, not anything that can be acquired. "If the whole world wished to attract love, they could not; and if they made the utmost efforts to repel it, they could not." Those who love God are those whom God loves. "I fancied that I loved Him," said Bayazid, "but on consideration I saw that His love preceded mine." Junayd defined love as the substitution of the qualities of the Beloved for the qualities of the lover. In other words, love signifies the passing-away of the individual self; it is an uncontrollable rapture, a God-sent grace which must be sought by ardent prayer and aspiration.


  "O Thou in whose bat well-curved my heart like a ball is laid,
  Nor ever a hairbreadth swerved from Thy bidding nor disobeyed,
  I have washed mine outward clean, the water I drew and poured;
  Mine inward is Thy demesne--do Thou keep it stainless, Lord!"

Jalaluddin teaches that man's love is really the effect of God's love by means of an apologue. One night a certain devotee was praying aloud, when Satan appeared to him and said:

"How long wilt thou cry, 'O Allah'? Be quiet, for thou wilt get no answer." The devotee hung his head in silence. After a little while he had a vision of the prophet Khadir, who said to him, "Ah, why hast thou ceased to call on God?" "Because the answer 'Here am I' came not," he replied. Khadir said, "God hath ordered me to go to thee and say this:
  "'Was it not I that summoned thee to service?
  Did not I make thee busy with My name?
  Thy calling "Allah!" was My "Here am I,"
  Thy yearning pain My messenger to thee.
  Of all those tears and cries and supplications
  I was the magnet, and I gave them wings.'"

Divine love is beyond description, yet its signs are manifest. Sari al-Saqati questioned Junayd concerning the nature of love.


"Some say," he answered, "that it is a state of concord, and some say that it is altruism, and some say that it is so-and-so." Sari took hold of the skin on his forearm and pulled it, but it would not stretch; then he said, "I swear by the glory of God, were I to say that this skin hath shrivelled on this bone for love of Him, I should be telling the truth." Thereupon he fainted away, and his face became like a shining moon.

Love,'the astrolabe of heavenly mysteries,' inspires all religion worthy of the name, and brings with it, not reasoned belief, but the intense conviction arising from immediate intuition. This inner light is its own evidence; he who sees it has real knowledge, and nothing can increase or diminish his certainty. Hence the Sufis never weary of exposing the futility of a faith which supports itself on intellectual proofs, external authority, self-interest, or self-regard of any kind. The barren dialectic of the theologian; the canting righteousness of the Pharisee rooted in forms and ceremonies; the less crude but equally undisinterested worship of which the motive is desire to gain everlasting happiness in the life hereafter; the relatively pure devotion of the mystic who, although he loves God, yet thinks of himself as loving, and whose heart is not


wholly emptied of 'otherness'--all these are 'veils' to be removed.

A few sayings by those who know will be more instructive than further explanation.

"O God! whatever share of this world Thou hast allotted to me, bestow it on Thine enemies; and whatever share of the next world Thou hast allotted to me, bestow it on Thy friends. Thou art enough for me." (RABI'A.) "O God! if I worship Thee in fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise; but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty!" (RABI'A.) "Notwithstanding that the lovers of God are separated from Him by their love, they have the essential thing, for whether they sleep or wake, they seek and are sought, and are not occupied with their own seeking and loving, but are enraptured in contemplation of the Beloved. It is a crime in the lover to regard his love, and an outrage in love to look at one's own seeking while one is face to face with the Sought." (BAYAZID.) "His love entered and removed all besides Him and left no trace of anything else, so that it remained single even as He is single." (BAYAZID.)

"To feel at one with God for a moment is better than all men's acts of worship from the beginning to the end of the world." (SHIBLI.) "Fear of the Fire, in comparison with fear of being parted from the Beloved, is like a drop of water cast into the mightiest ocean." (DHU 'L-NUN.)
  "Unless I have the face of my heart towards Thee,
  I deem prayer unworthy to be reckoned as prayer.
  If I turn my face to the Ka'ba, 'tis for love of Thine;
  Otherwise I am quit both of prayer and Ka'ba."

Love, again, is the divine instinct of the soul impelling it to realise its nature and destiny. The soul is the first-born of God: before the creation of the universe it lived and moved and had its being in Him, and during its earthly manifestation it is a stranger in exile, ever pining to return to its home.

  "This is Love: to fly heavenward,
  To rend, every instant, a hundred veils;
  The first moment, to renounce life;
  The last step, to fare without feet;
  To regard this world as invisible,
  Not to see what appears to one's self."

All the love-romances and allegories of Sufi poetry--the tales of Layla and Majnun, Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha, Salaman and Absal, the Moth and the Candle, the Night-


ingale and the Rose--are shadow-pictures of the soul's passionate longing to be reunited with God. It is impossible, in the brief space at my command, to give the reader more than a passing glimpse of the treasures which the exuberant fancy of the East has heaped together in every room of this enchanted palace. The soul is likened to a moaning dove that has lost her mate; to a reed torn from its bed and made into a flute whose plaintive music fills the eye with tears; to a falcon summoned by the fowler's whistle to perch again upon his wrist; to snow melting in the sun and mounting as vapour to the sky; to a frenzied camel swiftly plunging through the desert by night; to a caged parrot, a fish on dry land, a pawn that seeks to become a king.

These figures imply that God is conceived as transcendent, and that the soul cannot reach Him without taking what Plotinus in a splendid phrase calls "the flight of the Alone to the Alone." Jalaluddin says:

  "The motion of every atom is towards its origin;
  A man comes to be the thing on which he is bent.
  By the attraction of fondness and yearning, the soul and the heart
  Assume the qualities of the Beloved, who is the Soul of souls."

'A man comes to be the thing on which he is bent': what, then does the Sufi


become? Eckhart in one of his sermons quotes the saying of St. Augustine that Man is what he loves, and adds this comment:

"If he loves a stone, he is a stone; if he loves a man, he is a man; if he loves God--I dare not say more, for if I said that he would then be God, ye might stone me."

The Moslem mystics enjoyed greater freedom of speech than their Christian brethren who owed allegiance to the medieval Catholic Church, and if they went too far the plea of ecstasy was generally accepted as a sufficient excuse. Whether they emphasise the outward or the inward aspect of unification, the transcendence or the immanence of God, their expressions are bold and uncompromising. Thus Abu Sa'id:

  "In my heart Thou dwellest--else with blood I'll drench it;
  In mine eye Thou glowest--else with tears I'll quench it.
  Only to be one with Thee my soul desireth--
  Else from out my body, by hook or crook, I'll wrench it!"

Jalaluddin Rumi proclaims that the soul's love of God is God's love of the soul, and that in loving the soul God loves Himself, for He draws home to Himself that which in its essence is divine.

"Our copper," says the poet, "has been transmuted by this rare alchemy,"


meaning that the base alloy of self has been purified and spiritualised. In another ode he says:

  "O my soul, I searched from end to end: I saw in thee naught save
    the Beloved;
  Call me not infidel, O my soul, if I say that thou thyself art He."

And yet more plainly:

  "Ye who in search of God, of God, pursue,
  Ye need not search for God is you, is you!
  Why seek ye something that was missing ne'er?
  Save you none is, but you are--where, oh, where?"

Where is the lover when the Beloved has displayed Himself? Nowhere and everywhere: his individuality has passed away from him. In the bridal chamber of Unity God celebrates the mystical marriage of the soul.

The Mystics of Islam
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