Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE NATURE OF LOVE † - Some Religious and Moral Teachings
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THE NATURE OF LOVE † - Al Ghazali, Some Religious and Moral Teachings 
Some Religious and Moral Teachings of Al-Ghazzali (Baroda: Lakshmi Vilas P. Press Co., 1921).
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THE NATURE OF LOVE†
Experiences are either agreeable and therefore desired or disagreeable and avoided. Inclination towards a desired object when deeply rooted and strong constitutes love. Knowledge and perception of the beloved is the first requisite for love which is consequently divided according to the division of the five senses each of which is inclined towards its desired object. Thus the eye apprehends beautiful forms, the ear harmonious sounds, etc. This kind of experience we share with the animals. There is, however, one more sense, peculiar to man, which delights the soul. The prophet has said: “I desire three things from your world, sweet smell, tender sex, and prayer, which is the delight of my eye”. Now prayer is neither smelt nor touched-in fact its delight is beyond the scope of the five senses and yet it has been described as the “delight of my eye”, which means the inner eye-the soul with her sixth sense. Concepts of this special sense are more beautiful and charming than sensuous objects-nay, they are more perfect and strongly attract the soul. Is it not, then, possible, that One who is not perceived by the five senses may yet be found and felt attractive by that sense and loved by the soul?
Let us now enumerate the circumstances which excite love 1. Every living being first of all loves his own self, that is to say, the desire for continuity of his existence as oppsed to annihilation is innate. This desire is augmented by the desire of the perfection of his self by means of sound body, wealth, childern, relations and friends. For all of these serve as a means to the end of the continuity of his self and therefore he cherishes love for them. Even “unselfish” love of his dear son, if probed, smacks of love for the continuity his self, because his son who is part of his self serves as a living representative of his self’s continuity.
2. The second cause is the love for one’s benefactor towards whom the heart is naturally attracted. Even if he be a stranger, a benefactor will always be loved. But it must be remembered that the benefactor is loved not for himself, but for his beneficence, the extent of which will be a dominating factor in determining the degree of love.
3. The third cause is love of beauty. It is generally supposed that beauty consists in red and white complexions, well proportioned limbs, and so forth, but we can also say “beautiful writing”, “beautiful horse”, etc. Hence beauty of an object consists in its possession of all possible befitting perfections. It will vary in proportion to the perfections attained. That writing in which all the rules of caligraphy are properly observed will be called beautiful and so on. At the same time there can be no one standard for judging the beauty of different objects. The standard for a horse cannot be the same for, say, writing or man. It must also be remembered that beauty is not connected with sensible objects only but is also related to concepts. A person is not always loved for his external beauty, but often the beauty of his knowledge or virtues attract the heart. It is not necessary that the object of such kind of love be perceived by the senses. We love our saints, imams, and prophets but we have never seen them. Our love for them is so strong that we would willingly lay down our lives for upholding their good name. If we wish to create love for them in young minds we can produce it by giving graphic accounts of their virtues. Stories of the heroes of any nation will excite love for them.
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind”.
1 4. The fourth cause is a sort of secret affinity between two souls, meeting and attracting each other. It is what is called “love at first sight”. This is what the prophet meant when he said “The souls had their rendezvous: Those who liked each other, then love here; those who remained strangers then do not join here”. If a believer goes to a meeting where there are a hundred manafiks (hypocrites) and one momin (faithful) he will take his seat by the side of the momin. It seems that likes are attracted by their likes. Malik bin Dinar says: Just as birds of the same feather fly together two persons having a quality common to both will join.
1 Let us now apply these causes and find out who may be the true object of love. First, man who is directly conscious of his own self in whom the love for continuity of the self is innate, if he deeply thinks on the nature of his existence will find that he does not exist of his own self, nor are the means of the continuity of his self in his power. There is a being, self-existent, and living who created and sustains him. The Quran says: “There surely came over man a period of time when he was not a thing that could be spoken of. Surely we have created man from a small life germ uniting. We mean to try him, so we have made him hearing, seeing. Surely we have shown him the way, he may be thankful or unthankful.”2 This contemplation will bear the fruit or love for God. For how could it be otherwise when man loves his own self which is dependent on Him, unless he be given up to the gratification of his passions and thereby forgetting his true self and his sustainer.
Secondly, if he thinks over the aim and scope of beneficence, he will find that no creature can show any purely disinterested favour to another because his motive will be either 1. praise or self-gratification for his generosity, or 2. hope of reward in the next world or divine pleasure.3 Paradoxical though it sounds, deep insight into human nature leads us, inevitably to the conclusion that man cannot be called “benefactor”, in as much as his action is prompted by the idea of gain and barter. A true benefactor is one who in bestowing his favours has not the least idea of any sort of gain. Purely disinterested beneficence is the quality of the All-merciful Providence and hence He is the true object of love.
Thirdly, the appreciation of inward beauty, that is to say the contemplation of any attractive quality or qualities of the beloved causes a stronger and more durable love than the passionate love of the flesh. However such a beloved will still be found lacking in beauty from the standpoint of perfection because the three genders are creatures and therefore cannot be called perfect. God alone is perfect beauty—holy, independent, omnipotent, all-majesty, all-beneficent, all-merciful. With all this knowledge of His attributes we still do not know Him as He is. The prophet says: “My praise of Thee cannot be comprehensive, Thou art such as wouldst praise Thyself”.4 Are not these attributes sufficient to evoke love for him? But beatitude is denied to the inwardly blind. They do not understand the attitude of the lovers of God towards Him. Jesus once passed by some ascetics who were reduced in body. “Why are you thus”? he said to them. And they replied “Fear of hell and hope of heaven have reduced us to this condition”. “What a pity”, rejoined Jesus, “your fear and hope is limited to creatures”. Then he went onward and saw some more devotees, and put the same question. “We are devoted to God and revere him for his love”, they replied with downcast eyes. “Ye are the saints” exclaimed Jesus, “you will have my company”.5
Fourthly, the affinity between two souls meeting and loving each other is a mystery, but more mysterious is the affinity between God and his loving devotee. It cannot and must not be described before the uninitiated. Suffice it to say that the souls possessing the higher qualities of beneficence, sympathy, mercy, etc. have that affinity hinted at in the following saying of the prophet: “Imitate divine attributes”. For man has been created in the image of God, nay he is, in a way, akin to Him, says the Quran. ‘And when the Lord said to the angels: Surely I am going to create a mortal from dust, so when I have made him complete, and breathed into him of My Ruh (soul). fall down making obeisance to him”.6 It is this affinity which is pointed out in the following tradition: God said to Moses “I was sick and thou didst not visit Me”. Moses replied “O God, thou art Lord of heaven and earth: how couldst thou be sick?” God said “A certain servant of mine was sick: hadst thou visited him, thou wouldst have visited me”. Therefore our prophet Mahommed has said: “Says God: My servant seeks to be near me that I may make him my friend, and when I have made him my friend, I become his ear, his eye, his tongue.”7 It must, however, be remembered that mystical affinity vaguely conceived leads to extremes. Some have fallen into abject anthropomorphism; others have gone so far as to believe in the airy nothings of pantheism. These are all vagaries of the imagination. whether they take the form of “Ibn Allah”, (Son of God) or “Anal Haq” (I am God).8 They are to a great extent responsible for the evils of superstition and scepticism.
These four causes when properly understood, demonstrate that the true object of our love is God and therefore it has been enjoined: “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind”.9
Man’s highest happiness
The constitution of man possesses a number of powers and propensities, each of which has its own distinctive kind of enjoyment suited to it by nature. The appetite of hunger seeks food which preserves our body and the attainment of which is the delight of it, and so with every passion and propensity when their particular objects are attained. Similarly the moral faculty-call it inward sight, light of faith or reason-any name will do provided the object signified by it is rightly understood-delights in the attainment of its desideratum. I shall call it here the faculty of reason (not that wrangling reason of the Scholastics and the dialecticians)—that distinctive quality which makes him lord of creation. This faculty delights in the possession of all possible knowledge. Even an expert in chess boastfully delights in the knowledge of the game however insignificant it may be. And the higher the subject matter of our knowledge the greater our delight in it. For instance we would take more pleasure in knowing the secrets of a king than the secrets of a vizier. Now delights are either (a) external, derived from the five senses, or (b) internal, such as love of superiority and power, love of the knowledge, etc enjoyed by the mind. And the more the mind is noble the more there will be a desire for the second kind of delights. The simple will delight in dainty dishes, but a great mind leaving them aside will endanger his life and his honour and reputation from the jaws of death. Even sensuous delights present an amusing example of preference. An expert in chess while absorbed in playing will not come to his meals though hungry and repeatedly summoned, because the pleasure of check-mating his adversary is greater to him than the object of his appetite. Thus we see that inward delights and they are chiefly love of knowledge and superiority are preferred by noble minds. If then a man believes in a perfect being, will not the pleasure of His contemplation be preferred by him and will it not absorb his whole self? Surely the delights of the righteous are indescribable, for they are even in this life, in a paradise which no eye has seen and no ear has heard.
Abu Sulaiman Darani,10 the renowned Sufi, says: “There are servants of God whom neither fear of hell nor the hope of heaven can deviate from the divine love, how can the world with its temptations come in their way?”. Abu Mahfuz Karkhi was once asked by his disciples: ”Tell us what led you to devotion” but he kept quiet. “Is it the apprehension of death.” said one of them. “It matters little” replied the saint “Is it due to hell or to paradise”. inquired another. “What of them” said the saint” “both belong to a supreme Being, if you love him you will not be troubled by them”. Saint Rabia11 was once asked about her faith: “God forbid”, answered Rabia: “If I serve him like a bad labourer thinking of his wages only”. And then she sang: “Love draws me nigh, I know not why”. Thus we see that the hearts of those who ate and drank and breathed like us felt delights of divine love which was their highest happiness.
If we think over man’s gradual development we find that every stage of his life is followed by a new sort of delight. Children love playing and have no idea of the pleasures of courtship and marriage experienced by young men, who in their turn would not care to exchange their enjoyments for wealth and greatness which are the delights of the middle aged men who consider all previous delights as insignificant and low. These last mentioned delights are also looked upon as unsubstantial and transitory by pure and noble souls fully developed.
The Quran says: “Know that this world’s life is only sport and play and boasting among yourselves, and vying in the multiplication of wealth and children”. “Say, shall I tell you what is better than these?” For the righteous are gardens with their Lord, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them and pure mates and Allah’s pleasure and Allah sees the servants”. “Those who say: Our Lord, surely we believe, so forgive us our faults, and keep us from the chastisement of fire; the patient and the truthful and the obedient and those who spend (benevolently) and those who ask forgiveness in morning times”.12
Let us now point out some drawbacks which hinder the path of the divine love.
Man from his infancy is accustomed to enjoy sensual delights which are firmly implanted in him. Blind imitation of the creed with vague conception of the deity and his attributes fails to eradicate sensual delights and evoke the raptures of divine love. It is the dynamic force of direct contemplation of his attributes manifested in the universe that can prove an incentive for his love. To use a figure: a nation loves its national poet, but the feeling of one who studies the poet will be of exceeding strong love. The world is a masterpiece; he who studies it loves its invisible Author in a manner which cannot be described but is felt by the favoured few. Another drawback which sounds like a paradox, should be deeply studied. It is as follows: when we find a person writing or doing any other work, the fact that he is living will be most apparent to us: that is to say, his life, knowledge, power and will will be more apparent to us than his other internal qualities, e.g. colour, size, etc. which being perceived by the eye may be doubted. Similarly stones, plants, animals, the earth, the sky, the stars, the elements, in fact everything in the universe reveals to us the knowledge, power and the will of its originator. Nay, the first and the foremost proof is our consciousness, because the knowledge that I exist is immediate,13 and more apparent than our perceptions. Thus we see that man’s actions are but one proof of his life, knowledge, power and will, but with reference to God the whole phenomenal existence with its law of causation and order and adaptability bears testimony of him and his attributes. Therefore, He is so dazzlingly apparent that the understanding of the people fails to see Him just as the bat pereeaes at night fails to see in daylight, because its imperfect sight cannot bear the light of the sun, so our understanding is blurred by the effulgent light of his manifestations. The fact is that objects are known by their opposites but the conception of one who exists everywhere and who has no opposite would be most difficult. Besides, objects which differ in their respective significances can also be distinguished but if they have common significances the same difficulty will be felt. For instance if the sun would have shone always without setting, we could have formed no idea of light, knowing simply that objects have certain colours. But the setting of the sun revealed to us the nature of light by comparing it with darkness. If then light, which is more perceptible and apparent would have never been understood had there been no darkness notwithstanding its undeniable visibility, there is no wonder if God who is most apparent and all pervading true light (Nur)14 remains hidden, because if he would have disappeared (which means the annihilation of the universe), there would have been an idea of him by comparison as in the case of the light and darkness. Thus we see that the very mode of his existence and manifestation is a drawback for human understanding. But he whose inward sight is keen and has strong intuition in his balanced state of mind neither sees nor knows any other active power save God omnipotent. Such a person neither sees the sky as the sky nor the earth as the earth-in fact sees nothing in the universe except in the light of its being work of an all pervading True One. To use a figure: if a man looks at a poem or a writing, not as a collection of black lines scribbled on white sheets of paper but as a work of a poet or an author, he ought not to be considered as looking to anything other than the author. The universe is a unique masterpiece, a perfect song, he who reads it looks at the divine author and loves him. The true Mowahhid is one who sees nothing but God. He is not even aware of his self except as servant of God. Such a person will be called absorbed in Him; he is effaced, the self is annihilated. These are facts known to him who sees intuitively, but weak minds do not know them. Even Ulamas fail to express them adequately or consider the publicity of them as unsafe and unnecessary for the masses.
[† ]Ihya IV 6.
[1. ]Bukhari and Muslim.
[1. ]Bukhari and Muslim.
[2. ]Quran LXXVI 1-3.
[3. ]Ghazzali’s remark should not be confounded with either egoistic or universalistic hedonism. See his remark on the affinity of souls (pages 95 ff).
[5. ]From uncanonical sayings of Christ.
[6. ]Quran XXXVIII 71, 72.
[7. ]See Bukhari Haddis Qudsi
[8. ]Al Ghazzali condemns all such expressions which are called by Cardinal Newman “eccentricities of the saints.” He is aware of their liability to abuse and points out their error in a manner which six hundred years later took the form of Bishop Butler’s dictum that reason cannot abdicate its right of judging obvious improprieties in religious doctrines and persons. “Ibn Allah”, (Son of God) refers to the orthodox Christian view of Jesus. “Anal Haq” (I am the truth, i.e. God) refers to the expression of Husain bin Mansur al Hallaj, who in 309 was crucified in Bagdad for his blasphemy. The poet Hafiz says of him: “Jurmash an bud ki asrar huwaida bikard.” (His crime was that he revealed the secrets
[9. ]St Matthew XXII 35-37. “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him,: Master, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” In the above passage the law referred to is Deuteronomy VI. 5, where instead of mind, the word might is used.
[10. ]Daran, a village near Damascus, where he died in 215 A.H.
[11. ]A famous Muslim woman saint of Basrah, considered to be an authority on Sufiism. She died in 801
[12. ]LVI 0 and III. 14-16.
[13. ]Compare Descartes’: Cogito ergo sum.
[14. ]Compare Quran XXIV 35. “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth: a likeness of his light is a pillar on which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touches it not (heads daffor.) Allah guides to his light whom he pleases and Allah sets forth parables for men and Allah is cogniscant of all things.” Al Ghazzali has written a separate treatise called Mishkat ul Anwar dealing exhaustively with the above passage. An excellent summary of his views is given by Razi in his Commentary, vol. VI. 393-408. (Stamboul edition). In the above parable Islam is represented as a likeness of the divine light, a light placed high on a pillar so as to illumine the whole world, a light guarded by being placed in a glass so that no puff of wind can put it out, a light so resplendent that the glass itself in which it is placed is as a brillinnt star. Just as a fig tree stands for a symbol of Judaism (see St. Matthew XXI 19) the olive stands for Islam, which must give light to both the East and the West, and does not specifically belong to either one of them.
Ghazzali’s vivid description is neither vague nor unsweet. To him Fana is “a prayer of rapture”. “In that state man is effaced from self, so that he is conscious neither of his body nor of outward things, nor of inward feelings. He is rapt from all these, journeying first to his Lord and then in his Lord, and if the thought that he is effaced from self occurs to him, that is a defect. The highest state is to be effaced from effacement”. [Editor: illegible character] Whinfield: Masnavi Introduction p. xxxvii.