Loving God in pursuance of results, rewards and merits would be to reduce one’s love for others or even for God ultimately to the vanity of “self-love” or “self-worship”—the worst form of utilitarianism, self-serving vanity, and self-idolatry called egotism or narcissism.
By Henry Francis B. Espiritu
According to the spiritual teaching of Sufism or Islamic mysticism, the process of becoming fully human and truly humane, of becoming free, and of growing spiritually (i.e., more integrated in one’s inner self) is an effortful, tedious and difficult process. This struggle for our spiritual and emotional growth is analogized by Sufi mystics as “dying before one’s death in order for one to be transformed into a new creation”. Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi taught that to know God is the key to become an authentic human person; but to become an authentic human person, one needs to die to his old carnal and depraved nature and arise to the newness of life through a change of heart and soul.
Natural Resistance of Apathy
For the Sufis, there is a divine force inside each human person that gently persuades and prods individuals to grow against the natural resistance of apathy, lethargy, sloth and entropy. There is a virile power that makes persons undergo the tedious process of pain and suffering towards achieving their integrated selves—and this divine force hidden in each of us is Love. The famous psychiatrist-philosopher M. Scott Peck defines Love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or other’s spiritual growth.” He explains the motivation of love as the altruistic nurturing of one’s and other’s life for the purpose of mutual spiritual growth. According to Scott Peck, maturing spiritually, i.e., to become more and more an integrated person happens because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves and we love others.
It is through love that we elevate or transcend our own petty selves. And it is through our love for others that we assist them to elevate themselves. Love, then, is the extension of the self to other selves. It is the very principle and the dynamic act of divine evolution—spiritual evolution in the progress of one’s inner self towards wholeness, authenticity and integration. According to Scott Peck, the evolutionary force present in all of Life “manifests itself in mankind as human love”. It is Love that is the motivating force of spiritual progression that stirs people to become more and more of their true selves in each other’s presence and to become more and more steadily alive and sensitive to each other’s needs and concerns.
Without Reference to God
Furthermore, in Sufi mysticism, a person who is conscious of his own inner self, who is attuned to the inner selves of other people, of the world (and the ongoing cosmos), and who is conscious of the Divine Self indwelling in his innermost self, will love all things and all beings only on account of God, as contrasted with loving things without reference to God, but only for themselves. Sin, on the other hand, loves creatures without further reference to God.
At this juncture, I feel that it is relevant to quote from one of the greatest woman Sufi saints of Islam, Hazrat Sayyidah Rabi’ah Basri Adawiyyah. She was reported to have prayed in this manner:
Oh Allah, my Beloved: if I adore You out of fear of Hell, then burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise, then lock me out of Paradise!
But if I adore you for Yourself alone, then do not deny me to partake of Your Eternal Beauty!”
It is interesting to note that at its purest, this profound insight that humans should love God only for Himself (i.e., for His own Being/His very own Person) and not so that they might gain happiness or heaven, or anything else for themselves, will make humans truly altruistic, instead of selfish. Loving God in pursuance of results, rewards and merits would be to reduce one’s love for others or even for God ultimately to the vanity of “self-love” or “self-worship”—the worst form of utilitarianism, self-serving vanity, and self-idolatry called egotism or narcissism.
The Sufis teach that the object of the search and the struggle towards achieving an integrated self is to become more and more an “authentic self” (in Arabic, “Insan al-Kamil”, which means an “integrated and divinized person”), reflecting the divine attributes of the Beloved (i.e., God) within the person’s own being. The “Insan al-Kamil” is one who loves all sentient beings and the whole ongoing universe only for the sake of God. To be an “authentic human” means to be in union with all, whose character is becoming God-like by imbibing the unfathomable empathizing and unconditional love of God or becoming the Truth embodied by manifesting sincerity and authenticity in one’s being towards one and all. To become like God in one’s character and behaviour means to be a responsible creature who manifests and acts out his stewardship (“Khilafah”) of God’s world according to God’s expressed will, only out of pure and unconditional love for God.
An Immeasurable Loving Kindness
More than submission to the demands of a legalistic God, the “authentic human” as “Insan al-Kamil” loves God by becoming an embodiment of love himself/herself; and loving to save all sentient beings and not loving God to be simply saved. To be an “authentic human” entails an immeasurable loving kindness that enables one to realize the common bond of existence that ties together all real existents in this ongoing universe. It is this common bond of existence that allowed St. Francis of Assisi and Hazrat Rabi’ah Basri Adawiyyah to claim brotherhood with the sun, sisterhood with the moon, and kinship with every being that exists in the cosmos. Such bond is possible because St. Francis and Hazrat Rabi’ah (likewise, all saints of various faith traditions) viewed every being within the context of a loving Father/Mother God who is the Divine Progenitor, Generator, Divine Source and Womb of everything that is. Therefore, for Islamic Sufism, our human authenticity and our true humanity will only find its full expression and authentic manifestation in union with this Divine Oneness of Existence (Wahdatul-Wujud)—through God, with God, in God and for God and God alone.
(Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines, Cebu City. His research interests include Islamic Studies, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives and Islamic environmentalism)