Tuesday, February 19, 2008,1:58 am
'Love is a Flame'
So here's something that started off as an English paper from long ago, and ended after much extension as a choppy investigation into spirituality... It ended up being a litlte less flowery and a little more scholarly (boring?) than originally intended, because I felt like I threw in too many generalized speculations.

'Love is a flame...': A Mystical Look at Faith

“Love is a flame, burning away all that is not God.”
-Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi

The most direct and literal meaning behind these words attributed to Jalaluddin Rumi is a concept very similar to the theme of one of Maulana Muhammad Baig's speeches that really helped illuminate this thought process: that when a person truly and entirely loves someone, the mind's attentions and heart's eyes roam endlessly in search of the object of those affections. No matter where a lover is or what actions he's engaged in, everything to him will somehow go back to musings of his Beloved. Love thus burns away all other thoughts, all other inclinations, all other priorities, and the Beloved becomes the only One left. In Shi'ite philosophy, we know this all-encompassing love of God as "ma'refah"; or such recognition of God that a lover becomes immersed in the lifelong remembrance of Him and his every moment takes on the intention of Qurbatan'Ilallah (nearness to God).

Maulana Baig pointed out in the same speech that when you truly love someone, you will also love every pathway that leads to Him, and hence when you truly love God, every good action that promotes nearness to Him will become dear to you (and inversely, every action that limits your nearness to Him will become hated). This is why when we are truly touched by faith, it isn't just the sincerity of our prayers that increases; our entire lives are turned around in the most intricate manner as we begin to look longer at each aspect of our existence and learn to replace the meaningless with the profound. Maybe the minute behavioral changes we often make amid the journey are just as dear to God as the obvious ones... It is not strictly in adding a few supplications to our daily routines while continuing to confine our remembrance of our Beloved to specific times and places that we can deepen our servitude to God; when we work to improve qualities within ourselves to make us better people at all hours of the day, the level of self-control and commitment it takes to consistently act accordingly is often an even more taxing and engaging struggle and hence the love from Him too must be heightened.

Love is a concept many in the world disbelieve in, despair of, or mistrust; because as with faith, horrible things are often done in its name by people who never understood it to begin with, and it can be difficult to distinguish among the countless shallower sentiments often mistaken for the coveted ideal. But when we rid ourselves of these understandable doubts and dare to have faith in love's veracity based on the inexplicable evidences that dwell within the unseen realms of our hearts, even while not having foolproof evidence of its reality by which to silence the adamant skeptics*, we challenge ourselves to the very same feat the faithful undertake when they dare to believe in God.

When we open ourselves to faith in love, whether for God Himself or merely a familial being He has joined us with, we inadvertently unlock a second inner door: faith in the Almighty, because both involve convictions that are greatly subject to external doubt and can ultimately be verified best by how they inwardly make us feel. Characterizing these rapid openings as a flame metaphorically reflects the suddenness with which we can sometimes find ourselves overcome by such convictions and how all of life’s other obstacles and distractions can seem to abruptly burn away when we open our hearts to sincere belief.

A flame does not only burn, but also by virtue of its central purpose gives light. We often become blind wanderers in this world; our vision obscured by the distractions and material extravagances that seem to us so essential. Love gives our eyes their light back because it teaches them to seek out what is truly 'real' in life; to look beyond this existence of two seconds and see everything in the context of the bigger picture of eternity. In the ascetic masterpiece "Light Within Me", it is said that the 'urafa (knowers) perceive tawhid- defined as the knowledge that the ultimate and truest reality is God- the 'wajib ul wujud' (Necessary Being) and all else is 'mumkin ul wujud' (possible existents)- as "the sublime peak of humanness and the final goal of his spiritual journey."

One of the many meanings of love is 'to prefer', and affection indeed causes us to develop two kinds of preferences: preferring others above our own selves (ithar), and preferring the best for the ones we care about- making better submitters of us on the whole because as we come across essential truths to apply to the betterment of our loved ones, we can't deny the need to apply them to ourselves as well. When it comes to the state of our own souls, we often have no problem allowing ourselves to be afflicted by ignorance and the darkness of sins because the responsibility of self seems doesn't seem a big deal. But when we consider the fate of a loved one, an alertness reawakens inside us: we begin struggling to seek out the most important things in the world so we can ensure our beloved is never deprived of them. A mother may not notice the cold when it bothers her a little, but when the question of her child arises she'll stop at no length to make sure he's snugly shielded.

One of the basic fundamentals of love is self-sacrifice (the basis of 'ithar'). Love by nature, no matter who it's felt for, teaches the human being to see beyond himself and overcome his animalistic self-absorption by yearning, aching, worrying, struggling for one that is not a part of him, with no personal gain but the internal warmth of serving another that cannot be acquired so completely in any other way. The beautiful thing about this is that it serves as a finite reflection of man's overarching purpose on the whole... Love is almost an inevitable precursor to the fulfillment of life's very object: for man to so deeply submit himself to God that he becomes a flame of servitude, forsaking his 'self' and allowing his ego to smolder in the fire of his fervent spiritual devotion. Effacement of self is the final pinnacle of the spiritual journey, the last step toward self-perfection and the ultimate nearness to God.

Ultimately, what Maulana Rumi knew better than most is that all of love by its very design is ultimately meant to lead back to God, for He is the singularly Worthy, the One who Himself created it and our very capacity to experience it out of His love for us: his supreme creations. The object of the fulfilled life is to immerse oneself in the love of God and allow every other fragment of existence to burn away in the midst of that immersion.

When a flame burns something, it is said to change its inherent composition. So too does love of any sort change who we inwardly are when we are truly engulfed by it. Perhaps at its best, this change can arise in the form of a spiritual clarity so intense that it makes God infinitely more reachable- like a fire burning all the bridges that lead astray, leaving only truth's luminous pathway in its wake.

* There are people who would insist on disbelief even if God Himself tatooed a proclamation of His existence on their foreheads. The first rejector of faith, in fact, was a jinn known today Satan, who spent 6,000 years engaged in worship before damning himself for eternity by opposing a command that came directly from God. Even having had a clearer connection with God than most of us can even imagine and revelling in His Greatness for 60 centuries, Satan allowed the vessel of evil within him- his ego- to come in the way of his ultimate purpose and forever remove him from it. Why is Satan the ruler of hell, the shepherd of all doom? Because there is no misfortune whatsoever as bad as developing distance from God, which is why in Islam we make the niyyah (intention) of our every prayer (and ideally our every action) the exact opposite: "Qurbatan'Ilallah" (nearness to God).

Pic taken from Sheerie the Fay

posted by R
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