‘Ashq means intense love of and
fondness for perfection, beauty, or physical charm. Sufis usually call this
sort of love figurative or metaphorical love, such as love for the opposite
sex. Real love, the love of the Eternal Monarch, is felt for His Grace and
Beauty manifested within His Majesty, and for His Majesty manifested within His
Grace and Beauty. The real, intense love felt for God is a wing of light
granted to us by Him so that people can use it to reach Him. Feeling such love
can be described as the spirit being like a moth drawn toward the Light, the
essence of existence. This intense love is the most basic and mysterious cause
of the universe’s creation. God has created the universe in order to be known
and loved, and so that those souls awakened to truth would feel and manifest a
deep interest in His Essence, Attributes, and Names.
‘Ashq, which the spirit feels without the intervention
of free will, cannot be controlled by the person so affected, for its real
source is God, Who loves Himself in a way special to His Sacred Essence and is
essentially independent of the created. In addition, it is essentially
different from the love felt by the created for the created or the Creator.
This sacred, essential love of God for Himself, including His Attributes and
Names, is the reason why He created the universe and why He caused humanity to
appear in the world. It is also this love that manifests itself in human beings
as love of God, as the most essential center of humanity’s relationship with
‘Ashq is the final step leading to God, and a lover
who has reached it has no further steps to take. God manifested Himself first
as this sacred, essential love required by His being God. This love must not be
confused with the love a person feels for either the created or the Creator
Himself. As there is no other word more appropriate to express it, I feel
obliged to use “love.”
Some tend to describe Knowledge as this first manifestation
of God, which is regarded as God’s condescension to be known. This
condescension is called “Knowledge,” being God’s manifestation of His
Knowledge; “Sacred Love,” being God’s loving to observe and to be “observed;”
“the Tablet,” comprehending or containing all of existence; and “the Pen,”
handling all things in existence in all their details. Jabarut (the
highest, immaterial empyrean) and the Truth of Ahmad (the Prophet’s Name
mentioned in the original copy of the Gospels and in the heavens) are other
titles of this condescension or God’s first manifestation.
Sacred Love is a mystery special to the Divine Essence.
Other Attributes of His are appended to or dependent on this love. It is for
this reason that those who fly with the wings of ‘ashq reach directly
to the Divine Essence and attain to amazement, whereas others have to pass
through the intermediate realms of the worlds of things and Names.
* * *
The ways leading to God are almost beyond number. Sufism,
the science of truth, contains the food, light, and other necessities travelers
need for the journey, and the (spiritual) orders (tariqas) are the ports from
which they set out, or the schools in which the principles of the journey are
The ways to the Truth can be divided into two main groups.
The first is the way in which the wayfarer is offered or taught such principles
as eating less, drinking less, sleeping less, increasing contemplation, and
refraining from unnecessary social intercourse. Almost all Sufi orders are
based on these practices. The main invocations recited by followers of this way
are the Seven Names: There is no god but God, God, He, the Truth, the
All-Living, the Self-Subsistent, the All-Overwhelming. By reciting these Names,
one seeks to pass through the carnal soul’s seven steps: the Evil-Commanding
Soul, the Self-Condemning Soul, the Soul Having Inspiration, the Soul at Rest,
the Soul Well-Pleased (with however God treats it), the Soul Pleasing (to God),
and the Purified or Innocent Soul. To these seven Names, some add such Names of
Majesty as the All-Powerful, the All-Strong, the All-Compelling, the Master,
and the All-Loving; others add such Names of Grace as the Unique, the One, the
Peerlessly All-Single, and the Eternally Besought-of-All.
The second way is based on strict adherence to the Qur’an
and the Sunna, and the encouragement of certain recitations. Those who follow
this way strive to comply with the Sunna in whatever they do. Rather than
reciting certain Names, they follow the methods used by God’s Messenger to
worship, invoke, and pray; meditate on His acts and creatures; and mention Him
with all of His Names. Joining these activities with a meticulous following of
the commandments of Shari‘a, they are firmly attached to their guides or
teachers and abandon themselves to the tides of ‘ashq and (spiritual)
attraction toward God.
Once they have attained ‘ashq and attraction,
existence with its outer dimension vanishes from their sight. They annihilate
their selves and begin to feel and observe the absolute Divine Unity. At this
point, they immediately come to their senses with-out being confused and going
to extremes in the relationship between the Creator and the created. In such a
manner do they complete their journey.
The basic principles of this second way are regular worship,
love, spiritual attraction toward God, regular recitation, and the
companionship of one’s guide or teacher. In this context reci-tation, in
addition to mentioning God with all of His Names, involves study or attending
classes in whatever leads one to God. This is what the Prophet, upon him be
peace and blessings, meant when he described those with whom God is pleased:
They study together.
At times, a lover finds himself or herself in the stream of
joyful zeal and yearning, which can be regarded as another dimension of ‘ashq.