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MAHABBA (LOVE)

Mahabba means fondness, tender and kind feelings, inclination, and love. Love that affects and invades one’s feelings is called passion; love that is so deep and irresistible that it burns for union152 is called fervor and enthusiasm. Sufis have defined love as the relation of the heart with the Truly Beloved One, the irresistible desire felt for Him, the struggle to comply with His desires or commandments in all acts and thoughts, and the state of being enraptured and intoxicated without “sobriety” until the time of union or re-union. These definitions can be summed up as “standing” in the Presence of God, as being freed from all transient relationships and worries.

True love means that a lover is set wholly on the Beloved, is always and inwardly with Him, and always has no other desire and wish. The heart of a person who has such a degree of love always beats with a new consideration for the Beloved at every moment. His or her imagination always travels in His mysterious climate, his or her feelings receive new messages from Him at every moment, his or her will takes wings with these messages, and he or she passionately desires to meet Him.

While a lover who transcends his or her self with the wings of love and reaches the Lord at the points of passion and enthusiasm, and in such a condition carries out his or her responsibilities toward the King of his or her heart, that same heart is set on His vision. Such a believer’s nature is “burned” with the light of Divine Grandeur, and lost in wonder and amazement. With the cup of love on one’s lips, while the veils of the Unseen are lifted one after the other, he or she becomes intoxicated with studying the meanings coming in rays from behind those veils, and is enraptured with the pleasure of watching the scenes behind them. One’s walking and stopping occur at the command of God, speech is no more than the inspirations coming from Him, and silence, when observed, is done in His name. At various times he or she journeys toward Him in “His company,” or is occupied with communicating His message to others.

Some have defined love, in the context of God’s love of His distinguished servants, as doing good, and as obedience, devotion, and unconditional submission in the context of a servant’s love of God. The following couplets of the female Sufi saint Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiya are significant in expressing this meaning:

You talk about loving God while you disobey Him;
I swear by my life that this is something very strange.
If you were truthful in your love, you would obey Him,
For a lover obeys whom he loves.

Love is based on two important pillars: that which is manifested by the lover’s acts (a lover tries to comply with the Beloved’s desires), and the lover’s inner world (a lover should inwardly be closed to anything not related to Him). True men and women of God mean this when they talk about love. According to them, emotional concern with or love of any kind of pleasure, including spiritual ones or interest, cannot be called “love” in its true sense. It can only be figurative love.

Every lover cannot feel the same degree of love for the Beloved, for love varies according to the lover’s spiritual and emotional depth, the degree of consciousness of and care in obedience to the Beloved. For example, the love felt by those beginning the way is not established and constant. They dream of acquiring the rank of perfect goodness and, at times, receive signs of the Knowledge of God, thrill at the twinkle of the “light” appearing on their horizon, and vaguely feel amazement and wonder. 

On the other hand, those who have made much progress fly in the heaven of love toward the highest point. They live in the bright climate of the Qur’an as embodiments and examples of the good morals of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. While trying to represent his good morals, they expect no material or spiritual reward and demand no pleasure. Even at the summit of this holy representation, like fruit-bearing trees whose branches bend with the weight of their fruit, they lower their wings of humility and always mention the Beloved. If they are shaken with a fault or error, they severely criticize and fight with their selves. 

And finally, those most advanced in the love of God are like rain clouds in the “heaven” of Islam. They feel existence by Him, live with Him, and see and breathe by Him. In a never-ending cycle, they are filled with pangs of separation (from Him) and desire to meet Him; when relieved or emptied, they mount on a beam of light and descend to Earth to embrace the whole of existence.

One who turns to Him with heartfelt desire and sincere enthusiasm, regardless of the degree of love, receives a reward according to the depth of feeling and concern for Him. The first group of people mentioned above receive special favor and mercy. The second group of people reach the horizon of perceiving the Attributes of Grace and Majesty and are freed from defects of character. Those of the third group are illumined by the light of His Being, awakened to the reality of things, and are in touch with the dimension of existence behind veils. That is, the Almighty manifests the light of His Grandeur to burn up the corporeal attributes of those whom He loves and elevates them to the realm of Divine Attributes, such as the All-Seeing and All-Hearing. He awakens them fully to the fact that they are poor and helpless before Him, and fills their hearts with the light of His existence.

One whose love has reached this degree, and who is rewarded with so much Divine favor, attains an eternal life beyond existence or non-existence. Like a bar of iron put into fire and thus appearing as a bar of fire, such a lover may be unable to distinguish the Divine Being and His manifestations, and therefore express feelings and experiences in terms associated with such false beliefs as incarnation and union (with God). In such circumstances, one must consider the Sunna’s established criteria. 

The expressions uttered by profoundly spiritual individuals lost in love of God and intoxicated with love cannot be used as criteria by which to judge them. Otherwise, we may feel enmity toward such friends of God, who are favored with His continuous company according to the Prophetic Tradition: A man is with him whom he loves, and, as declared in the hadith qudsi: Whoever becomes an enemy of My friends has waged war on Me.

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Last Updated on April 6, 2002

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