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SHAWQ AND ISHTIYAQ (JOYFUL ZEAL AND YEARNING)

Literally meaning strong desire, excessive wishing, joy issuing from knowing, delight, and longing, shawq (joyful zeal) is used by Sufis to express the heart’s overwhelming desire to meet with the Beloved, Who cannot be comprehended and “vanishes” after being “observed.” Some have described it as joyful desire, excitement, and a lover’s excessive heartfelt longing to see the Face of the Beloved. Others have regarded it as a fire that reduces to ashes all desires, wishes, yearnings, and inclinations other than those felt to meet with the Beloved.

Joyful zeal originates in love. The remedy of a heart burning with such a longing to meet with the Beloved is meeting with Him, and shawq is a wing of light that carries the lover to this meeting. Zeal disappears when a lover finds the Beloved, while yearning for Him (ishtiyaq) continues to increase. One who yearns for Him never stops yearning and, whenever favored with a special manifestation of His Essence, wishes for more. This is why the prince of the Prophets and the greatest of humanity, upon him be peace and blessings, who, equipped at each moment with a new radiance of knowledge and love of God and spiritual delight, incessantly traveled between the summits of love, joyful zeal, and yearning, and used to pray: O God! I ask You for zeal to observe Your perfectly beautiful Face and to meet with You.

Some interpreters of the Qur’an, when writing on: Those who believe are firmer in love of God (2:265), remark that joyful zeal is felt toward things that are partly perceivable and partly imperceptible, partly comprehensible and partly incomprehensible. One feels no zeal toward that which he or she has never seen or heard of, or about which he or she knows nothing. Nor does he or she feel interest in that which he or she completely comprehends or perceives.

Zeal and yearning can be divided into two categories. The first is the yearning produced by separation from the Beloved after meeting with and gazing upon Him in the past eternity. The sighs that the flute of Rumi uttered, and the creaking, painful sounds heard by Yunus Emre from the revolving water-wheel express such a separation. These sighs will continue until the final union or meeting with Him. The second is when a lover sees the Beloved from behind a veil, and thus cannot completely comprehend Him. The believer feels His presence but cannot see Him; dips a finger into the honey of love but is not allowed to take a new step further. Consumed with thirst, the believer cries: I am being consumed with thirst! Give me some water! but receives no answer.

The spirit of all men and women observed Him in an assembly of past eternity, where God asked them: Am I not your Lord? and they answered: Yes, assuredly. We testify! After this assembly, either because humanity’s very humanness required it or because humanity had to be tested, to believe in Him without seeing Him, humanity was thrown into the pangs of temporary separation. This is why people always dream of Him in conscious or unconscious longing for Him, and burn with a yearning to re-unite with Him. What is more significant than this is the yearning which the Most Sacred Being feels toward pure, innocent, and unadulterated souls, but only in a way that is appropriate for His essential independence of all being. This Divine eagerness may be the real source of the yearning that enters one’s heart.

Zeal means turning to the Beloved with all inner and outer feelings, and locking out all appetites other than those felt to meet with Him. In the context of yearning, it means one’s over-flowing with desires and wishes related to Him. Both zeal and yearning feed the spirit. Both are painful but exhilarating and wearisome, distressing but promising.

No individual experiences more anguish but is happier than the one who burns with love and groans with zeal. Such people become so angelic when enraptured with the thought and hope of meeting with God that they would not agree to enter Paradise at that moment, even if allowed to do so. They burn inwardly with the pangs of separation to such a degree that even the waters of Paradise could not extinguish the fire in their hearts. Only meeting with the Friend could extinguish such a fire. Paradoxically, they never think of escaping that fire, for even if the palaces of Paradise prevented them from burning with the fire of zeal to meet with the Friend, such people would utter cries resembling those of the inhabitants of Hell seeking to be rescued from Hellfire.

Worldly people cannot know what that zeal means or the state of those who possess it. People of zeal are amazed at worldly people who are so engrossed in worldly affairs and plea-sure. Their amazement is quite natural, for God Almighty told the Prophet David, upon him be peace:

O David! If those who love and show inclination to the world knew how much I care about them, want them to resist against sins, and how I expect to meet with human beings, they would be dying with the zeal to meet with Me.

When the zeal to meet with God invades a lover’s being, the result is an overflow of feelings of pain and delight, and cries of:

Zeal has bewildered me, zeal has burnt me.
Zeal has intervened between sleep and my eyes.
Zeal has invaded me, zeal has engrossed me.
Zeal has overwhelmed me, zeal has stricken me with awe.

This degree of zeal sometimes incites the lover to stand up and dance or spin. The lover should be excused for such movements, as he or she cannot resist such a spiritual state:

Say to him who wants to prevent a man of ecstasies from going into ecstasies:
You have not tasted the wine of love together with us, so leave us.
When souls overflow with the zeal to meet with the Beloved,
Know, O you unaware of spirituality, that bodies begin to dance.
O guide who incites lovers, stand up and move us
With the name of the Beloved, and breathe life into us.

In our own day, some prefer to serve the Qur’an and faith by the way based on acknowledging one’s poverty and impotence before God’s Wealth and Power, and on thankfulness and zeal. In this context, zeal means constant hope and continuing to serve without being dispirited and losing one’s energy. It also means seeking an aspect of Divine mercy even in the most distressing conditions, and then relying upon Him alone for His help and victory.

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Last Updated on April 6, 2002

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