The term dīn is not understood in our Tradition as the term religion is throughout Western religious history, but rather carries four primary significations: (1) indebtedness; (2) submissiveness; (3) judicious power; (4) natural inclination or tendency.1 This article aims to discuss some of the concepts regarding love and suffering that often comes as a consequence to it.
The verb dāna, which derives from the term dīn, conveys the meaning of being indebted. A dāʾin, that is to say, one in debt, finds himself subjected to the ordinances governing debts and to the creditor himself. Such, naturally, involves judgments—ones that are carried out in organized societies and cities, denoted by mudun or madāʾin. The existence of a set of laws must presuppose a manner of acting consistently with what is reflected therein, thus embracing a mode of acting that is considered natural with regard thereto. Such signifies the final implication derived from the term dīn: one’s natural tendency, or fiṭrah.2
While the fiṭrah yearns to submit to its Creator and is in harmony in a state of submission, it is not only a matter of man’s natural tendency to submit to God as it is of loving Him. It is an element of the fiṭrah that it loves God, wishes to see its Beloved content with it, and despises discontentment on His part. Should we resort to contemporary poetry which captures the essence of the matter, we may cite Maḥmūd Darwīsh, who writes,
Some say that love is the essence of life,
And others that it is a lie.
Both are truthful—
For the first has met his soul,
While the other, of it, is deprived.
It is the very essence of man’s nature to be in love with His Creator and submit to His Commandments, be delighted in committing that which contents Him, and displeased by what displeases Him. It is the highest virtue for the attainment of happiness in this worldly life.3 To be just is to act with wisdom, wherein wisdom entails knowledge of the proper place of a certain thing, and man is just to himself when he realizes his own status before God and submits his soul to Him through devotion and immersion, and it is in such a state that the meaning of love is clarified.
It ought not to be forgotten that it is a woman who completes and fulfills a man, as it is she who completes the paired order, in the case of a man, through which God created everything. (“And of everything, We have created pairs.”) It is natural, as such, that fulfillment of the heart be attained through the completion of this pair, and such a notion is portrayed in language as well. The Arabs are known to have called their women ḥinnah, referring to what—or who—the heart craves, thus indicating a degree of emptiness that takes hold when it is away from its beloved.4 It is reflected as well in the very names of Laylā and Majnūn, their stories being an allusion and an elaboration of the concepts that are deeply embedded into their very names. Wine, for example, was known to the Arabs by the name of Umm Laylā, for its induction of a state of ecstasy, and it is not a matter of coincidence that ‘wine’ (khamr) itself is one of the names that love carries. Imām Ibn al-Qayyim lists a plethora of others for the state—hawā, ṣabwah, sadam, ḥuzn, kamad, istikānah, ḥuraq, and suhd, among others—all of which fundamentally revolve around yearning, suffering, and burning, portraying that the term, lexically, is inseparable from the emotions experienced by lovers upon separation.5
It is not only in the Arabic language that the concept appears in such a ripe manner, but its reflection in the Qurʾān itself is evident. The Book of God describes spouses—who are going to be construed as lovers, in this case, due to the clear allusion to love between them—as ‘garments’ for one another. The term has been interpreted by some to refer to the residence of the heart, in that the object of love resides in the heart of the lover, as Imām al-Ṭabarī writes.6 It is on a similar note that it is suggested that the term libāsan has been employed to refer to embracement, through which the lovers become one, both physically and what transcends the physical realm.7 Imām al-Qushayrī dedicates a section in his Risāla to a discussion on love as it pertains to God, although its implications similarly apply in the case of a man’s mortal beloved:
God then adds to the description of the lovers, saying they are “humble before the believers,” since they sacrifice their hearts for the Beloved without animosity, and sacrifice their spirits to protect the Beloved, without holding back even a tiny sliver for their own comfort. He then says of them, “They strive in the path of God, and they do not fear the blamer’s blame,” since they strive within themselves to carry out all religious injunctions, strive in their hearts to curb wishes and desires, strive in their spirits to eliminate attachments, and strive in their inner hearts to stand straight and firm in contemplation at all times. He then says, “They do not fear the blamer’s blame,” since they pay no attention to the company of friends, nor seek personal fortune, nor feel the burden of fate or fortune, while never swerving from the path of fidelity.8
The strife that man will be willing to undergo for any particular thing will be contingent upon his love for it. He who seeks wealth and attaches a priority greater to it than what he attaches to who he is meant to love will naturally be willing to undergo a greater degree of strife, under natural circumstances, for his wealth over who ought to be his beloved. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Actions are by intentions, and every man shall have that which he intended [to attain]. Should one emigrate for the sake of God and His Messenger, his emigration will be for God and His Messenger, and whoever emigrates for the sake of the dunyā or to marry a woman will likewise have emigrated for what he sought.” Emigration itself is an initiative that requires strife. (It is indeed under cruel circumstances that God’s Emissary had been forced to undertake it.) And if we are to use the terms interchangeably and synonymously—‘emigration’ and ‘strife’, that is—the ḥadīth itself would seem to portray the love we may have for a certain thing over another, for one may indeed ascribe greater importance to his beloved than God, or to some material gain over his beloved, thus, in both cases, thwarting the attainment of the purest and the highest form of love, and being led astray by an unrefined form thereof.
Regardless, for those who have attained the state of love, regardless of its purity and depth, while it may appear to be elementary for observers to make effortless assertions regarding how the victim of love may escape the pangs of his love-stricken heart, this approach of his would be faulty, and fundamentally arise from a state of ignorance. Even if we should entertain the notion that the speakers have in fact been in the positions of the audience, we cannot forget that our experiences and stances are not only based on the nature of an event itself, but are tied in with our resilience, sensitivity, knowledge, wisdom, and prior experiences that have shaped our perceptions.
It is particularly love that defies external comprehension. A sufficiently strong understanding of the state cannot be gathered through a mere retreat to relevant literature, but, rather, on the contrary, little will he find helpful until he immerses himself in the state, as it is not a mere matter of knowledge as it formulates in the mind, but a matter of experience that affects both the mind and the heart. Its sanctity may not be undermined by conflating it with infatuation, as the latter pertains to the eyes’ mere fondness for a particular characteristic or an individual, without any sharing of the delight or the pain experienced by the object of infatuation (contrarily, infatuation dissipates when the object appears to be the source of pain, hurt, or even annoyance), while love is a matter of the heart.
It is a state—the purest conceivable one.9 While it may be difficult to formulate a definition that encompasses all the aspects, essential or accidental, one definition, in particular, implicitly comprises the existing facets—that love is the heart’s delight in finding the beloved. It is a state in which two hearts, in union, transcend mere materialistic conceptions, although the entailments of their union may be externally perceptible and experienced in the forms of bliss and delight, and their separation in yearning, boiling, and stirring as they, in their thirst and passionate longing, crave union.10 It does not attain a perfect form through stagnancy, but must rather grow through reciprocation and suffering.
While it certainly is possible for one to love another unrequitedly, what unrequited love yields, alongside the pain experienced on the part of the lover, is his zeal, and what it places in the path of the lover is an obstruction that thwarts the attainment of the highest form of love. He may find it impossible to extinguish the fires that rage in his heart, or leave that which he holds on to for the sake of the future he envisions with his beloved, and allows the fires to spread as no other blessing as beautifully waters his heart, and grants his mind a purpose for which he may wish to exuberantly tread into the future. Nor will he, despite his raging heart, attain the most complete state of love, for the element of reciprocation, among lovers, must be present so that they may nurture their love, and along with it their hearts. While one’s experiences may grant him insight into life and prepare him for more difficult trials, it is suffering together that strengthens the lovers’ bond, for the cognition of blessings requires the cognition of loss.
The concept of separation can shed light on this matter. Muḥammad ibn Umayyah writes,
Separation upon separation,
Each meeting without reunion.
When the riders dismount to convene,
Already the camels groan to leave.
My soul is in Syria, where you are—
Not in Iraq!
I crave you! If you saw my heart, you’d know—
How much I love you and burn for you!
Distance from our beloved is often what we need, despite it being not what we may inherently desire. It is what allows our hearts to yearn for those we love, enabling us to discern the blessed nature of our past states—to witness the significance of the gifts we had taken for granted, and to appreciate them once they are returned to us.11
In a state of bliss, man seldom contemplates upon his circumstances, whereas in a state of suffering, insofar as suffering pertains to loss, he can see the privilege with which he was surrounded. Insān, the term for man in Arabic, is derived from the term nasiya, meaning to forget. Man is, by nature, a forgetful animal, and it is so that he may be reminded of his blessings and be relieved of hardships that life consists of alterations between ease and suffering. To suffer is not to be cursed, but to be gifted, for our cognition of the reality of the dunyā rests upon the extent to which we have experienced loss. al-Yūsī writes,
What tries and tests us is beneficial, as it trains and encourages the spirit to cope with calamities, to cushion their force, and provides comfort against their onslaught, and against the religious and worldly trials that occur. Trials educate the mind by familiarizing it with the vicissitudes of time and granting insight into the way of things.12
The pain we experience upon loss is equivalent to our attachment, and it is this loss from which suffering arises. Accordingly, one may find himself more grieved at the loss of a seemingly minor object over that of an elaborate, ornate one, due to a specific attachment he has for the former. Man finds himself drowning in sorrow when he lacks a future to eagerly anticipate, and so he attaches himself to his past in a feeble attempt to survive the present. But when one robs the present of its reality, he robs himself of the opportunity to grow spiritually and intellectually beyond himself, thus stripping his life of any meaning,13 for they forget that if there is any meaning in life at all, there must be a meaning in suffering.
We shed tears upon loss for what was lost had been beloved to us, or because her death led to the loss of a state of ignorance that we had been attached to, for the state that we would subsequently enter is one that would show us the ultimate reality. There is nothing a lover would not do for the sake of his beloved—no trial that he would be unwilling to undergo or sea that he would not sail, and despite the zeal and the dedication that the lover may possess in his heart, grief is the price he must pay for love. As al-Ḥusayn ibn al-Ḍaḥḥāk lamented,
I swear, a beautiful breast caused my demise
And forced a deep sigh from me.
Though I laughed from the pleasure it gave me.
It made me fall apart with grief.
Reflecting on his sister’s tears as she thought about having to let go of his hands once again, al-Yūsī composed,
Saddened by separation, she is saddened by love for me,
Passion aching in her ribs.
To the point where her eyes vie with the rain,
And the bed on which she reclines burns her sides.14
Marcel Kurpershoek writes, “With her push and pull, she attracts the lover and ensnares him in her web. The poet tries to keep his composure, but is powerless against the heart’s dictates. The heart itself is at the tender mercies of the beautiful lady—it is she who holds the heart’s strings,”15 as he elaborates upon Ibn Sbayyil’s verses:
She twists the rope, then unties the knot, at will:
I can’t make head or tail of it.
And so the heart is left in a state of constant rebellion, and the lover struggles, upon loss, to allow his reason to dominate, given its captivity in the hands of the beloved.
But even if loss should truly manifest, it is better for man to pay with grief than not love at all. Grief is the culmination of love. To grieve deeply is to have loved fully. Man must open his heart to it rather than close it; embrace suffering rather than distract his heart from it, lest he exacerbate his condition and thwart growth and understanding; and not resemble those who allow their nufūs (sing. nafs) to dominate, unaware that whatever escape they seek shall only be temporary and pull them deeper into the abyss of their own making, for while sorrow is a natural byproduct, suffering is a choice. Man chooses to suffer by tormenting himself with visions of what could have been. It is a part of the suffering man’s nature to treat his blessing as a curse, due to his conviction that the absence of the blessing would imply the absence of his suffering, forgetting that it would likewise imply the continuation of the suffering he had been relieved of, along with the loss of the delight he had received from the very blessing he laments, thus stealing whatever contentment he may have had the opportunity to attain.
It is not necessary that contentment require the absence of pain and discomfort, for one may well be content while he suffers, for contentment lies in conviction of the truth,16 not merely as it pertains to God’s Existence, but also regarding His Power and influence over all things, and His Exalted position in front of the believer. “It is the soundness of knowledge that reaches the heart, for when the heart encounters the reality of knowledge, it attains contentment.”17 While the believer may be immensely pained, he may not be discontented should he possess sound wisdom.
Man must never ascribe permanence to what is temporary, nor make it the purpose of his existence. Avoiding attachments is impossible—for love necessarily leads to their formation—but one must not live for the sake of his beloved, but with her, as ultimate fulfillment is not attained by directing one’s purpose towards his mortal beloved, but by directing it towards permanence with his temporary blessings. The world is a passing manifestation without constancy, and should one make what is transient the purpose of his life, his life will cease to retain both meaning and purpose upon its evanescence. Utter loneliness engulfs man when he denies or doubts God, or repudiates the covenant that his Soul has formed with Him, as it is this covenant upon which his very identity is established. The ultimate and final attachment must, as such, be formed with the Eternal, for the one who attaches himself to Him shall never experience loss, be shown the wisdom behind His actions, or be disappointed by His rewards. Indeed, it is in His Presence that true contentment is attained.
And Allāh knows best.
- Al-Aṭṭās, Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islām.
- One may consult either al-Aṭṭās’s Prolegomena or Islām and Secularism for a more detailed discussion on the term.
- Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn.
- Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī.
- Tafsīr al-Rāzī.
- ʿĀʾishah al-Bāʿūniyyah writes, “It is said that the term “love” (maḥabbah) indicates the purity of states, as in the expression “the dew (ḥabab) of teeth,” meaning they are pure white.” Refer to Principles of Ṣūfism for further details.
- Al-Qushayrī, Risāla.
- It is as the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Every affair of the believer is good. If something good happens to him, he is grateful to Allāh, and that is good for him, and if something bad happens, he is patient, and that, for him, is good.”
- Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
- Introduction to Arabian Romantic, a collection of ʿAbd-Allāh bin Sbayyil’s poetry.
- Al-Aṭṭās, Islām and Secularism.
- Ibn al-Qayyim, Madārij al-Sālikīn.