The Dialectic of Love in Early Persian Sufism

William C. Chittick

The Annual Noruz Lecture by a Distinguished Scholar of Iranian Studies

March 2005

When I was invited to deliver this lecture, I immediately thought of the poetry recitation that so often marks the celebration of Noruz. Typically the topic is Spring, but, as often as not, that is simply another excuse for the poets to talk about love. The importance of love in Persian poetry set me to thinking about the current popularity of Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî and the fact that most people who read him have no idea of the role that love plays in the world view that infuses both his poetry and that of most of the other great poets of the Persian language. Perhaps, I thought, our failure to understand the meaning of love in Persian culture can be another meaning of the famous first line of the Divan of Hâfiz:

Come Saki, pass the cup, pour the wine,

for love seemed easy at first–then the problems began.

When we read Rûmî or Hâfiz celebrating love, at first it seems easy to understand what they are saying, because we have all been in love and we have all experienced its ups and downs. But, the more we pay attention, the more we realize that there is a lot going on in the poetry for which our own experience of love and our own cultural background have not prepared us.

Persian speakers who have looked at the popular translations of Rûmî into English and compared them with the original are well aware that they are seldom very accurate and, to put it mildly, fail to catch something important and vital in the original language. The most important thing that is missing, however, cannot be supplied simply by making the translations “more accurate.” The real problem is the profound cultural gap that separates modern English speakers from the pre-modern Persian world. Moreover, many Persian speakers today suffer from the same cultural gap, which began to appear from the moment that Western models of education were introduced in Iran during the early twentieth century.

What I am saying is that today, our basic difficulty in understanding the message of poets like `Attâr, Rûmî, Sa`dî, and Hâfiz is that they offer subtle expressions of a world view that is alien to most of us, even those who happen to be native Persian speakers. This means that, although anyone with a good knowledge of Persian will be able to appreciate the poetry’s beauty, few will have much understanding of how the poets actually looked at the world. The problem is not so much the literal sense of the words, but rather the whole structure of the symbolic universe of Persian culture in pre-modern times. Our own world view, into which we have been indoctrinated since infancy, would have been utterly incomprehensible to the Persian poets, and, if we take the trouble to understand their view of reality, we will find that it is in fact very strange to us.

One of the best places to investigate the sort of thinking that inspires Persian poetry is the early works of Persian prose that first explore the themes and imagery of love. These works, which belong mainly to the Sufi tradition, began to flower around the turn of the sixth/twelfth century, 250 years before the appearance of Hâfiz. The most famous of the early authors is Ahmad Ghazâlî, who wrote the short treatise on love, Sawânih.[i] A much more important and detailed source for the imagery and symbolism of love poetry, however, is Kashf al-asrâr, the ten-volume Koran commentary by Rashîd al-Dîn Maybudî, which was completed in the year 520/1126, the year of Ahmad Ghazâlî’s death. This book is one of the greatest classics of Persian literature and an enormously rich source of Sufi teachings, but it has largely been ignored by scholars of Sufism, both in Iran and in the West.[ii]

I would have liked to spend time talking about Kashf al-asrâr, but eventually I decided to focus on another great classic of Persian literature from the same period, a book that has been even more neglected by modern scholarship. This is Rawh al-arwâh, “The Refreshment of the Spirits,” written by Ahmad Sam`ânî, member of a well-known family of scholars from Marv, who died at the young age of 46 in 534/1140. It is a 600-page commentary on the ninety-name names of God, the first commentary of its kind in Persian, though the genre was common in Arabic. It is divided into many chapters, each of which deals with one or two names of God.[iii]

Sam`ânî’s basic theme in Rawh al-arwâh is that no matter what the literal meaning of a name of God may be, it always expresses God’s love for human beings. It makes no difference if the name signifies mercy or wrath, forgiveness or vengeance, gentleness or severity. The apparent meaning is not nearly as important as the underlying intention of the one who is named by the name, and that intention is love. Love is the key to understanding God, creation, and man’s role in the universe. Sam`ânî’s position on the divine names is similar to that of a much more famous figure in Sufism, who was flourishing a hundred years later. This is Shams-i Tabrizi, Rûmî’s teacher. According to Shams, each and every verse of the Koran is an `ishq-nâma, a love-letter from God.[iv]


Love’s Foundation

Sam`ânî follows the standard Sufi position on the nature of love by telling us that, like all other realities, love begins in God himself. This is simply an assertion of the first principle of Islamic faith—tawhîd, the declaration of God’s unity. Muslim authors took it for granted that God is one, and they worked out the implications of divine unity in a great variety of ways and in many different fields of learning. What tawhîd basically means is that everything comes from God at the beginning, everything returns to God at the end, and everything is sustained and supported by God at every moment.

The Sufi teachers made the world view of tawhîd much more explicit than did experts in theology and jurisprudence, but, in contrast to them, the Sufis preferred indirect and symbolic language, which helps explain why so many of them were poets, and relatively few of the theologians and jurists. When we hear Sufi poets talking about love, we need to keep the indirection of their language in mind. Otherwise, we might easily jump to the conclusion that they mean the same thing that we would mean if we were talking. Their discussion will then appear easy, because we will tie it down to our own experience and understanding. But, if we pay attention, we will see that love is not nearly as easy as it seems, because it is all about putting aside mundane experience and opening up the soul to new levels of perception and insight.

In the world view of tawhîd, love descends from God, and all love is ultimately love for God. The Sufi poets may sing about many different objects of love, but in fact they are praising the beauty of God and expressing their love for what is truly and ultimately real. This is especially difficult for us to grasp nowadays, because our world view is quite the opposite. We are not taught to believe that love descends from on high, but rather that it rises up from the bottom. Our schools and universities, not to mention popular culture, train us to think that, no matter how beautiful love may appear, it is subjective and has nothing to do with the real nature of the universe. In the end, love goes back to sex, hormones, and psychological hang-ups. This is the standard Freudian view that dominates in our culture, and it is one version of the all-pervasive scientific world view. By the very nature of its presuppositions, science reduces things to a material, physical base. It can only address the physical world, where love has the least resonance and the least reality. In its way of looking at things, everything begins at the bottom and stays at the bottom. Any talk of “going up” or of “loving God” can be nothing but an expression of psychological need or self-deception. As Freud put it so clearly, religion is nothing but an illusion. In the world view of the Persian poets, however, the worst illusion is to think that the universe is anything more than a passing cloud.

Among the Sufi poets, Rûmî is the most explicit about the reality of love. In the Mathnawî he goes into great detail explaining the difference between love that is “true” (haqîqî) and love that is “metaphorical” (majâzî).[v] True love is love for God, that is, love for that which is truly real and truly beautiful. Metaphorical love is love for anything other than God. What is other than God is illusory, which is to say that it is not in itself true, real, and beautiful. Love seems easy at first because, when it does come, we think we are in love with somebody. We fall into problems because, in fact, that person is not truly real, just as we ourselves are not truly real. Love of an unreal being for an unreal being is precisely “metaphorical love.” Nonetheless, as the Arabic proverb puts it, “The metaphor is the bridge to the reality” (al-majâz qantarat al-haqîqa). Any metaphorical love can be the bridge to true love. Or rather, every metaphorical love is in fact the bridge to true love, but most often we fail to see this. As Rûmî puts it, we become infatuated with the radiance of the divine beauty shining on a mud wall. We think we love the wall, but in fact we love the radiance.

The solution to the problems of love can only be found in wine. If the saki comes and pours wine, then the veils of ignorance and illusion will be destroyed. This is the same wine that God will give people to drink in paradise, and it is also the same wine that was drunk on the Day of Alast, when God took covenant with the children of Adam. This kind of wine, far from dulling the mind and clouding the perception, opens up the heart to an understanding of who it is that we truly love. Without it, people remain stuck in the metaphor and fail to see the reality.

In the following verses, Hâfiz refers both to the wine drunk on the day of the Covenant, and the fact that it is wine that opens up our eyes in this world:

Don’t look for obedience, steadfastness, and piety in me—I’m drunk,

and I became famous for throwing down wine on the Day of Alast.

At soon as I made my ablutions in the fountain of love,

I recited the prayer for the dead over all that exists.

Give me wine, and I’ll make you aware of the secret of that Decree—

whose face it is I came to love and whose scent has made me drunk.


The Dialectic of Love

Like many other Sufis, Sam`ânî’s favorite Koranic verse about love is “He loves them, and they love Him” (5:54). This verse sets up a two-sided relationship. “He loves them” means that God is the lover, and man the beloved. “They love Him” means that man is the lover, and God the beloved. Thus God is both lover and beloved, and man is both lover and beloved. This verse should already alert us to the fact that the dialectic of love that infuses Persian poetry—the constant give and take between lover and beloved—is rarely clear-cut. Because of the indirection of the language, it is frequently difficult to understand if the poet means to say that man is lover and God beloved or vice versa. There is a confusion of roles precisely because each lover is also beloved.

If we apply the distinction between true and metaphorical love in order to differentiate between lover and beloved, we can see that God is always a true lover, for God is by definition reality and truth (haqq). This is why Sufi texts often express tawhîd with the formula, “There is no lover but God.” As for man, as long as he takes God as his object of love, then he is a true lover, for he has come to understand that “There is no beloved but God.” If he takes some other object as beloved, his love is metaphorical. “The problems of love” have everything to do with the difficulty of discerning between God as he truly is and God as we understand him, or as we perceive him filtered through the world and our thoughts.

When Sam`ânî cites the verse of mutual love—“He loves them and they love Him”— he typically reads it as asserting the deepest truth about existence in general and human existence in particular. This truth is that God loves man by definition, and man loves God by definition—it is written into the very nature of things. The love that arises in our hearts can be nothing but love for God, because there is no other love.

Nonetheless, there is also a second sort of love-relationship between God and man that comes into play when we take into account the manner in which people grow and mature in their humanity. God loves man by definition, and he created the universe because of his love for human beings. But people are not simply static recipients of divine love. They can change their situation through the gift of free will. They are able to attract more of God’s love if they follow his instructions on how to live the life of love. The Koran refers to these instructions in another verse that the texts frequently quote in explanations of love: “Say [O Muhammad!]: If you love God, follow me, and God will love you” (3:31). If the servant devotes himself to God by following the Prophet, he will earn God’s special love. Or, as Sam`ânî puts it, addressing Muhammad, “The dirt of your pure footsteps is the alchemy of our love” (254).

A commonly cited saying of the Prophet that refers to this second kind of love is a hadîth qudsî in which God says,

My servant never ceases drawing near to Me through voluntary works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am his hearing through which he hears, his sight through which he sees, his hand through which he grasps, and his foot through which he walks.

If God is the hearing through which man hears and the sight through which he sees, he is also certainly the heart and mind through which he loves. So, if man loves God, who in fact is the lover? Is it the servant, or is it God loving through the servant? And if man is God’s beloved, who in fact is the object of love? God says that he loves the servant, but if God is the servant’s hearing, sight, and other faculties, then he is simply loving himself. In short, we can see that these basic texts, so frequently cited by the Sufis, support the idea of a clear reciprocity between God and man, an obvious give and take in matters of love. In this dialectic, however, subject and object, lover and beloved, knower and known, quickly become confused. This is simply because they are essentially fused. They are two sides of one unifying principle, that of tawhîd.

Coming back to Rawh al-arwâh, we see that Sam`ânî cites love as the only word used by the Koran to set up an equality of relationship between God and man. He mentions several Koranic verses that stress the difference between God and his creatures. In contrast, he says, “when God gives news of love, just as He affirms it for Himself, He also affirms it for us—‘He loves them, and they love Him.’” In continuing his explanation, he alludes to the title of his book, “The Refreshment of the Spirits.”

Here there must be a secret that will increase “the refreshment of the spirits” of the lovers: Knowledge, power, life, holiness, everlastingness, and unity are the attributes of God’s Essence, and God’s Essence is holy and incomparable. . . . When we look at the human essence, we see that it is tainted and distracted. It is a muddiness, a dark water, a clay. . . . Nonetheless, the site of love is the heart, and the heart is pure gold. It is the pearl in the ocean of the breast, the ruby in the mine of understanding. No hand other than God’s has ever touched the heart, and no one else’s eye has ever fallen upon it. Witnessing by God’s majesty has polished the heart, and burnishing by the Unseen has placed its seal upon it, making it bright and limpid. Since the work of the heart has all of this, the Presence of Divine Exaltation has a love for it. . . . So, our love abides through His love, not His love through our love. (519-20) Notice that for Sam`ânî—as for the Sufi tradition in general—the key to love lies in the heart. But here we have to be careful about what we understand by the word dil. In modern times, the heart has come to signify emotions, sentiments, and the artistic side of human nature, and it is contrasted with the mind, which is the sober, rational, and scientific side of our nature. The Koran and all of Islamic literature, however, employ the word heart to signify the spiritual seat of the person, the fundamental nature of which is `aql—intelligence, rationality, and clear-sightedness. Emotions, feelings, and affectivity—the things that are associated with the heart in modern thought—cloud the heart and prevent it from seeing things as they really are. Moreover, far from being an emotion or a feeling, the love that rises up in the heart is a divine reality establishing an ontological link between man and God, lover and beloved. Love is that real quality of being that brings about union and unity and leads to a perfect understanding and embodiment of tawhîd.


The Origin of Love

The goal of love in whatever form it may take is to bring about union between lover and beloved. Thus, God’s love for man and man’s love for God both aim to overcome separation and bring about nearness and union. But “separation” does not pertain to the primordial divine unity itself. Hence the initial goal of divine love is to establish separation between lover and beloved. It is God’s love for creation, in other words, that brings it into existence, but not with the aim of keeping it in existence, for then union could not be achieved. As the famous hadîth qudsî puts it, “I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known, so I created the creatures that I might be known.” Because of God’s love for what was hidden in himself, he disclosed himself (tajallî) by creating the universe, and he did so in order to be known and loved in return. This is to say that God in his eternity, before he ever disclosed the Hidden Treasure, already loved human beings. As Sam`ânî puts it, “In beginningless eternity, the good-pleasure that is ‘He loves them’ was busy with ‘They love Him’, without your intervention” (534).

“Beginningless eternity” here translates the word azal. With Sam`ânî’s words in mind here, we can get a better idea of what Hâfiz means in the line,

In beginningless eternity, the ray of your beauty breathed in self-disclosure—

love appeared and struck fire in all the world.

In another passage Sam`ânî refers to God’s eternal love for man by explaining that, when God says “He loves them,” what he really means is this: “Never have I not been God, and, as long as I have been God in My Godhead, I have loved you” (595).

Or again, the meaning of the words “He loves them” is that God is addressing human beings in these terms:

“Do not suppose that Our business with you belongs to today, or Our talk with you pertains to right now! There was no world, and there was no Adam; there were no substances, and there were no accidents; there was no Throne and no Footstool, no paradise and no hell, no Tablet and no Pen—and I was talking to you without you.” (83)

In short, this essential love of God for man has no beginning, so it has nothing to do with human virtue or vice, obedience or disobedience, good or evil. It cannot be earned, because it pertains to the very nature of things.

In one of the scriptures it was revealed, “I have created the whole world for you, and I have created you for Me”: . . . “I have created the hearts of My servants from My good-pleasure: I kneaded the earth of My loved ones with the pure water of My good pleasure, and then I tied the body to the saddle-straps of the heart and I sent it into the world of form. Next I sent to the meddlesome body a policeman—religious law and exhortation. I said, ‘Let your eyes be controlled by the policeman of religious law, and let your heart be the sitting companion of the sultan of love.’ . . .  O handful of dust and clay! “He loves them, and they love Him.” God did not say, “because of their obedience.” He did not say, “because of their worship.” He detached and purified love from every cause. (203)


The Covenant

For Sam`ânî and others, God declared his eternal love for human beings in the mythic moment known as the “Day of Alast.” During that day he lined up all of Adam’s children before their entrance into the world and had them testify to his Lordship: Alastu bi-rabbikum, “Am I not your Lord?” They responded, “Yes” (balâ). Sam`ânî tells us that we should not be misled by the fact that this verse refers to God’s “Lordship” and man’s “servanthood.” Lordship and servanthood are in fact the surface of the relationship. They represent the apparent situation and pertain specifically to the bodily nature of man. In other words, Lordship and servanthood pertain to gil, not to dil, to clay, not to heart.

Although outwardly He said, “Am I not your Lord?”, He also addressed them inwardly—that was the words, “He loves them, and they love Him.” In this respect He was saying, “I am your friend.” “By day I am the sultan, by night we are brothers.” During the day He opens up the tent of the kingdom and sits upon the cushion of the king, while the elect and the commoners stand before Him. When night arrives once more, He comes down from the throne of the king and sits in the midst like a brother. . .

When He said, “Am I not your Lord?”, that was the time of exercising the sultanate. But when He said, “He loves them, and they love Him,” that was the time of caressing. (512-13)

Like the poets after him, Sam`ânî often speaks about man’s love for God in terms of a man’s love for a woman. In one passage he calls the divine beloved “the veiled virgin of the unseen” (mukhaddara-yi ghayb). He tells us that man alone, among all the creatures of heaven and earth, has the worthiness of being the husband of this bride.

We are the ones lifted up by His knowledge, we are the ones given eminence by His decree. No one came to the angels asking them to marry the Veiled Virgin of the Unseen, the daughter of nobility. They did not have the worthiness to speak to her, for they were mere servants. It would be shameful for the Master to give his daughter to his own serving-boy. Those worthy of being asked in marriage for this veiled virgin were the children of Adam, for they were friends, and a man gives his daughter to a friend, not to a serving boy. . . .

On the day when He said, “I blew into him of My spirit” [Koran 15:29], He set in place the ability of Adam’s children. For, in beginningless eternity, He had decreed that there would be a marriage contract between sheer servanthood and the nobility of utter Lordship: “Am I not your Lord?” That contract could only be made with someone worthy. In Adam’s earth He prepared a subtlety from the pure realm of the Unseen, and that subtlety was the cause of the worthiness, for that subtlety acquired a lineage from the gentleness of the [Divine] Presence. “He confirmed them with a spirit from Him” [58:22] is an allusion to this subtlety. (512)

In the Koran, the marriage contract drawn up between God’s Lordship and human servanthood is called the “Trust.” The Trust, as the verse tells us, was offered to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, but they all refused, and it was carried by man. Hâfiz refers to it in the famous line,

Heaven was not able to carry the burden of the Trust—

The lottery for that work came up in the name of mad me.

Hâfiz is not speaking just for himself here. He is speaking for everyone who has understood the human role in the universe. That the Trust should have been won as the result of a lottery (qur`a) has everything to do with the fact that God did not offer it to human beings because of their merit. The image does suggest, however, that it is a great prize, since heaven and earth were not able to carry it. What it represents is precisely God’s love for human beings and the possibility of loving him in return.

Hâfiz was not the first to talk about the Trust as a lottery. The image goes back at least to Sam`ânî, who refers to it in the following passage:

Noble youth! What is left that He has not done for us? Which robe has He not bestowed upon us? Which honor has He not conferred upon us? Which gentleness has He not inscribed in our name in the register of generosity? Which exaltation has He not sent down upon us? Which proximate angel has He not employed in our work? Which noble prophet has He not sent to our corner? Which instruction did He give that was not for us? Which good news was not about us?

We are those caressed by His gentleness and pulled up by His kindness. We are knowers through His giving knowledge, eminent through His bestowal of eminence, arrivers through His making us arrive, and joyful in arrival at Him. We are the narcissus of the garden of munificence, the cypress of the meadow of existence, the jewel-box of the pearls of His wisdom, the blossom of the lawn, and the light in the eye of the world of His power.

We were created without likeness and peer, and He is a Creator without likeness and peer. It is not permissible for us to have a likeness, nor for Him. “There is nothing as His likeness, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing” [Koran 42:11]. It is permissible for us to have a likeness in respect of power, but not permissible in respect of the jealousy of love. In power, He created a hundred thousand like us, but in respect of love, creating someone like us is never permissible. . . .

The master Abû `Alî [Siyâh][vi] said, “God said about Adam, ‘Surely God chose Adam and Noah’ [3:33]. He said about Abraham, ‘God took Abraham as an intimate friend’ [4:125]. He said to Moses, ‘I made you for Myself’ [20:41]. Then, He said about this handful of dust, ‘He loves them, and they love Him’ [5:54]. ‘God is the friend of those who have faith’ [2:257]. ‘Their Lord gives them to drink of a pure wine’ [76:21].”

From the first, you won the lottery of love.

Heaven and earth, the Throne and the Footstool, paradise and hell, the Tablet and the Pen—all are free-loaders on your existence. . . .

What was intended by these robes was not in fact heaven and earth, the Throne and the Footstool, paradise and hell. Rather, the eternal decree had already been issued that you would pass by these way stations and that you would be casting your glance on these places and stages. “In each way station, We have placed a token of Our kindness so that, when Our friends reach there, they will take their share and portion.” (82-83)

In this understanding of the human situation, it is the human lot to carry the Trust. We won the lottery, whether we like it or not, and we acknowledged God’s Lordship on the Day of Alast. All of this means that we cannot escape or ignore the problems of love, because love defines our nature. And love, as Rûmî in particular likes to remind us, is nothing but thirst, hunger, and need. If it is to be true love and not metaphorical, we need to recognize our own lack of reality and our inherent need for and dependence upon the true Beloved.

This spot of earth is the quarry of need and the mine of poverty and indigence. “Our poverty is our pride.” O Adam! You came into paradise and you sat down at the tablecloth of satisfaction. That’s fine, but why should a traveler have anything to do with the tablecloth of satisfaction? You must invite your children to the Covenant: “Let’s spread out the tablecloth of the words, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ Let’s drink down the cups of ‘He loves them’ one after another. Let’s keep on drinking down the flagons of the gentleness of ‘Their Lord gives them to drink.’”

The highest angels remained in wonder: “Playing the game of love is no surprise from Adam. What is surprising is these children of his, who are leaping on the ship of affliction [balâ’] and sitting down in the boat of ‘Yes [balâ].”

The tongue of gentleness replied from the pulpit of bounty, “Don’t be surprised! They’re ducklings—it’s not necessary to teach ducklings how to swim.”

O dervish! No one in the whole created realm was able to drink wine from the cup from which they drank. The cup of the angels, whether elect or common, was no more than “They are honored servants” [Koran 21:26]. No one in the eighteen thousand worlds other than the children of Adam drank down the cup of the covenant of love—“He loves them.” . . .

Yes, this story is not a wine that just any stomach can tolerate, it’s not a hand that takes hold of just anyone, it’s not a sultan that kills just anyone, it’s not a hat for which every head is worthy, it’s not a wind that blows in every garden, it’s not a tongue that speaks to everyone, it’s not a beautiful woman who lifts her veil for just anyone. . . .

It never occurred to the mind of water and clay that it has the station of servanthood in order that it might reach the degree of friendship. First, in beginningless eternity He talked about you to Himself, and then He talked about you to you.

Shiblî was once asked to what the hearts of the knowers incline. He replied, “To the first things that happened to them in beginningless eternity, in the Presence, when they were absent from themselves.” (156-57)


Love and Affliction

One of the favorite themes of the ghazal is the pain and suffering of unrequited love. The lover is characterized by niyâz—“need”—and the beloved by nâz, an untranslatable word that designates putting on a show of not needing the lover and showing disdain for him. Man may have won the lottery of love, but that does not make him worthy of embracing his beloved. Love, more than it is joy and delight, is trial and tribulation. The beloved will not accept the lover in her embrace until he proves his worth through suffering and toil. In the typical image, which we just saw Sam`ânî employ, by accepting the Trust and answering the question “Am I not your Lord” with the word balâ, “Yes,” the children of Adam threw themselves into balâ’, affliction, trial, and trouble. The source of all pain and suffering is to be separate from what we really love, and that will remain our situation as long as we do not pass from metaphorical love to true love.

Very well has it been said, “There is no alienation with God, and no ease without God.” To be with the Beloved with nothing is sweet, but to be without the Beloved with everything is not sweet. Everyone veiled from the Beloved dwells in affliction itself, even if he has the key to the kingdom’s treasuries in his sleeve. Everyone attracted to the Beloved’s gentleness dwells in bestowal itself, even if he does not have his evening meal. This is why Sarî Saqatî said, “O God, chastise however You want, but do not chastise with the lowliness of the veil, for I do not have the capacity for the veil.” (5)

Given the ontological reality of “He loves them and they love Him,” suffering the pain of love is a fact of the human situation. There is no way to escape the ship of affliction, because to be human is to be a lover. This is what Sam`ânî is saying in this passage:

The kings and sultans of this world decorate their thresholds and courts with spears and shields. [God] decorates the court of Majesty, the porch of Magnificence, and the court of Exaltation with the souls and livers of His truthful ones and His prophets. In every corner there’s one He’s killed, in every nook one He’s burned.[vii] Which body has not been melted in His severity? Which heart has not been caressed by His gentleness? Which soul has not been clutched by the claws of the falcon of His exaltation? Which head is not intoxicated with the wine of His love?

If you go to the khanaqah of the dervishes—burning for Him. If you go to the lane of the tavern-goers—the pain of not having found Him. If you go the church of the Christians—all are on the carpet of seeking Him. If you go to the synagogue of the Jews, all are yearning for His beauty. If you go to the fire-temple of the Zoroastrians, all are burned by His majesty. If you look at His familiars, all are wounded by His drunken eyes and the glances of His beauty. And if you look at those estranged from Him, all are tied down by the bond of His exaltation and majesty. (35-36)

Let me conclude with a line from Hâfiz, on which, in many ways, this paper is simply a commentary:

Everybody’s seeking a beloved, whether he’s sober or drunk, everywhere is the house of love, whether it’s mosque or synagogue.

[i] The Persian text has often been published in Iran. Nasrollah Pourjavady translated it into English as Sawânih: Inspirations from the World of Pure Spirits (London: KPI, 1986).

[ii] Rashîd al-Dîn Maybudî, Kashf al-asrâr wa `uddat al-abrâr, edited by `Alî Asghar Hikmat, ten volumes (Tehran: Dânishgâh, 1331-39/1952-60).

[iii] Rawh al-arwâh fi sharh asmâ’ al-malik al-fattâh, edited by Najîb Mâyil Harawî (Tehran: Shirkat-i Intishârât-i `Ilmî wa Farhangî, 1368/1989). For details on Sam`ânî and selections from his work dealing with the fall on Adam, see W. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Oneworld, 2000), pp. 111-36.

[iv] “For the travelers and wayfarers, each verse is like a message and a love-letter. They know the Koran. He presents and discloses the beauty of the Koran to them.” W. Chittick, Me & Rûmî: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2004), p. 156. For the Persian text, see Maqâlât-i Shams-i Tabrîzî, edited by Muhammad-`Alî Muwahhid (Tehran: Khwârazmî, 1369/1990), p. 634.

[v] For some of his teachings on these points, see Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rûmî (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983), especially pp. 200-6.

[vi] This is Abû `Alî Siyâh (d. 423/1032), a Sufi shaykh from Marv who was a companion of Abu’l-`Abbâs Qassâb and Abû `Alî Daqqâq.

[vii] For modern readers, talk of the beloved’s “killing” the lover may seem a bit gruesome, but the image is commonplace in Persian poetry. Rûmî frequently employs it, often explicitly making the connection with the saying of the Prophet, “Die before you die!” This is death to metaphorical love and birth to true love. The parallel with the Gospel is clear (e.g., Mt. 16:25, Mk. 8:35, Lk. 9:24, Jn. 12:25).