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Last Updated: 2010/08/14
Summary of question
What does the phrase "المجاز قنطرة الحقیقة" refer to? Please explain Islam’s standpoint on “metaphoric love”.
What does the phrase "المجاز قنطرة الحقیقة" refer to? Please explain Islam’s standpoint on “metaphoric love”.
Concise answer

1. Islamic scholars believe that there is no more than one true love in this world and that being the love for God, the other types of love are considered to be metaphoric, unreal and illusory love. Moreover the term “love” is only fit for God, and attachment to anything else other than Him cannot even be called love; because metaphoric love is in reality eagerness and desire, not love. The characteristics of these kinds of love is that they only exist before one reaches them, but inevitably fade away after spending a short period of time with them. While in the case of God it’s the exact opposite, due to the fact that it actually increases.

2. Metaphoric love helps in making the soul delicate, since lovers constantly wonder about their beloved one, try to obtain his/her satisfaction and are willing to do anything to maintain it.

3. Metaphoric love frees one of this world and any attachments one may have to it, and directs his desires and forces all towards one point and purpose and this very system offers him an easier passage to God; for others have to let go of hundreds of thoughts and desires as opposed to one who is in love that has simply one obstacle to surpass before he can embrace the great blessing of joining his lord.

4. Some people don’t have the proper groundwork and fitting potential to accept the love of God but are ultimately led to it after they go through the experience of metaphoric love, realizing that metaphoric love will never bring abundance to their lives and that god is the only one worthy of their love.

5. Most Islamic scholars have not announced a definite opinion regarding metaphoric love, although mystics and Sufis have approved of it. But on the other hand some faqihs (Islamic Jurists) and theologians have severely condemned it, believing that it is not only a deviation from true love but also deviation from the religion of Islam. This group of scholars maintains that the word “mashuq” or “beloved” cannot be used for God and that all of the poems Sufis have written about love to God were simply a result of carnal desires and failed relationships.

Detailed Answer

True love is the love for God and nothing else. No other love can be claimed to be true love. Essentially these types of love aren’t even love, what they actually are, is eagerness, joy and desire.

The difference between love and eagerness is that eagerness is the desire for something we don’t possess and are looking forward to find, but when we finally get a hold of and spend a short period of time with, we lose the desire to be with it. This is something common in all eagerness.

On the contrary, love keeps on growing and increasing, whether it is before or after we find our love; there is no end to it. This love is confined to God almighty, when one reaches any other being, he realizes that he/she was not worthy of his affection.  At times we might even look back and ridicule ourselves for loving such a person or thing.[1]

So the only true love is the love for God.

However the fact that mystics in Islam have the belief that metaphoric love could act as a bridge to true love has its explanations.

In the ninth chapter of the book “Isharat”, regarding the different levels of mystics, Ibn Sina states:

“One who has intended to reach God must devote himself to asceticism for three purposes; first: separating and detaching other than God from God, second: making nafs al ammara (the inciting nafs) obedient, third: making the soul light and softened in order to enhance its consciousness and awareness.”

He then goes on to say: “The third purpose can be facilitated by two things:

First: Subtle mindset and gentle thoughts. Second: Pure and modest love in which the beloved one’s good characteristics play the main role and carnal desires have no say in.”[2]

Here we can see in the words of Ibn Sina the first indications of metaphoric love being a bridge and path towards the high levels of love of God for those who seek it.

Imam Fakhr Al-Razi in his commentary on Ibn Sina’s words, says:

“The effect of love in lightening the soul and making it delicate is for the reason that one who is in love constantly gazes on and pays complete attention to the beloved, the acts and movements, presence and absence, wrath and happiness, whether his beloved one speaks or moves, he is always pursuing his every decision hence the soul grows gentle. In accordance with the above, it has been narrated that somebody had a dream where “Majnun” was asked: How did God treat you? He replied: God has presented me as a proof (example) to those claiming to be his lovers.”

In commentary of this section of Isharat, Khajah Nasiruddin Tusi says:

“Metaphoric love softens, makes vulnerable and brings joy to the soul, it frees it of all the different worldly attachments and prepares it to solely think about the beloved one and to leave everybody behind. As a result his care, desires and wishes will eventually be focused and concentrated on one purpose. This very behavior makes it easier for him to focus on God better than others, for they have to liberate themselves of hundreds of diverse wishes, desires and aims while he has simply one obstacle to surpass before he can embrace the great blessing of joining his lord.”[3]

Therefore metaphoric love is a means for a beginner in the journey to God, to draw together his thoughts and aspiration. But how exactly this kind of love helps one to reach true love is a question that Imam Fakhr al-Razi believes the answer to is that the attention the lover pays to the beloved one is the key to the peace of mind and calmness love gives to the soul. In Khajah Nasiruddin’s perspective on the reason behind the tranquility and softness love brings along with itself, whoever falls in metaphoric love is freed from all attachments except one attachment in such a way that turning to true love is much easier and in any event can be considered as a preparation for true love.

We might be able to say that the phrase"المجاز قنطرة الحقیقة"  makes sense because the potential of every person for acquiring certain spiritual statuses is not equal, making them incapable of directly finding true love which is the love for God. As a result they will have to experience metaphoric love in order to unknowingly prepare themselves for true love by freeing themselves from the diverse and various worldly attachments they might have and falling into the right path. In line with the above Ayn al-Quzat Hamadani declares:

“Oh my friend, look at Layla as a grain on the skirt of the true beloved one. What do you know about this trap? When the eternal hunter [God] decided to make Majnun a mount for his love, but saw that Majnun doesn’t have what it takes to fall into the trap of His love, a love in which one ray of can kill you, he brought about Layla and made him the mount of her love for a short while, so that he would mature in her love, so that he could bear the love of Allah”.[4]

Perspective of Islamic scholars on metaphoric love:

Not only do the words of Islamic mystics and philosophers contain no signs of opposition to metaphoric love, they actually, as witnessed above, believe it is a channel and means to true love.

However, most Islamic scholars have not pronounced their opinion on the subject of true love or don’t have a decisive opinion as to whether it is right or wrong.

But some Faqihs (Islamic jurists) and Theologians have a conflicting opinion regarding this matter and perceive it to be a deviation and distraction from true love declaring that this type of love has been promoted by Sufis. Some declare that the word “love” should not be used for God Almighty and things pertaining to mystical spiritualism are prohibited and condemn the idea of describing God as the beloved one, just like how some don’t have a respectful opinion regarding Sufism, in particular, and romantic poems, in which they believe, are a the result of carnal desires or failure in love.[5]

[1] In this regard, you can refer to: Mutahhari, Morteza, Tafsire Sureye Hamd.

[2] Dr. Huseini MalekShahi, Tarjome va Sharhe Esharat va Tanabbohate Ebne Sina, pg.446, chapter 8.

[3] Seyyed Yahya Yasrebi,‌ Falsafeye Erfan, pg. 332.

[4] Aynul-Qozat Hamedani, Tamhidat, pg. 96; Seyyid Yahya Yasrebi, Falsafeye Erfan, pg.326.

[5] See: Davud Elhami, Davarihaye Mutazadd darbareye Ibn Arabi; Seyyid Yahya Yasrebi, Falsafeye Erfan,pg. 351.

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