The Journey of Love and the Challenges of the “Self”: Rūmī’s View in an Islamic Context

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By Lim Vin Tsen

Dr. LeyLa Tajer, ACE Department’s Lecturer in Philosophy, History of Western Civilization & World Religions

Dr. Leyla Tajer, is an ACE Department Lecturer, teaching Philosophy, History of Western Civilizations and World Religions. She is also called Dr. Love, a nickname she earned after she had completed her PhD thesis on the subject of Love, specializing in classification, stages, and ingredients of love, self-love and transforming power of love and emotion. In the context of the study of love in religion,” said Dr. Leyla, “there is a research project on ‘the study of love in religion’ at Regent’s Park College in the University of Oxford.

This project endorsed by 308 major Muslim scholars and religious authorities, and positive responses had come from more than 70 Christians leaders from Eastern and Western churches.” The aim of the project is to bridge an understanding that love is universal in all religion, regardless of which deity or belief one follows.

The volume that is going to be launched on the 23rd of November contains chapters written by participants in the project for the “Study of love in Religion” is a making of common ground in which the contributors bring the riches of their own tradition to a study of love.

Dr. Leyla had participated in this project as co-investigator, having wrote the chapter, “The Journey of Love and the Challenges of the Self”, focusing on Rumi and from an Islamic point of view. In her chapter, Dr. Leyla, showed that in Islam, the concept of ‘self’ is an essential and foundational concept while investigating the important role of the self, together with self-knowledge on the path of love.

Dr. Leyla also explained that the central theme of love exists in all dimensions in our lives and in religion. From natural love, earthly love and divine love that is present in every religion, we have seen historically how the ideal of love evolved and developed from sexual love to non-sexual love for our parents, our work and our religion. And of course, she said, not only is divine love an integral of our life, but there is a strong emphasis on love of others, love of neighbours, charity, sympathy, love of country.

Dr. Leyla explained that in Rumi’s thought, love has two aspects: Divine love (True Love) that is directed to God (ishq-i ḥaqiqi), and metaphorical love (‘ishq-i majāzi) or earthly love, that is directed toward other creatures.   However, in Rumi’s view, earthly love itself could be divided into two: disgrace love (‘ishq-i nangi or ‘ishq-i rangi) and pure love (‘ishq-i pāk). Pure love leads the soul to the Truth. On the other hand, “disgrace love” is not recommended by Rumi, that kind of love would only lead to misery.

This argument continues in her article in the book where Dr. Leyla talks about the challenges in search of love in terms of an Islamic context. “The path of love requires embarking on a spiritual lifelong journey. The journey involves various stages and tests, that will bring about maturity and spiritual growth. “

The most fundamental stage is self-realization that is, realizing who one is, and where one stands, what is one’s relation to one’s surroundings. ‘At this juncture, Dr. Lelya said, the spiritual traveller’s self is in complete peace. A person with a “self at-peace” is the one in a state of selflessness.’

On the question on how can we as human beings, separate love in the physical and emotional sense to function as better beings or do we need both senses to co-exist in harmony?

“Reaching peace and being in harmony through love is only possible if the lover is selfless and seeks only the inner beauty of the beloved. The experience of this kind of love, therefore, will end in eternal joy. Why? This is because the lover has enjoyed the sweetness of real beauty, which is the Truth.”

i. How has the exploration of love changed over the course of centuries and in the religious and social-economical stages of evolution for us as a human being?

j. What does love mean to you? What does it represent to you?

When the word love comes up, Romantic love is the first thing that will pop on in our mind. However, the word ‘love’ seems to cover a wide variety of feelings, attitudes, and behaviour. The concept of love can be categorised into forms and types.

There are different types of love to consider such as charity, empathy, bliss, good-will, faith, respect, worship, devotion, understanding, amicability, passion, and compassion. 

There are 7 forms of love that’s gathered from the ancient Greeks:

1)Eros or Romantic love; 2)Philia or Friendship; 3) Storge: Familial love; 4) Agape: Universal love, or Divine love; 5) Ludus or Playful love; 6) Pragma or Practical love; 7) Philautia or Self-love

Rumi’s believes on love are: “If you have not found the beloved, why not go and seek her, if you have found her why not be blissful? Are you wasting your life and asking what love is about? I wonder about the one who does not seek this wonder!”

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