The word Sufi (pronounced as soo-fee) comes from the Greek word Sopho or philosophy. Sufis are involved with Love – for God and for all living beings. There is no dichotomy for him (Sufi) in the meaning or understanding of love. He/she ‘lives’ on his/her own terms.
To eat food with a beggar or the diseased is as pleasurable to him/her (a Sufi) as dining with a King. There is no difference. He follows the instinct – the heart. There is hardly any room in his heart for ego. The Hindu temple and the Muslim mosque are the same places for a Sufi. He revels (& rebels) outside these structures ! Sufism is a religion of passion, a religion of the heart. While the Buddhist seeks the “giving of up desire,” the Sufis forget the self through the celebration of their desire for union with God and, often with the beloved representative of God’s beauty–the human subject of the practitioner’s zeal.
The Sufi, thus, burns the candle of his heart on both ends, ultimately burning out his ego, allowing for fusion with the One. In his introduction to Arabi’s book of poems Stations of Desire, Michael Sells puts it this way: “When the mystic lover is thinned away and broken down, when he can no longer hold on to his self or his thoughts, when he is emptied of his own words and arguments, the beloved reveals herself. . . this is the moment of love-madness.
For the Sufis in general and Ibn al-‘Arabi in particular, love-madness is analogous to the mystical bewilderment that occurs as the normal boundaries of identity, reason, and will are melted. The self of the lover passes away. In this “annihilation” he becomes one with the divine beloved”. The thirteenth-century Sufi Rumi expressed the vigilance of the passionate seeker when he wrote: “If love slips out of your hand/Don’t fall into Despair. Keep searching. Fight to find it/Until you reach Him, see Him, Don’t sleep, don’t eat, don’t relax.”
In some of Arabi’s work, he creates a sort of dialectic, or argument, around the question of whether the beloved is the present human form or God. Arabi seems to spin the reader around, dervish-style, until all is a blur and we can no longer worry the distinction. The human beloved and God are one and the same . . . or the human beloved is a sign of God, depending on the interpretation. There is frequently–although not always–an erotic component to Sufic love. Both Rumi’s and Arabi’s poetics are saturated with sexual imagery.
Arabi wrote, “When a man loves a woman, he seeks union with her, that is to say the most complete union possible in love, and there is . . . no union greater than that between the sexes,” and Rumi illustrates the sensibility more vividly: “laughing crazily,/moaning in the spreading union of lover and beloved/This is the true religion. All others/are thrown-away bandages beside it.” Today’s Islamic fundamentalists are paradigmatic of anti-sexual hysteria–their panic particularly aimed at feminine desire. But Peter Lamborn Wilson, American counterculturalist and Sufi scholar, feels: “The model of Islam was never chastity.
The prophet spoke of ‘pleasures which are seemly in the eyes of God,’ by which he meant polygamy and concubinage. . . . Sex is a mode of worship or contemplation. You make love because God is love.” Sufic love–sometimes polygamous and sometimes monogamous–shouldn’t be confused with pure erotomania. Sufis espouse all the attributes commonly associated with love. Wilson says “Love is important . . . for nearly all sufis, who accept that God’s qualities of love and generosity outweigh his qualities of justice and fear . . . Sufism offers a general mystical interpretation of the psychological experience of love . . . between husband and wife, master and disciple, or lover and beloved.”