Romantic Love in Islam
The spirit of early Islam was in opposition with the Christian view that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17) and it can be said that romantic love in Islam has historically played an essential role. Islam is agreement with the overt eroticism of the Song of Songs as in the Qur’an, men are prompted to have sex with their wives, advised during the month of fasting (Ramadan), “Your wives are a raiment to you and you are a raiment to them” (Qur’an 2:187).
This hub discusses some of the reasons why some would call Islam the religion of love itself.
The holy Qur’an stresses the sexual and emotional relief couples give each other.
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may take rest with them, and He established between you love and compassion” (Qur’an 30:21). “The man who marries takes possession of half of religion,” said the Prophet.
Therefore it is said that half of one’s religious faith consists in romantic love in Islam.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was himself a passionate lover of women as he attested, "It has been given to me to love three things in your base world: women, perfumes, and prayer." In "Banning," a chapter of the Qur’an (66:1), God reprimands him for vowing to go on sexual endeavors against his wives. The Prophet’s companions, their followers, and the imams in succeeding generations were great admirers of women as well.
His descendant, the sixth Shiite Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq who was held in high acclaim by later Sufis said,
"Whoever’s love for us increases, his love for women must also increase," and, "Whenever a person’s love for women increases, his faith also increases."
Romantic Love in Islamic Literature
Among the works of many key theologians in later Islamic literature there are major pieces on romantic love and eroticism. Of these the most famous is probably Ibn Hazm’s Tawq al-Hamama or The Ring of the Dove. Being a work on the theoretic and practical aspects of Islamic romantic love as experienced in 11th century Cordova, Spain, it describes the fundamentals of love, its causes, symptoms, accomplishments, frustrations, and dangers. Ibn Hazm stresses that “Love is neither disapproved by Religion, nor prohibited by the Law; for every heart is in God’s hands. Many rightly guided caliphs and orthodox imams have been lovers”. His work was most likely the true inspiration behind Andreas Capellanus’s The Art of Courtly Love, the bible of the French troubadours, written in 1174.
A century before Ibn Hazm, Ibn Dawud, the son of the founder of the Zahiri school of jurisprudence, had written one of the most famous books in Arabic on love. His Kitab al-Zahra or Book of the Flower went into all kinds of lengths to thoroughly discuss the pathology and psychology of love and to explore various theories about its origin. Ibn Dawud talked about human love (‘ishq) as a disease for which doctors have no cure. It was for him a noble malady of the soul that has no higher therapeutic end.
Martyrs of Romantic Love in Islam
The Prophetic tradition about the martyrs of love says, “He who loves and remains pure and conceals his secret and dies, dies a martyr.” Related to the idea of pure and faithful al-hubb al-'undhi, this thought became a basic theme in classic Arabic poetry also influencing later Islamic philosophy and Sufism.
The most well-known proponents of the idea of martyrs of romantic love were authors such as Abu’l-Faraj bin al-Jawzi (Dhamm al-hawa or The Condemnation of Lust) and Abu Muhammad Ja’far bin Ahmad al-Sarraj (Masari al-’ushshaq or The Calamities of the Slain Lovers) in whose works sexual passion and erotic melancholy are often portrayed as evil and an anathema in the eyes of God. The Calamities of the Slain Lovers talks about the reward of those who loved passionately and remained pure through several chapters as well as accounts of those whom love (‘ishq) killed.
Romantic Love in Sufism
The Prophet stated, “Women prevail exceedingly over the wise.” In accord with this, the Persian Sufi tradition in Islam was impenitently romantic and denounced those who remained unmoved by Eros and untouched by romance. “If the language of love makes no impression on you, you are as good as dead,” said the supreme Persian love poet Sa’di of Shiraz.
Rumi, Islam’s greatest Sufi poet, stated in his Mathnawi that “What is beloved is not merely ma’shuqa (your female mistress) but actually she is a ray of God, the divine Truth.” Romantic love was the equivalent of building a bridge for the seeker to reach the divine shore as expressed in the Arabic maxim, “The unreal form is a bridge to al-majaz qantarat al-haqiqat (the supraformal reality).”
Among other great Sufi proponents of this mystical interpretation of romantic love were Ahmad al-Ghazali (Sawanih al-’ushshaq or The Lovers’ Experiences), Ruzbihan Baqli (‘Abhar al-ashiqin or Jasmine of the Lovers), and Awhad al-Din Kirmani.
The majority of Arabic and Persian Sufi literature committed itself to the exploration of how the feminine prevails over the masculine in Islam. Ibn 'Arabi, one of Islam’s greatest Sufi philosophers, argued that the Prophet loved women so much because in them is the contemplation of divine reality is most perfect. Ibn ‘Arabi's romantic love poetry, called The Interpreter of Desires, was offered to a young and wise Isfahani girl, Nizam, a kind of heavenly eternal Feminine, the embodiment of divine love and beauty for the poet.
'Attar of Nishapur describes the overwhelming power of romantic love in his Conference of the Birds by telling the story of a venerable old Sufi master who fell in love with a Christian girl, burned up the Qur’an, drank wine, herded her pigs, and became an apostate to Islam in pursuit of “the religion of love.” In line with this thought, Sa’di says “a man may have committed the Qur’an to memory, but when distracted with love, forgets the alphabet.”
But in this kind of forgetfulness there is nothing lost as the Persian Sufi poet Shabistari contemplating his transformational experience of romantic love says, “No one’s heart is ever ravished in love by aught than God himself, for God has no partner in his actions.” It is in this way that all the great romances of the Arabs and Persians - Layla and Majnun, Vis and Ramin, Khusraw and Shirin, - were understood by the Sufis in accord with the idea of “the True Beauty that is concealed under the veil of the particular self-determination of the human figurative beloved.”
After all, it had been declared by Rumi that, “Whether Eros hails from hither or Yonder, it will lead us ultimately back to that King.”