B. Abrahamov, Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism: The Teachings of Al-Ghazali and Al-Dabbagh, RutledgeCurzon Sufi Series, London, RutledgeCurzon: 2003. Pp. 190, ISBN 0-7007-1607-6, hardcover.
Neither the Bible nor the Qoran discusses the topic of love directly. Nonetheless, eros, mahabba, and ishq became topics for whole essays in the philosophical traditions of late antiquity and Islam. Binyamin Abrahamov, professor of Islamic Theology and Qoranic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, has done a service in concisely summarizing the literature on this subject prior to Al-Ghazzali and then in succinctly analyzing the views of Al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and those of Al-Dabbagh (d. 1296).
The discussion of love begins with Plato’s Symposium. There, the myth of the division of the human race after an unsuccessful attack on the gods leads to the definition of love as the desire of human nature to reconnect with its other separated, fragmented self. This is the desire to be (re)united with the lost beloved. The Symposium also posits that love is a yearning for goodness and beauty and, since the Ideas of goodness and beauty are abstract, one can only “love” them through an act of the intellect. The soul, as the divine element in the human, has an affinity with the Ideas and is the proper medium for this intellectual eros.
These views contrast with those of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Judaism, love is devotion to the Torah as the word of God, and doing its prescribed deeds. In Christianity, love is disinterested agape, favoring neither the good nor the wicked. And in Islam God’s love is God’s benefaction toward creation while man’s love is obedience. Developing the last of these contrasts, Abrahamov presents the theories of love in the “Treatise on Love” of the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa and that of Ibn Sina, as well as in a series of Sufi thinkers.
Abrahamov’s detailed analysis of Al-Ghazali’s “Treatise on Love” in his magnum opus, Ihya Ulum al-Din, follows the chapters of that work. He outlines the six components of mahabba (love) which includes shawq (desire), lists the various causes of love, and develops the basic theory of intellectual love: that one has pleasure in knowledge, that knowledge is a function of the object known, and that, since God is the highest knowable, true love is intellectual knowledge of God (60). This rational-mystical knowledge of God leads to annihilation (fana) in God which is, however, not union or identification with the godhead (72-73). The ultimate goal of the human love is to experience continuous love for God. God’s love differs from that of man in that it contains an unqualified love for creation (lutf) at its root. This is the core of Al-Ghazali’s teaching and it is very clearly stated.
A similarly detailed and clear analysis follows for Al-Dabbagh’s theory of love.
The similarity and contrast with Maimonides (d. 1105), who is very much a part of the philosophic- mystical Islamic milieu, is striking. On the one hand, Maimonides taught that love is the intellectual knowledge of God, that passion for God follows love of God, and that continuous love and passion for God is the goal of humanity (Guide for the Perplexed, III:51; see http://www.emory.edu/UDR/BLUMENTHAL under “Articles” for more on this). However, Maimonides never envisioned or wrote a whole treatise on love – its causes, its types, etc. As Abrahamov notes (85), the Greek and Islamic essays on the subject are profoundly egocentric: the pleasure of humanity is the central topic and the variations thereof constitute the theme of such books. Perhaps for just that reason, Maimonides never wrote such a treatise.
Appeared in Reviews in Religion and Theology, 11:1 (February 2004) 122-23.