Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Digital art by Rahal Eks - dancers pausing


Nowadays February 14 is worldwide known as Valentine's Day, or the day of the lovers. The historical roots of Valentine's Day are numerous, going back to various Christian martyrs who were called Valentine or Valentinus. Some claim also a link to the much earlier Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival from Pagan times, or relate it to the ancient Athenian calendar where the period between mid-January until mid-February was the month called 'Gamelion', which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Unfortunately in some countries such a day related to love and lovers would have to be forbidden under puritanical-religious and fanatical sectarian ideas and rules – even though the Qur'an clearly says “...there shall not be compulsion in religion...” It makes one wonder in utter disbelief how some folks argue against this, insisting to spread their intolerant view as the only true reality – of course it isn't! While in other countries this day or a similar celebration takes place on a different date. Here too diversity is striking on a global scale. And as long as the celebration of love is not denied it doesn't really matter what's the date.

For example in Brazil the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12! While Feb. 14 sometimes falls right into the period when Carnival takes place.

Or in Israel there is the Jewish tradition of Tu B'Av, which has fused into the secular Jewish equivalent of Valentine's Day and is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Av = usually in late August.

In antiquity in India, a long time prior to colonization and thus prior to imported prudishness, there was the ancient tradition of adoring the lord of Love, Kamadeva, shown beautifully by the erotic carvings and sculptures in the Khajuraho complex of monuments and the famous KAMASUTRA lovemaking treaty.

In Greece the Eastern Orthodox Church has another Saint, Hyacinth of Caesarea. He protects people who are in love and the feast is on July 3.

In Persian culture there is the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan festival, an earth celebration where love is expressed to mothers and wives. In contemporary Iran the holiday has been scheduled on Feb. 17, just to be different in regards to the Western holiday.

Universal souls have probably no problem whatsoever to celebrate all these dates and festivities, after all the spirit is love, isn't it? Perhaps some might delight in reading Rumi's DIVAN SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI – others might get elevated by some of Ibn 'Arabi's condensed thoughts and reflections about love, wonderfully presented and commented by William C. Chittick in his DIVINE ROOTS OF HUMAN LOVE. Yet others would get carried away by the beautiful Classical Arabic poetry of pre-Islamic times of Antar Ibn Shadat's MUALAQAT, an epic love poem written in gold leaf and placed on the walls of Mecca in ancient time together with the other seven odes by different Arab poets of that period. Just for the time reference: Antar was an old man when the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – was born.

There is a Sufi saying that “sensual love is the shadow of mystical love...” Meaning that love for a human being is a kind of lower form of love than for the Divine – however, sensual or human love is required on the path to advance in order to develop love for the Divine, in other words, human love can have an evolutionary impact, but not always and not automatically. It can be, or it may be so, under certain circumstances.

In this context it is of great interest to hear that Maulana Jami asked those who wanted to become his students if they had ever loved?

If we look at the myth of Eros who aims his arrow at those who when pierced in their hearts will fall in love, we get the idea that love might be a divine gift. And when reading Plato's Symposium, or Banquet, we find out that one of the men present explains the nature of love in the form of a tale being told to the guests. In my retold words, he said that prior to the existence of the human race there were round beings rolling around on the earth. They had two faces, four arms and four legs. Some of them were male and female – others were all female – and yet others were all male. These beings began to behave arrogantly and outrageous, so the Gods on Mount Olympus had a brain storming session to decide what to do with these beings. After long arguments in pro and contra (to kill them or let them live), a compromise was agreed upon. It was decided to cut each of these beings in half, thus keeping them busy to search for their other half...

This gives us a symbolic explanation why we have different types of sexualities (heterosexuals, and homosexuals – both in the female and male variation). Of course this tale doesn't explain what we call nowadays inter-sexed and transgender identities, not to forget asexuals, just to be fair and mention it all.

Now some people seem to fall in love blindly in a stupid or nutty way (regardless if they happen to be straight, gay, lesbian, inter-sexed or transgender folks). Others don't and progress from a crush on someone to falling in love and loving a person – whoever it may be to fulfill their natural heart's desire and attraction. Remember, no matter what, from a Sufi perspective a person's sexuality is God-given, created by Allah, and thus it ought to be accepted. The difference between falling in love blindly or somewhat more refined and aware is most likely a reflection of the development of the nafs, the commanding self – or the lack of its development.

No matter where people stand on their evolutionary ladder, relationships are a perfect tool to refine the commanding self, the nafs, and grow on multiple levels. In my view this includes romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, as well as work relationships.

Sufism is indeed focused on the field of action regarding relationships and the transformation of the lower self: “From base metal into gold” - as the alchemical Sufi saying goes.

Coming back to love. I have never experienced that I decided to fall in love, nor have I met anyone who did. It happened or it didn't. Or is there anyone ready to come up with a different take on that?

And coming back to the Divine, there is of course the famous hadith qudsi of the Hidden Treasure, meaning a sacred hadith where God is the speaker: “I was a treasure that was not known, so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures and I made Myself known to them, and thus they came to know Me.”

In this very context Ibn 'Arabi's poem found in the FUTUHAT MAKKIYYA resonates with special overtones: From love we originate. For love we were created. That is what we aim for and it is to this we have given ourselves.

And he also wrote: To my own soul I was wed and I was my husband while I was my wife.

However, Ibn 'Arabi's most famous lines are the following from his TARJUMAN AL-ASHWAQ, the Interpreter of Desires, which are very suited in my view to be read on Valentine's Day:

Oh marvel! A garden amidth fires!
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a table for idols and the pilgrim's Kaaba
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

In 1382 Goeffrey Chaucer wrote his PARLEMENT OF FOULES, where we can find an early association of Valentine's Day with romantic love: For this was on seynt Volantynys day whan euery bryd cometh to cheese his make. (For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate).

And in 15th century France we find some surviving early French Valentine's poetry by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
ma tres doulce Valentinée...

Also William Shakespeare mentions Valentine's Day in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

We also mustn't forget Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, longing for greater wholeness and the beautiful words of Antonio Machado, who wrote:

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that it was God I had
inside my heart.

Have a blessed and loving Valentine's Day – how can love be forbidden?

Ishq bashad, may love be upon you, a Persian Sufi greeting – or in Arabic: Ishq aleikum!

Saludos, con Dios, Rahal Eks