Divine Love: Islamic Literature and the Path to God.

Author:Lawson, Todd
Position:Book review
 
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Divine Love: Islamic Literature and the Path to God. By WILLIAM C. CHITTICK. New Haven: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2013. Pp. xxix + 490. $85.

The problem with this fine book is that it is likely--against its own will--to give grist to the mill and perpetuate the poisonous fallacy that when we speak of love in Islam we are speaking of Sufism and, as we know, "Sufism is not really Islam, after all." Therefore, even though the copious and frequently ravishing texts mined here have as their focus the problem and gift of love, especially as this is bound up with the quite universal blessing and curse of being human, in the end it is "Sufism" and not "Islam" that will be seen as the source of this beautiful, complex, and existentially compelling discourse. Alas. But, perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves; let us first describe the form and contents of the book in the light of what its highly regarded author says is its purpose. This purpose is, of course, indicated in the title, where it is clear that we are to understand the subject to be "Islamic Literature" not "Sufism" or "Sufi Literature." Furthermore, this title draws our attention to the distinctively Islamic idea of "the path to God" in anticipation of the type of misreading mentioned above. For the full antidote, however, we must attend to the author's thoughtful and frank discussion in the preface of what he is up to in this book (pp. xi-xxvi): Chittick is weary to the soul with the stupid, quasi-racist, tenacious bromide that "If it is Islam it cannot be love." As for structure, the book is divided into three parts: "The Origin of Love" (pp. 1-145); "The Life of Love" (pp. 147-276); and "The Goal of Love" (pp. 277-437), preceded by a foreword from S. H. Nasr (pp. vii-x) and the aforementioned, essential preface by the author. The book closes with notes, a selective bibliography, a very welcome index of Quranic verses, an index of hadiths and sayings, and an index of names and terms (in all, pp. 439-90).

Starting with the Quran and hadith and moving into the spiritual teachings, frequently clustered around Quranic vocabulary (the main sources are works of exegesis), by the Ikhwan al-Safa[??], Avicenna, [??]Abdallah Ansari, and the two authors to whom pride of place is given, Maybudi and Sam[??]ani, Chittick wishes to demonstrate in beautiful translations of Persian and Arabic that love in its various forms and guises is of central and utter importance to the sons and daughters of Islam, however they might identify themselves, not to mention to God himself and his prophets and messengers. The scriptural starting point may be seen to comprise three Quranic texts and three well-known hadiths. From...

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