Free to Love?

Reflection on The Literature of India, ed. E. Dimock (Week 9)

The following verse of poetry provides an entry point for reflection on the role of free will in Islam.

“It is love that draws the moth to the flame, the nightingale to the rose, the river to the ocean, the breeze to the garden, and the creation to its creator” (Dimock, 186).

candle cropped 2

Each of these beautiful examples emphasizes the inevitability of love, thus making it unclear what role free will plays in a devotee’s choice to submit her will and being to the divine beloved. In the Christian tradition, which is colored by its notion of original sin and the obstacle of overcoming concupiscence in the modern era, free will is an essential component of love. If one does not choose to put the needs of one’s love over one’s own by her own volition, then this act cannot be described as love. However, I wonder how often we are ever truly free to choose to love someone, at least in the romantic sense. Sure, you can choose to spend more time with someone, which may increase the likelihood of love, but there is no particular formula that will guarantee that one falls in love or not.

This inherent uncertainty finds an interesting contrast in the image of the mystic’s love of God as represented in the image of a moth being drawn to the flame. Is it that the mystic has practiced in such a way that she has acquired a heightened probability of inducing an overwhelming love of God, to the point that it is inevitable? Or, is there an element of predestination involved in the process? I had a similar question in considering the inheritance of prophetic light in the Shi’a tradition, and the orientation toward prophecy in the many Islamic traditions. If prophethood is believed to be established by God as an act of divine providence, to what extent is one free to choose to love God in the arena of mysticism? What is the role of free will if the force that draws the believer toward God is as defined as that which draws a moth toward a flame?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *