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A Perverse Understanding of Love and Sufism
on 14 August 2014
Initially captivating, the book descended into syrupy farce. Ella, the protagonist, ultimately relies on teachings of Sufi love and an ostensible overlay of Islamic theology to engage in an adulterous liaison. What tripe. Very far from the abandonment of Self advocated by Sufism, this seemed to glorify self-indulgence. Rather than the love of God, this books glorifies the satisfaction of one's lower desires (Nafs) without regard to the consequences to others. Ella's two modalities seem to be either doormat or extreme egoism, either quietly suffering her husband's infidelity or abandoning her family to engage in her own. All conception of duty, honor, dignity, fidelity, all of which are as indispensable an element of God as love, are thrown to the wayside. Rather than to seek perfection of love within her marriage to the man she has known for 20 years and borne three children with, she escapes with a stranger she hardly knows. This smacks not so much as love as desperate escapism, not so much surrender or submission as flight from reality and from responsibility.
The Greek's coined a term for the unconditional, divine and spiritual love of God and for enlightened beings for each other -- agape. Even in her understanding of what loving God means, the author confuses agape with eros. Less frenzy, more peace, less destructive self-indulgence, more understanding and forgiveness. Love is not a feeling, it is an action. Fleeing from your family, abandoning your marriage, following your emotions blindly regardless of the consequences -- these are not things that Sufism would countenance, and less acts of love than of self-destruction.
The author is gifted and a charming story-teller, which makes the work all the more problematic, seductive in its portrayal of a mode of thinking which is ultimately narcissistic and destructive. Sufism it most certainly is not.