Affinity

If you are rosewater, your place is among bright faces.

If you are filth, everywhere you are a source of anguish.

Look at the windows of the perfume shops!

They increase the elegance of one variety by blending it with a similar variety.

When likes meet, the beauty of this union is expressed in a distinct smile.

In order to separate the honest and the pure from the filthy,

Allah sent prophets and books.

If your thoughts are as a rose, then you are in a rose garden.

Rumi

Among the most dominant attributes of the created world engendered by the cosmic play of complementary opposites are affinity and balance. If this harmony is disrupted on a small scale, it leads to anarchy. If it is disrupted on the level of the created world, it is called the Day of Judgment or the Last Day.

The created world can be divided into animate and inanimate realms. All created entities have not only qualities in common with other forms, but in addition, there are differences between the forms. The ultimate reason for this is rooted in the will of Allah. In the case of inanimate forms, opposites attract each other. One example of this would be the positive and negative electrical poles. On the other hand, in the case of animate forms the opposite is the rule. The souls of living beings tend to be attracted to similar forms; they are not generally drawn to their opposites. Although there is a clear difference between the modes of attraction in the animate and inanimate realms, each illustrates a deep-rooted tendency towards unity. This inclination toward union stems from the unity that exists at the source of existence itself and is a manifestation of the flow of divine power towards oneness, whereas the tendency we observe for the souls of living forms to be drawn to forms sharing common attributes is ultimately caused by the predisposition of the ego.

Indeed, one of the most powerful proclivities in all creatures with soul is egoism and this condition reaches its pinnacle in human beings. For this reason, the last base desire one cleanses from one’s heart, after the purification of all other base desires, is the desire for leadership, control, or political power.

When egoism reaches its zenith in human beings and one examines in that state of consciousness the subsequent manifestations of love and hatred, it is observed that love grows to the degree of similarity and hatred rises to the degree of difference. This suffices to demonstrate that in truth one only loves oneself and this truth is then borne out in our deep tendency to be enchanted by people like us. For instance, Yaqub (a.s) witnessed in Yusuf (a.s) features of himself and as a consequence, his soul was naturally drawn towards him. Similarity is thus one of the most fundamental reasons for metaphorical as opposed to divine love.

This phenomenon is such an innate feature among beings with souls that it can even be observed in the animal world. A common story exemplifying this revolves around a dialogue between people and a nightingale. The people said to the nightingale:

– Chant!

But it did not chant. They repeated:

– Chant!

It did not chant.

Eventually, they threatened it:

– We will put you in a golden cage and we will put a crow in with you!!!

The nightingale then began to chant out of fear of being put in the same cage with a crow.

Common people witness in this story a comprehensive and systematic illustration of what we have explained before.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, in the Mathnawi has provided us with an even better illustration. It follows:

“A hunter put a gazelle he had captured in a barn with cows and donkeys. The gazelle was running around the barn in a state of fear and shock. That evening the hunter came to feed the animals with hay. The donkeys and the cows relished the hay and began devouring it, but the gazelle’s circumstance was radically different. It was still in a fearful state, and was rubbing its eyes since they were being irritated by dust coming from the hay. This elegant creature, which carries perfume in its body, continued to suffer this way in the barn. On observing this, one of the donkeys said to the other donkeys for the purpose of mocking the gazelle:

– Keep quiet! This is an animal bearing the qualities of kings and nobles!

Another animal said:

– If so, then this animal should politely climb up to the throne of the king and sit there!

Another donkey, which had been closely following the situation, invited the gazelle to the hay once again. The gazelle refused:

– No, I have no appetite!

The donkey replied:

– I know that you are feigning reluctance.

The gazelle in response to these words, said:

– I used to wander in verdant pastures among limpid rivers in gardens of magnificent beauty and I used to feast my eyes on the way our Creator had ornamented the natural world. If it has been my destiny to fall into this painful circumstance, how can you expect my nature to change so quickly? I even used to eat catnip, tulip and basil with reluctance and only after carefully smelling them. I used to observe with great awe the harmony in the flow of divine power in nature and it was in this bedazzled state of awe when hunters were able to catch us with tears pouring forth from our eyes and broken hearts.

A donkey responded:

– You may speak as you wish… It is easy to lie when you are away from your home.

The gazelle answered:

– The smell of musk that exudes from my belly bears testimony to my words. As to your situation, it is transparent. These words would of course seem like a lie to you. I am really lonely and helpless among you…”

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, illuminates abstract facts difficult for the human mind to grasp through simple and concrete stories. For instance, in this story, he has used the example of animals with opposite attributes to illustrate the difficulty of harmonizing opposing natures.

The gazelle are among the world’s most elegant animals in their habits of eating, drinking, breathing, sense of beauty and kindness. For instance, when hunters have a person play a flute in the lush greenery around a river, the gazelles will be drawn to the melodies of the moving music. When their eyes and hearts have been overtaken by the tenderness of the music, the merciless hunters catch them in traps and put them to death for their musk, their fine leather skin, and their tender, luscious meat.

In contrast, donkeys and cows may be noted for their ugliness in voice and disposition and correspondingly their lives are rooted in egoism.

Rumi, after exemplifying how painful it is to be in a shared environment with beings of opposite qualities, continues to illustrate this pain of contradistinction in the following poem:

“If one is placed together with his opposite, this is a torture to death for him.

For this reason, the one who is close to Allah is in a state of suffering in his body. For, the bird of his soul is tied up with the ego that is not of its kind.

The soul resembles the nightingale among birds. The ego, which represents nature, is as the crow. The nightingale is wounded by closeness to crows and owls.

The nightingale of the soul moans bitterly among the selfish egos of crows and evil intentioned owls.”

***

The Qur’an states “…when I have made him complete and breathed into him ofMy spirit…” (Hijr, 29). The spirit entered this cage of the body by virtue of the Lord and the process through which this happens is beyond human comprehension. Deep in the consciousness of human beings, there is a yearning for the world from which they have come. In this world, the spirit is not free. It is imprisoned in the body. The process of maturation that the soul is passing through, for the duration of its life in this world, is empowered through its longing for its original home, the spiritual world. This inexplicable sense of separation and the suffering that ensues from it continue until the soul is reunified with Allah. For the duration of the soul’s stay in this world, the ego always confronts it as an obstacle to spiritual reunification and the real growth that entails. Having children, property, status and position and having control over them according to the desires of the ego are the deceptive toys of this world that the ego uses at all times for the purpose of distraction. A human being ends up constructing a shadow like, imaginative world based on egotistical desires. This myriad of desires, of whims and of worries traceable to this false world consume the fullness of our time and energy leading us to waste our life running after transitory, empty ends.

The overall circumstance that the soul finds itself in when imprisoned in the body is much like that of the gazelle in the barn full of cows and donkeys. As a consequence, just as the gazelle is plagued by feeling like a stranger among aliens, so too is the soul afflicted by an all pervasive sense of strangeness for the duration of its stay in the body and the broader physical world.

Inwardly, the intrinsic altruism of the soul is annoyed by the selfishness of the ego and each human being’s life for its duration is punctuated by a perpetual struggle between these two opposing forces.

This same story is played out in a different way in the worldly life of spiritually highly refined individuals. When viewed through the window of the heart, their suffering, which is bitterer than death, originates in the trials and tribulations such sublime characters are tormented by while being trapped in a world filled with other people most notable for their ignorance and insolence. In the history of the world, such suffering has primarily been the purview of the prophets and those who have followed them. The lives of such individuals are frequently lonely and strange, passed among people without good manners. Ibrahim (a.s) was thrown into a huge fire because he raised the flag of faith in the one Allah. Yusuf (a.s) was expelled into a great loneliness even among his brothers. He was slandered when he was away from his homeland and had to spend time in prison as a total stranger. The Children of Israel left Musa (a.s) alone against a cruel and oppressive society saying to him: “O Musa! You and your Lord should go to war and gain victory! Subsequently, we will follow you!” Similarly, the rebellious Children of Israel cut Zakariya (a.s) into two pieces with a saw. His son, the Prophet Yahya (a.s) was also martyred without mercy. Isa (a.s) was tried together with thieves. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was stoned by the unfortunate people of Taif. Similar examples are abundant.

Without exception, these individuals have always endured their respective trials with an exalted degree of patience granted to them by their Creator and were thus continually raised to higher spiritual stations. Occasionally, Allah took the pure hearted ones under His own protection. The Seven Sleepers or the Companions of the Cave, who lived in an evil society, were put into a deep state of sleep and were protected from any harm in a cave. For, it is better to be asleep rather than mingling with heedless people and it was for this reason that the Seven Sleepers were only reawakened when a righteous society had emerged.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, compares the Gnostics with the nightingales and explains that it is impossible for them to find affinity with people whose souls are evil:

“The home of the nightingales is in lush vegetation, in pastures and in rose gardens. The original home of the dung-beetles is, however, amidst rubbish and rotten garbage.”

There is an essential attraction between the forms of life in this world and the environments they are drawn to live in. The nightingale finds itself at home in beautiful vegetation, in pastures and by fountains which flow with music, while the dung-beetle, and those who resemble it enjoy dirt or immorality, corruption and hypocrisy. A rose explained this, in a spiritual tongue, to the beetle as follows:

“O dung-beetle! You run away from the rose garden, but this hatred of yours only serves to point to the perfection of the rose garden!”

These contradistinctions are a consequence of a divine balance established between good and evil. The friends of Allah attribute the balance of attraction we observe between the different forms to a reflection of the affinity rooted in eternal love that pervades all of creation. These superior individuals function to help people who have fallen to stations among the lowest ranks of creation after having been created at the highest rank to regain their original form through the realignment that is catalyzed by the power of the divine love that flows through them.

In this world, which is full of trials, suffering, pain and sorrow, sharing company with good-hearted people blessed both with knowledge and with perfect characters is the only way to open the doors of spiritual success. The soul, which belongs to the eternal world, can in this manner alone realize its potential and thus be saved from the ongoing inflictions of the ego. For this reason, it is a must to protect the heart from the spiritually debilitating impress of congregations of heedless people.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, explains this principle as follows:

“Birds fly with their likes. Socialization with people who have different characters is like entering a grave.

Likes attract each other. Therefore, how can an elegant gazelle live with donkeys and cows?”

All unions take place within the framework of the shared ideas and the shared understandings common to regularly shared spheres of life. Those who by choice live in worlds in opposition to one another would suffer more bitterly than through death if they had to routinely socialize with each other.

Similarly, it is stated in the Qur’an: “Women impure are for men impure, and men impure for women impure and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity…” (Nur, 26).

The great scholar, Imam Ghazali, while explaining this principle, pointed out that not just diseases and their associated microbes but also spiritual states, morality and character traits are contagious. Therefore, good character is seen in those who associate with good individuals, while evil character is found in those who associate with evil people.

The following hadith also supports this teaching: “The difference between a good and a bad friend is similar to the difference between a musk seller and a blacksmith who operates the bellows of a furnace. From the first you would either buy musk or he would freely offer it to you, while the blacksmith would either burn your clothes or home or you would acquire an offensive fragrance from him”

In addition, people commonly employ the following proverb to attest to the same truth: “The one who sleeps with the blind wakes up cross-eyed.” For, in principle whatever the energy of a character may be, it is contagious.

O Lord! Permit us to be together in this world with those of your servants who are treasures of wisdom and divine secrets. Resurrect us, your weak servants, with them.

Amen!

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”