Islamic Heritage of South Asia

Ishq wa Husn (Love and Beauty) in Sufi language

Translated and condensed from the book: NOOR UL HAQEEQAT

Author: Shaikh Shah Syed Ismail Qadiri al Multani

Transmitter: Shaikh Badashah Qadiri

Compiled by: Prof. Mevlana Syed Ataulla Hussaini

Translated and condensed from Urdu by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful)

KNOW THAT Ishq is the highest form of love. It has nine stages:

  1. Irada (intent)
  2. Wala’a (intensity of intent, called wal wala in Urdu)
  3. Sababat (Inclination towards the Beloved)
  4. Shagaf (when the thought of the Beloved is established in the heart)
  5. Hawa (when the thought of anyone other than the Beloved leaves the heart)
  6. Ghram (when the signs of longing begin to show in the body)
  7. Hubb (when the signs of illness brought on by the longing for the Beloved disappear)
  8. Wadda (when longing takes over and the lover is drowned in it)
  9. Ishq (when he distinction between the lover and the Beloved disappears)

At the station of Ishq, the lover sees the Beloved but does not recognize the Beloved. He does not become self-conscious when he beholds the Beloved. He becomes deep, bottomless like the ocean. Transience disappears and permanence takes hold.

It is said about Majnun that Laila tried to start a conversation with him as she passed by him. Majnun replied: “Leave me alone. Let me be steeped with the thought of Laila.” Even though it was Laila who was talking to him, he was oblivious of her. This is the highest station of closeness wherein the A’rif (the knower) declines the very object of his desires. There remains no A’rif or Ma’ruf (knower or known), no lover or beloved. What remains is only love which is the summation of Essence. It is no name or tradition, no praise or attribute.

I am neither a name nor a body,

Neither this nor that,

What a hidden secret I am,

What a covering for the secret I am!


Upon reaching this station, a lover cries out:

Love is that raging fire kindled by Allah,

Which rises and sets In the inner hearts.

(Shaikh Abdul Karim Jaili)

This couplet is a Sufi allusion towards the Ayah in the Qur’an. It is not a tafseer:

Narullahi Mooqadatul Lati Tattaliwoo A’lal Afyida (Quran: 104, 6-7) (The Fire from Allah, furious in its blaze, which rises up to the hearts)

Love is like a magnetic pull that draws one entity to another. To catch a fleeting view of the beauty and virtue of someone and be drawn to it, the turning of the heart towards the beloved, the desire, the longing, the restlessness, living day and night with the beloved’s thoughts, immersing the body, mind and soul in the longing, suffering the pangs of separation, finding solace in companionship, merging one’s thoughts in the beloved’s thoughts, one’s satisfaction in the beloved’s satisfaction, one’s existence with the beloved’s existence, these are all miracles of love.

If I become you, you become me,

If I am body, you become the soul,

Let it not be said later:

I am separate from you, you are separate from me.

(Amir Khusroe)

Sometimes the seclusion of hills and mountains,

Sometimes the longing of companionship and togetherness,

Sometimes the treasures of the niche and the pulpit,

Sometimes the triumph at Khaiber by Maula Ali

That is Ishq.


Summarily, Ishq is the name given to this ultimate phase of love. It is incorrect that the term Ishq is used only for Ishq e mijazi (transient or worldly love). The truth is that the term Ishq has been used in every period for Ishq e haqeeqi (divine love) and pure, unblemished love. Especially, for the blessed Sufis, Ishq is the highest ascent of love. That is why they wash their hands off both this world and hereafter and stand before their true Love. Their tradition of Bismillah starts with giving up the duniya (the material world) and the akhira (the hereafter).

Love is dependent on Ma’rifat (inner knowledge) and Ma’rifat is dependent on love. Love has precedence over Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat has precedence over love. On the surface, this seems contradictory. However, in reality, there is no contradiction. Love is the result of Ma’rifat and Ma’rifat is the result of love. In other words, love does not appear without Ma’rifat and without Ma’rifat, love does not advance In stages. Ajmali Ma’rifat (Ma’rifat in its totality) is a requirement for love. After love, the detailed Ma’rifat is granted as a gift which is a requirement for proximity and meeting with Allah.

Since Ishq is the highest form of love, it has been given only to the human which is the highest form of creation so much so that even the angels are bereft of Ishq. Khwaja Fareeduddin Attar writes:

The angels experience Ishq

They do not experience its pangs,

None but the human is worthy of this pain.

The pangs of love refer to the pain and heartache that a lover feels due to the separation from the Beloved and the intense desire to meet the Beloved. This is only a privilege of the human. The angels are mechanical elements of creation. Their love does not have a tension greater than that of the tension of the elements. The only difference is that the elements are not aware of this tension whereas the angels are.  The pain and suffering of love are absent from them. They do not have the longing for closeness nor the desire for meeting. In contrast, the Ishq that was bestowed upon the human has both pain and suffering. The burning is there in the human, so is eagerness. This Ishq is the fire that burns the heart of the Ashiq (lover) all the time.

Without the Ishq, faith is incomplete. Why? It is so, because, without love one cannot attain Ma’rifat (inner knowledge), and without Ma’rifat how can faith and certainty be complete? Prayer is flawed without Ishq, the Imam is not hadhir (he is not present before Allah), the prayers are without delight, the prostrations are flawed and the dua’s become mere formalities. Prayer is useless without Ishq and without prayer Ishq is fruitless. The service that is rendered with love is a thousand times preferable to  the service that is rendered with fear. Without Ishq, prayer is dry piety and there is no greater distress than dehydrated piety.

Ishq frees you from the sorrows of this world and the hereafter. The dependency of suluk (the path of Tasawwuf) is on Ishq. Love is on this side as well as the other. On one side it is Tuhibbun Allah (You love Allah) and on the other Yuhibbunal Allah (They love Allah). The fire is lit equally from both sides. Mevlana Rumi says:

The body of dust reached the heavens with Ishq,

The mountain swayed and stood transfixed.

Ishq is that burning shoal,

That burns down everything except the Beloved.

Not contained in language and banter is Ishq,

Such a bottomless ocean is Ishq.

If I were to write a tafseer on Ishq,

A hundred Judgment Days will pass but incomplete will be the tafseer.

Ishq is born in the wailings of the heart,

No affliction there is like the affliction of the heart.

The community of love is different from all creeds,

The community and creed of the lovers is nothing but the Divine presence.

When Ishq is the highest expression of love and its most perfect condition, then the residence of love should also be high and elevated palace. That cannot be anything other than the Being of Truth (Dhat e Haq or Allah swt). Dhat e Haq (Allah) is the origin, the reality and the essence of whatever there is in the universe and the extensive beauty and goodness that is found in it.

How magnificent is that beauty that all the universe displays that beauty,

What perfection is it that it is both hidden and manifest,

Whatever I see, I see nothing but You,

By Allah! How dare can anything be but You!

When the existence of reality is one and everything in the universe is a reflection of it, then the reality is this:

You displayed your beauty on the faces of the beautiful,

And you witnessed your drama through the sight of the lovers.

When the arrows of self-perception and self-direction are taking off from the same bow, when the witness and the witnessed, the seer and the seen, the seeker and the sought-after have the same reality then the definition of Ishq in Sufi language is this: It is the collective and individual inclination of True Beauty towards its perfection that begins with the love of recognition of the Essence which some Sufis call the essence of non-fixity.

Sadaq Allah ul ‘Azeem wa Sadaqa Rasoolehil Kareem.