Saturday, August 17, 2013

William C. Chittick's "Divine Love"

William C. Chittick, professor of religious studies at Stony Brook University, is a leading translator and interpreter of classical Islamic texts. His books include The Sufi Path of Love and In Search of the Lost Heart.

Chittick applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Divine Love: Islamic Literature and the Path to God, and reported the following:
I began my study of things Islamic when I discovered Rumi in translation as an undergraduate fifty years ago. I wrote this book partly because the poet whom I had come to know over many years of study and research bears little resemblance to the one depicted in the popular translations. I thought it was time to bring out the rich tradition to which he belonged. The book provides a survey of writings on divine love in both Arabic and Persian up to the year 1200 (Rumi was born in 1207). It is divided into three parts: the origin of love, the life of love, and the goal of love. It has nine chapters, three in each part. Page 99 is found toward the end of Chapter 2, “The Story of Love.” The chapter describes how some Muslim theologians read the Qur’an as the account of an eternal love affair between God and man.

Most of the page is taken up by the continuation of a quote from Maybudi, who completed a ten-volume Persian commentary on the Qur’an in about 1130. He is explaining the inner meaning of the verse, “Mothers shall suckle their young two years completely” (Qur’an 2:233). He begins by saying, “The example given of utmost mercy is the mercy of mothers, but God’s mercy toward His servants is more than that, and His love is not like their love." Mercy (or compassion)—Arabic rahma—is a divine quality much discussed in the Qur’an. The word is derived from rahim, womb, and its basic meaning is a mother’s love for her child.

Part of page 99 is taken up by Maybudi’s account of a letter from God, titled “The Eternal Love,” that will be read out to people on the Day of Resurrection. It condemns those gathered there for their failure to live up to their divine calling, but then finishes with the words, “You did what you did, but I am ashamed to chastise you as is worthy for you. Instead I will do what is worthy for Me. Go, for I have forgiven you, so that you will know that I am I and you are you.” Maybudi remarks, “Indeed, if a beggar goes before a king, they do not ask him what he has brought. They ask him what he wants.”

The passage nicely sums up Chapter 2, and I suppose that its style and “quality” are representative of the book as a whole. It barely touches, however, on the various dimensions of divine and human love discussed in the other eight chapters.
Learn more about Divine Love at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue