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Love God or fear God?

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It is love which completely transforms even a most evil character, observes Asghar Ali Engineer.

Rabia loved God so much that she would say, I have no time to hate Satan. My heart is filled with love of God and has no place even for hate - Photo credit: Wikipedia

There are two different approaches to worship God for fear and greed or sheer love and devotion. Most of us ordinary people worship God either for fear of punishment or greed for reward in paradise. In Sufi lore, it is said Rabia Basri, a great Sufi woman of 2nd century hijrah (eighth century A.D.) was once carrying a bucket of water in one hand and a burning torch in the other. When people saw her they asked, “O! Rabia why are you carrying this bucket of water and burning torch?”

She replied, “I want to set fire to paradise with this torch and put out the fire of hell with this bucket of water so that people do not worship Allah out of greed for paradise or fear of hell but out of pure love.” Rabia loved God so much that she would say, “I have no time to hate Satan. My heart is filled with love of God and has no place even for hate.” This is pure love and the most meritorious way of worshipping God.

All saints and Awliya Allah (noble souls, friends of Allah) only talk of love, not of fear. From India, Rabia’s counter-part is Meera. She was a great devotee of God in the form of Lord Krishna whom she calls by different names – Girdhar, Gopala, Krshna, Natwar and so on. She composed verses in the common people’s language like Rajasthani, Marwari, Gujrati Biraj bhasha and so on. She is greatly loved by people even five hundred years after her death.

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It was the love of her Lord which made her fearless, and she broke all royal traditions. Her devotion to her Lord made her renounce everything – her royal palace – and she took up the life of the common people and moved around with sadhus and sans. Her royal family put tremendous pressure on her, but she did not budge. Love really makes one truly fearless. Her devotional songs are sung by millions of people even today. One wonders at the intensity of love found in her poetry. It overwhelms us all.


Maulana Rum is another shining example of love and devotion. He was a great ‘alim and jurist. He used to deliver sermons and had the highest place in the court of the king. Thousands of disciples would come to listen to him and his sermons. He would not have been known to the world despite his erudite knowledge if he had not met one day a Darvesh (mendicant) called Shams Tabriz

One day, he was delivering his sermon as usual and a heap of books, which he used to consult, lay before him.

The mendicant intruded and looked at the books and asked, “What is this?”

Maulana, annoyed with him, said you would not know.

Shams Tabriz looked at the books again and they caught fire.

Maulana Rum said, “What is this?”

And Tabriz replied, “You would not know.”

Maulana understood that this mendicant was no ordinary person and went after him. Shams completely transformed him from an ‘alim to a great sufi saint who renounced everything, his status in the Court, his wealth and comfortable living, and he became a mendicant like Shams.

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He became restless in love and composed many ghazals (love poems), which were collected as Diwan-i-Shams Tabriz. And subsequently he wrote his epic, the most revered Mathnavi, in several volumes which came to be known as the Qur’an in Persian. It is one of the world’s classics. It was love, devotion to Allah, that made him immortal. Like Meera, he was so engrossed in love that he would say my only identity is love, not any religion, region, not even earth and heaven.

Inducing fear

On the other hand. those who emphasise fear of God, usually the priests and theologians, in fact generate hatred for all others, and ultimately, through this fear of God, they want to establish fear of their own authority in their followers. They try to induce fear in us of hell fire and how we will be punished if we do not obey their authority. It is true the Qur’an does talk of hell fire but it is for hardened sinners who have refused to give up oppressing others, who are arrogant of their wealth and power.

For ordinary sinners, Allah is a great pardoner, reconciler and He is Merciful. His love and Mercy is ever flowing for those who repent and are ready to be good. One should seek this Mercy and Grace through love and devotion. It is love which completely transforms even a most evil character. Those who realise the power of love, like Meera and Maulana Rum, never hesitate to renounce love of power.

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It is the love of power, arrogance and wealth which leads to all the evils in the world, and it is the power of love which negates all these evils and makes this world a paradise. Now it is for us to go for love or for fear. One who loves is truly fearless and indeed it is love which is God and it is God who is love.

Asghar Ali Engineer is associated with the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.

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