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May 13, 2010

An Imam writes about love

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Signs of love include "abundant and exceeding cheerfulness at finding oneself with the beloved in a narrow space, and a corresponding depression on being together in a wide expanse; to engage in a playful tug of war for anything the one or the other lays hold of; much clandestine winking; leaning sideways and supporting oneself against the object of one's affection; endeavoring to touch the hand and whatever part of the body one can reach while engaged in conversation; and drinking the remainder of what the beloved has left in his/her cup, seeking out the very spot against which his/her lips pressed."

This is a quotation from a 1,000-year-old book about love and romance by Imam Abu Mohamed ibn Hazm (994-1064). Ibn Hazm was born and raised in Muslim Spain, his great-grandfather having converted the family to Islam.

He was a well-known scholar, philosopher, poet, litterateur, psychologist, historian, physician, surgeon, jurist and theologian.

He wrote more than 400 books with authority on all these subjects, as well as more than 10 books on medicine. Ibn Hazm has been called the greatest scholar and the most original thinker in Muslim Spain.

In his celebrated book Tawq al-hamamah (The Dove's Necklace or Ring of The Dove), he captured the art of love and romance like no other.

It is a book in classical Arabic literacy. The dove symbolizes love or romance while the necklace (or ring) refers to falling in love making love and lover inseparable.

“I have tested all manner of pleasures, and known every variety of joy; and I have found that neither intimacy with princes, nor wealth acquired, nor finding after lacking, nor returning after long absence, nor security after fear, and repose in a safe refuge—none of these things so powerfully affects the soul as union with the beloved, especially if it comes after long denial and continual banishment. For then, the flame of passion waxes exceeding hot, and the furnace of yearning blazes up, and the fire of eager hope rages ever more fiercely,” said the Imam.

I consider myself fortunate that I can read the book in its original Arabic. Even though professor A. J. Arberry did an eloquent English translation (published in 1951) he translates the prose and poems liberally for the sake of the rhyme in the English language.

“Love has certain signs which the intelligent man quickly detects and the shrewd readily recognizes,” wrote Ibn Hazm “Of these [signs] the first is the brooding gaze—the eye is the wide gateway of the soul, the scrutinizer of its secrets, conveying its most private thoughts and giving expression to its deepest hidden feelings. You will see the lover gazing at the beloved unblinkingly.…

“Let me add a personal touch. In my youth I loved a slave-girl who happened to be a blond; from that time I have never admired brunettes, not though their dark tresses set off a face as resplendent as the sun, or the very image of beauty itself. I find this taste to have become a part of my whole make-up and constitution since those early days; my soul will not suffer me to acquire any other, or to love any type but that,” admits Ibn Hazm. “It is hard to gauge the pain of forlorn love, though. In such cases, Islam counsels prayer, patience and devotion to God.

“Life holds no joy for me, and I do nothing but hang my head and feel utterly cast down, ever since I first tasted the bitterness of being separated from those I love. It is an anguish that constantly revisits me, an agony of grief that ceases not for a moment to assail me.

“I am a dead man, though counted among the living, slain by sorrow and buried by sadness, entombed while yet a dweller on the face of this mortal earth. God be praised, whatever be the circumstances that befall us; there is indeed no other god but God!”

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