Ibn Hazm: On The Sensation Of Love

 Love exercises an effective authority, a decisive sovereignty over the soul! 

Its commands cannot be opposed, its ordinances may not be flouted, its rule is not to be transgressed. It demands unwavering obedience, and against its dominion there is no appeal.

Love untwists the firmest plaits, and looses the tightest strands. It dissolves that which is most solid, undoes that which is most firm. It penetrates the deepest recesses of the heart and makes lawful things most strictly forbidden. 

For Rene Descartes, existence can be explained by the Cogito or ‘I think therefore I am’ and that despite no real guarantee that our perceptions of reality are authentic, the mere fact that we have a thought is enough to prove that we exist. However, the authenticity of this ‘thought’ or the reality of our perceptions and beliefs are indeed more relevant than a mere mental transaction, otherwise what is existence if we simply absorb and repeat information like mindless drones?

For me, existence is only real through love or moral consciousness, that the mind and body – extension and thought – as two distinct entities merge when we experience empathy. Unity is impossible without first separating yourself and like a switch, we are awakened to begin individually experiencing the external world and thus uniting with it. However, our socially constructed understanding of love enable people to posture archetypes of love and undermine the authenticity of the experience.

These sensations of experience are merely reflections of our own subjective reality and until we become conscious of why we experience those sensations, not only are we not essentially ‘alive’ but we are not experiencing love. Would Ibn Hazm agree?

Ibn Hazm Abu Muhammad ‘Ali was born in 994 in Cordova, Andalusia and was a theologian and jurist under the Zahiri tradition of Islam during a tumultuous political period. Islam had long been established in the region and Cordova was one of the great cities of the Umayyad Caliphate that ruled across the Iberian peninsula, but as tensions between factions and continuous upheaval embroiled the region, the collapse of the caliphate found Ibn Hazm imprisoned and banished multiple times before finally seeking asylum in Mallorca.

Hazm was a medieval philosopher who believed that any cognitive legitimacy or authenticity can only be found in revelation and sensation. This may seem paradoxical given his views against the use of analogy and hidden meanings to explain the wisdom of religious scriptures – does one need to look beyond the language to uncover a different meaning? – his exoteric (zahir) views on religious law were balanced by a poetic, literary expression on the subject of love, as seen in his monumental work Tawq al-hamama.

Sweet fawn adorable,
Fair as the moon at full,
Or like the sun, that through
Dark clouds shines out to view

With that so languid glance
He did my heart entrance,
With that lithe stature, he
As slender as a tree.

I yielded to his whim,
I humbled me to him,
As lovesick suitor still
Obeys his darling’s will.

Let me thy ransom be!
Embrace me lawfully
I would not give my charms
Into licentious arms.

To Hazm, there is a difference between divine love and mere affection. The divine form of love is expressed in higher values, of attaining a noble quality that emulates the goodness of God who is both the greatest and unseen good that we search for within ourselves. God’s nature is love and by His grace we have received this essence in our souls. The practice of attaining higher virtues such as loyalty, honesty, and fidelity is a practice of reaching closer to the dominion of God, furthering us away from the confines of desire and of fear that often compel one to make incorrect decisions. Our dedication to uphold these virtues is an illustration of this practice where we apply and test the authenticity of our values in our interactions with others. 

True love is to fall in love with a quality and not an object, that the object itself – your beloved – upholds these qualities of virtue being a reflection of why you love them. One who lacks courage, who lies, who deceives and with maliciousness slanders and sins cannot love, despite being able to express themselves as being ‘loving’ in what is essentially a rehearsed vocalisation that any machine could do. They have been led by their impulses, compelled by lust, a dependence or even a fear of loneliness and so they feel complete only because they have overcome those impulses or sensations.

This is the vileness of sinning, the conflict between our two natures “forever in opposition to one another” where we corrupt virtue and the truth because society provides the mechanisms to enable people to traffic deceit while calling it “love”.

Genuine love according to Hazm is when one can see and value something more than just an appearance; it is not physical but nevertheless it can be explained by reason. As we attempt to emulate the virtues of God and try to understand the meaning of goodness, our attraction to others is only authentic when our natures mirror one another, that both lover and beloved by their very natures are inclined to emulate what is virtuous. Any sensation of affection is not love, it is just an appearance.

Any excessive emotional feelings are not supposed to be there and are actually an indication that no rational or objective practice is taking place. Some people can feel the emotion of excessive sadness and depression, for instance, but they are experiencing those emotions because they do not understand rationally, however the moment they becomes conscious of why they are sad and confront it, those feelings disappear. A person can believe in ‘love at first sight’ and feel excessive emotions, but that could actually be an indication of their level of loneliness. Hazm believes that a rational person who understands and practices virtue and who meets another that is good and also practices virtue would equally be content through one another.

Is contentment true love?

Many men obey their carnal souls, and disobey their reason; they follow after their random desires, rejecting the ordinances of religion, and scouting God’s commandments.

~

Small faithfulness in the beloved
Is most exceedingly approved,
While lovers’ great fidelity
Is taken unremarkably.

So cowards, rarely brave in war,
Are more applauded when they are
Than heroes, who sustain all day
The heat and fury of the fray.

~

Thou hast robbed her of her heart
Using all deceitful art;
And can any creature thrive
Having not a heart alive?

Accordingly, Hazm was influenced by Plato and his dialogue in both the Symposium – that relates more to the earthly practice –  and Phaedrus – that love itself is divine and infinite – and this balances his appreciation of the subject with his religious understanding. He particularly articulates that love is a union of souls, a completeness and way of healing. In the Symposium, Aristophanes speaks of people being severed, cut in half and each longing for its other half, which attempts to explain that love itself exists in our soul but it wounded and longing, only ever really complete when it finds its other half.

Hazm believes that parts of the soul are divided and effected by the physical universe and that proximity to beloved is a yearning to encounter a lost part of our soul. I do not believe the soul is divided, but that we achieve a rational completeness or a subjective ‘contentment’ when we form a unity in ourselves. The ‘lost’ part of our soul is merely a part of our soul that we do not understand and thus unity is when we become conscious of that part of our soul. We do this by learning from one another in the physical world, where we see a part of ourselves in others.

It is not just a physical union between a lover and beloved, but a subjective union in ourselves and thus that emptiness, separateness and loneliness becomes complete and fulfilled. We simply tell ourselves that there exists a “we” since love must inherently be reciprocated in order for it to be true or valid. The idea of a “fusion of two souls” is merely an illustration that defines this separateness it into a shared understanding.

All these varieties of love come to an end when their causes disappear, and increase or diminish with them; they are intensified according to the degree of their proximity, and grow languid as their causes draw further and further away. The only exception is the Love of true passion, which has the mastery of the soul: this is the love, which passes not away save with death.

False or fake love is a madness where the body corrupts the soul, where people are no longer capable of remembering universal values and virtues. This is a type of “blindness” or being mentally asleep – thus lacking consciousness – when eventually a person given to pleasure becomes a beast, one who desires popularity and attention, sex and money.

While there are parts of Ibn Hazm’ work that I cannot thoroughly discuss, it is a fantastic piece of literature that deserves recognition. I particularly enjoyed his use of poetry and philosophy together in his musings on the subject and while I do not agree with some of his ideas, it nevertheless is a wonderful piece of literature and worth the read.

My love for thee shall aye endure
As now, most perfect and most pure;
It brooks no increase, no decline,
Since it’s complete, and wholly thine.

I cannot any cause discover,
Except my will, to be thy lover,
And boldly challenge any man
To name another, if he can.

For sure, when any thing we see
Of its own self sole cause to be,
That being, being of that thing,
Lives ever undiminishing

But when we find its origin
Is other than the thing it’s in,
Our losing that which made it be
Annihilates it instantly.