The myriad levels of love

Love manifests itself in varying forms. In degrees of intensity and in manner of expression, in the difference of emotional connect, in the variance of relation to the subject on which the feeling is centered.

From the point of view of human psychology, the kinds of love have been divided in seven — with rather blurry edges, for human emotions can never be fitted into neatly compartmentalised boxes.

Mohabbat, Mawaddat and Ishq: the Sufi enumerates three levels of love, degrees by which love climbs the winding stairwell all the way to the purest and the divine. The first one, Mohabbat, is somewhat akin to the Greek Eros — a passionate, romantic attachment — but unlike Eros, Mohabbat encompasses far more than bodily desire. It refers to an inexplicable emotional, mental connect, a joy experienced in the company of a ‘second self’, that elevates the other to a source of peace and fulfilment and motivates the self to create happiness for the other. It partly encompasses another category termed as ‘Philia’, which is platonic love found between friends, presented in bonding over shared interests and ideas — born out of familiarity, comfort and mutual affection. The best, most lasting kind of Mohabbat then is the combination of Eros and Philia — which connects not just through physical intimacy, but also through intellectual fulfilment and commitment.

The term Mohabbat may also include parental love—or Storge from Greek philosophy. Defined as unconditional and, for very small children, even unilateral, it is focused primarily on fulfilling the needs of the other. Mohabbat, then, encompasses all kinds of unselfish, expressive, deep flowing love between individuals. Characterised by goodwill and by looking out for the other, by sacrificing some parts of the self for the other.

Mawaddat, however, is a different level — a different kind. Blurry definitions surround the concept of Mawaddat. But largely, the term refers to a kind of love mixed with awe and reverence, a desire to follow and be guided, a desire to find one’s path. It is a nod to the nature of human intellect, which seeks answers, and a purpose to his/her own existence. Mawaddat then, is the love one has for their teacher, guide, guru or peer. It is the love that followers express for their spiritual leaders, the love that is reserved for revered personalities — and involves living by their words. It is the emotion borne out of guidance, and has a purely spiritual and intellectual aspect to it. The kind of love that makes you seek out knowledge, and fashion your life according to the answers received.

The final and highest level of love defined in Sufi philosophy is the glorious Ishq, which encompasses in itself the idea of fanaa. As the Sufi explains, Ishq is solely the domain of the divine, and denotes union with god. It denotes rising above material desires and interests, beyond your physical self and establishing a connect between the human spirit and the spirit of the Universe — the spirit that pervades every living and non-living being around you.

To get to the pinnacle of Ishq, the heart moves through the first two levels, step by step, and then expands with growing love for every living (and non-living) being around — facets of the earth, the sky and the deep. It is by moving through these ‘loves’ that the heart attains the level of Ishq — where the creator of the universe reveals itself deep in the heart of the creation. That is the final point of union — the fanaa — where lover and beloved merge as one; where humanity finds divinity in its own heart.