We Must Cling to Love

Thursday, March 5, 2015 - 4:47am
Photo by Chris McGrath

We Must Cling to Love

Fear is on the loose. Love is invisible.

Ours is a world that seeks out acts of terror, and rewards them by broadcasting them again and again on the highest of platforms. “If it bleeds, it leads,” and all that.

Love, that most cosmic of forces, is often relegated to the most private of realms. Masquerading in the place of love is an obsession with tantalizing, physical pleasure-seeking that obfuscates our urgent need for real intimacy.

The great poet Rumi has a lovely story that he tells about the two paths in life: the path of love and the path of fear. (The story is a bit NSFW, but let’s say it involves a husband, a wife, and a mistress.) Two women walk the same path, both leading to the house where the man has been waiting. One walks in fear, one walks in love. The woman who walks in love doesn’t so much walk as she glides. She skips. It’s as if her feet don’t even touch the ground.

The woman who walks in fear covers the same distance, but her walk has a different flavor. It is a walk of fear, a walk spent in terror.

Fear is powerful. It’s primal. In the Bible we are told that one of the very first sentences humanity uttered was saying to God: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid.”

There is the fear of something bad happening to people we love. Fear of losing what we cherish, fear of not attaining to what we dream of.

Yes, fear is powerful, but love is… more.

There is so much fear in this world. Fear-mongering politicians have figured out that they can protect the interests of the wealthiest among us by turning the mass of poor people to be afraid of blacks, Muslims, and Hispanics. ISIS projects their terror via videos that are patterned after American horror movie tradition.

Just a couple of days ago, we saw the prime minister of one nation (Israel) standing in the Congress of a second nation (United States) espousing war and terror towards a third nation (Iran). Fear is a powerful means of mobilizing the masses.

Yes, fear pulls us down. Love lifts us up. As the mystics of Islam used to tell us, it’s love that makes the planet move. Love moves us more than fear.

Fear is ultimately a poison that corrupts our own heart. And as the green sage Yoda told us:

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Love is different. Love is a fire that takes what is raw in us and “cooks” it to maturity. Love propels us beyond the confine of our own ego. Love is a Divine force that makes us divine.

Yes, there is real fear in this world. Yes, fear is powerful. But we don’t have to walk the path of fear. We can choose love. The path of love is sweeter. The path of love is more luminous.

Loved ones speak during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime.

(Brendan Smialowski / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.)

Fear is about what I think you are going to do to me. Fear is about what you are going to take from me.

Love says it’s not about me, it’s not about you. It is about all of us. Love says there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory.

Love says:

You and I
Have to live

As if you and I
Never heard

Of a “you”
an “I.”

The path of love is not the absence of fear. Real love is made possible through vulnerability. Vulnerability is the possibility of having one’s heart open enough to let love in, and also let pain in. There is in this love the possibility of being genuinely hurt. The path of love is not the avoiding of suffering, but the welcoming of joy and suffering alike, the way a gracious host would.

So no, the path of love is not being impervious to fear. It is simply the stubborn refusal to let fear have the last word.

We cling to love, in a world that all too often celebrates fear.

May we bring love into the public space, illuminating the dark corners of injustice. May we let love shine, so that all that is based in fear vanishes. May we embrace a love that begins with the self and spills over to the neighbor, the friend, the family, the community, the stranger, until it encompasses the whole of humanity.

May we be awash in a love that begins in God, and encompasses all. May we walk the path of love.


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Omid Safi

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

Share Your Reflection



Beautifully said and oh so true!

Fear deals with the past, and with the present. Love--and its twin, Light--dwell in the present moment. To the degree we can remain grounded in the present, the Eternal Now, we emanate love and banish the darkness of fear. It's an amazing concept! So simple, yet so powerful.

This is such a beautiful reflection that radiates truth. thank you for this gift of seeing through the eyes of Love. Love is an "us".

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

This will be my daily prayer. Perfectly time for my life. Thank you, Omid and Rumi.

Dear Omid,

Thank you for this, and for all else you share here weekly. I have really been so much enjoying your contributions. Much gratitude for all you share!

dear Kate, it's an honor to have this community, with whom we each bring our own beauty.

This. Is. Awesome.

Sounds a bit like Buber's I and Thou...I like that...

What a lovely compliment. Thank you. Buber, and for me even more Heschel, remain lovely guides on this path for all of us.

Thank you again for your thoughts, words and reflections. I have been grappling with fear lately. Your words are a good reminder to lean into love.

I love and appreciate your writings; filled with deep love and longing for a world directed by love instead of fear.
Thank You!!

You set a great example of sending love into the world for all to share. With gratitude.

I am so grateful for Dr Safi's posts. I spend a lot of time in the Middle East for work, and I see so much beauty. It is abundant, even amidst the suffering. Those who cannot travel there are prohibited from seeing this beauty by the current public dialogue on the region, on Islam, ISIS, etcetera. Dr. Safi's writings always carry the beauty of this special part of the world, and I savor this. Rumi. Who doesn't need Rumi on a Thursday?!

Thank-you for this message...the poem I will keep in my heart!

Beautiful. Thank you

Dear Omid Safi,
I thank you for yet another one of your great gifts!
We all must keep clinging to love,within us and around us and spread that great force into our world!
Your reflection will guide me into the 3. week of Lent.
I like to share some of Henri J.M. Nouwen,s words from his book: A Cry for Mercy:

O God,awaken the consciousness of all peoples and their leaders
raise up men and women full of love and generosity who can speak and act for peace,and show us new ways in which hatred can be left behind,
wounds can be healed,and unity can be restored.Amen.
With much gratitude for all you share.

No truer words can be spoken. We can love our fear. It is after all, trying to keep us safe, whether we need it or not. Thanks Omid

Yes, I will bring love into public space, be awash in a love that begins with God, walk the path of love...This is my commitment. If one by one, we all make this commitment, the fear will eventually dissipate. Thank you, Omid for reminding us to be in "Love" not fear.

Hallelujah - I especially like your point about the path of love not being impervious to fear, but refusing to let fear have the last word. Thank you.

Thank you Omid, for sharing your gifts of heart ,wisdom, and light. They have been solace at a time of significant transformation. If we could learn deeply to hold these lightly to share, we could be more powerful than we can image. Thank you for your heart work. May you know deep deep joy. Christine

So true,love is about giving and fear is rooted in taking away.
And in the giving,we receive. In the taking away, no one gains. Thank you for sharing of yourself every week and making yourself vulnerable in your giving.

Thank you, Omid Safi, for such a beautiful reflection.

Very relaxing message giving guidance this morning on a bright sunny day.

Thank you ..A beautiful. Model to live into.