When the Can-Can Was Divine

A Muslim scholar deconstructs Best Picture nominee 'Moulin Rouge'

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most familiar with--but also in bakhti yoga, as well as types of Christian mysticism, the idea that the unconditional lover is satisfied, however the beloved appears. On the other hand, there is the more exoteric spiritual love relationship where someone loves God for the sake of salvation, for the reward in the hereafter.

In the Sufi tradition, the poet Rumi really plays the two against one another. He emphasizes the need for giving up hope for reward. He emphasizes being in love with God for the sheer pleasure of it. In "Moulin Rouge," the courtesan hears the Duke's message--"Oh I'll be able to be a real actress," she says, "I'll have security, I'm a material girl after all." This is like someone who is loving God for the sake of reward and not for God's sake alone. It makes it seem rather crass. This kind of love is vastly inferior to the unconditional love of God.

But both God and the Duke--not that the moviemakers were trying to make this parallel--both invite us to pursue that security.

Yes, God invites us to salvation. And if we take that, that's okay. But from the ecstatic Sufi perspective, God extends another invitation, which is more profound, which is to love God without being motivated by desire for paradise or fear of hell. There's a story that's told of Rabi'a, an important Sufi woman, who one day was seen walking through the city with a torch in one hand and a bucket in the other. And someone asked her, "Rabi'a, what are you doing?" And she said "With this bucket I am going to quench the fires of hell so that no one will be devoted to God out of fear of hell. And with this torch I'm going to burn the gardens of paradise so no one will be devoted to God for desire for paradise."


Are they mutually exclusive?

Not necessarily. As people grow spiritually, they are often attracted to divine love for the perks, one of which is salvation. But a more sober Sufi perspective would say it's important to recognize that hope of salvation is a stage that is very nurturing but once believers get to the point where they contrast salvation with unconditional love of God, they begin to taste the difference and let go of the motivation for salvation.

Satine, Nicole Kidman's character, gets this. She tries to give up the writer and with him the comforts of his love, for his own good.

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