While pursuing my bachelors in Islamic studies, and with my Sufi friend to guide me, I began to study Islam and listen to recitations of Qur’an and prayers that were so beautiful they literally gave me goosebumps. I did not understand Arabic, but the words and the way in which they were recited, evoked in me a tremendous spiritual awakening. It was a profound and consuming connection with something greater, which lead to a reconnection with myself and humanity. Indeed, it was a rediscovery of love.

What I experienced was more than some ephemeral college-age intellectual or socially motivated interest in Islam – it was an ineffable feeling of compassionate love. Love for God, love for myself and love for others, and an unfounded yet simultaneously unconditional feeling of the reciprocation of this love from the universe toward me. This was, as Dr. Mernissi describes, al-Mahabba, “…the affection, the attentive tenderness and constant love”, that I had found.

According to the great 12th century Sufi scholar Ibn al-Arabi, there are three levels of knowledge. The first, being reason (ilm al-aql), which is knowledge that is self-evident. For example, you know that a table is hard because you can touch it and feel that it is hard. The second level is the knowledge of the states (al-ahwal), which can only be realized through spiritual experience. He relates, “This is like the knowledge of the sweetness of honey…the pleasure of sexual intercourse, love, ecstasy and yearning.” This knowledge cannot be proved or articulated, in a precise manner in the same way that self-evident knowledge can be. On the contrary, it is what we call faith. This experience of love that came through my transition to Islam was exactly this second form of knowledge that Ibn al-Arabi described centuries ago.

I learned to experience this love through my Sufi friend. The way she understood Islam in her own life, they way she manifested it, fundamentally touched me. The way she taught me to experience love also fundamentally changed me. She was a woman who dressed like me, talked like me, danced like me, laughed like me, but loved herself and was able to express love for others in a way that I was not accustomed to. It was true compassion that came from a distinct way of remembering God and, through the remembrance of God, finding compassion for humanity. This fountain of loving tenderness came from how she interpreted her religion. I wanted this for myself and I found it in Islam. That was my truth.

In a new take on the Orientalist tradition, the West too often equates Islam with terrorism – to the detriment of over 1.5 billion Muslims and their neighbors. While the spectacular acts of few have caused significant distress for the majority, it is during this special time of the year that I want to bring the focus back to love.

I believe that everyone has their own truth, based on their own circumstances, experiences and internal machinery. The spiritual path of experiencing love through Islam is my truth. I invite my readers to find love through their own truths and in this way we can love each other as a world community, regardless of how we define our path to truth.

Peace.

Carli Pierson is currently an international research fellow at the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences (ISISC) in Siracusa, Italy. She is also a New York licensed attorney and a human rights and society contributor for the Women News Network (WNN). She received her B.A. in Islamic World Studies from DePaul University in 2006, and her juris doctorate cum laude with a concentration in international law from Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center, in 2012.

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