The Purification of the Soul

In the classic tale ‘The Story of Layla & Majnun’, Majnun goes on a journey to find God through love.

My Favorite Quotes

“If prayers remain unanswered, do we ever reflect that it may be for our good? We feel sure that we know our needs, yet the future is veiled from our eyes. The thread of our fate ends outside the visible world and what today we mistake for a padlock, keeping us out, we may tomorrow find to be the key that lets us in.”

“My longing for you is the consolation of my heart, its wound and its healing salve.”

“He escaped from Layla in order to find her.”

“‘…because for him this jewel is the eye of the world. As it is hidden from him, he lives in darkness, a blind man. We must find his pearl.'”

Majnun’s entire speech on pages 21-24, but in particular, “‘Goodbye to you, companions of past feastings. I salute you. Farewell! Look, the wine is spilled, the glass has slipped from my hands and broken. Of my happiness only the shards are left, with the sharp edges which cause deep anguish. But when you come, do not be afraid of cutting your feet. The flood of my tears has swept away the shards-far, far, away.”

“Love, if not true, is but a plaything of the senses, fading like youth. Time perishes, not true love. All may be imagination and delusion, but not love. The charcoal brazier on which it burns is eternity itself, without beginning or end.”

“The further away his moon, Layla, shone in the sky, the higher Majnun waved the banner of his love!”

“I have sold my life for love’s sake! Yes, it is I; may I always be love’s slave…but I can gain strength only through love. If love dies, so shall I.”

“‘Take what is left of my life and add it to Layla’s. Let me never demand from her as much as a single hair, even if my pain reduces me to the width of one…My life shall be sacrificed for her beauty, my blood shall be spilled freely for her, and though I burn for her painfully, like a candle, none of my days shall ever be free of this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love for love’s sake, and make my love a hundred times as great as it was and is!’

“‘What did he do? He cursed himself and blessed Layla.'”

“He suffered because he could not find the treasure for which he was searching; yet his grief provided him with a free passage, liberating him from the fetters of selfishness.”

“Even if we do not like to show our weakness to the world, we should have friends, genuine and true like mirrors, clearly revealing our faults so that we can face and cure them. Let me be your mirror.”

“Why do you give your heart to a rose? She blossoms without you, while you remain in the mud; she had a heart of stone-indeed, your heart is being stoned! Why?” Majnun’s father.

“A man in love does not tremble for his life. He who searches for his beloved is not afraid of the world.”

“Layla’s mirror was her own soul which in her loneliness she questioned about her beloved. With whom else could she talk about the thoughts which filled her heart?…She lived between the waters of her tears and the fire of her love.”

“Born of pain and longing, their song had the power to break the unhappiness of the world.”

“Take care that you do not become a candle which, crying bitterly, consumes itself in its own grief.”

“My sighs, my bitter tears leave you unmoved!
My griefs and sorrows do not harass you.
Not one, not half a promise did you keep
Of many hundreds I received from you.
You promised to fulfil my keen desire,
Yet you forgot to grant my sweet reward!
Instead of damping it, you stirred the fire,
With empty words did you seduce my heart.” Majnun to Nawfal.

“‘Unite me with Layla, or I shall throw my life away.'”

“You may be great in your generosity, yet how small you are when it comes to fulfilling your promises.”

“She was a candle which smiles through tears, a rose which hides her thorns, a lame girl supported by the arms of her parents, who thought she was walking unaided.”

“And however much people enjoyed her beauty, Layla carried death in her soul.”

“‘I have sworn an oath to my creator that I will not give in to you. You can shed my blood with your sword, but you cannot take me by force.'” Layla to her arranged husband, Ibn Salam.

“She lived only in thoughts of Majnun, hoping for a message from him.”

“Did he not look like one of the dead, resurrected in nakedness from the grave on the day of the Last Judgment?”

“‘A flame burns in my heart, a flame beyond measure, which has turned my being to ashes…I am lost in my own wilderness! Do not try to bring me back to the world of humans! Believe me, I am a stranger to them…I am drawn towards death-death is within me…It is autumn, here and inside me, and I must depart- perhaps even before you. Let the dead not mourn the dead, my father.'”

“He was a prisoner in the land of love, and no one could bring him back.”

“You are my yoke, but also my crown.” Majnun’s father to Majnun.

“He who remains a stranger in this world and wanders, restless as the moon at night, will find peace. Man is as lightning, born to die, not to seek permanence in the house of suffering. Do not settle down to rest here, where everything perishes; you will only regret it later. But if you die your own death in this life, tearing yourself away from the world which is a demon with the face of an angel, you will share eternal life. You are your fate; your death, your life. Good will be joined to good, evil to evil. The echo shouts your secret from the mountain-tops, revealing only what you confided yourself.”

“Love was glowing in him. When it burst into flames it also took hold of his tongue, the words streaming unbidden from his lips, verses strung together like pearls in a necklace.”

“‘I was earth, dark and heavy; your grace has changed me into pure water. So I am dead to myself. Do not let me lose my way and perish, do not exclude me from your charity; only your grace can change my darkness to light and lift me out of the black night of my fate into your eternal day.'”

“‘Here on earth you are a target for the arrows of reproach, but what is that to you? Is not your caravan on its way towards the day of resurrection?…You dedicated your heart to my service, and so became the target for slander…I am the moon which looks at your from afar, to receive your light my sun. Pardon my feet for being so weak that they can never reach you…Our bodies are separated, but my soul is not divided from yours for a moment.'” Layla to Majnun.

“‘You know everything which lies open to the light of day, but you also know what is hidden, for you have created both the rock and the precious stone within it.'” Majnun to God.

He in his wilderness could be as free and as mad as he liked; she had always been a prisoner, first her father’s, then her husband’s. A prisoner, courted, loved and spoiled-but did that ease her fate?”

“Was it really possible, then, to steal a glance at paradise while living on earth? Could a small particle of eternity break the chain of hours?…What did people beyond the wilderness know about ‘Majnun’?”

“‘Love is the essence of my being. Love is fire and I am wood burned by the flame. Love has moved in and adorned the house, my Self has tied its bundle and left. You imagine that you see me, but I no longer exist: what remains, is the beloved…And you believe this love, so heavy with grief, could ever run dry?”

“‘Beware of thoughtless speech! Before you shoot your arrow, test the bow: is not the string too slack for the target, your arm too weak? Words can be shot even faster than arrows, but shame and regret remain.”

“In the Book of Life every page has two sides. On the upper one, we inscribe our plans, dreams and hopes; the reverse is filled by providence, whose verdicts rarely match our desire.”

“What we are and possess is but a loan-and that not for long! Do not clutch what has been given to you, for joy and desire to possess are but nails fastening you to the perishable world. To obtain your jewel you have to burst open the casket and take wing like the dove from the tower on which you are standing…”

The last few pages are absolutely incredible, but I cannot write them all here. I will merely add one line “Love loosens the knot of being, love is liberation from the vortex of egotism. In love, every cup of sorrow which bites into the soul gives it new life.”

Introduction

‘The Story of Layla and Majnun’ is a precious and beautiful legend; profound in its implications. Zia Inayat Khan summarizes the message of the book perfectly in the Preface, “Through the pedagogy of human love the heart is prepared for divine love, and ultimately for the vision of God unveiled”(xxi). This book is about Qays finding love in Layla; it’s this love that turns him away from society to become Majnun, and it is in the wilderness that he comes to connect with both Layla and God as he goes through the seven stages of the soul. This all makes it so that by the end, Majnun’s soul has been purified enough for him to become One with Layla and to become a reflection of God and His Grace.

The Beginnings of ‘Majnun’

Qays first starts his spiritual journey when he meets Layla. Having been raised by his father and mother, Qays is well-respected and honored by many in his tribe. Upon meeting Layla though, Qays “…was drowned in the ocean of love before he knew that there was such a thing”(Nizami, 5). Here he begins to change. His reputation falls away as he becomes Majnun, truly following that name- the madman possessed by love. He no longer fits with the society that surrounds him, having given his heart and soul to Layla. “He had already given his heart to Layla before he understand what he was giving way…And Layla? She fared no better. A fire had been lit in both- and each reflected the other”(Nizami, 5). It’s through seeing Layla and feeling love for her that Majnun opens his heart up to the possibility of receiving God’s divine love. In her, he sees God. Before, he was a man of religious tradition like his father, but now “no veil covered my secret, no ruins offered a hiding-place for my treasure; that is why the world could rob me of it”(Nizami, 13). The world saw his love and looked down on it; Layla’s family saw it as making a mockery of her and so they hid her away. Slowly, the newly-named Majnun, unable to face the world around him, turns to the wilderness.

Majnun’s purpose is to live in the wilderness so that he can understand his own love for Layla without having anyone else interfering in that. He’s stuck in the agony of his soul- mourning the separation from Layla. He’s entrenched in the first and second stations of the soul: an-nafs ul-’ammaarah and an-nafs ul-lawwaamah. He’s anguished at his own sins and weaknesses as well as the direction his fate is pulling him. He’s like Joseph, down in the pit and stuck in his own faults, lost in his degradation and feeling worthless. This is shown in one episode: when Majnun’s talking to his father, Majnun says, “My soul has fallen into the fire, and even if it hurts to lie there, no matter: it was good to fall. ‘Leave my soul alone. It is destroyed, it is lost”(Nizami, 37). Finding love has started the process of the destruction of his soul. He’s lost his old self- he is no longer Qays, but is now Majnun. He doesn’t only suffer in this destruction, though; he’s finding meaning as he accepts and even allows the destruction of his soul to occur. It begins when he leaves society and goes to the wilderness; when he decides that he wishes to understand love. But, romantic love isn’t the only love that exists-  human love leads us to divine love. Majnun’s quest into the wilderness to understand his human love for Layla is also setting him on a path to understand and have the divine love of God unveiled. 

Majnun is already discovering God, shown when he calls out as he’s running away, “’There is no power and no might except with Allah.’ And, truly, God alone knows how the unhappy youth overcame his desire to kill himself, for everything that binds human beings had fallen away from him.”(Nizami, 20); he knows that God and only God understands the suffering he is going through and it is that knowledge that truly saves him. Majnun’s further beginning to understand and converse with God when his father takes him to visit the Kaaba in Mecca. Instead of following his father’s (the Sayyid) instructions which are to pray to God to be released from his madness and return to how he was before, he chooses instead to pray for what he desires. This shows that he understands that he must communicate with God on what his desires are and that God will hear, understand, and help him with them. He asks, “…let my love grow stronger, let it endure, even if I perish”(Nizami, 27) In this, he is connecting God to his love for Layla.

Becoming One: The Progression of Love

Slowly, Majnun’s soul begins to climb out of its degradation and misery. He’s no longer focused on his misery and suffering, seeing others as strangers who he wishes would leave him alone. He’s meeting new people like Nawfal and moving into action as Nawfal decides to step forward and reunite Majnun with Layla. He’s in station three of the soul: an-nafs ul-mulhimah. He’s content and ecstatic, becoming much like he was as Qays, listening to Nawfal’s promises and believing in them. He feels peace from his suffering from the first time in a long time. But his enthusiasm is “distorted…” and his soul, “can’t distinguish between guidance and distorted perception”(Meyer, 254). He hears that Nawfal will reunite him with Layla and is excited, so caught up in it that he allows Nawfal to go and battle against Layla’s tribe. He begins to see this disparity during the actual battle and he pulls away from the distortion. 

It is in this episode that God is unveiled to him- because of the distortion he had almost fallen back into his previous desires, but now he’s seeing everything clearly. While Nawfal’s his friend, the ‘enemies’ are the family who Layla loves. It is here that his understanding of love grows. While he originally only cared for Nawfal and his soldiers, now he worries about Layla’s tribe. His heart is caught between the love he feels for both sides. This new growth in his understanding of love is an unveiling of God to him. The lines between his and Layla’s love are beginning to blur. Soon, he worries more about Layla’s tribe, as Layla’s desires are put before his own. This is shown when Majnun proclaims to one of Nawfal’s horsemen, “I want to die for my beloved, not kill other men. How then could I be on your side, when I have given up myself?”(Nizami, 59). His soul is no longer torn, as Layla’s wellbeing become Majnun’s focal point once again. His love for Layla is once more becoming purified as is his soul. It is here that he becomes a mirror to God, just for a moment. He looks and sees fighting on both sides and feels pain; pain because his soul cares for the two factions. In the end, he puts Layla first; unlike his own, Layla’s love is completely loyal and pure to Majnun- Layla’s soul is a mirror to God. It is Majnun who is trying to match this. He still has a long journey ahead of him, but in this moment, his soul’s intentions become pure and matched with Layla’s. He remembers his purpose- that, “…where her heart beats, there is my home”(Nizami 59). Here he enters the fourth station of the soul: an-nafs ul-mutma’innah. He finds peace and understanding; he finds balance within his soul that matches Layla’s.

This growth in love leads Majnun to begin to care for all things that exist around him. He trades his horse to save two gazelles; he gives away goods to save a stag; he agrees to be a chained madman to save a man from that fate. He is discovering God in all of the animals and the old man chained by his wife. As God has created all, so Majnun looks at them and sees God. He feels love and worry for their well-being and wishes to protect them. He sees God around him and works to protect it and live surrounded by it. Here, he is going through the fifth and sixth station of the soul: an-nafs ul-raadiyah “contented or well pleased” and an-nafs ul-mardiyyah “well pleasing and manifesting contentment”(Meyer, 259). In saving these animals and caring for others, he finds companions in them. They flock to him and all live in harmony based on Majnun’s kindness. Majnun no longer cries in sorrow and suffering, but instead lives peacefully and simply with the animals he has met and cares deeply for. “Had anyone ever known a shepherd like Majnun?”(Nizami, 109). Truly, he has become a shepherd over God’s creations- a guide and help to all who come to him.

The Culmination of Majnun’s Spiritual Journey

When the youth Salam from Baghdad visits Majnun, Majnun says that he is “the King of Love in majesty. My soul is purified from the darkness of lust, my longing purged of low desire, my mind freed from shame”(Nizami, 161). Majnun has finally reached the seventh station of the soul: an-nafs ul-zakiyyah. He’s merged with Layla to become the Personification of Love, spreading it to all those who come to him, animal or man. He’s God’s messenger of Love and is finally a pure soul. He’s risen from a mortal man to a shepherd and now to a “King of Love in majesty”. Through this journey to understand love, he has become a purified soul of God.

‘Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah’ states that, ““Whoever purifies himself purifies his own soul, and to Allah is the final destination of all the ways””(Meyer, 261). Majnun spent his life loving others and becoming one with Layla, then when she passes away his path is complete. He has become purified and now wishes to be reunited with Layla, his love. Crying unto God, he says, “…relieve me of this burden. Let me go where my love dwells”(Nizami, 172). Hearing this and seeing Majnun’s purified soul, God grants Majnun’s wish, allowing him to finally be with his Layla. Once again, in his time of need, Majnun turned to God, knowing God would help him with his love. Entering the seventh station of the soul, Majnun had become a mirror to God, bringing peace and love to all that surrounded him as God’s messenger.

This truly is a journey for Majnun to discover God through his love for Layla. During his life and his experiences, he begins to turn to God. The culmination of this is shown when Majnun speaks to God, saying, “Where is my refuge, if not with you…I was earth, dark and heavy; your grace has changed me into pure water”(Nizami, 117). Though earlier on in the book, this was when Majnun truly turned to God and found power, hope, and strength in him. He soon realizes that all must have God’s grace to be changed and be freed from their shame. This scene is where God is truly unveiled and discovered by Majnun- where Majnun comes to know and follow God, leading to him finally completing the seven stations of the soul in the end.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this book, we meet Qays who is a well-respected and civilized man. Upon meeting Layla though, he’s introduced to the profound feeling love. When this love is rejected by society, he decides to turn his back on everyone and to go to the wilderness: becoming Majnun ‘the Madman’. He is determined to understand love- and this drive leads him to not only understand his love for Layla, but to also understand God’s divine love. It is in the wilderness and through the experiences of his life that Majnun goes through the seven stations of the soul. Finally, at the end of the story, his soul has become purified and he has become one with Layla. In the end, he truly understands God and becomes his Messenger and upon Layla’s death, he asks God to allow him to be reunited with Layla, his love. Seeing that he has completed his spiritual path and become purified, God grants this wish. In the end, Majnun is finally together as one with Layla.

Works Cited

Chittick, William C. The Spiritual Path of Love in Ibn al-’Arabi and Rumi. Mystics Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1 (March 1993), pp. 4-16; Penn State University Press.

Ganjavi, Niami, Elsie Mattin, and G. Hill. The Story of Layla and Majnun. Translated by Rudolf Gelpke. New Lebanon, NY: Omegan Publications, 2011.

Meyer, Wali Ali, Bilal Hyde, Faisal Muqaddam, and Shabda Kahn. Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah. San Francisco, CA: Sufi Ruhaniat International, 2011.