by Alireza Nurbakhsh

The Sufis refer to God as the Friend (dūst). This is based on the Koranic verse yuhibbuhum wa yuhibbuhunah (God loves them and they love Him, 5:45), which is interpreted by the Sufis as meaning that it is God’s love for us that gives rise to our love for Him. Fakhruddin Iraqi, the 13th-century Persian Sufi, defines friendship with God as a relationship where God’s love precedes the spiritual traveler’s love for God. Put another way, God is the Friend because He instilled in us the experience of love and loving-kindness. One can interpret this to mean that from a Sufi point of view a friend is someone who leads us to experience love and friendliness.

But there is a deeper reason for referring to God as the Friend. This is, I believe, to highlight that through the act of friendship one can experience oneness. By this I mean the experience whereby we do not “see” ourselves as being separate from others. This gradual loss of focus on the self may begin with feeling empathy with others, then grow into a sense of identification with others and sometimes culminate in the experience of oneness, in which one is no longer conscious of any separation between oneself and other people. Muhammad Shirin Maghribi, the 14th-century Persian Sufi, has written the following poem about such an experience:

That spiritual friend knocked at my door last night.
“Who is it?” I asked. He answered, “Open the door. It is you!”
“How can I be You?” I asked. He answered, “We are one,
but the veil has hidden us in duality.”
We and I, he and you, have become the veil,
And how well this has veiled you from yourself!
If you wish to know how we and he and all are one,
Pass beyond this ‘I’, this ‘we’, this ‘you’.