Sigmund Freud thought that everything was about sex, and he was half right.
Rarely is love so spiritual that it does not also stir the loins, for human
beings are creatures not only of soul but of body. Although it is thought rude
to say so nowadays, different kinds of love belong to different kinds of sex.
Not even Hell can resist divine love, J W Goethe showed in the funniest
vignette in all literature: his devil, Mephistopheles, is disabled by an
obsessive lust for the cherubs sent to claim the soul of Faust in the drama’s
penultimate scene. Heavenly beauty, that is, reduces the crafty demon to a
pathetic old pervert, in a tableau not fit for a family newspaper.
Goethe’s creepily convincing portrait of a pederastic devil in Faust (1832)
drew on the poet’s earlier study of Persian love poetry of
the High Middle Ages, where “as a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a
young man”, according to the leading Persian historian Ehsan Yar-Shater.
Islamic mysticism (Sufism) of the High Middle Ages is the only case in which a
mainstream current of a major world religion preached pederasty as a path to
spiritual enlightenment. A vast literature documents this, and a great deal of
it is available online.
Sufi adoration of pre-pubescent boys “persisted in many Islamic countries until
very recent times,” according to the Orientalist Helmut Ritter. The Afghan
penchant for dancing boys in female costume, shown in the 2007 film The Kite
Runner, is the last vestige of a Sufi practice that has been long
suppressed by both the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. Sufism has a
reputation in Western pop culture as a kinder and gentler branch of Islam. It
is not a different kind of Islam, but rather Islam’s mystical practice, to
which the adage applies, “by their fruits shall ye know them.”
Controversy persists over what is “authentic Sufism”. The Turkish organization
of Fethallah Gulen claims millions of members and doubtless is the largest
self-styled Sufi organization in the world. The American Sufi convert Stephen
Schwartz has dismissed it as a “cult”, while Michael Rubin of the American
Enterprise Institute warns that Gulen may become the Turkish Khomeini. Given
Turkey’s turn towards political Islam (Turkey
in the throes of Islamic revolution?, Jul 22, 2008), the world is
likely to find out a great deal more about Sufism in the near future, and well
may be dismayed by what it learns.
In contrast to the Judeo-Christian West, where marriage has been a metaphor for
God’s love since the Biblical Song of Songs, homosexual pederasty was normative
for the Sufi philosopher-poets of Islam’s golden age in Central Asia. For
Christians, the earthly adumbration of God’s love was nuptial, but pederastic
in Muslim Persia. The classic Persian poets, including Hafez and Rumi,
pined for beardless boys while their European contemporaries wrote sonnets to
women. Some apologists claim that the Sufi practice of “contemplation of the
beardless” was a chaste spiritual exercise, but an Egyptian proverb warns: “In
his father's home a boy's chastity is safe, but let him become a dervish [Sufi
adept] and the buggers will queue up behind him.”
Sufi pedophilia cannot be dismissed as a remnant of the old tribal practices
that Islam often incorporated, for example, female genital mutilation. Genital
mutilation is a pre-Islamic practice unknown in the ancient and modern West.
Even though some Muslim authorities defend it on the basis of Hadith, no one
has ever claimed that it offered a path to enlightenment. Sadly, pedophiles are
found almost everywhere. In its ascendancy, Sufism made a definitive spiritual
experience out of a practice considered criminally aberrant in the West. But
pederasty as a spiritual exercise is not essentially different in character
from the furtive practices of Western perverts. As the psychiatrists explain,
pederasty is an expression of narcissism, the love of an idealized youthful
Sufism seeks one-ness with the universe through spiritual exercises that lead
individual consciousness to dissolve into the cosmos. But nothing is more
narcissistic than the contemplation of the cosmos, for if we become one with
the cosmos, what we love in the cosmos is simply an idealized image of
ourselves. An idealized self-image is also what attracts the aging lecher to
the adolescent boy. That is the secret of Sufi as well as other pederasty, for
pederasty is an extreme expression of self-love. That is the conventional
psychiatric view; Freud for example wrote of the “basic narcissism of the vast
majority of pederasts … proceeding as from narcissism, they seek their own
image in young people.”
Sufism enjoys a faddish ripple of interest in America, where self-admiration is
the national pastime. As opposed to the Biblical God, the cosmos is an
unthreatening thing to worship. The universe, after all, is no one in
particular, and those who seek to merge their consciousness with no one in
particular at the end are left alone with themselves. Worship the cosmos, and
you worship yours truly; worship yourself, and it is not unusual to adore your
own idealized image.
I do not mean to suggest that Sufis today are more likely to be pederasts than
members of any other religious denomination. Sadly, there is brisk competition
in that field. Karen Armstrong, the popular writer on religion, claims to be a
Sufi, and I have it on good authority that she is not a pederast. Non-Muslims
who embrace Sufism view it as a generic form of “spirituality”, like Madonna’s
dabbling in what she thinks is Kabbalah. That recalls the joke about the
Chinese waiter in a kosher restaurant who speaks perfect Yiddish, of whom the
owner says, “He thinks he’s learning English.” No one should blame Hafez or
Rumi for the casual interest of American spiritual tourists.
Nonetheless, it is not entirely by accident that Sufism holds a fascination for
self-absorbed young Americans who dislike the demands placed upon them by
revealed faith. Mysticism of this genre provides a pretext to worship one’s
self in the masquerade of the universe. As Rumi (1207-1273), the most revered
of the Sufi philosopher-poets, said of his own spiritual master,
should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
I do not speak Persian and
cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of Rumi’s verse, which connoisseurs
hold to be elegant. Its content, though, reduces to the same
God-is-everywhere-and-all-I-have-to-do-is-look-inside-myself sort of platitudes
of pop spirituality, for example,
I searched for God among the
Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.
Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was
not there even.
Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not
within his range.
I fared then to the scene of the Prophet's experience of a great divine
manifestation only a 'two bow-lengths' distance from him' but God was not there
even in that exalted court.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.
If the point of love is to dissolve one's self into the All, then there is no
difference between the self and the All; the self and the All are the same, and
one loves one's self. There is no Other in Sufism, only your own ego grinning
back from the universe. To embrace the cosmos implies the destruction of
individuality. In Goethe’s drama, Faust conjures up the personification of the
cosmos, the Earth Spirit, and cannot bear to look upon it; the Earth Spirit
dismisses him with the epigram, “You are like the spirit whom you comprehend -
not me!” Woe betide the adept who succeeds in merging his mind with the
universe: he would become a monster, like Mephistopheles, the consummate
Love of the cosmos reduces to idolatrous love of self. It is a radically
different sort of love than the love of YHWH or Jesus, who are distinct beings
with a personality, even if incomprehensible in their totality. The
Judeo-Christian God is known to humankind by revelation, and specifically
self-revelation through love. The revealed God seeks the love of humankind as
an Other. Revelation does not reassure us that the Divine was in our hearts all
along. It is not always a pleasant experience. It burns our lips like the kiss
of a seraph, and casts our heart into the refiner’s fire. It shatters, burns,
overwhelms and transforms us - but it does not dissolve us into a cosmic soup.
On the contrary: it enhances our individual personality. Precisely because it
reinforces our individuality, love in the Judeo-Christian world can be a very
To Christians and Jews, God reveals himself as a personality, and through acts
of love - the Exodus and the Resurrection. There is no such event in Islam.
Allah does not reveals himself, that is, descend to earth; instead, he sends
down from heaven his instruction manual, namely the Koran. Allah remains
unknown, and ultimately indistinguishable from the nature in which he is
embedded. Confronted by this absolutely transcendental entity the individual
human personality shrivels into insignificance.
Mystical communion with an unrevealed and unknowable God demands the sort of
star- and navel-gazing that brings the communicant right back to good old
number one. Just as Rumi said, it’s all inside you, like the self-help books
say. And that brings us back to the matter of pederasty.
Men and women are so different that the experience of heterosexual love is
analogous to the spiritual encounter with the divine Other. Love is as strong
as death, says the Song of Songs:
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as
a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the
grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
It is not only the passion of love that challenges death, but the