stages of love

       Sufi Essence: Chishty stages of love


The pen faces difficulties or even fails when trying to describe love. As you know steps can be seen leading up to the ocean, but what happens then? The well-known Chishty Sufi Khwaja Nasiruddin Cheragh (the “lamp”) of Delhi, who was the successor of Nizamuddin Awliya has described the indescribable. He not only described ten stages and fifty phases of love, but he also experienced them. I’m grateful to the work of Mir Valiuddin in this respect. I’ve at places added some relevant anecdotes. Scholars say that the description of the Chishti stages of love has not been written by the aforesaid Sufi. It does not really matter, as the only thing of importance is the experience of love.

The first stage of love is olfat (friendship, attachment, familiarity, companionship, intimacy). It is another name for the inclination of the heart towards the object of love.

The five phases of olfat are distinguished as follows:

1. A person hears of the beauty of a lovely person and a desire rises in him or her to have some sort of contact with this person. A qawwal (a Sufi troubadour) once sang some poetry when visiting Nizamuddin Awliya at a time when Nizamuddin Awliya had not yet been initiated into the Sufi path and had not yet found a shaykh. The singer first described the inner qualities of shaykh Bahauddin Zakariya of Multan. His words had no effect at all on the young listener, but when he paid attention in his songs to Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Awliya, felt a great love entering his heart although he had never met Baba Farid. This psychological accident has been described by a poet in the following couplet:

“Hadies-e hosn-e u naagaah firo khaandand dar gusham
Dar aamad ‘eshq o yakbare be-bord ‘aql az man o husham”.

Translation: “Suddenly the description of his beauty
came to the ears of mine, Love entered and at once took away the reason and understanding of mine”.  

This is olfat, the first phase of love.

2. The second phase is ketmaan-e-mailaan (hiding one’s inclinations). This implies that you keep your love as a close secret and that you bear the agony thereof. A poet expresses his experience thus:

“Man az tabieb o parastaar har do aazaadam Davaa’iye dard-e man in dard bi davaa’iye man ast”.

Translation: “I need no physician or servant to attend on me,
The remedy for my pain is this pain itself without a remedy for me”.

There is an expression among the Sufis. It is the ‘secret of the Friend’. Everything that is confided to you by the Beloved should be kept a secret. You also do not speak about the pain of love to others.

3. In the third phase a sort of yearning (tamannaa = wishing, asking for) sets in the heart of the lover which urges him or her to come into direct contact with his Beloved. In this state the lover neither cares for his/her life nor is afraid of death. If union with the Beloved is difficult or impossible, the lover prefers to die pining for Him. So Farhaad died in his passion to secure his beloved Shirin. This experience has been expressed by a poet thus:Agar Farhaad raa haasel nashod paiwand baa Shirin Ham agar jaan-e shirinash bar aamad dar tamannaa-yashWhen Farhaad could not gain union with his sweetheart, Shirin Then he even offered his own sweet life in his yearning for her.

4. The fourth phase is styled ekhbaar o estekhbaar (informing and asking for news), i.e. the desire to be fully aware of each other’s condition. An aspect of this phase is reflected by Hafez when he exclaims:

“Har chand duram az to keh dur az to kas mabaad
Liken omied vasl-e to-am ‘an qarib hast”.

Translation: “Whenever I am far from You – O, let nobody be far from You!
Then I hope that soon I will meet You”.

5. The fifth phase is called tazarro’ o tamalloq or humility and making professions of love (tazarro’ means: humbling oneself; self-abasement, humility; earnest supplication; complaining, lamenting, whereas tamalloq means: flattering, cajolement, fawning; making professions of love; blandishment; adulation; dalliance; ceremony).

The lover sheds tears and says, to use the language of Amir Khosraw:

“Belab aamad-ast jaanam to biaa keh zende maanam
Pas az aan keh man na maanam becheh kaar khaahi aamad”

You will know that the expression ‘my soul has come to my lips’ means:

‘I am on the verge of dying’:

My soul has come to my lips, so, in order that I may live, come!
When I am no longer here, what will be the use if You should come?

Hafez has written:

“Ai paadeshah-e khubaan daad az gham-e tanhaa’i
Del bi to bejaan aamad vaqt-ast keh baaz aa’i”

Translation: O, King of the fair! I complain to You about my pain of loneliness.
Without You I’m close to death – it is time that You return

The second stage of love is sadaaqat (true friendship, sincerity, candour, loyalty, fidelity). In this stage the heart remains unaffected by the Beloved’s fidelity or infidelity, disregards and denials, and by bestowal of favours. You can recognise it by five marks:

1. When you have reached it, then you regard carnal desires as foes, you are antagonistic to your heart’s passion, you forsake sensual pleasures and you keep your heart devoid of the love of the world. In such a state the harshness by the Beloved is welcomed as a pleasant gift:

“Zahr az kaf-e dust hamchonaan shahd
Baa shauq fero beravam degar ham”

Translation:”Poison becomes like honey when offered by the Friend,
I desire to sip more of it eagerly”.


“Har dard o ranj kaz to rasad bar del-e hazin
Aan mahz raahat-ast maraa ‘ain-e ‘aafist”

“Every pain or suffering You inflict on my sad heart,
Is to me but a pleasure and the source of well-being”.

2. The second phase is ghairat (jealousy). On reaching this phase the lover becomes jealous and on account of jealousy does not appreciate anyone even to utter the name of one’s Beloved or steal a glance at ‘that twig of a rose’:

“Beh golshan miravad aan shaakh-e gol man miram az ghairat
Kaf-e khaaki bedast aar ai sabaa dar cheshm-e gol afgan”.

“That twig of a rose entered the garden and I am dying of jealousy.
O, gentle breeze! Take a handful of dust and throw it into the eyes of the flowers”.

Sa’di is not open in regard to his experiences as well:

“Hadies-e ‘eshq-e to baa kas namitavanam goft
Keh ghairat-am nagozaarad keh beshnovad aghiaar”.

“The tale of Your love I cannot tell to anyone,
Because my jealousy does not permit that others hear it”.

When the lover progresses further in this phase, he or she feels jealous of his or her own self. Shibli had prayed to God thus (as this text is in Arabic and not in Persian I cannot give a proper transcription):

O, Allah! You are almighty and great!
Resurrect me blind on the Day of Judgement,
So that even my eyes may not behold You!Amir Qasem has expressed these experiences in the following couplet:

“Ze del rashq aaiadam chun begozarad dar dil khiaal-e to
Chonaan binam keh oftad cheshm-e ghairi bar jamaal-e toI”

“I feel jealous of my heart when the thought of You passes into my heart,
How can I tolerate others beholding Your beauty?”

A poet has expressed the psychological reasons for this experience of jealousy in the following couplet:Ze ghairat khelvat del raa ze ghairat kardeh-am khaali
Keh ghairat raa namizibad dar in khelvat sara (?) raftan
Out of jealousy I’ve cleared the privacy of my heart of all others but You,
For nobody but You is worthy to enter this place of retreat.

3. The third phase is eshtiyaaq (ardour, wishing, longing, desiring, craving, yearning) in which the desire to meet the Beloved blazes into a conflagration and the poor lover involuntarily complains:Moshtaaqi o saburi az hadd gozasht yaaraa
Gar to shikeb daari taaqat namaanad maaraaMy longing and patience have passed beyond all boundaries, o Friend!
If You’d be patient in meeting me, then no strength will remain to me.And:

“Ai bi to haraam zendegaani
Khod bi to kodaam zendegaani”.

“O, without You life is forbidden to me!
What life is a life without You to me?”

The Persian text is not given for the two final lines:To live without beholding Your pleasing countenance, Is to treat a state of death as life.

4. The fourth phase is zekr-e mahbub or remembrance of the Beloved. You will know this saying (given without transcription from Arabic):He who loves a thing speaks of it often.Once a lover fell ill. His friends inquired of him whether they should call a physician. He replied: “My physician is the recitation of the name of my Beloved”.Ai naam-e to shefaa’iye amraaz
O ze naam-e to aam hosul-e aghraazO, Your name is a healing for all my ailments,
And by Your name I’ll attain all my ends.5. The fifth phase is tahaiyor (bewilderment, astonishment). Because of his exalted rank the prophet addressed Allah as ‘the Guide of the bewildered’ and finally prayed:O, Lord! Increase my bewilderment at You!When the Beloved is sublime and it is impossible to have access to Him, what remains there except awe and bewilderment?To’i sultaan-e molk-e-hosn man bichaareh darvisham

Bejoz-e hairat degar nabud nasieb-e jaan bi hoshamYou are the King of the realm of beauty and I am a poor dervish.
Only bewilderment and nothing else has been my share in my foolish life.The third stage of love is termed mavaddat (friendship, love, benevolence), which is marked by the excitation of the heart and passionate desire (hayajaan-e qalb o ettisaafe baa-l havaa) for the Beloved. Its phases are also five.1. The first phase is niyaahat o ezteraar, which means lamentation and perturbation. The lover now moans, groans and expresses great agony in regard to the moon-faced, that is, beautiful, Beloved:Dar havaa’i to ai bot-e mah-rui Mikonad nawhe bar tanam har mu’iIn.

my passion for You, o moon-faced idol Every hair of my body is wailing.



2. The second phase is gerya o boka, which means weeping and wailing. It is said about the prophet of Islam that ‘he was always sorrow-stricken and shed tears’. In his prayer he would humbly say:O, Allah! Bless us with a weeping eye.
As a lover has said:Jaanaan-e man az feraq-e to chandaan geristam
Kin aab-e chashm-e man hame ru’ye zamien gereft
Sereshkam rafteh rafteh bi to daryaa shod
Biyaa dar kashti chashmam neshin o sair-e daryaa kon O, my Beloved. I wept so copiously in separation with You,
That from my tears the entire surface of the earth turned wet.
My tears gradually swelled into a river in separation with You,
Come and sit down in the boat of my eye and go a-sailing in the river.

3. The third phase is hasrat or regret. On reaching this phase the lover casts a sorrowful glance on the life wasted and feels sad in the memory of the time spent without the Beloved:‘Omri keh bi to miravad az marq badtar ast
Ruzi keh bi to migozarad ruz-e mahshar astWorse than death: a life that passes without You;
The Day of Judgment: a day that passes without You.

4. The fourth phase is fekr-e mahbub or letting the thought of the Beloved seize the lover. This is the stage of intense meditation. Such a meditation brings the Beloved close to the mind of the lover. That is why an hour of meditation has been regarded as of greater value than sixty years of ritualistic prayers. A Sufi has expressed this idea in the following couplet:Nakhaaham joz-e to yak saa’at tafakkor darad gar kardan
Keh dar ham do jahaan jaanaan nadaaram chun to deldaariI do not desire to think of anyone but You, not even for a moment:
For in both worlds I have got only You as a Beloved to hold my heart.

5. The fifth phase is moraaqabat-e mahbub (watchful contemplation of the Beloved). This is a sublime stage. It is said that once ‘Ali was saying his prayers and suddenly people witnessed that his face turned pale and he fell down unconscious on the prayer-mat. When he recovered he said: “During the prayers I contemplated on God and I felt ashamed of my shortcomings”.According to the Chishtiyya Sufis the fourth stage of love is styled havaa
(passionate desire; affection; favour; love; desire). In this stage the lover is always inclined towards the Beloved or longs for Him. It also has five phases:

1. The first phase is khozu’ (humility). Hasan says:

For meeting the Beloved face to face,
Nothing is better than presenting yourself
With humility at the threshold of the Beloved. As a lover has said:

Yak jaan cheh mataa’-st keh saaziem fedaa’iyat
Ammaa cheh tavaan kard keh maujud hamien ast

What is the value of this one life, that I sacrifice it for You?
But what can I do, as I only have this very life.

2. The second phase is etaa’at-e mahbub (obedience to the Beloved). It implies to spend your life in obedient devotion to your Beloved and to dedicate to Him all that you have:Maraa taa jaan buvad ‘eshq-e to baazam
Maraa taa sar buvad gui-e to saazamAs long as I am alive I’ll love You!
As long as I have my head, it is a ball to play with for You.


Maa naqd-e ‘omr sarf rah-e yaar kardeh-iem
Kaari keh kardeh-iem hamien kaar kardeh-iem

Our entire life has been spent in the service of the Friend,
Our work is just this very service!

3. According to the Chishti Sufis the third phase is sabr (patience). As someone has said:

Endure and gulp in all pain without remonstrance.The only way open for a lover is tacit endurance: The Beloved does what pleases Him. A tradition of the prophet observes:

When Allah loves anyone devoted to Him,
He puts him to severe tests.
When he endures them steadfastly,
He is marked out for distinction,
With all his imperfections overlooked
And with unasked for spiritual favours conferred on him,
For no special effort on his part to deserve them.It goes without saying that the above tradition is true for all lovers, male and female. Such is the love of Allah to you in case you love Him ardently. Some Sufi has rightly remarked:Joz sabr nist saiqal-e delhaa’i bi-qaraar
Chun istaad aab be-aayine mirasad

Only patience can polish restless hearts,
When water stands still, it resembles a mirror.

4. The fourth phase is in Persian pronunciation tazarro’ (humbling oneself; self-abasement, humility; earnest supplication; complaining, lamenting). The Qur’an 7: 205 commands:Wadhkor-Rabbaka fi nafseka tadarro’anw-wa khifatan…And remember your Lord in yourself, in humility…When matters come to such a pass for the lover, that neither meeting the Beloved lies in your power, nor the breeze of the garden of proximity reaches you, and when neither you possess the physical strength to speak, nor is your soul strong enough to soar high, what else can you do except to weep and feel helpless!

Chun nist dast zuram o yaaraa’i taaqatam
Inak rah-e tazarro’ … gerefteh-im

Because my hands are without strength
and my power of resistance has waned,
I have now taken the path
of humility and prayer.

5. The fifth phase is that of redaa (satisfaction). There is no consensus of opinion, among the Sufis, whether redaa is a maqaam (station) or a haal (state). To some Sufis is identical with the utmost trust in Allah. There are others however who hold that redaa is not acquired by individual effort, but that it is a gift of Allah. Abu ?Ali ad-Daqqaaq (d. 1015) is of the opinion that redaa implies that one should not criticise fate. When once the heart of an individual is at peace, then it can be concluded that he has attained redaa. According to Dhu’n-Nun (d. 860) to be satisfied with one’s fate means redaa. Al-Junayd of Baghdad (d. 910) took a different view. According to him redaa means and implies self-surrender. To renounce the limited will constitutes redaa.

The object of redaa is belief. Beshr ebn al-Haareth (d. 841) treats redaa as higher and greater than piety. The reason that he gives is that whilst a pious man is on the way, one who submitted to the will of Allah has already reached the destination.

A lover addresses the Beloved in this way:Ai sarv-e boland bustani
Dar pish derakht qaamat-at post
Gar sar nah neham bar aastaanat
Digar cheh konam dar degar hast

O the tall cypress of Your garden
Dwarfs before Your stature
If I do not put my head on Your threshold
What else can I do? Is there any other door for me?

The fifth stage of love according to the Chishtiyya Sufis is called shaghaf (violent affection, violent love; alacrity; love, longing, yearning; joy). The word has been used in Qur’an 12:30 in connection with the love affair of Zulaykha with Joseph:Qad shaghafa-haa hobbaaTruly he has inspired her with violent love.It also has five phases:1. The first phase is the obedience to the commands of the Beloved and the carrying out of His orders, willingly and spontaneously. One of these commandment can be found in Qur’an 11:112 and is given now:Fas-taqem kamaa omertaBe then upright as you have been commandedAnd what has been commanded? See Qur’an 73:8 for an answer:Wadhkoresma Rabbeka
wa tabattal elayhe tabtilaaAnd remember the name of your Lord
And devote yourself wholeheartedly to Him.A Sufi has expressed it in this quatrain:Moshghal-e toraa khabr ze ‘aalam nabovad
Majruh-e toraa haajat-e marham nabovad
Dar ‘eshq-e to gar hazaar gham pish aayad

Chun dar nazar-e to-am az aan gham nabovadOblivious of the world: the one who is concentrated on You,,
Not in need of any salve: the one wounded by You,
If I suffer even a thousand woes in Your love,
I do not feel their sting in case I am seen by You.2. The second phase is the guarding of the inward against all, except the Beloved. A Sufi has remarked:If you guard your heart from turning to an ‘other’,
God fills it with light.The reason for this appears to be that ‘God is single (wetr) and appreciates singularity alone’. As inspired in the Rose of Baghdad, the popular name of shaykh ‘Abd al-Qaader Jilaani, the Beloved says:Live for Me and guard your mind
Against the thought of any other.The following attitude now is clear:Joz-e dust na biniem o na khahim o na ju’im
Az khish gozashtim o ze aghiaar berastimWe see none but the Friend, we long only for Him, we seek Him alone.
We have passed beyond ourselves; we are free from all except Him alone.

3. The third phase of love according to the Chishtiyya Sufis is to shun everything that is distasteful to the Beloved.Nawab Khadim Hasan (d. 1970) has said:A dervish is a friend of God
And a friend’s friend is a friend;
So when you become a friend of a dervish
You become a friend of God.

4. The fourth phase of love according to the Sufis of the Chishtiyya way is regard for the friends of the Beloved. The prophet, therefore, has mentioned it in his prayer:

I pray for your love
And for the love of him,
Who loves You.

Muhammad (s.a.w.) has disclosed his method thus:

For the sake of Your love only,
We love those who are devoted to You.

Baba Taher has written this quatrain:

Agar del delbar delbar che numa
O gar delbar dela del az che numa
Del o delbar beham aamita
Nazunam del keha delbar karuma

If my heart is my sweetheart, for the sweetheart, which name to use?
And if my sweetheart is my heart, for the heart, which name to use?
My heart and my sweetheart are so intimately interwoven
That I do not know – my heart or my sweetheart – which name to use?

4. The fifth phase of love is keeping one’s own counsel regarding love, during the love affair between the lover and the Beloved. Mo’inoddin Chishti has made long travels, but he never disclosed his Sufi background. He stayed often at lonely places. In case people realized who and what he was, he travelled on. Consequently Shebli has said:Love requires that it should be concealed from others.
A Sufi has said:If only you could hold back
Your tears of love from flowing –
Tears which betray love –
You will indeed be ranked very high
Among the lovers.Some lover has stated his own case as follows: Ghamat har chand mipusham bedaaman
Fazihat mikonad cheshm-e ravaanam
Rokh zardam nadaarad taaqat hejr
Birun mi-afganad raaz-e nehaanamHowever much I may hide the pain of my love for You,
My foolish tears are a disgrace for me.
My pale face shows my inability to be away from You,
It throws into the open the secret hidden in me.


The sixth stage of love is exclusive attachment to the Beloved. It means emptying the heart of all save the Beloved. Shaykh Baha’i (d. 1621) has written this beautiful poem:

Har dar keh zanam saheb-e-khane to-i to
Har ja keh rawam par to kashane to-i to
Dar maykade o dayr janane to-i to
Maqsud-e-man az ka’ba o butkhane to-i to
Maqsud-e-to-i ka’ba o butkhane bahane

Every door that I knock on, the Lord of the house is You, You!
Every place that I go to, the light in the house is You, You!
In the tavern and in the convent, the Beloved is You, You!
The One I seek in the Ka’ba and the idol temple is You, You!
Your purpose behind the Ka’ba and the idol temple
is to create but a pretext.

The following quatrain is by Amir Khusraw (d. 1325), the best poet among the Chishti Sufis:

‘Eshq amad-o shod chu khunam andar rag-o pust
Ta kard mara tahi-o por kard ze dust
Ajza’-ye-wojudam hamagi dust gereft
Namist mara bar man baqi hama ust.

Love came and spread like blood in my veins and the skin of me,
It filled me with the Friend and completely emptied me.
The Friend has taken over all parts of my existence,
Only my name remains, as all is He.

Amir Khusraw in these simple and beautiful lines stresses that by love of God he experienced unity. The last three words (all is He) belong to the technical vocabulary used by the Sufis to refer to unity of existence.

sufi Essence: love in sufism, divine love, chishty stages of love.

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