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Ishq Allāh Ma'būd Allāh

In the works of the Sufi Ruhaniat and in the Dances of Universal Peace, there is a long history of using the phrase "ishq allah mahbud lillah" ... but that phrase may be a mistake.

In all likelihood, the intended phrase was "ishq allāh ma'būd allāh", a phrase which was often quoted by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, and which appears in several of the Sufi Message books (without diactritical marks).

Here's the evidence that I've been able to collect on this matter:

First of all, the mantric phrase which Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan frequently quoted was recorded in at least six printed publications as "ishq allah ma'bud allah". The fact that the phrase appears in this form in the majority of the different published texts suggests that this was most likely the intended form.

As an aside, it may be worth noting that the phrase "ishq allah ma'bud allah" literally says "love God adored God", a rather cryptic statement which Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan generally interpreted for his students as "God is Love and God is the Beloved", but which on occasion he poetically embellished as "God is Love, Lover and Beloved" (thereby adding words which neither appear in the original phrase nor in any of his other interpretations of the phrase) .

Here are six places where the apparently "correct" phrase can be found:

The greatest principle of Sufism is: 'Ishk Allah Mabood Allah'. (God is love, lover, and beloved).

     A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty, p17, (booklet published in 1914)

The greatest principle of Sufism is: 'Ishq Allah Ma'bud Allah'. (God is love, lover, and beloved).

     Volume V, A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty, p17

The Sufis say that the reason of the whole creation is that the perfect Being wished to know Himself, and did so by awakening the love of His nature and creating out of it His object of love, which is beauty. Dervishes, with this meaning, salute each other by saying, 'Ishq Allah Ma'bud Allah' – 'God is love and God is the beloved'.

    Volume V,  Love, Human and Divine, p144

Mystics of all ages have not been known for their miraculous powers or for the doctrines they have taught, but for the devotion they have shown throughout their lives. The Sufi in the East says to himself 'Ishq Allah Ma'bud Allah' which means 'God is Love, God is the Beloved', in other words it is God who is Love, Lover, and Beloved.

    Volume XI, Love, p188

When the Murshid arrived at the assembly of his disciples each one greeted the other, saying, 'Ishq Allah, Mabud Allah!' - God is love and God is the Beloved!

  Volume XII, My Interest in Sufism, p141

But now coming to understand what is the religion of the heart, – It is said by the Sufis, Ishq Allah, Mabud Allah. the same that one reads in the Bible, that 'God is love.'

  Religious Gatheka #43, The Religion of the Heart, (see Complete Works, 1923 II, p816)

And there is also a variation of the phrase which appears only once in print:

The Sufi says, "Ishk Allah, Mahboob Allah - God is love and Beloved."

   Volume VIII (revised edition 1991), Unselfish Actions, p217

This variation of the phrase brings up a very interesting point. The passive participle ma'būd  معبود  is based on the root '-b-d and literally means "adored, worshiped" with a strong sense of servitude, humility and devotion. In contrast, the passive participle mahbūb محبوب is based on the root h-b-b and literally means "loved, beloved" with a strong sense of affection, honoring and preference above any other. Thus, the word mahbūb actually seems to be a better fit to the translation of the phrase as "God is love, God is beloved".

Some may ask:  Is there some other way to determine precisely what phrase was originally used?

Unfortunately, most of the books of Inayat Khan were transcribed, edited and published by his students, many of whom had no understanding of Urdu, Farsi or Arabic, many of whom spoke English as only a second language, and all of whom simply did their best to record the words they thought they heard. In fact there are hundreds of spelling errors of "foreign" words in the Inayat Khan books, a fact which is well documented in the rare and long out of print Short Dictionary of the Foreign Words in Hazrat Inayat Khan's Teachings created by Dr. M.C. Monna (Rubab Monna). In general, one should use the foreign words in the Sufi Message texts with some caution. Nonetheless, in that dictionary, Dr Monna endorses the form "ishq allah ma'bud allah".

Where did the ending "lillah" come from? I don't know... perhaps Samuel Lewis changed the phrase deliberately, or perhaps he may have mistakenly recalled the "lillah", or perhaps he thought that "lillah" was equivalent to "allah" which would explain why we have, for example, the unusual term "fana-fi-lillah" rather than the well known phrase "fana fi allah" occurring at least 40 times in the existing Ruhaniat esoteric papers.

In his book Desert Wisdom (pg 199), Neil Douglas-Klotz offers interpretations for both "ma'būd allāh" and "ma'būd lillāh", and describes "ma'būd lillāh" as "a variation", but he makes no attempt to discern which form of the phrase is the intended spiritual transmission. (see also the Getting it Right web page for additional details regarding the difficulty of confirming "foreign" phrases)

This matter would be easy to resolve if the phrase was common knowledge in some tradition outside of the Inayati Sufi Orders, but I've been told by native speakers of Arabic and Farsi that the phrase is not a sentence, and not even a fragment of a sentence, but is more of a mantra, a poetic collection of words and sounds which point toward something, a phrase specifically created by a spiritual teacher to help produce some desired effect. However, I have not yet found anyone who had ever seen or heard the phrase before encountering it in the works of the current Inayati lineage. That's not to say that the original phrase is not known by someone, but it is not in the native vocabulary of any person or group that I've yet encountered. Therefore, we have no truly "independent" source to use as a corroborating reference for the original phrase.

However, the best evidence of all may be held in the little booklet published in 1914 entitled A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty which was apparently written by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan himself. Unlike the later Sufi Message books, many of which were published after his death, and which were solely prepared by his students based upon their own notes of his lectures and classes, this early writing seems to have been the direct work of Inayat Khan, wherein he uses the phrase "ishk allah mabood allah", which is a somewhat phonetic form of writing the phrase "ishq allāh ma'būd allāh". This 1914 booklet, most likely written by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan himself, is perhaps the strongest and most authentic evidence of "ishq allāh ma'būd allāh" being the original phrase.

Based on the available evidence, my own conclusion is that because the phrase was so commonly recorded in the Sufi Message Volumes of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan as "ishq allah ma'bud allah", and because that specific form was also used in the early booklet called Spiritual Liberty (which was in all likelihood personally written by Inayat Khan himself), the available evidence seems to suggest that "ishq allāh ma'būd allāh" is most likely the intended phrase.


Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,


updated: Feb 07, 2010