Polarization around the Character of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
Chapter 4: Breaking down the Barriers
Love brings man out from egoism and self-love, irrespective of what kind of love it is – animal and sexual, animal and parental, or human – and irrespective of what qualities and excellences the loved-one has, whether bold and valiant, artistic or wise, or whether he or she be in possession of a fine morality, social graces or other special attributes. Self-love is a limitation and a defensive barrier; love completely breaks down this defensive barrier to other than the self. Man is weak until he has gone outside his own self, he is timid, avaricious, covetous, misanthropic, and quick tempered, selfish and arrogant; his spirit gives out no spark or brilliancy, it has no vivacity or animation, it is always cold and cut off. However, as soon as he takes a step outside his “self” and breaks down his defensive barriers, these ugly habits and qualities are also destroyed.
“Whoever’s garment is torn by love is entirely cleansed of covetousness or blemish.”11
Self-love, in the sense of something which must be eliminated, is not something which really exists. What we mean is that it is not a real, existing fondness for himself which man must do away with so that he can become liberated from “self-love”. It makes no sense for a human being to try not to like himself; esteem for oneself which we can call “amour-propre” has not been mistakenly overlooked so that we have to throw that out. The reform and perfecting of man does not mean that, let us suppose, a series of extraneous matters in his existence are thought up and then that these extraneous and detrimental things must be eliminated. In other words the reform of man does not lie in reducing him, it lies in perfecting and adding to him. The responsibility that creation has assigned to man’s charge is in the direction of the course of creation, that is, in perfection and growth, not in decrease and reduction.
The struggle with self-love is the struggle with the limitations of the self. This self must be expanded; this defensive structure, which has been placed round the self and which sees every other thing, apart from what is connected to itself as a person or an individual, as foreign, “not me”, and alien to itself, must be broken down. The personality must expand to take in every other human being, if not the whole of the universe of creation. Thus the struggle with self-love is the struggle with the limitations of the self; and therefore self-love is nothing else but a limitation of the conceptual and motivational process. Love turns man’s affections and drives towards what is outside his self; it enlarges his existence and changes the focal point of his being. For the same reason, love is a great moral and educative factor, on condition that it is well guided and is correctly used.
11. Rumi, Mathnavi, bk. l