But the transforming power of love is not only for marriage. In fact, Islam lays its entire foundation in love. Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said, “Is the religion anything but love?” Love is the epitome of all sentiments, whose most notable characteristic is its ability to transform whatever it touches. Martyr Mutahhari gives an example. When single, a boy and a girl originally care hardly anything else but themselves. Yet when they fall in love and start a family, we see an amazing transformation – they become so concerned about each other that they sacrifice almost anything for one another. They even begin to resemble each other. What is so special about this relationship that changes people so much? Ayatollah Mutahhari says that this power to change is love. Of course, love must always be directed by goodness and righteousness – if it is not, this transforming power of love brings about wretchedness in people because their higher sentiments stay completely animal and worldly. In the Holy Qur’an, the relationship between those who are married is described by “love and compassion” (30:21), proving that the natural link in marriage should transcend mere passions; the union of two spirits are joined by higher human values. Thus, love can change for the better only when it is true love: love linked to piety.
But the transforming power of love is not only for marriage. In fact, Islam lays its entire foundation in love. Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said, “Is the religion anything but love?”
The Holy Qur’an speaks about love often. It has tied together faith with love for Allah when it says “…those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (2:165) The Qur’an has also connected Allah, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), obedience, and forgiveness to love, saying: “If you love Allah, follow me, and Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.” (3:31) Also, Allah says that righteousness and faith results in love for one another: “Surely those who believe and do good deeds of righteousness – unto them the Merciful One shall assign love.” (19:96)
It is loving behavior that brings many people close to the Holy Messenger. “It is by the mercy of Allah that you are gentle to them; had you been harsh and hard of heart, they would have scattered from about you. So pardon them, and pray forgiveness for them, and take counsel with them in their affair.” (3:159) Verses guiding us to true love are many more than what is mentioned here.
It is love that can even make one truly obey Allah. Imam Sadiq said: “[You] disobey God and show that you love Him? By my life, that is something amazing. If your love were true, you would have obeyed Him, for the lover is submissive before the One he loves.”
We can see the profundity of Islam’s view on love, which shows love as a transforming power that is a vital way to perfect action and belief. But to complete this philosophy, the Qur’an has also directly ordered us to love a very specific set of people. Allah orders the Prophet to say, “I do not ask of you any reward for this, except love for my family.” (42:23) The Holy Qur’an then further clarifies this verse with another, where the Prophet is told to says, “Whatever reward I have asked of you is for your own good; my [true] reward lies only with Allah.” (34:47) These verses are then brought into perspective by another: “Say: ‘I do not ask you any reward for it, except that anyone who wishes should take the way to his Lord.'” (25:57) In the first of the three verses, we see that we are ordered to love the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). Then the next verse explains that love for the Holy Family is not merely a reward for the Prophet, but is more so a reward for us – the people of this world. The third verse then makes clear that love for the Ahlul Bayt is a road to Allah. The order to love the Ahlul Bayt is thus intended as a guidance and blessing for humanity.
We may have doubt in Allah’s command to love the Prophet’s Family before considering if it is even to humanity’s benefit. Some question this remarkable pathway to human perfection and ask, if love for them was truly important why did the Qur’an not mention the members of the Holy Family explicitly by name? But the way the Qur’an brings humanity to their Guides is full of wisdom. The Qur’an came to last and stay with us forever. It came to take its place face-to-face with falsehood for the rest of eternity, so that Truth can be made distinct from falsehood in every land and every time. Perhaps if their holy names were written explicitly in the Qur’an, some people would try to fabricate and distort it the same way they distorted history and narrations about this Infallible Family who are pure according to Qur’anic teachings (33:33).
Thus, the Qur’an speaks to us in universals and principles, rather than mere particulars and specifics. It does this so that it may preserve the Truth forever so that such principles can be applied to every moment in the lives of humanity. In order to guide to the examples of eternal Truth and justice, the Qur’an speaks clearly about the characteristics and qualities of the best of people so that it will be made clear who the true role models are. The qualities of these exalted people are explained clearly in the Qur’an. Once those qualities are understood, it is humanity who must look at the people of the world to see who manifests these Qur’anic descriptions. If we open our hearts to the truth of the Holy Book, we then only need to open our eyes in order to see the Prophet of God holding the hand of Imam Ali and his Progeny (peace be upon them all).
But the abovementioned verses make clear that it is not enough to simply know the Ahlul Bayt. Allah says we must love them. Love is a power to transform and change such that the lover begins to resemble the beloved. When one finds the greatest object of love, there is no end to how much that object of love can bestow its most remarkable qualities. The order to love the Ahlul Bayt is to have Mowaddat of them, which is a love that changes. Now it can be understood why Islam, the religion of love, commands humanity to love these specific individuals. Truly those who walk a path behind the Prophet and his Family want to perfect their morality through love; they have relied on affection and fellowship of the greatest examples in order that they may obtain their characteristics and change for the better. History has shown that loving companionship with the pure Ahlul Bayt has affected people’s spirits to an extent which reading hundreds of volumes on ethics could never possibly achieve. In the case of Imam Ali (peace be upon him), companions enthralled by their love for him rotated around the axis of his existence changing them in such a way that their stories become instructive and inspirational. Even after his death, great masses of people were arrested and tortured by oppressive rulers for the crime of adoration to him, yet so many chose to never give way in their love of Ali and stood firm in it to the end of their lives.
With other individuals, nearly everything about them perishes when they die. But although this man of truth has long been buried, the following and the love he excites becomes more brilliant with the passing of the centuries. Imam Ali’s ability to leave behind a growing legacy of adoration in our own communities long after his passing is testimony to the power of Mowaddat for the Holy Family described in the Qur’an – for how else could this happen except through transforming powers like love which are instilled in his followers even today?
Love has the power to change – to transform. The Qur’anic command of loving the Ahlul Bayt is how we cherish their characteristics and noble qualities as well as how we motivate ourselves and others towards positive change. Beyond all else, we love the Ahlul Bayt so that we can become like the Ahlul Bayt, those closest and dearest to Allah and the Holy Prophet. Love for them is a road to their resemblance – a resemblance of the finest human qualities and the greatest moral virtues. As the Prophet stated, “Everything has a foundation, and the foundation of Islam is love for us, the Ahlul Bayt.”
Readers interested in a more comprehensive discussion on the subject may refer to Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari’s Polarization Around the Character of Ali ibn Abi Talib.