Clergy Corner

The Concept of Love in Islamic Spirituality

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According to Islamic narrations supported by rational arguments, the entire reason for having faith or lacking faith is based on love for Allah, and for whatever is related to Him. For example, we read in traditions that once the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) asked his companions: “What is the strongest handhold in Islam?” The companions gave different answers: some said prayers, others said fasting, and others pilgrimage. After they gave their answers, they said: “The Prophet and Allah know best.” So the Prophet answered: “To love for the sake of Allah and to dislike for the sake of Allah.”

We must ask: what is the difference between one who is a believer and one who is not? It is not enough to know certain truths: Satan knows all those truths, but he is still considered to be disobedient. Allah says in the Qur’an that there are people who know everything and yet disbelieve: “They impugned them – though they were convinced in their hearts – wrongfully and defiantly.” (27:14)

Similarly, to declare the truth is not sufficient to be a believer, as hypocrites declare the truth frequently. Describing such people, the Qur’an says: “And there are some people who say: ‘We believe in Allah and the last day’; and they are not at all believers.” (2:8)

Love for the truth is the main distinction between a believer and a non-believer. Love requires knowledge and readiness to declare. This readiness to declare the truth does not include circumstances where a person must exercise Taqiyyah, or the hiding of one’s faith in order to safeguard his own life or the life of other believers.

One might wonder why Islam focuses both on love for the sake of Allah and dislike for the sake of Allah. One might question the need for disliking and say that we should only have love in our hearts. However, Islam is a rational religion, and it is rationally understandable that when we love something, we must necessarily dislike its opposite.

How can we love the honest without disliking the dishonest? Or love truth without disliking falsehood? If you love a virtue, you cannot help but dislike the vice. Similarly, if you love Allah, you automatically dislike His enemies.

Of course, a believer should not have any personal dislike for anyone. If we dislike someone, it is because of their bad qualities. We might love someone as the servant of Allah, but we cannot love the bad qualities in him. This is the rational implication of loving good things.

Even if these two concepts are considered separately, they imply each other like two sides of the same coin. If we want to improve ourselves, we should try to increase our love for Allah and those who are close to Him, and increase our love for the acts which are loved by Allah. This can be achieved by gaining more knowledge and then reflecting on it.

One interesting and practical way of improving ourselves is by reading biographies of people who have loved Allah immensely and developed a close relationship with Him. Their life stories reveal many hidden secrets about their lives, which can help and inspire us to be more inclined to their way of living. This is a naturally inspiring process.

Any knowledge that one gains must be coupled with reflection in order for that knowledge to come into practice. Reflection brings about a harmony in one’s self, as one’s emotions begin to support their knowledge. For example: if I know that telling lies is wrong, I might still tell lies. I need to take a few minutes every day and think about why telling lies is wrong, and realize, for example, that it brings about no benefit.

If we reflect on the people we love, we may ask: why do we love these people? If someone gives you a job, you would not forget them for as long as you live; if someone teaches you something, you would be grateful and remember them; if someone helps you or gives you money, or if your neighbor smiles at you or is kind to you, then you would love them.

We do not need great reasons to love people: just a little caring and affection is enough. So how can we not love Allah when everything we have is from Him and nothing bad is from Him? We know these things, but we just need to reflect on them. If our love for Allah increases and intensifies, then we cannot disobey Him. How can you disobey the one that you love and make Him unhappy?

Love for Allah is therefore a very important concept which can help us practically to develop spiritually, and become closer to Him.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the author’s book Key Concepts in Islamic Spirituality, available online.

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