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A Muslim Perspective on Love

Basma Elshayyal's picture

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Say: If you do (truly) love Allah, follow me; and Allah will love you.
Qur’an, 3:31

The above verse is only one of hundreds in the Qur’an that discuss love and include it as an essential element in all relationships - Divine, faith, interpersonal, family, etc.
In fact, if averaged out, one in every fifteen ayas (verses) in the Qur’an mentions love in one form or another. Whether it is the simple basis ‘mahabba’ (love similar to the Christian concept of agapé) or ra’fah, rahmah, mawadda... the list goes on.
A feminine source
I think it’s fascinating to note that the terms most frequently referred to are, in fact, from a feminine source. To explain - adding the letter “mim” (the equivalent of M) in Arabic  as a prefix makes it mean “one who is/does” or “someone in the state of” the words which follows it. A well-known example would be “Islam” (Peace, perfection of faith) and “Muslim” - (one who is peaceful and perfects their faith for the sake of God).
Similarly, hub (pure love), becomes mahabba (a state of being “in love”, in its purest sense). Many scholars have commented on this point and illustrate it with teachings such as God said, ‘My love necessarily belongs to those who love each other for My Sake, sit together for My Sake, visit one another for My Sake; and give generously to one another for My Sake’ So there can be no greater recognition of the power of love, nor any motivation more powerful than this.  Perhaps this highlights a major difference from agapé, as it constantly exhorts the greater jihad (see essay on violence) – the struggle to do good at all times, and the jihad against one’s own ego and to serve one another out of love...

To return to the “feminine” aspect, at the start of every chapter in the Qur’an, every prayer, in fact, when Muslim undertakes a significant deed you will hear them saying “Bismillah AlRahman AlRahim”. This is often translated as “in the Name of Allah the Most Merciful, The Most Mercy-Giving”. However, in most translations, mercy, compassion, etc all tend to be very one-dimensional and insipid. “Rahmah” is derived from the same root as “rahm” or womb, so includes all other connotations of protection, nurture, parenthood, total surrounding, etc. When contemplated thoughtfully, the imagery and deeper meaning becomes incredibly vivid. Now, when read in the context of the Islamic teaching that God retained 99 parts of “rahmah” for Himself and distributed the rest amongst the whole of humanity, most of which became the mothers’ share - I think that makes for a powerfully moving thought!
A direct illustration of this is given in the story of the Prophet Musa (Moses) (pbuh) in his childhood, when God says : “I cast over you (O Moses) the garment of love (mahabbah) from Me and (this) in order that you may be reared under My care (literally “eye”)”  (Qur’an, 20:39).
Those deserving God’s love
And the list of people deserving of God’s Love (mahabba) goes on and on, those:
    •    who repent (2:222)
    •    who do good (2:195; 5:13)
    •    who are just (5:42; 49:9)
    •    who persevere in patience (3:145)
    •    who fight for His cause (61:4)
    •    who love cleanliness (61:4)
    •    who put their trust in Him (3:158)
etc. But His Love is withheld from:
    •    the conceited, boastful man (2:190)
    •    the mischievous disturbers of peace (28:77)
    •    the unjust (42:40)
    •    the extravagant (6:142)
    •    the supercilious (16:23)
    •    the transgressors (2:190)
and so on.

Love in relationships
Interpersonal love is another aspect discussed in great detail, with much emphasis placed in the Qur’an on the family unit (Parent/child, wife/husband, sibling etc) as the main facilitator of this love; and again “Rahmah” and “Mawadda” (compassion) are the basis.
The idea is that gentleness and compassion/mercy are essential to any loving relationship and must be there at all times for tranquillity (another highly prized ideal, especially in a marital context - see 30:21) to be present. Another point which is frequently stressed is the importance of spiritual equality before God and that all human creation stems from a single soul, thus removing the idea of gender and/or age superiority and consequential imbalances in human relationships that result (in theory, at least!)

Muslims are constantly encouraged to seek out ways to cultivate and nurture this love by emulating the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his relationships with his family and the wider Muslim community as a whole. This could be tenderness, care, sustenance, wisdom, responsibility, faithfulness, pro-active participation in domestic chores etc in a marriage or love, leadership, gentleness, approachability, discipline, justice, etc as a parent and so on.