The three levels of love

Love. You hear about it every day, everywhere and sometimes it gets to the point where you’re sick of it, and where you no longer believe in a ‘true love’.

In this piece I will try to interpret the essence of love, and what true love really is.

According to renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, humans seek to obtain certain needs. When one need is realised, they look to fulfil the next one, and then the next and so on. Maslow calls his theory the ‘hierarchy of needs’. The following points briefly break down his original idea, which now exists in more than 5 stages due to improvements and revisions made by other psychologists (we won’t look at their work in this article though).

The original ‘hierarchy of needs’

  1. Physiological needs – basic needs including food, water and shelter to keep the physical body alive and well.
  2. Safety needs – law, protection, freedom and anything that helps humans feel secure in general.
  3. Love needs – to love and be loved affectionately and intimately by others, whether they are friends, family or spouses.
  4. Esteem needs – achieving goals, being independent and moving forward in life.
  5. Self-actualisation – to find oneself, realise personal potential and develop a character.

These stages are all fairly easy to appreciate and understand, but let’s take a look at the third set, ‘love needs.’

Love can exist in three levels:

  • Love of oneself,
  • Love of family/friends
  • Love of God.

When we analyse the first two stages of love, we can come to the conclusion that they are not 100% sincere, therefore cannot be considered true. You may wonder: how? But the answer is simple.

We all love ourselves, but if it were true love we wouldn’t sin. We know well and truly that sins cause our souls harm, so by committing them we are not really showing love to ourselves. Loving yourself means you have to want the best for yourself too, both in the dunya and most importantly the akhira.

And that applies for the second stage too – the love we have for our friends/family/spouses. If you really, truly loved and cared about them, why would you allow them to do wrong? Why would you enjoin in sin with them? Don’t be afraid to tell them “hey look, I don’t want to do gheeba,” or “I think this is wrong.” Allah (swt) orders us to remind our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves. Even if they mock you and say you’re being ‘extra religious,’ truth is truth. If you love them, you wouldn’t want them to sin. You wouldn’t want their soul to be hurt. You most certainly wouldn’t want to see them drift further away from Allah (swt).

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But the truest love is found only in a higher, non-human entity. The entity that gave you life. God. When our hearts have nothing inside of them except the love of Allah (swt), we’ll find inner peace. Loving Allah means that the love of everything else in the world isn’t important to you, because it is only He who matters and only His plan that you submit to. True love lies no further than Allah (swt).

He even says,

“Take one step towards Me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you.” [Book of 110 Ahadith Qudsi, chapter 1]

This is the power of loving Allah (swt) – the only love where you are rewarded for every moment you give. It is in a spiritual relationship like this that one’s soul is thoroughly nourished and cleansed.

Imam As-Sadiq [as] said:

“Worship is of three kinds: some people worship Allah, because they fear Him – so it is the worship of slaves. And a group worships Allah, Blessed and High is He, to seek reward – so it is the worship of businessmen. And a group worships Allah, Mighty and Great is He, because of (His) love – and this is the worship of the free, and it is the most excellent worship.”

Our goal is to be from the third group. We sin, yet He still loves us unconditionally. What if we were to really make an effort and love Him, and only Him?



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