The notion of love is mentioned in many verses of the Qur’an, thanks to a wide lexical field of terms expressing with nuances, sometimes endowed with a strong subtlety, the same idea of attachment and affection between two beings or realities (“Wadud” 11:90 or “Yuhibb” 3:159). Indeed, in order to understand the Islamic view of the relationship between God and the universe or humanity, love plays a crucial role.
This love, one of the consequences of which is the mercy associated with it, constitutes the foundation of the bond uniting God to man and the aim of the religion of Islam. In Surah 19 (Maryum) verse 96, Allah (swt) says:
“To those who believe and do good deeds, the Almighty will bestow His love [wudd]”.
In this article, we will focus on the notion of divine love for its creation and then human love for its Creator.
The Qur’an teaches us that love is first and foremost a divine attribute, as stated in verse 90 of the 11th Surah: “My Lord is certainly All-merciful and Loving [wadud]”.
This is in addition to the divine attributes evoking this notion, such as “Al Rahman” and “Al Rahim” (the merciful, the all-merciful); both derived from the notion of “Al Rahma” which is a particular type of love. Sheikh Mohammad Ali Shomali’s interpretation of “Al Rahma” is that it is a pro-active and selfless love.
We learn from the Qur’an that Allah (swt) has different types of love for His creatures.
The first is His general love which includes all creation whatever the nature of their deeds. Thus, this love is bestowed even upon wrongdoers, for man remains a creation of God like a mother feeling a motherly love for her child in spite of his flaws.
The higher level is His love for true believers, those who believe, trust in Him, and act upon His prescriptions. These are people “whom He loves and who love Him” (5:54).
Moreover, we learn that God loves “the defenders of justice” (5:42; 8:60), “those who purify themselves” (9:108), “the pious” (3:76), “those who trust Him” (4:35), and “those who do good [to others]” (5:13).
Finally, the highest level of divine love is His love for perfect human beings, such as the prophets. For example, one of the well-known titles of Prophet Muhammad (saw) is “Habib Ullah“, which means the beloved of God or “al-insan al-kamil”, an honorific title used by Sufis to describe this person who has reached perfection.
However, does not the above-introduced notion of God-love take up identically the one developed by Christianity? The answer is negative. We can notice that several verses evoke what God loves, but also what He does not love. This highlights the fact that, contrary to the Christian view, divine love in Islam is not unconditional.
Indeed, God does not love “the unbelievers” (3:32), “the unjust” (3:57), “the wasters” (6:141), and “the traitors” (8:58).
The idea of unconditional love is against the principle of divine justice according to which all beings are to be rewarded according to their own efforts and deeds.
For example, if, out of commiseration and affection, a teacher gives the highest mark to all his students, whether they all answered correctly or not, whether they were absent or not, doesn’t the concept of justice and love itself become empty shells? If Allah (swt) is primarily a God of mercy, the attributes of anger and punishment are considered inseparable from that same mercy. Do parents who spoil their child and tell him only pleasant things really love him? Isn’t it sometimes through punishment that they really show him all their love and guide him to become a better human being?
This balance also ensures the freedom of man and the meaning of acts: if God loved men unconditionally and indifferently, the meaning of religion, their acts and their lives would be worthless.
It is important to remember that although one of God’s attributes is anger (“ghadab”), its application is much more limited in comparison to the mercy and love He shows for all the realities of which He is the originator. Indeed, in dua “Jawshan al Kabir”, God is referred to as “the One whose mercy preceded His anger“.
This mercy is expressed in particular through the possibility of repentance offered by Allah (swt). Although God’s love for His servants is not arbitrary and depends on their merits, His love for wrongdoers is so great that it far exceeds their expectations.
Indeed, the Qur’an says: “O my servants who have committed injustice to themselves, Do not despair of the mercy of God. God certainly forgives all sins. He is All-forgiving and All-merciful” (39:53).
In many verses of the Qur’an, God speaks about the possibility of repenting and returning to Him: “But whoever repents after his iniquity and reforms [himself], then surely Allah will turn to him [mercifully]; surely Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful” (5:39).
Furthermore, the Qur’an refers not only to the fact that God forgives those who seek redemption, but also to the fact that He can turn their evil deeds into good deeds. About these people, the Qur’an says: “These are the ones whom Allah will turn their evil deeds into good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful” (25:70).
It is not without interest to recall that according to the Qur’an, God is not presented as One who simply accepts the forgiveness of His creations and returns to them when they return to Him. Indeed, it is God Himself who takes the initiative in approaching those who have broken their relationship with him. After He addresses Himself to them, they implore His mercy and return to Him, and then God returns to them to forgive them.
Therefore, as Allamah Tabatabai affirms, each repentance and return of the wrongdoer consists of two divine interventions. The first offers the person the capacity for intentional and sincere repentance and the second is His forgiveness after the person has repented. The phenomenon is explicitly stated in the Qur’an:
“…they knew that there was no refuge from Allah except with Him. So He turned to them so that they may repent, for Allah is the One who welcomes repentance, the Merciful One” (9:118).
A fundamental question we must answer now is to understand why we love God.
The main reason can be explained by our deepest nature (“fitrah”). Indeed, God has conferred on man a divine original nature that naturally leads him to love and to seek beauty and perfection, the highest and greatest manifestation of which is none other than God.
Because of this nature, any search for perfection, even by an atheist, is, in reality, an unconscious search for God. According to this vision, all people seek God, but the majority are mistaken in their search for materialistic, worldly pleasures. Since their nature is not satisfied with the material and the limited imperfection, they are destined to be permanently unsatisfied, moving from one passion to another in a quest for infinite satisfaction.
Another reason is also explained by human nature. Indeed, human beings love anyone who is kind to them, and feel obliged to be grateful.
According to Islam, the least that can be expected from believers is that God has a central place in their hearts, in the sense that no other love can prevail over it.
The Qur’an says: “If your fathers, your children, your brothers, your wives, your clans, the goods you earn, the trade whose decline you fear, and the dwellings that are pleasing to you, are dearer to you than Allah, His Messenger, and strive in the Cause of Allah, then wait until Allah brings His command. And Allah guides not the transgressors” (9:24).
Therefore, a believer is not a person who loves God like any other reality worthy of affection. He is the person whose love for God is the strongest love he has and who therefore voluntarily submits to the divine will.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet of Islam asked his companions “what is the best way to acquire faith?“. Amongst other answers, Prayer, Hajj, were the suggestions of his companions. The Prophet replied negatively and stated that “the best way to acquire faith is to love for divine contentment and to hate for its contentment, to befriend God’s friends and to distance oneself from His enemies“.
Thus, Islam considers divine love in its purest and most sincere dimension because it aspires to love the Beloved and all reality connected with Him and the denial of that which is opposed to Him.
A relevant example of this double dynamic is given in a Qur’anic verse about the Prophet Abraham (as) who, after he had moved heaven and earth to convince his people to accept the oneness of God, disapproved of them and turned away from them: “Surely you had a good example [to follow] in Abraham and those who were with him, when they said to their people, ‘We disown you and what you worship outside of God. We deny you‘” (60:4).
Within the Islamic lexical field, this dimension manifests itself through the notions of “tavalli” and “tabarri“, referring respectively to affection for all things loving God, and disapproval of all realities rejecting Him.
To conclude, we can quote an extract from a hadith of the Prophet of Islam reporting a word of God (“hadith e qudsi”), which highlights not only the high level of closeness to God that can be reached by the human being but also the deep love that unites him to his creator:
“Every servant who wants to come closer to Me does not make himself more loved by Me by performing [only] the obligatory acts of devotion. But surely, the servant arouses My love by performing acts of devotion that are supererogatory (“nâfila”), until I love him (“ahabbahu”). And when I love him, I become the ear with which he hears, the eye with which he sees, the tongue with which he speaks, the hand with which he gives, and the legs with which he walks. When he prays to Me, I answer him, and when he asks Me for something, I give it to him…”
Here, the meaning of religion reaches its paroxysm because it allows us to attain the highest stage of love, that of a mutual divine and human love: when the believer aspires to come closer to his Creator and to be loved by Him through his actions, God loves him in turn and manifests Himself in him.
In the light of this hadith, the idea that the human being is God’s vicar on earth takes on its full meaning: “[…] when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.’ They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ Allah said, ‘Indeed, I know that which you do not know.'”
- Concept of Love in Islam, Part One, by Sheikh Dr Shomali, 12th Nov 2016
- Concept of Love in Islam, Part Two by Sheikh Dr Shomali, 17th Dec 2016
- Concept of Love in Islam, Part Three by Sheikh Dr Shomali, 28th Jan 2016
- Concept of Love in Islam, Part Four by Sheikh Dr Shomali, 25th March 2017
- Perspectives on the Concept of Love in Islam – Mahnaz Heydarpoor
- The Love of God in the Qur’an according to Al-Mizan’s commentary of Allamah Tabatabai – Amélie Neuve-Eglise