The message of love (part 2)
This is the second of a two-part series and was originally a speech delivered by Dr John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) at the 13th Annual National Muslim Congress Conference in Dallas, Texas, in the United States of America. You can read part 1 here.
In order to cultivate a relationship with the Creator, we must be lovingly obedient and we must walk the path of love. We must slowly and gradually attempt to acquire the attributes of Allah (swt). If Allah is al-Sabbur, the Most Patient, we train ourselves to be patient. If Allah is al-‘Alim, the Most Wise, we strain ourselves to become ‘alims or scholars. We must remember Almighty Allāh at all times, knowing, full-well, that “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” [2:115] “We are nearer to the human being than the jugular vein,” [50:16] and “He is with you wherever you are.” [57:4] And most importantly, we must love Almighty Allah with all our hearts and all our souls since “He loves them, and they love Him.” [5:54] As Allah, the Loving, states in his Book of Love: “Those of faith are overflowing in their love for Allah.” [2:165]
It goes without saying that the lovers of the Most Loving express their love by respecting the ‘usul al-din and by performing the furu’ al-din, namely, by accepting the Roots of Faith and by practising the Branches of Faith. You must walk before you can run. This is how you distinguish a real ‘arif, a real sufī, and a real walī from a spiritual charlatan. One cannot be a spiritual authority unless one obey the shari‘ah. Nobody is above the law. At the same time, the simple fact that one follows the shari‘ah, and specializes in the shari‘ah, does not make one a spiritual authority. If the simple fact of obeying the law or knowing the law makes one a holy person than any law-abiding citizen and any attorney is a holy person. No. Obeying the shari‘ah does not suffice to make someone a holy man. It does not even guarantee that someone is a good Muslim. In fact, there are plenty of people who obey the law who are horrible human beings. As Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq warned, “If you want to know the religion of a person, do not look at how much he prays and fast but rather look at how he treats people.”
If love has a spiritual and religious dimension, it also has social, political, and economic dimensions. People were not made to serve religion. Religion was made to serve people. The purpose of religion is knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Its purpose is to teach morals, values, and ethics. Its purpose is spiritual edification, self-improvement, and moral reformation. Faith does not suffice for salvation. Deeds without religious devotion are like seeds without water and soil. As Muslims, we are called to put our faith into practice and to place religion at the service of society and humanity. As Almighty Allah (swt) instructs us in the Glorious Quran:
“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allāh and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.” [2:177]
There are those who wish to reduce Islam to spirituality.
They are so-called Sufis who believe that politics are below them. They are apolitical: the very manifestation of privilege. They suffer from spiritual arrogance. There are those who wish to reduce Islām to politics. They are the so-called Islamists. There are those who are so stupid and narrow-minded that they wish to reduce Islam to violence. They are the so-called Jihadists. Beware of extremes. Beware of extremists: liberals and conservatives; fundamentalists and reformists; the Gnostics and the literalists; the apolitical and the political. We must stand our religious and spiritual ground by sticking to the straight path. The straight path is the path of the law and the path of love. To walk the path of love, we must love Allah, Allah First, and Allah Last, Allah forever and ever and ever. Love Allah and feel Allah with every breath you take and with every move you make. If you love Allah, then you love the Prophets, Messengers, and Imams that were sent by Allah. Why? Because the Most Loving send them to us in love.
As Almighty Allah explains in the Glorious Quran: “We have notsentd you but as a rahmah [an an act of mercy and love] to all the worlds.” [21:107] He further says: “The Prophet is preferable for the believers even to their own selves.” [33:6] So, if we are true believers, we love the Prophet more than ourselves; however, that love is not unilateral: it is reciprocated. As Almighty Allah says in the Glorious Quran, “For the believers,” the Prophet “is full of kindness, mercy, and love.” [9:128] If we love Allah, we love the Prophet, and if we love the Prophet, we love the Progeny of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them all. “Train your children in three things,” said the Messenger of Allah, “the love of your Prophet, the love of his Progeny, and recitation of the Quran.” [Suyuti] He also stated: “Love Allah for the favours He has granted you, love me out of love of Allah, and love my family out of love for me.” [Tirmidhi]
As the Messenger of Allah said: “I have left among you two precious obligations as a testament: if you love them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allāh, which is like a rope extending from heaven to the Earth, and my children, my Ahl al-Bayt” (Tirmidhī, Sadūq, Mufīd, Kulaynī). “The love for my Ahl al-Bayt is an obligation,” said the Prophet (Ṭabarānī, Nabahānī, Ibn Ḥajar). I could go on for hours stressing the importance of loving the Prophet and His Purified Progeny, ‘alayhim ṣalawātu wa salām.
Loving God, the Prophet, and his Family, is not enough. We must love our wives as well. As we read in the Glorious Qur’ān: “It is He who created you from a single soul, and made his mate of like nature, in order that ye may dwell with her [in love]” (7:189). Men and women were created from a single soul. They long to be united as one in the same fashion that all souls yearn to be united with Allāh in total tawḥīd. Of the Prophet’s three loves, the other two being perfume and prayer, the foremost was women. As the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: “It is the tradition of the Prophets to love women.”
The union of husband and wife is an expression of divine union. Men are the embodiment of the masculine attributes of God whereas women are the embodiment of the feminine attributes of God. The love of women takes many forms. The exegesis of these traditions is profound. As the Messenger of Allāh,ṣalawāt Allāh ‘alayh, stated: “The words of a husband to his wife, ‘I truly love you,’ should never leave her heart” (‘Amilī).
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that “Women are the likes of men.”Women complete men. Women represent the feminine attributes of the Divinity. Loving women, purely and spiritually, that is, is a form of worship. As Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq stated: “Whoever’s love for us increases, his love for women must also increase” (‘Amilī). To love, respect, and revere women is synonymous with being a follower of Ahl al-Bayt. It suffices to say that one cannot be a pious Muslim while simultaneously being a misogynist. At the same time, the Messenger of Allāh stresses that “The best of you among women are those who are loving and affectionate” (Majlisī).
We love Allāh. We love the Prophet. We love the Imāms. We love our wives. We also love our children and our families. As the Messenger of Allāh, ‘alayhi ṣalawātu wa salām, said: “The creatures are Allāh’s family so the most loved one of Allāh is he who shows kindness to his family” (Bayhaqī). The sixth Imām, Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, peace be upon him, said: “Verily, Allāh, the Mighty and High, is merciful to the man who loves his child intensely” (Kulaynī).
As you will note, the love that I describe is emanating outward, from the Center, from Allāh, to the Prophet, to the Imāms, and to our families. For most people, love does not extend beyond this small circle. However, since Allāh is One, and we, as Creation, are one, our love should truly be all-encompassing.
The Prophet and the Imāms, peace be upon them, did not only speak about loving our women: they spoke of loving all women. They did not say that we should only love our children: they said that we should love all children. As the Messenger of Allāh, ṣallalahu ‘alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, taught: “Love children and be compassionate with them, and when you promise them something, always fulfill it, because they certainly consider you their benefactors” (Kulaynī). And while he instructed us to tell our wives that we loved them, he also spoke in general terms, stating: “When you love someone, let the person know” (Majlisī).
As the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “None will move from his place of reckoning on the Day of Judgment until he has stated four things: how he lived his life, how he spend his wealth, how he earned his living, and whether he loved the Ahl al-Bayt” (Ṭabarānī, Suyūṭī, Nabahānī). So, we need to love Ahl al-Bayt, but we need to live a moral life, earn a moral income, and share our income with the poor and needy. As Almighty Allāh, ‘azza wa jalla, Mighty and Majestic, says in a ḥadīth qudsī: “O Son of Adam! Behave with the people with good manners until I love you” (Shīrāzī). And yet again: “Purify your deeds… until I dress you with the clothes of My love” (Shīrāzī).
“Islām started as a social justice movement. The Prophet Muḥammad taught his followers to reject sexism, racism, and most of all, classism” stated a silly girl who should seriously study Islām. Islām is a religion, a worldview, a complete and total way of life, with spiritual, religious, social, political, and economic dimensions. It is a culture. It is a civilization. For God’s sake, Islām is much more than a “social justice movement.” It is a faith. It is rooted in monotheism. It is a belief system which, if followed properly, will ensure social justice and eradicate sexism, racism, and classism. Allāh is very clear about this in the Qur’ān: “Serve Allāh, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess.” (4:36)
Faith in one God, first and foremost. Pure monotheism followed by good deeds to family, relatives, neighbours, orphans, the poor, the needy, the indigent, the homeless, refugees, the sick, the elderly…
Love is central in Islām. It is at the heart of the Golden Rule. As the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, stated: “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (Muslim); “Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and to enter Paradise… should treat the people as he wishes to be treated” (Muslim); “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Nawawī); “None of you is a believer if he eats his full while his neighbor hasn’t anything” (Aḥmad); “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves” (Abū Dāwūd); “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you” (Farewell Sermon); and “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm” (Ibn Mājah). In fact, the Qur’ān goes beyond the Golden rule by encouraging Muslims to “Return evil with kindness” (13:22, 23:96, 41:34, 28:54, 42:40).
Why must be love others? Because as Rūzbihān Baqlī of Shīrāz explains in is‘Abhār al-‘āshiqīn, “The soul is nurtured through human love until love becomes firmly rooted in the inmost mystery.” How can you love a God you cannot see when you cannot even love a human being that you can see? Start seeing God in others and you will see wonders. As Almighty Allāh, subḥānahu wa ta‘alā, states in a sacred saying:
“Allāh will say on the Day of Judgment, ‘Son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me.’ ‘My Lord, How could I visit You when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’ ‘Did you not know that one of My servants was sick and you didn’t visit him? If you had visited him you would have found Me there.’ Then Allāh will say, ‘Son of Adam, I needed food but you did not feed Me.’ ‘My Lord, How could I feed You when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’ ‘Did you not know that one of My servants was hungry but you did not feed him? If you had fed him you would have found its reward with Me.’ ‘Son of Adam, I was thirsty, but you did not give Me something to drink.’ ‘My Lord, How could I give a drink when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’ ‘Did you not know that one of My servants was thirsty but you did not give him a drink? If you had given him a drink, you would have found Me with him.” [Muslim]
And yet again,
“My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved than the religious duties that I have imposed upon him, and My Servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks.” (Bukhārī)
This is what is meant when we speak of being at one with the One. This is the true meaning of tawḥīd or unity between the Creator and the created. This is what happens when a human being acquires the attributes of Allāh. The is the station of al-insān al-kāmil: the perfected human being. This is what the Imāms, peace be upon them, meant, when they said: “We are the Most Beautiful Names of God.” This is the destination of the path of love. This is what Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq meant when he asked: Is the religion anything but love?