Love is an innate and essential element in the makeup of our being in the sense that we all seek to love and be loved. In fact, love may well be the driving force in everything we do. Our love for ourselves, for others and for God will drive us moment by moment to certain behavior. Such a powerful thing deserves our deepest consideration. What exactly is love? As a noun, it is an intense feeling of deep affection or fondness; as a verb, it is to delight in, admire, cherish, or feel deep affection for someone. It describes a subjective emotion that is not always rational. It also describes a feeling that is often beyond one’s control — hence, the phrase “falling in love.”
Love in the sense defined above is mentioned in the Quran as something that God instills in our hearts. “And of His signs is that he created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy” (30:21). “He has put affection between their hearts: not if you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have produced that affection, but Allah has done it…” (8:63). These verses imply that the feeling of love and affection for others originates from God and is a gift from Him. It is not something we can will in ourselves or create between people, which makes the feeling of love between people a sublime and blessed emotion.
Apart from loving others, people also love things, and these are mentioned in the Quran too. “Man loves wealth with immense love.” (89:20) “Man’s love for wealth is intense” (100:8) “Beautified for people is the love for that which they desire – for women and children, heaped up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of the worldly life….” (3:14) Love for these things help us to become productive, cooperative people, but excessive love can make us become destructive and selfish. So, when it comes to loving things, we should exercise caution, as the following verse implies: “…Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you” (2:216).
The Quran also ties love to virtue, and this is when the Islamic concept of love gets very interesting. “You will never attain virtue until you spend something of what you love…” (3:92) This means that you should give to others what you love for yourself. In addition, the verse “Whenever you speak, be just, even though it concerns a close relative” (6:153) reminds us that our love for others should not make us do or say something unjust. Although the Quran never explicitly commands us to “Love one another,” it does have many commands to behave as though we love one another, regardless of our feelings. “Say kind words to people…” (2:83) “Pardon and overlook their misdeeds” (5:13) “Do not spy on one another, nor let any of you backbite others…” (49:12) and to “…judge with justice…” (5:42). It says that “A good deed and an evil deed are not alike; repay [evil] with something that is finer, and see how someone who is separated from you by enmity will become a bosom friend.” (41:33)
Other verses are even more specific in telling us in specific detail how to treat others: “Your Lord has decreed that you should worship nothing except Him and show kindness to your parents; whether either or both of them attain old age, never say to them “Uf!” nor scold either of them. Speak to them in a generous fashion. Serve them with tenderness and humility…” (17:23)
Aside from these Quranic verses, Muhammad advised his followers in innumerable traditions to be good to others. For example, he said, “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are? If a neighbor seeks your help, extend it to him. If a neighbor asks you for a loan, lend him. If your neighbor becomes poor, then help him financially and attend to his poverty if you can. If your neighbor becomes ill, then visit him. If your neighbor is happy on certain gain, then congratulate him. If your neighbor is suffering a calamity, then offer him condolences. If your neighbor dies, then attend his funeral. Do not raise your building over his building, so that he would have no sun exposure or wind passage. Do not bother your neighbor with the smell of your cooking, unless you intend to offer him some” (Tabrani, 101). Detailing the behavior of a loving neighbor is more meaningful than a simple order to love them.
The Quran and Muhammad did not directly command us to “love one another” because love (the feeling) is a byproduct of positive actions and attitudes. Instead, we are commanded to treat one another with justice, respect, forgiveness, patience and kindness. By acting in this way, we can arouse the feeling of love for others in ourselves, and vice versa. Stephen Covey understood this well; read the following excerpt from his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
“Stephen, …My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right.” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. They’re driven by feelings. … Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifice you make, the giving of self … If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return. If you are a parent, look at the love you have for the children you sacrificed for. Love is a value that is actualised through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values…
We can see that true love is principle-driven, not emotion-driven. Islam insists on principle-driven love, a love that is proactive and action-based, not reactive and emotion-based. Some people find the subject of love too complex and its requirements in conflict with their own notions of love and happiness. Can we neglect the demands of true love? How important is love? Muhammad said to his companions, “You will not enter Paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith until you love one another” (Muslim). The eventual outcome of principle-driven, proactive love is feelings of affection for and delight in others – which are God’s gift to those who “walk the talk” of love.
While loving one another is something we should aspire for, earning God’s love is an even greater goal. The Quran gives many descriptions of those whom God loves: Those who do good (2:195), those who act justly (5:42) , those who are patient and steadfast (3:146), those who spend during ease and hardship, and who restrain anger and who pardon people (3:134), those who repent to God and those who purify themselves (2:222), those who are conscious of God [and act accordingly] (3:76) , and those who depend on God after having decided on a matter (3:159).
The Quran also describes what and who God doesn’t love, such as corruption (2:205) the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged (4:148), sinning disbelievers (3:32), wrongdoers and evildoers (3:58), those who are self-deluded and boastful (4:36) , the habitual sinful deceiver (4:107) , those who are treacherous and those who are ungrateful (22:38) , those who are stingy, encourage stinginess among people and conceal what God has given them of His bounty (4:37), those who are arrogant (16:23), those who are exultant (28:76) , and those who are wasteful and excessive (7:31). In addition, Prophet Muhammad said that the lawful thing that God hates most is divorce (Abu Dawud).
Although some people assume that God loves all people, we can see from the Quranic verses that He doesn’t. However, God’s MERCY is for all people. He says, “…My mercy embraces all things…”(7:156). “… Indeed, God is ever kind and merciful to people” (2:143). His mercy comes in forms that we should recognize: “O mankind! Worship your Lord … Who has made the earth your couch, the heavens your canopy, sent down rain from the sky, and brought forth fruits for your sustenance… (2:21) Sometimes His mercy comes in the form of warnings or evidence that reform on our part is necessary: “Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned; He may let them taste a part of what they have done so that perhaps they will return [to proper conduct].” (30:41) In other words, suffering or hardship can be a mercy because it leads us to reassess ourselves and our circumstances to correct an improve our behavior. God also told us in the Quran how to earn His mercy: “…I will decree it [especially] for those who fear Me and give the prescribed charity and those who believe in Our verses, those who follow the messenger…” (7:156-157).
While God’s mercy is for all people, His love is for a selected group: “Say (O Muhammad): ‘If you love God, then follow me; God will love you…’” (3:31). “As for those who believe and do right actions, the All-Merciful will bestow His love on them.” (19:96) “Nothing draws My servant closer to Me more than doing what I have made obligatory upon him. And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with supererogatory deeds until I love him. When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hands with which he holds, and his feet with which he walks. If he asks Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant it to him” (hadith qudsi).
Finally – Loving God
Treating one another with kindness, forgiveness and generosity leads us to feelings of love for each other, and completes our faith so that we can enjoy happiness in the Hereafter. Faith in God and following His messenger earn us God’s love. But the pinnacle of our love is to love God, who is the wellspring of all other expressions of love. The Quran says, “Some people set up equals to God, loving them as they should love God. But those who believe have greater love for God…” (2:165). We should love God first by doing what He likes in the ways He mentioned, which is to exercise the proactive meaning of love to serve Him and others. After loving Him consistently and persistently, He will, in return, love us. Is there any aspiration greater than that?