The Virtue of Love in Islam (Part 1)

07/18/2017 03:55 pm ET

The reluctant Prophet, the loving wife and the follower of Jesus

The 7th day in the month of Ramadan of the year (610 CE) was like any other day Mohammad spent in solitude in a cave high above Mecca. But that night changed his life. He had fallen asleep in the cave when he suddenly was awakened with an overwhelming feeling of a divine presence. An angel was there.

Mohammad must have been terrified, especially when the angel enveloped him in a horrifying embrace so that it felt as though his very breath was being squeezed from his body. The angel gave him one command:

“Iqra’!” (Read or Recite) Mohammad protested in vain that he could not read. But the command was issued twice more, and each time he would feel he was reaching the end of his endurance, but he uttered the same response. Finally, the angel released him, and Mohammad found divinely inspired words pouring out of his mouth:

“Recite in the name of your Lord who created; created the human being from a clinging substance. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen, taught the human being that which he knew not.” (Qur’an 96:1-5)

Mohammad was horrified. As he tumbled down the mountain, he looked upwards, and the angel was everywhere filling the horizon. Wherever he turned, the figure was there, inescapably present. He shouted, who are you and the angel replied, I’m Gabriel and you are the Messenger of God.

Mohammad kept tumbling down the mountain and rushed home, running, falling, crawling and shaking, he cried to Khadijah: “Cover me! Cover me!”

She laid him down, placing a cloak over him, held him lovingly in her arms, soothing him and trying to calm him. As soon as he had recovered a little, he told her what had happened and shared his fears that he might be now possessed by a spirit. Mohammad was terrified. She held him close and with a comforting but determined voice she said:

“Never! By God! God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your relatives, help the poor, serve your guests generously, and assist those affected by calamities.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

She saw in her husband a virtuous man—who is honest and just, given to helping others.

The first person on the face of the earth to believe in the Message entrusted to Mohammad was his own loving wife, Khadijah. At once, she went to see an older male cousin, Waraqa, a follower of Jesus who had studied the Scriptures. After hearing from her about Mohammad’s experience, Waraqa confirmed that Muhammad received a revelation similar, he said, to what Moses used to receive.

Such was the beginning of Islam. An unwilling Prophet who started as a seeker, nurtured by the love of a devoted wife and confirmed by a follower of Jesus.

Twenty three years later, what started with that first revelation continued and became a book. That book claims to be the inerrant word of God. But how does God describe Himself in this book? Is He love?

What is love in Islam?

If we’re looking for the word love which is the translation of the Arabic word (hub حب), this word is mentioned 76 times in the Qur’an. I should think however, that we are more interested in the meaning of the word in relation to God and His creation. Is the love described in the Qur’an theoretical or is it contextual? Is it conditional or is it unconditional?

Let us look into that.

The Qur’an says that human beings are created to worship Allah. What is the relationship then, between worshipping and loving Allah?

Around the 10th Century, a debate started in Baghdad regarding the purpose behind Allah's creations and actions. Some theologians thought that the attribution of reason or purpose to Allah’s deeds leads to the assumption that Allah is in need of His creatures and He creates them to meet some needs.

However the dominant view, especially among those who came later and had a more rationalistic approach like Nasir ul‑Din al‑Tusi (1201- 1274) has always been that Allah is the Wise, so whatever He does is for a good and well planned purposes. He never does something arbitrarily or in vain. He himself said in the Qur’an: "Did you think, then, that We created you in vain” (23:115)

The question is not whether Allah is love? Or whether He loves us? The question should be, why are we here in the first place? Is our existence on this planet accidental, or are we the beneficiaries of a cosmic order that was planned beforehand to help us flourish?

So let’s start with the answer to the first question. Is Allah Love?

Allah gave me existence[1] (82:07). Without Him being willing to do that I will not be. So His love is demonstrated through His will to allow me to exist. It is also demonstrated through His generosity when He allowed me to have consciousness, so I can realize that we are here together, He and I. He demonstrated His love when He allowed me to know Him[2] (3:62) through the guidance He sent me[3] (2:02) and writing devotionally about Him, is a sign of my great love for Him.

[1] He who created you, formed you, and proportioned you? (82:07)

[2] This is the truth of the matter, and there is no deity but God. God is the Almighty, the Wise. (03:62)

[3] This is the Book that, without doubt, has guidance for those who are mindful of God; (02:02)

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