Love of Allah: the Litmus Test
Faith (iman) in Islam doesn’t just consist of verbal affirmation or assertion. One must also surrender wholeheartedly: Do people imagine that they will be left alone because they say: ‘We believe,’ and that they won’t be tried? [29:1] It isn’t enough to say ‘I believe in Allah and His Prophet.’ We must also accept Allah’s commands and prohibitions and the teachings of the Prophet, peace be upon him, with utmost submission and sincerity. This being the hallmark of true love. A celebrated hadith records that Allah said: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have enjoined on him. My servant continues to draw closer to Me with supererogatory acts until I love him.’1
Love of God (mahabbatu’Llah) is the preeminent subject of the Qur’an, ‘the station for which competitors compete and strivers strive; upon which seekers revive themselves and lovers annihilate themselves.’ Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d.795H/1393CE) – devout and pious worshipper, worldly renunciant (zahid), moving sermoniser, acclaimed Hanbali jurist and outstanding hadith master – gave this exposition to the following hadith on a believer’s likes and inclinations: ‘None of you [truly] believes until his desires accord with what I have brought.’2 He wrote:
‘As for the meaning of the hadith, it is that a person cannot be a believer whose level of necessary faith (al-iman al-wajib) is complete, until his love corresponds with what the Prophet, peace be upon him, came with in terms of commands, prohibitions and other matters – loving what he ordered and loathing what he forbade. The Qur’an says this in more than one place, as when Allah, exalted is He, said: But no, by your Lord, they will not believe until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them, and find in themselves no dislike for what you decide, but submit to it fully. [4:65] He says, exalted is He: It is not for a believing man or believing woman to have any choice in their affairs when Allah and His Messenger have decided for them. [33:36]
Allah censures those who detest what He loves, or love what He detests. in His words: That is because they hate what Allah has revealed; so He renders their deeds fruitless. [47:9] And He, exalted is He, states: That is because they followed what makes Allah wrathful, and hated His pleasure. So, He made all their works fruitless. [47:28]
Thus it is incumbent upon each believer to love whatever Allah loves, with a love that requires fulfilling whatever is obligatory upon him. If his love increases, so that he fulfils even the recommended, then this will be additional.
[Likewise], he should dislike what Allah dislikes, with a dislike that requires refraining from whatever is forbidden. If his dislike increases, such that he refrains from those things that are detested; again, this is additional.
It is confirmed in the Two Sahihs that the Prophet, peace be on him, informed: “None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his ownself, his children, his family and all of mankind.”3 That is, a believer will not be a true believer, until he prefers love of the Messenger, peace be upon him, over and above love for the rest of creation: for love of the Prophet follows on from love of the message with which he was sent.
Genuine love also necessitates imitation (mutaba‘ah) of, and compliance (muwafaqah) with love of the beloved matters and loathing of the detested ones. Allah says, mighty and majestic is He: Say: “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, the wealth you have amassed, the commerce you fear may slacken, and the homes you love are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and the struggle in His cause, then wait till Allah brings about His command; for Allah guides not the corrupt.” [9:24] And Allah, exalted is He, stated: Say: “If you love Allah, then follow me; for then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.” [3:31]
Al-Hasan [al-Basri] said: “The Prophet’s Companions asked: O Messenger of Allah, we love our Lord intensely. So Allah wished to make a hallmark for His love; therefore He revealed this verse.”
The Two Sahihs narrate that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “There are three [qualities] which, if they are found in anyone, shall cause him to taste the sweetness of faith: that Allah and His Messenger be dearer to him than everything else; that he love a person only for Allah’s sake; and that he hate reverting to disbelief after having been rescued from it by Allah, as he would hate being cast into the fire.”4
Whosoever loves Allah and His Messenger sincerely from his heart, it will necessitate that he loves in his heart what Allah and His Messenger love; loath what they loath; be pleased with what pleases them; and be displeased with what displeases them; and the limbs will then conform to whatever this loving and loathing necessitate.
But if he does anything with his limbs which contravenes any of this; if he commits an act that Allah or His Messenger detest, or leaves an act that Allah or His Messenger love – whilst believing in its obligation and possessing the ability [to avoid or fulfil the act] – this indicates a defect in the necessary level of love. He should therefore repent from it and return to completing the necessary level of love.
Abu Ya‘qub al-Nahrujuri said: “Whosoever claims to love Allah, mighty and majestic is He, but doesn’t comply with Allah in His commands, his claim is false. For every lover that does not fear Allah, is deluded.”
Yahya b. Mu‘adh said: “That person is not truthful who claims to love Allah, yet does not safeguard His limits.”
Ruwaym was asked about divine love, to which he said: “It is to comply in all states.” He then recited the following couplet: “If you said to me, ‘Die!’ I would die hearing and obeying / Then I would say to the caller of death: ‘Welcome and enter!”
Someone from the earlier generations versified: “You disobey Allah, but claim to love Him; This, by my life, is a foul analogy. If your love were true, you would indeed obey Him; For a lovers obeys the One that he loves.” ‘5
1. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.6502.
2. Al-Baghawi, Sharh al-Sunnah, 1:212.
3. Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.44.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.16; Muslim, no.43.
5. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:395-7.