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Recognise Beauty & Perfection: Grow in Divine Love

Most-Stunning-Views-Of-The-World-Nature-WallpapersWhat is love? How is it to be defined? Can it be defined? Can love really be put into words? There are profounder questions still for believers, like what is love of God? And how can we nurture God’s love in our hearts? In fact, to say that this is Man’s greatest existential question would, in all likelihood, be an absolute understatement; for such is its centrality to a life of true faith.

There has been a certain reluctance on the part of classical scholars when it comes to defining love (mahabbah). It is not that they haven’t tried, but that the definitions have tended to be causes, symptoms, effects or consequences of love, instead of love itself. A general description of love as mayl or “inclination” aside, some have felt that those who’ve attempted to define love have done so in terms of their own experiential taste, or dhawq; or to the extent of their own yearning for God, or shawq.

Such hesitancy is found in Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah who, when discussing the matter of love, chooses not to give his own definition, but instead lists thirty suggestions of others; noting how they are either incomplete definitions or they are descriptive of love’s consequences. The only definition to gain near acceptance (though not quite a definition) is a rather lyrical description from a young Junayd al-Baghdadi who speaks about the self-effacement of the lover of God in the worship and service of Him.

Thus, in winding-up his attempts at defining love, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah says: ‘The Thirtieth – being the most comprehensive of what is said about it: Abu Bakr al-Kattani related that a discussion concerning love took place in Makkah (may God, exalted is He, honour it) during the pilgrimage season. The shaykhs spoke about it, with Junayd being the youngest of them. They asked him: Tell us your opinion, O Iraqi? With his head bowed and his eyes filled with tears, he said: “When the servant is effaced from himself, united in his Lord’s remembrance, renders what is due to Him, and sees Him with his heart, then his heart is set ablaze by the lights of divine awe; and his drinking from the cup of divine love is made pure and the Compeller lifts the veil of the unseen to him. So when he speaks, he speaks through God. When he utters, he utters about God. When he moves, he moves by God’s bidding. When he is resting, he rests with God. So he is for God, by God and with God!” The shaykhs burst into tears, saying: What more can be said. May God reward you, O crown of the gnostics.’1

Subhana’Llah!

However one defines love, at its heart is the idea of ma‘rifat al-kamal – ‘recognising perfection’. One of the great doors for man to nurture a deep and abiding love of God is appreciation of God’s acts of kindness and beneficence to His creation. ‘Hearts,’ it has been said, ‘have been created with a natural disposition to love those who do good to them.’ As this appreciation deepens, the lover is lead to a still greater door: the door of ma‘rifat al-kamal – recognition of God’s utter beauty and perfection in terms of His acts (af‘al), attributes (sifat) and essence (dhat). In one celebrated hadith, we read: ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty.’2 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah writes:

‘The greatest way of knowing God is to know the Lord via His beauty, transcendent is He: which is how the elite from creation know Him. The rest know Him through one of His attributes, while the most perfect of them know Him by way of His perfection, awe and beauty – [while affirming that] there is nothing that even remotely resembles Him in terms of attributes. Now if, for argument’s sake, all the creation had beautiful forms, then the most beautiful of them (inwardly and outwardly), when compared to the Lord’s beauty, would be dimmer than the dimmest candlelight as compared to the blazing radiance of the sun. It suffices [to know] about His beauty that “If He were to remove the veil from His Face, the splendour of His countenance would consume His creation as far as His gaze extends.”3 It [also] suffices that every beauty, inner or outer, in this world or the Afterlife, is His handiwork. What then of the beauty of the Creator of such handiwork?’4

He also said: ‘Thus, His names are all beautiful. His attributes are all perfect. And His acts are all wise, beneficial, just and compassionate. As for the beauty of His essence and what it is like, then it is something known only to Him; no other knows it. None of His creatures possesses any knowledge of it, except that some whom He honours are given some acquaintance of it … Indeed, a servant progresses from knowledge of the divine acts, to knowing the divine attributes; and from knowledge of the divine attributes, to knowing [something about] the divine essence. Whenever he witnesses anything of the beauty of the divine acts, he infers from it the beauty of the divine attributes; and from the beauty of the divine attributes, he infers from it the beauty of the divine essence.’5

Such is the significance of ma‘rifat al-kamal, that in almost every verse of the Majestic Qur’an there is mention of God’s beautiful acts and perfect attributes. For God wants the recognition of His perfection so that it leads to the love of His very essence; that is, to the love of Him.

1. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:447-8.

2. Muslim, no.91.

3. As reported in Muslim, no.293.

4. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 264.

5. ibid., 265-66.

Love of Allah: the Litmus Test

Allah_Wallpaper_by_raazmanFaith (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.

Does Allah Love Everyone?

Red heart shaped treePeople can mean quite different things when they speak of love. For some, love means desire, passion or lust: it is often used as a byword for self-gratification. To some, love is compassion, mercy, tenderness. To others, it is soppy, sugary, gooey sentimentality. For others still, it is devotion, longing and yearning.

Then there is passionate love and platonic love. There is love between friends; love of family; love among brothers in arms; and love for the family pet.

So the answer to whether or not God loves everyone, or only certain people, is tied to what we mean by “love”. The Qur’an speaks of two types of love, as it relates to God: a general, all-encompassing love; the other, a more exclusive love. The two types of love are expressed by the following Arabic terms respectively: rahmah and hubb.

One of God’s Names is al-Wadud – “the Loving”, “the Affectionate”. He is Forgiving, the Loving, states the Qur’an [85:14] From a general perspective, God loves everyone in the sense of rahmah – His loving mercy, care, kindness and compassion. Indeed, after the two Shahadahs – the two “Testimonies” of Faith – the formula most frequently on the lips of a Muslim is the Basmalah – “In the Name of God, All-Merciful (al-Rahman), the Compassionate (al-Rahim)” – and it is with this formula that every chapter or surah of the Qur’an (excepting one) commences. The Qur’an says about God: He has prescribed mercy upon Himself. [6:12] An almost identical expression of God inscribing mercy on Himself – kataba ‘ala nafsihi’l-rahmah – is repeated again later: Your Lord has prescribed mercy upon Himself. [6:54] That no other divine attribute has been described like this in the Qur’an is indeed revealing about God’s nature.

In Arabic, rahmah is formed from the three consonants r-h-m, which have the primary meaning of “womb”. This indicates the maternal nature of God’s mercy, as it were, in that it nurtures and protects the helpless human creature in its gentle embrace. Once, on seeing a mother frantically search for her lost child and then, on finding it, clasped the babe to her chest, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘God is more merciful to His creation than that mother is to her child.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5999; Muslim, no.2754]

Muslim exegists and theologians tell us that al-Rahman is an eternal attribute of God, and circumscribes the quality of mercy inherent in, and inseparable from, the Divine Essence. Al-Rahim, on the other hand, refers to an aspect of God’s acts, signifying the manifestation of that mercy in, and its effects upon, the entire creation.1

Painting it in more picturesque terms, it has been said that al-Rahman is like the clear blue sky, calm and peaceful and full of light, that stretches over us and over all things; while al-Rahim is like the warm rays of light coming from that sky, bathing the lives of individuals and events, and animating the earth and all life upon it. The sun shines for all; the rain falls for all. The rays of God’s loving compassion, kindness and care touch everything and everyone: Muslim and non-Muslim, saint and sinner. God says in the Qur’an: My mercy embraces all things. [7:156]

Further insight into the divine mercies offers itself in the following hadith: ‘God made mercy into one-hundred parts. He withheld ninety-nine parts and sent down one part to earth. It is because of that one part that creatures show mercy to one another, such that a mare will lift her hoof over her foal, for fear she may cause it harm.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6000] In another narration: ‘God has kept back ninety-nine parts of this mercy for His worshippers on the Day of Resurrection.’ [Muslim, no.2752] Here again we find rahmah,  mercy, not in the sense of forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm (although that is one of its meanings), but as lovingness, kindness, compassion and protecting care – in other words, loving mercy. Interestingly, in Aramaic and Syriac, r-h-m as a root, and rahmah its derivative, signify love, rather than mercy.

The hadith concerning ninety-nine mercies reveals to us something else about the divine rahmah, which is that the greater part of it is reserved for believers (mu’minun) in the Afterlife. Going back to the Basmalah formula, our scholars have explained that Rahman and Rahim are both intensive forms of rahmah, with a distinction between the two. The first denotes comprehensive mercy which brings things into existence, then provides, protects and cares for them. While the second denotes selective mercy reaching those who accept faith and bring the will to worship God.2 Which brings us nicely on to the second type of love:

Not withstanding other words in the Qur’an that depict love (like mahabbah, wudd, rahmah, mawaddah and also lutf), the second type of love is hubb. God, as mentioned at the start, only has love, in terms of hubb, for the believers: Upon those who believe and work righteousness, the All-Merciful shall bestow love. [19:96] In contrast to such a comforting declaration, the Qur’an says: God loves not the disbelievers. [3:32] To be clear then, God’s love in terms of rahmah is impartial, universal and unconditional, while God’s specific love in the sense of hubb is conditional on faith in Him, love of Him and acceptance of His will.

Christians, and others beside, tend to assume that since Islam advocates inna’Llaha la yuhibbu’l-kafirin – that “God does not love the disbelievers” – this says something very unbecoming about God. For how can the One true God not love His creation. But as the post hopefully shows, the assumption is wrong and rests on not recognising the distinctions between the various shades of love embedded in the Quranic language. It seems to me that if we Muslims wish ourselves and our faith to be better understood, the critical question about God’s loves, as depicted by the Qur’an, must be articulated in a far better, nuanced and broader manner. Indeed, it is the right of non-Muslims to hear such nuances; and the call to Abrahamic monotheism demands from us nothing less. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. See: al-Baghawi, Maalim al-Tanzil (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2010), 1:3.

2. Consult: al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 1:74.

Ten Ways to Nurture Love of God

90105_prayer2In his usual characteristic flare, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d.751H/1350CE) discusses ten ways in which the seeker may cultivate a deep and abiding love of God.

Rooted in Scripture, the journey starts with love as an expression of divine obedience which, as it steadily becomes internalised, culminates in being “lost” in the love of the One being loved.

Elsewhere he says about the degrees or stages of divine love that: initially the heart shows an interest in the Beloved; it is then followed by an attachment, which steadily develops into an ardent longing. This lover’s yearning is followed by an infatuation. Finally comes tatayyum – “thraldom” or “enslavement”: this is where the Beloved now becomes the possessor of the lover, who finds no other in his heart. It all commences, though, with kindling an interest; igniting the initial spark. As for how to kindle such sparks, Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

‘The causes which give rise to love for God, and which necessitate it, are ten:

Firstly, reciting the Qur’an with reflection (tadabbur), so as to understand its meanings and its intent. Just as a person would ponder over a text he has committed to memory and now wishes to explain, so that the author’s intent is duly understood.

Secondly, drawing nearer to God by doing optional acts of devotion (nawafil), after the obligatory ones. This leads to the degree of being loved by God (mahbubiyyah), after having love for God (mahabbah).

Thirdly, constantly remembering God under all situations; with the tongue, the heart, one’s deeds and spiritual states. His share of God’s love will be commensurate with his remembrance of Him.

Fourthly, preferring God’s love over your own love when desire (hawa) overcomes you; climbing to reach His love even if the ascent is difficult.

Fifthly, the heart examining God’s Names and Attributes; so as to witness them, know them experientially, and immerse itself in the gardens of such gnosis (ma’rifah). Those who know God by His Names, Attributes and Acts will surely love Him …

Sixthly, seeing His goodness, kindness, bounties and blessings; material and spiritual. This beckons to loving Him.

Seventhly – which is the most wondrous of them: to stand before God with an utterly broken heart (incisor al-qalb bi’l-kuliyyah). There’s simply no other expression or word that can fully describe its meaning.

Eighthly, being alone with Him at the time of the Divine Descent (al-nuzul al-ilahi)1 so as to converse with Him intimately, recite His Words, be devoted to Him, and display the courtesies of servitude before Him; sealing this with seeking His forgiveness and repenting to Him.

Ninthly, sitting in the gatherings of God’s true lovers, in order to gain the best fruits of their speech – as one is want to pick choice fruits – and not to speak unless there is an overriding benefit in doing so, or if you know it will increase your spiritual state or be of benefit to others.

Tenthly, keeping at bay every means that may alienate the heart from its Lord; Mighty and Majestic is He.

With these ten causes, the lovers will arrive at the stations of love and enter upon the Beloved. The crux of all this lies in two matters: preparing the soul for this affair, and opening up the eye of spiritual insight (‘ayn al-basirah). And from God is the enabling grace.’2

1. Referring to the hadith: ‘Our Lord, blessed and exalted is He, descends every night to the lowest heaven when only the last third of the night remains, and says: Who is invoking Me that I may respond to him? Who is petitioning Me that I may grant him? And who is seeking forgiveness of Me that I may forgive Him? Thus He continues till the arrival of dawn.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.1145; Muslim, no.758].

2. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:449-50.

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