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Chapter 9: The path of Love

In this book, an attempt has been made to discuss the ideology of monotheism from a rational and academic point of view. The Qur’an and the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (‘a)(‘a) have been quoted to support the arguments. Philosophical and mystical ideas have been incorporated to narrate a world view based on monotheism. Some may not like going through pure philosophical ideas, and others may not be satisfied by the arguments presented in this book. Thus, is there another approach to monotheism besides the pure academic and rational?

The concept of God is actually a very simple one to grasp, even young children can understand it. One does not have to be a philosopher, mystic, religious scholar, nor need a university degree to accept the existence of God. For most people, it makes perfect sense that God exists. Those who believe in God also tend to develop a personal relationship with Him, and for many, this relationship blossoms into love.

In addition to the intellect, we also have also been granted with a very powerful faculty of love. It is the most important force that guides human behavior. According to a Sufi teacher, Shaykh Fadlallah Haeri, “Love is like superglue which binds opposite and different things together.”

While rationality can guide us and tell us in which direction to move, it is love which propels us. Love fuels the engine of human endeavor and makes us reach new and unchartered territories.

The best example of love from our daily lives is a mother’s love for her children. She carries the unborn baby for nine months during which time, her body is transformed to accommodate the growing child inside of her. She then puts her life at risk during delivery to bring the newborn into this world; and then spends countless sleepless nights to feed the infant, responding to every demand of the child. Her every activity is centered around the baby, constantly thinking about the child’s well-being. She does not eat until the children have eaten, and does not rest until they have rested. In addition, she does all of this happily with a smiling face because she is in love, an unconditional love that is not looking for any compensation or reward.

The father gives his unconditional love to the children as well. He is the stem while they are his branches. He is their support who gives the children a sense of belonging, that they are not on their own and someone is there to protect them and fulfill their needs, and to teach and guide them. Someone they look up to, feel proud of and emulate. It is love that lets parents go through the constant toiling of bringing up children from birth until they are adults, and they continue to guide and support them even afterwards.

It is love which makes siblings stand up for each other, which makes uncles bring gifts for their nephews and nieces, makes aunts look after them in the absence of the parents. Love makes us extend a helping hand to a stranger, pick up someone who has fallen, and makes people donate blood to save anonymous lives.

It is love which makes us dress up to look good for our partner, to find a way to bring a smile to someone’s face. It is love for each other and for the children which binds a couple together through the many ups and downs of life. Sometimes parents do not get along well, but they decide to stick together for their mutual love for the children’s betterment.

It is love which makes a small bird so courageous that it is willing to pick up a fight with a snake when it threatens her small chicks; makes a dog wait for its owner to return from work; makes a lioness hunt for a prey for her young cubs, who are too weak to find one on their own.

It is love which makes us write poetry; draw a painting; design a new house; develop a device to help the handicapped; solve a mathematical problem; explore uncharted territories; search for a cure for a deadly disease; and challenge an unjust system.

Love is not something which is understood by the intellect, but rather, it is experienced by our entire being. Getting goosebumps or a rush of excitement in the heart on meeting someone is an indication that we have affection for that person or that object. Sometimes we can understand more through the language of love than through the intellect. Love is enlightening as well as revitalizing.

So what is the source of this love? Where does it come from, and why is it so powerful? The Qur’an describes God as the Most Loving, even more loving than a mother is towards her children. In fact, motherly love is a reflection of Divine love. God created the role of mothers in our lives, so that we can understand what pure unconditional Divine love is. Without the role of a mother it would have been very difficult to understand Divine love.

وَهُوَ الْغَفُورُ الْوَدُودُ

And He (God) is the most Forgiving, the most Loving. (Qur’an, Surah al-Buruj, 85:14).

When we love something or someone, we are in fact in love with what appeals to us or attracts us about them. Subconsciously we seek the perfection in that object - it could be their beauty; it could be the manners and goodness in their conduct; it could be their selfless devotion to others; it could be their courage and valor while facing challenges and hardships; or it could be the charisma of their personality. But the actual and true love that we all seek is the love for the Divine, though we seek it in the beauty, perfection, power, awe, majesty, independence, and magnificence of others. These attributes are a reflection of God’s attributes in these various objects or people.

Rumi says the following in a beautiful couplet:

All through eternity,
Beauty unveils His exquisite form
In the solitude of nothingness;
He holds a mirror to His Face
And beholds His own beauty.
He is the knower and the known,
The seer and the seen;
No eye but His own
Has ever looked upon this Universe.
His every quality finds an expression:
Eternity becomes the verdant field of Time and Space;
Love, the life-giving garden of this world.
Every branch and leaf and fruit
Reveals an aspect of His perfection-
The cypress gives hint of His majesty,
The rose gives tidings of His beauty.1

The path towards God is the path of true love. One does not have to be a philosopher, a scientist or a religious scholar to tread this path. To love and to hate is our most basic instinct. We automatically propel ourselves in the direction of our beloved and those associated with the beloved. Those who begin to recognize their Creator, make a connection with Him, develop a strong personal relationship with Him and feel an intense love for Him:

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِلَّهِ

And those who believe are stronger (and more intense) in their love for God. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:165).

To have knowledge about God and religion is not enough to start practicing the religion. A lot of people “know“ about God and religious teachings, but do not necessarily apply it in their lives because the love of other than God is more intense in them, such as the love of this world and its embellishments, or love of their ownselves. It is only when one has respect and love for God and the articles of religion that faith begins to set in.2 In fact, love is considered the firmest handhold of faith, just as Prophet Muhammad (S), is quoted to have said:

The firmest handhold of faith is to love for the sake of God and to hate for the sake of God, to befriend God’s friends and to renounce His enemies.3

Similarly, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has said:

Is faith anything but love and hate?4

Imam al-Baqir (‘a) is quoted to have said:

Faith is love and love is the faith.5

Those who love, are willing to give up their personal wants, likes, preferences, and comforts for the object of love. It is through love that self-purification, self-annihilation and perfection is achieved. Love makes us lose ourselves for the object of our love. But love is felt, not really understood.

If one has not loved, they have not lived life to the fullest. Unfortunate are those who are unable to love others because of their intense love for themselves. Just to like something or want something is not a sign of love, but to give up our personal choices and comforts for someone else points towards love.

Love is an elixir, a potion which transforms whoever drinks it. It is commonly observed that young people try to dress or act like their favorite movie stars or sports personality. They want to be like the one that they love; for love changes our behavior very easily, much more easily than by giving rational arguments.

When the love is for God, the messenger of God, and the religion that was brought by him, it becomes much easier to follow the path and to mold ourselves in accordance with the teachings of the religion.

قُلْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللّٰهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللّٰهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَاللّٰهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

Say: If you love God then follow me (Muhammad). If you do so, God will love you and grant you protection from your sins. God is the All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful. (Qur’an, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:31).

Such is the importance of love in religion that it has been described as the foundation of Islam, and the monotheistic way of life:

Everything has a foundation and the foundation of Islam is the love for us, the Ahlul Bayt (‘a).6

Another tradition tells us:

Love of us Ahlul Bayt (‘a) is the highest form of worship.7

Those who try to follow the path of religion without this love and merely focus on the rituals, not only can they not tred too far spiritually, but in fact, they end up getting lost altogether. It is through love that faith is embodied in a person and takes a firm hold, and without love, no progress in religion can ever be achieved.

The poet has stated:

A lifetime without love is of no account,
Love is the water of life,
Drink it down with heart and soul!8

We can know a lot about ourselves by finding out who we love. A person is closer to the one who he loves the most. There is an invisible attachment and association between us and the object of our love. Sometimes we only find out about that association when we feel the pain of separating from the object of our love.

The love for truth, goodness and beauty cannot be perfected without the hate (or lack of love) for falsehood, evil and ugliness. It is through the love of goodness and the hatred of evil, that the plant of faith starts to take root in the heart of a believer; and nothing makes this plant grow faster than the love for the Ahlul Bayt (‘a)(‘a) who are the most prominent signs of God. Christians similarly take inspiration of their faith through their love for Jesus Christ, the son of Mary (‘a).

This love is transformative. A person who harbors this love can never be indifferent to the suffering of others. Such a person can never be unjust and cruel to others, and at the same time can never accept oppression and injustice from others either. This love makes a person truly alive and free, and makes one fearless. While reason guides towards the truth and cautions against the dangers, it is through the flame of love that one is enlightened and soars up high towards the Truth.

Muhammad (S) Iqbal, the philosopher poet has said:

It is good to guard the heart with Intellect
But sometimes you should let it go alone also

True faith is when both the faculties of reason and love are well balanced in a person. These faculties should not contradict, but on the contrary, they should complement each other. Pure love without reason will make one aimless, whereas pure reason without love will make one stationary.

Muhammad (S) Iqbal, the philosopher poet of the Indian sub-continent gives a description of love and intellect in the following poem.

One day intellect said to the heart,
“A guide to the misguided ones I am,
Being on the earth I reach up to the sky,
Look, how deep in comprehension I am.
Guidance on earth is my sole occupation,
Like the auspicious Khizr in character I am.
Interpreter of the book of life I am,
The Manifestation of God’s Glory I am.
You are only a drop of blood, but
The invaluable ruby’s envy I am.”
Hearing this the heart said, “All this is true
But look at me as well, what I am.
You understand the secrets of life,
But seeing them with my own eyes I am.
Concerned with the manifest order you are,
And acquainted with the inward I am.
Learning is from you, but Divine Knowledge is from me,
You only seek Divinity, but showing Divinity I am.
Restlessness is the end of Knowledge,
But the remedy for that malady I am.
You are the candle of the assembly of Truth,
The lamp of the Divine Beauty’s assemblage I am.
You are related to time and space,
The bird recognizing the Sidrah I am.
Look at the grandeur of my station,
The throne of the God of Majesty I am.”

Elsewhere the poet Muhammad (S) Iqbal says:

O dejected nightingale your lament is immature still,
You should hold it in your breast for a little while stil.
If Intellect is prudent it is considered mature,
If Love is prudent it is considered immature still.
Love fearlessly jumped into the fire of Namrud
Intellect is absorbed in the spectacle from roof‐top still.9

We should use reason, but a higher level of reason is the logic of love, which makes us do what reason may be reluctant to commit to but is easy for those in love. Love shatters the intellect’s estimates of profit and loss, victory and defeat. It makes us fearless.

Rumi has summarized the contrast between love and intellect in this way:

The intellectual is always showing off,
The lover is always getting lost.
The intellectual runs away.
Afraid of drowning;
The whole business of love
Is to drown in the sea.
Intellectuals plan their repose;
Lovers are ashamed to rest.
The lover is always alone.
Even surrounded by people;
Like water and oil, he remains apart.
The man who goes to the trouble
Of giving advice to a lover
Gets nothing. He is mocked by passion.
Love is like musk. It attracts attention.
Love is a tree, and the lovers are its shade.10
  • 1. Rumi, Jalal al-Din, The Divan of Shams Tabriz.
  • 2. Haydarpour, Mahnaz, Perspectives on the Concept of Love in Islam, Ansariyan Publications, Qum, Iran. Online at: https://www.al-islam.org/perspectives-concept-love-islam-mahnaz-heydarpoor
  • 3. Al-Kafi, The Book of Faith and Disbelief, Section: Love for the sake of God and hatred for the sake of God, no. 6, p. 126.
  • 4. Ibid., no. 5, p. 125.
  • 5. Bihar al-Anwar, The Book of Faith and Disbelief, Section: Love for the sake of God and hatred for the sake of God, lxvi, p. 238.
  • 6. Al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 46, chapter on Nisbat al-Islam; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 27, p. 82, chapter 4, tradition 22.
  • 7. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 27, p. 91, tradition 48.
  • 8. Divan-i Shams, 11, 909.
  • 9. Bang-e-Dra, 166.
  • 10. Kulliyat-e-Shams, 21.