As the rose-tinted spectacles fade and the heart shaped balloons slowly shrivel, a fresh look at the concept of love, through the prism of Islam
As we creep into March, I breathe a sigh of relief as that particular time of year has passed, when shops, greeting card companies and casanovas take on the anti-commercial, the cynical and the overly practical. And Muslims. Yep, I’m talking about Valentine’s Day. Over the past few years the long-standing commercialism of Valentine’s Day has risen to monstrous proportions. And the opposition to it has been just as fierce. It has almost become a litmus test of one’s political, social or religious stance. Are you are a celebrator, an abstainer or a protestor? The Muslim world gets particularly hot under the collar over this holiday and so, in true Muslim style, talks and articles flourish in this season ranging from the debate over the permissibility of celebrating it, marriage and Divine Love. This year has been no exception, and whilst I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of discussion that has occurred over the issue, from Muslim and other circles, something has still been niggling at me. Often in discussions about “love in Islam,” the concept is flung so high that it only addresses divine love, or dealt with so clinically that it only deals with the good, the bad and the ugly of marriage. It’s hard to find a nuanced view, when really, it is very simple.
This world is transitory. Muslims know and believe this, and so they try to live as travellers; detached and not distracted by worldly things. This is one of the most beautiful and liberating aspects of Islam. Muslims also aim to achieve divine love, and to love the Prophet (pbuh) more than their own selves. Love in these cases, therefore, is not base or worldly but is something higher. Marriage, however, is half of the religion. As Muslims we know this, but I sometimes feel this isn’t believed or practiced because of the previous principles. Often it is asked how an institution between man and woman can be so important to faith and belief, when such an attachment seems so worldly. This is the exact dichotomy that I see cropping up in the Valentine’s debate: that love is either correct or corrupt, even when it is lawful. And I find this worrying because we all love, in whatever manifestation it may be. Yet if we are only told that love between humans should be held at arms-length, or that divine love is the only way to go, then I fear for the tenderness, the balance and the spiritual progression of the Muslim community. So what is this over-powering, beautiful and sometimes painful emotion we all feel? And what does Islam say about it, especially when it is between people and especially when it is considered lawful?
The concept of love in Islam is actually very simple. Abū Hurayra reported “I heard Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) say, ‘Allah created mercy in one hundred parts and He retained with Him ninety-nine parts, and He has sent down upon the earth one part, and it is because of this one part that there is mutual love among the creation so much so that the animal lifts up its hoof from its young one, fearing that it might harm it’.” Love is mercy and mercy (raḥma) is divine. This is why marriage is considered half of one’s religion. This is why faith is only attained when one loves for one’s brother what one loves for oneself. This is why paradise lies under the feet of one’s mother. These are all manifestations of love, they are all between humans but they all point towards God. Which is exactly where Muslims want to direct themselves.
Muslims have a very strong concept of how tests and gifts can be utilised to further our spiritual progression, and love in Islam is certainly another means. When giving advice on marriage I often try to remind myself and others of this fact: that the love nurtured between husband and wife is such a concentrated form of love, mercy and patience but also such a test that it is completely understandable why it is considered as half of the religion. In Islam one is also allowed to be romantic and, in my opinion at least, this romance is liberated from the trappings of materialism and consumerism and is exalted by its connotations. Multitudes of sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), often reported by his wives, tell of his affection, intimacy and loving gestures. This is one that particularly gets me a little weepy and has done the rounds this Valentine’s season. “Once the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting in a room with Aisha and fixing his shoes. It was very warm, and Aisha looked to his blessed forehead and noticed that there were beads of sweat on it. She became overwhelmed by the majesty of that sight and was staring at him long enough for him to notice. He said, “What’s the matter?” She replied, “If Abu Bukair Al-Huthali, the poet, saw you, he would know that his poem was written for you.” The Prophet (pbuh) asked, “What did he say?” She replied, “Abu Bukair said that if you looked to the majesty of the moon, it twinkles and lights up the world for everybody to see.” So the Prophet (pbuh) got up, walked to Aisha, kissed her between the eyes, and said, “Wallahi ya Aisha, you are like that to me and more.”
Love, like any emotion, can be consuming. And this is where the flip-side of it comes in. As mentioned before, the blessing/test dichotomy is one that is well known in Islam, so while love is a gift and a blessing it, like anything, needs balance. Love in Islam, therefore is a beautiful means to a beautiful end. A means that encourages the individual to be happy in loving people, to strive to love people, to be reminded of its divine nature and to let loving people be a means to draw closer to God. But to not let love be your god, to be free from the banality of solely material love and be balanced. That, to me at least, is love in Islam.
Image taken from: http://mentalhealth4muslims.com/2012/02/29/when-love-is-not-enough-reassessing-marriage-in-the-muslim-community/#&panel1-4
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