The Religion of Love
By Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim
What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of “The Prophet and His Message” by Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim. We gratefully acknowledge and thank The Institute of Islamic Culture for permission to reproduce this.
ISLAM is essentially a religion of love – God’s love for man and man’s love for God and man’s love for man and the entire creation. Love is the ground as well as the goal of all genuinely spiritual religions.
The Qur’an begins by calling God Rahman and Rahim (generally translated in English as Beneficent and Merciful), but the word Rahmah in Arabic, from which both these words are derived, has a very comprehensive connotation comprising love, mercy, blessing and many another cognate sentiment and attitude.
God is the embodiment of the highest of human ideals. If a man is mean and low-minded, he pulls down his God to his own level. Merely professing to believe in God does not make a man moral or spiritual, maybe a God he professes to believe in is neither wise nor just nor forgiving or loving. Therefore, the opening verses of the Qur’an which repeat God’s attribute as Rahman and Rahim twice praise exclusively that Being, whose characteristic is being Rabb, another untranslatable word with a very rich connotation, meaning Lord, as well as Nourisher and Developer of all creatures in every realm of existence (Rabb-ul-‘Alamin). God, the Creative Force of life, is no blind elan vital. Creative Activity, which is the essential attribute of God, is a goal-seeking activity directed towards the realization of ideals and ends. God’s love creates existence as a cosmos regulated according to laws. Besides physical laws, love also creates moral laws which become basic at the human level, and men are to be judged by them and their life determined by them.
God, therefore, is also the Lord of Judgment. This second attribute is derived; it is secondary in comparison with God’s attribute of Creative Love. He is Rahman and Rahim and Rabb before being a Judge; as His laws originate in Love, so his judgment is informed and imbued with Love. It is only about Love (Rahmah) that it is said in the Qur’an that it comprehends everything and every being (7:156). This does not mean that God loves good and evil alike. If His love is creative and ameliorative, he cannot love any being or anything that negates the ideals of life. To illustrate what God’s love really means we quote below a few verses of the Qur’an which would clarify the concept of Divine Love in Islam:
God is the friend of those who have faith. (3:67)
Verily God loves, the doer of good. (2:195; 5:13)
Verily God loves those who repent. (2:222)
Verily God loves those who put their trust in Him.
Verily God loves the just. (5:42; 49:9)
Verily God loves the pious. (3:75)
God loves those who exercise patience and
God loves those who love cleanliness. (9:108)
God loves those who fight for His cause. (61:4)
If God loves all these qualities, He could surely not love the negation of these qualities nor the persons who in their conduct repudiate these qualities : “God does not love those who deny Him” (3:31), not because He as a person is insulted or injured by this denial, but because this denial in thought and deed lowers the denier himself in the scale of life:
God does not, love the transgressors. (2:190)
God does not love the conceited, boastful man. (4:36)
God does not love the sinful violator of trust (4:107)
God does not love the mischievous disturbers of peace. (28:77).
God does not love the extravagant. (6:142)
God does not love the supercilious [arrogant]. (26:23)
God does not love the unjust. (42:40)
God does not love the ungrateful sinner. (2:276)
The above quotations prove beyond the shadow of doubt that in Islam religion is identified with high moral ideals that stand for the improvement of human life. And God Who creates and sustains life is worshipped as a loving God because He creates all the means whereby creative love can purify and exalt life in all its noble aspects.
Islam is not based on mysteries and miracles, myths or legends, nor does it demand belief in irrational or ultra-rational dogmas towards which reason or moral sense of man does not point. It is a religion of the values of life. God is the source, guarantor and conserver of these values in whose realisation man is asked, to co-operate.
Whether God loves man or man loves God, it is not merely a person-to-person relation of passive sentimentality. It is an active creative force which purifies and exalts man both in belief and in conduct. Islam is both theism and humanism, because, besides concerning itself primarily with the exaltation of human life as it is lived on this planet, it also roots itself in the belief that the intrinsic values of human life are not fortuitous and merely a chance product in an otherwise non-moral or immoral Reality, but are essential and abiding elements in the structure of divinely created Nature.
In the triad of Love, (God’s love for man and His creations, man’s love for God and His creations and man’s love for man ) the entire faith of Islam and its code of life is summed up. Doing anything for the love of God means connecting that act with the realisation of the highest ends of life. Acts unconnected with faith in high ideals become either mechanical or neutral or are done at a merely low biological level.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is unworthy of a rational being and that man’s pursuit of the good should be actuated by the urge to realize eternal and abiding values whose pyramid culminates at the apex in the Eternal Reality which he and Plato call the Good. Islamic theism identifies the Good with God Who does not transcend “the world of change’ in will-less transcendence, but the Good in Him is positive, purposive and creative the Ultimate Reality, love is the creative urge of goods or values.
According to the Qur’an, what is not done consciously in the service of the Ideal does not feed the spirit. Egoistic and narrow aims of life do not exalt the soul ahd leave no abiding spiritual impress even if ostensibly the act does not appear to be harmful. Charity, for instance, even if it benefits the recipient materially, may be vitiated [tainted] spiritually by insulting the recipient in trying t6 make him feel that he has been placed under an obligation. Or it may be vitiated because of the urge to show off and get praised for being charitable:
O you who believe! do not make your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his property to be seen of men (2:264).
Such actions without any faith in the abiding ideal may be likened to a mirage which makes a traveler thirstier still in his useless hot pursuit. Only the pursuit of a noble selfless ideal quenches the thirst of the spirit:
And (as for) those who disbelieve, their deeds are like the mirage in a desert, which the thirsty man deems to be water, until, when he comes to it, he finds it to be naught. (24:39)
As we have said above, the love of God is not the kind of enjoyment of human lovers which is sentimental, intoxicating, exhilarating and ecstatic, and is confined to two persons. It is an egoism [a combination] of the two.
Some mystics enjoyed this feeling having personalized God analogous to themselves and considered this ecstasy as the highest of spiritual states. It is difficult to assess the reality and validity of this experience, but on the common non-mystical level, the love of God manifests itself in the love of intrinsic values and the highest ideals of life which are human and Divine at the same time.
When we say that somebody did something for the love of God it means really that he did it in. the service of the Ideal without any regard to his narrow personal egoistic [egocentric] interests. When he does this, his spirit is lifted up and his finitude gets into tune with universality and infinity, and assimilating abiding values confer immortality on his spirit. On the contrary, even great and useful actions, done from lower personal motives, degrade the soul and relate it to the realm of transience.
Actions can be judged spiritually only by their motivation. A number of sayings of the Prophet point to this truth. In the realm of material and biological causation, causes produce their effects invariably. Lower personal motivation, having no reference to abiding universal values, is called in the vocabulary of the Qur’an ‘Thawab al-Dunya,’ seeking merit in the lower world and demanding cash and immediate material benefits. Seeking higher values is called ‘Thawab al-Akhirah,’ seeking merit in the Hereafter. Whoever seeks his reward in the lower world of material causation is bound to get it if he uses the means proper to its attainment. But he forfeits all spiritual merit because what he did he did for self-love at a low egotistical level. As he was not actuated [mobilized] by the love of universal and abiding values, he gets no share in the life of the spirit. We quote one of the numerous verses that emphasise this warning :
Whoever desire this world’s life and its finery. We will pay them in full their deeds therein, and they shall not be made to suffer loss in respect of this. These are they for whom there is nothing but fire in the Hereafter, and what they wrought in it shall go for nothing, and vain is what they do. (11: 15,16).
Illustrating this teaching, Tirmidhi records on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Prophet said:
“On the Last Day when God will sit in judgment and every community shall be kneeling down before Him, the first to be judged shall be the scholars of the Holy Book or those who had been killed in a holy war or those rich and prosperous in the world. God will ask the learned one: ‘Were you not taught all that was revealed to the Prophet? What did you do about that knowledge? He will reply, ‘O Lord! I used to recite the Qur’an day and night in prayers.’ God will say: ‘You are a liar’. And so will the angels hold him to be a liar, and God will deliver the judgment that the man was doing all this simply to be praised as a very learned man. The praise he received in the world and was the reward that he aimed at, so for him there is nothing here. Then the rich man will be addressed and God will say: ‘Did I not make you prosperous and independent of others ? What did you do with that wealth?’ He will reply, ‘O Lord! I gave to the deserving and was charitable.’ God will say: ‘You are a liar,” and the angels too would call him a liar. God will say: ‘You were not charitable in spirit, you dispensed charity with the sole urge to be praised and honoured. You were praised and honoured, so you have already received the reward you aimed at. There is nothing for you here.’ Then a man killed in a holy war will be presented. He expects that God will honour him as a martyr, but his claim will be belied [discredited] by God Who will say: ‘You fought only to be praised as a brave man. Thus you got the praise you desired in the world. There is nothing for you here.’ The Prophet added in the end: ‘These will be the persons who will be cast into Hell before others.’ “
In theological language, one would say that none of these persons performed these acts for the love of God. In philosophical language we can say that none of them loved or valued the universal and intrinsic values of life which could be rewarded spiritually. The life of specific attitudes and merely praiseworthy extraneous acts and observances confer no benefit on the spirit.
Let us cast a cursory glance at other great religions and try to understand their concept of love. Buddha did not believe in the reality of life and attached no value to it. In his godless metaphysics, there could be no question of the love of God for His creatures or the love of man for God. It considered all life to be fundamentally evil and fraught with ineradicable pain. Life is a product of desire, so the will to live must be annihilated to reach the transcendent condition of Nirvana to which no category of life applies. Living creatures are not to be loved but [instead] pitied as victims of cosmic fate. So in Buddhism you have abundance of pity which is mistaken for love.
Love is meant to purify life, to deepen it and to exalt it and to create a beautiful selfless bond between different persons. It is something positive and creative. But in a creed that holds all existence to be a cruel and tragic illusion – and individuals and persons and God or gods are all parts of the illusion – genuine love could have no place, because all love is the love of life and its values and is possible only in a realm of ends and a realm of persons. Love is instrumental in the amelioration of life, but if you believe that life cannot be mended and, therefore, it must be ended, love ceases to have any ameliorative or creative function.
Now let us have a look at Hinduism. It is very difficult to say anything about Hinduism because it is a collective or generic name for a hundred creeds from which it is impossible to derive a common denominator. In the Vedas we find a world governed by a large number of gods with all sorts of contradictory and even immoral traits. This is not much different from the world of Homer. The Aryan development of’ religious consciousness gradually reduces the number of gods until we reach the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Along with this, there is philosophic development ending in the neutral monism of Vendanta.
The individuality of the self along with the rest of existence is declared as Maya, cosmic illusion or ignorance (Avidya). The purpose of life is to negate the cycle of births and deaths and to get out of the grip of Karma or the universal impersonal law of moral causation.
The ideal man is the ascetic who has roamed the world having realised its illusoriness and having attained to the knowledge of the identity of the Atman and Parmatman, the individual and the universal self. In its polytheism and monism there is no real place for what human beings understand as love. There is the belief in many incarnations, not a single incarnation, as we see in dogmatic Christianity. For instance, the Supreme Reality incarnated in Krishna is depicted in the Bhagvat Gita as saying that whenever religion gets corrupted, its truths have to be revived by a fresh incarnation. Pantheistic Hinduism inculcates the development of the vision to see the One in the Many but, in practice, the sentiment of-universal love is not derived from it.
Love is unitive, but Hinduism drifted into an extremely divisive system pulverizing humanity into watertight castes. The entire ethics of Hinduism revolved round the concept of segregation and a thoroughly loveless system in which large portions of humanity cursed by Karma were born so utterly corrupt that their touch or even their sight must be avoided by the high-born for fear of pollution.
The whole system originated in the desire of the Aryans for maintaining racial superiority over and against the conquered and subdued aborigines of India. Along with this, classes were divided according to professions and partition walls erected between them. As there was no loving creator, God in Hinduism, the religious code like that of Manu’s Dharma Shastra became the embodiment of human cruelty at its worst.
It was recommended to marry boys and girls as infants, but a widowed girl child could not be remarried. The orthodox way was to burn the widow at the funeral pyre of her husband. The widower husband could marry a hundred times over, but the widowed girl was doomed. If she is allowed to live on she should be subjected to every possible humiliation and torture.
No woman could ever achieve an independent legal or economic status; she could not inherit and, however corrupt and criminally maltreating a husband may be, the wife could not get a divorce. With respect to the lowest of castes, the Shudras, this religious code was not less cruel. Their status was much worse than that of domestic slaves because being ‘untouchable’ they could not be employed as domestic servants for fear of their polluting touch. We hear much about Hindu spirituality which is held up for our esteem and veneration against the materialism of other creeds and nations.
A few individuals who renounce the world are considered to be very spiritual, but they live on receiving homage from society which sanctions and practises this cruel system, moving not a finger to alter it. Those who actively and legally attempt to reform this society are mostly agnostics or secularists. They have embodied fundamental human rights in the Western-inspired new constitution of a free India but, in practice, the orthodox religious consciousness of the masses is untouched.
Against the religious code the ‘untouchables’ can now acquire whatever education they desire or can afford, but the injunction of Manu still remains unaltered in the orthodox code: if a Shudra is found reciting the Vedas, his tongue should be pulled out and if he is found hearing it molten lead should be poured into his ears.
With respect to dogmatic Christianity, which is a negation of the message and spirit of the real Jesus, we have already expressed our views in a previous chapter. During the course of more than a millennium, Israelite prophetic consciousness had advanced from a stern tribal Jehova inexorable in his justice, a Lord of Hosts, who enjoined massacring of whole populations worshipping other gods, to a loving, universal and rational God, even in the outlook of great prophets like Deutero Isaiah before the time of Jesus.
In Jesus we have the culminating point of that upward movement where God and religion are completely identified with love which has preference over all legalism and ritualism. But the concept of God and man was corrupted by the dogma of Original Sin and Atonement. What kind of a loving God could be the creator of sinful humanity, punishing innocents before they have start ed life, and then crucifying His Eternal Son as the only way of atoning for uncommitted sins? Could a religion of love send unbaptized children to Hell?
But life is not directed by dogmas. The inherent goodness of God’s good people manifests itself in their lives. Dogmas are only theories and life is much richer than any theory about it. Among the Buddhists, Christians and Hindus one can find very edifying examples of life lovingly devoted to the well-being of all creatures.
The love of Jesus, for instance, works in the lives of many Christians irrespective of irrational dogmas with which his religion has been vitiated. Similarly, the lives of good Buddhists are imbued with mercy irrespective of their nihilistic metaphysics. The distinguishing characteristic of Islam is grounding the life of justice, benevolence and love in a type of faith in God and Man which would support this beneficent attitude towards others without moral and intellectual contradictions and anomalies.
“The Prophet and His Message”, by Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim,
Published by the Institute of Islamic Culture,
2 Club Road, Lahore, Pakistan Â©1987