The fruit of love is ‘loving’ obedience to God ​

The fruit of love is ‘loving’ obedience to God ​

A Discussion on the Proofs from Revelation Concerning Love for God

بيان شواهد الشرع في حب العبد الله تعالى

Through the Qur’an, Sunnah and the consensus of the community (umma), Imām Ghazālī makes it clear that the love of God and His Messenger (may God bless him and grant him peace) is an obligation. Yet, he asks, how could something that does not exist be made an obligation? Clearly, aiming at those who claim that love for God merely means obedience, he goes on to say that obedience is the effect and result of love. Hence, he logically deduces that obedience must necessarily be preceded by love; obedience is the fruit of love.

This is significant for another reason that is not set out in the actual text. It appears to provide an answer to the oft-asked question of why one should perform acts of obedience. Should not a pure heart and ethical disposition suffice? Why do we need to engage in worship if one’s heart is pure? The answer, in short, is that when one is truly in love the acts of obedience are not just mere rituals or series of movements but a genuine form of loving obedience. For when one falls in love, they ask not why they ought to perform the act but willingly perform them out of sheer love. Our worship ought to be a reflection of our inner state.

و يروى أن عيسى عليه السّلام مرّ بثلاثة نفر قد نحلت أبدانهم و تغيّرت ألوانهم فقال لهم: ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ فقالوا: الخوف من النار، فقال: حقّ على اللّه أن يؤمن الخائف، ثمّ جاوزهم إلى ثلاثة أخرى فإذا هم أشدّ نحولا و تغيّرا فقال:ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ قالوا: الشوق إلى الجنّة؟ قال: حقّ على اللّه أن يعطيكم ما ترجون، ثمّ جاوزهم إلى ثلاثة أخرى فإذا هم أشدّ نحولا و تغيّرا كأنّ على وجوههم المرايا من النور فقال: ما الّذي بلغ بكم ما أرى؟ قالوا: حبّ اللّه عزّ و جلّ فقال: أنتم المقرّبون أنتم المقرّبون

It is reported that Jesus (peace be upon him) passed three men whose bodies were wasted and whose countenances were stark with pallor. He asked them, “What has happened to you that I see?” They answered, “Fear of Hell.” He said, “It behoves God to give safety to him who fears.” Then he passed on to another three even more emaciated and pallid; he asked them, “What has come upon you that I see?” They replied, “Longing for paradise.” He said, “It behoves God to give you what you hope for.” He passed on to yet another three and indeed, these were surpassingly gaunt and utterly altered, as though their faces had become mirrors of light. He said, “What has happened to you that I see?” They replied, “We love God.” At this, he exclaimed, “You are those brought near to God! You are those brought near to God! You are those brought near to God!”

Yaḥyā ibn Mu’ādh said, “His forgiveness (‘afw) consumes sins; what then of His contentment (riḍwān)? His contentment consumes hopes; what then of His love? His love astonishes understanding; what then of His affection (wudd)? His affection causes oblivion of all but itself: what then of His grace (luṭf)?”

اللهم إني أسألك حبك، وحب من يحبك، والعمل الذي يبلغني حبك، اللهم اجعل حبك أحب إلى من نفسي، وأهلي، ومن الماء البارد

Who are the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side) and is complete sincerity in actions necessary?

Who are the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side) and is complete sincerity in actions necessary?

Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side)

The next group is called the Aṣḥāb yamīn (people of the right side). They will be placed on the right of the Divine throne and their deeds will be placed in their right hand. They are of various types:

  1. They are close to the sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) but have not acquired complete perfection; they suffice with the bodily form without completely realising the spiritual aspect.
  2. They are the ones of contention; of two sides where one is weakly angelic and the other is strongly animalistic. Or it is the case that it is weakly animalistic and apathetic when it comes to remembering God.
  3. They are the one’s of inner integration; they have a very weakly angelic side and engage in difficult spiritual exercises or reciting litanies when their animalistic side is strong.

Complete sincerity

Iḳhlās (sincerity) requires that an action is performed solely for the pleasure of God. However, our faith simultaneously recognises human frailty. Hence,  one’s worship is accepted even though it may not acquire complete sincerity. For example, on feeling a sense of remorse after seeing a person in poverty, ones gives charity whilst mixing this with the intention of receiving the reward for this act. Or someone, due to social pressure, performs their prayer combined with the intention of receiving the reward for this action. While others may be prevented from fornication or drinking alcohol both by fear of God and fear of people. In all such cases, their worship is still accepted.

فَيُقبل منهم ذالك بشرط أن تَضْعُف قلوبُهم عن الإخلاص الصّرف، وأن تمسك نفوُسهم بالأعمال أنفسِها

This action is accepted from them on the condition that their hearts are too weak for absolute sincerity and that their souls can only cling to the act themselves.

Therefore, while perfect sincerity is always the ideal, persisting with actions performed in this way will ensure that they are accepted.

We find support for this in the statement of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ:

الْحَيَاءُ خَيْرٌ كُلُّهُ

‘all modesty is good.’[1]

This is because due to the wisdom of earlier times, in modesty there was considered both weakness and a goodness; goodness if the display of modesty was done voluntarily, and weakness if it happened involuntarily. The Messenger of Allah ﷺremoved such distinctions. Therefore, a good action done out of weakness is also accepted.

Occasions of angelic light

Though the ‘people of the right side’ may not experience permanent angelic light, there are moments when it does twinkle for short times. For example:

  1. When they ask for forgiveness (from God) and blame themselves
  2. When they remember God in seclusion and their eyes flow with tears
  3. When their souls cannot control evil due to weakness in their innate disposition
  4. When they recollect a sin and are pained by it

In summary, the ‘people of the right side’ lack one of the two virtues of the sābiqūn (one’s who excel) whilst achieving the other. [2]

[1] Abū Dāwūd.

[2] They are mentioned previously: concentration on God and; strong fiṭrah (innate constitution).

Who are the ​Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) mentioned in the Qur’ān? and why is it important for us?

Who are the ​Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel) mentioned in the Qur’ān? and why is it important for us?

In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

طبقات الأمة باعتبار الخروج إلى الكمال المطلوب أو ضدِّه

The Levels of the Ummah with Regard to Achieving the Desired Perfection or its Opposite

The entire humankind is the community of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Those who have responded and accepted his message are considered Muslims – the ummah ijābah (the ummah that has accepted his call) while the one’s that are yet to accept his message are called the ummah da’wah (the ummah to whom the call has been extended). In acquiring human perfection (kamāli maṭlūb) people are at various levels.

It is hoped by reading the descriptions outlined below we can at the very least attempt to bring out such qualities in our own lives.

The Qur’ān explains:

And you shall be of three kinds: the companions of the right; what of the companions of the right? And the companions of the left; what of the companions of the left? And the foremost shall be the foremost. They are the one’s who will be brought nigh. [1]

This first verse refers to believers and non-believers whilst the following refers solely to the believers:

Then We bequeathed the Book to those of Our servants who We had chosen. Among them are those who wrong themselves, those who take the middle course, and those who are foremost in good deeds, by God’s leave. That is the greatest bounty. [2]

Sābiqūn (the one’s who excel)

The highest level is for the mufahhamūn (the instructed ones) about whom we have already mentioned.[3] Thereafter, the next group is the sābiqūn (the one’s who excel). They are of two types: al-rāshiḳhīn fī al-‘ilm (firm in knowledge) and the rāghibīn fī al-‘amal (striving in action). The first group is the one who is sleeping when their latent potential is awakened by the prophetic message that reaches them. In their inner state, there is no contradiction between the angelic and animalistic traits; it is harmonious and integrated. They are like the mujtahidīn fī al-madhab (independent scholars in a school of law) i.e. those who use their own interpretations within the scope of possibilities offered by previous rulings within their own legal school. [4]

 The second group is the one’s who engage in spiritual exercises and turn towards God in order to gain control over their animalistic side. Thus they acquire intellectual and practical perfection which bring forth divine visions, guidance, and illumination. They are the Sufi orders.

Both these groups combine two things:

  1. They devote their strength to concentrating on God and seeking to be near Him.
  2. Their fiṭrah (innate constitution) is so strong that the desired acquired habits are presented to them as they are, without the need to consider their embodiments, and they only need the bodily forms to express these traits and as a means to attain the traits through them.

From among them are the following:

  1. mufarridūn (the one’s who retire to lead a solitary religious life): by turning their attention to God and excessive remembrance of Him they acquire a lofty status.
  2. ṣiddīqūn (the truthful ones): distinguished by their strictness in obeying God and pure devotion to Him. In addition, they possess perfect reason and the strength of character.
  3. Ṣhuhadā’: (the martyrs): they command good and forbid evil, and they have strength, energy and complete self-control in their nature, becoming a habit for them. On the day of resurrection, they will be resurrected arguing with the unbelievers and giving evident against them. [5]
  4. Al-rāshikūn fī-l-‘ilm (firmly rooted in knowledge): they possess wisdom, intelligence, and strong self-control. When they heard from the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) knowledge and wisdom, this impressed them to show obedience and devotion to perfect themselves by knowledge. The possession of thorough knowledge became a habit with them.
  5. ‘Ubād (the worshippers): they perceive the benefits of worship with their own eyes such that they become enveloped with light and they worship God with great insight.
  6. zuhhād (the ascetics): they turn away from the world which carries no meaning to them. They are certain of the Resurrection and the pleasure reserved there.
  7. Those prepared for the deputyship (Caliphate) of the Prophets: they worship God through the virtue of justice, and by removing away wrongs and corruption.
  8. Aṣhāb al-khulq al-ḥassan (possessors of good character): they are people of magnanimity in generosity, modesty, and forgiveness of the one who wrongs them. They remain patient over calamities. Generosity is natural to them and an inseparable habit.
  9. Muṣhabbihūn bi al-Malā’ika (those resembling the angels): they are people who persevered in the observance of purity, prayer in seclusion, limited speech and sleep. It is mentioned that certain Companions used to be greeted by the angels. [6]

Each of the aforementioned groups possesses an innate capacity which requires awakening from prophetic knowledge and an acquired capacity[7] to be made ready to take up the divine law. Through both of these capacities, perfection is achieved. [8]

[1] Qur’ān 56:7-11.

[2] Qur’ān 35:32.

[3] They are of many types and varying capacities: the perfect one (kāmil); the wise one (ḥākim); the Caliph; the one aided by the holy spirit; a pure guide (hādi muzakkī); the leader (imām); a warner (mundhir) and a prophet.

[4] There is the ḥadīth, ‘the learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’ (Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, at-Tirmidhī).

[5] This description challenges the prevailing notion that this definition is restricted and reserved solely for those who die in the cause of God.

[6] ‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade to cauterize; we cauterized but they (cauterization) did not benefit us, nor proved useful for us. Abū Dāwūd said: He (‘Imrān bin Ḥusayn) used to hear the salutation of the angels: When he cauterized, it stopped. When he abandoned, it returned to him. (Abū Dāwūd).

[7] There are many others, briefly, they include: the trustworthy, the martyrs, perfect person, firmly established in knowledge, unique persons, the Godly persons, persons of fine behaviour, worshipping devotees, ascetics, persons who bear resemblance to the angels, persons who are moderate in deeds of virtue and vice.

[8] Those among the ‘instructed ones’ who are not sent on a mission to people, are counted as the ‘ones who excel.’

Imām Ghazālī’s Strategy in Kitāb al-Maḥabba

Imām Ghazālī’s Strategy in Kitāb al-Maḥabba

Over the coming months we will be attempting to provide a series of summaries on various discussions from the thirty sixth book of the Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, titled,  ‘love, longing intimacy and contentment’ (kitāb al-maḥabba wa’l-ṣhawq wa’al-uns wa’l-riḍā). This is the second part of the introduction (you can find the first part here: The Love of God as a Paradox)

It is worth exploring very briefly Imām Ghazālī’s strategy in the book. He begins with the Qur’an and Sunnah, then statements by Sufi masters; followed by “rational proof-texts” (ṣhawāhid ‘aqlīya) and highly structured argumentation. This is then followed by a methodical analysis of the nature and causes of love; the central theme being that God alone merits love. For him, the highest of all pleasures is in the knowledge of God, insofar as he is knowable to us. However, and fundamentally, God is unknowable to the human intellect. It is this unknowability that sustains the longing for God.

Ghazālī states that love as we know it begins by self-love; our love is always self-interested and combined with our greed to go on living. He then moves his argument forward by stating that we do not love other people or things for themselves. When we display love towards others it is not because we love them, rather it is for the kindness they bestow. This is still an illusion. The beggar who loves the one who gives him something, the benefactor, and the benefactor who takes pride in giving something to him are both deluded. This is because the benefactor is merely and instrument of benevolence since the promoting of benevolence has been willed by God himself. The beggar should thank God and the benefactor ought to realise that the beggar was an instrument by which God’s compassion is made manifest. Hence, we are shadows through whom the true actor plays out His part.

‘The Ghazālīan love of God is an eternal courtship in which the Beloved constantly responds to the lover’s suit with inexhaustible favours of insight’ (Eric Ormsby)

​The Love of God as a Paradox

​The Love of God as a Paradox

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be attempting to provide a series of summaries on various discussions from the thirty-sixth book of the Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, titled,  ‘love, longing intimacy and contentment’ (kitāb al-maḥabba wa’l-ṣhawq wa’al-uns wa’l-riḍā). This book deals with a difficult and sometimes problematic subject: the love of God for man and of man for God. This is because one finds many early Sufis as well as dogmatic theologians who objected to the notion that there might be between God and man any sort of relation of love, as love is commonly understood.

In the early centuries of Islam, love was strictly defined as “obedience.” Any suggestion of a reciprocal relationship of love between God and man was seen to be unseemly – if not blasphemous – as well as illogical. Where God is described as “loving” (wadūd), it was generally presented as a form of compassion or mercy (raḥma). Al-wadūd was understood as the one who wishes all creatures well and accordingly favors and praises them. Mercy, however, when it comes to God’s love was sovereign and disinterested; it does not presuppose a recipient in need of mercy nor is it the result of any ‘empathy’ on God’s part. There was also a question of religious decorum where piety had its protocols; unseemly outpourings of affection were not merely examples of lèse-majestè on a cosmic scale but breaches of pious tact.

Still, the key question remains, how to reconcile a God who is transcendent with the human creature? Are there any grounds for claiming a relationship between God and humankind? Moreover, is it not true, as Ghazālī would agree, that divine existence is “real” (ḥaqīqī), while human existence is at best “figurative” (majāzī)? Nevertheless, the argument, as we shall see in a later discussion, was that human love of God cannot be relegated to being merely figurative.

Love was not the only concept that was problematic, in early Islam, “friendship” with God was unthinkable, and some, like Ja’d ibn Dirham (d. 25/743) paid the ultimate price for denying the Abraham could be “the friend of God” (khalīl Allāh).

Before Ghazālī, writings were scattered and pithy, he was, it is argued, the first to give it a compelling shape which culminated in this book, where he argues, confidently, that not only is the love of God conceivable, but there exists a reciprocal loving relationship between God and man. It was one aspect of Ghazālī’s achievement to have answered such objections; he was the first Muslim theologian and mystic to elaborate a doctrine of divine love rigorously and systematically, employing carefully structured arguments and proof based on both on tradition and reason.