Ghazali on love (part 1)
Ghazali lived in 5th century Hijri and his book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin (Revival of the Sciences of the Religion), and his life’s works and thoughts.
In the last ten principles of the forty, he looks at good traits that we should adopt and nurture within ourselves. The first is tawbah (repentance); the second is khawf (fear) and the third is zuhd (asceticism), the fourth quality is sabr (patience). The fifth quality is shukr, the sixth is ikhlas and the seventh is tawakkul (reliance), the eighth is mahabba (love), the ninth is rida (contentment) and the tenth is dhikrul mawt (the remembrance of death).
Love – al mahabba
This is a beautiful chapter and Imam Ghazali comments on it beautifully and elaborates on it much more in his tome, Ihya al Ulum ad-Din, which has been translated into English three times.
Ghazali begins by quoting an ayah from the Quran:
He loves them and they love Him. [5:54]
In this ayah, we see that Allah’s love for us precedes our love for Him. It is not that they love Him and He reciprocates their love but His love is of a magnitude that exceeds ours. While we often struggle to look after those in our care, Allah loves each and every one of His creation and looks after all of them, as if each one is the most important – with their various hopes and fears. It is beyond comprehension.
Obstacles to love
In Surat at-Tawbah, Allah Almighty enumerates 8 things which we love which get in the way of our love for Him:
قُلۡ إِن كَانَ ءَابَاۤؤُكُمۡ وَأَبۡنَاۤؤُكُمۡ وَإِخۡوَ ٰنُكُمۡ وَأَزۡوَ ٰجُكُمۡ وَعَشِیرَتُكُمۡ وَأَمۡوَ ٰلٌ ٱقۡتَرَفۡتُمُوهَا وَتِجَـٰرَةࣱ تَخۡشَوۡنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَـٰكِنُ تَرۡضَوۡنَهَاۤ أَحَبَّ إِلَیۡكُم مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَجِهَادࣲ فِی سَبِیلِهِۦ فَتَرَبَّصُوا۟ حَتَّىٰ یَأۡتِیَ ٱللَّهُ بِأَمۡرِهِۦۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا یَهۡدِی ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلۡفَـٰسِقِینَ ٢٤
Say, “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your spouses, your kin, the worldly goods you have acquired, the trade you fear will decline, and the dwellings you love are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and the struggle in His cause, then just wait until God brings about His punishment. God does not guide defiantly disobedient people. [9:24]
- Relatives / clan / community
These 8 can come between us and our love for Allah. They can conflict with our love for Allah. The first obstacle can be parents, as we see in the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him) many times when people hesitated to accept Islam as they did not want to displease their parents, and their parents in turn made it hard for them to become Muslim using threats or bribes, or emotional blackmail etc. This is something we still have today when non-Muslims decide they want to become Muslim, but their parents are against it.
Other obstacles can be children, and other family members as we usually love them by default. Our love for them is in-built in our system. There are exceptions, but on the whole the norm is to love your family and clan/community (ashirah). In addition, we love our wealth and possessions and business. To the extent we easily become engrossed in them, and they are distractions.
In Surat Jummuah Allah Almighty highlights this clearly by mentioning how the congregation in the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) rushed to see a caravan which had arrived bringing new products for sale and entertainment, while he was delivering a khutbah. Allah revealed the ayah to tell them this was wrong, yet their behaviour shows how attractive this was to them and how distracting.
وَإِذَا رَأَوْا۟ تِجَـٰرَةً أَوْ لَهْوًا ٱنفَضُّوٓا۟ إِلَيْهَا وَتَرَكُوكَ قَآئِمًۭا ۚ قُلْ مَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيْرٌۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهْوِ وَمِنَ ٱلتِّجَـٰرَةِ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ خَيْرُ ٱلرَّٰزِقِينَ
But when they saw a transaction or a diversion, [O Muhammad], they rushed to it and left you standing. Say, “What is with Allah is better than diversion and than a transaction, and Allah is the best of providers.” [62:11]
Properties – whether it is the house you live in or properties that you own for investment, can also pull us away from religious duties because one can become preoccupied with their maintenance, renovations and refurbishment, even to the extent that people miss their salah because they are too heavily diverted by them.
Allah is warning us that if these things are more beloved to us than Allah, then He will judge us for that and hold us accountable. Therefore we need to do a self-assessment, are we spending too much time with our family or work or projects to the extent that we are neglecting our obligations to Allah. Spending time with the family is a good thing, and earning our rizq to support them and maintaining our blessings, but we need to be balanced. We need to get the balance right and give everyone their rights. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
فَإِنَّ لِأَهْلِكَ عَلَيْكَ حَقًّا وَإِنَّ لِضَيْفِكَ عَلَيْكَ حَقًّا وَإِنَّ لِنَفْسِكَ عَلَيْكَ حَقًّا فَصُمْ وَأَفْطِرْ وَصَلِّ وَنَمْ
Your family has rights over you and your guest has rights over you. Verily, your own self has rights over you, so fast and break your fast, pray and sleep. [Abu Dawoud]
We need to make time for our family, and others and our own selves. If we apply this hadith to our lives, it will bring balance in our lives and foster love of Allah more in our life.
How can you tell if you love Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) more than yourself?
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لاَ يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى أَكُونَ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ وَلَدِهِ وَوَالِدِهِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ
“None of you have faith until I am more beloved to him than his children, his father, and all of the people.” [Muslim]
This is another acid test that we can apply to ourselves. Ask yourself: Do I love my business more or Allah more? If you cannot sacrifice your business to pray your salah, for instance if you have a meeting or a deal that you’re working one, then you can see that you are giving your business preference over Allah. We can all say that we love Allah more than anything in the world, but we only know this for sure when we do not prioritise other things over Allah and His commands.
To reach a level where you love Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) more requires training.
Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him, said:
عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَحِبُّوا اللَّهَ لِمَا يَغْذُوكُمْ مِنْ نِعَمِهِ وَأَحِبُّونِي بِحُبِّ اللَّهِ وَأَحِبُّوا أَهْلَ بَيْتِي بِحُبِّي
“Love Allah for the blessings by which He nourishes you, love me for the love of Allah, and love the people of my house for the love of me.” [Tirmidhi]
Ghazali says that if you cannot love Allah for His attributes then at least love Him for providing you with everything you have- from the air your breathe and beyond.
In a saying attributed to Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), he said:
Whoever has tasted pure love of Allah it prevents him from seeking dunya (material possessions) and isolates him from mankind.
Does the true love of Allah disconnect you from people? If we look at our role model, the Prophet (peace be upon him), he loved people and was not disconnected from them. However, his relationship with Allah was so strong that given the choice between being with people and being with Allah, of course he preferred to be with Allah. Yet as the messenger, he had to mingle with and be surrounded by people. It is important for believers to mix with others, because Islam is about society and not just the individual. It does not encourage isolation.
Ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْمُؤْمِنُ الَّذِي يُخَالِطُ النَّاسَ وَيَصْبِرُ عَلَى أَذَاهُمْ أَعْظَمُ أَجْرًا مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِ الَّذِي لَا يُخَالِطُ النَّاسَ وَلَا يَصْبِرُ عَلَى أَذَاهُمْ
“The believer who mixes with people and is patient with their harm has a greater reward than the believer who does not mix with people, nor is patient with their harm.” [Ibn Majah]
Though we have seclusion during etikaf in Ramadan, this is not the norm, this is the exception. From time to time, you need to take a break from your daily routine and get away to reflect and recharge your connection with Allah Almighty and increase your love for Him.
Passive love is when you keep love to yourself, active love is when you love Allah and spread this love to others, by loving those who love Allah and love goodness for others. Passive love is retreating to a mountain or one’s room but the perfect example is the Prophet (peace be upon him) who had passive and active love.
When you know Allah, you love Allah
Hasan al Basri (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
Whomsoever knows Allah, loves Him. Whoever knows the reality of dunya (this world) abstains from it.
As mentioned, to know Him, is to love him. If you do not know Him, you won’t love Him. Meanwhile, understanding the deeper reality of life, makes you realise it temporal nature and prioritise lasting gains over fleeing pleasures. How do we get to know Allah? By learning about His attributes. Knowing the reality of dunya means knowing that it is simply a bridge to the afterlife, and a place of ongoing tests. When you know this you live in the dunya without clinging to it. You enjoy the halal of the dunya, but you know its reality.
Ghazali then talks about those who denied that it was possible to love Allah, (probably the theologians (mutakallimoon) of his time), who claimed that you cannot love someone who is not like you. Ghazali said they were ignorant.
You love what is pleasant and you hate what is unpleasant
Ghazali reduces the reasons for what makes us love something to the simple fact that we love whatever we enjoy. Every pleasurable thing is automatically beloved to us. Meanwhile, everything that causes us pain or sadness is hated by us. You love is what you are naturally inclined towards and therefore it is your senses which lead you to either love or hate something. When that love intensifies it is ishq which is passion, or rather ‘love plus’. And when repulsion intensifies it becomes maqt, abhorrence. Meanwhile there are some things that bring neither pain nor pleasure so you do not love or hate them.
The senses play a crucial role in making us love something for its outward form – whether it is the beauty of something which strikes the eye, or the melodiousness of the sound which strikes the ear, the fragrance which delights the nose, or the delicious taste which appeals to our palate, and the softness of touch which pleases our body. Thus love is based on what you perceive through your senses – which produce physical experiences. However, there is also love based on the internal perception of the heart which scholars have called the intellect, light or sixth sense.
Internal and external perception
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Women [his beloved wives] and good scent [‘itr] have been made beloved to me. The coolness of my eyes lie in Salah” [Nasa’i, Hakim]
In this hadith, we see that the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned three things that he loved, of which two are external (women and perfume) and the third (salah) is internal. Though you perform the salah with your body, it is a spiritual experience which is felt in the heart, not by the senses. Of the three, the one he loved the most was the internal one which is being showered by the mercy of Allah.
It is having this internal vision that elevates man above beast. While man and animals experience pleasure though their senses, but man has been granted something special which is basirah, insight. The pleasure of the eye is to see beautiful scenery, the pleasure of basirah is through the uplifting feeling you find in salah and dhikr. If the human relies only on his senses to get happiness and pleasure, then he is no more than an animal, and in fact animals have better senses than him. He is devoid of the pleasure of knowing Allah. When the basirah is closed, one cannot see the truth. It is as Allah states in the Quran, having eyes but they cannot see.
They have hearts but do not understand, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear. They are worse than lost cattle. [7:179]
Unfortunately we can be like this at times, when our vision can become fogged by shaytanic whispers and our emotions. We need to work on ourselves.
Ghazali says if you do not feel love for the prophets, the companions and the scholars or distinguish between a just and courageous ruler or a harsh tyrant or a generous person and a stingy person then your system needs repair. Yet we love Abu Bakr and Umar for example, though we have not seen them or met them, so this love is not due to their physical appearance rather their goodness.
Therefore, if you search for the real reason you love someone it boils down to three attributes, whether you realise it or not – is knowledge, power and being free from flaws. This is why we love people Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them), for their knowledge of Allah, His Messenger (peace be upon him) and the angels, and because of their power in controlling themselves – breaking their desires, and due to their lack of flaws – such as miserliness, ignorance and envy etc. They fought against these until they became better.
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