Love is the joy, pleasure, tranquility and taste of our fleeting life. Love is the yeast in the dough of existence. For one to be able to love is among our Lord’s greatest gifts to His servants. Love should, therefore, always be oriented towards worthy objects. It should be used for those hearts that truly understand friendship. This phase in love for human beings and the creatures of this world is a step towards attaining divine love. Yet, unfortunately, most human beings sacrifice love, which is a divine gift, for their momentary and egotistical desires.
The love that does not encounter the one who truly deserves it is sadly the greatest loss in this life. Love that is in the grip of cheap worldly interests is like a beautiful flower growing between the cracks of the pavement; sooner or later it is destined to be trampled underfoot and die. How unfortunate for a diamond to be dropped and lost on the street! And what a deep and sad loss for it to be the property of an undeserving person!
The great Sufi master Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī sets forth the following instructive example as an illustration of those who are deprive
d of divine love as a result of sacrificing their wealth of love for transient and worthless things:
Those who love this world and dedicate their hearts to it resemble a hunter who is trying to catch a shadow. How can a shadow belong to him? Similarly, a foolish hunter confuses the shadow of a bird with the actual bird itself and tries to capture it. Even the bird on the branch of the tree is amazed by what the shadow-hunter is trying to do!
The hearts in which the seeds of love do not grow cannot be saved from their destruction. Enslaved by egotistical feelings, in a way they carry the corpse of spiritual feelings. Yet, the love that is nourished from the divine spring of the spiritual abode is like the flowers of Paradise which exude a beautiful fragrance. Even if sometimes their flowers turn pale and the leaves fall down, all it takes is a smile from the spring to revive and rejuvenate them again.
Those who attain divine love, which is the very source of love, can befriend other living beings. In other words, they gain the ability to look at these living things with the vision of the Creator. The friends of Allah who reach this zenith cleanse themselves from all kinds of egotistical pleasures and live with an understanding that true pleasure is in knowledge and love of Allah. It is stated in a hadith qudsī:
… My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks…” (Bukhārī).
This spiritual zenith is as rare as the peaks of the tallest mountains on earth. Those who make this divine grace and blessing the definitive element of their personality are saved from becoming an ordinary person. Such people have a unique way of speaking with the living creatures in the world. The only requirement by which this can be achieved is the acquaintance of the heart with the language of those creatures!
For those who can hear, there are many different songs that emanate from a singing nightingale, a delicate flower, or a cascading creek. The night air can tell countless stories. For those who are aware, how many different breezes do the morning winds carry? The perfect believers, whose hearts are full of love and compassion, are those who can observe with a deep understanding the flow of divine secrets and wisdom in this world. Would it be possible for a healthy mind and a living heart not to be touched by the burning songs of divine love after having witnessed all these divine secrets and magnificent works of art?
The value of love is commensurate with the importance and perfection of the beloved. Accordingly, the summit of human love is love for the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace), for it is impossible to imagine another human being who deserves to be loved more than he does.
Yet, even the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) is not the last station for love. For a human being, the ultimate destination for their love should be Allah, the Creator of all being. The last phase and final destination in the ascension of a human being through spiritual love is Allah. The Sufis call this station, fanā’ fī Allāh and baqā’ bi-Allāh. This state is similar to rivers that reach the ocean and merge and disappear into it.
A great friend of Allah reflects in his poetry the burning with the fire of fanā’ fī al-Rasūl and fanā’ fī Allāh as follows:
O my Beloved! From the manifestation of your beauty, the spring is enflamed!
The rose is on fire, the nightingale is on fire, the hyacinth is on fire, the soil and the thorn are on fire!
Your light, which is bright like the sun, is what burns all lovers!
The heart is on fire, the chest is on fire, and those crying two eyes are on fire!
Is it possible to wash the corpse of the martyr of love with all this fire?
The body is on fire, the coffin is on fire, and the cool sweet water is on fire!
Attaining the love of Allah requires the achievement of true love for the Messenger of Allah; this is the final stage of human love prior to divine love. For this reason, those who do not experience love for the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) will not be able to experience love for Allah. One should know that the only stream of love and mercy that leads to the ocean of divine love is the love for the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace). Love for the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) is love for Allah; obedience to him is obedience to Allah; and disobedience to him is considered rebellion against Allah. Consequently, the blessed existence of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) is the sanctuary of love for all humanity. As is stated in the Qur’an: “Say: ‘If you do love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. For Allah is oft‑forgiving, most merciful.’” (Āl ‘Imrān, 3:31).
There is no doubt that the greatest sign of love is submission and sacrifice for the sake of the Beloved. The extent to which a lover conforms with the beloved depends on the degree of love in his heart. If there is love in the heart, there is also sincerity, purity of intention and divine blessing. The deeds of a human being attain a higher value if they are performed out of love. In contrast, the deeds that are not performed out of love are pretentious, lack sincerity and only strengthen egotism.
Even a small deed performed out of love is incomparably superior to outwardly monumental but insincere deeds. The most important manifestation of this can be observed in divine love that is the peak of all loves. The highest and the most perfect level for a servant is to attain the blessing of divine love. Yet, there is no doubt that love, like everything else, is also created by Allah the Exalted. Therefore, without His permission, a servant can never reach this level. Therefore, the responsibility incumbent upon a servant is to pray, supplicate, and seek refuge in Allah. The Qur’an states: “Say (to the rejecters): ‘My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your call on Him. But you have indeed rejected (Him), and soon will come the inevitable (punishment)!’” (Furqān, 25:77).
The sign of love for Allah and the path to reach His love is to perform supererogatory deeds out of divine love and compassion with great respect, kindness and joy even though one is not required to do so, after performing one’s obligatory duties with deep reverence. Continuing in this state until one attains divine love means the realization of the purpose of the creation of humanity, as the ultimate goal of all religious duties is to reach the presence of Allah. The most important means for this is love for Allah. All other deeds are merely manifestations of this love.
It is normal that when the love for Allah increases in the heart of a believer, the amount of his good deeds for the sake of Allah also increases. That is why those who make progress in love for Allah do not feel content by simply performing obligatory deeds; instead, they want to increase their deeds by performing voluntary deeds with the same care and joy by which they perform obligatory deeds. As a result, their desire for good deeds increases in the same way that the desire for water increases in the desert. Nothing can comfort people in this state except returning to Allah. As is stated in the Qur’an: “(To the righteous soul will be said:) O soul in complete rest and satisfaction! Come back you to your Lord, well pleased and well‑pleasing unto Him!” (Fajr, 89:27-30).
The believers who have reached this level of divine love certainly strive to turn their entire life and every breath into worship; they pray to Allah in secluded places and in the darkness of the night, far from people’s praise. With a ceaseless awareness of being a servant of Allah, they try to quench their thirst with the drink of love in the abode of ihsān which, as we said, means to worship Allah as if one can see Him, and to live with the awareness that Allah is watching one’s actions at all times.On this way they may, if required, sacrifice their wealth, status, all worldly belongings, and even their life. Above all, they continuously make supplications in their heart requesting Allah’s love and pleasure.
The following incident from the life of ‘Ammār b. Yāsir (may Allah be pleased with him) illustrates well the love of the honorable Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) for Allah and their complete submission to His will:
While walking on the shore of the Euphrates, prior to a battle, ‘Ammār expressed his inner feelings as follows:
O my Lord! If I knew that You would be happier with me if I were to throw myself from the top of that mountain, I would do it right away. If I knew that burning myself in a large fire would please You more, I would do it immediately. O my Lord! If I knew that throwing myself in the water and drowning myself in it would please You more, I would do it instantly. O my Lord! I am fighting with the sole purpose of seeking Your pleasure. I ask You not to let me lose. I wish to attain Your pleasure!” (Tabaqāt Ibn Sa‘d).
Love for Allah and His Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) is the essence of our religion and the most blessed path to Allah; it is the only means for divine mercy and friendship. Achieving love for Allah is the highest level in reaching the presence of Allah, because the gate to the divine presence is only opened by the key of love. However, love should not be mere rhetoric. Empty talk, which does not reflect what is held within the heart, has nothing to do with true love for Allah. Worse, it brings about only self-aggrandisement.
The most concrete examples of true love were demonstrated by the great Companions. They became the living examples of the love for Allah and His Messenger in their daily lives and missions. Some of the examples are as follows:
The Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) sent teachers to the tribes who resided in the vicinity of Medina. The tribes of Adal and Kare were among the tribes who requested teachers. A group of ten teachers set off for the tribes. On the way they were ambushed. Eight of the teachers were martyred in the conflict and the remaining two were captured. The tribes who captured these two Companions, Zayd ibn al-Dathina and Khubayb ibn ‘Adi (May Allah be pleased with them) turned them over to the polytheists of Makkah who put them to death. Prior to killing them, the polytheists asked Zayd, “Would you trade places with Muhammad so that you could save your own life?” Zayd looked pityingly at Abū Sufyān who asked the question and said, “Not only I do not accept to be with my family and children, but I cannot even consent that his foot get hurt by a thorn!” (Abu Nu‘aym, Ma‘rifat al-Sahaba)
Abū Sufyān was stunned by this matchless proof of love. He said, “I am indeed surprised! I have never seen in this world people who love someone more than Muhammad’s companions love him.”
After this, the polytheists went to Khubayb and told him that if he were to abandon his faith he would be saved. The response of the great Companion Khubayb was clear, “I would never leave my religion even if you were to give the entire world!” Khubayb had only one wish before being martyred: to send his greetings with love to the Prophet Muhammad!
Yet, who could take this greeting to the Prophet? Powerless, he turned his eyes to the sky and prayed with utmost sincerity: “O my Lord! There is no one here to convey my greetings to Your Messenger. Convey my greetings to him!”
At that moment, the Messenger of Allah, who was in Medinah with his Companions, uttered the words “‘Alayhi al-salām,” which means “May the peace and blessings of Allah be unto him.” Hearing this, the Companions were surprised, and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! whose greetings were you answering? He replied, “The greetings of your brother Khubayb!”
The polytheists of Makkah killed both Companions after cruelly torturing them. The last words of the great Companion Khubayb were very significant, “As I am martyred as a Muslim, I do not care in what way I receive my death” (Bukhārī).
Likewise, because of their love for the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) the young Companions competed with each other for the honor of serving as his envoy, carrying his missionary letters. With the intention of fulfilling even one of his wish, they requested services that they could offer him, even if it required a great sacrifice on their part. It is a clear indication of their infinite love for the Messenger that, after crossing endless deserts and high mountains, they read out the letter of the Prophet in the presence of kings with great courage, with executioners standing behind them.
The love, respect and reverence of the Companions for the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) was such that they could hardly describe his physical person:
As Khālid b. Walīd (may Allah be pleased with him) was passing by a Muslim tribe, the sheikh of the tribe asked him to describe the Messenger to him. Khālid replied, “I cannot describe him!”
The chief of the tribe insisted, “Tell me as much as you know!”
“I can tell you this much: The status of a messenger is in accordance with the status of the One who sends him. Since the One Who sent Rasūl Allāh is the Creator of the universe, imagine the status of His Messenger!”
Another great Companion, ‘Amr b. al‑‘Ās, responded to the same question in the following way:
“I have never been able to look at the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) carefully, because of my veneration for him. Therefore, if I you ask me to describe him, I will not be able to do so.”
It is possible to observe the manifestations of the love of the Companions toward the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) in the way the Companions obeyed his commands and internalized his good character as a role model. The lover follows the beloved to the extent of his love for him. The Messenger of Allah was a mercy to the world, and he looked at creation in its entirety with limitless love and affection.
One of the manifestations of this love on the Companions, who were so attached to him, is narrated by Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Jubulī who said:
During a battle against Byzantium, we were together with Abū Ayyūb al-Ansārī (may Allah be pleased with him) in a ship. Our leader was ‘Abd Allāh b. Qays. When the great Companion Abū Ayyūb al-Ansārī came to the man who was in charge of distributing the booty, he saw a crying woman. The woman had been captured during the war. Abū Ayyūb asked why the woman was crying, and they told him, “This woman has a child. They have separated her child from her. That is why she is crying.”
Abū Ayyūb al-Ansārī immediately found the child and returned him to his mother. Then the woman stopped crying. The officer who was in charge of the distribution of the booty went to the leader of the army, ‘Abd Allāh b. Qays, and told him about what Abū Ayyūb had done. When ‘Abd Allāh b. Qays asked Abū Ayyūb why he had done this, Abū Ayyūb replied:
I heard from the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) the following: “Those who separate a mother from her child, Allah shall separate them, on the Day of Judgment, from all those whom they love.” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhī).
As made evident by this incident, love for Allah and the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) requires that all of creation be approached with mercy, affection and love. This is because the greatest fruits of faith are love and mercy.
The following instructive incident further demonstrates the blessings inherent in showing mercy and love to creation, and how such traits lead a human being to the source of faith.
During the time of the Prophet, which is called the Age of Happiness (‘Asr al-Sa‘ādah), there was a person among the Companions called Hakīm b. Hizām. He was a relative of Khadījah, the wife of the Prophet. He was a generous, compassionate, and charitable person. In the pre-Islamic period, commonly called the Jāhiliyyah (the age of ignorance prior to Islam), he used to purchase little girls from their fathers who wanted to kill them because they did not want to have a female child. He would save the lives of children and protect them. After embracing Islam, he asked the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) if the good deeds he had performed prior to becoming a Muslim would help him. The Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) indicated in his answer to Hakīm that these good deeds were the reason for his being blessed with conversion to Islam.
If approaching living beings with compassion causes people who are far from true faith to be blessed with the honor of conversion to the true religion, which is the greatest reward, then it is only logical that it will bring even greater rewards to those who are already believers.
True faith is the greatest gift Allah gives to His servants. Our Lord commands that we carefully protect this gift during our lives to the very moment we give up our last breath. The Qur’an states: “O you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except as Believers.” (Āl ‘Imrān, 3:102).
The greatest fruit of the blessing of faith is to look at creation with the eyes of the Creator and to approach all creatures with love. This elevates the life of a servant to higher levels and causes him or her to enter a world of forgiveness, mercy and love. One can then spread mercy to all creation. The great friend of Allah, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, illustrates this point well:
A drunken man came to the Sufi lodge while a sermon was being delivered. The disciples in the Sufi path, the dervishes, wanted him to leave, and they insulted him. Rūmī, who approached the drunken man as if he had come to learn about the true faith, said to those who had insulted him: “Although he is the one who has drunk the wine, it seems that you are the ones who are inebriated!”
This story provides a concrete example for how natural feelings of disgust for a sin should not be generalized; in contrast, one should see the sinner as a wounded bird that needs compassionate treatment and accept him into the palace of the heart, where he can be provided with education and guidance. Hoca Ahmed Yesevi illustrated this point beautifully:
Wherever you see a person with a broken heart, be a cure to him!
If such a oppressed one cannot continue his way, befriend him!
It should not be forgotten that the society of believers with which we are blessed today is a fruit of the Age of Happiness, the time of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace). The great Companions and friends of Allah spent great efforts in transmitting this sacred trust to posterity. They revolved around love for Allah. Thus they became stars in the sky of our faith, teachers in the school of truth, blessings and mercy for our daily lives, the light of our times and the witnesses of Allah the Most Glorious on earth.
The exceptional sacrifices and efforts of the Prophet, his Companions, and the saints and pious servants of Allah in the path of Allah’s religion out of divine love must serve as examples for us. To never lose this divine trust that has been entrusted to us, and make efforts to transfer it in its authentic purity and clarity to future generations, are responsibilities with consequences on our eternal happiness in the hereafter. The hearts of believers should continuously experience the joy of faith and divine love at the highest level. This is because real happiness begins after one goes beyond the limited borders of transient love.
The prerequisite for attaining eternal blessing is liberation from the slavery of transient love. Emptying the heart of momentary love is possible only by connecting the ultimate goal of every love to Allah. All good deeds, such as love for homeland or nation, family, children, brotherhood in religion, worship, charity, and good manners lead to divine love and pleasure if they are established on the basis of love for Allah. The deep love of the Companions for Allah and his Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) and the resulting way in which they beheld creation through the sight of their Creator, all exemplify this. They managed to sacrifice their existence as a whole for the sake of their love for Allah. Even the Companions, who did not have a considerable worldly wealth, sacrificed without any hesitation, whatever they earned in their lives, in order not to be separated from Allah and His Messenger and to be with him.
The poet Fuzūlī illustrates in the following example how the heart is the center of love and how one can completely lose oneself in love:
While Majnūn was wandering around in Leyla’s village, foreigners came and asked him where Leyla’s home was.
Majnūn replied, “Do not search for her home and tire yourself in vain!”
Then he pointed to his own heart and said, “This is where the home of Leyla is.”
We should contemplate the deep meaning and wisdom reflected in this example and question ourselves about the extent to which our hearts are at the point where Allah looks. In other words, to what extent are our hearts full of love for Allah and His Messenger, upon him blessings and peace? Is the joy of faith reflected in our prayers and behavior? Or is love mere rhetoric which does not pass any deeper than our tongues, never to reach our hearts? To what extent is the beating of our hearts, our attitudes and practices in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah? To what extent can we turn transitory worldly blessings into an instrument to gain divine love?
We need to check our state, as per the principle spelled out by ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him): “Take account of yourself before you are interrogated in the divine court!” How happy are those who can take an example from the personality and spirituality of Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) and thus reach the truth of divine love!
Our Lord! Beautify our hearts with the blessing of faith! Make us among those who see the ugliness of disbelief and disobedience and refrain from them as commanded! Bring us to love those whom You love! Bring us to dislike those whom You dislike! Let us pass away from this world with Your love, with the love of Your Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) and the love of those You love.
. Fanā’ fī al-Rasūl means emptying the heart of those qualities that contradict the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) by subduing the ego.