Love in the Holy Qur'an (2): CHAPTER 2,3

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God says:


Beautified for humankind is love of lusts — of women, chil- dren, stored-up heaps of gold and silver, horses of mark, cat- tle, and tillage. That is the comfort of the life of this world; but God—with Him is the most excellent abode. (Aal ‘Imran, 3:14)


Most of human beings’ basic concerns are indicated in this Qur’anic verse, for most people either spend their lives in search of sex, family, chil- dren, prestige and glory, wealth and possessions, or else in search of God’s love and the Hereafter. Most modern music and film is concerned with sex- ual love; most people’s work is done to earn money and meet family needs; the purpose of most social relationships is the search for glory; and the pur- pose of most worship is the search for Paradise and God’s grace. Moreover, most of what people say and think is connected to something they want, and thus something they love. This applies even to food and drink; the search for comfort and ease; working for a living, and how people express their states and emotions. Equally, the purpose of most of what people say and do is to obtain something they want—and hence something they love— or to seek to avoid something they do not want and hence do not love. Yet how many people really perceive this? How many people really perceive that every intention they and others make is born of either love for self, love for the body, love for passion, love for another, or love for God? Even when people seek happiness, they are really seeking nothing but content- ment in possessing something they love (as we will discuss later, God will- ing). Thus love is the intention behind most actions and most things, if not everything.

But what is love? And why are human beings so concerned with love, or indeed, so governed by love? Where does love come from, and where does it go? What is its purpose, and how is this purpose achieved? How many young people have suffered, cried, or committed suicide, because of love? How many older people have wept or felt pain because of their fear of losing those they love? Yet how many people have the power to ration- ally control what and how much they love? We would not be exaggerating if we said that most of life’s activity and effort is expended on the search for love, without people even perceiving what they are doing, and why. For all that, however, there does not exist today anywhere in the world—as far as we know—a single mainstream school or college offering love as a sub- ject of study and thus teaching people about what they will in reality spend their lives thinking about and doing. This makes people as follows:


Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire, and when it illumined all about him God took away their light and left them in darkness, unable to see, / deaf, dumb, blind, [so that] they shall not return. (Al-Baqarah, 2:17-18)


God willing, in this work we will convey what God says about love, the greatest secret in life; the secret which people actually spend their lives in pursuit of, although few ever really know anything about it. God says:


They know [merely] an outward aspect of the life of this world; but they, of the Hereafter, they are oblivious. (Al-Rum, 30:7)



It is in the nature of things that love cannot be defined exactly, because there is something in love—as there is in pain—which cannot be portrayed or conveyed by description alone. Love is not a tangible thing: one can recognise a chair or a lion by its name alone, but one cannot come to know the entire truth of love by means of its description alone. Because of this, some have said that love cannot be defined at all. Despite this, however, we can derive a specific definition of love from God’s words in the Holy Qur’an which comes very close to conveying the meaning of love. God says:


You will never be able to be just to your wives, even if you be eager; yet do not incline altogether away, so that you leave her like one suspended… (Al-Nisa’ 4:129)


And He says:


Women are not lawful for you beyond that, nor [is it lawful] for you to change them for other wives, even though their beauty please you [a’jabatkum] ... (Al-Ahzab 33:52)


We can understand from these two verses together that love can be de- fined as ‘an inclination towards beauty after being pleased (i’jab) by it.’ This definition, which we have derived directly from God’s words cited above, is not essentially different from the definitions many Muslim schol- ars have offered for love.7

This definition applies to all human beings since it applies to the Mes- senger of God !, but we do not know if the words ‘pleased by’ and ‘incline’ befit a description of God’s love. Ghazali says, as we have already cited in the previous endnote:


 ‘In its ordinary use, ‘love’ means the soul’s inclination to something which suits it and pleases it. Such a thing can only be envisaged for an imperfect being, which inclines towards something it lacks and is made complete by attaining it, and delights in having attained it; and this is impossible for God…. God’s love for man, then, is for Him to draw him nearer to Himself by warding off distractions and sins from him, and purifying his inner being from the turbidity of this worldly life, and drawing back the veil from his heart so that he may be- hold Him, as though he sees Him with his heart. As for man’s love for God, it is his inclination towards attaining the per- fection which he utterly lacks and needs, for he will doubtless yearn for what he lacks, and delight in attaining any part of it. This kind of yearning and love is impossible for God.’8


Thus Ghazali describes God’s love for human beings as being ‘for Him to draw [them] nearer to Himself by warding off distractions and sins from [them]…’ He uses the word ‘mahabbah’ for ‘love’ here, and there may be a difference between the words ‘mahabbah’ and ‘hubb’, as we will see later, God willing. But how do we arrive at an understanding of God’s love (‘hubb’) from the Holy Qur’an?

As will be seen later (in Chapter 7: God’s Love for Humanity), God loves—and therefore gives—all human beings (and indeed all creation) countless favours (fadl; pl. afdal) out of his Mercy and Love, but specifies eight or nine categories of people (such as ‘the patient’, ‘the God-fearing’ and ‘the virtuous’ etc.) whom He loves in particular. What these people have in common is beauty of soul, and therefore it can be said that whilst God loves everything He has created in general, He loves beauty of soul in par- ticular. Now God has placed beauty in all His creation, for He says:


Who beautified everything that He created. And He began the creation of man from clay. (Al-Sajdah, 32:7)


Therefore it can be said that God loves particular beauty of soul in par- ticular, but general beauty in general. This amounts to saying that God loves beauty as such, or beauty according to its degree.

However, since God created every thing in the first place—including all beauty in existence—this means that He gave every thing its particular nature as a free gift from Him. When Moses $ was asked by Pharaoh about God, the following discussion occurred:


He said, ‘So who is your Lord, O Moses?’ He said, ‘Our Lord is He Who gave to every thing its [particular]  nature and then guided [them]’. (Ta Ha, 20:49-50)


Thus God is known first of all as He who gives every thing its particular creation, and then gives them something else—His guidance (which, in the case of human beings, means beauty of soul). Therefore God’s love is knowable to human beings as, first of all, the free gift of existence and countless other favours (including beauty of various kinds) to every created thing, and, second, love of beauty as such. This is perfectly summarised in the famous Hadith of the Messenger of God %:


‘God is Beautiful, and He loves beauty.’9


That God ‘is Beautiful’—or rather: ‘The Beautiful’ (Al-Jamil) in an- other Hadith10—means that all beauty comes from Him as a free gift, and therefore that He is, first of all, the Giver11 of existence and countless other favours to every created thing. That God ‘loves beauty’ means that His love is love of beauty as such (not forgetting that all created beauty is from Him). This exactly confirms our description of God’s love above. Indeed, a similar definition could be deduced for God’s Mercy12.

The definition of Divine love as: first, the free gift of existence and of countless other favours (including beauty of various kinds) to every created thing, and, second, love of beauty as such is not opposed in meaning to the definition of human love as ‘inclination towards beauty’, except that it must be remembered that God created all things and all beauty in the first place as a gratuitous gift from Him, and that it cannot be said that God ‘inclines.’ And God knows best.




Our previous definition of love is confirmed by the etymological root of the word ‘hubb’ (‘love’), which comes from the word ‘habb’ (‘seed’) thus implying a seed falls into the ground, grows, then brings forth a new and beautiful plant. God makes this clear in the Holy Qur’an with His words:


The likeness of those who expend their wealth in the way of God is as the likeness of a grain (‘habb’) that sprouts seven ears, in every ear a hundred  grains;  so God multiplies for whom He will; God is Embracing,  Knowing. (Al-Baqarah, 2:261)


Thus love is like a seed from which comes forth a plant which God multiplies as He wills for whom He wills. Indeed, classical scholars of the Arabic language have affirmed that this is the lexical root of the word ‘hubb’, but have also mentioned other roots from which the word might also be derived.13

(to be continued)



1  Throughout this book we use bold italics for Qur’anic quotes and bold for Hadith (the sayings of the Messenger of God !).

2 Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Tabari, p. 325. There may be a subtle difference between the Divine words ‘the details for all things’, as the Holy Qur’an says of itself in Surat Yusuf (12:111), and the Divine words ‘a detailing of all things’, which in the Holy Qur’an describe the (first) Tablets of Moses $ in Surat Al-An’am (6:154) and Surat Al-A’raf (7:145). Perhaps God’s words ‘the details for all things’ mean that God made a complete image of all things in the Holy Qur’an, whilst His words ‘a detailing of all things’ mean that God placed a description of all things in the Tablets of Moses $. On the other hand, it will be noticed that whereas God’s words about the Holy Qur’an—‘the details for all things’—are unqualified, God’s words about the Tablets of Moses $—‘a detailing of all things’—are in reference to moral guidance:

Then We gave Moses the Scripture, complete for him who does good, and a detailing of all things, and as a guidance and a mercy, that perhaps they might believe in the encounter with their Lord. (Al-An’am, 6:154)

And We inscribed for him in the Tablets about all things, as an admonition and a detailing of all things. ‘Take it then firmly, and enjoin your people to adhere to the fairest [precepts] in it. I shall show you the abode of the wicked. (Al-A’raf, 7:145) Verily there is in their stories a lesson for people of cores. It is not a fabricated discourse but a confirmation of what was [revealed] before it, and the details for all things, and a guidance, and a mercy for a folk who be- lieve. (Yusuf, 12:111)

3 Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Al-Tafsir al-kabir, vol. 7, p. 258. Al-Razi also says:

‘God says: ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (Al-An’am 6:38), and there are two opinions about what is meant by ‘the Book’ here. The first is that it means the Book which is preserved in the realm of the Throne of God and the heavens, and which contains every last detail of the affairs of created beings, as (the Prophet) ! said: ‘The Pen has dried after [writing] all that will be until the Day of Resurrection.’ The second opinion is that it means the [Arabic] Qur’an, and this is more plausible, because when a noun is pre- fixed by the definite article it refers to an established meaning, and for Mus- lims the established meaning of ‘the Book’ is the Qur’an; therefore the meaning of ‘the Book’ in this verse must be the Qur’an’. (Fakhr al-Din al- Razi, Al-Tafsir al-kabir, vol. 4, p. 526).

4 Abu al-Qasim Mahmud ibn Umar al-Zamakhshari al-Khawarizmi, Al-Kashshaf, p. 586.

5 The word ‘philosophy’ is originally a Greek word comprised of two terms: ‘philo’, which means ‘love’, and ‘sophia’, which means ‘wisdom.’ ‘Philosophy’, then, with respect to its linguistic origin, means ‘love of wisdom.’ Muslim scholars have defined philosophy in sev- eral ways, but we ourselves use it here to mean the wisdom which is ‘below’ the level of doctrine and the level of Shari’ah (Islamic sacred law); or to put it differently, ‘philosophy’ refers to all wisdom and intellectual knowledge aside from doctrine, theology and sacred law. For example, love is a philosophical topic, as are time, logic, cognition, ethics, psy- chology, anthropology, epistemology, hermeneutics, oneirology, cosmology, numerology, metaphysics, soteriology, eschatology, jurisprudence, politics, sociology, comparative reli- gion and so on. Of course these topics might have legal or doctrinal sides, but an understanding of them which is neutral as far as doctrine or law is concerned may be considered ‘philosophical knowledge’, as long as it does not draw one into unbelief or sin. This is why philosophy was known in the past as ‘ancilla theologiae’, ‘the servant of theology.’

6 Suyuti, Al-Durr al-manthur, vol. 5, p. 610.



7 The opinions of Muslim scholars about love generally fall into two categories. In the first category are those who say that love cannot be precisely defined because it is indescribable, so that only its effects can be described. In the second category are those who describe love as a kind of inclination towards something beautiful or desirable, notwithstanding of course that God does not ‘incline’. This means that, as regards God, love is a form of grace that He shows to some of His servants. Some scholars combine these two approaches to defining love.

Al-Jahizh  (d. 255AH) quotes a poet as saying:

‘The eye reveals what the soul contains of love or hate, if they are there; the eye speaks whilst the mouth is still, until the heart is laid bare.’ (Jahizh, Kitab al-bayan wa al-tabyin, vol. 1, p. 62) 

Al-Kalabadhi (d. 380 AH) says:

‘Junayd said that love means the inclination of the heart, meaning that the heart inclines towards God and towards the responsibilities which God has ordained. Others said that love is acquiescence, meaning to obey [God’s] commandments and pay heed to His prohibitions, and to be content with all He has decreed and ordained. Muhammad bin Ali al-Kattani said that love means to prefer the beloved [to oneself]. Others have said that love means to put the one you love first… Man’s love of God is a glorification which unveils many mysteries, and thus cannot be combined with glorifi- cation for anything other than Him. God’s love of human beings means that He marks him so that he is unfit for anyone else; this is the meaning of His words And I chose you for Myself (Ta Ha, 20:41). ‘So that he is unfit for anyone else’ means that he no longer cares to observe others or pay heed to them… The Folk [of mysticism] have many unique expressions and terms which almost no one else uses, some of which we might convey and explain briefly, but in doing this we only seek to give the meaning of the expression, not its content, for its content cannot even be alluded to, never mind re- vealed. As for the nature of their states, it cannot be spoken of, although those who have experienced it know it well.’ (Kalabadhi, al-Ta’arruf li- madhhab ahl al-tasawwuf, pp. 109-110)

Ibn Sina (d. 428 AH) says:

‘Love in reality is nothing but a strong preference for that which is beautiful and seemly.’

Ibn Hazm (d. 456 AH) says, defining love:

‘I prefer to say that it is the connection of souls which are divided in this creation but connected in their pristine origin.’ (Ibn Hazm, Tawq al- hamamah, p. 7)

He also defined it by saying:

‘Love is the connection of souls in their original higher realm.’ (Ibn Hazm, Tawq al-hamamah, p. 27)

Al-Qushayri  (d. 465 AH) says:

‘Love is a noble condition to which the Real has attested many experiences, as well as speaking of His own love for man. The Real may be described as loving man, and man may be described as loving the Real. For the scholars, love means desire, though for the Folk love is not desire, since desire cannot be attached to the Eternal, unless it means the desire to draw near to Him and glorify Him. In investigating this matter we will discuss two elements, God willing. The love of God for human beings is His will to bless them with a certain favour, just as His mercy for them is the will to give them a certain favour. Now mercy is more specific than will, and in turn love is more specific than mercy. God’s will to reward and favour human beings is called ‘mercy’, and His will to grant human beings ‘nearness’ and high rank is called ‘love’. His will is a single Quality which has different names de- pending on its different manifestations. If it is manifested in punishment it is called ‘wrath’; if it is manifested through general favours it is called ‘mercy’, and if it is manifested through special favours it is called ‘love’.… Some early Muslims said God’s love is a Quality about which He has in- formed us, but which we cannot explain. As for the other kinds of love that man experiences such as the inclination to something and familiarity with it, or the feeling that one experiences when he is with his loved ones, the Eternal is beyond all this. As for man’s love for God, it is a feeling in his heart too subtle to be expressed. This feeling may inspire him to glorify God, prefer His pleasure, have no time for anything other than Him, feel rapture in Him, find no peace in anything but Him, and take comfort in con- stantly invoking Him in his heart…. People have said many things about love, and spoken of its lexical origin. Some say that love is the name for pure affection… As for what the [Sufi] masters have said about it, some have said that love is constant inclination with a passionate heart. It is said that love is to put one’s beloved before everything else. It is said that it means to acquiesce to one’s beloved in his presence and his absence. It is said that it means to efface one’s own attributes and affirm the being of one’s beloved. It is said that it means to surrender the heart to the Lord’s will. It is said it means to fearfully uphold reverence and constant service. Abu Yazid al- Bistami said that love is to deem a lot of oneself as little, and a little of one’s beloved as a lot. Sahl bin Abdullah [al-Tustari] said that love means to embrace obedience and stay clear of disobedience. Junayd was asked about love, and replied that it is when the attributes of the beloved replace those of the lover. By this, he meant that the lover continues to make re- membrance of the beloved until the attributes of the beloved overwhelm his heart, and he completely disregards his own attributes. Abu Ali Ahmad al- Rudhabari said that love means acquiescence. Abu Abdullah al-Qurashi said that the reality of love is to give yourself completely to the one you love, so that nothing of yourself remains for you. Shibli said that love is called ‘love ‘(mahabbah) because it effaces from the heart everything but the beloved.…’ (Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, al-Risalah al-qushayriyyah, pp.317-327)

Al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH) says:

‘Regarding the reality of love and its causes, and the meaning of man’s love for God: … it is unimaginable that an inanimate object could be said to feel love, but rather it is specific to living, sentient beings… Love is an expres- sion of the disposition’s inclination to something pleasant, and if this incli- nation deepens and strengthens it is called ‘devotion.’ In its ordinary use, love means the soul’s inclination to something which suits it and pleases it.

Such a thing can only be envisaged for an imperfect being, which inclines towards something it lacks and is made complete by attaining it, and de- lights in having attained it; and this is impossible for God.… God’s love for man, then, is for Him to draw him nearer to Himself by warding off distrac- tions and sins from him, and purifying his inner being from the turbidity of this worldly life, and drawing back the veil from his heart so that he may behold Him, as though he sees Him with his heart. As for man’s love for God, it is his inclination towards attaining the perfection which he utterly lacks and needs, for he will doubtless yearn for what he lacks, and delight in attaining any part of it. This kind of yearning and love is impossible for God.’ (Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din, vol. 4 pp. 378-454)

Ibn al-Arif (d. 536 AH) says:

‘As for love, it is the first valley of extinction [in God], and the first step to- wards the stages of self-effacement; and it is the final stage wherein the best of ordinary people meet with the lesser of the elite.’ (Ibn al-Arif, Al-Nafa’is wa mahasin al-majalis, p. 695)

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH) says:

‘Know that desire (hawa) means the disposition’s inclination to what pleases it, and this inclination was created in man because it was necessary for his preservation; for were it not for his inclination to food, he would not eat, and the same is true of drink, mar