Understanding Love and its Role
Love is usually defined in Arabic by first clarifying and defining its opposite: hatred and disgust. Some go further to provide a deeper definition of love as “an overtaking of the root of one’s heart,” alluding to the feelings that infiltrate the heart and affect its deepest and innermost core. This love transcends any tangible product or hollow image. It is a reality that echoes with every heartbeat, manifesting in one’s emotional state and coming to life in the glisten of their eye, their cheerful face, and their unwavering smile as they praise their beloved often, with beauty and honor.
This is the love about which Ibn al-Qayyim says: “It is indescribable and indefinable by any other word than ‘love’ itself—there is no more accurate word to use! For the feeling of love does not appear to the lover in words, but as experiences.”1
He continues on to say that love is “something that comes alive in one’s soul that cannot be explained.”2 By God, what an accurate statement! “The symptoms of love and its essence in one’s heart are two completely different things. Many lovers, whose hearts are filled with love, would not be able to define it or describe its effects and experiences if they were asked to do so.”3
So let us pose a question then: can you describe your love for anyone by saying that you love them as much as anything you can think of? Absolutely not! You would not be able to do so. Love is a feeling that cannot be expressed in any measurable or quantifiable terms. There is no consistent catalyst for love. Sometimes you will meet a person once, and your heart will immediately cling to them and forever yearn for them. Meanwhile, you can sometimes live with someone your whole life, but your heart is closed off to them and feels estranged from them. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم says in a hadith:
“The hearts of the human beings are like a single heart between two of the fingers of the Most Merciful One; He turns them however He wishes.4
The way love occurs and changes is a great mystery that exhibits the magnificence of Allah’s creation of the human being. As one poet said:
In that moment when an eyelid shutters
Allah can change things from one state to another
How many times have you had a change of heart toward someone you loved? Your soul could have detested them because of a single word or action. This is why these feelings of affection cannot be pinned down by words and definitions. Nevertheless, the scholars mention many technical definitions of love. The famed Maliki jurist al-Qāḍi ‘Iyāḍ said:
The reality of love is that a person inclines to what pleases them. One might take pleasure in something by simply obtaining or beholding it; or for more abstract and noble purposes by beholding it with the mind or heart; or as a result of their kindness and graciousness towards them, as souls are naturally inclined to love those who are kind to them. If you accept these definitions, then you will see that all three of these experiences that engender love are comprised in [the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم].5
Love is to incline towards what aligns with one’s beloved. When you align with someone, staying in their company, inclining towards them, and following them, then that is an indicator of love. However, if we pay close attention, we will see that this is a description of the effect of love rather than a definition of love itself. Imam an-Nawawi said:
In general, the root of love is the inclination towards that which pleases the lover. The inclination can come from what the person finds pleasurable or beautiful, such as a beautiful appearance, sound, taste, etc. He may find pleasure in it metaphysically for abstract purposes as well, such as one’s general love for the righteous, the scholars, and the virtuous people. It can also be due to having been shown kindness or protected from harm or displeasure by someone. All of these meanings of love are found in the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ,for he embodied both external and internal beauty; exhibited utter perfection, glory, and all types of virtue; and showed grace to all Muslims by guiding them to the straight path and eternal bliss, and directing them away from the Hellfire.6
With this in mind, our love for him صلى الله عليه وسلم should grow, and he should be the first to whom we express our love in all of its forms and at its highest levels. He صلى الله عليه وسلم is deserving of every waking moment of love from our hearts and souls, no matter what we are doing. Of the most amazing aspects of loving him صلى الله عليه وسلم is the fact that it is connected to loving Allah. Ibn Taymiyah states:
There is no form of love in the universe that is greater, more beautiful, or more complete than the believers' love for their Lord. Nothing in existence deserves to be loved in every way for its very essence but Allah, the Exalted. Anything other than Him that is loved is only loved based on a love for Him, for even the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is only loved for Allah’s sake, and only obeyed for Allah’s sake, and only followed for Allah’s sake.7
As we speak about love, we emphasize that our attachment and connection to the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم should occur through different means:
With the intellect: learning his life story; preserving his teachings; spreading his words and guidance; knowing the authentic traditions from the inauthentic; and knowing what is required, recommended, or otherwise.
With the heart: a burning affection for him; a fervent excitement; an effusive love; and a forceful inclination through which the soul and heart attaches to the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم because of his perfect qualities and outstanding integrity.
With the limbs: through which a love for him translates into an adherence to his example and his guidance.
To clarify, I will point out that we cannot say that love is just compliance, for then where are the emotions? It is also not right for us to say that love is just passionate affection, for then where is the true loyalty of adherence? Even these two components on their own do no good, for then where is the knowledge of him, his life story, his guidance, and his experiences that we rely so heavily on?
From this we gather that our love for the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم must come from our heart and soul, be fastened by our intellect and thought, and manifest upon our limbs, in our experiences and actions. Only then will love be complete enough to be a true and sincere love, internally and externally—complete enough in every way for us to fulfill a part of the due right of Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم upon us.
The Role of Love
Loving the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم is mandatory. It is definitively and undoubtedly necessary for every Muslim, and the evidence for establishing its obligatory status are many. For one, Allah, Supreme and Exalted, says:
قُلْ إِن كَانَ ءَابَآؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَآؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَٰنُكُمْ وَأَزْوَٰجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَٰلٌ ٱقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَـٰرَةٌۭ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَـٰكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَآ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُم مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَجِهَادٍۢ فِى سَبِيلِهِۦ فَتَرَبَّصُوا۟ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِىَ ٱللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِۦ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِى ٱلْقَوْمَ ٱلْفَـٰسِقِينَ
Say, [O Prophet], “If your parents and children and siblings and spouses and extended family and the wealth you have acquired and the trade you fear will decline and the homes you cherish—[if all these] are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and struggling in His Way, then wait until Allah brings about His Will. Allah does not guide the rebellious people.” [9:24]
Allah, Glorified and Mighty, mentioned in a single verse all that is beloved in this world—all to which the hearts cling and for which the souls yearn. He placed them on one side of the scale, and placed love for Allah and His Messenger on the other side of the scale. Al-Qāḍi ‘Iyāḍ said: "This is a potent incitement, reminder, and proof that compels one to love him صلى الله عليه وسلم ;that it is urgently obligatory and immensely important; and that he صلى الله عليه وسلم is most deserving of it. Allah scolds those whose wealth and families are more beloved to them than Allah and His Messenger, and threatens them by saying: “wait until Allah brings about His will.” He renders them rebellious at the end of the verse, letting them know that they are among those who are astray and not guided by Allah.8
This impactful verse clarifies the importance and obligation of this love. Another powerful and succinct proof of the obligation to love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is when Allah says:
ٱلنَّبِىُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ ۖ وَأَزْوَٰجُهُۥٓ أُمَّهَـٰتُهُمْ ۗ
The Prophet is more worthy (awla) to the believers than their own selves. And his wives are their mothers. [33:6]
The word “awla” in this verse has been explained to mean being more worthy of, being closer to, and having the greatest right to claim allegiance and affinity.9
Ibn al-Qayyim demonstrates how this verse proves the obligation to love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم in two amazing ways. He says, firstly, that one must love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم more than he loves himself. The act of giving precedence to something is rooted in love, and everyone loves themselves more than they love anyone else. Since the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is more worthy to us than anything else, he must be more beloved to us and take priority over our own selves. That is how we can achieve a heightened sense of faith. This prioritization and love necessitates that we perfectly follow and obey with contentment and submission, along with all else that love necessitates, such as being pleased with his authority, submitting to his command, and giving him preference over everyone else.
The second indication of this verse is that authority over the believers belongs to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم ,and a person has no authority over himself when Allah’s Messenger has spoken. The authority belonging to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم is greater than that of a master over a servant or a father over his child. The believer has no prerogative over his own soul beyond the prerogative that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم has over him, as he صلى الله عليه وسلم is more worthy of it than the believer himself. Ibn al-Qayyim continues:
How perplexing that someone claims to prioritize and love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم while they dismiss his authority! They instead prefer the authority of another, trusting that source more than they trust the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم .Such people claim that guidance cannot be found through the lantern of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ,but rather from their own intellectual prowess. They claim that what the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم brought is uncertain, and add to that other arguments dismissing him and his message.
They make others the standard of reference for beneficial knowledge—what a great state of loss! Allegiance to the Messenger can only be actualized by discarding all authority besides his and deeming him the most worthy source. Everything else should be considered in light of what the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم came with: if it is upheld by the Prophetic teachings, it is acceptable; if it conflicts, it is rejected. When no clear authenticity nor falsehood can be proven, then it is approached as we approach reports from the People of the Scripture: either possibility is plausible until one is proven to be true.10
Allah, Supreme and Exalted, also says:
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ ٱللَّهَ فَٱتَّبِعُونِى يُحْبِبْكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ
Say, [O Prophet], “If you [sincerely] love Allah, then follow me; Allah will love you and forgive your sins. For Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [3:31]
This verse is strong evidence in proving the obligation of loving the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم .There is no dispute that loving Allah is mandatory, and that loving the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and following him is a path to Allah’s love. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Whoever loves me, then loves Allah.” Whatever is necessary in order to carry out an obligation is then obligatory. The command to “follow me” is a clear proof, and the fruit of that mentioned at the end of the ayah is another proof to support the one before it.
In addition to these verses from the Qur’an, the hadiths about this are plenty and clear as day in proving the obligation of this love. Firstly, Anas narrates that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “None of you believe until I am more beloved to him than his wealth, his children, and people altogether.”11 Another authentic and well-known hadith is the story of Umar bin al- Khattab. He was with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ,and the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was holding his hand. Umar said to him: “Messenger of Allah, I love you more than everything except my own self.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “No—by the One in whose hand is my soul! Not until I am more beloved to you than even your own self.” Umar then said to him: “Now, by Allah, you are more beloved to me than my own self.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
“Now, O Umar!”
Umar’s first statement did not mean that he did not love the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم more than he loved his own self, but he was just alluding to the human being’s default state of loving himself over everyone else. When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم taught him the correct way to express this according to the faith, Umar confessed through the correct expression of faith that he loved the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم more than his own self. That is when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Now, O Umar!” Ibn Rajab says:
One’s love for the Messenger must supersede his love for his own self, his children, his relatives and family, and his wealth and properties, along with everything else that people love with all their hearts. This love is only completed by obedience, as Allah says: Say, [O Prophet], “If you sincerely love Allah, then follow me; Allah will love you...” [3:31]. When one scholar was asked about love, he said: “It is to be in accordance with the beloved at all times.”
A sign that someone puts the love for the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم over the rest of the creation can be seen when he is faced with the option of either following the command of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم or obeying an inclination towards any of these other beloved desires. If the person obeys the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم and complies with his command, despite that inclination, then this is proof that his love for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is true and that he puts it before his love for anything else. If, however, he chooses to obey and abide by his personal inclination towards any of these other objects of his love, then this is clearly a sign of his faith being incomplete and unsatisfactory. This applies similarly to one’s love for Allah, versus his inclinations to his desires and ego. Loving the Messenger is a consequence of loving the One who sent him, Mighty and Majestic. This is expressed by fulfilling one’s obligations and avoiding the prohibitions.
A sign of having complete faith it when one’s personal inclinations conflicts with the non-obligatory recommendations of the Divine Law, and one’s love leads him to choosing the optional recommendations over his own desires. This person has reached the level of the noble and beloved ones who bring themselves closer to Allah through voluntary actions after having completed the mandatory ones. If this level of love is not yet reached, then it is at the middle level of the righteous ones, whose love is satisfactory, but who have not added to it.12
A third hadith that further proves the obligation for every Muslim to love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is when he said, as reported by Anas: “None of you believes until his desires are aligned with what I brought.”13 Ibn Ḥajar writes:
Al-Khaṭṭābi said: “A person’s love for himself is natural, but his love for someone else is a choice that he makes rationally. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was only speaking about the love that one chooses to have, as there is no way to alter or change one’s nature upon which he was created.” With this in consideration, we understand that ‘Umar’s initial response was one based on his nature. He then reconsidered and realized through rationale that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was more beloved to him than his own self, as he is the reason for salvation from doom in this life and the next. Then Umar stated his new rational conclusion, which warranted the Prophet’s response: “Now, O ‘Umar!” meaning: “Now you know and have spoken correctly!”14
From this same line of thinking, the scholars mention that there are two types of love that one has for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. One is obligatory love. This is the love that is required for believing in him as a prophet sent by God. This obligatory love causes us to react to his message with love, acceptance, pleasure, and submission, and causes us to abide by all of the commands and prohibitions that come from him. It compels us to tread his path and take pride in his code of conduct, not finding any aversion within ourselves for any of his teachings. This obligatory love encourages us to emulate his manners of generosity, selflessness, patience, and humility.
The second type of love is the recommended level of love. It is to study his actions closely and follow his tradition. It is an eagerness to abide by his words and actions as much as possible, with all of our efforts and to the best of our ability. A fourth proof of the obligation to love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is what al-Bukhari narrated from Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him). The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Whoever embodies three things will taste the sweetness of faith: for Allah and His Messenger to be more beloved to him than anything else; to love someone solely for Allah’s sake; and to hate to return to unbelief, just as one would hate to be tossed into fire.”16
The fifth hadith to prove this point is also reported by Anas. A man asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم” :When is the final hour?” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم replied: “What did you prepare for it?” He responded: “Nothing, except for the fact that I love Allah and His Messenger.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم then said: “You will be with whomever you love.” Anas added: “We were never as ecstatic as we were when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: ‘You will be with whomever you love,’ for I love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ,Umar, and Abu Bakr, and I hope to be with them because of my love for them, even if my deeds are not equal to theirs.”17
There is another beautiful hadith that is very relevant to our times. Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Among those who love me most in my nation are people who will come after me, who would be willing to give up their families and wealth to see me.”18 This hadith speaks about the believers who will come after the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ,who yearn to see him, preferring that over their families and wealth due to their intense love and longing for him. The 16th-century Ottoman scholar of Cairo, al-Munâwi, said that this means that they would ransom their families if it meant that they would be able to see him and be with him.19 These people described are willing to go above and beyond in their love.
The final hadith presented here to demonstrate the obligatory status of loving the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is narrated by Ibn Abbas. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Love Allah for what comes to you daily of his blessings. Love me for Allah’s sake, and love my family because of your love for me.”20 Al-Munāwi said:
This means that we must love Allah because He granted us all types of blessings and all kinds of physical and metaphysical wonders, such as the ease with which we obtain nourishment from our food and drink, and His help and guidance. He set up signals for us to know Him, created our sensory perceptions, and enlightened the hearts with faithful conviction. All of this is in addition to the spiritual nourishment that is pointed out by those who are knowledgeable about the afterlife. Ibn Ata’Allah, the Maliki jurist and scholar of hadith and spiritual sciences, said: “There is not a single moment except that He is showering you with blessings therein that constantly demand your love and gratitude. A moment deprived of these can never be made up for, for each new moment demands a renewal of gratitude and an urgent repentance—‘If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them’[14:34].” Some scholars interpret the command in the hadith: “Love Allah...” as a factual statement, as if to say: “You love Allah because He blesses you; He loves you, and so you love him.”
These are the verses and hadiths that render love for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم to be obligatory, proving it to be of great importance and high priority. Loving the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is connected to loving Allah, Mighty and Majestic, and outweighs any other worldly object of desire for which the hearts yearn, regardless of what they might be. This is the only way to describe the magnitude and importance of loving the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and its role in the religion.
The texts are definitive and clear in demanding that to perfect our faith, we must love the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم more than we love our very own selves, more than we love our spouses and children, and more than we love our mothers and fathers. How great is this love—the greatest love for any human being ever created in this world. It is a love deserved only by the greatest of all creation صلى الله عليه وسلم .It is a love that is the duty of every believer who submits himself to Allah, Supreme and Exalted.
1 Tareeq al-Hijratayn, 1/461
2 Ibid., 1/464
4 Saheeh Muslim (4798)
5 Ash-Shifā, 2/29
6 Sharh Sahih Muslim, 2/14
7 Majmoo' Fatawa ibn Taymiyah, 2/426
8 Ash-Shifā, 2/18
9 Ibn Kathir, as-Sa’di, al-Qurṭubi, aṭ-Ṭabari and others
10 Zād al-Ma‘ād 1/29
11 Sahih al-Bukhari (14); Sahih Muslim (63)
12 Fatḥ al-Bāri, 1/22
13 Jāmi‘ al-‘Uloom wal-Ḥikam, 1/386; it is a ḥasan-ṣaḥeeḥ hadith.
14 Fath al-Bâri, 11/528
15 Ibid., 1/61
16 Saheeh al-Bukhari, (15); Saheeh Muslim, (60)
17 Saheeh al-Bukhari, (3412); Saheeh Muslim, (4775)
18 Sahih Muslim, (5060)
19 Fayḍ al-Qadeer, 6/9
20Narrated and deemed ḥasan by at-Tirmidhi (3722); authenticated by al-Ḥakim (4699)