TITLE: Love in the Holy Qur’an, expanded 7th edition
AUTHOR: HRH Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad
PUBLISHER/DATE: Islamic Texts Society, 2013
AVAILABLE AT: www.its.org.uk
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
Our Lord, we have certainly wronged our own selves. If you forgive us not and do not show mercy toward us, we shall certainly be of those who are lost. (Qur’an 7:23)
Empowerment is something desired by all who feel oppressed. If there is an overpowering force that is out to do us harm, we wish more than anything to overcome it. Contemporary common sense however teaches that there is one compelling force that we simply cannot overcome, and that is our own self (nafs). Desires, proclivities, and inclinations toward unwholesome, unseemly things are seen to be, at most, unfortunate. With mottos like “Just Do It!” having become part of the cultural fabric of contemporary society, it is easy to see why even those who wish to stop loving something ugly view the task as requiring Herculean effort.
In the midst of such a depressing fatalism of the self, the empowering teachings of the Qur’an and Prophetic sunnah are reason for the believer to rejoice. No doubt, it is not an easy job to curb one’s love for negative things, be it for an old flame post-marriage or for a sorry addiction. But it can be done, and our religion offers us a practical and spiritually potent plan for how to do so. Using Qur’anic passages in a meaningful and motivating way, the following excerpt from Love in the Holy Qur’an offers three key practices for how we can train our hearts to stop loving what is not good for itself.1 The Qur’anic verses cited deserve special attention, as they have a power all their own and an ability to soften hearts and inspire right action.
How to Control One’s Love2
If love increases as a person’s soul—with all its constituent parts and faculties— inclines towards the beloved, then how can anyone deliberately and consciously cultivate a specific love and diminish another? In other words, how can a person choose and control what to love and what not to love? How can the will alone control the inclination of all the other faculties including the ego itself? Someone might want to refrain from loving something in which there is no good or no hope, and not know how to do so. Conversely, someone might want to love something wherein there is a great deal of good, but might not incline to it naturally. God says:
…Consort with them in kindness; for if you hate them, it may happen that you hate a thing wherein God has set much good. (Al-Nisa’, 4:19) ` Say: ‘The evil and the good are not equal, even though the abundance of the evil attract you’. So fear God O you who have cores, so that you might prosper. (Al-Ma’idah, 5:100) ` Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you. Yet it may happen that you hate a thing which is good for you; and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you; God knows, and you know not. (Al-Baqarah, 2:216)
In a sense, the whole spiritual and moral life is about controlling what one loves and what one does not love, and so this question can be tremendously complex. Nevertheless, in the Holy Qur’an God speaks of particular keys that show how to more easily strengthen and weaken love as such.
Actually, strengthening a beneficial love for something good occurs naturally by means of faith and righteous deeds in general. As previously cited, God says: Truly those who believe and perform righteous deeds—for them the Compassionate One shall appoint love. (Maryam, 19:96)
This is thus very simple. The key to strengthening a beneficial love for something that is good is to perform righteous deeds and hence to behave virtuously.3 Virtue (or goodness—ihsan) is truly its own reward. God says: Is the reward of goodness (ihsan) anything but goodness (ihsan)? (Al-Rahman, 55:60)
On the other hand, weakening a love for something negative is not so easy. It is, nevertheless, possible with God’s help. God says:
Will you bid others to piety and forget yourselves, while you recite the Book? Do you not understand? / Seek help in patience and prayer. For it is indeed hard, except to the humble (al-khashi’in), / who reckon that they shall meet their Lord, and that to Him they are returning. (Al-Baqarah, 2:44–46)
Thus internal change is hard, but not impossible. It requires a priori some faith in God (who reckon that they shall meet their Lord), hope in Him and fear of Him (and that to Him they are returning). But in addition to faith, hope and fear … internal change then has need of three key virtues or practices, namely: (1) patience; (2) humility; (3) prayer and remembrance of God.
Taking humility (‘key’ no. 2) first, it must be said that true humility comes from self-knowledge; and self-knowledge requires, practically speaking, careful self-monitoring. God says: Rather man has insight into his