‘Eid al-Adha lecture on Love (Mahabbah) by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
Transcription by Muhammad Allie Khalfe
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Nabi Ebrahim’s sacrifice (peace be upon him) centres around one important idea and that is the love (mahabbah) of Allah ta’ala. To sacrifice his son, which appears to contradict one of the most natural instincts was due to his love for Allah Ta’ala.
What really drives one to do things even though it may seem irrational at the beginning? What does love for Allah and His Messenger really mean?
One thing that is completely agreed upon is the idea of love (mahabbah) being necessary (fard) on each and every Muslim. We often think of things being fard in terms of Prayer (Salah), Alms (Zakat) and Fasting (Siyam) but little do we think of what is internally fard. We are often obsessed with the fara’id of the externals but what we need is to look at those factors that will enable us to realise, not only the centrality but also the importance of Mahabbah. There is agreement (ijma) amongst the scholars (‘ulama) that Mahabbah for Allah and His messenger (peace be upon him) is an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn). This particular love is one of the ultimate purposes, objectives and stations (maqamat) that the spiritual traveller in the path of Allah wants to attain (wa hiya al-ghayatul qaswa). This kind of love, if embraced as it was by so many of the greatest of thinkers, sages and saints over the past 1400 years can have so many positive implications for the individual as well as the entire community. If we can connect with it then we will see actual internal transformation, which will flow over and spill into societies resulting in human change, where humanity becomes better and attains progress. These are basic core values, which we have forgotten or at least are negligent of. Allah ta’ala speaks about these values continuously in the Quran and so does the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the noble traditions (ahadith al-sharifah). Allah says in the Quran,
“Yuhibbuhum wa yuhibbunahu – Allah loves them and they love Him”
and what is important in this verse is the second part “and they love Him” referring to those who return love. One cannot lavish love and mercy upon people who refuse to receive it, let alone those who cannot return it. This kind of love is something mutual, acting as the thread that twines through our communities and connects the hearts and souls of individuals, men and woman. Allah says,
“wal ladhina amanu ashadda hubban lillah – those of true Faith (Iman) have the most intense love for Allah”.
Here we notice the connection between Iman and Mahabbah. The vast majority of scholars defined Iman as 1) that you speak about it (bi-qawli lisan), 2) that it manifests itself in your behaviour (‘amal bil jawarih) and 3) that you you’ve accepted it in your heart (wa tasdiq bil-qalb). These facets of Iman cannot be realised if we have not connected with the idea of Mahabbah of Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him). Allah says in Surah al-Taubah,
“Qul inkana aba-akum wa abna-akum wa-ikhwanukum…wallahu la yahdil qawmal fasiqin – Say: if it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives and spouses, your kindred; the wealth that you have gained; the commerce in which you fear the decline; or the dwellings in which you delight, are dearer to you than Allah, his Messenger and the striving in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His decision. And Allah guides not the rebellious and wicked”.
Islam is referred to as al-Dinul haqiqi or al-Dinul waqi’ meaning a Din dealing with the realities of things and one that is pragmatic and not one abstract from society. It is a Din that is manifest in society and a nexus in which everything ought to revolve around. We should revolve around it and not alienate it so that it revolves around our whims (hawa). We should not be dressing up the Din but rather be dressed up by the it. We should be clothed by the Din and not clothe it.
This is not an imaginary Din or the product of our whims and one of the ultimate functions of this Din is to create unity and love within our lives, families and communities. Why is love mentioned with such intensity? It is mention because to love and to be loved is in the natural constitution of people (jibillah of bani Adam). We love our families and wealth and so forth, which without we would not have properly Iman. If one does not feel this natural flow of love toward our fellow human being then you are in fact deficient in your Belief (naqis al-Iman).
One of the companions approached the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and asked regarding the last hour. We would normally respond in a philosophical manner and mention the greater and lesser signs of the hour. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asks his companion “what have prepared for it?” This is the more useful of the two replies as it is more beneficial. The companion replies saying that he has prepared nothing for the last hour. Once again we see the benefit of the Prophet’s reply as one which made his companion contemplate on his state. The companion continues with the following words, “illa uhibbullah wa rasulahu – except that I love Allah and His Messenger”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said, “anta ma’a man ahbabta – you will be with those whom you love”. Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) heard this and said, “fa ma farihna bi-shay’in farihna bi-qawli sallallu ‘alayhi wa sallam – when we heard that we rejoiced in a sense of joy, which we have never experienced before”. Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) then said, “fa ana uhibbun nabi sallallahu ‘alayi wa salllam wa Aba Bakr wa ‘Umar wa arju an ankun ma’akum bi-hubbi iyyahum wa in lam ‘a’mal ‘a’malahum – and I love the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and it is my deepest wish to be with them even if I am incapable of performing the deeds that they do, purely through my intense love for them.”
Of what relevance is this Mahabbah that we are speaking about? The relevance is that this kind of love is in fact your Iman and the ‘ulama refer to it as The reality of Iman (haqiqatul Iman). Love for Allah and His messenger constitute the reality and very core of Iman. For this reason we refer to Iman as not only an utterance on the tongue but also a realization and acceptance in the heart (al-Tasdiqu bil-qalb). Iman can either be limited to the tongue or it can have the added facets and depth of an intense love. Imam Ghazali (May Allah’s Mercy be on him) speaks about the seven circumambulations around the ka’ba and advises that we not focus too much on the technicalities of why we do it seven times. He mentions a man’s love for his wife and children and how he will do irrational things for them purely through his love for them. He then asks the question, “Why then can you not walk seven times around the ka’ba, since He commanded you to do it, purely for the Love of Allah Ta’ala instead of looking for a technical and logical reason?” This intense focus on the external (dhahir) comes with the consequence of missing the spirit of the act, which is your love for Allah.
Love is a condition and a station (maqam) that elevates its possessor to the highest of levels (darajat) of sublimity (sumu), perfection (kamal) and elevation (tanazzuh). These are some of the consequences and results of deep and profound love, which is one of the most natural instincts in the human being. It is love that causes either, the elevation and unity in a community while one bereft of love is full of schisms and splits. No community endowed with a deep and profound understanding of love is one that can be torn apart. Allah says,
“wa ja’ala baynakum rahmatan wa mahabbah – and We have placed mercy and love between you (within a marriage)”.
Know that this kind of love is one above pure knowledge (ma’rifa). Knowledge allows us to be objective and there are immense benefits in pursuing it including giving the mind its right. Love is far more a part of the reality of our being and our existence that makes us human. It is what makes us want to cry, laugh, that elevates us, effects and moves us. Why is there this difference between ma’rifa and mahabbah? The reason is because mahabbah is far more deeply enshrined in the human being than knowledge. A person lacking knowledge does not necessarily lack mahabbah while a person with mahabbah does necessarily lack discursive knowledge. The reality of this kind of love is that it leaves no open spaces or emptiness in the heart and it is a condition that invariably focuses on the Beloved (Allah ta’ala). In other words it infuses all the folds of the heart.
True Iman has therefore intense love at its core and not pure discursive knowledge. It is also not only the submission of the ego (nafs) to Allah ta’ala. One cannot just say that he or she has submitted to Allah because genuine and true love is one that has been conditioned and influenced by the love of Allah ta’ala. It is influenced by your understanding of Allah as The Most Compassion (Rahman), The Most Merciful (Rahim) and an understanding of the perfection of His Sifat. By contemplating and meditating on His beautiful Names (Asma’u l-Husna), we come to Love Him as the only true Entity who is closer to us than our jugular vein. This consciousness of Allah ta’ala enables and allows us to interact with Allah in a manner, which this kind of Mahabbah demands.
Regarding loving the Prophet (peace be upon him), do we know our Prophet? Do we know this amazing human being? Have we examined his life (peace be upon him)? He is referred to in the Quran as Ra’uf and Rahim, meaning one of intense empathy and mercy. Have we thought about this and attempted to cultivate these noble qualities within ourselves? Do we know the kind of role he played within that society that made him change the most barbarous society on earth into a force that allowed Islam to be a flourishing civilization for almost 1000 years?
If we know and love Allah and His messenger (peace be upon him) and we interact with human beings on the bases of love for Allah and His messenger (peace be upon him) and not just with our emotions then there will be no belligerence and the result is confidence because we would be acting in the name of Entities, which we consider far superior to ourselves. We would then act purely for the sake of Allah (li wajhillahi Ta’ala).
As for Iman, which the ‘ulama refer as (al-Jaaf al-Samit) then this is a dry, morbid and miserably silent one that does not go beyond a confession of submission to Allah Ta’ala on the tongue or a confession merely saying that my heart has embraced the verities of Faith. One of the scholars of tasawwuf (ahli sufiyyah) said regarding this type of Faith; that it does not manifest itself in any way and in any image in positive actions and deeds within ones personality. It does not flow out and embrace people with love. Iman al-Jaaf is a dry kind of Iman, cracking up and bereft of love. It is likened to a barren land, the product of drought and not one, which is a product of the abundance of rain and grace. This type of Iman is not visible in the individual, community and society. The ‘ulama also refer to this type of Iman as one that is mostly negative (Imam al-Salbi), meaning one that is counterproductive. This is not the kind of Iman Allah wants from His servants (Falaysa huwal Iman alladhi yuridullahu min ‘ibadi).
If you have true Iman then you are referred to as a Mu’min and a Mu’min is one who has in fact attained and recognised both the Beauty and Majesty of Allah ta’ala (adraka Jamalallahi ta’ala wa Jalalihi)and one who pays respect to both aspects. This human being is one infused with the Love of Allah ta’ala, one who has connected with the Subtlety (Lutf) of Allah ta’ala, one who has connected with the Grace of Allah ta’ala and with the inimitable and ineffable Excellence (Ihsan) of Allah ta’ala.
This person will know with certain knowledge (‘ilmul yaqin) that Allah ta’ala alone is the One who bestows Grace upon us and of whom we are the beneficiaries (Mu’im al-Mufid). There is no true Grace and Blessedness (in’am) except that it is from Allah ta’ala. There is in fact nothing without Allah ta’ala and it is that knowledge that impacts on our characters, which the Quran sets out to build and this depends on our understanding and internalization of Mahabbah. The result of Love is a positive human being with a heart occupied and aware of His Blessedness and Grace. When we become aware of His Blessedness and Grace then we experience the pleasure, beauty and comfort of obedience (ta’a) and not the difficulty of it. Who better to be obedient to than this Mighty Allah ta’ala who is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful and The One who Loves (al-Wadud)?
This understanding is a call for celebration on this day of ‘Eid because that Rahma was present with Nabi Ebrahim (peace be upon him) when he was about to slaughter his son Ismail (peace be upon him). So it is through this connection of Iman and Love that in every step we take that we find inner tranquillity (of the heart) and peace (salam). When we experience Allah ta’ala in this way then we see the Ihsan of Allah and how it has been made available to us and this we see this with our hearts.
In this state of illumination we become grateful (shakirin) for the blessings of Allah ta’ala and this gratitude resonates in our hearts and in our deeds (wa qalbihi wa fi’lihi). This brings about forbearance (sabr) in times of adversity and we then find ourselves between patience and gratitude (sabr and shukr). This is for those who have genuinely connected with the Love of Allah ta’ala and this human being sees his life here on earth as an opportunity, not to show people, but rather to come to know Allah ta’ala. This is the evolution of the spirit and of the soul. This evolution can only take place if we see ourselves as spirit (ruh) first, possessing a body and not a body possessing a ruh.