“By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another.”
—Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him (Tirmidhi)
Years ago I was visiting a Muslim woman I’d met, and she shared the difficult relationship she had with her uncle. Other than the woman herself, her uncle was the only person in her Christian family who’d converted to Islam. During my visit, the sister lamented how despite their shared faith, she and her uncle had frequent disagreements about what Islamic spirituality meant and how the faith should be lived.
At the end of one particularly distressing argument, she sought to make peace by telling her uncle how much he meant to her, so she said, “I love you for the sake of Allah.” This utterance seemed to aggravate him more than the troubling conversation itself.
“You love me for the sake of Allah?” he said bitterly, repeating the last words in disgust. “If you love me ‘for the sake of Allah’, then you don’t love me.” Then he angrily walked away from her.
What Is ‘Love for the Sake of Allah’?
One day a man was sitting with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) when another man passed. The sitting one said, “O Messenger of Allah! I love this man.” The Prophet said, “Have you told him?” The man said, “No.” The Prophet said, “Tell him.” The man then rose to his feet and went to the man who was passing by and said, “I love you for the sake of Allah.” He said [in return], “May the One for whom you love me, love you” (Abu Dawud and Al-Tirmidhi).
In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “On the Day of Judgment, Allah will say, ‘Where are those who loved one another for My glory? Today I will shade them in My shade on the Day when there is no shade but Mine’” (Muslim).
At the time that the sister shared the story of her conversation with her uncle, I’d never really thought much about the difference between saying only, “I love you” and adding the phrase “…for the sake of Allah.” And given that in front of Allah, both were acceptable expressions of love for someone, I didn’t give it much thought.
Whether someone said merely, “I love you,” or extended their expression of love by saying, “I love you for the sake of Allah,” seemed more of a personal preference at the moment than anything significant emotionally or spiritually. However, when I’d first begun my studies of Islamic spirituality and principles, I did find the added phrase a bit perplexing, but in a magnificent, beautiful way.
Initially, I didn’t fully grasp what “love for the sake of Allah” meant (if that’s at all possible), but I do recall how the phrase touched a deep part of my heart. In hearing the declaration, “I love you for the sake of Allah,” I sensed that I’d happened upon the expression of a heartfelt, soul-nourishing bond that was deeper and more meaningful than any of the transient love we felt in this world. It was a love that transcended this worldly life and became only more magnified and deeply felt when we received the glad tidings of an everlasting abode of Paradise in the Hereafter (Yaa Rabb! We beg You to grant us this honor!).
Discovering Soul-Nourishing Love
Recently, the conversation between the sister and her uncle came to my mind as I was navigating a difficult emotional moment and speaking to myself with self-compassion through my tears and hurting heart. Then I thought of something profound that the artist and activist Khalil Ismail had said some time ago and that someone recently re-posted on social media: “If Allah says it’s okay, I have no opinion about it.”
Initially, the two memories didn’t seem to connect. Until I realized that so much of the pain I was navigating was due to the repeated emotional triggers I battled, specifically whenever I found myself in the company of my brothers and sisters in faith who had yet another opinion about something that Allah had already clarified through the Qur’an and prophetic teachings. Yet they were committed to using their own feelings, convictions and opinions to shame and humiliate anyone who violated their manmade behavior codes. This was particularly the case if anyone’s enjoyment of the halaal mercies of their Lord in their personal life looked different from what these Muslims preferred for themselves in theirs.
That was when I understood just how deeply loving it was to discipline the heart and then the tongue to submit to the Creator’s guidance on every single matter in this world, no matter how big or small it seemed to us. This discipline of the heart and tongue was the very essence of emaan (true faith) for the sincere believer, regardless of whether or not we understood why our Lord, Al-Hakeem (The Most Wise), had permitted such-and-such and forbidden something else.
In reminding us of this, our Lord the Most High says what has been translated to mean, “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error” (Al-Ahzaab, 33:36).
Given this divine description of the true believing heart, it was no wonder that I, as well as so many other believing souls, was constantly hurt when in the company of those who professed Islam but continuously punished and humiliated believers for obeying Allah instead of their manmade behavior codes. In this, it was as if they were effectively telling us that whenever they decided a matter, we should have no option in their decision.
So it became clear that experiencing true soul-nourishing love in these environments was simply not possible. That’s why the sentiment, “If Allah says it’s okay, I have no opinion about it,” was an expression of true love—instead of spiritual hypocrisy overtaking the heart.
Spiritual Hypocrisy Amidst Claims of Faith
It is unfortunate that despite our claims of belief in Allah’s timeless merciful guidance, so many of us fall into the hypocrisy of professing emaan on our tongues yet approving of only our halaal choices (or those we like or approve of). Meanwhile we reject or speak disparagingly about anyone else’s halaal choices (or those we dislike or disapprove of).
In the Qur’an, our All-Knowing, All-Wise Creator describes this human tendency so perfectly when He says what has been translated to mean:
“And when they are called to Allah (i.e. His Words, the Qur’an) and His Messenger to judge between them, behold, a party of them refuse and turn away. But if the right is with them, they come to him willingly with submission.
“Is there a disease in their hearts? Or do they doubt or fear lest Allah and His Messenger should wrong them in judgment? Nay, it is they themselves who are the wrongdoers.
“The only saying of the faithful believers, when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them, is that they say, ‘We hear and we obey.’ And such are the prosperous ones (who will live forever in Paradise)” (An-Noor, 24:48-51).
Once, the Companion Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “None of you has [true] faith until his desires comply with what I have brought” (al-Sunnah li-Ibn Abī ‘Āṣim 14, Sahih by Al-Nawawi).
The Spiritual Hypocrisy of Human Love
Often when I feel saddened or distressed about the lack of true love amongst many Muslims, I’m reminded of something that a friend of mine and I used to say. Whenever we encountered Muslims seeking to make fellow believers feel bad for doing something that they disliked but that our Creator permitted, we’d say, “If Allah didn’t forbid it, there’s a reason for that. We need to remember this.”
In recalling this, my hurting heart calmed, as I understood not only the source of my pain, but also the source of its healing: You need to surround yourself with those who truly and sincerely love you for the sake of Allah—instead of those who love you only for the sake of their ailing souls and unhealed emotional wounds.
This latter group was a people who often claimed that true love was “unconditional” and thus required no conditions or agendas. Yet they showed not the least bit of love or compassion when someone did not fulfill their own selfish conditions and agendas. Though their utterance of “I love you” felt genuine and sincere to their own unhealed hearts, the false sting of their “love” was felt by anyone who did not adhere to their personal code-book of how life should be lived.
In their world of false love, if you made a single choice in your personal or spiritual life that irritated their unhealed wounds or incited their spiritual insecurities, they genuinely imagined that you’d done something wrong, unwise, or unacceptable in front of Allah.
Whether it was wearing full hijab or niqaab, following a fiqh view on music that they detested, getting a divorce when they felt you should stay married, or choosing polygyny or entering an intercultural marriage; the “unconditional love” they claimed on their tongues became rife with endless conditions when their ailing hearts were disturbed. Then they demanded that even your love for your Creator must adhere to their fleeting feelings, emotional wounding, and spiritual hypocrisy.
If you attempted to remind them that your personal choice was divinely permitted or blessed by Allah, they accused you of twisting Islam for your own selfish purposes, or of “following your desires.” Meanwhile, they never considered the very real possibility that they themselves were doing this very thing—by denying your divinely granted right to choose from the very halaal options and mercies that they themselves freely enjoyed in their own lives.
Realizing all of this was when I understood where the sister’s uncle had gone terribly wrong in saying, “If you love me ‘for the sake of Allah’, then you don’t truly love me.”
In reality, true love was the opposite of what he’d proclaimed: If you don’t love someone for the sake of Allah, then you don’t love them at all.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
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