‘It is better for the Lover to be in a state of complete engrossment in his Beloved than to be in a state characterised by any limitation. Love, as such, cannot be described or defined by any clear and understandable description or definition.’ [Al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism, pg.127]
Unlike the transactional geist of the conventional world, love is beyond the boundaries of our logic. Love does not ‘play’ by normative rules—its reality overflows from this realm into another, returning to whence it came. Those observing as outsiders may perceive the affair to be a strange and senseless one, but love does not reside in the parameters of the ordinary. In particular, that love which is Divine and pure—the highest form of love.
‘Ilm ne mujh se kaha ‘ishq hai diwana-pan
‘Ishq ne mujh se kaha ‘ilm hai takhmin-o zann
Knowledge said to me, Love is madness
Love said to me, Knowledge is just calculation (Dr. Muhammad Iqbal)
The effulgence of love knows no end or separation. It does not differentiate but connects and unites. Having understood this, we should know that love for the Beloved of Allah ﷺ is not separate from the love of Allah Almighty. Notions that seek to differentiate the two, whether intended or not, betray a misunderstanding of the nature of love and Faith proper. When we begin to study the Qur’an and Hadith, we learn that this indeed is the ultimate false dichotomy.
Let us ask ourselves, what even is Faith (iyman)?
We may say that it is to believe in Allah Almighty, His Angels, His Books, His Prophets and other credal tenets which are commonly affirmed in the declaratory testifications. However, if we were to examine these further, we would see that Faith in more succinct terms is to affirm everything that the Prophet ﷺ came with. This means that to be considered a Muslim, a person must wholeheartedly assent to whatever the Messenger of Allah ﷺ brought forth, which includes every law and tenet of the unknown (ghayb), regardless of whether he knows their intricate details or not. That it has been conveyed by the ‘The Truthful’ one sent by Allah to all mankind is sufficient for the Muslim—we simply ‘hear and obey.’
This is why Imam al-Shafi’i (d.204/820), in describing his Faith, is reported to have said: “I believe in Allah and all that has come from Allah as He intended it, and I believe in the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and all that has come from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as he intended it.” [Fath al-Bari, 10:595]
Imam Ahmad Rida Khan (d.1340/1921) was also asked what Faith is, and so he replied:
“To believe in everything that the Prophet ﷺ said as true and to believe in his ﷺ truthfulness from the depths of one’s heart is Faith. Whoever accepts this, we will consider him to be a Muslim, so long as any of his words, actions or behaviour do not reject, deny or disrespect Allah Almighty or His Messenger ﷺ.
As for those who prioritise their relationship with Allah Almighty and His Messenger ﷺ over all others, they will love those beloved to Allah and His Messenger ﷺ, even if that person be a personal enemy, and they will hate all those who oppose Allah and His Messenger ﷺ even if they be a piece of their own hearts.” [Al-Fatawa Al-Ridawiyyah, 29:252]
It is worth reflecting on the experience of the Companions in this regard. They encountered the Prophet ﷺ and brought faith in him, being mesmerised by his ﷺ pristine character, truthfulness and honesty. They recognised that he is none other than the Final Messenger ﷺ of Allah – aided with extraordinary miracles – who has been sent to turn people away from the darknesses of idolatry and to guide them towards the light of pure monotheism. For the Companions, (and all Muslims in general), the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the proof for Allah. He is ﷺ their most sublime evidence for the majestic existence of God. Therefore, there was no separation or distinction between faith in Allah and faith in His Prophet ﷺ — for one led to the other.
Such unitary Faith was exemplified by the Companions such that when the Prophet ﷺ would command them to do anything, they would accept it without hesitation since what he ﷺ uttered was but Divine Inspiration: ﴾He does not speak of his own desires. It is but revelation revealed.﴿ [Al-Najm 53:3]
Consider instances in which the Prophet ﷺ granted the Companions ‘exceptional’ concessions to the general rule, and yet not an objection was raised as to where the Prophet ﷺ gained the authority to do so; for they knew that the command of the Prophet ﷺ is in fact the Command of Allah. In his ﷺ pleasure lies Allah’s pleasure, and in Allah’s pleasure is the Messenger’s ﷺ pleasure — ﴾So We shall surely turn you to a direction that will please you﴿ [Al-Baqarah 2:144]
Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an: ﴾Indeed, we have sent you [O Prophet] as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings and a harbinger. So that you [O people] may  believe in Allah and His Messenger, and that you  honour him and respect him, and that you  glorify your Lord in the morning and evening.﴿ [Al-Fath 48:9]
If we analyse the above verse, we see that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent to mankind by Allah for the following reasons:
- To believe in Allah Almighty and His Messenger ﷺ
- To honour and respect the Messenger ﷺ
- To worship and glorify Allah Almighty
Observe the meticulous order of the Holy Qur’an. Belief is mentioned first, worship is mentioned last, whilst honouring the Prophet ﷺ is mentioned between the two.
This is a subtle allusion to the fact that the Prophet ﷺ is the means and intermediary by which people come to know and bear Faith in Allah – for without him ﷺ, we would not know Him – and that it is through his ﷺ teachings that we know how to worship. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Pray as you see me pray.” [Bukhari §5662]
In other words, bearing Faith and worshipping Allah in any form other than the Muhammadan form is fundamentally contradictory to Islam.
Moreover, in the qualitative sense, honour and reverence for the Prophet ﷺ represent the link between worship and Faith, since the more one increases in loving and honouring him ﷺ, the more he will worship Allah and the stronger his Faith will be.
In light of this, it becomes evident that the Qur’anic understanding is that a believer’s love for the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is not in contradiction to the love of Allah Almighty. Rather, they are inextricably linked to one another.
Thus, to prop Faith and love as dichotomous relations that separate between Allah and the Prophet ﷺ is a trait of disbelievers and hypocrites, just as Allah Almighty says: ﴾Indeed, those who deny Allah and His Messengers, and seek to make a distinction between Allah and His Messengers…﴿ [Al-Nisa’: 4:150] That is, that they believe in Him and not them. [Tafsir Jalalayn p.102]
This faithful love prompts one to the servitude of Allah, though this is achieved only through the Prophet’s ﷺ teachings, his life, and his Sunnah. This is one of the wisdoms as to why Allah sends Prophets to people in the first place. Otherwise, without Prophetic guidance, we would not know how to worship Allah and express our servitude to Him. Allah Almighty says: ﴾Say, if you love Allah then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.﴿ [Al Imran 3:31]
The revered Tabi’i from the generations of the Salaf, Imam Hasan al-Basri (d.110/729), explained why the above verse of the Qur’an was revealed. He said: “There were people in the time of the Prophet ﷺ who claimed to love Allah, and so Allah put their love to the test. Those who claim to love Allah but oppose the practice of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, then the Qur’an itself belies him.” [Madarik al-Tanzil, 1:249]
To stress the necessity of following the Prophet ﷺ as an outcome of true love, reflect on the words of the Damascene exegete, Ibn Kathir (d.774/1373):
“This verse is decisive against those who claim to love Allah Almighty but are not on the Muhammadan Path for they are false in their claim in reality. [That is], until they follow the Muhammadan Law and the Prophetic Religion in all their words, actions and behaviours. […] This is why Allah Almighty said: ﴾Say, if you love Allah then follow me, Allah will love you…﴿ [Al Imran 3:31] That is, you will acquire more than you sought in [proving] your love for Him, and that is His love for you, which is greater than the first. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 2:32]
Note the subtle point here that Ibn Kathir makes. It is one thing to claim your love for Allah, another to exert effort into substantiating that love, and something else altogether which is the real and ultimate love that Allah has for you—and this final love, the pleasure of Allah, is only obtained as stated, by emulating the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Sahl al-Tustari (d.283/896) said: “The sign for loving Allah is love for the Qur’an; and the sign of loving the Qur’an is love for the Prophet ﷺ.” [Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, 8:487]
Our love for the Prophet ﷺ does not take away from our love for Allah but it only serves to increase it—as does love for Allah increase love for the Prophet ﷺ. Therefore, presenting their love as mutually exclusive reveals a severe misunderstanding. Love for Allah and His Messenger ﷺ, God forbid, is not a zero-sum game.
It is related that Abu Sa’id al-Kharraz (d.286/899) said: “In a dream, I saw the Prophet ﷺ and asked him: ‘O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, excuse me, for my love of Allah has distracted me from loving you!’ He ﷺ exclaimed: ‘O shortsighted one! Whoever loves Allah Almighty loves me [as well]!’” [Al-Risalah Al-Qushayriyyah, p.360]
Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyyah al-Ansari (d.926/1520) explains: “This is because when someone loves the Beloved, they also love all those whom the Beloved loves. So, if you were granted true understanding, then you would also love me deeply because I am the beloved of the Beloved.” [Nata’ij Al-Afkar 4:177]
We begin to get a much clearer understanding in light of the above two quotes—that loving one is never at the expense of the other, but rather it is the wondrous nature of love that the ‘two loves’ interlink and in reality, are but one.
On this point, Mustafa al-Arusi (d.1293/1876), the successor of al-Bajuri (d.1276/1860) for the seat of Shaykh al-Azhar, writes: “Whoever claims to love Allah Almighty but it preoccupies him from loving the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, then his claim is false and his state is presumptuous. How, when it is the gnosis of Allah which fosters love for Him, and this love is not without a means? As Allah Almighty clearly states: ﴾Say, if you love Allah then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.﴿ [Al Imran: 3:31] and thus the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is the greatest cause of instilling love for Allah inside the hearts of those who love Him.” [Nata’ij Al-Afkar 4:177]
It is thus surprising to see those who most vocally claim to champion the cause of pure monotheism grossly misunderstand these accordant loves to be conflicting and at tension — for ‘Tawhid’ (‘to make one’), as the verbal noun suggests, is to see but Him and His Glorious Names in all their resplendent beauty. Witnessing harmony in these forms of love – the love of Allah and His Prophet ﷺ – is to grasp both the Self-transcendence of Allah as well as His Immanence in the refulgence of the Divine Names in him ﷺ.
Reflect over the secret of Divine Love; that the love for Allah and the love of His Beloved ﷺ are mutually intertwined and inseparable. Those of weak hearts deem love as a finite resource, and so they insist that it must be divided, allocated and used according to a utilitarian logic yielding the most benefit. If such a basic and flawed understanding was taken to its logical conclusion, then it would mean that we should never love anyone in any capacity whatsoever, since all our love ought to be reserved for Allah alone. Sure, this is true in the sense that all resulting loves are downstream from the fundamental love of the Divine, but in error if understood to mean that it is at the expense of all else, for we have been told to love our Muslim kin, families, neighbours, and every creation of Allah, to the extent that the Prophet ﷺ declared about himself that: “None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his child, his parent and all mankind.” [Bukhari, §15]
The heart is able to harbour these loves as reconciled with the love of Allah because they are not contraries, such that the love of one would preclude the love for the other. More precisely, they are wholly compatible because one is causally derived from the other, whilst the other is often the epistemological origin for the former. So, in engrossing oneself in the Beloved ﷺ, one marvels and celebrates the praises of his Lord, and in engrossing oneself in the remembrance of Allah, one loves all that points and signifies to Him—and there is none who is the premium locus of the Divine Gaze than the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
And thus concluding, Imam al-’Ayni (d.855/1451) writes in his renowned commentary of al-Bukhari’s Sahih: “Love for him is the very essence (‘ayn) of Faith; were it not for him then Faith itself would not be known.” [‘Umdat al-Qari, 1:58]
Allah ki sar ta ba qadam sha’n hain ye
In sa nahi insan woh insan hain ye
Qur’an toh iyman batata hai inhey
Iyman ye kehta hai ke meri jaan hain ye
From head to toe, he is the glory of Allah!
No human like him, he is that human —
The Qur’an declares that: He is faith itself
Whilst Faith itself says, ‘My very soul – it is he!’ (Imam Ahmad Rida Khan)
Share this article: