Issue 43 / July - September 2003
Love is an innate human trait. To love and to be loved are among the most basic human needs. But while love is probably our greatest source of pleasure, it also has the potential to be our greatest source of sorrow. When thinking about love, one cannot help but ask: "Can we love without experiencing pain or suffering as a consequence?" In this article, we will look at an answer to this important question.
As love is an innate need, we love delicious foods and fruits; our parents, spouse, children, friends, and companions; pious people, Prophets, and saints; life and youth; the season of spring, beautiful things, and the world. When all of these things and people either abandon us, due to their absence, whether temporary or permanent, or cause us to suffer, due to their own sufferings (e.g., illness, death, old age) that touch our hearts, we cannot help but ask: "Since I cannot stop myself from loving them, can I love them in a way that will not cause me any pain?" Is there a recipe for painless love?
By means of the will, love's face may turn from one object of love to another. For example, when a beloved displays some ugliness or shows that he or she is a veil or mirror to another beloved, who is truly worthy of love, then love's face may be turned from the metaphorical beloved to the true beloved.
Recipe for painless love
Love may cause pain due to one's separation from the beloved, the beloved's decline, or the beloved's lack of response. In order to experience painless love, then, the subject of our love must be everlasting, immune to decline, and sure to respond. Only God, Who is eternal and everlasting, does not decline, and always answers our love for Him, has these attributes.
Therefore, the recipe for painless love is to dedicate our true love to God and to love everything for His sake. It is unreasonable to expect a person not to love that which he or she loves. But it is possible to love them for God Almighty's sake and in the name of His Love? Let's consider some examples:
Love of delicious food
The love of delicious food and luscious fruit can be changed to a love for God's sake by seeing them as the bounties of God Almighty, the All-Merciful and Compassionate One. In this way, our love for them becomes a love of His Names, the All-Merciful and the Bestower of Bounties. Moreover, it takes on the meaning of thanks. Such love seeks gain contentedly within the sphere what is permissible, thereby showing that it is both for the sake of the instinctual soul and in the name of the All-Merciful One. It is to enjoy something thoughtfully and with gratitude.
Love of parents
Love and respect for one's parents, for the sake of the Divine Wisdom and Mercy that compassionately entrusted you to them and caused them to bring you up with tender care, pertain to God Almighty's love. The sign that this love, respect, and compassion are for God's sake is that when they are old, useless, and troublesome, we become even more loving, kind, and compassionate toward them. The Qur'anic verse: Your Lord has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to your parents. Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in your care, never say to them a single word of contempt, nor rebuke them, but speak to them kind words (17:23), exemplifies this attitude. Being kind to parents also is mentioned in Qur'an 2:83, 2:215, 4:36, 6:151, 17:23-24, 19:14, 19:32, 29:8, 31:14, 46:15, and 71:28.
God's Unity and not associating any partners with Him is the Qur'an's most important message. Yet in the Qur'an 2:83, 6:151, 17:23, 31:14, treating one's parents with kindness is ordered right after this most important principle. This demonstrates how important our parents' rights are, and how ugly it would be to show any ingratitude to them.
Parents deserve their children's utmost love and compassion. A father desires that his children, more than anyone else, be much better than himself. Furthermore, the children cannot claim any rights over their father. In other words, there is no inherent cause for dispute between parents and children, for disputes arise from envy and jealousy, neither of which the father feels toward his children. Or they arise from an abuse of rights, and the children are not in a position to claim any rights against their father. If a father does not fulfill his responsibilities or if he abuses his children it may not be reasonable to expect the children to be respectful of his behavior. But this does not necessitate rebellion in other affairs nor does it justify showing disrespect. Under such circumstances, the children can still obey their father in manners approved by God and pray for him.
Even more importantly, the mother deserves the highest degree of everyone's love and respect. In an authenticated prophetic tradition, Prophet Muhammad says: "Paradise lies beneath the feet of mothers" (Ahmad, Nasai). It is also reported in the prophetic tradition that a man came to the Prophet and said, 'O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?' The Prophet said: 'Your mother.' The man said, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your mother.' The man further asked, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your mother.' The man asked again, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your father.' (Bukhari, Muslim).
Love of children
The love and protection of children with complete compassion and tenderness pertain to God when we see them as gifts of the All-Compassionate and Generous One. The sign indicating that this love is for Almighty God's sake is the display of patience and thankfulness when they die, rather than crying out in despair. It is to say: "He/she was a lovable little person created and owned by my Creator, Who entrusted him/her to my supervision. Now that His wisdom requires it to be thus, He has taken him/her from me ... to a better place. If I had one apparent share in that little person, 1,000 true shares belonged to his/her Creator." It is to submit by saying: "All authority is with God."
Love of friends
As for friends and acquaintances, if they are friends of God Almighty due to their belief and good works, according to the meaning of "love for God's sake," that love also pertains to God.
Love of spouse
Love between spouses is for God's sake when it is not conditioned on transient attributes. A husband loves and cherishes his wife as a companionable and gracious gift of Divine Mercy. He does not fasten his love to her physical beauty, which swiftly fades. Rather, a woman's most attractive and agreeable beauty is her fine character, which accompanies her unique delicacy and refinement.
Her most precious and sweet beauty is her earnest, sincere, sublime, and luminous compassion. This beautiful tenderness and fine character continues and increases until the end of her life. Moreover, that weak and delicate person's rights of respect are protected by that love. Otherwise, she will lose her rights when her superficial beauty fades, a time when she most needs them.
Similarly, a wife loves her husband not for his looks, strength, or wealth, as these are only transient things. Instead she loves him as her everlasting companion in the garden of Paradise, and as a compassionate partner in this world who sacrifices his time, energy, and wealth for his family's well-being.
Love of pious people
Our love of the Prophets and saints as God Almighty's most esteemed servants is for His sake and in His Name, and not for their persons. In this form, it pertains to Him. Such love, if not done for God's sake, may cause us to turn them into idols.
Love of life and youth
Our love of life is for God's sake when we love and preserve life as the most precious wealth and capital that will gain us a happy eternal life. We see life as a comprehensive treasury yielding eternal perfections, something that Almighty God has given to us and to all humanity. When we employ our time, which is what life is made of, in His service, our love of life pertains to the True Object of Worship. Similarly, our love of youth becomes a painless love when we see it as a fine, sweet, and beautiful bounty of Almighty God and put it to proper use in God's guidance.
Love of the spring and this world
Our love of the spring turns into a love of His Names when we love it thoughtfully as being the page of the subtlest and most beautiful inscriptions of Almighty God's luminous Names. In this perspective, we see the spring as the most finely adorned and glittering exhibition of the All-Wise Maker's supreme art. Similarly, our love of this world can be for God's sake when we love it as the tillage for the Hereafter, as a mirror of the Divine Names, and a missive of God Almighty. We see it as a temporary guesthouse in which we train our souls to reach spiritual heights by struggling against the carnal self's evil commands.
In short, loving for God's sake requires that we love this world and its inhabitants as indicating, like words, a meaning beyond themselves, rather than loving them just for themselves. When we see a beautiful member of creation we say: "How beautifully it has been made" instead of "How beautiful it is."
True love for God's sake does not give any opportunity for other loves to enter one's inner heart, because the inner heart is the mirror of God, the Eternally Besought One, and pertains only to Him. This love is crystallized in the following prayer: "O God, grant us love for You, and love for that which will draw us closer to You."
When it assumes this form, each type of love enumerated above gives a painless pleasure, and, in one respect, leads to an unending union. Moreover, all of them increase our love of God. Due to their connection with the Eternal One, these forms of love are feelings of gratitude and a source of pure pleasure and joy.
The parable of the apple
To understand the difference between loving something for its own sake, as opposed to loving it for its giver's sake, consider the following parable: If a mighty king were to give you an apple, there would be two types of love for that apple and two types of pleasure in it. First, you would love the apple because it is beautiful and delicious. The pleasure associated with this love is specific to, and is concerned only with the existence of, the apple. This love does not concern the king. Those who feel this kind of love, who eat the apple in the king's presence, love the apple itself and their own souls rather than the king. The king is not pleased with the type of love that nourishes the instinctual soul; in fact, he detests it. Moreover, the pleasure that the apple gives is very limited and passes quickly. After it has been eaten, only the regret of its departure remains.
The second type of love, however, acknowledges the king's favor. Those who consider the apple to be something precious, as if it were the sample and embodiment of a royal favor, show their love for their king. Moreover, the pleasure in that fruit, which is a sort of container for the favor, is far greater than the pleasure obtained from 1,000 apples. This pleasure, then, is the essence of thankfulness, and this love is a respectful love for the king.
If we love all bounties and fruits for themselves and delight in them only for the material pleasures that they yield, our love is merely love of self. Also, such pleasures are transient and bring pain. But if they are loved as favors proceeding from God's Mercy and as fruits of His Munificence, then they always remind us of their source.
When the pleasure is obtained from them with a good appetite, appreciating the degree of kindness in that Divine Munificence and Favor, then it has both the meaning of gratitude and is a pain-free pleasure. The taste of the fruit may vanish, but the Giver of the gift of fruit is eternal. The beloved may die, but the Creator and the Sustainer of every being is eternally alive. The apparent beauty may decay, but the Source of true beauty is not subject to decay.
The recipe for painless love, then, is to direct our love away from transient things and toward the Eternal One, and to love everything else in His sake. The thirteenth-century Turkish mystic poet Yunus Emre expressed this paradigm concisely in his poem: "We love the creation because of the Creator."
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' Emre, Y., K. Helminski, R. Algan, E. Helminski trans. The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre. Shambhala Publications: 1999.
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' Siddiqi, A. H., trans. Sahih Muslim. Kitab Bhavan: 2000.
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' Nursi, S. "The 32nd Word," The Words. Kaynak A.S.: 1997.