Imams and other Islamic religious leaders need to move away from the (too) commonly stated line (in sermons and elsewhere): “If you say you love the Prophet but do not follow all of his Sunnahs, you are fooling yourself.”
While the statement may come from a place of encouragement, it can be perceived as a way of belittling another’s love for their Prophet (God bless and grant him peace). Needless to say, it can also be construed as “talking down to people” (even if this was not the intention of the speaker).
We are all growing in our Islam in stages, and so too our love for the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace). Furthermore, I do not see any reason to necessarily assume that one’s love for the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) has become voided by falling into sin.
Rather, our love for the Messenger of God (God bless him and grant him peace) is a encouragement and inspiration for all of us to become better servants of God, despite our shortcomings. And, his message is also one of encouragement despite one’s falling short of doing everything he asked. As he stated in a rigorously authentic hadith: “What I have forbidden for you, avoid. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
I encourage our Imams and leaders to adopt a methodology of guidance which recognizes that we are all at different places in our journey to our Lord, and ask that they not doubt anyone’s love based upon what they see (or hear) of them. For there was during the time of the Messenger (God bless him and grant him peace) a companion of his who used to get drunk; despite its being made forbidden at the time.
After repeatedly falling into this sin, other companions reprimanded him harshly but our Messenger commanded them to stop and said (despite the man’s falling into open sin): “Verily, this man loves Allah and His Messenger”.
Our Messenger (God bless him and grant him peace) saw through the sin to the heart of the sinner, and saw in it love for God and His Messenger.
This is the Messenger I love…