Allah has commanded all believers to love the Prophet. However, can a sinner claim to have love for him? What about someone who justifies their bad deeds in the name of love?
Love of the Prophet & Disobedience
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, said, “None of you believe until I am more beloved to him than his parent, child, and all people.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Love of the Prophet is a fundamental requirement in Islam that no Muslim is devoid of in some measure. Every individual who has truly acknowledged the Prophet as the final messenger sent by God to humankind, seldom fails to discover some element of this love in himself at particular moments. The degree and intensity of this love varies between people due to various factors. The tradition mentioned above has been commonly understood as a reference to the perfection of one’s faith and belief. In other words, no one has perfected their belief until the Prophet is more beloved to him than all of creation.
What is Love?
Love is a terribly difficult reality to describe. Imam al-Qushayri stated that it cannot be “defined by any clear and understandable description or definition” due to its complex nature. (al-Risala) Generally, love is identified as a feeling of the heart that draws an individual to some object of affection that is found to be pleasing and agreeable. Being a matter of the heart, it is easy for a person to believe that he possesses love and lay claim to it. Indeed, all people lay claim to love, but as the poet said:
Each person claims to have united with Layla
But Layla does not acknowledge this for any of them.
In the same vein, Imam al-Ghazali warns that it is necessary for a person to avoid being deluded by the Devil and the self (nafs) when it comes to claiming love of God and His Prophet. Rather, love is akin to a good tree whose roots are firmly in the ground, its branches in the sky, and its fruits manifest on the heart, tongue, and limbs. In other words, any claim to love must be tested in light of specific signs and proofs to see if it is true. (al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ʿUlum al-Din)
Signs of True Love: Following the Prophet (blessings upon him)
Qadi Iyad mentions the signs that manifest in an individual whose love for the Prophet (blessings upon him) is true as opposed to a mere claim. These include:
- Following the Prophet in his words and actions, submitting to his commands and steering clear from what he prohibited, and letting oneself be guided by his moral example.
- Giving preference to the shariʿa brought by him over one’s own passions and desires.
- One’s anger against others being only for the sake of God’s pleasure.
- Mentioning and remembering him often.
- Yearning to meet him.
- Exalting the Prophet (blessings upon him) when he is mentioned and displaying humility upon hearing his noble name.
- Loving those whom the Prophet (blessings upon him) loved and hating those who display enmity towards them. Avoiding those who undermine his sunna and innovate in the religion.
- Having love for the Qur’an.
- Having compassion for the community of the Prophet, giving them sincere counsel, and striving for their best interests. (al-Shifa’)
From the aforementioned signs, it is obedience to the Prophet and following his sunna that constitute the core of love and the clearest sign that it is true. Abu ʿAli al-Rudhabari said, “Love means compliance,” while Sahl al-Tustari said, “Love means to embrace obedience and parts ways with disobedience.” (al-Qushayri, al-Risala)
Qadi Iyad mentiones that one of the signs of love for the Prophet is letting oneself be guided his moral example. Similarly, Imam al-Junayd stated that love is “the substitution of the attributes of the lover for those of the beloved.” (Ibid) In other words, the true lover is one whose heart burns so passionately for his beloved that he divests himself of his own attributes. He wishes to be like his beloved in his inward and outward state.
The evidence for this is found in the Qur’an, where love is associated with obedience and submission. In one well-known verse, the Prophet says, “If you love God, follow me.” (3:31) This verse was said to have been revealed in response to a people who claimed that they loved God. The Prophet was commanded by God to tell these people that if their claim was to be beleived, they would submit to God and His command to love and follow the Prophet.
Similarly, it is related that one of the companions approached the Prophet (blessings upon him) and stated, “You are more beloved to me than my child, family, wealth, and even my own self.” He then wept and when asked by the Prophet (blessings upon him) what caused this sadness, he replied, “I remembered that you will pass away and so will we, then you will be raised with the prophets, and if we enter Paradise, we will be lower than you.”
God then revealed the following verse, “Whoever obeys God and the Messenger will be among those He has blessed: the messengers, the truthful, those who bear witness to the truth, and the righteous- what excellent companions these are.” (4:69) In this Qur’anic verse, it is not simply a feeling of love alone that unites a believer with the Prophet (blessings upon him) in the next life but actual obedience to him.
Sinners May Be Lovers but Sin Never Arises from Love
Love is a powerful emotion, and it is also one required of all believers in their relationship with God and His Prophet. The combination of these two elements makes love a potent tool in the hands of the Devil. Disbelievers may be driven to commit sinful actions out of an actual hatred for God and His Prophet. However, a Muslim may be driven to such behavior because it is cloaked in the guise of prophetic love. The very real passion and attachment the believer possesses for the Prophet is, therefore, a means by which he may be exploited. Indeed, the self and the Devil often trap the religious through religion itself by justifying sin as being an expression of faith. This is nothing but deception and delusion.
The Islamic tradition has a word for this: hawa, or caprice. If love is an inclination towards the truth, caprice is often used to refer to an inclination towards falsehood: “Do not follow capricious desire (hawa) for it will lead you astray from the path of God.” (38:26) Sin is a result of caprice, not love, even if the former may feel like the latter. The signs of love are clear. They are submitting to the Prophet, while every act that contravenes his noble way is from capricious desire. “None of you truly believes until his desires are subservient to what I have brought.” (al-Nawawi, al-Arbaʿin)
For a person to couch sin in the language of love is falling into the trap of the Devil. It minimises the gravity of sin and asserts a connection with the Prophet that does not exist. Indeed, anyone professing love for someone is forwarding an enormous claim as Imam al-Ghazali states. Thus, Fudayl ibn ʿIyad is reported to have said:
If you are asked, “Do you love God?” then remain silent. For if you reply in the negative, you have disbelieved. And if you reply in the affirmative, the attributes of true lovers are not found in you. So avoid being the object of detestation. (al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ʿUlum al-Din)
Similarly, it is related that some people were discussing love in the presence of Dhu’l Nun al-Misri. He exclaimed, “Refrain from this matter. If your selves fail to understand it properly, they might lay claims to it.” (al-Qushayri, al-Risala) The early Muslims were quite conscious of what it meant to declare someone the object of their love. This was especially in a religious context, where the weight of one’s claims would hang heavily in the next life. The true lovers of the Prophet (blessings upon him) were those who gave themselves completely to their beloved. Despite this recognised that all they could offer was an imperfect love. As al-Harith al-Muhasibi said:
Love means you are inclined toward someone in your entirety, then you give preference to this someone over yourself and your possessions, then you comply with his wishes openly and secretly, whereupon you acquire awareness of your love’s imperfection. (al-Qushayri, al-Risala)
A Mistaken Sense of Love
Imagine those who appeal to this love in order to explain or justify sinful actions that they or others might be engaged in. Instead of framing the issue in a false light, individuals need to be made to realise that love for the Prophet (blessings upon him) can never manifest as sin. In this way, they can recognise the true nature of their actions, repent, and make sincere emends. Indeed, people who engage in anathematising other Muslims, murder, the destruction of property, spreading corruption in the land, and other enormities, as a result of of what they view as ‘defending’ the Prophet (blessings upon him) and his honor, are in reality involved in actions that are heinous to God and His Prophet
While the actions of such people can be described as the result of a mistaken or misguided sense of love for the Prophet in an attempt to better understand their state of mind and ameliorate it, their sinful actions can never be identified as an expression of true love for the Prophet itself. To present such actions in this light is to delude oneself and others.
Those who commit sins, however, are not necessarily deemed to be completely devoid of love for the Prophet. A sinner can still be characterised as possessing love for the Prophet in a general sense despite his sins and slips. This is evidenced in the tradition of the companion who repeatedly got intoxicated. He was punished, but his love for God and the Prophet was still affirmed. (Bukhari)
There is a difference, though, between negating love entirely from a Muslim who may commit sins and between identifying love as underpinning a specific act of sin. In the former, al-Ghazali indicates that the basic feeling of love that all Muslims are said to be characterised with as believers in God and the Prophet. But the moment one is engaged in sin, such love has been corrupted and discarded in favor of one’s own desires. In such situations, the obligation of sincere counsel (nasiha) requires that a person be told in no uncertain terms that his actions contravene the way of the Prophet, and the more egregious the sin, the more resolutely this needs to be pointed out.
Born and raised in New York, Ustadh Salman Younas graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Political Science and Religious Studies. After studying the Islamic sciences online and with local scholars in New York, Ustadh Salman moved to Amman. There he studies Islamic law, legal methodology, belief, hadith methodology, logic, Arabic, and tafsir.
His teachers include: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Salah Abu’l Hajj, Shaykh Ashraf Muneeb, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, Shaykh Hamza Karamali, Shaykh Ahmad Snobar, Shaykh Ali Hani, Shaykh Hamza Bakri, Ustadh Rajab Harun and others.
Ustadh Salman’s personal interests include research into the fields of law/legal methodology, hadith, theology, as well as political theory, government, media, and ethics. He is also an avid traveller and book collector. He currently resides in Amman with his wife.