Have you ever fallen in love with someone from the opposite gender? Did you feel free to let other people know about your feelings or did you suddenly have to struggle with keeping them a secret? How did your close family member(s) or friend(s) react when they came to know?
Falling in love is not always a pleasant experience. Love, especially for the opposite gender is often deemed evil or dangerous by traditional social mores. Parents and elderly relatives cringe uncomfortably upon hearing the word. They try to dismiss it, or threaten their teens with severe punishment if they even think about it.As a result, society lives in perpetual denial and lives in the illusion that such ‘forbidden’ love does not exist and will never enter into the minds of their youths.
The fact that love is highly stigmatized makes it difficult or almost impossible for youngsters to admit having experienced it, let alone express their love. They constantly suppress it to avoid tension and being frowned upon by society.
Muslim society too is not spared from this phenomenon. The term “love” seems to have been interchanged with immorality, indecency, illicit sexual conducts and disgrace. Some people go to one extreme by harshly criticizing anyone who dares to openly bring up the issue and thus stereotype the young generation without first trying to understand their circumstances.
What is love?
Love per se is innocent. An ordinary dictionary defines it as ‘an intense feeling of deep affection/ warmth/ fondness/ sense of attachment’. By itself, love does not cause any harm; rather it is a positive attitude. The problem, however, starts when the meaning of love is distorted or contaminated by foreign elements. Ask an ordinary youth to define love and you may find their perception totally misguided.
Movies, songs and the media today have unfortunately hijacked the notion of love and cruelly deceived the young generation into believing that love is all about free intermingling between men and women, chemistry, adventures, romance, premarital sex, Valentine’s Day and other shallow occasions. This philosophy has become so deep-rooted that without all these, true and real love does not seem to be possible.
What society and youngsters are oblivious to is the difference between pure love and lust (desires). Hollywood movies and songs have somewhat successfully erased the demarcating line between the two and caused terrible confusion in today’s young generation. Youths today have been indoctrinated with the ‘love = lust’ equation. They no longer perceive lust as a temporary desire and love as a commitment; rather they see love as instant self-gratification with all the brief moments of excitement. Hence they ask: Without sexual titillation, how can love spark?
Islam purifies love by gently addressing the humans’ hearts. In Islam, love between humans is good, not evil. Love between a man and a woman is not summarily regarded as sinful and condemned. In fact, there are innumerable verses and hadiths saying that there must be love and compassion between Muslims, men or women. The nature of this love however, is more comprehensive and noble.
Love in Islam is based on faith alone and nothing else. Physical beauty, wealth, speech eloquence or intelligence does not play a role in dictating love. When the foundation is faith and love for God, that ‘intense feeling of deep affection’ becomes unique; one loves solely for the benefit of the beloved. He or she does not expect anything in return or wishes for any of their parochial interests. This is the ultimate feature of true love.
Having understood the concept of love from the Islamic perspective, it can be safely said that any love that may exist between a man and a woman is not always forbidden. This kind of love may or may not lead to marriage. As love is a matter of heart and the heart is in Allah’s hands alone, a person will not be penalized for loving. In fact, to love is simply human. It is his or her actions and how he/she manages the feeling that will be subjected to questioning.
Islam with all its mercy and compassion has set guidelines in this matter in order to protect the well-being of humans. The prescriptions in the Quran and hadiths are mostly preventive in nature; the Quran says ‘do not approach zina (adultery or illicit sexual conducts)’ instead of ‘do not commit adultery’. This is because, for every calamity or problem that occurs, there will be signs and symptoms beforehand.
Love is not prohibited in Islam
Love for the opposite gender is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran or hadeeth as being sinful or punishable. The holy verses instead condemn the actions which happen as a consequence of an uncontrollable desire. The key, therefore, is not to abolish love or shun this feeling, but to wisely manage it and channel it to the proper direction.
The Shaytan(devil) on the other hand, is always waiting for an opportunity to strike. Shaytan mischievously ‘beautifies’ and ‘glorifies’ this feeling of ‘love’, whispers ideas into the person’s head to weaken his faith and morality, exaggerates the vulnerability within his heart and makes the person eventually helpless and succumb to his desires.
One beautiful aspect of Islamic teachings is that any inner struggle (mujaahadah an-nafs) is considered a form of jihad (striving for good causes). It is one of the highest acts and Allah has promised immense rewards for those who are successful in fighting their desires. This notion of mujaahadah clearly points to the fact that being weak and susceptible to temptations, humans sometimes cannot avoid thinking of, or wanting to commit, sinful deeds despite their best efforts to remain sincere. This is not because they are bad or despicable. It is because they are humans.
God acknowledges this shortcoming and does not declare this hidden weakness a sin, rather encourages humans to fight it. He teaches us the real concept of love, and provides proper channels for men to express and realize their love for the opposite gender.
The marital institution as sanctioned by God sends a clear message to humans that love is a lifelong commitment, not a means of satisfying temporary desires. The rules of the Quran like lowering of gaze, adhering to a decent dress code, avoiding unnecessary intermingling between men and women and speaking in an honorable manner are all stipulated to keep the definition of ‘love’ pure and uncontaminated, and preserve the chastity of humans especially youngsters.
Muslim society now holds the burden of having to educate the young generation in their pursuit of love. Turning a blind eye to pretend that the ‘forbidden’ form of love does not exist, or suppressing youths from expressing themselves may not help. This vibrant, energetic group has to be nurtured well and instilled with the right understanding of love based on faith in God. If this is understood and grasped, all other problems become secondary. The youths also need to be equipped with essential life skills so that they will be able to channel this feeling to the right direction and communicate with the opposite gender the right way.
Do not feel bad if you love, for to love is human. If you understand the pure concept of love, it can be a positive experience for you instead of that awkward feeling of confusion, guilt and sadness. Do not question that feeling, rather be cautious about a distorted idea that you may have about love.
Be honest with yourself if temptations begin to set in, and be reminded that fighting against worldly enticements is a commendable act. Control your love relationship with the opposite gender, and do not be controlled by your base desire before marriage. If you are sincere to seek the truth, God will show you the way.
First published: February 2015