Finding Levels of Love in the Quran

What does it mean to love? Is it that fuzzy feeling that you get when you look your spouse in the eye?

Or the calming feeling you get when you see your kids peacefully playing in the park?

Or maybe it’s something more basic, when you sit down and really enjoy the nature around you or eat an amazing meal?

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Love is one of our most complex emotions and it means a lot of different things. It is largely subjective, changing in meaning and impact depending upon the individual.

The Quran also speaks regularly about love, and the primary word for Arabic (hobb) and other terms like it are mentioned more than fifty times throughout the text.

Sometimes the word “love” comes with things that we, as humans, can relate to quite easily.

And you love wealth with immense love. (Quran 89:20)

No explanation needed there.

We all tend to love wealth and money: gaining it, keeping it, and spending it on the other material things that we want. Love here means “to be fulfilled,” which is actually closer to the classical definition in Arabic. Money fulfills our desires and wants, so therefore we “love” it.

This kind of love is often cautioned against in the Quran, as filling your heart with material needs can lead to a collapse of faith and turning away from God.

The only type of materialism that the Quran does encourage is that of spending your wealth for “doing good” and performing good acts.

2 Different Approaches of Love

Fulfilling Desires

As humans, we also feel that way about God, as completing acts of worship and doing what God and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) tell us to do, fulfills our spiritual needs in this world. That fulfillment can also be incorrectly replaced by other gods, as the Quran says:

And yet, among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals to Him. They love them as they should love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. (2:165)

Here, we see two differing approaches to the concept of “love,” even though in the Arabic the same word – hobb – is used.

The first uses of the word love in the verse follow with what we have already spoken about, the idea of fulfillment. People choose to fulfill their desires with gods other than Allah, using their idols or symbols as replacement for the Truth.

Forming a Connection

The last use of the word, “But those who believer are stronger in love for Allah,” indicates that the definition of love is a bit more complicated. Love here is a form of bond or connection, where those who believe have a stronger, more meaningful connection between themselves and what they love – God.

That connection can be positive – like to God and doing good – as well as negative. In Chapter 2, the Quran says when speaking about the necessity for fighting:

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not. (2:216)

Forming our connections, our love to things in this world, therefore, have to be done through some moral filter.

Simply relying upon fulfilling our desires or looking to the “good” things in life and doing them, is not going to help us in the end. We need to have some better goal in mind, and therefore our love, our connection, needs to be based within the boundaries of what God wants us to do.

So to sum up where we have gotten thus far, the Quranic verses that we have looked at teach us two things about love.

Firstly, it is about filling a desire in ourselves. Every single person is created with material desires, and love is what happens when we find that thing that fulfills a particular desire. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that.

At the second level, love is something that we form a connection and bond with.

Here is where we can go wrong. Fulfilling our desire and creating a connection to something bad – like hoarding wealth – is harmful. On the other hand, developing that connection to something good – like worshiping God – is beneficial.

How do we determine where the line is between “good” and “bad” love?

Through understanding how God defines it. If God finds that something is good, then we therefore should accept it as good and develop our connection and direct our “love” towards it. The opposite goes for things that are defined by God as bad.

If this is how we, as humans, understand the idea of love, what does it mean when we see in the Quran that God “loves” – or for that matter, “doesn’t love” – something? Is the meaning the same?

Think about the following verse:

Say, Obey Allah and the Messenger. But if they turn away – then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers. (3:32)

Thinking back at our previous definitions about the levels of love, does this mean that God has desires and needs to develop a connection to something that is good?

I don’t think so, as God in Islam is complete – one of His names is Al-Ghani, or the All-Sufficient, and therefore doesn’t gain any benefit or suffer detriment from our worship.

So then, what do we do in these instances when the Quran speaks of “love?”

Well, as we said before, the only way that we can determine how our bonds of love should be constructed is through understanding how God works.

This verse, therefore, isn’t telling us about God’s personal desires, but rather where the guidelines for our faith and actions should lie.

Turning away from God, finding your love from somewhere else, means that your connection with God will not be strong.

This and other verses that speak about God “loving” or “not loving” doesn’t mean that God is bothered by our actions but points out to us where our connections might be misplaced and how to compensate.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the purpose of this video was to look at the different dimensions of love in the Quran, how it relates to our faith, as Muslims, and briefly discuss its theological implications on the concept of God.

Thank you very much for listening, keep growing in your love for God and life.

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.