I once dropped by the MSA at the University of Tulsa and heard a very disturbing story. A man from the area had left Islam and had recently given a talk at a local church about his apostasy. He claimed that there was no love in Islam. He felt that the Islamic way of life is filled with hate, harshness and rigidity. I plan to touch on how this apostate and others like him are dead wrong. It is obvious to any common practicing Muslim that they have very little knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah (ways of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him). Before making such a judgment, they should have based their decision based upon the scripture. The truth is that a problem common to all apostates I’ve heard of is blaming Islam for the actions of people who happened to be called Muslim, yet aren’t necessarily practicing Islam correctly.
When talking about love in Islam let’s see what the Holy Qur’an says about it. First of all I would like to note two definitions of love found in the American Heritage Dictionary:
8a. God’s benevolence and Mercy toward man.
8b. Man’s devotion to or adoration of God.
These two definitions precisely describe the Islamic concept of the relation between God and man.
When reading the Qur’an, anyone can easily recognize the emphasis put on God’s love, compassion, graciousness, mercy and forgiveness. As a matter of fact, all chapters of the Qur’an except one begin with the phrase “in the name of God” who is described as Al-Rahman (the Benevolent) and Al-Raheem (the Merciful). This verse is often translated as “in the Name of God, the Benevolent and Merciful.” This fits the exact meaning of the definition for the love of God found in the English dictionary. These two descriptions are the most commonly used words by which Allah describes Himself in the Qur’an. These characteristics of Allah refer to His countless blessings, bounties and forgiveness He has bestowed upon us without us deserving anything. He does all of that even though we constantly break His commandments.
Similarly, when we look at the Arabic word muslim, we find that it is a person who is devoted to Allah, submitting to His will. This is exactly what the English dictionary has to say about the meaning of a person’s love for God.
Life is all about a test of realization and action. We are drawn to a realization of God’s love for us and leading a life of gratitude, which reflects our deep adoration and devotion to God. We do this hoping that our beloved Creator will be pleased with us and yearning to be with Him for eternity in the bliss of the hereafter. This well-known concept of the purpose of life according to Islam perfectly reflects the meaning of the man’s love for God.
Islam enjoins the general concept of love among mankind as well. This is first and foremost done by promoting the love of God amongst our fellow man. This is manifested through our practice of the concept of “rahmah” which can be translated as love, mercy, compassion or forgiveness. The Prophet ﷺ told his companions, as narrated authentically in al-Targheeb (3/210):
لن تؤمنوا حتى ترحموا قالو يا رسول الله كلنا رحيم قال إنه ليس بر حمة أحدكم صاحبه و لكنه رحمة العامة
“You don’t truly believe until you have rahmah for others.” His companions responded, “We all have rahmah.” The Prophet ﷺ then told them, “Verily, you don’t reach this level of faith by just having rahmah for those who are close to you, but you must have rahmah for everyone.”
In fact this was the sum of why Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) sent the Prophet ﷺ. He says in verse 107 of al-Anbiyaa in the Qur’an,
And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (21:107)
In this category of general love for everything, we have another very important type of love. This is the love between a husband and wife. So before continuing about this love and how it manifests itself between married couples, let’s talk about how one gets married according to Islam.
Finding a spouse in Islam is quite easy. It is actually much easier than in common western culture. Islam forbids anything that can possibly lead to fornication. First, let’s ponder over verse 32 of Surah al-Israa in the Qur’an,
This verse means “Don’t even come close to fornicating.” (17:32)
As a result of this, it is prohibited to be alone with, flirt or touch someone from the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse or immediate family. The only mixed gender interactions should be accompanied by lowering the gaze, hijab, only speaking about a necessity like buying something, asking directions, discussing religious matters, etc… So you can see why Islam prohibits the modern concept of boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. This solves so many social problems prevalent in societies that don’t observe this seemingly strict code of mixed gender mingling. Many who were raised here in the West have many reactions to these rules, the most common of which is, “So how are we supposed to find a spouse?”
Back in the time of the Prophet ﷺ and even until today in some cultures, parents arranged marriage through their relationships with other families they knew well. Best case scenario is that they might allow them to see each other once or show a picture, but then the parents would completely make the decision of compatibility as well as of the marriage itself. Believe it or not, in the old days this would work the vast majority of the time for reasons which I will mention later.
Nowadays, people have become more critical and have an individualist, opinionated outlook, and women have taken a stronger role in society. For this reason, it would be wise for parents not to force their children to marry someone without their full approval and acceptance. This advice is based upon firsthand knowledge of many arranged marriages which obviously were not arranged based upon compatibility and/or went sour.
It should be that the family and friends of a Muslim bachelor or bachelorette are those who are actually looking for a suitable spouse for him or her. If Allah’s will was that a Muslim bachelor meets, or personally knows of someone whom he or she is interested, then he should immediately go to her family about it, preferably the father. Parents should allow their child to have some chaperoned meetings with someone in whom they are initially interested. These meetings should be strictly about learning about each other’s personality and expectations in their spouse. If after a few of these meetings they don’t feel compatible then they should break off all communication in that regard and go back to being a regular Muslim brother and sister. If after praying for Allah’s guidance (istikharah) they feel close and compatible, then it is best to get married as soon as possible. There may be a small period of engagement, but even if they are culturally engaged that does not change the fact that in Islam there is no change in their relationship. It is just an inclination to marry down the road which either party can break free from at any time.
The basic difference between an Islamic marriage and a western marriage is that in the West a couple generally meets without any help from the family. Their meeting is usually a result of a man’s attraction and a woman’s being flattered and enjoying his charming company. Then they proceed as a married couple—sometimes for many years—until they decide that they want to live the rest of their life with each other. Then they get married. They feel like they were already in love for some time. So they live together after getting married and they get sick of each other and get a divorce for one reason or another. In Islam, the marriage is protected by the divine legislation of God. The first factor in this preservation is that the marriage—if done correctly—is first formed through real compatibility and not physical desires which can often get a man to act in whatever way will get him what he wants and by the girl being flattered and charmed by his fake façade—or as we say in modern terminology, “his game.”
Once a Muslim couple is officially married, they understand that even with compatibility they must work for the rest of their lives to preserve love, compassion, understanding, respect and forgiveness between them. They have entered into a covenant with Allah (swt) that carries rights and responsibilities towards each other. The basic foundation of that bond is found in the Holy Qur’an in verse 21 of Surah al-Rum,
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (30:21)
That said, we are now coming close to the time in which most Westerners celebrate Valentine’s Day. There is much mystery and folklore as to where this holiday came from, but the general story is that it was originally a pagan holiday. After the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, it was later named after a Catholic saint named Valentine. Folklore suggests that in the 3rd century C.E., the Roman Emperor Claudius II banned young healthy men from marriage. In defense of the divine union of marriage, St. Valentine allegedly protested this by secretly holding marriage ceremonies. He later was martyred on February 14th, thus marking the date.
Today this holiday has no religious affiliation and is common to both religious folk and atheists. It is a day on which couples exchange cards, candy, chocolate, flowers and even jewelry as a token of their love. This is also a day where many premarital relationships happen or are forged.
So the question many Muslims have is, “What is the ruling on taking part in any of the traditional practices of this holiday?”
The vast majority of scholars hold it to be prohibited to buy, sell or take part in anything that is related to this holiday. They base this ruling on a few reasons:
- They see it lead to social problems in the Muslim world, especially the recent skyrocket in dating and romantic premarital relationships.
- It is a day on which a lot of fornication happens and even small children are encouraged to start engaging in premarital relationships.
- It is imitating the disbelievers in their religious practices. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.”
- It is rooted in the religious practices of non-Muslims so it is an innovation which must be rejected.
- It is a holiday and all holidays except the two `Eids are innovations, religious or not.
A handful of other scholars don’t feel that there is any conclusive evidence that prohibits Muslim married couples from taking this opportunity to recognize and commend their love for each other and do something special together. They argue against the five aforementioned proofs that celebrating this holiday isn’t necessarily what has caused Muslims to have illicit relationships, but that—Valentine’s Day or not—those people are going to follow their desires and prohibiting this day won’t solve that problem. They then contend that if some choose to do fornication and teach kids the path to fornication then that is their problem. They ask, “Why can’t we do what the Prophet ﷺ did when he told the Jews that the Muslims were more worthy of following Moses than they and thus he fasted with them?” These scholars contend that this holiday was originally named after St. Valentine who defended the sanctity of marriage which is something common between us and it isn’t related to polytheism or false worship. With that argument they also bring up the debate among the madhabs (schools of thought) about al-Ateerah. Al-Ateerah was a feast in Rajab where people originally slaughtered animals for their idols. The Muslims later took the same practice in the same month, slaughtered for Allah’s sake, and gave some meat to the poor. Some scholars held that this allowance was later abrogated and prohibited while others held that it being a sunnah was abrogated and thus remained permissible. This is because many texts are hard to put together and make an easy ruling (for more info see the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia for Islamic Jurisprudence volume 29 under عتيرة). Furthermore, they argue that in the West this is a part of secular culture; even atheists take part in this holiday, and it is not seen as a Christian holiday, nor celebrated in churches like Christmas and Easter.
Allah knows best if there is sin in taking part in the tradition of this day, as both arguments have their proofs, but let’s take our love seriously and live a life that reflects our love for Allah (swt) and His messenger ﷺ. This is indeed the true love; as Bob Marley correctly said, “One Love… Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”