by Mateen A. Khan, Piscataway, NJ
The importance of knowledge to the practice and perfection of Islam is unquestionable. Allah ta`āla says, “Allah exalts in multiple degrees the Believers from among you and those given knowledge” (Mujādalah 11). His Prophet ﷺ made this request of Him, “O Allah, help us learn that which is beneficial to us, help us benefit from what You have enabled us to learn, and increase us in knowledge.” Yet, knowledge alone is insufficient. Along with it, there must be a constant concern for taqwa of the heart and love of Allah. If knowledge is the engine, then taqwa and love are the fuel which drive it.
There are more than 150 verses of the Qur’an regarding the virtues of taqwa, and there are more than 40 verses that mention taqwa specifically. For example, Allah ta`āla says:
“The most noble of you before Allah are those with the most taqwa.”
“Allah only accepts from the people of taqwa.”
“The friends (`awliyā’) of Allah are only the people of taqwa.”
“Know that Allah is with the people of taqwa.”
Clearly, this is a concept of extreme importance that Allah thought necessary to repeat to us. These verses tell us the people of taqwa are the most noble before Allah. They are His awliyā’ and His beloved. Allah protects them, loves them, and assists them. The rewards of the ākhirah are theirs, including Jannah and His pleasure.
Further, taqwa causes our deeds to be accepted and our requests to be honored. It brings Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. It protects us from punishment, difficulty in the ākhirah, and Allah’s displeasure. We differentiate between truth (ḥaqq) and falsehood (bāṭil) by it. From the time of Sayyiduna Ādam to today, every Believer has been told to develop it. Taqwa is the natural result of iman. Iman is a seed that, when sowed properly, produces taqwa. When taqwa plants itself in the heart, it cultivates all other good traits and actions. Hence, we need to develop it to develop other praiseworthy traits. The verse in Surah al-Najm indicates to this, “Do not claim purity for yourself. Allah is most aware of those with taqwa.”
Taqwa comes from the word وقاية, meaning a protection or barrier. Literally, it means to place a barrier (ḥijāb) between yourself and the disobedience of Allah. In the Sharī`ah, the word taqwa is used in two ways:
General- This is to protect oneself from any harm in the ākhirah, the most basic of which is to avoid shirk. The highest form of taqwa is to avoid everything that turns one’s attention away from Allah. Allah ta`āla says, “O Believers, have taqwa of Allah as is His right, and do not die except as a Muslim.”
Specific- This is to be cautious in obeying Allah out of fear for His displeasure and punishment. Interestingly, the fear in taqwa is linked to a mutual love between Allah and His creation as He says, “Indeed Allah loves the people of taqwa.” and “The Believers are intense in their love for Allah.”
The fortunate look into their hearts and realize their love for Allah is not sufficient. I say fortunate because there are many who expend an entire lifetime without this thought occurring to them. These fortunate people become distressed by this thought and worry for their iman. Know, dear reader, that such thoughts are a blessing and a sure sign of iman. Once a group of Companions came to our beloved Prophet ﷺ concerned over some grave thoughts they experienced, and he assured them the concern for iman is a sign of iman (ذاك صريح الإيمان).
When we speak about love, it is important to differentiate between two types. The first is that love which comes naturally. Generally, it is emotion-based, without intent, and accidental. It tends to be easily lost, short-lived, and not well established. The second type is that love which is chosen. It is purposeful, with intent, and intellectual. It resists change and resists other objects of love. It is much more likely to be lasting and established. There are people who love Allah and His Messenger ﷺ in a complete sense naturally. However, most are deficient. They require work to develop love—purposeful, intellectual work.
Mawlana Ashraf `Ali al-Thanwī (May Allah ta`āla have mercy on him) argued the second type of love is greater than the first. This is because we are not rewarded for that which comes without choice or effort, just as we are not responsible for that which comes naturally, without intent. We are only responsible for our choices. Just as there are actions of the body we choose, there are also actions of the heart that are chosen. This is an important point.
Take the commonly known example of looking at something impermissible. The first glance which occurs without intent or foreknowledge is forgiven. We are not held accountable for it. The second glance is purposeful and accountable. If one leaves it out of fear of Allah, one is rewarded. Similarly, the love which occurs purposefully and with effort brings a greater reward. Rather than being distressed that one does not find the appropriate love of Allah occurring naturally, one should take purposeful steps to develop a chosen love. Today, the ummah’s love for Allah and His Messenger ﷺ has grown weak because we have little concern for it. In fact, even more tragic is when one lacks concern so much so that no steps are taken to develop the missing love or protect oneself in the ākhirah.
We must choose to love Allah and His Messenger ﷺ as the first step. We must choose to develop a connection with Allah.
Choosing to Love Allah
There are ways to develop love for Allah ta`āla. Here, I will pass on to you a powerful method given to us by our predecessors. Naturally occurring love is about affinity or kinship. One may find love within them for virtually anything. Sometimes this occurs without thought or even knowing the actual qualities of a person. Sometimes, it is just a feeling or a love about imagined qualities. However, even these superficial, emotional loves of created objects can be converted to a chosen, intellectual love of the Creator.
Affinity occurs because of an appreciation for beauty, benefit, and perfection in something. In reality, these qualities are found in the most perfect sense with Allah. The rest of creation is merely a reflection of it. In other words, the example of us loving something other than Allah is like the person who having seen the beauty of the sunlight on a wall falls in love with the reflected light. He appears to be a lover of the wall’s light, but really he is a lover of the sun. Once he realizes this, he will reflect on his mistake and turn towards the source with a more perfect love. The love of the wall’s light was emotional, while the love of the source was chosen.
In this way, turn your love from the reflection (whomever or whatever it may be) to its source—Allah. Even when we love the traits of a creation, we are in fact in love with the Creator. Develop your love of Allah by changing your emotional love to a chosen love—one without intent to one with intent, one without reward to one with reward, and one that is short-lived to one that is eternal. Doing this consciously is a simple and powerful way to develop love for Allah ta`āla.
Finally, when you seek out Allah, remember He seeks you. The Prophet ﷺ said Allah ta`āla said, “Whoever comes to me a handspan, I come to him an arm span. Whoever comes to me an arm span, I come to him two arm spans. Whoever comes to Me walking, I come to him running.”
Always keep in mind that Allah is seeking you. If He did not want us to come to Him, He would not have allowed us to even take the first step. Our discussion here and your reading it with concern is proof of it.