Love or Obsession: Where Do We Draw The Line?
“Everyone, sober or drunk, is seeking a beloved. Everywhere, mosque or synagogue, is the house of love” - Hafiz of Shiraz
It is in the nature of being humans that we crave for love, and to love. Love, however, means differently to different people. It may be that warm feeling of fondness or tenderness a lover has for his beloved. This passion and attraction may be attributable to another’s physical beauty, traits, intellect, or a combination of various factors. At times, the needs of the beloved take priority over the needs of the lover. Slowly, the lover becomes the beloved as he assumes the characters of his beloved. As Khalil Gibran succinctly states, “For love is sufficient unto love” and “think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”
The intensity of emotions involved may lead one to cross the line of becoming obsessed with his beloved. The distinction is stark: a lover regards his beloved as a human being and the needs of the beloved are important to him, while the victims of obsession see their love interest as an object of their beloved’s desire or romantic interest wishing to possess the object of their obsession. Whilst love is pure, obsession is shrouded with exclusive proprietary jealousy.
‘LAILA AND MAJNUN’
At its most superficial level, the classic story of “Laila and Majnun” reflects another aspect of obsession. This is an immortal love story sometimes compared to “Romeo and Juliet” though it predates Shakespeare in oral tradition by more than 1000 years. The story revolves around two star-crossed lovers, which left Majnun at the crossroads between death and madness. One day, a man saw Majnun kissing the feet of a dog and asked what he was doing. He replied: “This dog has just come from the street on which Laila lives. That is why I am kissing its feet.” At first he becomes mad (hence “majnun”) and his poetry serves as his salvation. When rebuked, he replied: “To see the beauty of Laila, one requires the eyes of Majnun.” Eventually, Majnun retreats to the wilderness, preferring the company of wild beasts to that of men. He continues to decline and eventually dies, out of madness, having exhausted all symbolic and psychological desire.
This story represents another facet of obsession. More commonly, obsession is understood to mean one’s fixation with his beloved. On the other hand, this classic story also exemplifies one’s obsession with one’s self. Majnun, by the time of his final meeting with Laila, no longer harbours the same feelings for her and so he dies, contented. It may be argued that his love for Laila was transposed to his being in love with the notion of love. This is commonly seen through mankind’s wallowing of unrequited love that leads to issues such as depression, compulsion or suicide.
Let us now consider what Islam teaches us about the fitrah and the boundaries of love. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in his book Ighathat al-lahfan (“Aid for the Sorrowful”) says that the root of Islam is “love for God, intimacy with Him, and yearning to encounter Him.” He also says, “The revealed books of God, from the first to the last, revolve around the commandment to love.” Interestingly, many scholars have described the content of the Qur’an as “the story of love and lovers.”
All of Allah’s attributes are of a continuing nature. One of His attributes is “Al-Wadud” but it does not simply mean “Love” because it is an on-going attribute. Therefore, “Al-Wadud” means that Allah is “The Loving One”: it is continuing, it is perpetual and Allah’s love is everywhere. Allah is also “Al-Hadi” meaning “The Guiding One.” He guides with His Love, His Rahmah, His Patience etc. and He does all of this at the same time. Hence, He loves the believers as well as the repentant sinners. This is because as human beings, Allah is fully aware that we will sin but we are exonerated through our repentance. When we beg for His mercy, He forgives; and yet again He extends to us this magnificent love of “Al-Wadud” all over again.
The guidance of Islam is therefore the guidance of love. One of our purposes as human beings is to consciously manifest Allah’s love in our lives, in order that we are transformed into a better person. Furthermore, Islam requires us to love humanity, not just in regard to our potential for perfection, but also in spite of our inability to realize it. Love of the Prophet SAW is love of all the beauty and nobility of character, truthfulness, justness, humility and inner strength of which man is capable and which the Prophet SAW as the perfect man (al-insan al-kamil), possessed at the utmost degree. Thus, loving the Prophet SAW puts us on the path to attain that perfection. Yet, it also helps us to accept our imperfect humanity, so that we are able to live in peace with ourselves as repentant servants of Allah, hopeful of His Mercy upon us.
The Prophet SAW said in a hadith narrated by Bukhari, regarding the scene on the Day of Judgment when the sun is so close to us that we will be standing on our own perspiration: “Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except for His Shade. They are, inter alia, two persons who love each other only for Allah’s sake and they meet and part in Allah’s cause.” When we love someone purely for the sake of Allah SWT, we love him in spite of his shortcomings. If our intention is directed purely toward Allah SWT, such imperfection in another does not matter to us, for we are similarly deficient in our own character. We love him because we want to love Allah SWT, so that in turn, Allah SWT will love us.
This love also serves as a benefit for us in dealing with problems in life. For example, if someone hurts us, we will not be upset easily because of the love we have for this person. We may not necessarily like what he has done but we still love him for the sake of Allah SWT. We may choose to reassert our rights, but forgiveness is better in the sight of Allah. We forgive because Allah is “The Forgiving One.” When we forgive, Allah forgives us and loves us in return. And on the day of our passing from this life, it will be this very same person whom we love for the sake of Allah SWT, who will take us to the grave, pray for us and bury us.
Hence, to be a perfect man is to be a lover, but not just any kind of lover. We need knowledge to know what to love and what love asks of us, in order that we might become love itself. Love is so central to Islam that without it there can be no real faith. It is love that motivates us to strive, to seek and to return to Allah SWT. It is love that provides us the strength to face challenges laid out before our lives. It is love that teaches us humility, compassion, trust, obedience and honesty. It is love that opens us to submission to Islam.
Thus far, we have alluded to the importance of loving Allah SWT, loving the Prophet SAW and loving all of mankind. The way to attain Allah’s love is to follow the Prophet SAW, to be in his footsteps, to strive to emulate him and in return, Allah SWT will increasingly manifest His Love to us. We follow the Prophet SAW by striving to become like him in our humanness, in our quality of relationships, in our conduct in society and in our service to humanity. Particularly by doing so, we become closer to our potential of what it means to be an obedient servant of our Lord and to be an exemplary khalifah of Allah on this earth.
If we nourish our hearts with love and we manifest Allah’s love within our lives; with our families, our friends, in our work, in school, in our prayers, and in everything that we do, the entire significance of our existence will be transformed to a more meaningful appreciation of our existence.
On a final note, love of any kind must be directed towards attaining the Pleasure of Allah SWT. Love someone and/or everyone sincerely for the sake of Allah SWT because each of our existence begins from and ends by reverting back to Allah SWT. More importantly, every source of love that we experience and we share with others is derived through the Love and Blessings of Allah SWT upon us. Once this paradigm is clarified, there will be no place for a Muslim to be obsessed with any other love apart from the love of his Lord. His love is bounded by his desire to love Allah SWT, to love the Prophet SAW and follow his sunnah, and to love all of mankind so that he will be shaded on the day when there is no other shade but
This article has been edited for the online platform.