In hadith qudsi, Allah the Almighty says:
“My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with voluntary acts so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he holds, and his foot with which he walks.”1
This hadith holds many layers of wisdom for us. For instance, what is the nature of love? What does it mean to love Allah? What is the connection between love and taqwa, or God-consciousness?
In the Qur’an, we are taught that we were all created from a single soul. Our love and compassion must, therefore, extend beyond our nuclear families. In today’s society, however, much emphasis is placed on individual gains. We are told time and again to look out for our own needs over others, to love ourselves, and to be ruthlessly competitive. Social media, at times, further propagates this culture as we display ourselves for personal recognition and likes.
What do we lose when we pursue this obsessive love of ourselves? Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) explains, “No one of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”1
It is clear from this hadith that iman – faith – is entangled with the concern and love for others. Mawlana Hazar Imam has also highlighted this need for balance between enjoying personal freedom and rights and a responsibility toward others. At the Stephen Ogden Lecture at Brown University on March 10, 2014, Mawlana Hazar Imam said,
"In an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it is essential that we live by a ‘cosmopolitan ethic,’ one that addresses the age-old need to balance the particular and the universal, to honor both human rights and social duties, to advance personal freedom and to accept human responsibility.”2
What might these responsibilities be? Again, the Qur’an provides clear guidance. Surah al-Baqarah defines the righteous as those who “spend of [their] substance, out of love for Him, for [their] kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask.” The people of Medina who supported the Prophet (s.a.s) and his followers from Mecca are viewed favorably in the Qur’an precisely for practicing generosity, “even though they themselves were in dire need.” (Surah al-Hasr, Ayah 9).
Mawlana Hazar Imam has similarly emphasized the responsibility that each one of us has towards each other. During the Diamond Jubilee Inauguration interview, Mawlana Hazar Imam states,
“Social ethic is a strong principle in Islam and I think that Muslims would be well advised to respect that as a fundamental ethic of our faith and to live by that, which means that we have to be what I would call an empathetic society, a welcoming society, peaceful society, a generous society.”3
It is clear then that generosity, charity, and love are values through which taqwa is practiced. For if indeed we are one soul, then our hearts cannot attain peace while others suffer; if we are indeed conscious of God then we will understand our material and intellectual capacities for what they truly are: blessings and gifts of Allah that must be shared.
Practicing generosity allows us to control our desire to accumulate, which can be all-consuming and can lead to profound sadness and isolation, as the following story of The Dervish and the Confectioner so beautifully depicts.
Passing through a bazaar, a confectioner offers a dervish a cup of honey. Suddenly, a swarm of flies surrounds it. The confectioner tries to fan the flies away; those on the edges leave, but those inside the cup sink deeper and deeper. Seeing this, the dervish smiles. When asked by the confectioner why he is smiling, the dervish explains:
“To me, the cup of honey represents the world and the flies are the greedy competitors in it. Those sitting on the edges are satisfied with the small morsels whereas those inside are greedy and covet more. However, when death comes upon them, the ones on the edges easily detach themselves and return to their origin, whereas those inside struggle and entangle themselves even deeper.”4
Let us endeavor to practice these values of taqwa and be conscious of Allah in our everyday lives. Let us love those near and far for the sake of Allah. Let us share generously of what we have and enable our souls to take flight.
1 Faith and Practice in Islamic Traditions, Volume 1, Secondary Curriculum, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 210
2 The 88th Stephen Ogden Lecture delivered by His Highness the Aga Khan at Brown University, 10 March 2014, click here
4Muslim Devotional and Ethical Literature, Secondary Curriculum, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 77