Concepts of Love used in Islamic Culture

There are many words, terms and concepts used to express love in Arabic, particularly in Islam’s basic sources, the Quran and sunnah (practices of the Prophet). Some writers who have compiled books related to this subject say that the number is as great as sixty. A number of these have been used in both the Quran and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet). Some of these are words and terms that, even though they are found in both sources, are used in language and literary texts, especially poetry. Many of these words and terms have been used since ancient times. Just as some had changes of meaning during the Islamic period, others were passed through a phase of conceptualization.

Thus, even though for centuries in Muslim societies there have been differences among race, color and geography, generally unity and integrity have been maintained on the points of belief and practice. This holds true for a more or less unified understanding of love, as well. Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), mother and father, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, close and remote relatives, Muslims and mankind, all animate things and nature have been common areas of interest and love among Muslims. In particular, architectural works and institutions produced throughout the centuries in places where governments set up by the Muslim Turkish nation were permanently located are witnesses today that reflect love of Allah, the Prophet, the Quran, Ahl al-bayt (family of the Prophet), and the Companions and of compassion and mercy for all living things. While speaking of love, affection, mercy and compassion, thinking of these all together will help us to understand and perceive to what degree and in what dimensions the subject has permeated our civilization. I will attempt to frame the subject within the Quran-Sunnah twosome, which comprises the origin and essence of all of these.


It is necessary to dwell on the word mahabba, which is first on the list of words and terms expressing love. Actually all words and terms used to express love are derivatives of this word; for this reason, they have very close meanings. Many meanings have been given to mahabba. One of the most important ones, with necessity and constancy coming from its root, expresses that the name of the beloved and its remembrance are never absent from the heart. For the reason that it carries the meaning of purity and clearness, love and friendship which is pure and unadulterated is called mahabba.

Because love is inclined towards the one loved by the heart, it was debated whether or not love should be used for Allah. Although some scholars, not accepting this, said that the purpose of love for Allah was to worship Him, most Islamic scholars brought forth clear evidence for the existence of love of Allah in the Quran and sunnah. As a result, they agreed that it is mandatory (fard) to love Allah and Prophet Muhammad. In some Quranic verses Allah says, “Allah loves them, and they love Allah” (Al-Maida 5/54); “Love of believers for God is more advanced and stronger than anything” (Al-Baqara 2/165); “Say: If ye do love God, Follow me: God will love you” (Al-i Imran 3/31).

In hadiths the Prophet Muhammad spoke of love for Allah in such a clear and precise way that no interpretation is needed: “As long as one among you does not love Allah and the Prophet more than anything else, he does not have true faith” (Bukhari, “Faith” 9, 14; Muslim, “Faith” 66-67; Tirmizi, “Faith” 10).

It is possible to examine love from various aspects. The Quran painstakingly mentions those who Allah loves. Being a servant Allah loves is the highest and most honorable rank and the most valuable and worthy station and position. Knowing this shows every individual Muslim the path and direction to the qualities he needs to possess and who he needs to love. For this reason, I think it will be more appropriate to touch along general lines on the subject of those who Allah loves:

Allah loves the benevolent (muhsin). Deriving from the ihsan infinitive, the word muhsin, along with its plural, is among the words that pass frequently in the Quran. Ihsan includes goodness and doing good, beauty and beautiful behavior. Also the Prophet defined ihsan as “Serving Allah as if you see Him” (Bukhari, “Faith” 37; Muslim, “Faith” 1; Abu Davud, “Sunnah” 16; Tirmizi, “Faith” 4; Ibn Mace, “Preface” 9). Those who spend in Allah’s path in prosperity and poverty, those who swallow their anger, and those who forgive others’ mistakes are the benevolent ones that Allah loves.

  1. Allah loves those who repent and cleanse themselves (Al-Baqara 2/223). The word tawbah (repentance) means to return, forego, abandon and separate from. As a religious term tawbah means abandoning sin and returning to right action, abandoning rebellion and returning to obedience, feeling regret for former sins and mistakes, and admitting sins and mistakes.
  2. Allah loves the pious (muttaqi).Taqwameans avoiding something, protecting oneself, and making the ego safe against something feared. In religious custom taqwa means embracing religious commands tightly, avoiding prohibitions, and protecting the nafs (ego, soul) from sin and evil and things leading to these. One who possesses these qualities is called pious. However, it should be mentioned that taqwa is used with many meanings in the Quran. Among these it is possible to see meanings like faith, repentance, abandonment of disobedience, and sincerity. For this reason, many verses of the Quran are related to piety. Taqwa is considered the highest spiritual station a servant can reach in this world.
  3. Allah loves the just (adl). Justice is fulfilling absolute commands and conditions that have been instilled in hearts and minds and been brought forth, without oppression; giving something because it is right, without reproach; and acting according to conscience, not the ego.
  4. Allah loves the patient (those with sabr). Sabrconsists of qualities like controlling one’s ego at a moment of calamity; heroism shown in jihad; being able to keep peace in one’s heart during times of difficulty; and being able to control one’s words while speaking.
  5. Allah loves those who trust in Him. “Put thy trust in God. For God loves those who put their trust in Him”(Al-i Imran 3/159).
  6. Allah loves those who fight in His path. “Truly God loves those who fight in His cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure”(Saff 61/4).


Another word that is widely used for love is mawadda. The root of this word comes from the wudd infinitive meaning friendship and affection, and loving something and wishing for it. One who loves and has a lot of love is called wudd. The purest, most delicate and most refined love is called wudd. This word is used with various derivatives in both the Quran and hadiths. The word mawadda has been used in the Quran with the meanings friendship, loyalty, and affection: “But if good fortune comes to you from God, they would be sure to say –as if there had never been ties of affection between you and them- ‘Oh!  I wish I had been with them; a fine thing should I then have made of it!’” (Al-Nisaa 4/73). Allah creates love in the hearts of those who believe and make righteousness; this love is called wudd (Al-Maryam 19/96). The Prophet explained the contents of this verse in one of his hadiths: “When Allah loves one of His servants, he says to Gabriel: ‘I love such and such a person; you love him/her, too.’ Gabriel loves that person and exclaims to the angels in the heavens: ‘Allah loved such and such a person; you love him/her, too.’ Then the angels love that person. Later, love for that person settles in the hearts of those on earth and spreads among people” (Bukhari, “Unity” 33; Muslim, “Righteousness” 137). The love Allah created between man and wife is also called wudd (Rum 30/21).

One of Allah’s beautiful names is Wadud. This name means, from Allah’s point of view, that He is very much loved by His “friends” and is the source of love.  From the servant’s point of view it expresses that Allah has wished goodness for His creatures and loves and gives approval to His pious servants.

The practical benefits of affection and love can briefly be expressed as follows:

  • Affection is a sign of the perfection of faith and beauty of being a Muslim. It nourishes the spirit and heart. Hearts without love are considered to be dead. Those whose hearts are full of love receive Allah’s abundance and blessings.
  • Love of Allah encompasses praising Him, being pleased with Him, being grateful to Him, fearing Him, expecting from Him, obtaining His blessings through remembering Him, attaining peace and contentment, drawing close to Him, and spending in His way.
  • Love of the Prophet necessitates living his sunnah and making it be lived, and standing up for his call and protecting it. It requires loving those and the things he loved.
  • Loving fellow Muslims for Allah’s sake is considered to be from love for Allah and the Prophet. Those who love each other for Allah’s sake will stand in His shadow on Judgment Day when there will be no other shade.
  • As long as someone does not want for his fellow Muslim what he wants for himself, his faith cannot be perfect. At the same time, this also means being saved from his own selfishness.
  • Love of Allah and the Prophet is an important vehicle for attaining Allah’s help and victory.
  • Love increases feelings of friendship and brotherhood and helping others and wanting to help. It draws people closer together and spreads feelings of compassion and mercy among them.


In the texts of the Quran and sunnah, which take on the important task of understanding and explaining manifestations of love, one of the concepts most used together with its derivatives is compassion and mercy. Rahma (mercy) has the same meaning as marhama and denotes not begrudging anyone and feeling pity and compassion.

When the word rahma is used relative to Allah, His favor and every kind of goodness and blessing for His servants is meant, but not tenderness. For tenderness is a state or quality of the heart and only pertains to humans. The name Rahman (Merciful) is a derivative of rahma and belongs only to Allah, not to His servants. Rahim, on the other hand, is also a quality of the created so, for this reason, it is also given to humans. It is said that Allah is the Rahman of this world and the Rahim of the next world. This means: His favor, goodness, blessings and grace extend to everyone, believers and non-believers; the next world pertains only to believers.

One of the meanings of rahma is forgiveness of sins. While talking about rahma and marhama, other qualities that complete the topic and should not be forgotten are: pity and non-begrudgingness; tenderness, delicacy, and compassion; bestowing favors; generosity; protection; affection, making things easier; and getting along well with family and others.

Works of Allah’s rahma and marhama presented in the Quran can be briefly mentioned as follows:

  1. Forgiveness of sinners and those forced to sin is a work of Allah’s mercy. One of Allah’s names that is mentioned most in the Quran is Ghafur (most forgiving).
  2. An important work of Allah’s mercy is accepting repentance of sins and mistakes made by His servants. While it is indicated in many verses in the Holy Quran that Allah is Tawwab (accepter of repentance), the name Rahim (very merciful, full of pity) is found next to the former name.
  3. The canonical rules put by Allah and, again, the punishment for a number of crimes committed in the world are due to His mercy to His creatures. Just as for the individual, rules and regulations are the most important common point for a family, society, nation, state, all state governments and the world. Due to this, Allah taught rules and regulations and put commands and prohibitions in all holy books revealed to all Messengers and Prophets beginning with Adam, the first human and prophet, all the way to the final prophet, Muhammad. These rules are a blessing, grace, and mercy to Allah’s servants. A life without rules and regulations cannot be conceived of; such a life would be a very difficult burden for a person with common sense to carry. It is a state of madness.
  4. Allah’s sending prophets throughout human history and His sending books to separate truth from falsehood from His own presence as a guide to mankind are a manifestation of Allah’s mercy and compassion to His creatures. Allah alludes to prophets and sacred books being a mercy in many verses in the Quran and He carefully reminds His servants of this many times. What lesson is to be learned here and what duty befalls believers? All Muslims, the Ummah’s (Muslim community) scholars in particular, have the responsibility to spread the call of the prophets addressed to mankind, which are expressed in the most authentic and realistic way in the Quran, and the knowledge and information in the Quran to people everywhere in every age. In my opinion, this is the name of carrying to the world the understanding of brotherhood, love, salvation and mercy as much as it is performing a call to religion, which Islam gives great importance to.
  5. Believers receiving reward for the deeds they have done is from Allah’s mercy and compassion to them. Reward to be given to those who are patient is similarly the work of mercy and compassion. At the same time, this is a manifestation and requirement of Allah’s justice. For those who believe and those who do not, and for those who believe and perform the requirements of this belief and those who do not are not at the same degree and rank.
  6. Allah’s mercy encompasses everyone in the world, both believers and non-believers: in the afterlife it includes only believers. The first verses of the Quran’s first sura begin with an expression of this truth. “In the name of Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate. All praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (Al-Fatiha 1/1-2). “And your God is one God: There is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (Al-Baqara 2/163). “To God belongeth all that is in the heavens and on earth. He forgiveth whom He pleaseth: But God is Oft-Forgiving, most Merciful” (Al-i Imran 3/129). It is an undeniable truth that all these are instructional examples, advice, commands and recommendations showing us the path and direction of showing mercy and compassion to all humans, in fact, all living creatures in the world.

For a topic that the Quran treats with this much sensitivity, it is natural that this subject finds a sufficient area for application in the Prophet’s sunnah and is one of the most frequently found topics in hadiths. As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of authentic hadiths related to mercy and compassion both in regard to the Prophet’s life style and other applications. History mentions many important successes of Prophet Muhammad in various fields. In my opinion, a matter that needs to be added is this: His greatest success is that in a society which is known to be uncivilized and one that Arabs, themselves, call “Ignorance,” he was able to produce an exemplary “society of love and mercy” in a very short period of time. Truly the generation of companions, which has no equal in the history of mankind and which gathered within itself outstanding qualities, rightfully carries the distinction of being an “exemplary generation.” As is true for all subjects, we have a great deal to learn from them on the topic of love, mercy and compassion.

Our Prophet’s basic principles on the subject of mercy and compassion have been put forth; we will suffice with pointing out some of them.

  1. In all hadiths it is recommended that we be merciful to all human beings. Our finding mercy is only possible by this means.
  2. A truth that we have learned from the hadiths is this: Kissing and caressing children is an indication of love and mercy. When a Bedouin who came to the Prophet and saw him kiss the man’s children said, “Do you kiss children, too? By God, we never kiss them,” the Prophet replied, “What can I do if Allah has taken compassion from your heart?” (Bukhari, “Manners” 18; Muslim, “Cardinal Virtues” 64; Ibn Mace, “Manners” 3; Ahmed b. Hanbel, “Musned VI,” 56, 70).
  3. The Prophet encouraged being merciful and forgiving: “Be merciful so that you will receive mercy; forgive so you will be forgiven” (Ahmed b. Hanbel, “Musned II,” 165, 219).
  4. Muslim society should be like a single body. The first manifestation of this shows itself as mercy and compassion. Prophet Muhammad said: “Believers are like one body in regard to loving and showing compassion and mercy to one another. When one limb of the body is ill, the other limbs, remaining awake and getting a fever, call it to unity” (Bukhari, “Manners” 27; Muslim, “Righteousness” 66; Ahmed b. Hanbel, “Musned IV” 270).
  5. Visiting close and distant relatives and maintaining ties with them is one of the Prophet’s important recommendations. The Prophet said, “Those who cut ties with their relatives cannot enter paradise” (Muslim, “Righteousness” 18-19; Ahmed b. Hanbel, “Musned II” 484; III, 14, 83).
  6. The Prophet said that there is mercy in the community, but pain in cliques (Ahmed b. Hanbel, “Musned IV” 278, 375).
  7. We need to remember hadiths of the Prophet regarding mercy and compassion to animals: The Prophet stated that Allah forgave a sinner who gave water to a dog that was licking the dirt because of its extreme thirst. Someone asked, “O, Prophet, is there a reward for us in regard to animals?” The Prophet replied, “There is reward in regard to every living thing” (Bukhari, “Musakat” 9, “Mezalim” 23, “Manners” 27; Muslim, “Salam” 153; Abu Davud, “Jihad” 44; Ibn Mace, “Manners” 8; Imam Malik, “Muvatta: Sifatu’n-Nebi” 23).


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