of Love in the Shi'i Creed
Sayyid Muhammad Rida Hijaz
Vol XI No. 1 and 2
Love is one of the sublimest and most appealing of concepts in Shi'ism
in particular and Islamic culture and belief in general. In Shi'i belief,
mahabbah or hubb, and related words like mawaddah
and waliyah, play a very significant and profound role, to the extent
that, to cite one instance, it is asserted to be the fundamental basis
of the faith. In a famous hadith, the Prophet (s) is reported as questioning
his followers concerning the "firmest handhold of faith" (awthaq 'urwat
al-iman). When they cannot reply, he declares:
The firmest handhold of faith is to love for the sake of God
and to hate for the sake of God, to befriend God's friends and to renounce
In another tradition, Fudayl ibn al-Yasar, a disciple, asks al-Imam al-Sadiq,
may peace be upon him, whether love and hate derive from faith; he replies:
Is faith anything but love and hate?
It is also narrated that al-Imam al-Baqir, may peace be upon him, stated
Religion (din) is love and love is religion.
As these statements and traditions indicate, love plays an important role
in Shi'i doctrine. Hence it deserves our close attention in order that
we may discover the real meaning of the concept.
First of all, some questions come to the mind. What is the kind of love
that has been emphasized by Islam in general and Shi'ism in particular?
Who is the object of this special kind of love? Why should the believers
have this kind of love and what purpose does it serve?
Love, in Shi'i doctrine, includes three interrelated categories: Love
for God, love for the Prophet and his Household, and love for the faithful.
Love for Allah:
According to Islamic teaching, God is the highest and foremost object
of love. The Holy Qur'an says:
Say: "If your fathers and your sons, your brethren and your
wives, your kinsfolk and the property you have acquired, the commerce you
fear may slacken and the dwellings which you love-if these are dearer to
you than God and His Apostle and striving in His way, then wait till God
brings His command; God does not guide an ungodly people." (9:24)
This ayah clearly indicates that the love of God has precedence over everything
and whatever that one may love in one's life. Moreover, the Holy Qur'an
points out in another verse that the believers' love of God is greater
than that of anything else, but that some people love certain things as
much as they love God:
And there are some among men who take for themselves objects
of worship besides God. whom they love as they love God, and those who
believe are stronger in love for God ... (2:165)
That is, God is the source of all love just as He is the source of all
that exists. That love is an attribute of God is affirmed implicitly by
numerous Qur'anic verses. Hence love for God is the foundation of belief,
the foundation on which man is to establish the principles of his faith.
This is also affirmed by reason. It may be noted that
(a) human nature aspires to perfection and beauty, and God is absolute
perfection and eternal beauty; thus it is an innate quality of the human
nature to love God;
(b) men by nature love whoever does good to them, and they appreciate
such favour and benevolence, as Imam 'Ali, may peace be upon him, said:
Generosity and magnanimity enslave men.
Now, as God is the source of all being, of all generosity and benevolence,
man, by virtue of his nature, loves God. The Prophet, may God bless him
and his Household, said:
Love Allah because He has done good to you and He has bestowed
favours upon you.
It is narrated that God declared to Moses and David, may peace be upon
them: "Love Me and endear Me to the people." When they asked Him how they
could endear Him to the people, He replied:
Remind them about My favours and bounties, for they do not
recall My favours without the feeling of gratitude.
This relationship of love between man and his Creator is reciprocal, and
the intensity of a people's love for God is indicative of God's love for
them, as indicated by the following verse:
God will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him. (5:54)
This love stands for a spiritual relationship between God and the God-loving
people wherewith they are ever made aware of the beneficence and mercy
of their Lord. It is narrated in a hadith qudsi that when God loves someone
He becomes his ears, his eyes, his tongue, and his hands:
When I love him, then I shall be his ears with which he listens,
his eyes with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands
with which he holds; if he calls Me, I shall answer him, and if he asks
Me, I shall give him.
Aside from the fact that one who loves God is loved by Him, a real love
for God prompts one to perform the best of deeds. Reason and nature dictate
that if someone really loves God, he would act in a manner that is pleasing
to God. In this regard, the Holy Qur'an says:
Say: "If you love God, then follow me, and God will love you
and forgive you your sins," and God is Forgiving and Merciful. (3:31)
This ayah indicates the interrelation between love, as an inner state,
and emulating the Prophet, which is an outward action. Moreover, it implies
that no one may neglect his religious obligations under the pretext of
love for God.
Love for the Prophet:
After God, the Prophet, Muhammad, may God bless Him and his Household,
is the one whom the faithful love. It is evident that the love for him
is a ramification of the love for God. It is stated in traditions that
God loves the Prophet and his Household as the ideals of human perfection
so much that He created the heavens and the earth and whatever is in them
out of His love for them. In the Hadith al-Kisa', it is narrated by Fatimah,
may peace be upon her:
When they, the Ahl al-Bayt, gathered under the kisa', the Almighty
said: "Let it be known to you, My angels and those who are in the heavens,
that I have not created the heavens and the earth and what is in them,
but for My love for the Five Ones under the kisa."
The Prophet, may God bless him and his Household, said to his followers:
Love me because of the love of God.
We love the Prophet as he is the beloved of Him, and He has directed us
to love him. This is the first and the most important reason for loving
the Prophet. Further, he is the Perfect Man and personifies the highest
degrees of such virtues as generosity, greatness, moral sublimity and wisdom.
Hence human nature is fascinated by his perfect being and loves him. Thirdly,
he brought us the most significant and essential gift which benefits us
both in this world and the next and gives us true life.
For these reasons, and because of the many verses and traditions which
declare the necessity of loving the Prophet, may God bless him and his
Household, it is obligatory for all Muslims to love him as much as they
love themselves and even more, as according to the Qur'an:
The Prophet has a greater right on the faithful than they have
on themselves. (33:6)
Love for the Prophet's Household:
As part of the love for the Prophet, love for the Household of the Prophet
is also necessary for all believers. In fact, it is a test of the genuineness
of one's love for the Prophet, and it is declared in traditions that it
is the first thing which they would be questioned about on the Day of Resurrection.
As regards the necessity and importance of this love, there are more
than three hundred ayahs and hadith found in both Sunni and Shi'i sources.
In all, they indicate that the main role of this love is to nourish faith.
It is narrated that the Prophet, may God bless him and his Household, said:
There is a basis for every thing, and the basis of Islam is
the love for us, the People of the Household.
In another hadith he is reported to have said:
One who wants to partake of the firmest handhold (of faith)
should abide by the love of 'Ali and my Household.
He also said:
Love of them (my Household) is a sign of faith, and enmity
towards them is a sign of unbelief. Whosoever loves them, loves God and
His Messenger. And whosoever harbours enmity towards them is enemy of God
and His Messenger."
It is narrated that al-Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, said:
For every kind of worship there is another which surpasses
it, and the love for us, the people of the Household, is the best form
On the basis of the traditions that have been cited and many others like
them, it is clear that the love for the Household of the Messenger is a
necessary part of every Muslim's faith. This is further confirmed by taking
into consideration that the love of the Household is considered by the
Qur'an as the mark of gratitude for the guiding mission of the Prophet.
Say (O Muhammad, unto mankind): "I do not ask you a wage for
this except the love of my kinsfolk." (42:23)
When the Holy Prophet was asked by his followers as to who were his near
of kin" whose love God has made obligatory on all Muslims, the Prophet
replied; "Fatimah, 'Ali, al-Hasan and al-Husayn."
The Shi'ah believe that, in accordance with this ayah, it is necessary
for every Muslim, from the point of view of his faith, to love them. For,
in this verse, God has told mankind to love them. On the other hand, God
has ordered us to love them because they merit it, as the highest exemplars
of obedience to the commands of God, their exalted stations in the eyes
of God, and their purity from all traces of polytheism, sin, and everything
that deprives His servants of God's mercy. In summary, if God instructs
all people to love certain human beings, they must be the best among them
in virtue and the sublimest of His creatures, otherwise they would not
deserve to be loved, and God would never prefer some person to another
for no reason, or favour someone who has no merit.
However, it may be asked whether love as an emotional attachment is
capable of producing any profound results or capable of motivating deeds
of higher religious and moral worth. In my opinion, love not only operates
on an emotional level but can be a real agent that prompts man towards
The real love which has been emphasized by both the Qur'an and Sunnah
is not merely an emotional relation between the lover and the object of
love without any actual relevance to one's conduct of life. That it is
a love which produces piety and encourages the lover to righteous action
is confirmed by the Islamic tradition. It is stated in a hadith:
Do not neglect righteous action and diligence in worship by
relying on the love of Muhammad's Household; and do not neglect the love
of Muhammad's Household for reliance on righteous action and diligence
in worship, because none of them will be accepted without the other.
Al-Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, said:
One who follows someone would strive to emulate him.
Accordingly, God commands the faithful to love the Household and to have
recourse to them in order that they may learn their religious obligations
from the Imams of the Prophet's family. In this relation, the Messenger
of God, may God bless him and his Household, is reported to have said:
Whoever aspires to live my life, to die my death, to enter
the Paradise that my Lord has promised me, and to grasp the handhold which
my Lord has appointed, should take 'Ali ibn Abi Talib and his successors
after him, as his masters, because they will never cause you to enter the
doors of misguidance, nor will they divert you from the gates of guidance.
Never try to teach them, since they are more knowledgeable than you. I
have asked my Lord never to separate them from the Book until they meet
me by the side of the Pool (hawd) ...
Al Imam al Sadiq, may peace be upon him, also said:
God has ordained our guardianship, and He has made loving us
an obligation. By God, we don't say anything out of our desires, and we
don't do anything according to our whims; we don't say anything but what
our Lord, the Almighty and the Glorious, says.
They have been given authority and God has ordered people to obey the.
They are the witness for mankind, the doors leading to the way of God,
the guides to His path, the guardians of His knowledge, the interpreters
of His revelations, the pillars of the teaching of Divine Unity, and the
custodians of His Wisdom. The Holy Qur'an refers to them in these words:
Honoured servants, who speak not until He has spoken and who
act by His command. (21:26-27)
That is why God has urged the faithful to love them, to seek them and follow
them, obeying their commands.
Thus befriending them, which is obligatory for all Muslims according
to the Holy Qur'an, would lead the believers to fulfil their duties. A
real love, as was mentioned earlier, encourages the lover to act according
to the beloved's will and wishes. Therefore, Muslims, by emulating the
Prophet's Household, become real believers. Hence the 'wages' of prophecy
which the faithful have been asked to pay, ultimately return to the believers
themselves. Hence the following verse of Surat Saba' says:
Say (O Muhammad): "Whatever reward I have asked of you is only
for yourselves; my reward is only with God, and He is the witness over
all things." (34:47)
We may conclude that love plays a great, if not the greatest, formative
role in religious faith in the Shi'i creed and is the uniting principle
of its universe of religious ideas. So far, we have seen that this principle
unites a vast collection of religious ideas each of which relates to the
others, and that this totality impels the believer towards a higher form
The principle of love frees religious devotion from a dispassionate
and lifeless state, and inspires it with a new refreshing spirit. This
is the meaning of the following statement of the Holy Prophet, may God
bless him and his Household:
O servant of God, let your love and hate be for the sake of
God, because no one can attain to the wilayah of God without that,
and no one shall find the taste of faith without that, though his prayers
and fast be great in number.
I would like to conclude this discussion with a hadith of Imam 'Ali, may
peace be upon him, wherein he states:
Most certainly the best and most delightful of things in Paradise
is the love of God and love for the sake of God and the glorification of
God. God, the Almighty and the Glorious, says "And the last of their cry
shall be: 'Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.
Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, "kitab al-iman wa al-kufr," bab al-hubb fi
Allah wa ai-bughd fi Allah," hadith 6, Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah,
ii, p. 126.
Ibid., hadith 5, p. 125.
Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, 'kitab al-iman wa al-kufr," "bab
al-hubb fi Allah wa al-bughd fi Allah," Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath
al-'Arabi, lxvi, p. 238.
Al-Amidi, Tasnif Ghurar al-hikam wa durar al-kalim, Qum: Maktab
al-I'ilm al-Islami, p. 385
Al-Daylami, Irshad al-qulub, p. 226.
Al-Majlisi, al-Bihar, xiii, 351; xiv, 38.
Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, iv, p. 54.
Al-Qadi Nur Allah al-Shushtari, Ihqaq al-haqq, ii, p. 555.
Al-Daylami, Irshad al Qulub, p. 226.
The Qur'an, 33:6.
Al-Majlisi, al-Bihar, "kitab al-Imamah," "bab thawab hubihim wa nasrihim
wawilayatihim, xxvii, p. 82.
Al-Majlisl, al-Bihar, "kitab al-Imamah," "bab thawab hubihim wa nasrihim
wawilayatihim," hadith 22, xxvii, p. 82.
Ibid., hadith 14, p. 79.
M. R. Muzaffar, The Faith of Shi'i Islam, p. 36.
Al-Majlisi, al-Bihar, xxvii, p. 91.
Al-Majlisi, al-Bihar, xxiii, p. 233; from al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf,
iv, p. 172.
Al-Qummi, Safinat al-Bihar, i, p. 201.
Al-Majlisi, al-Bihar, xxvii, p. 108.
al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, i, part II, p. 122.
Majlisi, al-Bihar, xxvii, p. 102.
Majlisi, al-Bihar, xxvii, p. 54.
Ibid., lxvi, p.251; al-Qur'an, 10:10.