There’s something about romantic love that captivates the growing mind. It’s a new emotion, a kind of love different from the love our parents give, an interesting experience offering wild possibilities. This feeling of attraction can be intoxicating, flooding the corners of our mind, making it difficult to concentrate or think about anything else. The more we grow, the more we desire to experience the companionship of someone who is dedicated to building a relationship with us. The more we live, the more we desire to procure the kind of attention that only a lover gives. However, more often than not, it’s not really love that we’re experiencing, but love dressed in the garments of projected desires and ambitions.
A few years ago, I was asked to lead a Valentine’s Day discussion on the topic of romantic love and Islam. My immediate thought was how silly it was for someone like me to do such a thing. I haven’t personally experienced the feeling of true love yet, so I thought it absurd to offer any insight. I contemplated long and hard and came to the conclusion that while it’s true I may not really understand what love is, I do know what it’s not.
One of my Arabic teachers once shared something fascinating with me: the Arabic word for “love” comes from the same root as the word for “seed.” Seeds grow to have roots and branches, which is what love should be like: firmly rooted and fruitful. But it seems that the way we depict love nowadays makes it devoid of both of these crucial components. Popular culture sells us a forged, concocted version of love, hellbent on equating this invaluable blessing with merely the celebration of holidays and with cheap displays of affection found in movies and songs—a commodity marked by Hollywood’s “happily ever after” tagline.
These thoughts may seem like the ramblings of a deprived soul after having experienced unrequited love, but that’s not what this piece is about. These are the thoughts of someone who is frustrated that this real need for love is being exploited by outlets that take advantage of naive passions and convince us to pursue unrealistic, fanciful, and detrimental views that have no grounding in what a relationship should actually be about.
Too often, raw infatuation is mistaken for love. When a person is attracted to another, it seems that everything the object of their desire does is perfect – their smile, their walk, their quirky misgivings – everything. Before attraction, you might’ve thought their tripping in the hall was clumsy, but after the “lovebug” bites, it’s kinda cute. You may feel butterflies in your stomach, or feel your heart pound against your chest, as they approach, but this does not necessarily mean you’re in love. As a poet once said:
وعينُ الرِّضا عن كلِّ عيبٍ كليلة ٌ
وَلَكِنَّ عَينَ السُّخْطِ تُبْدي المَسَاوِيَا
“The eye of satisfaction is weak at noticing any fault
While the eye of animosity reveals the evil deeds.”
It is in this state of illusion that we make the grave mistake of thinking that our attraction for another is more than it really is. If you can’t get someone out of your mind while you don’t really know them, or the only exchanges you’ve had were flirtatious and non-substantive, then know that these thoughts are pure infatuation and obsession. This is worlds apart from love. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, he inquired more, intrigued at this distinction. I explained that if our attraction for the other hasn’t been based on anything more than their looks, and that we still haven’t engaged the deeper parts of that person, then no matter how often we think about that special someone, it’s mere attraction and nothing more. He smiled and said, “My whole life has been a lie.” We laughed at the moment, but I, too, remember feeling deceived when I first learned the difference. This realization is one that has eluded too many, young and old.
If infatuation is mistaken for real love, then when the honeymoon phase passes, there will be nothing to carry that relationship forward except for fumes of desire. Many of us get caught up in this, especially Muslim youth who feel suppressed and suffocated when faced with the temptation of getting intimately involved with someone. What is really happening is that we have fallen in love with love, or rather the idea of being in love. Too inexperienced and conditioned by media to realize that love is not a first-sight kind of thing, we pursue imaginative dreams far removed from reality.
If we were basing our emotions on values that really mattered, perhaps we would change our perspective. Umar ibn Al-Khattab said:
من كان للصلاة مضيعا فلغيرها أضيع فمن ليس فيه خير لربه فكيف فيه خير لغيره
“Whoever is neglectful with their ritual prayer, will be more neglectful in other things, because for the one who is not good to their Lord, how can they be good to anyone else?”
As for someone who can’t have loyalty to the One they owe everything to, how can they have loyalty to you? A relationship that is not built on shared values and core beliefs can only be built on something superficial. Love withstands hardships and develops. Many new couples often feel at a loss when they compare their relationships to that of people married for twenty years. But people who have yet to persevere and struggle together, or even share children, will be incapable of loving each other in the same way until they, too, pass these milestones. A person who has yet to climb the mountain can’t know what it’s like until they’ve climbed it. You can’t love someone deeply without experiencing these things.
In Islam, we’re provided with an invitation to get to know one another under guidelines that minimize the fuel of heartbreaks. While you may enjoy the company of someone by flirting and playing games with their – and your – emotions, you only delay the process of knowing who a person really is. They’re more than witty texts or cute pictures, they’re more than flashing smiles and fancy clothes—they’re people with ambitions, values, and ideals that are only tapped into when they decide to open themselves up for the right reasons.
When it is for the right reasons, love and relationships are of the greatest blessings that Allah has allowed us to experience:
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And of His signs is that He created for you, from yourselves, mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.”
So deliver me from those who would like to sell me “love” in sacrifice of my relationship with the most High. It is in pursuing His satisfaction that we will be satisfied.
I ask God to show us true love and allow it to be a means of achieving His Love. Ameen.