Whether platonic, parental, or romantic, unrequited love has been discussed extensively. The poets and philosophers have tried to put it into words, and the old stories have consistently explored this phenomenon. Many have wondered if love will always be one-sided after so many worldly experiences of loving one another and the potential of losing the loved one. Or if not one-sided, we are at least left to ponder if love is genuinely ever eternal? After all, even the strongest love of all cannot cross the boundaries of death.
These are bleak thoughts and perhaps some that one would be keen to avoid dwelling upon too much. They make for quite a lonely existence. Finding comfort in belief in a benevolent or helpful God is not uncommon for many people when they come to this realization. The Holy Qur’an says that even women and children are a “provision of the present life, but it is Allah with Whom is an excellent home” (1). One study conducted in 1990 stated that “the concept of ‘A Wrathful God’ was related positively to loneliness, a belief merely in the existence of God was independent of it. ‘A Helpful God’ showed a negative correlation with loneliness” (2 ).
It is interesting to note how our perception of God impacts how we see ourselves and our place in the world. Indeed, dealing with the world’s loneliness is not an easy task. It has plagued humanity for thousands of years. It essentially culminated in the atheists’ version of Existentialism: the belief that we are responsible for our actions as existing beings, which is far more limiting than freeing if we have no definitive source of a moral code. His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad (ra), the fourth head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, wrote in his book “Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge, and Truth” about the impact of such beliefs. He writes:
“Wrong as we may consider Sartre’s explanation, we must pay homage to his fiery outburst of desperation and vengefulness. This applies far more befittingly to Sartre himself, who may have suffered pangs of anguish and exasperation in the emptiness of his Godless philosophy. But all said and done, Sartre fails to distinguish between inspiration and revelation, terms that do not exist in his philosophy; what does exist is the agony of soul, a tongue of fire that leaps out in occasional outbursts of desperation. No revelation descends from on high, whatever rises, rises from the depth of human frustration” (3).
Taking Sartre’s case as an example, and his Holiness’ explanation of this specific aspect, it is interesting to see how and why Sartre comes to this ‘pang of anguish’; the God that his philosophy is in opposition to is incoherent and wrathful (His Holiness writes that the atheistic philosophers such as Sartre and Nietzsche “knew no God, other than the God of the Christian dogma and it was Him that his [Nietzsche’s] sword of reason had murdered”) (4). It would have been interesting to consider if similar conclusions would have come about if they were more familiar with Islamic theology. But, of course, one can never know for sure.
Islamic scripture is indeed explicit in telling us that the nature of God is loving and is eternal. Thus, the anguish of having a desire to have everlasting love while acknowledging that nothing is eternal is mitigated. At least in loving God, we can guarantee eternal love. Now the question is only if He would love us back, or is this just one more unrequited love?
With every chapter of the Holy Qur’an beginning with the words ‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Ever-Merciful,’ there is very little doubt of God’s ability to love humanity, despite its flaws and errors.
The question of reciprocal love came to the mainstream discussion in Islam thanks to the Sufis. Looking to the Ahadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet (sa)) as well as the Holy Qur’an, the Sufis turned to the very language used to justify the belief that the love between a man and God is reciprocal. Lexical analysis is offered by Professor Giuseppe Scattolin and Dr. Ahmed Hasan Anwar in their essay where it is written:
“Reciprocity in love is highlighted in such sayings of the Holy Prophet (sa) also by the usage of the reciprocal verbal form ‘mutual love’ (tahābba) and the almost technical expression ‘the mutual lovers in God’ (al-muthābbuna fī-llāh)” (5).
This idea is monumental in one’s belief in God. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an clearly states:
“And you cannot frustrate the designs of Allah in the earth or the heaven; nor have you any friend or helper besides Allah.”
So clearly, so beautifully has it been written: Allah is our Friend. The sincerest Friend. The one without whom we are truly lost. But how does one love the perfect Being in a way that honors Him? Is it even possible? (6).
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, defines love in these words:
“love is no pretense or ritualistic, rather it is a faculty among human faculties. Its reality is that the heart likes something and is drawn to it. Just as the real qualities of something are made evident when it reaches a state of excellence, so is the case of love. Its treasures are made apparent when it reaches its climax and highest point […] The greater the love, the more one is naturally drawn to the qualities of his beloved so much so that he becomes an image of the beloved. This is also the indication when a man loves God, he attains God’s light on a reflective basis in accordance with his own powers” (7).
In the Holy Qur’an, God is quite explicit about His nature. With names ranging from As-Salam (The Source of Peace) to Al-Ghafoor (The One Who Forgives), God shows different manifestations of love towards His creation (8). Therefore, we achieve piety and meekness by embodying these characteristics, drawing us closer to God.
Becoming an image of our Beloved, in this case, is impossible. No matter how much we try, we can never possess the Graciousness, the Mercy, the Compassion, or any of the other stated attributes of Allah the Almighty. But if we can begin even to reflect one minuscule fraction, we may be able to spread some good in this world and simultaneously strengthen our bond and love for God. Our hyper-perception of ourselves, to the point of madness, as is the case in much of the aforesaid atheistic Western philosophies, is minimalized through such a bond. We are no longer lonely beings who are condemned to love without the promise of eternity.
When love is enduring, it only makes sense for our beloved to be equally enduring.
This article appears in the February 2022 print edition.
1. The Holy Qur’an (3:15)
2. Schwab, Reinhold, and Kay Uwe Petersen. “Religiousness: Its Relation to Loneliness, Neuroticism and Subjective Well-Being.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 29, No. 3, [Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Wiley], 1990, Pp. 335–45, https://doi.org/10.2307/1386462. [Accessed: December 21, 2021]
3. Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, 1998, Pp. 50-51
4. Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, 1998, P. 50.
5. Giuseppe Scattolin and Ahmed Hasan Anwar, “Love in the History of Sufism Experience and Language,” (59-23): 2020.16.16 16.16( 2020): 23-59, [Accessed: December 9. 2021]
6. The Holy Qur’an (29: 23)
7. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Nur-ul Haq (Urdu), Part II, P. 430, “Ruhani Khaza’in” Vol. 9, Islam International Publications, Surrey, 2021. 8. The Holy Qur’an (3:130), (35:29), (59:24)
Last modified: February 2022