Posted on Nov 15, 2019
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
This story starts with Ramadan and dates. But at the heart, it’s about love of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and how we choose to show that love.
We all know that Ramadan is a blessed month filled with chances to earn blessings and mercy from Allah (S) as well as engage in familial and communal activities. There are a host of ways that people decorate and celebrate, but arguably, iftar is at the pinnacle. No matter what the venue (masjid, home, hall, etc.) or background of the host, every Muslim spread starts with dates for people breaking their fast.
I have a problematic relationship with dates. Personally, For the most part, I find the fruit unappetizing. It is sickly sweet and sometimes has gross fibers in the middle. Every time I saw a plate of dates, I cringed. But, I still picked one up as the melodious sound of the adhan filled the air. Despite my aversion to them, I spent years choking them down and trying not to gag while crunching the sometimes hard skin between my teeth.
I ignored my dislike because I was told that the Prophet liked them and If I loved him, I would learn to like them too. So, I stuffed them down.
Love for the Prophet Muhammad (saw) is an intrinsic and beautiful part of adhering to Islam. The Prophet said, "None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind." Loving the Prophet can seem like a thing shrouded in mystery as to exactly what it means or how one prioritizes and exhibits it. How do you feel such love? The aforementioned hadith mentions people that we love, and we exhibit our love for these people in different ways. Is our affection for our beloved Prophet meant to be an amalgamation of those human loves or something unique?
And whatever our love for the Prophet may be, should the ways we show it include things that may cause us suffering and discomfort? At it’s most basic, must I eat dates because the Prophet Muhammad (saw) loved dates?
What is Love, True Love?
When I asked Imam Tariq Elamin of Masjid Taqwa in Chicago about loving the Prophet, he pointed to an ayah in the Quran:
Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. [Quran-33:21]
“The aforementioned ayah points us toward a model character and behavior that will bring us success on the day of Judgement,” explained Elamin. “Allah tells us in Quran 21:107 that Muhammad [saw] was sent as a mercy to all the worlds (men/jinn, seen/unseen). What a tremendous act of mercy, to be sent the answer to a test that determines the destination of your soul.”
Imam Tariq continued, “Loving Prophet Muhammad (saw) is like a farmer loving the rain, knowing that his crops will never grow without it. It’s like the seafarer loving the wind in his sails; he would be motionless in the ocean without it. We love the Prophet for being the character model of success. Loving the Prophet is to love goodness. It is to love resiliency, thoughtfulness, honesty, tenderness, patience, bravery, humility, intelligence, and wisdom. Knowing his seerah (life/journey) allows us to know his character; As my non-Muslim aunt once said, after reading his biography 'How can you not love this man?'”
“To love Muhammad is to love him more than you love yourself,” said Imam Inshirah Abdel-Jaleel, event coordinator for The Muslim Connection. “What does this mean? To place his ways ahead of your own desires. To obey the commands and refrain from prohibitions; to treat one another with kindness and leniency, to want for your brother that which you want for yourself, to divorce yourself from anger and not return evil for an evil. This was his way, and to love him is to obey him.”
Giving the Best Love
Like many Muslims, I try to follow the sunnah (ways of the Prophet) to the best of my capabilities, knowing that there is always room for improvement. I hold his authenticated words and ways dearly and make daily utterances for him. But one Ramadan iftar, I decided the date I choked down would be my last. I can love the Prophet and not love everything he liked.
All of us may have a tendency to like some of the same things as the people we love but not everything. As human beings, we are blessed with our own personalities, proclivities and aversions. I certainly loved my parents and love my husband and children, but we don’t all like the same things. The Prophet is the source of guidance from Allah (S) to gain our Creator’s love. Allah says:
Say, [O Muhammad], ‘If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’
Does our love for Allah equate to any human love? No, and arguably, neither will our love for His Messenger (saw). It is unique and individual. His is the face we will seek on Yawmul Qiyyamah (Day of Judgement), so how could our affection for him be compared to another’s? The above verse shows a guarantee from Allah that staying tied to His Prophet is a pathway to supreme love, a love greater than what we have for our parents and children. So, how can our love for them be the same or superior?
My love for the Prophet Muhammad (saw) manifests as reverence for and obedience to him that supersedes paternal, maternal or eros love for other people. My fulfilling everyone else’s wants and desires is contingent on how they align with those of the Prophet’s. That is how I interpret quotes about prioritizing my love for the Prophet. We embrace his prophetic guidance in our hearts, obeying his mandatory directions and trying to emulate him as much as we can while maintaining our autonomy and developing our personalities.
Notions of love are broad and arbitrary, leaving us all to determine what feelings the object of our love initiates and how we will demonstrate it. So, how we love the Prophet Muhammad (saw) as individual adherents to his guidance will not be monolithic. We will feel what we feel and act accordingly. I know I love the Prophet of Islam. And for me, dates aren’t a demonstration of how much I love the Prophet, so I leave them on the plate.