What is Love?

Question

What is Love?

Answer

Hwaa Irfan

As salamu `alaykum to you dear sister.

 

I think you have asked the million dollar question here. As short as your question is, it is not very easy to answer and many spend much of their lives trying to seek something that is other than what it is. I suppose I could say it is a feeling, but how many feelings do we have each day that are correct and have a healthy or unhealthy longevity when the next day comes?

 

I am assuming here that you mean ‘love’ as in the love between a man and a woman.

 

Romantic Love

This kind of love we are most familiar with because we have been nurtured on it through songs and the media in general. It is also a kind of addiction/obssession that can drive one to do haram acts. This is the nature of any addiction after all!

 

It is a desire that eminates from our lower desires and so is therefore rooted in the nafs an-ammarah bi`s-su (the self-comanding soul) (12: 53), which is dominated by the earthly senses and thus selfish. Romantic love is never happy unless it is being attended to by the object of that love, and is jealous when the person ‘loved’ has his attention elsewhere. This attention might be work, friends, family or another.

 

Recent studies in neuroscience, support the precautions called upon in Islam. Helen Fisher’s team at Rutgers University scanned the brains of couples who were newly in love while they gazed at photo’s of their sweethearts. Activity soars in the brain’s reward system. That result, Fisher says, in “fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation, even mania – the core feelings of romantic love“. Other areas linked with negative emotions and assessing other people’s intentions switched off. Romantic love also included activation of the hypothalamus, where the sex hormone testosterone is produced. Lust, the sexual part of love, is unsurprisingly, switched on in romantic love. – Scientific America

 

So, given the above results, if one becomes so engrossed with the person ‘loved’, one is unaware other people’s intentions, including the one who is ‘loved’. This where much emotional damage can be done to either party, especially when individuals become prey to the feelings of ‘romantic love’ which lead to pre-marital relationships. If the relationship moves towards marriage, the doors of reality flies open and there might be not so pleasant surprises. One of those surprises is boredom with each other, because the relationship was not based on anything more than emotions.

 

Islamic scholar and philosopher abu Hamid al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote any man whose daughter had many suitors asked Prophet Muhammed on how he should decide. Prophet Muhammed said: “To the one who fears God; because if he loves her, he will be kind to her, and if he hates her, he will not wrong her” and “Whoever gives his daughter in marriage to a licentious man has betrayed her womb”.  

 

We underestimate the level of bio-chemical reactions that are taking place in our bodies when it come to emotion, but mostly, it does not even occur to us that it is anything other than emotions, but even thought as a bio-chemical base. The point of this is, we should realize that when we allow a certain negative emotion to occur, that we not necessarily in full control of ourselves ones the hormones react to those emotions.

 

Neuroscience has found that:

 

  • Higher levels of testosterone and estrogen are present when one feels lust.
  • Levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin increase when attracted

 

Unconditional Love

 

{“And among His wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!”} (Rum 30:21).

 

Unaware as to wether you are a Muslim or not, the above quotation is from our book of guidance, the Qur`an. Much advice is given, including the relationship between a wife and husband. It does not merely speak of a physical intimacy, but most importantly, emotional intimacy which is an essential ingredient in unconditional love. It is a process of getting to know the other person as he is (not as you want him to be), to share in duties and responsibilities and to always be there as a friend. This is more important than any physical intimacy because it is the basis, of intimacy and the key to a bonding relationship that provides a buoyancy through the difficult times. It is a process of building trust, the kind of trust whereby the couple can get to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths without taking advantage or wanting to. The husband is an open book to the wife and vice versa with both respecting and sharing in each others needs, aspirations, time. There is:

  • Mutual trust
  • Tenderness
  • Acceptance is unconditional approval in a relationship. No one is perfect.
  • Open communication is the ability to discuss anything with your spouse.
  • Caring  is genuine concern for your spouse’s well-being. If you do things you know hurt your spouse, you cannot have healthy intimacy.
  • Apologies  are the remedy for mistakes that spouses inevitably make. Recognizing mistakes, taking responsibility for them, expressing remorse for any hurt caused, and making a commitment to change the hurtful behavior are all essential to mending the relationship after a mistake
  • Forgiveness  is the process of letting go of anger, desire for revenge, and obsessive thinking about times your spouse has hurt you. It includes giving your spouse permission to have weaknesses, make mistakes, and change.
  • Appropriate boundaries are the limits you place on a relationship. The limits can be created individually or as a couple. These limits include saying “no” when your spouse asks you to do something that goes against your values or is more than you can handle.
  • Friendship is the ingredient that lines a loving relationship. True friendship means that you will be there for one another and is the boat that takes you through rough times.

Neuroscience has found that the hormone Oxcytocin also boosts trust, which is an important step in developing a loving relationship

 

  • Oxcytocin and vasopressin levels are higher in marriage = long term relationships signaled by the deep level of trust and bonding between spouses.

Spiritual Love

 

Loving for the sake of Allah takes a a good healthy marriage even further, because there is a love greater than the both of you and includes family, relatives, friends and all creation. This is what unites humanity in our Creator and as a marrired couple pray and worship together, it adds an unbreakable dimension the the marital relationship. In Islam this is referred to as tawhid, where there is a self-respect, modesty and remiss of arrogance or pride. Loving for the sake of Allah means loving others (including ones spouse) regardless of their flaws. When this aspect is strong within a marital relationship, physical intimacy becomes less important. Jealousy and possessiveness dwindles because the level of emotional bonding is so great.

 

Sheikh Muhammad Maulad tells us:

 

“The actual physical heart in our breast beats at about 100,000 times a day, pumping two gallons of blood per minute, 100 gallons per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for an entire life time! The vascular system that sends this life-giving blood is over 60,000 miles long: it is more than two times the circumference of the earth. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the heart starts beating before the brain is formed; the heart begins to beat without any central nervous system. The dominant theory was that the central nervous system is what is controlling the entire human being from the brain, yet we know now that in fact the nervous system does not initiate the heartbeat. It is actually self-initiated; we would say, it is initiated by Allah subhanahu wa T’ala“.

 

With this level of connection, the strong bond between a couple will extend to the family, relatives, neighbors and in turn heal society as a whole.

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