Allahﷻ is Al Wadood- The Most Loving, He is the source of all love and affection.
وَهُوَ الۡغَفُوۡرُ الۡوَدُوۡدُۙ
And He is the Ever Forgiving, the Most Loving.
Surah Al Buruj | 14
Love is a strong feeling of affection that Allahﷻ has blessed every human being with, we experience the feeling of love through the attachment we feel towards our parents, our spouse, towards our siblings, our friends and also towards ourselves. In Islam love for Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ takes precedence over the love that we feel towards ourselves and others.
Abdullah ibn Hisham reported: We were with the Messenger of Allahﷺ, and heﷺ was holding the hand of Umar ibn Al-Khattab رضى الله عنه. Umar said to him, “O Messenger of Allahﷺ, you are more beloved to me than everything but myself.” The Prophetﷺ said, ” No, by the one in whose hand is my soul, until I am more beloved to you than yourself . “Umar said,” Indeed, I swear by Allah that you are more beloved to me now than myself. “The Prophetﷺ said,” Now you are right, O Umar. “
I have two takeaways from this hadith, the first is that of loving the Prophetﷺ more than we love ourselves and the second is the acknowledgement of the fact that it’s natural for a human being to love themselves, in fact, all of us love ourselves whether we like to admit it or not- our reflexes in a dangerous situation (the fight or flight response), our responses during arguments (defense mechanisms), wanting to feel important and significant etc, we are inherently wired to love ourselves. We can find this in the example of children whose existence revolves around pleasing themselves, سبحان الله. Most of us are usually wrapped up with our Nafs and ego thinking. Therefore in his advice to Umar رضى الله عنه, the Prophetﷺ emphasizes on the fact that our love for himﷺ must be more than our love for our own selves.
Our understanding of love is mostly based on that which is widespread from the Dunya perspective. Consumerism and movies have distorted the emotion of love to base desires. It’s almost always the romantic love, and even that image is distorted by projecting it as becoming an epitome of sacrifice in order to reach the pinnacle of romantic love. So when a person thinks of loving themselves, they are programmed to think of it in a negative light, as something selfish and self-centered.
As natural as it is for us to love ourselves, we can contradict this quality within and become our worst critics, we can be severe in self- judgment which leads to self-doubt and limiting beliefs. We are quick to put ourselves under the bus by labeling ourselves and using strong, unforgiving language. The negative self-talk depletes us and takes us on a downhill.
If the agenda is to lovingly give to others, it’s vitally important to lovingly give to ourselves first. When a bag is filled with love and goodness, that’s what we would be putting on the table, and when it’s filled with neglect and frustration then again that is exactly what we will be laying down.
In fact, we are required to love ourselves in order to strive in Allahﷻ’s path and to be the way Heﷻ wants us to be, in terms of obedience, steadfastness, and righteousness, to strive to become the best version of ourselves in order to reach for the excellence in terms of improving the quality of our worship and in general our lives.
When we examine love from the basis of Allahﷻ’s Beautiful Name- Al Wadood (The Most Loving), we can see that Allahﷻ’s love for His believing slaves is constant and it continues to manifest itself through His Mercy, Guidance, His forgiveness etc. Heﷻ loves the believers and the believers love Himﷻ. When we apply this Name of Allahﷻ into our own lives, it translates into how we show mercy, kindness, and forgiveness towards others. If we can perceive this attribute of Allahﷻ in terms of personal implementation, we can see that one cannot show love, kindness, and forgiveness towards others if they are not showing all these characteristics to themselves first. It’s not the narcissistic kind of love الستغفر الله, but a humble approach to love, that exudes and radiates itself in all walks of life. The love which is for the sake Allahﷻ is not just reserved for others, but first and foremost towards ourselves.
Only in kindness to ourselves can we show kindness to others, only by being merciful to ourselves, can we be merciful to others, so on and so forth. What we grow in our hearts is what will be in our capacity to share, and why? Because ultimately we want Allahﷻ to be pleased with us, to be kind to us and to shower His mercy upon us, إنشاء الله.