Is Allah a God of Love?

http://jordantong.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/love.jpgIt is common today to hear people talk about a God of love, often connected with the idea that all religions teach about a God of love. In a recent panel Q&A, I was asked “Can we call Allah a God of love?” My brief answer was no, since he is not portrayed that way in the Qur’an. For example, in the book God of Justice: A Study in the Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an, Daud Rahbar, the late Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religions at Boston University, argues that the primary motivation for ethics given by the Qur’an is fear of God’s stern justice.

Though it is common to see fear as the essential motive for ethical behavior in Islam, it is uncommon to see that fear directed towards stern justice. “It is a fact well-recognized in scientific scholarship that Fear of God is the dominant sentiment in Qur’anic morality. But that the roots of this sentiment are in God’s stern justice and not in the preponderant malignance of the arbitrary will of a capricious sovereign is a fact scarcely recognized” (5). Thus, Rahbar sets out to demonstrate that the conception of God in the Qur’an is not of a capricious God but of a God who enacts certain justice.

Though I am unconvinced that Rahbar conclusively destroys the idea of a capricious God in Islam, I did find his discussion on the absence of love in the Qur’an and the prominence of love in the Bible fascinating.

Nowhere [in the Qur’an] do we find the idea that God loves mankind. God’s love is conditional (172).

In Christianity Love becomes the essential motive principle of virtuous conduct. Why? The answer is simple. In Christianity God is, before anything else, the Father. His Love transencds His Justice. In Qur’anic thought Fear of God becomes the essential motive-principle of virtuous conduct. Why?… The answer to why fear-motive prevails in the Qur’an is that Qur’an’s God is, before anything else, a strict judge. His justice is unrelaxing. He will forgive none but those who believe in Him and obey commandments….

The relationship of love…is a reciprocal one. The Qur’an never enjoins love for God. This is because God Himself loves only the strictly pious. To love God one must presuppose that God is reciprocating the sentiment. And to presuppose that is to presume that one is perfectly pious. Such presumption the Qur’an never allows. Even the most virtuous men as prophets are constantly reminded that they are sinful creatures who must ask forgiveness of smallest sins whether they are aware of them or not. Side by side with such a conception of God’s unrelaxing justice love for God would certainly be out of place (179-80).

In the Bible [the] central notion is God’s Fatherhood and his love for mankind. And so it is love between man and God on which all Christian morality rests… In the Qur’an the corresponding central notion is God’s strict justice. And so on fear of God’s strict justice of the judgement day depends the fulfilling of the law and the whole moral value of Qur’anic duty (223–4).

I agree that love is a central notion in the Bible, but I disagree that the Christian God’s love transcends His justice. Rather, His love leads Him to remain just while providing a way for unjust sinners to become just in His sight. God makes believers perfectly just. That’s why the Christian God performed the greatest act of love possible, and Christians in turn love God.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

This entry was posted in Current Issues, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 thoughts on “Is Allah a God of Love?

  1. Tim Miller says:

    It also seems that the Islamic god could not be love for the following two reasons:

    1. A unitarian conception of god provides no basis for the existence of an attribute like love (or many others that we care about).

    2. The Islamic conception of god maximizes omnipotence. Thus, Allah cannot love, for love would be submitting to the needs of someone else. Or, in other words, it would be seen as giving up absolute freedom.

    For Christians, God’s omnipotence is actually confirmed by His self-imposed limitations. Rather than seeing love for the creature as a weakness, it is seen as an expression of His eternal power.

  2. BE says:

    Tim,

    Two good points. FWIW, Rahbar argues against the idea that Allah is omnipotent, since one of the reasons Allah is seen as capricious is because of his absolute freedom/power (that’s a part of the book I didn’t find convincing). So he would not agree with your second point, but still recognizes that love is a foreign idea in the Qur’an.

    Ben

  3. In Islam, love is very important but it is not unconditional love unlike other religions. You have to earn it. You don’t expect God to love rapists, murderers, thieves, etc , do you? He is loving as well as at the same time he is Just. If he loves the rapists, will it not be unjust to the victims?

  4. BE says:

    Burun,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’d like to responds to a couple of things. First, I don’t think other religions have a God of unconditional love–I think only Christianity does. Other religions are more like Islam, with a God of conditional love. “God” (or gods) loves those who do the right things. Only the Christian God loves those who don’t “earn” it.

    You said “You don’t expect God to love rapists, murderers, thieves, etc., do you?” In a sense you are right–I don’t expect God to do that, because I certainly don’t naturally do that. It’s not natural for us as people to love those who do wrong, especially those who do wrong against us. So, if I was creating a god, I would have the god love like I tend to do–conditionally.

    So why do Christians believe God loves unconditionally? Because He revealed Himself as a God of unconditional love, both by what He has said about Himself and by what He demonstrated. He died for those who were His enemies, for those who rebelled against Him. We didn’t create this idea of God. God told us what He was like.

    Which leads to your final question. “If he loves the rapists, will it not be unjust to the victims?” I can understand and feel the tension you are addressing in this question. Doesn’t God’s unconditional love thrust aside justice? Two things are important to keep in mind here. First, God is always the one most offended by any sin. Thus, the rapist has sinned against God even more than against his victim. So justice first and foremost must be dealt with in relation to God.

    But the second truth is that God did deal with that justice through the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s unconditional love does not mean that he overlooks sin and everyone is going to be ok. God is perfectly just, so every wrong will be made right. For some, they will suffer the consequences of their sin by justly being punished forever in hell. But the good news is that, for others who place their faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus suffered the consequences of their sin in His death. So God doesn’t simply love a rapist and overlook their sin–that would be unjust for the victim. Rather, he loved the rapist and victim enough to deal with that sin in the person of Jesus Christ, and offers His grace and love to both. Thus, the Christian God is both loving and just.

    Ben