Imam Ghazali and other mystics have made a serious mistake in understanding the concept of ‘preparing for the hereafter’. And this is what I would like to briefly clarify here.
The concept of ‘preparing for the hereafter’ depends on one’s outlook about the relationship between this world and the hereafter. There are three possibilities: 1. submerge in the blessings of this world and forget the hereafter; 2. utilize this world for the hereafter; 3. forsake this world for the hereafter.
The mystics and Sufis have adopted the third alternative, whereas the materialists have adopted the first alternative. Between these two extremes, lies the true Islamic view. There are many verses of the Qur’an which highly praise the blessings of this world, and many others which strongly exhort the Muslims to seek the hereafter. Seen in isolation, these verses can be used by the two groups to prove their extreme views. But seen in the light of other verses which talk about the inter-relationship of this world and the hereafter, one is guided to the Qur’anic view. And it is obvious that you cannot isolate the verses of Qur’an from one another, especially if they are talking about the same issue. As I said earlier, this is not the place to fully discuss this issue, but I will give a few examples from the Qur’an and the sunnah to clarify the Islamic view about this world and the hereafter.
The Qur’an says: “Seek, among that which God has given to you, the hereafter, but do not forget your portion of this world either.” (28:77) Allah says, “And when the prayer has ended, spread out in the world and seek the blessing of Allah and remember Him often, haply you will succeed.” (62:10)
Imam Hasan says, “Be for your world as if you are going to live forever, and be for your hereafter as if you are going to die tomorrow.”1 The Imam is teaching you that Islam does not want you to forsake this world, it wants you to totally benefit from it and love it but not to the extent that you may forget the hereafter -the hereafter, where your fate depends on how obedient you were to God in your worldly life. Imam Musa al-Kazim says, “The person who forsake his world for the sake of his religion or he who forsake his religion for the sake of his world is not from us.”2 In Islam, piety does not mean forsaking this world and living in isolation in a desert or a monastery! Piety means to live in the society a normal life but without forgetting the ultimate destination, the purpose of our creation -an eternal life in the hereafter.
Even the relationship between the love for God and the love for one’s spouse, children, and the world at large is of the same type. There are two levels of love in Islam: the love for God and the love for everything else. Islam does not forbid a person to love the spouse, children, parents, relatives, friends, and the worldly blessings which Allah has given to him or her. However, what Islam expects is that this love should be in harmony with the love for God, it should be based on the love for God. The practical implication of this is that if a conflict occurs between the demand of the love for God and the love for anything else, then the love for God should take precedence. In Islam, God is the axis of existence, he and nothing else is the Absolute Truth.
Allow me to explain this phenomenon in a metaphorical manner: the moon revolves around the earth, but at the same time, it also revolves around the sun. Moreover, the magnetic relationship between the moon and the earth is a minor part of the overall magnetic force which makes the planets revolve around the sun in our solar system. Similarly, in Islam the love between two human beings is like the relationship of the moon and the earth; and the love which a Muslim has for God is like the relationship of the sun and the planets. Obviously, the first type of love exists within the realm of the second. In other words, there are two cycles of love: love for God and love for one’s husband, wife or children. The first is a wider circle within which exists the second circle of love.
Remember, there is a fine difference between what we are saying and what Mernissi and, to some extent, Ghazali have said. Mernissi says that in Islam love between husband and wife is forbidden because love should be devoted to God alone. Whereas we are saying that Islam does not forbid love between husband and wife -or love for anything else- as long as it is in harmony with the love of God. That is, it should not overwhelm you to the extent of forsaking the love for God. This is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an:
Say (O Muhammad), “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your clan, (your) possessions which you have acquired, (your) business which you fear may slacken and (your) dwellings which you love -(if there) are dearer to you than Allah, His Messenger and struggle in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His decision (on the day of judgement). (9:24)
I would like to emphasize on the word “ahabbu -dearer.” If Allah had said that “if your … are dear to you” than Mernissi or others of her ideology might have been right in saying that Islam expects exclusive love for Allah and that all other loves are forbidden. But here Allah is talking in a comparative manner and says that if you love other things or persons more than Allah, then you are wrong, because such love could take you on the path of disobedience to the commands of Allah and cause your perdition in the hereafter.
It is clear from what we said above that the Islamic concept of love is not confined to love for God vis-a-vis love for women, it is a universal concept in which we talk about love for all persons and things. So it is absolutely misleading to give a sexist context to this issue and say that the Islamic sexual morality is an anti-women morality.
In conclusion, we can say that the views of Mernissi and Ghazali -that in Islam women are sexually more active than men and that Islam does not tolerate love between husband and wife- cannot be substantiated from the original Islamic sources, the Qur’an and the authentic sunnah.
1. Wasa’il, vol.12, p.49.
Adapted from: “Marriage & Morals in Islam” by: “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”