B.A.S.I.C. NEWSLETTER #57
B.A.S.I.C. NEWSLETTER #57
September 3, 2005
I Cor. 16:9 For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
God’s Love in the Qur’an (Koran)
(Taken from KITAB No.25-Feb. 2001)
Two things are essential when Christians think about the relationship of the gospel to Islam. One is a thorough knowledge of the gospel. The other is a fair and accurate understanding of the teaching of Islam.
The New Testament places the unconditional love of God at the heart of the good news about Jesus. Does an examination of the Qur’an reveal a similar teaching? This short article sets out one aspect of this question: the use of two verbs for ‘love’ in relation to Allah.
The two Arabic verbs are habba and wadda. Habba means ‘to love, like; to wish, want, or like to do something’. This verb appears in its active form some 40 times with Allah as subject and with a variety of human objects.
We read that Allah loves (habba) the ‘good-doers’ (2:195; 3:134, 148; 5:93), the ‘just’ (5:42; 49:9; 60:8), and the ‘god-fearing’ (9:4,7). Allah does not love the ‘evildoers'(3:57, 140; 42: 40), the ‘proud and boastful’ (4:36; 31:18; 57:23), and the ‘workersofcorruption’ (5:64;28:77). Two striking occurrences of habba are that Allah does not love the ‘prodigal’ (musrifun, 6:141; 7:31), and that Allah ‘loves those who fight in his way’ (61:4). In all there are 22 statements about those whom Allah does not love, and 18 about those whom Allah loves.
A noun from this verb, mahabba, occurs once in relation to Allah: “I endued thee (Moses) with love from me’ (20:39).
The second verb for love in the Qur’an is wadda (to love, like, be fond; to want, wish). Forms of this verb appear in relation to Allah in just three verses. On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will assign love (wudd) to ‘those who believe and do deeds of righteousness’ (19:96). The prophet Shuaib (sometimes understood to be Moses’ father-in law, Jethro) is portrayed as describing his Lord as ‘loving’ (wadood) in 11:90; and the same term is used to describe Allah’s character in 85:14. In these two verses wadood is associated with forgiveness and mercy. Vivienne Stacey gives the meaning of wadood here as ‘the affection with which the master responds to the loyalty of a faithful servant’.
One scholar who studied these two verbs in the context of the overall theology of the Qur’an was Muhammad Daud Rahbur. As he wrote his PhD dissertation later published as God of Justice—he concluded that in the Qur’an, Allah loves only people who are perfectly pious’. Since it would be presumptuous for any human to claim perfect piety, Rahbar reasoned, the question as to whether Allah actually loves any human is left open. He found an echo of this ambivalence in the fact that human love for Allah is mentioned only rarely in the Qur’an.
Rahbar was led by a series of deep theological reflections to find the demonstration of divine love in human history in ‘a man who loved, who lived humbly like the poorest, who was perfectly innocent and sinless, who was tortured and humiliated in literally the worst manner, and who declared his continued transparent love for those who had inflicted the worst of injuries on him’,
The Apostle Paul wanted the daily lives of people to be illuminated by the full extent of God’s love (Eph. 3:18,19). He and other New Testament writers found the objects of divine love to include the powerless, the ungodly, sinful humans, God’s enemies, the spiritually dead, and people deserving punishment (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:3-5). They identified the supreme demonstration of divine love with an event in history: God’s sending His Beloved into the world. At this time God dealt decisively with human sin through Jesus’ voluntary act of laying down his life for humanity (Jn 3:16, 10:11-18, 15:13; Rom. 5:8, 8:32; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:1-2; I John 3:16, 4:8-10). The good news message, and our motivation for mission, are based firmly on that love of God (2 Cor. 5:14).
When considering the Islamic concept of God in a classic study nearly a century ago, Samuel Zwemer noted that the Qur’an contains only a few expressions of human love for Allah (four verses using forms of habba, none of which is a command). He couldn’t help remarking on the contrast between this and ‘the abundant and plain teaching of the Old and New Testament regarding the love which God requires of man and which flows out from God to man’.
But the proof must surely come in the reading; and a reading of the verses about habba and wadda makes it clear that there is no Qur’anic concept of the unconditional love of God. So haven’t we got something wonderful to share?