The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, hates for the sake of Allah, gives for the sake of Allah, and withholds for the sake of Allah has perfected the faith.
In another narration the Prophet ﷺ said: “The best of actions is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah.” [Both from Abi Dawud]
Love and hate are of the strongest emotions humans experience and as these ahadith and other narrations like them tell us, these emotions are an integral component of sound faith.
But the issue arises of what is it that one should love and hate? The objects of love and hate are not open ended. One cannot love something contrary to the Sacred Law “for the sake of Allah.” One cannot hate an aspect of the deen “for the sake of Allah.” In fact, falling into either possibility wittingly or unwittingly is an unmitigated disaster.
Beyond those two extremes, it is also problematic if one’s love and hate are generally misaligned with reality. In reality, associating partners with Allah is the ultimate crime, but if a Muslim feels nothing when he sees shirk or is indifferent at best, then this can potentially be a big problem (since according to the implication of another famous hadith, “changing” something evil with one’s heart [as opposed to hand or tongue] is already the weakest [level] of iman, so what if one feels nothing at all?).
Similarly for love. Ideally, a Muslim will feel joy and love for the sacred month of Ramadan. If one doesn’t feel this, then one should note that and not take it lightly by actively working to feel that joy and love. This is all about monitoring one’s internal states and course correcting as necessary. Not an easy feat.
Then there is another side to the coin. Because you can also experience powerful emotions of love or hate for things that, in reality, are not worthy of those emotions. Imagine a Muslim who tears up upon hearing the Star Spangled Banner or the US pledge of allegiance. Sure, there might be other factors that influence a Muslim to feel such emotions. Maybe those things bring to mind powerful memories and it is those memories causing the swell of emotion. But imagine a scenario where the love is for the Star Spangled Banner for itself. That is the object of the love. This can be problematic if, for example, that love is not proportional to the love one has for the Quran, the words of the Prophet ﷺ, etc. How can one tear up for some song written by a guy several hundred years ago about national pride but feel nothing for the words of one’s Creator?
But if that’s the internal state we find within ourselves, then that’s no reason to despair. Not at all. Because this is a life long process and we all have to continuously work at it and remain vigilant.
Furthermore, it is actually not unexpected if we find major misalignments. This is because we are in a world and in a global culture where what we are told and taught and conditioned to love and hate mostly has little bearing on reality and therefore little alignment with Islam.
So we have to proactively recognize this so that we can save ourselves. We have to first of all learn more about what is real. We do this by pursuing sacred knowledge, learning Islam as much as we can with qualified teachers. Then we exercise healthy skepticism about what the dominant culture around us tells us to love and hate. Does it align with reality? If not, we have to go through the difficult, long term process of realigning our internal states, essentially reconditioning ourselves so that we can truly love and hate for the sake of Allah.
In summary, here are the four questions in simplified form we need to constantly interrogate ourselves with:
1. Do I love what I should love?
2. Do I hate what I should hate?
3. Are the things that I do love already things that I should love?
4. Are the things that I do hate already things that I should hate?
May Allah protect our faith and make it easy.