Sometimes the sea lies before one’s eyes, but one doesn’t even dream of having a swim... Unfortunate...but it happens. Very recently, my heart touched the warm, eternal blueness of a verse in the Qur’an. While it was right before my eyes all these years, I never managed to let my heart delve in... Now, am I in the sea then? Have I delved deep enough?
Touching the eternal is, of course, eternal. And can one limit one’s share from the eternal? Even writing this piece as if it were “my discovery!” might be disrespect to the “more and more” of the concept of discovery. Of course, there is much more to discover than what has already been discovered. Nevertheless, let us share to the extent of our discovery.
Let us now delve into the eternally deep blueness of this verse together.
There is much to say about this “Say!”. To “Say!” is left to the Messenger by the Owner of the Word. Why? Because, soon after, He will invite us to follow the Messenger. But He does not invite on behalf of His Messenger; He would like the Messenger to make the call. With His Lordly kindness, He provides an example of “following”. “Say: "If you indeed love God, then follow me, so that God will love you…” He could have also said: “If you do love me, follow my Messenger, so I will love you...” In this way, there would be no need to say “Say...”It starts with “Say...”
If that were the case, the call for following the Messenger would not be so explicit. The One, who left the call to the Messenger, offers an example of way of following him. In fact, God –surely – is not compelled to follow; He does not have to imply that He is a follower in the first place...
In actual fact, the verse conceals the message “you don’t have to either!” as a subtle undercurrent... This is because, we soon come to understand that we as servants “are not compelled” to follow the Messenger. I am well aware that you are asking, “What on earth is this?!”
What does ‘obligation’ mean? To be obligated. What place does a word that involves ‘obligation’ or ‘force’ have before the term ‘following the Messenger’? Is it at all appropriate? Especially if the cause and result of this call to “obedience/conformity” is “love”, which cannot, under any circumstances be forced...
Let us examine the precondition of the call to follow the Messenger: “If you do love Allah...” Let us also consider the outcome: “so that God will love you…” In the verse, “following” is positioned between two loves.
How far from one another, are the words love and compulsion! If there is compulsion, there is no love. In fact, if one is forced, they no longer love what they used to love. There is no need for compulsion and can be no mention of coercion where there is love.
Deep in the adage “you cannot force goodness”, the following meaning is also hidden: “no goodness remains where there is force”. Where there is compulsion, all goodness is ruined. Goodness cannot tolerate compulsion.
Loving is an action of the heart; the heart cannot be forced, or tolerate compulsion. (Had love merely been an action of muscles, perhaps then one could have loved by force, and there could have been those who were forced to love!)
The reason why “following” the Messenger is mentioned between two “loves” must be to remind us that the behaviors we know as “sunna” are not hollow shells, but are actions performed not with bodily muscles, but with the heart. That is to say, sunna is actualized not by the movements of muscles, but first and foremost with the movement of the heart. Any act that does not begin with love of God, a deed which does not hold within it expectation of God’s love does not in essence deserve to be called “sunna”, even if it matches the sunna in form.
Right at this point, let us reconsider the “sunna” and the “fard”. After all, is not fard at the very least a “sunna” since it is represented and translated into action by the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings?
Are we invited to follow the Prophet, peace be upon him, via the threat “obey or else!”? Why would the Creator, who created our countenances out of nothing and Who increases the affection we feel for ourselves each time we look in the mirror, wait for us on a path of compulsion? However much we are content with our own existence and have no objection to even our eyelashes, are we not supposed to tread on the ‘path’ that He made for us without feeling compulsion, and not as obligation, but with complete love and readiness? Why should my Maker, who loved me even when I did not exist, who created and fashioned me in the best way , and who loved me even when I did not love myself, invite me to a path that is “unlovable”, “unnecessary”, “purposeless”, “forcible”?
Following the Messenger depends on love... Your being able to love; moreover, your love of God. “Say, if you know anyone who is more worthy of your love than God, then do not follow me...” “Say, if loving some other than God is more profitable or beneficial for you, then do not conform to me...” “Say, if it is difficult for you to love the One who created you out of nothing and fashioned you into a human being, do not abide by me...”
Again, “Say, if you love someone who does not watch over you, and never remembers you in your absence more than your Lord, Who remembers you when noone else does and chooses you as one worthy of remembrance , then do not walk in my footsteps...”
And “Say, if you deem those who did not see you as worthy of remembrance as more deserving of your love than the One who loved you even before you knew yourself, then do not walk on my path, but on theirs.”
In short: Love is the first requisite of following the Prophet. There is no compulsion in love. Love cannot be forced. Love is not an uphill walk; it is a flow. It is a voluntary joining. Even if by chance uphill, it is a walk taken willfully. One does not get tired by loving. Through love, one is revived, and revives. Nobody can be expected to love by force. Thus, no action of the sunna whatsoever is ‘forced’.
Each call for others to follow contains a second question: “What will happen when I follow? Where will I end up if I walk in His footsteps? What will I gain through walking with Him?
Our Lord’s answer is very familiar and endearing: “Being loved.” “Say: "If you indeed love God, then follow me, so that God will love you…” That is, “Say, if you will gain more by being loved by someone other than God, it is not necessary that you follow me.” Again, “Say, if someone else’s loving you will save you from nothingness, from nonexistence, then do not follow in my footsteps...” And, “Say, if being loved by someone other than God will rescue you from the grave in the days to come, where no one will remember and revere you, where everyone will become accustomed to your absence, forget you, and forget that they have forgotten you, it is not necessary that you pursue my trail...”
And what is more... “Say, if it is someone other than God who does not cut-off your sustenance, and who does not disgrace you to others although He knows all your shortcomings, you can do without following me...” How meaningful it is that the last part of the verse takes being loved by God to the peak of description: “May God love you so much as to forgive, en masse, all your sins and failings, ignoring them, as it were.
It is for this reason that –contrary to common belief – God does not have “commands and prohibitions”. In other words, God does not “bombard us with commands” in the sense that we are used to. It would be an injustice to God’s commands and prohibitions to approach them like a military “pecking order.”
Where there is love, there is no need for commands or prohibitions... Only those undeserving of love bombard others with commands. Only the unloved and unloving are compulsorily and forcibly obeyed.
At no point of sunna, which begins with love and ends with love, is there ‘prohibition’; there is, instead, haram. The word "haram" derives from the word “hurma” (reverence). Therefore, believers’ “prohibition” emanates from their ‘reverence’. The sunna does not contain arbitrary or high-handed prohibition. Reverence always has a purpose. A person cannot honor one they do not love. They honor those they love and those from whom they expect love. They demand or prohibit certain things to themselves for the sake of their loved one. This prohibition is not from an external source, but comes from within.
Similarly, we cannot translate the word fard as “obligatory.” There is no room for free-will in obligation; there is free-will in fard. Whoever lives with God, honors Him, venerates Him, avoids doing what He tells them not to do, does not go where He tells them not to go, does not eat what He tells them not to eat. Every deed pertaining to haram and commandments, and every person and everything that is part of this relationship is the visible aspect of obedience to God.
Let us remember: Angels and Satan were tested with prostrating before Adam – not before God. Their obedience to God was tested through their obedience to Adam. Angels obeyed immediately, without hesitation or question. Satan, on the other hand, looked for justification, because doing something for God’s sake was not in question for him. He began to writhe in discomfort, with his “Yes, but...” sentence beginnings. He dared to say, “Yes, but I am made out of fire, Adam is of earth...” “Fire is superior to earth; fire does not bow down to earth,” he said. One excuse followed another. The issue, however, was not Adam who was made of earth – being of earth or fire did not matter. The issue was prostrating to Adam. The faith of the angels allowed them to see the sake of God within the earth of which Adam was created, while Satan saw nothing more than clay. Those who are thus so blind can only understand dry commands and prohibitions. There is no room for their heart in their obedience. With such blindness, could Satan have bowed down to Adam had Adam been of fire and him of earth? Absolutely not! Or, could he have been considered as having fittingly obeyed if he prostrated because he was created of earth, and Adam of fire? No! Because there would not have been reverence to God in this state either.
For instance, a believer does not eat pork; this is considered haram. A believer tries to be modestly dressed; this is Divine injunction. When having to deal with pork, the believer holds in the greatest esteem the sake of God, Who says “do not eat the meat of swine.” The pig is not of concern. A believer’s obedience is not contingent upon the scientific explanations pertaining to the harmful aspects of pig meat. When she covers her hair and chooses not to display her beauty outwardly, she considers and regards the sake of the One who bestows her hair as an ‘adornment’ before considering her hair per se. The veiling of one who ‘sees’ God, is conscious and voluntary, not forced. That is to say, more than merely covering the skin, veiling encompasses strong belief to the extent that one seeks and perceives the sake of God. As for having such awareness, this does not have a specific form or style; being aware of and seeking the sake of God is not something that can be debated, cut and measured, and sewn like the headscarf itself. A believer refrains from eating and drinking for the sake of God. They are veiled, and thus concealed for His sake. This is why veiling is decreed for “believing men and believing women.” Those who believe that they are seen by God consider their gaze, their hair and their skin each an adornment.
They do not receive orders, but know true value and deem something a command upon themselves. They do not take heed of prohibitions, but hold in high esteem and forbid something to themselves.
All kinds of obedience detached from love violate the courtesy of “following”. Therefore, sunna is as magnificent as loving most the One who most deserves being loved. All forms of ‘following’ without love violate human free-will. Sunna is a heart-felt consideration which only those who know they are loved are aware of.
 Religiously prescribed mandatory actions.