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The Garden of Lovers: Ishq

Ibn al-Qayyim in his book Rawdatul Muhibbeen (The garden of Lovers) dedicates the first part of the book defining the word love (hubb) as well as all other words that have similar meanings. There were approximately 50 words in the Arabic language that carried the meaning of love albeit they differ from each other in various aspects. Amongst the names he discussed, was ‘ishq. The following is a rough translation of what he mentioned alongside other comments on the definition by Ibn al-Jawzi in his book Dham al Hawaa (The Dispraise of Desires) as well as al-Fayruzabadi in Qaamoos al Muheet.

Out of all the names that denote love, ‘ishq was described as being the stronger form. Ibn al-Qayyim in fact described it as being the worst word used – the Arabs would rarely count it as their frequently used vocabulary. This is why one rarely finds this word used in ancient Arabic poetry and is never used in the Qur’an or Sunnah (except in a weak narration narrated by Suwayd bin Sa’eed, which I will mention later).

According to ar-Razi as mentioned in Mukhtaar as-Sihaah, ‘ishq is excessiveness in love. In Qaamoos al Muheet, it states that the word applies to indecent love as well as chaste love. It is said that the word is derived from the name of a tree called ‘Aashiqah, which has leaves that become green then turn yellow. Al-Farraa’ said that ‘ishq is also a name for a sticky plant; just as the plant sticks to things around it; the heart becomes attached to someone/something it falls in love with.

Ibn al-Jawzi mentions in Dhamm al Hawaa that Abu Zuhair al Madini was once asked what ‘ishq meant to which he replied: “Madness and disgrace. It is the disease of people of charm.” After quoting the various definitions of ‘ishq, Ibn al-Jawzi concluded by saying that ‘ishq is: ‘the intensity of inclining to an image of something…The more one thinks about it the more the person longs after it and seeks to attain it. Due to the intensity of his thinking about it, it leads to a type of illness.’ Others described it to have more of a connotation with a carnal sensual type of love. Hence, Ibn al-Qayyim stated in Rawdatul Muhibbeen that those who suffer from it are mostly those who are unmarried, and that the illness usually dissolves away with copious amounts of intercourse.

It can therefore be understood that from a brief overview of the word, its usage is generally considered to be a negative rather than praiseworthy. However, there were those who praised ‘ishq and in fact found it to be a noble trait, but only towards a spouse. Never did the scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah ever say that it is praiseworthy to have ‘ishq for Allah, since ‘ishq can never be something felt towards Allah.

The Dispraisal of ‘ishq.

Ibn Taymiyyah mentions in his Majmoo’ al Fataawa that the majority of scholars say that ‘ishq for Allah and people is dispraised as it is an excessive type of love that exceeds a commendable level. The reasons for it being dispraised are due to the qualities that arise in a person as well as the effects it leaves behind.

Allah says in the Qur’an informing us with the supplication of the believers:

“Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did Lay on those before us (Jews and Christians); Our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have Mercy on us. You are Our Maulâ (Patron, Supporter and Protector) and give us victory over the disbelieving people.”[1]

Allah has praised the believers for the supplication they made, and since they asked Allah not to place a ‘burden’ on them greater than they can bear, this suggests that a burden is something that is negative and not to be sought after. What is this burden the believers are referring to? According to many exegetes the word ‘burden’ means ‘ishq. However, as Ibn al-Qayyim mentions, the word ‘burden’ is not restricted to mean ‘ishq but it is from amongst the things that a person cannot bear. According to Makhool the word burden here means severity in lust or carnal appetite. However, this doesn’t apply to all forms of ‘ishq, but most forms. The Prophet said: “A Muslim does not disgrace (or lower) himself” and so therefore it is not suitable for a believer to debase himself by falling into ‘ishq.

Imam Ahmed said: The meaning of the verse is that the believer wishes not to be exposed to afflictions that he cannot bear. This applies to the case of the ‘aashiq (the one who suffers from ‘ishq) since he is the most humble person to the person he has ‘ishq for (the Imam was referring to other human beings).

After quoting tens of lines of poetry that condemns ‘ishq, Ibn al-Qayyim said in Rawdatul Muhibbeen quoting those who dispraised it,

“If a servant of Allah plunges into the sea of ‘ishq and its waves played about with him, then he is closer to destruction than to safety. How could something be praised that prevents mental stability, makes one sleepless, distorts the intellect, and causes insanity? Rather ‘ishq itself is insanity!”
Ibn al-Qayyim then dedicates a few pages mentioning certain previous nations that were destroyed because of their excessiveness in following their carnal desires; the people of Lot were destroyed because of following their desires of a homosexual nature, and the extreme love of wealth the people of Shu’ayb demonstrated led to their destruction. The Sabbath breakers were transformed into apes due to their excessive love for provisions (namely fish). Ibn al-Qayyim mentions that many of these stories were mentioned in Surah al ‘A’raaf with the theme of the chapter revolving around those who followed their desires and lust and the results thereof. He said, “‘ishq and one’s desires are the source of all afflictions.”

Out of all tribulations and afflictions, the fitnah of women was considered to be one of the most testing ones to the believers. This particular type of tribulation is caused by none other than following one’s lust and carnal desires, ‘ishq. It was reported that Sa’ad Ibn Abi Waqqas used to say: “O Allah, I seek refuge in you from the fitnah of women and I seek refuge in you from the torment of the grave.” In an authentic narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I have not left behind a greater tribulation upon the men of this ummah anything more harmful than women.”[2] (It should be noted that this narration is not a criticism of women but an account of the weakness of man.)

Levels of ‘ishq and what they mean

Ibn al-Jawzi mentions in Dhamm al Hawa[3] the stages that lead one to the ‘ishq,

“Firstly, a person sees the other person in a good light, which leads him to want to be close to other person, who then develops a type of love (mawaddah) where he wishes that he possessed that thing/person. Then the mawaddah strengthens and becomes mahabbah, and then khullah. After khullah then comes hawa, then ‘ishq, and then tatayyum (this is where a person becomes worshipful of his beloved).”

Ibn al-Jawzi then went on to explain,

“as for ‘ishq which exceeds the bounds of mahabbah, possesses the mind, and makes the person who has it behave in a way that goes against wisdom, then that is dispraised and the wise are far from such a trait.”

We must note that love (hub, mahabbah) is not being disparaged, but ‘ishq is. According to Ibn al-Qayyim in Rawdah, khullah is the highest level of hubb (love). He defines it as being the unification of mahabbah, that is when the khaleel singles out his love for his beloved which leaves no room for it to be shared with anybody else (mushaarakah).

Since this type of love cannot accommodate any form of mushaarakah, Allah tested Ibrahim the ‘Khaleel’ to see whether there was any mushaarakah in his love for Allah. He did this by ordering him to sacrifice his own son. When Ibrahim submitted to Allah’s command he effectively attained the status of al Khaleel since he singled out his love for Allah alone. 




[1] Al Baqarah 2:286
[2] Al Bukhari and Muslim
[3] p.284

About Sheikh Alomgir Ali

Ustdah Alomgir has a BA in Arabic & English language and has studied Arabic and Islamic studies in Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Shariah at al Azhar University in Cairo. He has translated a number of books and holds weekly Tafseer classes in London and is a regular Khateeb in a number of mosques in London. He also taught Arabic and Islamic studies at the Tayyibun Institute in London and is currently an instructor for the Sabeel retreats and seminars.


  1. Asking questions are truly good thing if you are not understanding something completely, but this post offers nice understanding even.

  2. Bit confused…
    Salaam. Jzk for the article. Sorry I am a bit confused, is Ishq permissible towards one’s spouse? What about children? I believe that love for a spouse goes beyond ‘love’ which can be for brothers and sisters etc. Is it worng to love your spouse so much that you find it hard to be away from them?

  3. What about love from a student for his teacher. The sahabah for The Prophet saws, the lay people for the scholars. What are the boundaries and what is acceptable?

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