The Lost Art of Sisterhood


February, a month in which everyone seemed to be focused on romantic love — with hearts papering store windows, and roses in abundance — has just drawn to a close. In this past month, and in so many other ways, we see romantic love celebrated and extolled — from Valentine’s Day, to movies from both the East and the West in which lovers sacrifice everything to be together before the final credits roll, to songs and books that revolve around feelings of attraction, chemistry, romance and sexuality. An Arab poet said, “A look, then a smile, then a greeting; then a conversation, date set, then a meeting.” So much of our lives is occupied with thinking, talking, watching, listening, and sometimes dreaming about one step or another in this process (licit or not), and the feelings behind them!

Yet, there is also a different kind of love, just as meaningful, that is more rarely talked about. Here I speak not of Divine love (which is the ultimately profound — and to which I defer to those of a greater spiritual calibre to speak on) but of a different sort of love between people, that is often eclipsed by our talk and focus on romance. This is a quieter love, less exhilarating, but perhaps one of the best ingredients for a healthy and sound life — that is, love of one’s sister or brother in faith — the love between good friends, righteous companions, and those with whom we share this journey towards God. This is a meaningful and powerful relationship, the proof of which can be seen in how often it was talked about by our beloved Prophet ﷺ and his own deep and beautiful relationship with his companions.

Love for the sake of God — not due simply to mutual attraction, shared worldly interests, or proximity — is something the Prophet ﷺ said elevates one to a beautifully high rank with Allah.

He ﷺ said,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقُولُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَيْنَ الْمُتَحَابُّونَ بِجَلَالِي الْيَوْمَ أُظِلُّهُمْ فِي ظِلِّي يَوْمَ لَا ظِلَّ إِلَّا ظِلِّي

“Allah will say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Where are those who love each other for the sake of My Glory? Today, I will shelter them in My shade, for it is a day when there is no shade but Mine.’” (Sahih Muslim)

Loving one another for the sake of God is also a means of attaining His love. How amazing, that our love for His sake, that we extend to one another, even with all of its imperfections and deficiencies, will grant us Allah’s love. We put forth a little and receive a lot!

The Prophet ﷺ taught,

قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَجَبَتْ مَحَبَّتِي لِلْمُتَحَابِّينَ فِيَّ وَالْمُتَجَالِسِينَ فِيَّ وَالْمُتَزَاوِرِينَ فِيَّ وَالْمُتَبَاذِلِينَ فِيَّ

“Allah the Exalted said: ‘My love is obligatory for those who love each other for My sake, who sit together for My sake, who visit each other for My sake, and who spend on each other for My sake.’” (Musnad of Imam Ahmad)

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

رَجُلًا زَارَ أَخًا لَهُ فِي قَرْيَةٍ أُخْرَى فَأَرْصَدَ اللَّهُ لَهُ عَلَى مَدْرَجَتِهِ مَلَكًا فَلَمَّا أَتَى عَلَيْهِ قَالَ أَيْنَ تُرِيدُ قَالَ أُرِيدُ أَخًا لِي فِي هَذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ قَالَ هَلْ لَكَ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ نِعْمَةٍ تَرُبُّهَا قَالَ لَا غَيْرَ أَنِّي أَحْبَبْتُهُ فِي اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ قَالَ فَإِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكَ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَحَبَّكَ كَمَا أَحْبَبْتَهُ فِيهِ

"A man set out to visit his brother (in faith) in another town and Allah sent an angel on his way. When the man met the angel, the latter asked him, ‘Where do you intend to go?'’ He said, ‘I intend to visit my brother in this town.’ The angel said, ‘Are you returning a favor (of his upon you)?’ He said, ’No, I have no desire except to visit him because I love him for the sake of Allah, the Exalted.’ Thereupon the angel said, ‘I am a messenger to you from Allah (to inform you) that Allah loves you as you love him.’ (Sahih Muslim)

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Here are some recommendations to help increase in love for one another for the sake of Allah:

Greet each other with Salaam

Seemingly a simple thing to do, yet it is a recommendation the Prophet ﷺ made repeatedly as a means of producing and increasing love between people. Salaam is the greeting of Paradise, and helps set the tone for the ensuing conversation — perhaps harsh words would be less likely to follow such a greeting of kindness, and praying for the peace and well-being of a person.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Shall I tell you something, which if you did, you would increase in love for one another? It is to spread salaam between yourselves.” (Tirmidhi)

Make excuses and forgive one another

This may be an ongoing process, yet we should strive to make excuses for one another and forgive if we feel wronged or slighted. This takes a magnanimity of spirit that must be cultivated through constant remembrance of our own smallness before God, our own flaws, and a softening of the heart. Imam Bayhaqi quotes an earlier scholar as saying, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.”1

He ﷺ said, “He who gives up disputing with another, even when they are in the right, will have a palace built for them in the higher levels of Paradise.” (Tirmidhi)

Work on taking care of your heart

Be a source of goodness and goodness will be drawn to you. Develop those qualities you would like to have in a friend and know that the Prophet ﷺ taught that the best of people is the one who, when you see them, inspires you to remember God.2

Put love into action

The hadith cited above praises not only those who love one another for His sake, but those who “sit together for His sake... visit each other for His sake… and spend on each other for His sake.” These are all actions through which one’s love for another is shown. Love for the sake of God is something that should not just be felt in the heart, but expressed through actions of goodness.

Teach our children to love

We should model for our children what love for the sake of God looks like. When we have a spirit of generosity, kindness and concern for the other emanating from us; when we speak well of our brother or sister in faith behind their back, pray for them when they are unaware, and make excuses for them when they make a misstep — our children will see in us a beautiful example of what it really means to love for the sake of Allah, and a blueprint of how they too can do what is beautiful in their own relationships with others.

We should also show, and teach our children to show, a special love and appreciation for people of knowledge and those who work genuinely in the service of Islam.

Tell them that you love them

The Prophet ﷺ taught that if one loves someone, they should be sure to tell them.3 Let us not be stingy with these words, when they can help us remember who we are to each other, and what we mean to each other. In response, a beautiful dua can be said: “I pray that the One for whose sake you love, loves you too.”

May Allah help us to increase in love for one another for His Sake. May He help us to develop those beautiful qualities that would make us a good friend, remembering Him and helping others to remember Him, and encouraging one another in truth, constancy and good works. May He make us of those who are loved by Allah, because of their mutual love and concern for one another for His Sake. Allahumma Ameen.

2. عَنْ أَسْمَاءَ بِنْتِ يَزِيدَ الْأَنْصَارِيَّةِ، قَالَتْ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: "لَا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِخِيَارِكُمْ؟ " قَالُوا: بَلَى قَالَ: فَخِيَارُكُمُ الَّذِينَ إِذَا رُؤُوا، ذُكِرَ اللهُ تَعَالَى، أَلَا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِشِرَارِكُمْ؟ " قَالُوا: بَلَى قَالَ: " فَشِرَارُكُمُ الْمُفْسِدُونَ بَيْنَ الْأَحِبَّةِ، الْمَشَّاءُونَ بِالنَّمِيمَةِ، الْبَاغُونَ الْبُرَآءَ الْعَنَتَ
أخرجه البخاري في الأدب المفرد ، وابن ماجه في السنن ، وأحمد في المسند ، والطبراني في المعجم الكبير ، والبيهقي في شعب الإيمان ، وهو حديث حسن
3. إِذَا أَحَبَّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَخَاهُ فَلْيُعْلِمْهُ إِيَّاهُ (Hadith in Tirmidhi)


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