Love in Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi's Viewpoint

Love in Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi's Viewpoint

One can claim to be a true lover when one set aside the love for the self in order to be able to make sacrifices for his loved one.  In fact, true love is realized when one forgets everything and everyone, even his own self, other than his loved one. A true lover would also forget his own selfish interests and is ready to make any kind of sacrifice for his loved one.‌

A Review of the Concept of Love

From the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi



The Nature of Love from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

The Notion of Love.

Man’s Original Nature, the Origin of Love.

Why is the Heart the Symbol of Love?.

Understanding the Notion of Love through the Concept of Intersubjectivity.

Self-centered Love versus God-centered Love.

Conclusion: Married Family, the Essence of Love.


The Nature of Love from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

There are several different, and in some cases contradictory, views about the nature of love, put forward by various writers and thinkers.[1]

Referring to the miraculous effects and outcomes of love, some have maintained that life without love is void of meaning. Due to the great implications that they believe love has for human life, these writers have viewed love in the form of the element that actually led to the creation of  the universe by God.[2]

On the other hand, there are other some writers and philosophers who have leveled the most trenchant criticisms against love, calling it a despicable disease that must be prevented.[3]

These contradictory views on a concept which is the common theme of much of the human literature, daily conversations, and social interactions shows how much tricky the concept of love is.[4] Given this discrepancy, it seems necessary to properly address the concept of love and affection in order to clarify its nature.[5]


The Notion of Love

Love is defined as a powerful attraction toward something. According to some Arab lexicologists, the Arabic equivalents of Love in Arabic (عشق) was originally used to refer to a tree which was initially green and flourishing, however, soon it became withered and dried out. This definition, they believe, is very much like the process of love, which the lover goes through, because the lover too becomes thin and ill because of not being able to be at the side of his loved one.[6]

Love, in the sense it is used today, is defined as an intense feeling of affection between two human beings.[7] It is a powerful drive which sets human life in motion and which, in its most perfect form, makes mankind work hard in order to achieve perfection.[8] In this latter sense, love is one of the greatest realizations of man’s spiritual self and a most magnificent masterpiece of creation.[9]

Human soul is the source of two very strong powers invested within mankind, reason and love. These two powers have a significant role in the development and well-being of mankind.[10]

Although the power of reason might seem enough for man to differentiate good from evil and the way to rectitude from the way to perdition,[11] it is a power which serves only as a lamp which lights up the way ahead but is unable to drive man forward. It is only through the blessed u n i o n of reason and love which man will be able to lead a life based on his original nature; a life for which he has been created in the first place.[12]

The renowned psychologist Carl Gustave Jung stated the following in this regard: “Reason is like the headlights of a car; it sheds light on the way. But love is the engine that drives man forward.”[13]

The famous French philosopher, Auguste Comte has also made the following remarks with regard to this issue:

“There are two powerful senses in man, i.e. affection or love, and reason. It is by means of the two powers of love and reason that man is able to live his life. Reason gives man awareness and love drives him forward to take action.”[14]


Man’s Original Nature, the Origin of Love

What is meant by man’s “original nature” or “Fiṭrah”? It is man’s intuitive understanding of things for which he does not need any rational reasoning.[15]

For instance, watching a beautiful scene in the nature or a beautiful and sweet-smelling flower creates a powerful attraction in man, a natural human inclination which is called aesthetic sense and the love for beauty.[16] This is a sublime inherent feeling within man for which he does not require any rational reasoning to believe that it exists, as he finds it within his soul intuitively.[17]

The powerful feeling which drives one toward his loved one is also one of the inherent and natural inclinations of man, and one of the most powerful drives which is within all human beings.[18]

It is a blessing which Allah (swt) has bestowed equally on all human beings in the form of a natural inclination within their original nature.[19]

Another natural inclination which Allah has endowed man with is a powerful natural inclination toward social life and marriage with the purpose of creating the necessary conditions for man to achieve the most sublime of goals.[20]

It should be noted that the faith in Allah and moral virtues are the sphere in which love can grow and flourish. In order for man to achieve ultimate prosperity, he needs to utilize the sacred feeling of love toward self-purification and spiritual elevation. However, this is impossible unless the man and the woman are united in marriage based on mutual love.[21] [22]

The mutual love of the husband and wife is a natural and inherent human inclination which is not easily forgotten or withered through the changes in conditions, the passing of time, or the hard times of life.[23]


Why is the Heart the Symbol of Love?

One of the common intuitive senses of all humans is that when they have feelings such as love, fondness, grudge, and envy, they feel they come from or affect their heart. In other words, the first physical realizations of these spiritual issues begin to affect the heart.[24]

This is why when one experiences strong emotions such as love, one feels something strange is happening to his heart: his heart begins beating faster and, at times, the heart feels as if it is about to explode with emotions! All of these strange feelings in the heart are because these psychological and spiritual issues directly affect the heart.[25]

It should be noted that the first stage of affection is inclination which can be considered as the connection of the feeling of affection and love with the heart. As one moves through the stages of affection and one’s inclination changes in to liking and ultimately in to intense love, the heart begins to burn in the flames of love. Yet, one takes pleasure in that burning feeling in the heart because love has now permeated the entire heart and the lover has reached a state which is called absolute restlessness.[26] [27]

Therefore, anything that happens within the psychological and spiritual arenas of man first affects the heart in the physical arena of his being. The relationship between the psychological and spiritual issues and the heart can be likened to that of a spring of water and the earth. The stream that finally emerges from the earth in the form of a spring originates from deep levels of the earth; similarly, human emotions have their roots in the heart.[28]

This is why when one loves someone, one says that they are in our heart, that there is love for them in our heart, or that one’s heart belongs to them. This is also why the heart has always been a symbol of love in human societies.[29]


Understanding the Notion of Love through the Concept of Intersubjectivity

Undoubtedly, the worst course of action for a person who wants to find a place in the minds and hearts of others is for him to try to force them to accept realities based on his own self-centered mind. Instead, they should try to present facts and realities in an absolute or even intersubjective way.[30] 

This is because the thoughts and ideas of any given person are the product of his self-centered mind which he cherishes and loves. This love for one’s self-centered mind is a part of one’s love for one’s self, a feeling which is considered one of the most deeply-rooted human instincts.[31]

Now, if one seeks the truth not personal success, and if one seeks the essence of “thought” why should one insist on understanding and interpreting everything based on his own self-centered humanistic mind?[32]

One can claim to be a true lover when one set aside the love for the self in order to be able to make sacrifices for his loved one.[33] In fact, true love is realized when one forgets everything and everyone, even his own self, other than his loved one. A true lover would also forget his own selfish interests and is ready to make any kind of sacrifice for his loved one.[34]

At this stage of love, the lover sees nothing and cares for nothing but his loved one and his noble purpose of doing everything for the one that he loves. When viewed from a social perspective, a true lover would do everything for his loved one within the framework of their married family.

When it comes to a loving family, all of the rules which govern the usual social interactions, especially those of financial nature, are set aside. This is because although people are after personal gains through trade and business, hence when giving out something they expect to earn something in return, within the framework of a family all of these rules are just absurd.

Within a family which has been created based on true love, everyone is ready to make sacrifices for his family members and so the self-centered mind, profiteering, and selfish interests have no place in such a family.[35]

The realization of such an atmosphere within the family is the result of an intersubjective mind, which truly cares about others, the lover make all sorts of self-sacrifice in order to make his beloved happy. This is because a true lover finds serving his loved one, albeit within the limits set by the Revealed Law and the sound mind, gives him the greatest levels of spiritual satisfaction and brings about peace and tranquility in his life.[36]

Yet, the most beautiful type of love is a mutual love which is based on the intersubjective mind of both lovers.[37] That is to say, unlike other usual human undertakings, when it comes to their heartfelt emotions and feelings, true lovers would not act based on their self-centered mind or personal pleasures, but based on satisfying their loved one. This is why a true lover happily faces all kinds of problems and hardship for his family and is ready to do anything to make his/her wife/husband happy.[38]


Self-centered Love versus God-centered Love

Today, various wrongdoings and crimes are committed under the pretext of “love”, a problem which is considered a product of the humanistic epistemology. This sort of epistemology promotes the motto of “I think, therefore I am” and originates from the views of the western philosophers such as Descartes.[39]

This sort of intellectual basis will lead to self-centered love which is, in effect, based on human lower instincts and has no goal but to satisfy man’s unruly and insatiable lower desires.[40]

It is noteworthy that, this sort of self- and instincts-oriented love has its roots in utilitarianism, a school of thought in the philosophy of ethics, which emerged in the early 19th century.[41] Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, has described utility as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action.[42]

This has brought the majority of the western intellectuals to take prosperity equal to material and sexual pleasure-seeking, defining a prosperous person as the one who can derive more pleasure from life. One example of such intellectuals are Sigmund Freud and the proponents of his school of thought.[43]

After it was put forward, hedonism which was basically a school of thought which promoted an extreme indulgence in sexual pleasure-seeking, was accepted by a great deal of western philosophers and intellectuals. Today, most of the western people have accepted excessive indulgence in sexual pleasures at the cost of the distortion of the true notion of love and the destruction of the institution of marriage.

This is because in hedonism, the purpose is defined as deriving more pleasure from life and it gives no credence to moral virtues and spiritual values. This, however, is a dangerous approach to life which has caused the collapse of morality in many societies, leading the youth to an abyss of sins and destruction.[44]

The version of love which is put forward by the modernist school is now like a big beautiful pot which, if overturned, not a single d r o p of pure human emotions and true love would drip from it. In this kind of love there is no trace of mutual affection and caring and in most cases the loved one will be ultimately left alone with a world of sorrow, regret, and grief, as she will feel she has been deceived.[45]

The fact of the matter is that true love only is realized through marriage because only through marriage the two lovers can prove that they are true to one another. Moreover, it is through marriage that excessive indulgence of sexual pleasures, various sorts of corruption, and sexual perversion can be prevented.[46]

In contrast to the modernist version of love, God-centered love will, on the one hand, allow for the human emotions and instincts to grow in a reasonable way and, on the other hand, allows man to develop in other arenas and thrive toward perfection.[47]

The true purpose of love is the facilitation of man’s development toward perfection; this is why a lover would bear all sorts of problems and hardship patiently in order to achieve his goal, i.e. to have his loved one by his side. This kind of human behavior is in line with his original nature and conscience which always drive him toward perfection.[48]

God is the Perfect Existence and, since man is by nature after perfection, he intrinsically has the love of God. This natural human inclination toward perfection is also reflected in man’s earthly loves; the earthly love may be thought of as a prerequisite for the real purpose of love, i.e. the love of The most Perfect Being.

It is due to man’s natural inclination toward perfection that a lover would see all the characteristics of his loved one as beautiful and would disregard her/his shortcomings. It is through such a sacred feeling that both the husband and wife would make self-sacrifices in life, out of their love for each other, in order to help one another develop in both worldly and spiritual aspects of life.[49]

It is through such a bond based on affection and sacrifice that the married couple will ultimately find the real love, i.e. the love of their Creator, Allah who is the One Perfect and eternal Being, the ultimate goodness, and the One who created all that is good.[50]  


Conclusion: Married Family, the Essence of Love

Unfortunately, the world of today has been turned in to a place which is inhabited mostly by insensitive people. Today the family emotions between parents and children and between siblings has been weakened to a large extent.[51]

This challenge has emerged while the family must be the source of human feelings and emotions[52] and a place where the very essence of love should be sought. This is because true love would be realized through attending to every aspect of life within the family; clearly, showing love only in words without showing it in practice would be an empty word.[53]

Therefore, true love and a real human family would not be attainable unless all family members express affection and love for one another and show it in practice as well. If this important factor is neglected or is not given enough attention, human society will face countless problems, not the least of which is the spread of anxiety among its members.[54]

Given the importance of familial love, single people would never come to be complete morally and psychologically. This is because many moral virtues such as loyalty, forgiveness, gallantry, mutual affection, love, self-sacrifice, and gratitude are best realized through living in a married family. Naturally, anyone who is not part of such an important social institute will not be able to properly cultivate these virtues within oneself.[55] 

In order to find true love, the life of a married couple needs to be founded on God-centered love, rather than the kind of love which is based on lower desires. It is this kind of love which will take root and remain steady in the face of adversities. The product of such pure mutual love, when realized in the form of a married family, would be a safe haven for mankind in which they happily live and prosper.[56]

Researched and edited by: the news editorial of the website of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s office.



[1] The Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 76.

[2] The Message of Imam Amir al-Mu’minīn (‘a) vol. 4, p. 577.

[3] The Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 77.

[4] Ibid, p. 78.

[5] Islamic Ethics in the Nahj al-Balaghah

[6] The Message of Imam Amir al-Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 4, p. 574.

[7] The Realization of the Truth: a Series of Discussions about Sufism in the Past and Present, p. 93.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 84.

[10] The Realization of the Truth: a Series of Discussions about Sufism in the Past and Present, p. 93.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] One Hundred and Eighty Religious Q&As, p. 26.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Message of the Quran, vol. 2, p. 42.

[18] One Hundred and Eighty Religious Q&As, p. 26.

[19] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 9, p. 409.

[20] The Message of the Quran, vol. 7, p. 41.

[21] For more information refer to: The Way of Life, p. 113.

[22] The Realization of the Truth: a Series of Discussions about Sufism in the Past and Present, p. 93.

[23] Fifty Lessons in the Fundamental Principles of the Religion for the Youth, p. 353.

[24] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 8, p. 321.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Tafsīr Rūḥ al-Ma‘ānī, vol. 12, p. 203.

[27] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 9, p. 394.

[28] Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 72.

[29] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 8, p. 321.

[30] A Life Based on Moral Values, p. 240.

[31] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 9, p. 195.

[32] A Life Based on Moral Values, p. 241.

[33] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 17, p. 202.

[34] Religious Q&As, p. 623.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Islamic Ethics in Nahj al-Balāghah [as reflected in the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 1, p. 463.

[38] The Creed of Compassion, p. 32.

[39] The Message of the Quran, vol. 5, p. 238.

[40] Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 80.

[41] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 643.

[42] Ibid.

[43] How to Gain Knowledge of Allah. P. 217.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 81.

[46] Islam and the Emancipation of Slaves, p. 22.

[47] Ibid.

[48] The Creator of the World, p. 20.

[49] The Speech of G. A. Makarem Shirazi delivered during his advanced Fiqh course in the A‘zam Mosque in Qom: 1389.08.09

[50] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 13, p. 275.

[51] Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 76.

[52] Tafsīr Nemūneh. Vol. 3, p. 376.

[53] The Merits of the Surah of the Quran, based on Tafsīr Nemūneh, p. 53.

[54] Rūm, 21 [Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 16, p. 414].

[55] Sexual Problems of the Youth, p. 25.

[56] Ibid, p. 84.