- Christian-Muslim Perspectives on God as Love and a Loving Community
God's love, God as love, Divine Names, Al-Wadūd, loving community, moral virtues in Islam, peacemaking
Islam's God of love and the ummah as a loving community have long been obscured from the Western mind by Christian exertions of Jesus' God of love and Christians as a loving community. Islam, however, may have a version of the loving God and a community of love that bears a striking parallel to Christian biblical teaching, despite obvious contextual and sociohistorical differences. This exploration seeks to unveil noteworthy aspects of that parallel within the frameworks of each tradition.1
The God of Love
Islam's understanding of God as love derives from Allah's name as Al-Wadūd (The Most Loving) ascribed in the Qur'ān (Q. 11:90 and 85:14) and from the attribution of this name from which an intricate Islamic theology unfolds. The Christian tradition focuses on John's statement that "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8), from which a trinitarian theology is constructed with love as a relational property—first among the three Persons in the godhead, and second as an extension from God through Jesus to humanity expressed in the command, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (Jn. 13:34). Similarities with the Christian discourse on God as "being love" can be drawn from Islamic concepts that differentiate the Divine Names (Asma') and Attributes (Sifat), and distinguish the attributes of essence (al-dhdhat) from those of action (af'al).
This distinction establishes the nature of Allah's name as "The Most Loving" and Allah's act of loving in relation to the attributes of essence and [End Page 444] action. In this sense, Islam's "The Most Loving" can mean "God is love" because the divine names and attributes are intimately connected in Islamic theology.2 If a divine name denotes a quality of Allah's essence—in this case, the most loving Al-Wadūd—then the name would relate the corresponding attribution to Allah as "being love," similar to the way Christianity interprets the idea that "God is love." This is true because, while a name refers to Allah personally, the corresponding attribute is a quality by which Allah is identified. In other words, while the name designates Allah with a personal title, "The Most Loving," the attribute "loving" refers to the identity or ascription of Allah.
Islam expands its belief in tawhīd al-Asmā wa al-Sifāt (the oneness of divine names and attributes) by describing the attributes associated with some names as "attributes of action" (ṣifat af'al) and those associated with other names as "attributes of essence" (ṣifat al-dhdhat).3 The attribute wadūd (love) is considered to be an attribute of action. In Arabic, "wud" means "love" as an expression of action or the act of loving. Theologically, if "loving" were an attribute of Allah's essence, then it would precede divine action. Yet, loving is held to be antecedent, which implies that Allah "is" love by virtue of the divine name Al-Wadūd, inferring that the attribute applies both at the time of loving action and potentially before it in the divine essence. This seems reasonable when accounting for the idea of divine potency before divine act.
This theologizing may be what thirteenth-century Muslim philosopher Ibn 'Arabī meant when he distinguished "the names of the names (asmā' al-asmā'), which are the names voiced in human language, and the names in themselves which are realities in divinis."4 Insofar as any distinction between essence and action is in the attributes and not in the names, then, Allah's love—given that Allah possessed the divine names from all eternity—is potentially an attribute of essence.5 Contemporary Islamic scholar Ali [End Page 445] Rabbani Gulpaygani explained this idea on the basis that, if "Allah does not desire any wrong for (Allah's) servants" (Q. 40:331), then wud (love) is an attribute of divine essence, in a sense requiring the conception of agency.6 Allah's loving, therefore...