There's a big emphasis in Christianity on God being love and the relationship of God with the creation. Is there that strong emphasis in the Quran on the love of God?
Yes, there is a lot of emphasis in the Quran on the love of God. Perhaps this was not so well picked up because common people generally think of the fear of God and they emphasize that more people tell their children, "Don't do this otherwise you go to hell," and so on. We've heard that a lot. Yet, the love of God is definitely there in the Quran.
In the ninth chapter of the Quran, the 24th verse, God says that if you love these eight things more than these three things, then wait for God to bring His commandment to pass because God does not like the wicked people. So what are the three things?
The love of God, the love for the Prophet, and the love for striving in the way of God. Those are the three things that we should love most.
The eight things which people generally love are their fathers, their brothers, their spouses, their family, more generally, the relatives, their goods that they're afraid may not sell, the dwellings that they take pleasure in, and so on. These are the material things of this world and the physical and people connections that we have. Yet, God is inviting us to love him more than all of these things.
In the Quran, as well, in the fifth chapter and 54th verse, God is addressing the believers and saying that all you who believe, whoever reneges from his or her religion should know that God will soon bring about a people who he loves and who will love him. That means that if there is any defect in the present populace of believers, it is that they don't love God. If they renege from the religion of God, that would mean that they don't love God and it means that while they remain believers, they should love God. That's the natural situation of the believers - that they love God and the one who turns away from the religion doesn't love God. That's okay with God because God is going to bring other people whom he will love and they will love him.
It suggests that God is very invested in that relationship and it matters to God that we love him. In fact, the commentators say that the love of God is mentioned first because that happened first. God loved his creatures before his creatures could have a chance to love him because he loved us in his forethought and in creating us. In the Quran, in Surah 3, verse 31, it addresses the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and tells him what to tell the believers. “If you love God, then follow me”. The invitation is to love God and it seems to be premised on the assumption that believers are claiming to love God. The verse is saying that if you really love God, then this is what you have to do and then if you do this, God will love you. The close connection between us loving God and God loving us is there.
Often, we do good deeds with the intention that we are going to go to paradise for this and we avoid bad deeds, fearing that we might enter hell. However, the Quran shows that good deeds are to be done out of the love of God. More generally, the Quran says to seek the face of God. What does it mean to seek the face of God? If we love somebody, we're always looking to see if that person is pleased with us or not, so we can know from the smile or the frown if we are doing something right concerning this person. So, we should seek the face of God in doing good deeds because we love God and we want him to be pleased with us. Yet, love is more specifically mentioned in giving charity in general and the Quran in the second chapter and 177th verse describes the believers as those who give their wealth out of the love for God. The 78th chapter of the Quran says, they give food out of their love for God, so they feed other people because they love God so much. One final thing I can mention from the Quran here is that in the second chapter of the Quran, it says, “Those who believe are most intense in their love for God”.
Fear is also there in the Quran as well and to a certain extent, one might say that fear is mentioned more often but not necessarily so because there are various words in the Quran for fear. There is a word “ﺧَﻮﻑ” which means fear, and there is “خشية” which also means fear. However, in reference to fearing God, these words are not used very often. Another word which is used often is “تقوى'' which can be translated as fear, but not necessarily so. However, because in our sermonizing we emphasize fear a lot, this word is brought into use and the fear motif is tied to it. “تقوى'', which occurs again and again in the Quran very frequently, is more like taking care, being careful to avoid harm and to get good results. It can involve a certain element of fear, to be sure, but that's not the overwhelming meaning of “تقوى''. The basic meaning is being careful, taking care.
With all this in mind, how can we accept the Quran's invitation to love God?
Start by doing good deeds! If you say that you just want to love God, the attitude may rub off. If we just contemplate that we want to love God and keep giving that internal message to ourselves, it will get there, but by doing good deeds, more generally. The 19th chapter of the Quran says that God will place love in them, or for them. God will see to it that eventually, we develop that loving relationship with him. We can cultivate that by praying and doing additional acts of worship. There is a hadith that says that when people do additional acts of worship, eventually, God loves them.
When God loves them, God becomes the eyes with which they see, the ears with which they hear, and the hands with which they touch things and we should cultivate that.
One way is also by reading the Quran and the Quran is a unique book among scriptures. Muslims all know that in reading the Quran, we feel that God is speaking to us, but it's more than this. For Muslims, the Quran is, in Arabic, “کلام الله”, it is the speech of God. It's God's message to humankind but then when we are reading the Quran ourselves, we are immersed in God, because it's as if we are reading his speech to us. It's not only that God is speaking to us, but God is speaking to us using our own voices. This is a level of cooperation with God in bringing his message into our hearts, minds, and souls. This creates a very close connection between the believer and God. This is one of the reasons why Muslims weep when they read the Quran, especially if they understand the meaning of what they're reciting, because they have this close connection and communication with God, hearing the words of God, but in their own voices. There is this cooperation: words of God, but the voices of the believer.