by Ambreen Khan, a 28-year old Medical Biochemist, Healthcare Manager, mother and occasional blogger for love and peace
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Martin Luther King, Jr
I wanted to explore my thoughts and feelings on this rather broad, almost indefinable theme of “love”. While many celebrate Valentines Day at this time of year I wish to hone in on a more sacred, deeper hold on love.
Our blog that you, our kind readers, are discovering is built on the intentions and visions of conflict awareness; steps towards building peace and seeking justice but also ultimately, to help establish love in our hearts for each other. It is this very love, that will seed and grow the olive branch of peace and just behaviour in our cardiac muscles.
“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Love, as I mentioned earlier is indefinable, technically this is both true and untrue. There are hundreds of thousands of quotes on “love” and some will debate there are different types of love. The love of your partner; your “soulmate”; the love of your baby; the love of your mother…the love of your Creator and not to mention the love of food! (I would be deceiving myself and those who know me had I not raised my unrivaled love for food in this post!). I wanted to write this piece as I felt that the love for humanity is endangered and perhaps we need to look within ourselves to stop such love from reaching extinction point.
As for the title of this piece, where is the war zone I asked myself? Its here, its right now, fast becoming the fabric of the contemporary society we find ourselves in. As I teach my 3-year old daughter to share and be kind but also to defend herself from rowdy children, I realise she will be growing up in a society and in a time in which this global village has not seen or tasted a period of “peace” for over two centuries. Instead, we are facing the by-products of war namely, disillusionment of the youth; mistrust in foreign policies; increased social, racial and ethnic tensions and the creation of millions of refugees. We witnessed and are still witnessing the heart-wrenching terror attacks in France, Nigeria, Lebanon; the cataclysm of Syria involving the UK, America and of course, Russia; the brutal bombings and killings in Yemen; the on-going Israel-Palestine tension and conflict; the ferocious and savage rise of ISIS terrorists in Iraq, Libya and Syria affecting home soil such as the UK, Bosnia, Australia (with young recruiters leaving to taste a slice of “barbarism cake”) not to mention the on-going Ukraine crisis. It really does give a vehement sense of worldwide unrest and a real absence of peace.
To help support this sense of anti-peace, a think-tank which calculates and determines the “Global Peace Index (GPI)”, showed that in 2015 the world is becoming increasingly divided with some countries enjoying prosperity while others spiral further into violence and conflict.[i] I get the feeling; things are only going to get worse.
Worryingly, of the 162 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) latest study, only a mere 11 countries were not involved in conflict of one kind or another.[ii] The GPI defines a nation at “peace” as being one “not involved in violent conflicts with neighbouring states or suffering internal wars” – which is sometimes called “negative peace” (i.e., absence of war). This quantitative style measurement helps to identify the features of “positive peace” (structures and institutions that create and maintain peace). “Globally the intensity of internal armed conflict has increased dramatically, with the number of people killed in conflicts rising over 3.5 times from 49,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2014.”[iii]
Despite the deaths of innocent people, the economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year. So, in other words, hate and war costs and love is far more economically fruitful. Shall we invest in love?
Do we need love to survive?
“You will not enter Paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you love one another. Do you want me to tell you something you can do to make you love one another? Make it a habit to greet one another with “Assalaamu Alaykum” – peace upon you”. (Holy Prophet Muhammad saw – Book of Hadith: Muslim)
These words mean more than meets the eye. Paradise implies happiness and bliss. To attain this, we need to try our utmost to harness love for our fellow human beings, all 7 billion of us, inside of us and on the outer shell too! For I feel love needs to be felt by the recipient, not just held in silently, protected and sheltered by the love-giver. Sure, you can tarry and toil through life not giving or receiving love, but, is this “living”?
Human nature is rooted in the need for acceptance and to not feel rejection or feel left out. It is a primal survival mechanism that motivates our subconscious demand for attention, respect, community and a connection with fellow human beings.
Psychologists have assessed that our modern need for social and emotional inclusion runs in a straight line right back to this survival strategy. If we are part of “the group”, if we are loved and not rejected: we will survive. This premise holds even if that “group” to which we want to be connected is a single individual. If we are left out or feel rejected by “the group”, then we will not survive. [iv]
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…”
Moreover, being rejected or socially and emotionally outcast is painful for us as humans to deal with as a reflex response linking directly to the avoidance of our pending and potential death. Thus, we need each other but also need to find healthy ways to respond to each other be it a response to rejection or a manipulation of sorts to turn us to reject another making the divide and separated narrative of “the other”.
To add a further dimension to this, our survival needs have shifted to a strongly psychosocial need due to the change of lifestyle and civilisation. Fear is no longer routinely generated by the threat of wild animals such as cave bears or sabre-tooth tigers but by human confrontation and social exclusion. On a political, global scale, we can see the affect of having “friends or allies” and “enemies” (Google all superpower relationships!). It is these super-power relations that affect what happens to the people of each nation and whether fear and hatred or love is sewn in the pastures of the hearts of the people to motivate them in a direction that suits the political team in power. Such examples include the Rwandan genocide and the Bosnian war and genocide but also many such conflicts show the turning of neighbours and friends into enemies, burning the love inside them and transforming to hatred and injustice in order to eradicate their fellow friends and neighbours.
Hence, the reason love is so much stronger than hate. It is so much harder to make one person love you than to make the whole world hate you but it is crucial for survival to harness all such related attributes to love including compassion, protection, care, mercy, justice and respect.
Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Promised Messiah wrote: “Love is not pretence or ritualistic, rather it is a faculty among human faculties. Its reality is that the heart likes something and is drawn to it. Just as the real qualities of something are made evident when it reaches a state of excellence, so is the case of love. Its treasures are made apparent when it reaches its climax and highest point. In fact when a person completely loves someone it is as if he permeates him or consumes him and is imbued with his morals and manners. The greater the love, the more one is naturally drawn to the qualities of his beloved so much so that he becomes an image of the beloved. This is also the indication when man loves God he attains God’s light on a reflective basis in accordance with his own powers. And those who love Satan acquire the darkness which is in Satan’ (Nur ul Haq, Part II, p. 430, Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 9)
Love doesn’t often feature in conflict resolution models but perhaps it should be considered as surely if we are capable of loving one person we possess the capacity to love more. To realise that conflicts taking place are not in faraway lands anymore they are on our earth, affecting our fellow human beings. We all shed the same blood and cry the same tears, made of the same chemical compounds and electrons as each other. “My message is I’d like the whole world to open its doors to Syrians. If a person shuts a door in someone’s face, this is very difficult. When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated…at this time of year I would like to ask you all to think about the pain of fathers, mothers and children who are seeking peace and security…we ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you.” (Words of Abdullah Kurdi, whose wife and two sons drowned in September 2015).
The desires, wishes and dreams we have for our children are the same desires other parents have for their children. “You will not attain righteousness, unless you give of that which you love” (Qur’an 3:92). We now live in a world where what happens in Syria affects us here. It sounds too simple, but love can be possess redemptive powers that transform individuals as Martin Luther King Jr once said.
When is it hardest to love or find the love inside us for “the other”?
Of course, if loving another was so easy we wouldn’t need endless quotes, sonnets, songs and poems dedicated to this emotion and theme. Rumi states “Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Personally, I feel from time to time it is easy to forget that everybody seeks happiness and in truth, every being wants to be loved. We erect barriers and filters that dampen our tenderness for one another. We forget we do not live by the ideals we have for ourselves but do not afford others the chance to falter in their behaviour. The barrier here is “forgiveness”…or the lacking ability to grant it. Do we not yearn for forgiveness and kindness when we commit a mistake upon which others suffer or react?
Fyodor Dostoyevsky hits the nail on the head with his evaluation of the challenges in showing true love. He states “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” Additionally, denying the guilt we feel from committing acts that are morally or ethically wrong leads us further down the path of lost self-respect.
Perhaps when we fail to educate ourselves about the lives, cultures, practices, beliefs, overall differences and striking similarities we have with others belonging to different races, colours, creeds, religions, nationalities, ethnicities, age-groups etc. Our lack of empathy may also play a part in making it hard for us to share love and feeling amongst our fellow humans. Our dehumanisation of others and lack of accountability increases the spiritual gap and psychological canyon between us, preventing us from building a bridge. We need our imaginative minds to survive therefore if “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” (H. L. Mencken) then we require an awaking of our imaginations from its selective slumber. IF we struggle to love it is because we choose to send such imagination into a comatose type sleep rather than a power-nap sleep form. Our selfish needs stop us from attaining knowledge and this from truly tolerating, openly understanding and ultimately “loving” one another. “Thou thinkest them to be united, but their hearts are divided.” (Qur’an: Ch. 59:15)
Islam encourages some simple, yet effective ways to harness love by giving “gifts to each other, as this will make you love one another.” (Muslim) as well as understanding “None of you will truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself”. (Al-Bukhari)
Furthermore, Islam explains quite beautifully that “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred…” (Qur’an 16:91) and “Allah loves kindness when you deal with any matter.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
What unites us in love?
If we can adopt an admiration, respect, and appreciation for the idea of peace perhaps we can move towards establishing a love for one another that further helps to unite us in peaceful and harmonious living.
“The world needs peace, love and brotherhood. The world needs an end to wars. Instead of walls of hatred being erected we need peace to prevail and for this to occur people of all faiths must join together.”
(Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community)
“Love is a wonderful thing. Its fire consumes the fire of sin and extinguishes the flame of disobedience. There can be no question of ‘punishment’ where there is perfect and true love. One of the signs of true love is that the lover dreads the very thought of being estranged from his beloved. He thinks himself doomed at his smallest fault, and sees the beloved’s displeasure as a deadly poison. He is also beset by a great longing to meet his beloved, and absence and separation takes the very life out of him.”[v]
My final thoughts on this brief exploration of love are some take-home thoughts: Don’t ruminate, just make a bold start with living and loving before our journey in this life reaches a destination in which we will remain stationary (in our graves, never returning to change what we once did wrong). For this life is not forever, so we must make deliberate efforts towards dispelling fears and opening our capacity to show, give and feel love in all its wholesomeness. We were conceived through love and are destined for love. Thus, myself and my fellow bloggers feel it is not only to Bosnia with love, it is to all of you in this world we hope to convey a message of “Love for All, Hatred for None”.
“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.” Eleanor Roosevelt
- Head-scarfed girl holding love placard, drawn by Ambreen Khan
- “Stylised Love”drawn by Ambreen Khan
- Love quote image courtesy of https://winnieyong.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/what-goethe-said/
- Shakespeare quote image courtesy of http://www.loveoflifequotes.com/love/shakespeare-love-looks-not-with-the-eyes-but-with-the-mind/ and http://izquotes.com/quote/351184
- Love bonding picture courtesy of http://manipalblog.com/2013/03/02/love-from-mind-or-heart/
- Stencil machine gun love image courtesy of http://www.arte-en-la-calle.com/2011/11/26/stencils-lisboa/
- Peace hand image courtesy of http://www.muslimsforpeace.org/topics/peace/
- James Baldwin quote image courtesy of http://quotesgram.com/love-is-a-battle-quotes