This year, Yasmin Mogahed fever swept Sydney. Her whirlwind tour drew packed audiences consisting of people from all ends of the Islamic spectrum. Like most people, I’d subscribed to her Facebook updates and read her much-touted book ‘Reclaim Your Heart’. I dutifully bought my tickets, and on the night I turned up with my mum, ready to be dazzled. But on the night, I found myself growing steadily more annoyed. I wasn’t annoyed at Yasmin Mogahed; she seemed like a warm, sincere person. I was annoyed that we even needed her message, that we cheered it as though it was revolutionary.
For those who don’t know, the Yasmin Mogahed message is simple. It’s all about the heart, and making it a fortress of love for the Creator and not the Creation. It urges people to recognise that the real love story of life is not with ‘the one’, but with The One. It stresses that all love must be for the sake of Allah swt and that any love which neglects that will ultimately be unbalanced and destructive. It recognises that love is beautiful, but stresses that its beauty is temporal. Obviously it’s all put a lot more eloquently than that, but you get the gist.
The crowds lapped it up. People I’d never seen attend any Islamic events before attended en masse, and then some. But I was wondering when this had all become news to us. Hadn’t we always known that romantic love was invented to sell Hallmark cards? Wasn’t it as clear as daylight that we weren’t put on this earth to find the one, considering that we already had The One, The Almighty Creator?
The answer to both of those questions is yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s easy to recognise on a rational level that love isn’t all you need, that love won’t set you free and that pretty much every other song lyric on the planet is a hyperbolic mess. But the thing about love is that it often exists outside of the realm of rational thought. It may intersect and overlap with rational it, but it lives and breathes its own independent life. This is why we refuse to abandon ship even when the ship is going down like the Titanic. We cling on to an idea, watering it and pruning it even where the seed itself is unhealthy and rotten. We don’t need to get stabbed; we push the knife into our own chests easily enough.
The ‘traditional’ method of meeting a partner aims to mitigate the crazy, stupid nature of love. It starts with the rational premise that two people are compatible on paper and love will naturally follow where compatibility exists. People don’t need to be set up to recognise that this is a sensible way to go about things. Even where parties aren’t following the ‘traditional’ method, they nevertheless complete all the box-ticking exercises on their own. They do the questionnaires, dispassionately observe each other in different environments and talk to each other in friendly yet restrained tones. Muslims are trained to hold back, to say ‘whatever happens, it’ll be for the best’. Some of us even believe it. If it doesn’t work out, many of us can convince ourselves that Allah swt has a greater plan for us.
The people above would make Yasmin Mogahed proud. In Reclaim Your Heart, she devotes a lot of time to explaining that our loved ones are gifts and that Allah swt is the Giver of all gifts, therefore we should use the gifts to become closer to the Giver. Gifts can also be taken away, so we shouldn’t become dependent on them. Again, this sounds fantastic. But don’t we all know this? It’s written plainly and very chillingly in Surah Abasa that on the Day of Judgment, a man will flee from his brother, his mother and father, and his wife and children. To me, that screams: don’t get too attached folks.
But is reading any of this going to make a material difference? For many of us, it simply won’t. I can think of two reasons why this might be, and they fall roughly into the nature/nurture argument:
1.) Human Nature
There’s a strong case to be made that as humans, we are simply predisposed to strong currents of the heart. Some of us are more inclined towards it than others, but it’d be foolish to suggest that any one person lacks the potential to experience powerful feelings towards another. It can happen to anyone. Love is a universal experience and one which transcends ordinary barriers such as culture, religion, age and education. Anyone who has ever felt it knows just how powerful it can be, and as such I don’t think it’s a far stretch of the imagination to suggest that it’s simply part of our DNA to want to love and be loved in return.
A fundamental question throughout my Arts degree was how much of our behaviours are inherent or are a result of socialisation i.e. the norms and conventions of our particular society/community/family/any other group we identify with. It’s easy to see that our society is pretty love-obsessed. Love is celebrated as an all-encompassing, incomparable force with more horsepower than an A380. Popular culture reflects this obsession, particularly music. Just yesterday I was in a shop when a song was being blasted at full volume, its lyrics instantly catching my attention:
If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy?
If our love’s insanity, why are you my clarity?
All this screamed against the backdrop of thudding bass. These type of lyrics are standard for any popular song, and years of ingesting them, whether voluntarily or by choice, will undeniably permeate our subconscious. Many of us quietly admit to being seduced by the idea of experiencing a great, boundless love just like the ones we see in Nicholas Sparks movies. Even some of my most sensible friends who took the ‘traditional’ route concede that they wish that they’d experienced what it was like to fall in love.
My new mantra in life is: nothing is forever. A little something I nicked from Yasmin Mogahed. It’s a reminder that nothing, not even the love we have for our ‘soul mate’, is eternal in this life. Will this stop me from being consumed by feelings, good or bad? Probably not. But it’s a good place to start. Until I reach that point, I’m going to keep Yasmin Mogahed in my news feed.
Do you feel like you have a handle over your emotions? How important is romantic love to you?