‘Truly the heart does not intertwine its love with more than one thing. So long as it is entangled with the love of any one thing, it will not love another. Even if it is seen to have many desires and its love relates to many things around it such as wealth, children, leadership, praise, glory and status with people – in fact, its love is still only one and that is love for one’s own self (nafs)! For what is the love of all these things except branches and manifestations of one’s own love for one’s own self. His desire for these things is founded in seeking interest for his own self, he doesn’t seek those things in and of themselves. If this love for one’s self passes, so too, consequently, passes the love for all other things.
Hence it was well said – Certainly the veil between the servant and the Lord is the self (nafs) – not the world itself. The world in its essence is not the goal of the human servant that it even be considered a veil. As long as the servant doesn’t renounce the desire of his self (nafs) completely, his Lord will not be his desire, nor will his heart accommodate the love of Allah (swt).’
In a few paragraphs Imam Rabbani, Ahmed al-Sirhindi diagnoses a problem we see in almost everyone’s behaviour. That is, our primary motivations are selfish. For the average person, anything they say or do can all be followed, deep down, to lead back to securing some personal benefit.
This gives much greater clarity of human behaviour. Why, for example, do people that claim to love each other, put the other through toxic relationships and the like? Making them suffer sometimes many years of emotional or even physical abuse. As Imam Rabbani, Allah be pleased with him, has highlighted, a person natively seeks the interest for themselves. And so their inexplicable behaviour becomes a bit more understandable when we see the selfish motives behind them.
Even if that motive is to be loved by someone else. To be unconditionally cherished and appreciated. Yet, however gratifying that sounds it is still a selfish motive and if someone doesn’t get want they want it can cause them to lash out and abuse their significant other.
When love is meant to be an expression of sacrifice it becomes one of selfishness and that is why there are many that claim to love others but in reality they just love themselves.
A similar trend can be seen in friends that are just friends for benefits that abandon you in a difficult period or parents that ‘live’ through their children forcing them into things they may not have inclination for (like you have to become a doctor!). But also it is an undercover current in all of us, that unless we are observant of and vary of, can rear its ugly head causing us damage in the next world and in this one.
It is also a great cause of anxiety, because our love for ourselves seeps into all things around us that we are eager for. And as those things pass away, as all things must eventually do, it stings our hearts. Leaving a scar and making us anxious for the loss of all things that we love, that is tied to the love of ourselves. Such mental pain can be unbearable and it is not uncommon for people to distract themselves with alcohol, drugs, excessive eating and the like.
In Islam, one of the goals of the believer is to remove this attachment, this fascination with one’s self. To annihilate it completely if one can, and in its place have only the love of Allah. One can then live reaching their full potential and freeing themselves from the clutches of selfishness, sacrifice for others with their time, money and lives.
As the noble hadith mentions, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said, ‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes from himself’. Some commentators of this hadith mention that ‘brother’ here isn’t limited to just Muslims but non-Muslims as well. But to reach such a lofty station of being, where you are always preferring others over yourself cannot be achieved unless one removes the love for himself and replaces it with love of Allah.
If you find this idea troubling, then that is a sign that what you love (yourself) realises it is in threat and of course it will struggle with all its might and strength to remain in your beloved sights. But replacing this with the love of God is not an online purchase you can make and change with a couple of clicks. The battle of the soul is a life-long endeavour but we can take the first step by just recognising it, diagnosing it and being observant of it.