‘Al-Wadud’ – ‘The One Who Loves’

Dave Andrews

For last twenty years, since  9/11 in 2001, I have been intentionally developing faith-based inter-faith shaped dialogue between Christians and Muslims. One of the ways I have been developing solidarity with my Muslim friends is by observing Ramadan and sharing a Ramadan reflection with them on Facebook every day. For Ramadan this year I shared my reflections on one of the ninety-nine names of God in the Qur’an – ‘al-Wadud’ (85:14) which means: ‘The One Love’. ‘The Loving One’. ‘The One Who Loves’. ‘The One Who Is The Source Of All Love.’ ‘The One Who Is The Source Of All Loving-Kindness.’ 

‘God is love.’ (1Jn.4:8) The great Muslim scholar Ibn ‘Arabi says, ‘The Loving One (al-Wadûd) is the One whose Love is constant’. Love is who God is and Love is what God does. As Mike Riddell wrote in his book Godzone: ‘The heart of God has gone out from itself to envelope the universe. Love is the source of its existence; love the energy stream-ing through it; love the end to which it moves. God is the one who dreamed you into being; danced with joy at your birth; tracked you down the backstreets of your life, whispering to you in the night, calling you from the darkness,’ to live in the light of his Love.  

During the this last five years I have had the privilege of being on a spiritual journey of deep theological discovery with a brilliant world-class Islamic scholar Dr Adis Duderija. Adis Duderija is a first generation Australian Muslim, whose family fled Bosnia when faced with genocidal ‘ethnic cleansing’ unleashed in the former Yugoslavia and found safety as refugees in Australia. Dr Adis Duderija is a Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society at Griffith University, a member of the Network of Australian Spiritual Progressives and world-renowned advocate of ‘Progressive Islam’ committed to social justice, human rights, gender equity, and liberation theology from an Islamic perspective.

As Adis and I have discussed the idea of God as ‘al-Wadud’ – we have both come to the conclusion that, in order to truly embrace God as ‘The One Who Loves’, we have had to reject many conventional constructions of the concept of God in our respective traditions. 

Conventional constructions of the concept of God traditionally present God in Christianity and Islam as the ‘omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, controlling Sovereign Lord Of All’. However Adis and I have concluded that the logic of love, the indications in our scriptures and the gospel of Jesus, all demand that we deconstruct and reconstruct this idea of God.

The logic of love would suggest a God of Love could not be a coercive deity controlling people’s choices, predetermining whether people would go to heaven and or go to hell. 

On the contrary the Bible says: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to act in anger, abounding in loving kindness, and forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18; Neh 9:31; Psalm 86:15, Joel 2:13; etc.) And the Qur’an says “Allah is the ultimate source of instant beneficence and eternal mercy, who encompasses the entire universe” (1:1-3).Every surah or chapter of the Qur’an – except one – begins with the affirmation ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’. Both rahman and rahim are derived from the Semitic root rhm, which signifies the womb and nourishing-tenderness and nurturing-kindness. According to Ibn Qayyum (1350 AD), rahman describes the quality of limitless grace with which al-Wadud embraces the whole of the world and all of those who dwell in it, while rahim describes the general embracing grace of al-Wadud as it interacts with us in the particularities of our lives, proactively, preveniently, compassionately and responsively. Hence God is more like a caring divine mother or father than a controlling tyrannical figure. 

My Muslim colleague Adis Duderija enthusiastically shared a book with me on ‘The Nature Of Love: A Theology’ by a Christian theologian, Thomas Jay Oord, which argues that the kenotic model of Jesus in Phil. 2:1-13 is the core revelation of God’s nature – ‘necessarily self-giving and others-empowering. This means God must self-give and others-empower, because it is God’s nature to do so. God’s loving gifts are “irrevocable,” to use the Apostle Paul’s language.’ Such essential kenosis means ‘God cannot override, withdraw, or fail to provide the power of freedom, agency, or existence to creation. Consequently, God cannot control creatures… That’s right; I’m saying God can’t control others, not just won’t control. To put it another way,’ as Adis would also say ‘God’s love is essentially uncontrolling.’

As we embrace God as ‘The One Who Loves’, Adis and I reject the traditional representation of God as ‘omniscient’ and ‘omnipotent’, but still accept God as ‘omnipresent’. 

As I’ve said, if God is ‘The One Who Loves’, God can’t be ‘omnipotent’ in the sense of being all-powerful and manipulating everything and everyone, as ‘love is uncontrolling’. God exercises power like a jazz band leader who ‘guides, nudges, gestures, and coaxes us toward experimental creative expression’ rather than a classical orchestra conductor, who commands us and demands we play our preset parts according to a prearranged score. As the former, God ‘experiences the music as it happens, along with everyone else, uncertain where the tune will go’ but hoping it will all come together as something beautiful.

If God as ‘The One Who Loves’ is not ‘omnipotent’ in the traditional sense, manipulating everything far and wide, God can’t be ‘omniscient’ in the traditional sense, of apprehending everything from beginning to end. If God doesn’t control our choices, God can’t know our choices or the consequences of our choices as certainties, until we’ve made our choices. Until then God knows our choices and the permutations and combinations of the consequences of our choices as possibilities but not as certainties until we’ve made our choices. However being a God who is ‘omniscient’ in the sense of knowing all the possibilities, ‘The One Who Loves’ us prepares redemptive options for us whatever choices we might make.

Which brings us to our understanding of the ‘omnipresence’ of ‘The One Who Loves’. When we say God is ‘omnipresent’ we are not saying God is in the past ‘now’, the present ‘now’ and the future ‘now’, as an ‘eternal now present tense’. In the scripture, God says ‘I am the one who was (in the past) is now (in the present) and is to come (in the future’.) (Rev.1:8) ‘The past is over and completed. It’s done. The present is unfolding right now. It’s happening. The future is yet to be decided. It’s open. God experiences the flow of time too. The past is past for God… the present is present, and the future is open. (God is) a Living Lover who creates, empowers, inspires, and helps also experiences reality moment by moment. Creator and creation are in process.’ In the process, no matter how much a mess it might be, God is ‘omnipresent’ – ‘we know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28)

On 22 March 2016, Mohamed El Bachari’s wife, Loubna Lafquiri, was blown up on a train in Belgium, along with 15 other passengers, by Islamic State suicide bomber Khalid El Bakraoui. On hearing of this tragedy, Mohamed El Bachari said ‘I’m a Muslim, first of all by birth, then by conviction. I oppose religious fundamentalism – no matter whether it comes from Muslims or from people of other religions.’ ‘There is nothing spiritual … about murder or war… What’s religious about one people exterminating another people? Is a military victory a victory for God? Are the cries of the dying a symphony to the greater glory of God?’ Would God really blame us for showing love towards people who think differently from us? After all, He is the creator of all peoples and nations. As the Koran puts it so beautifully: “O mankind! We created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other”.’ In the face of hatred Al-Wahdud -‘The One Who Loves’ encouraged Mohamed El Bachari to take up a ‘Jihad For Love’ – ‘Vertical love from the Almighty for those he has created; horizontal love that we must spread over all of humanity.’ 

Mohamed El Bachari ’When I meet someone of another faith who allows themselves to be led by love, I have the feeling that we share the same religion.’  Adis and I agree.

Watch Mohamed El Bachiri talk about ‘A Jihad For Love’ in his 10 min TEDTalk

French subtitled in English


Questions for Meditation and Discussion

  1. How critical is the affirmation that ‘God is Love’ – ’The One Who Loves’- to our faith?                       
  2. How does the understanding of God as ‘Love’ change our understanding of God?
  3. How did Mohamed El Bachiri’s understanding of the Love of God shape his life? 

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