“…I was filled with love for her.”(Muslim)
I stumbled on this hadith a few weeks back. It’s a hadith where the Prophet (SCW) was talking about his wife, Khadija.
It triggered a stuck-thought that has been flaring up during my commutes to work. Many of us are familiar with their exemplary marriage but what type of love did they own that was so captivating, emulatable and planted the seed that ultimately changed the course of human history? How was their bond so special? How can we measure their form of love when love itself is a polysemic word, capable of carrying multiple meanings?
So, I’m going to informally try to qualify their form of love through Sternberg’s famous triarchic theory of love. Sternberg’s theory has been validated through multiple studies and is considered a relatively successful measuring stick in quantifying and qualifying love. Some of my thoughts below might be jumbled as I’ve a terrible habit of not re-reading what I’ve written on social media lol so bear with me.
In Sternberg’s theory, the concept of love is introduced as a love triangle that is made up of three components: Passion, Intimacy and Commitment. In his model, Intimacy refers to the warmth and closeness shared in a relationship, Passion refers to the intense feelings experienced and Commitment refers to the intent and decision to see things through irrespective of challenges ahead. Sternberg’s theory posits that a combination of Passion + Intimacy + Commitment engenders consummate love which is the complete form of love, representing the ideal marital relationship toward which many people strive but which apparently few achieve. He argues that consummate love is never permanent, it eventually dies down, and that majority of marital relationships have either one component or a combination of two components, rarely all three. And then I reflect on the Prophet’s seerah, where we have a number of good examples revealing the type of relationship they had, showing that the Prophet (SCW) and Khadija’s relationship reveal that an enduring consummate relationship is possible.
Let me start with the first component: Passion can denote either physical or emotional stimulation. Putting aside that the Prophet (SCW) was the perfect model of humanity; when he began working for Khadija, he had a relatively humble status and a modest financial standing. Khadija, on the other hand, was a beautiful, successful businesswoman, had to frequently ward of Quraish aristocrats and rich men seeking her hand in marriage and was married twice before. She had no need of another man in her life and was quite picky, so she resigned herself to being a widowed woman for the rest of her life, taking care of herself and her family.
Then she met the Prophet (SCW) and a fiery shared passion crept in their hearts, taking a steady pace until Khadija took the first step towards fulfilment. At a time where people only married for survival, Khadija proposed to the Prophet (SCW) simply because she fell (passionately) in love with him–a feeling reciprocated by the Prophet (SCW). Her passionate love was rooted in his stellar character and conduct, and for many, this is how passion starts: it begins as an admiration of the way the person looks, talks, or moves, and develops into something stronger. Khadija was quite frank in articulating her love for him and is reported to have said:
“Son of my uncle, I admire you because of your good position amongst your people, your honesty and good manners, and because you are a man of your word.”
The second component is Intimacy. Intimacy is the sense of being connected or bonded to the loved one. The Prophet (SCW) habitually secluded himself in Cave Hira to mediate, way before the first revelation. Khadija bore it with intense tolerance and profound understanding like two souls joined in Heaven. She didn’t complain or nag him, instead, given the special intimacy that they had so beautifully nurtured, she gave him the space he needed. Some reports mention that she used to arduously climb the mountain and bring him food.
But the greatest report that illuminates the deep and intimate connection firmly established in their souls was when the first verses were revealed to the Prophet (SCW). In a pre-Islamic society that was highly patriarchal and perverse, the Prophet (SCW) terrified and extremely vulnerable found comfort in his wife instead of his (male) relatives, uttering the famous phrase: “Cover me! Cover me! Embrace me! Embrace me!” Khadija soothed and comforted him, and he confided in her his fears of losing his mind. Instead of ignoring or teasing his emotional experience, she consoled him from a position of strength that ultimately became a defining moment of history: “Never! God will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones.” (Bukhari).
Khadija became that one person that believed in him implicitly, reinforced his mettle and became his rock in his moments of fear, insecurity and vulnerability.
The third component is Commitment which is the conscious decision to stick together irrespective of the challenges ahead. Khadija became his first supporter and ipso facto the first Muslim. She sacrificed all her wealth for the noble cause and painfully endured the imposed hardships from the economical onslaught against the budding Muslim community, leaving her and her family destitute. Even though taking multiple wives was a common practice back then, Khadija and the Prophet (SCW)’s marriage was monogamous until her death 25 years later. The year of her death was called by the Prophet (SCW) ‘The Year of Grief’ and to honour her and sustain his undying loyalty towards her, he would frequently visit and bestow gifts to her friends and neighbours. He would praise her every time he talked about her or whenever she was mentioned in passing.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s and Khadija achieved a rare form of consummate love that endured throughout their marriage. An all-consuming love that changed the world and an example for us to try to emulate.