The Development of Faith – Dr Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari

This article describes the meaning of ‘Imaan’, its implications and the three stages of development. Life examples of Prophets are used to illustrate the final ‘stage of certainty’. A powerful consequence of strong faith is confidence to act and take bold and courageous steps. Moving examples of this are given in this article.

 What is faith?

According to Imam An Nasafi (d.1165) faith is (taken from Aqaid-An-Nasafi):

  • Faith is to accept mentally and say verbally what the Prophet (peace be upon him) brought from Allah.
  • The quantity of deeds a person does may increase, but the Imaan of a person does not increase or decrease.
  • Imaan and Islam are one and the same thing. When a person has mentally accepted and pronounced verbally (the testimony of faith), then he can say, ‘I am a believer’ and it is not correct to say, ‘I am a believer, Insha Allah’ (God willing).

The definition of faith is having confident belief in the truth. This belief does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. It is to be certain and to have no doubt. Having faith is known as conviction, the state of being convinced and persuaded.

The literal Arabic meaning of Imaan has the meaning “to believe”, “to trust someone” and “to have confidence in someone”. The Quranic definition of Imaan is to believe in Allah, his messengers the day of judgement and everything else that Allah has commanded us to believe in. The Quran says:

As to men of faith each of them believes in Allah, his angels and his messengers” (2:285).

According to the Ahl-Sunnah-wal-Jamaah faith consists of mentally accepting and verbally declaring ones beliefs. This is known as ‘the essence of faith’, it is a ‘non or all effect’ i.e. you either have faith or you don’t. After accepting faith, it grows as a result of good deeds, this is known as ‘perfection of faith’. It is this that will be constantly changing, like the curve, with highs and lows, depending on ones good works. The Quranic formula of, “those who believe and do good works” points to the fact that faith and good works are two separate things. However they interact and affect one another (from Aqaid An Nasafi).

If we imagine Islam as a building then Imaan is the foundation. Without this the building would not exist. There is yet another reason for knowing more about Imaan namely that a strong Imaan gives confidence to the Muslim. In the gloomy age through which we are passing strong Imaan is the only guarantee for our success and salvation. The only hope lies in having strong Imaan in Allah.

The Bedouins say: “We believe! Say, you believe not, but you only say we have surrendered (in Islam), for Faith has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Al Hujurat: 13).

Once the nomads of Banu Asad a tribe living in the suburbs of Madinah were faced with a famine. They came to Madinah and begged the Prophet to help them because they were believers. This verse clarifies the fact that by merely claiming to be part of the Muslim Ummah does not make one a believer. It is important that his mind is free of any doubt and if he is called to make sacrifice of his life or property he is happy to do so.

It may seem from this verse that according to the Quran Imaan and Islam are two distinct entities. M’umin is someone whose heart is bright with light of Imaan and a Muslim is someone who is obedient although his heart maybe deficient in Imaan. This is not the case. The Quran rejects this notion when it says:

“The only religion acceptable to Allah is Islam” (Ale-Imran: 19).

So Imaan is the belief in the Almighty and it has to be accompanied by submission to his Will. This is why Allah says, “If they had obeyed Allah and his messenger they would be fully rewarded”.

In a hadith when Jibril asks the Prophet (peace be upon him), “What is faith?” He replies, “it is to believe in Allah, his Prophets, books, predestination and the life hereafter.” Jibril then asks, “What is Islam?” He says, “To pray five times a day, to fast, to give Zakah and perform hajj” (Bukhari).

Faith is not just comprised of belief in one God but also in the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) this is shown in the following ahadith:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever has these three qualities will taste the flavour of faith: God and his messenger are most dear to him; he loves others only for the sake of God, and he hates to return to kufr more than being thrown into fire alive” (Agreed upon).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “None of you can be a believer until I am more dear to him than his children, parents and all of the people” (Agreed upon).

The prophet (peace be upon him) said, “he has tasted the flavour of faith who is happy with Allah as the Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his messenger” (Muslim).

When faith becomes an absolute certainty

True Imaan is not merely the uttering of Shahadah, as Allah rebuted this concept in the Quran with the example of the incident with Banu Asad. True faith demands certain things:

1) To enter the fold of Islam completely, which means to follow Islam wholly. This requires following Islam in our private lives. The Quran tells us:

“O believers enter into Islam wholeheartedly and do not follow the footsteps of Satan for he is your open enemy” (A-baqarah: 208).

2) To avoid everything that Islam has forbidden. Things like alcohol, drugs, unlawful sexual relationships, disobedience of parents etc.

3) To practice the commandments such as; Salah, Zakah, fasting and Hajj.

4) To follow the example of the blessed Mustafa (peace be upon him). The messenger (peace be upon him) lived a life, which was a perfect model for everyone. Allah says,

“Surely the messenger is a beautiful example for him who has hope in Allah and the day of judgement” (Al Ahzab: 21).

It should be noted that the Quran says that the messenger (peace be upon him) is a ‘beautiful example’ for those people who have faith in Allah and believe in the life hereafter. Thus linking Imaan with following the Messenger.

The three stages in development of faith

True faith is trusting and loving Allah. It is a continuous spectrum ranging from a weak faith to the other extreme of strong faith. The Quran describes the three stages of Imaan, these are:

1) Knowledge; (Ilm ul Yaqin) this is the first step of Imaan, we hear someone speak about something and we accept it. The Quran says:

“Those who believe in the unseen” (Al Baqarah: 3).

The accept unconditionally what He (peace be upon him) tells them, they do not doubt him and this is because they have trusted the messenger of Allah and placed their confidence in him. They inferred the truth from him without any other evidence.

2) Seeing and recognising the truth; (Ain ul yaqin). In this second stage of Imaan one sees with his own eyes evidence for his unseen beliefs. He witnessed its truth. He sees things, which point to its truth.

“And in yourselves there are plenty of signs don’t you see” (Adh-Dhariyat: 21).

3) The third stage of Imaan is absolute certainty of assured truth (haqqul-yaqin). The Quran gives many examples of this final stage of certainty. One striking example is that of the Prophet Uzair whilst he was passing through ruins of Jerusalem he said:

“How shall Allah bring it back to life again?” (Al-Baqarah: 259)

Due to this comment Allah caused him to die for a hundred years. Allah resurrected him after a hundred years and he felt as though he had been asleep for a day or part of it. But he was told, “You have slept for a century! Look at your drink, they show no sign of age and now look at your donkey”. His drink and fruits were still fresh whilst his donkey had not only died but decayed and was a heap of bones and then Allah says:

“Look further at the bones how we bring them together and cover them in flesh!”  (Al-Baqarah: 259).

Upon seeing this miracle Uzair proclaimed:

“I know Allah has power over all things”

Here we may ask did not Uzair a Prophet already know that Allah has power over all things? If he did not know then how could he be a prophet? What it means is that he knew but he wanted to witness the power of his Lord so that he could attain the absolute degree of certainty, Haqqul yaqin.

A similar incident is mentioned concerning the prophet Ibrahim, he requested:

“O my Lord show me how you will give life to the dead” (Al-Baqarah: 260).

The same doubt had arisen here. Did Ibrahim not have faith in the power of his Lord? The Quran tell us he had a faith, which was given to him through intuition and revelation. He wanted to progress to the final stage of faith. This he could get only through seeing the majesty and power of his Lord being manifested clearly before his eyes. Allah asked Ibrahim:

“Don’t you believe Ibrahim?” He replied, “Why not, I believe but I want to satisfy my heart.”

Obviously Allah knew that Ibrahim believed in him but for our education he had this dialogue with him. Then Allah told him to take four birds and cut them into pieces and scatter their meat on four hills and call to them. They will come to you flying then know Allah is exalted in power and all wise.

The following example is a good illustration of the three stages of Imaan. Someone tells you that this box contains chocolate, if you believe him without seeing that is Ilm ul yaqin. But if you open the lid and peep inside it and actually see the chocolate that is ain ul yaqin. And to convince yourself that it is really chocolate you eat it! This is haqqul ul yaqin absolute certainty. You have now tasted it, all your senses tell you that it is chocolate. No one can convince you otherwise. This final degree of certainty is a prominent feature of the prophetic faith. A real faith.

A strong faith gives confidence and hope

This strong faith in Allah gives emotional and physical strength. It gives hope at time of despair. Gives confidence and will power to face adversities. It is the key to happy and bright future. The following examples from the messenger’s (peace be upon him) biography clearly illustrate the power of faith!

Examples of Haqqul Yaqin

1) One day the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was sitting in the shade of the Kaaba. Khabab bin Airth one of his disciples came to him and pleaded to him to pray for divine help. As the Muslims were being severely persecuted. The messenger (peace be upon him) sat up and said, “Khabab have you already given up? In the past the believer was cut in to pieces and flesh pulled from his bones with metal combs but he didn’t give up! Listen Khabab, ‘Allah will certainly complete his deen and a time will come when the traveller from Hadr Mauth in Yemen will fear no one but Allah!”

Look at the certainty with which the Messenger (peace be upon him) is speaking. And at a time when there was only a handful of Muslims. They were too weak even to preach openly. Bitterly persecuted and tormented. But despite the gloomy situation He seems hopeful and sees a bright future. This is prophetic certainty and trust in Allah’s power. Who else could have replied so positively and confidently?

2) Another Beautiful incident illustrating the deep faith of the prophet (peace be upon him) occurred at the time when the Muslims were digging the ditch around Madinah. The enemies were gathering together a large force to finish off the Muslims in Madinah. The Muslims were only 3000 decided to protect their city by digging a ditch. As the work was progressing the disciples came across a boulder it shattered into smithereens. A spark came out. The prophet looked at his weary tired soldiers and said, “In this spark I saw the white palaces of Persia and the yellow palaces of Damascus. Soon you shall conqueror them!”

This was a most remarkable statement. Here were the Muslims under siege. The enemy just about to destroy them. But the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) faith in Allah’s help and the ‘near victory’ is extraordinary.

The seed of Imaan

This is an apt metaphor of Imaan. For the seed of Imaan is present in our hearts but it needs to be nurtured so it can grow into the mighty and sublime tree of faith. Whose roots are deep in the earth and branches high in the sky. A seed needs three ingredients to grow; water, minerals and sunlight. In a similar way the seed of Imaan needs the water of eyes, flowing from the fear of Allah. It needs the minerals of Quranic wisdom; it needs the light for Nur-e-Muhammad. For this is an urgent need of our time. “O Believers believe”.

The superficial Imaan has to develop into conviction a firmly rooted belief. The formal Islam must move towards the spirit of Islam. From the outward (Zahir) to the inward (batin). Only then will there be an Islamic revolution. We are fortunate that we still have the outward Islam other religious communities have lost even that. Look at Christianity and see how it has compromised with secularism to the extent that its’ original character is difficult to discern. The Talmudic laws are nowhere to be seen for Zionism has over ran Judaism. In this utter darkness of modern jahaliyya the torch of Islam still burns as it did fourteen centuries ago. We still have the original book-the glorious Quran-the supreme source of guidance. We still have Mustafa (peace be upon him) our benevolent leader-the exemplary sacrificing lives of the disciple are like are open book before us.

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