What is faith?

IncreasingFaith1.jpgIn its definition of the word faith the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary includes the following: Belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion, and  something that is believed especially with strong conviction.

Faith in Islam means to consider, without doubt, something to be true.   It can only be bestowed upon a person by Allah and includes the belief and acknowledgement of Allah as the One and Only God.  A person with faith understands and accepts his or her position as Allah’s slave and acknowledges Allah’s right to be obeyed and thanked.  Faith also involves knowing that Allah’s promises to His faithful slave are true and will come to pass. 

Faith or Imaan is something to be spoken in words, to be believed in within the heart, and to be put into action.

Prophet Muhammad said that faith had seventy-odd branches, the greatest of which is to say ‘There is no (true) god but Allah’ and the lowest of which is to remove an obstacle from the road.”[1]

Faith is expressed with the words “La ilaha illa Allah wa Mohammad rasulullah”, meaning: There is no true deity but Allah and Mohammad is His messenger.  Faith is put into action by following the five pillars of Islam and resides in the heart with belief in the six pillars of faith.

The Five pillars of Islam

·       Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Testimony of Faith.

·       Salah: performing the prayer in the proper way five times each day.

·       Zakah: paying a fixed percentage in alms or charity to benefit the poor and the needy.

·       Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.

·       Hajj: A pilgrimage to Mecca (situated in present day Saudi Arabia) where the pilgrim performs a set of rituals.

The Six Pillars of Faith

·       Belief in Allah.

·       Belief in the angels.

·       Belief in the revealed books.

·       Belief in the Messengers and Prophets of Allah.

·       Belief in the Last Day.

·       Belief in the predestination or divine decree.

Faith (Imaan) Increases and Decreases

Prophet Muhammad said, “… The likeness of the heart is that of a feather at the root of a tree, being turned over and over by the wind.”[2]

It is faith, complete reliance on Allah, that makes us feel safe, secure and close to Allah - faith however is not stable, it increases and decreases.   Faith often fluctuates according to life’s circumstances, but whatever the reason for the fluctuations faith increases with obedience to Allah and decreases with disobedience.   As believers we should try to learn what things, such as deficiencies in our prayer or whispers from Shaytan, decrease our faith.  Next we must take appropriate steps to avoid those things or situations, and at the same time try to increase our faith by doing the deeds that Allah loves.  We all have moments when we feel the need or necessity of performing acts of worship and this is natural and it will happen many times throughout our lives.  Thus securing our faith is one of the most important things a believer can do.  The starting point to increasing the level of faith in one’s heart is to recognise there is a problem.

Things that reduce our level of faith (Imaan)

·       Neglecting acts of worship.

·       Committing sins.  Especially small sins committed continuously.

·       Ignorance of the Names and Attributes of Allah.

·       Failing to ponder on the signs of Allah’s greatness.  Particularly those that we experience every day such as the sun, moon and the stars, or the ability to breathe or procreate.

·       Neglecting to be grateful to Allah for even the most menial of abilities or possessions.

·       Failing to seek adequate knowledge.

·       Failing to perform good deeds, even the smallest things such as smiling.

·       Wasting time by doing things that have no use in either this world or the next.

·       Forgetting that our ultimate purpose is to worship Allah.

·       Being excessive with the necessities of life.  For example, eating too much, sleeping away the day, staying up late for no purpose, talking for no good reason and being preoccupied with wealth.

At times many people feel that they are trying as hard as possible and cannot understand why their faith seems to be decreasing.  At this point it is important to remember that humankind’s worst enemy, Shaytan, loves causing people to forget what is in their best interest.  Shaytan encourages negligence and laziness, both traits that cause a decrease in faith. 

Fluctuating levels of faith are normal.  Everyone experiences them.  At such times it is important to do all the obligatory acts of worship thus never leaving the path of Allah completely.  For where there is the tiniest piece of faith, hope abides.

In the following lesson we will discover that there are a myriad of ways in which to increase faith.

Because Allah is our Creator and He knows the nature of the human being He has provided us with guidance that both makes sense to humankind and is easy for us to carry out.  Inherently we find our level of faith (Imaan) and devotion rising and falling often without a pattern or a discernible reason. On the other hand engaging in sinful behaviour will lower our Imaan sometimes quite rapidly.   In response to our needs, Allah has given us several means to increasing our faith, and in line with our different abilities they are varied. One person might have the ability to increase his voluntary prayers, another might find it easy to fast and yet another might have the means to give more in charity.

Eight Ways to Increase a Weakening Faith

1.     Learning about Allah through His Names and Attributes

Believers are encouraged to remember Allah and be grateful to Him at all times and one easy, yet beneficial way of doing this, is to contemplate and understand His Beautiful Names.  Through these Names, we are able to know our Creator and learn how to praise and worship Him, and to call on Him by the Names that are indicative of our needs. “Say, 'Call upon Allah, or call upon Ar-Rahman (The Most Merciful). Whichever [name] you call – to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names'...” (Quran 17:110)

2.     Pondering His signs in the Universe

“And on the earth are signs for those who have Faith with certainty. And also in your ownselves. Will you not then see?” (Quran 51:20-21)  The entire universe bears witness to Allah’s Oneness.  When contemplating the universe, from the finest grain of sand to the mighty and majestic mountains, a person is able to see the Magnificence of Allah.  This vast universe is running according to a precise system, everything in its correct place, created in the right proportions.

3.     Making du'a at every opportunity

Du'a is uplifting, empowering, liberating and transforming and it is one of the most powerful and effective acts of worship a human being can engage in.  Du'a has been called the weapon of the believer. It affirms a person’s belief in Allah and by shunning all forms of idolatry or polytheism it affirms and increases faith. “And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the supplications of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright.” (Quran 2:186)

4.     Remembering Allah

Quran is filled with verses advising us to remember Allah as often as possible.

"…Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest." (Quran 13:28)

"O you who have believed, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah..." (Quran 63:10)

" O you who have believed, remember Allah with much remembrance. And exalt Him morning and afternoon." (Quran 33:41-42)

Remembering Allah through acts of remembrance brings peace and tranquillity.  Some beneficial phrases include:

SubhanAllah -  How Perfect is Allah!

Al-hamdu-lillah - All praise and thanks are for Allah.

Allahu Akbar - Allah is the Greatest.

La ilaha il-lal-lah - There is no worthy of worship except Allah.

5.     Reciting, Reading or Listening to the Quran

Quran is a healing for the body and the soul.  Whenever life becomes too difficult or we are beset by injury, illness or unhappiness, Quran will light our way and lighten our burdens.  It is a source of solace and ease.  In the world today many people have untold wealth and luxury but little contentment. Quran fills our hearts, minds and souls and increases our faith.  Prophet Muhammad sent teachers of Quran to the outlying tribes and far away cities and said the best of his followers were those who learnt the Quran and then taught it to others.[1]

6.     Gaining correct knowledge of Islam

Gaining knowledge allows the believer to look at the world around him and contemplate the wonders of creation. Correct and authentic knowledge strengthens faith and implementing that knowledge allows one to worship with submission and certainty. “And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it (this Quran) is the truth from your Lord, and that they may believe therein, and their hearts may submit to it with humility.  And verily, God is the Guide of those who believe, to the Straight Path.” (Quran 22:54)

7.     Increasing voluntary acts such as doing good deeds, and giving sadaqah

One of the best ways of increasing faith is by performing good deeds.  “Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while he (or she) is a true believer verily, to him We will give a good life and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter)” (Quran 16:97)

The more we increase in good deeds, the more we increase our Imaan and thus, expect Allah's rewards both in this world and the Hereafter.

8.     Seeking out good companions

Friendship and companionship are important in Islam.  A good friend is one who accommodates your faults but corrects them where possible. It is easy to be influenced by the people around us and take on their mannerisms and qualities without even being aware of it.  If these are good qualities then it is a good thing but what if the people you consider are helping to decrease your Imaan?  This could be a disaster, and God warns about it in the Quran. “And (remember) the Day when the wrong-doer will bite on his hand [in regret], he will say: ‘Oh!  Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger.  Ah!  Woe to me!  Would that I had never taken so-and-so as a friend!  He indeed led me astray from the Reminder (the Quran) after it had come to me...’” (Quran 25:27)

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