“…There shall, none the less, most certainly come unto you guidance from Me: and those who follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.”
-- Qur’an 2:38
In previous blogs, I began a conversation with Shaykh Qays Arthur from Qibla Online Academy for the Islamic Sciences, on some of the spiritual dimensions within Islam. We discussed briefly monotheism and began a conversation on faith and guidance. We will continue this conversation from the angle of the meaning of faith. I cannot go too much in depth in these conversations as this is just a blog – but if anyone is interested, Shaykh Qays teaches a class on Qibla titled, Understanding Islam which will start soon. The course on Qibla is a more in depth analysis of faith. These series of blogs are meant to touch the surface and help bring an understanding of what Muslims believe and why some of the accusations toward Islam contradict Islamic teachings.
Wazwaz: Shaykh Qays – let us continue the conversation on faith and guidance and this time, I want to explore the meaning of faith. I wanted to begin with a verse in the Qur’an and seek your analysis:
"The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts; and if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish aught of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."
Are we to understand from this verse that it is not enough to simply accept Islam?
Shaykh Qays: In reality yes. The reason I say "in reality" is because legally, accepting Islam makes one Muslim and a believer. But that is as far as we are accountable when it comes to the law and judging others. Legally, we may only judge based on what is apparent. But this verse speaks in terms of the reality as it is known to God, the Knower of all things. From this verse, verse 14 of chapter 49, we should understand that, as Imam Razi notes in his exegesis, true faith and God-consciousness are "acts of the heart" and are not attained through mere speech or conformity. And that God's judgment is not limited to what is apparent but He, Most High, judges on the basis of what our hearts contain. The "dwellers of the desert" referred to in the verse were not sincere in their outward show of piety (they were seeking wealth) and God revealed their state so that they may repent and improve and so that those of us who may be guilty of the same thing may do likewise.
Wazwaz: According to Islamic teachings - is faith defined by accepting God, or seeking acceptance from God for our faith and works? I ask this because at times you hear people say accept God in your hearts, as though God is in need of our acceptance. When answering this question can you comment on the following supplications by Prophet Abraham, upon him peace.
"Our Lord, accept this from us. Truly, are You the most Hearing, Knowing. Our Lord, and make us both Muslims to You and from our descendants a Muslim community to You. And show us our rites of worship and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful." 2:127-128
"O my Lord, make me an establisher of prayer and my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication. Our Lord, forgive me and my parents and all the believers on the Day the reckoning will take place." 14:40-41
From these two verses where prophet Abraham, upon him peace, supplicates God - can we assume that faith is a light that God places in people's hearts after they prove to be sincere and truth in their quest for truth, or is it something that we figure out on our own?
Shaykh Qays: Faith is accepting conviction (tasdiq) in the heart and affirmation with the tongue. That is the classical definition of faith in Muslim scholarship. The first part of it, accepting conviction, is the essence of faith while the latter part is more of a legal requirement. God commands us to know, accept, and submit to Him, not because He is in need of that but because we are. When we have faith we are guided and thus benefited and if not, then we are the lesser for it. So faith is an act of the heart yet it must be manifested in works. As we saw earlier, works are no guarantee of faith yet faith is never present without them thus the Quran consistently speaks of the believers as "those who believe and work righteousness". The verses that were mentioned speak about Divine acceptance of works and repentance. Seeking that is part of the exercise of faith but not quite a definition of it. So we may say that faith, as defined above, practically entails accepting Allah, Most High, His oneness and Lordship, and submitting to Him which in turn entails obeying Him, and seeking His help and acceptance of our works and repentance.
Wazwaz: At times people who have faith treat God as though they did Him a favor by believing in Him. In the previous blog, you also agreed with the Muslim social counselor Streven Krauss, when he said to a troubled Muslim "We exist for God, God does not exist for us." And extremists of any faith - if you listen to them, they act as though they are doing God a favor. They do not focus on the obligations that their faith lays upon them. So I would like to hear your comment on the verse:
"They think that they lay you under an obligation by becoming Muslims. Say: Lay me not under obligation by your Islam: rather God lays you under an obligation by guiding you to the faith if you are truthful."
Shaykh Qays: That verse, verse 17 also from chapter 49, refers to the same group of "desert dwellers" who felt that they were doing the Prophet (peace be upon him) a favor by becoming Muslims and they are rebuked for their presumptuousness. Their state was the result of failing to behold the majesty of God. And it is indeed similar with all people who don't know true monotheism (we seek refuge in God from that!). I say that because at the heart of polytheism is the fatally misguided attempt to make God human and to deal with Him as such when He is on High, unlike us, and exalted. The fact that He is such is what makes His favor, mercy, love, and intimacy more unique and precious than anything we could dream of. When that majesty of the Divine becomes lost on us due to our own perceived self-importance such that we think it is God who must come to us, pursue us, and serve us; that is the root of disbelief, extremism, and misguidance.
Wazwaz: Can we assume that once we are convinced in our faith - that we have a one way ticket to Heaven? We discussed that faith is accepting conviction. Does this conviction remain or can it be snatched by God if one is not truthful or is insincere to the obligations that Islam lays upon them? As you answer this question - I want to share with you a prayer that Muslims are recommended to pray to help you understand what I am referring to in my question:
"Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us, and give us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, it is You who is the giver of all things. Our Lord, surely You will gather mankind for a Day about which there is no doubt. Verily, God never breaks His promise."
Shaykh Qays: The beautiful prayer you have quoted from chapter 3 of the Quran (verses 8 and 9) contains the answer to your question. Faith is not a right, nor an earned merit; it is a special favor from God. The believers seek it from Him and seek its increase from Him and guard it out of gratitude, and are more concerned about losing it than they are about guarding and losing wealth and treasures. That is the spirit and the reality of those verses and we ask God to make us like that and keep us thus guided. Salvation is attained only by balancing the tendencies of hope and fear. The true believers have hope in the Divine mercy which inspires them to works of righteousness without wondering into the dark regions of despair, while their fear of His punishment keeps them away from wickedness and stops self-righteousness. This balance needs to be maintained and is it maintained by turning to God as in the prayer that you quoted- seeking all good from Him and acknowledging His sovereignty. As for presuming one's self saved, or damned for that matter, that leads to either arrogant self-righteousness or despair which are both forms of misguidance. So we should not depend on our faith for salvation nor our works. We shouldn't depend on anything from ourselves. We should simply surrender all that we have to God, praise and worship and turn to Him in all circumstances, either with gratitude or repentance, and depend on Him alone for salvation. That is the ticket to Heaven.
Wazwaz: As we discussed in the previous blog - guidance is obtained from God, not Muslims or our minds. I want to summarize your answers from the previous blog and this blog. Muslims do not have the power to guide themselves, much less other people. They are means that God uses to guide, but they do not have the power to guide anyone that God does not wish to guide either by compulsion or choice. Do you agree? And once a person is guided, and faith if not guarded, it can be snatched away by God, not Muslims. Is my understanding accurate?
Shaykh Qays: Yes. Guidance, like everything else that exists, is from and through God and none besides. We have a duty to call ourselves and others to the Truth while depending entirely on God. This is entailed by true monotheism. God is not just a bigger version of ourselves. He creates the very fabric of reality. If we don't believe that and if we arrogate to ourselves power and influence independently of Him then we are not true monotheists, not true believers. For this reason we are taught to seek guidance every day in our prayers. Guidance is never presumed - never taken for granted.
Wazwaz: Finally, sometimes when people are guided, instead of guarding the gift of grace - they assume that they were guided by their own minds. Hence, they start to mock people who are not guided. At times, they start to praise God loudly to promote their piety. Can you comment on the following?
"Invoke your Lord with humility and in fear and without Loudness of speech." 7:205
Shaykh Qays: The mentioned verse concerns earnest remembrance of God and its chief context is the ritual prayer. The type of conduct you mentioned is in no way compatible with true faith and is a manifest sign of misguidance and arrogance (God be our refuge). It seems to me that more appropriate for that type of activity would be verses 18 and 19 from chapter 31:
"Turn not thy cheek away from men in scorn, and walk not in the earth exultantly; God loves not any man proud and boastful. Be modest in thy walk, and lower thy voice; for indeed the most hideous of voices is the donkey's.”
That verse suffices as commentary. And we ask our Guardian Lord for guidance and a goodly end.