The word faith (Ar. imān) is constantly mentioned in communities, bellowing from pulpits and lessons, floating through the classrooms of Islamic schools or, most importantly, whispering to us from a deep place inside our hearts. Faith walks with us; it is there when tears run down our cheeks, and it is there when we smile. It carries us through the good times and the bad. Faith is more than just a definition found in books of theology. It is a reality that touches every aspect of our lives. Faith’s centrality in our lives is a proof of our Prophet’s ﷺ (peace be upon him) role as a teacher and proof of his greatness because he expanded it beyond a theological concept, beyond gnosis, to every facet of our being, to, as Chaplain Marc Manley likes to call it, “Operational Islām.” Such that when the Prophet ﷺ was asked, “What is the best act?” He responded, “Faith in God!”
Teaching Faith in The 21st Century
In the last 10-15 years faith (Ar. aqîda) has provided us with a sense of identity. While establishing an identity rooted in faith is important, often these efforts expanded well beyond the designations of faith and disbelief, to a number of “intrafaith” wars that rocked communities, and in some cases, led to divorce. I plan to touch on this in the future. But, for now, it is important to understand that classical books on faith were written with 3 different philosophies:
- To teach and inspire
- To compare with Other Creeds
- To argue
Sadly, in recent times, the second and third approaches were given more attention while the first was orphaned. This series of articles will be written using the first approach – to build, familiarize, and inspire us to live faith-based lives.
Faith and 5: Faith’s Application in the 18th Chapter
The 18th chapter of the Qur’an holds a special status. Read by a large number of us on Friday, it teaches that faith touches on five important aspects of our lives: learning, community, thankfulness and indifference, patience with God’s decree, and ethics with success.
Each and every one of us experiences one or more of these on a daily basis: where and what to study first is a constant question we ask; each day we are faced with a large number of injustices at political, economic and structural levels; each day we find ourselves amazed by the latest offerings this world has to offer and find ourselves rocked by the tide, and each day we are confronted with tests and trials, with power and success.
In short, each day is an opportunity for us to live faith. And that is one reason why I think reading the 18th chapter of the Qur’an each week is so important. Instead of looking at the world outside of the mosque as a challenge, we should look at it as an opportunity to celebrate God’s blessings, to stand in the tide of evil and pronounce our dedication to something greater and purer: faith!
The First: Sources of Knowledge
The sources of correct spiritual knowledge are identified at the beginning of the 18th chapter: revelation that “has no deviance, straight” and the perfect model to follow, “upon His servant.” Thus, we are taught to place our understanding of the unseen, our understanding of God’s commands upon His perfect words, the Qur’an, following the example of God’s beloved messenger, Muhammad ﷺ. This should cause us to study his Book and the Prophet’s ﷺ example, developing an intimate relationship with them.
The Second: Community
Concern for community is found in the story of the companions of the cave, “We made their hearts strong when they stood up and said, ‘Our lord is the lord of the heavens and the earth! We will never pray to any other deity except him.” It was not enough for them to believe. But something nagged at their hearts, causing them to share God’s greatest gift, faith. Our hearts should be moved by the shallowness of a global society that has placed God on the backburner. The word guidance in Arabic comes from the same word as gift; gifts are meant to be shared. In the 36th chapter of the Qur’ān, verse 26, we find a man so committed to sharing that gift that he wanted to share it even after his death. Ibn ‘Abbas (God bless his soul) said, “He called his people to faith while he was alive, and he wanted to call them to it after his death!”
The Third: Thankfulness and Indifference
Thankfulness for blessings and indifference to this world are found in the story of the two men who were blessed with gardens and wealth. One was thankful, the other ungrateful. “And why did you not say when you entered your (bountiful) garden, ‘What God has willed [has happened]; there is no power except God’s.’” One was humble with God’s blessings, the other blinded by them: “And I do not think the Hour will occur Even if I’m resurrected, I do not think I will find what is better than this!” We learn from this that indifference (Ar. zuhd) is not about neglecting the world, but appreciating what we have and attributing it to God’s grace and favors—using it to serve Him and society. At the same time, true wealth is not about richness at hand, but richness at soul. Zuhd is not that simple—to simply abandon responsibility. It is about embracing it with an eye to the Hereafter, an eye towards God’s pleasure. Promotions and raises are truly blessed when they are coupled with an increase in submission to God through worship and public service.
The Fourth: Patience with Calamities and God’s Plan
Patience with strange occurrences and God’s divine wisdom is found in the story of Moses and his companion. “You will not be patient.” “You will find me, God willing, patient.” We hear of patience on God’s obedience and avoiding evil, but patience with God’s plan is another story. At times, the unknown eats at us. But believing in God’s promise, “Indeed, we will help the Prophets and those who believe,” is an aspect of patience that is often neglected. Even more difficult than that is when the plan seems to throw us a curve. Patience with the good times is difficult, but patience with trials is even harder. Sh. Zakariyya al-Ansāri said that that type of patience was “hardest on the soul.” Being pleased with God’s decree is not only a great mystery, but difficult to embrace. A narration states that God said to Moses, “My pleasure with you is based on your pleasure with my decree.”
The Fifth: Ethics with Success
Ethics with success are found in the last story of the 18th chapter. The strong king, Dhū al-Qarnayn, exemplifies that power is not a problem when coupled with gratitude to God and respecting others. “Those things that God has established in me (through his blessings) are better (than what you offer), but assist me with strength.” It is only when power blinds a person from its true source—intoxicating them from seeing God’s blessing—that it becomes a problem. Promotions and positions should be met with humility and grace, not with arrogance and oppression.
As you experience your day, examine how faith affects your success, your sources of understanding, your concern for others, your patience with God’s plan and your engagement with power. Try to monitor your days, tying faith with your acts. You will surely find them blessed by God, bountiful. Move faith beyond the simple act of cognition, to a filter that guides your thoughts and your deeds. Faith is not about mastering a text only. It is about holding it down when your kids are driving you crazy, when your spouse is giving you the blues, when your boss is upset and when others are in need. We will spend a few more articles on this topic to help you bring faith back to your days, to your hours, to your life!