Faith is that necessary element of human beings, which forms their moral behaviour and leads to higher virtues and values. It is our faith that leads us to the deeper thoughts such as the essence of our being: the reality of our soul. Where did our soul come from? Is it temporary or eternal? What is the purpose of our life on this earth? Where do we go from here? Faithlessness, on the other hand, leads us nowhere and we keep wandering aimlessly, like a ship without a lighthouse.
The aim of this article is to understand how we were created and the purpose we have been created for, which is the essence of faith. For this we need to understand the life and death on this earth, and resurrection on the Day of Judgement. Life and death are a physical reality and are evident to everyone. But there is controversy regarding the notion of resurrection, which is invisible to the human eye. The existence or non-existence of resurrection cannot be proven scientifically. Therefore, it is the essence of faith that leads us to believe that life and death are not a mere game but exist for a purpose. Belief in resurrection also helps us to be steadfast in our moral values. Without this faith, life will be nothing but chaos.
We can be of one of two groups: those who believe in a creator, and those who believe everything that exists is nothing more than a coincidence. At this stage I will not discuss faithlessness, but focus on the essence of faith in Islam.
Faith in Islam is to understand the meaning of the phrase "There is no deity but Allah". The Arabic word "Allah" comprises two words, "Al" meaning "the" and "Ilah" meaning "worthy of worship". Hence, the word "Allah" means the only One worthy worship, to whom we bow and prostrate in humility and submission.
In his book Essence of Faith, Alhaj AD Ajijolah explains the meaning of the word "Ilah". The meanings include: possessing infinite powers, dependence of others on Ilah and He being independent of any needs, a sense of concealment and mystery, a being unseen and imperceptible.
When we accept that our Deity is Allah and that He is the Almighty, then how can we allow ourselves to indulge in the imagination of His Supreme Being? Is it ever possible to conquer such a Mighty Being within the limits of our little minds? And those who claim to do so: do their claims have any merit?
The Holy Quran tells us that no vision can grasp Allah (swt):
"No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension yet is acquainted with all things."
(Quran, 6: 103)
There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran explaining the existence of Allah (swt); for example:
"Allah! There is no god but He the Living the Self-subsisting. Eternal, no slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence; except as He permits? He knows what approaches to His creatures as before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass ought of His Knowledge: except as He wills. His Throne does extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)."
(Quran, 2: 255)
This verse of the Holy Quran is referred to as the "Verse of the Throne". It symbolises the absolute power and glory of our Creator. Yusuf Ali says that in the light of this verse, our idea of heaven and earth vanishes like shadows. We just accept the reality of the Supreme Being without imagination. This is called Iman-bil-Ghaib: Belief in the Unseen.
Allah (swt) is also "Rabbul-Alameen" that is the Cherisher and the Sustainer. Yusuf Ali explains the word "Rabb" is usually translated in English as "Lord", but this does not justify its full meaning because "Rabb" is He who not only creates, but also cares, cherishes and sustains everything He has created. The creation of Allah (swt) includes not only that which can see and understand, but also many more things which we are unable to grasp. Yusuf Ali has mentioned three different worlds:
Nasut the human world knowledgable by the senses.
Malakut the invisible world of the angels.
Lahut the divine world of Reality.
The faith in the unseen Rabb is described in the Holy Quran in highly allegorical terms:
"Allah is the Light of the heaven and earth. The similitude of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (The lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon Light! Allah guides unto His Light whom He will. And Allah speakes to mankind in allegories, for Allah is Knower of all things."
(Quran, 24: 35)
The faith in a Mu'min's heart is like a unique light from a special lamp, and those who form their conducts to match their faith gain more and more of this light.
The blessings of Allah (swt) are so numerous that their description is something beyond human capacity:
"And if all the trees on earth were pens and the oceans (were ink) with seven oceans behind it to add to its (supply), yet would not the words of Allah be exhausted (in the writing): for Allah is the Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom."
(Quran, 31: 27)
The essence of faith is not an intellectual indulgence in the nature of the Supreme Being, but initially to look to ourselves. How have we been created from nothing; what is the purpose of our being; where do we go from here? The Holy Quran gives the answer to all of these questions.
In the following verse we learn about our humble origin, the stages of our development, how helpless we have been, and how helpless we will be when the angel of death comes to visit us.
"O mankind! If you have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our Power) to you; and We caused who We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that ye may reach the age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much)."
(Quran, 22: 5)
In Islam, the purpose of life on earth is the worship of Allah (swt) and obedience to His commands in our daily actions:
"I have only created jinns and men, that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He who gives (all) sustenance Lord of Power steadfast (forever)."
(Quran, 51: 56-58)
All creation obeys the commandments of Allah (swt), sing hymns about Him and prostate in humility:
"Do they not look at Allah's creation (even) among (inanimate) things how their shadows turn around, from the right and the left, prostrating themselves to Allah, and that in the humblest manner? And to Allah doth obeisance all that is in the heavens and on earth, whether moving (living) creatures or the angels: for none are arrogant (before their Lord). They all revere their Lord, high above them, and they do all that they are commanded."
(Quran, 16: 48-50)
The difference between other creations and human beings is the gift of will. We have been given the choice to follow the right path of love, peace, tranquillity, and mercy or choose a wrong path of wrath and everything opposite to what we should. The Holy Quran bears witness that every soul has made a covenant with Allah (swt) to worship Him alone:
"When your Lord drew forth from the children of Adam from their loins their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves (saying): 'Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?' They said, 'Yea! We do testify!' (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgement" 'Of this we were not mindful.'"
(Quran, 7: 172)
Fulfilment of this covenant is the commandment of Allah (swt):
"Fulfil the covenant of Allah when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them; indeed you have made Allah your surety; for Allah knows all that you do."
(Quran, 16: 91)
Those who worship anything other than Allah (swt) have broken the covenant with Him:
"Yet have they taken, besides Him, gods that can create nothing but are themselves created; that have no control of hurt or good to themselves; nor can they control Death nor Life nor Resurrection."
(Quran, 25: 3)
But those who do not betray the covenant of Allah (swt) despite the limited free will are successful:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error. Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks and Allah hears and knows all things."
(Quran, 2: 256)
"One Day every soul will come up struggling for itself, and every soul will be recompensed (fully) for all its actions, and none will be unjustly dealt with."
(Quran, 16: 111)
This earthly life is certain to perish and life and death is a fact undeniable. We have been given limited free will to see who chooses the right path, and acts accordingly:
"He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving."
(Quran, 67: 2)
"How can you reject the faith in Allah? Seeing that you were without life, and He gave you life, then will He cause you to die, and will again bring you to life, and again to Him will you return."
(Quran, 2: 28)
We have with us the Holy Quran and the traditions of our Prophet (s) to form our deeds and actions. We must make an effort to read and understand the Holy Quran, and the traditions of our beloved Prophet (s). The last sermon of the Prophet (s) is to be read and followed religiously and passed on to the next generation. This sermon was delivered during Hajj in the valley of Arafah in the sacred month of Zul-hijjah:
"Even as this month is sacred, this land inviolate, and this day holy, so has Allah made lives, property and honour of every man sacred. To take any man's life or his property, or attack his honour, is as unjust and wrong as to violate the sacredness of this day, this month and this territory. What I command you today is not meant only for today. It is meant for all times. You are expected to remember it and to act upon it until you leave this world and go to the next to meet your Maker."
There are three types of belief regarding life after death.
Rejecting faith and believing in nature: For those who believe this, life and death is just a happening, and without any consequences, like crop in the field. They argue that the theory of resurrection cannot be proven scientifically. But believing in life after death is a faith in the unseen. If resurrection cannot be proven scientifically, then one cannot disprove it either. We do not see air, but we know its existence because we cannot live without it.
Believing that life exists on earth only and the soul only changes its form according to its deed. This is the theory of reincarnation, which leaves one wondering as to who was created first, the chicken or the egg. Another puzzling point regarding reincarnation is that the human form is to be the highest form a soul takes. Today, the population is rising too fast and so many social and environmental problems are amongst our midst. This makes one wonder, why when moral values are on the decline, the human form of the soul can be on the increase?
Having faith in resurrection and the Day of Judgement, human presence in the Divine Court, and the just administration of rewards and punishment. This is the common message that every prophet brought: faith in one True Deity and striving for good deeds.
There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran about resurrection and the Day of Judgement. In fact, the whole Quran has been revealed for this very purpose: have faith in Allah (swt) and seek guidance from Him to be steadfast on the right path. Surah Al-Qiyamah has the central theme of resurrection and the final destiny of every soul:
"I do call to witness the Resurrection Day; and I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (eschew evil). Does not man think that We cannot assemble his bones? Nay, We are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers. But man wishes to do wrong (even) in the time in front of him. He questions: 'When is the Day of Resurrection?' At length, when the sight is dazed, and the moon is buried in darkness. And the sun and moon are joined together That Day will man say: 'Where is the refuge?' By no means no place of safety! Before your Lord (alone), that Day will be the place of rest. That Day will man be told (all) that he put forward, and all that he put back. No, man will be evident against himself, even though he were to put his excuses."
(Quran, 75: 1-15)
Yusuf Ali, in explanation of these verses says the reason for resurrection is twofold. Firstly, every soul must eschew evil, for every soul has to account for its own actions and evil will have its recompense at the Resurrection. Secondly, the soul's own conscience will reproach it for sin, and should not be repressed.
It is the cry of the faithless: "What when we are reduced to bones and dust, how can our personality be called to account?"
(Quran, 17: 49)
The answer in the Quran, in verses 75: 3-4 is yes death is not the end of all things. The faithless like to reject resurrection, so they can feel free to indulge in their desires. They find evil attractive, because they have suppressed their conscience or inner voice (Quran, 108: 1-7). In their mind there is no need for repentance or amendments, so they can go on with life as they please and they usually jest: "When is the Day of Resurrection?" Allah (swt) says on that Day, human eyes will be dazed with the Light and Glory of Allah (swt). The moon will lose its shine, and the sun and moon will become like empty shells because the Prototype of all light now shines in a new splendour.
The faithless will not find any refuge on that day, because it is a Day for just decisions:
"And the earth will shine with the glory of its Lord: The Record (of Deeds) will be placed (open); The prophets and witnesses will be brought forward; And a just decision pronounced between them and they will not be wronged."
(Quran, 39: 69)
"On that Day when their tongues, their hands and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions."
(Quran, 24: 24)
The limited free will is a gift from Allah (swt) and a test to see who is capable of making the right choice. This body is also a gift from Allah (swt) for a limited period of time and will rebel against the rebellious soul and testify against it, and recognise that the command is Allah's (swt) alone.
The essence of faith is to believe in Allah (swt), the only Deity worthy of worship, and to attune the human will to the Divine Will and Plan. This is done by making the Holy Quran and Ahadith the criterion for deeds and actions. We must have a firm belief that death is not the end of all things and that the end of life on this earth opens the door for eternal and a higher form of life:
"We have decreed death to be your common lot; and We are not to be frustrated from changing your forms and creating you (again) in (forms) which you know not"
(Quran, 56 60-1)
The human life has some real aim and purpose and is not created for jest:
"Does man think that he is to be left alone without purpose?"
"What! Did you think that we have created you without purpose, and that you would not be brought back to Us?"
Life on earth is a common goal, and every human being must recognise the rights of others, and try to live in harmony with them. But the ultimate goal is to live in the service of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) has full knowledge of the good and bad deeds of every soul and is the supreme authority to reward or punish accordingly. A belief in Resurrection leads us towards higher moral values.
Let us pray together: O Allah (swt), guide us on the right path, make our account on the Day of Judgement easy. Forgive all our errors and sins, and save us from the Fire of Hell. Ameen.
Ajijolah, A. D. (1984) The Essence of Faith in Islam. Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
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