Faith is indeed a blessing from Allah and should not be taken for granted. Just as it may increase and become fuller and stronger, it may also weaken and become less and less until it is minimal or non-existent. Hence it becomes very important for a Muslim to take steps not only to preserve his faith but also to increase it.
The uppermost branch of faith is the true, sincere, committed belief in la ilaha illallah, Muhammadan rasulu Allah (there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger).
Iman has over seventy branches. The lowest or most basic branch is to remove something harmful from the path. Abu Hurairah related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no God but Allah and the humblest of which is the removal of what is injurious from the path; and modesty is a branch of faith.” (Muslim)
Basically, to do everything that Allah (Exalted is He) has ordered us to do is a part of faith and to avoid all that He has asked us to avoid is a part of faith. A Muslim’s level and strength of faith are based upon his attitude and approach when he fulfils this.
Then we have given the Book for inheritance to such of our servants as We have chosen. But there are among them some who wrong their own souls, some who follow a middle course, and some who are, by Allah’s leave, foremost in good deeds, that is the highest grace. (Fatir 35:32)
Thus, man falls into one of the three following categories:
1- Zalim li nafsihi: This person is self oppressed. He is constantly falling into sin and may be committing various acts of shirk.
2- Al-Muqtasid: He does only the basic obligations and is satisfied with this. He may also indulge in those things that are makrooh (disliked, that which has been discouraged by Allah and His Prophet but not prohibited).
3- Sabiq bil khairat: This person lives as if he were in a race with others in doing that which is liked by Allah. He does all of the obligatory deeds and not being satisfied with this, he will strive to do more of the nawafil (the optional acts in the Sunnah). He will make every attempt to avoid the disliked acts in fear of what they may lead them to.
One may ask, is it within the capacity of man to avoid all haram (prohibited by Allah) and makrooh (disliked) and live his life doing only halal (permitted by Allah), fard (obligatory) and nafl (supererogatory) deeds? Yes, it is very possible. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. (Al-Baqarah 2:286)
O you who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves and adore your Lord and do good so that you may prosper. And strive in His cause as you ought to strive; He has chosen you and has placed no difficulties on you in religion. (Al-Hajj 22:77-78)
All actions fall into two categories:
1- The obligatory acts which we are asked to avoid or do for the benefit of the individual and society
2- Those other than the obligatory deeds, which guide us to good in this life and which raise our level in the hereafter, placing us among the Sabiq bil khairat. Therefore of the first steps to increase is to work harder to do this second category of optional good deeds.
We must look for the doors that lead to good. These doors are many and we often have the opportunity to enter them but don’t realize it.
Kindness to parents and the poor, for example, are entrances to good deeds that are available to most everyone.
And the benefits are twofold:
1. The personal benefit you gain through your deeds; and
2. The benefit that is gained by society when you perform them.
Any door to good that you enter will place you closer to the Sabiq bil khairat level of faith. It will help you to attain righteousness and guidance and increase your Iman. Even paradise has doors for the faithful, those who were of the Sabiq bil Khayrat in their life on earth.
Abu Hurairah related that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Those who engage in prayer will be invited to enter by the Gate of Prayer; those who take part in jihad will be invited to enter by the gate of sadaqah (charity); and those who fast will be invited to enter by the gate of Ar-Rayyan”. Abu Bakr said: ‘No distress will rest on him who is invited to enter by those gates, but will any one be invited to enter by those gates’, He replied: ‘Yes, and I hope that you may be one.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him) was of the Sabiq bil Khairat. He was never satisfied in doing a little or just one thing. He constantly opened and entered the doors to good and eagerly sought out others.
On one occasion, the Prophet asked his companions: Who among them had fasted the day before, Abu Bakr replied that he had. He then asked who had visited the sick the previous day, Abu Bakr replied that he did. Then he asked them who had given charity, and Abu Bakr said that he had. `Umar, who always tried to compete with Abu Bakr in doing good deeds, admitted in respect, admiration and humble acknowledgement that he was much less than Abu Bakr. (Not the exact wording of the hadith)
How does one enter these Iman strengthening doors and thereby step up in levels of faith?
It occurs by possessing those qualities and performing those deeds that constitute the different parts of faith called Shu’ab Al Iman (Arabic for ‘branches of faith’). In stepping forth, certain approaches must be followed so that one’s effort is sincere and upon the path.
The first of all deeds is du`aa’ (supplication). Due to our absorption in today’s worldly life it is very important that before we perform any deed for Allah we clear our minds of such preoccupation’s and direct our attention to Him.
There are two kinds of du`aa’; du`aa’ of request for help in this life and the hereafter and du`aa’ of worship in which you are actually praising Allah. We should, before setting forth to do any deed, ask Allah to allow us to perform the deed and allow us to perform it well.
A man asked the Prophet to teach him a supplication that would embody all supplications. He told him to make the following du`aa’:
‘Allahumma a`inni `ala dhikrika wa shukrika wa husn `ibadatika’ (O Allah help me in remembering You, in thanking You and in worshipping You in the best way) (Abu Dawud and An-Nasa’i)
The highest branch of faith ‘la ilaha illallah’ must be fully developed within one’s life. The understanding of its deep implications will have a tremendous effect in one’s level of faith. As well, the one who says it sincerely in his heart will be admitted into paradise.
“Mu`adh ibn Jabal asked the Prophet: ‘O Messenger of Allah, tell me of an act which will take me into paradise and will keep me away from Hellfire. He said: ‘You have asked me about a major matter, yet it is easy for him whom Allah Almighty makes it easy for. You should worship Allah, associating nothing with Him; you should perform the prayers; you should pay the zakah (obligatory alms); you should fast Ramadan; and you should make the pilgrimage to the House. Then he said: Shall I not show you the gates of goodness? Fasting (which) is a shield; charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire; and the praying of a man in the depths of the night. Then he recited:
Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope and spend out of what We have bestowed on them. No soul Knows what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do. (An-Nahl 16:32)
Then he said: ‘Shall I not tell you of the peak of the matter, its pillar and its topmost part? I said: ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah’. ‘The peak is Islam; the pillar is prayer; and its top most part is jihad.” (At-Tirmidhi)
To be continued…