To have faith is to feel secure
In the English language, faith broadly means ‘trust.’ So, when you have faith, you have trust in something or somebody. In Arabic, the term ‘faith’ takes on further shades of meaning. The Arabic word for faith, ‘eman,’ comes from the root word ‘amn,’ which means safety. Hamza Yusuf, a leading American Muslim scholar, explains that faith is, hence, directly linked to feeling secure and that faith is an anchoring element in the human experience. Without faith we fall into a state of despair; faith gives believers hope which makes them feel safe in this unpredictable world. In Islam, belief in God is the first step in securing this safety.
A derivative of the word ‘amn’ is ‘amana’ which means honesty and trustworthiness. This word ties in neatly with the definition of faith as trust. From the context of religion, it implies that trusting in the words of God will lead one to find safety and security. This does not necessarily imply that it will keep people away from any harm or loss in their lives. Rather, it is referring to the spiritual safety net we fall back on during times of hardship – the knowledge that we are not alone and God’s wisdom is so much greater than our understanding. In the Quran, God says, “Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light.” (2:257)
To the skeptic, faith may be a restriction or a form of blind trust that gives people the permission not to think critically or rationalize. For them, faith is more like a convenient solution which keeps people from asking uncomfortable questions. Yet, humans are naturally inclined to believe in a higher power, which leads them on a quest for deeper meaning of their existence. As such, Islam encourages people to tap into this natural inclination so that they think and seek to comprehend, as evident from the countless references to “those who reflect” and “people of understanding” in the Quran.
Indeed, inquiring and searching can actually guide one to the concept of ultimate faith in a higher deity through rationalization. The prime example of this is the story of Prophet Abraham. (Click here to learn more about Prophet Abraham.)
Prophet Abraham’s search
Abraham was the ultimate questioner, a skeptic, and he journeyed to find the truth, and when he did, it became his life’s mission. He questioned his father’s belief system and his prostration to idols, “Lo! Abraham said to his father Azar: ‘Takest thou idols for gods? For I see thee and thy people in manifest error.’” (Quran 6:74) Then, he began his search; he first looked toward the skies for an answer, but he was not convinced to take heavenly bodies as gods. The Quran recounts:
When the night covered him over, he saw a star: He said: “This is my Lord.” But when it set, He said: “I love not those that set.” When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said: “This is my Lord.” But when the moon set, He said: “unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray.” When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said: “This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all). But when the sun set, he said: “O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah. For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.” (Quran 6:76-78)
Faith and Afterlife
Faith helps us conceptualize the meaning of our existence on earth. Humans err, and no matter how intelligent we are, we misjudge, mistake, and misunderstand. We can only see through the lenses of our own personality and experiences, and not how things truly are at times. We see our own realities, which ultimately makes it harder for us to discern ultimate truths on our own. Humans are intelligent – we can rationalize and follow the scientific method – but we have limits to where our minds can reach, to the extent the mind can grasp. These limitations make it necessary for us to have a framework to guide us on our journey here, which is precisely why having faith is so important. Islam urges this balance between asking questions and accepting that full comprehension is beyond the limited capacity of the human mind.
Moreover, to think that there is nothing beyond this world and its harsh realities is too grim. For all those people who have had unfortunate circumstances plague their existence, or who are living well but are unaccountable, the absence of an afterlife would be unjust. It would eliminate the idea that we will be rewarded when we do good, or be punished when we do wrong. It would mean that what you lose in this life, you’ve lost forever. (Read more: Life After Death)
Faith in God and an afterlife, on the other hand, give us hope, positive energy and direction. They also internalize a moral framework; the awareness that God is watching even when no one else is, and will hold us accountable for our deeds, enables one to maintain an ethical and righteous lifestyle despite all odds.
Prophet Muhammad once said, “Faith is to affirm your faith in God, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and the Last Day, and to believe in the Divine Destiny whether it be good or bad.” Aptly, these are called the “six articles of faith.” Each one is asking us to believe in something we have never seen or experienced before – the very essence of faith itself. The Quran also refers to those people who wish to see something visible or tangible in order to believe. “They say: ‘Why is not an angel sent down to him?’ If We did send down an angel, the matter would be settled at once, and no respite would be granted them.” (Quran 6:8) Therefore, the whole point of having faith is to believe in something unseen.
Many things in life require a leap of faith, a decision you take in order to extend your experience or your asset without knowing the resulting impact with certainty. Having faith in the unseen and the unknown spiritually is definitely more challenging; after all, the outcome will be revealed only after we cease to exist in this life. Faith requires us to build a conceptual bridge from our material existence to an unknown destination and to journey through bravely. Perhaps this is why the results are expected to be far more rewarding. God has promised the faithful many bounties.
“As for those who fear their Lord unseen, for them is Forgiveness and a great Reward.” (Quran 67:12)