It’s indisputable that everyone has his/her own path to faith. God’s ways are untraceable, and so are ways of individuals to the Truth. God is the only One who knows how and when it will happen, suddenly or gradually, easily or with doubts arising along the way. However, in any case, a man cannot but feel at certain point that he is approaching attempts to know the Truth. It can’t be otherwise, since “Allah intervenes between a man and his heart” [Qur'an, 8:24], and “Allah has not made for a man two hearts in his interior” [Qur'an, 33:4].
But does it mean that sensuous (spiritual) perception of the Divine is the only foundation of faith? Obviously not, because Lord has repeatedly called not to perceive ayahs, revealed by Him, mindlessly:
Rather, the Qur'an is distinct verses [preserved] within the breasts of those who have been given knowledge [Qur'an, 29:49].
In other words, the sensuous perception of faith might be the initial step in understanding the divinity of the world. It can be viewed as one of the most important things, but the faith is unlikely to be complete without understanding (comprehension) of what Allah has said. On the other hand, the link between Allah and “heart” indicates that the awareness of the Highest Nature involves emotional “qualities” as well. So the concepts of love or fear (we will confine ourselves to those) quite inherently fit into the aspect of faith of individual. This makes evident personality hue in the behavioral-psychological attitude to the Divine.
It can be concluded, from what has been said, that a believer is capable of feeling love to Allah. Therefore, the Qur'an speaks of believers, whom “He will love and who will love Him” [Qur'an, 5:54]. Of course, this is not about earthly love, and not only about love as an obligatory derivative of worship. This Love is much wider, and it’s simply impossible to describe its essence. Because this feeling comprises messages, both from heart and mind, based on sensing, seeing and understanding the most significant acts performed by Allah in the name of a human, in the name of an individual. But here arises the question which often can be heard: how can this kind of love be reconciled with fear of Allah?
Of course, this is internal matter of every believer, but since the concept of love to the Almighty reaches beyond the down-to-earth context, the nature of fear is also fundamentally different from earthly definition of fear.
The Holy Qur'an indicates:
Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. [Qur'an, 49:13].
God makes this concept quite understandable for those who carefully reads the words:
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [Qur'an 2: 177].
However, is it really the fear of God that is the primary reason for fulfilling the precepts of the faith?
Indeed, it is a fact that Allah calls to fear Him. But why? And whom is He addressing?
And as for those who disbelieved, I will punish them with a severe punishment in this world and the Hereafter, and they will have no helpers. But as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, He will give them in full their rewards, and Allah does not like the wrongdoers. [Qur'an 3: 56-57].
Hence, first of all, Allah draws clear distinction between believers and disbelievers. This is the very essence.
The Almighty then clarifies the following in the context of fearing God:
The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely - The ones who establish prayer, and from what We have provided them, they spend. Those are the believers, truly. For them are degrees [of high position] with their Lord and forgiveness and noble provision. [Qur'an, 8: 2-4].
And the Creator adds:
O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow - and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do. And be not like those who forgot Allah. [Qur'an, 59:18-19].
That is to say that “having forgotten Allah” people return in the “fold” of unbelievers, which may lead to Allah's indignation with all the ensuing consequences.
Thus, it is not “just” the fear of All-knowing and All-seeing Allah per se that drives believers, not “just” the fear of God, but fear of the results of committing a sinful act. Since the word of Allah is unchangeable. This refers to a tremulous fear that is based on respect, admiration, devotion, arising from the intention to remain among the believers and from unwillingness to be abandoned by universal Love of the Lord.
This fear does not correspond to the generally accepted earthly understanding of it, which might include the fear of physically strong man, strict teacher or boss. The Qur'an states:
Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians - those who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.”[Qur'an, 5:69].
The bottom line here is that sensuous and reasonable perception of the religion leads to awe of the Almighty, desire to grasp His Greatness to the extent possible, and to come closer to understanding His words. This is the basis for fulfilling Allah’s commands. Therefore, every believer, when realizing what a sinful act can lead to, thinks fearfully of the punishment from Allah. This is the result of sensuous and reasonable perception of the words of the Most High, Who had promised Paradise for those fearing Him and Hell for sinful people. The Qur'an testifies after all that only those who “disbelieved in the signs of Allah, so Allah seized them for their sins. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and severe in penalty” [Qur'an, 8:52]. But again, the Almighty clarifies it for us:
“Allah would not change a favor which He had bestowed upon a people until they change what is within themselves” [Qur'an, 8:53].
The prominent Muslim thinker and theologian Al-Ghazali refracts the foregoing aspect of “fear” very subtly by saying:
- “Supporting faith instead of disbelief, righteousness instead of evil; adopting a policy of fear of God instead of seditious thoughts against Him, the unity of thoughts and actions of righteous people — these are the manifestations that indicate a person having remained with a righteous nature."
In other terms, following Allah's words gives undoubted hope for His help and mercy to “those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted” [Qur'an, 95:6]. This can also be viewed as a direct call to avoid merely contemplative lifestyle, and to practice an active faith and commit righteous deeds.
At the same time, the fear of God does not imply any hopelessness in any way. On the contrary, incredible love of the Almighty to His sincerely obedient creatures manifests itself in the fact that He always gives hope to believers, even if they perform some unworthy actions:
Indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me [Qur'an, 2:186]
because “We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” [Qur'an, 50:16]. However, this fact does not mean that one can occasionally commit deliberate sinful acts and then run to repentance. Eventually, this is the easiest way to end up on the sinful path.
There is one beautiful hadith (narrated from Abu Hurairah) that conveys the following words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
“Verily, when the servant commits a sin, a black mark appears upon his heart. If he abandons the sin, seeks forgiveness, and repents, then his heart will be polished. If he returns to the sin, the blackness will be increased until it overcomes his heart.”
In this regard Allah says to his creatures:
“And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers... And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous who spend during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people” [Quran 3:131,133-134].
Let us try to be worth of the Almighty's Love! Not only through listening to His words, but through striving and desiring to fulfill the prescribed:
“And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good” [Quran, 2:195].
In sha'a Allah!