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It is very clear fromthe Quran that a person’s faith increases and decreases.For example, Allah says, “Andwhen His verses are recited to them, they [the verses] increase their faith”(8:2); “That theBelievers may increase in faith” (74“It is He who sent down tranquilityinto the hearts of the Believers, in order that faith be added to their faith”(48:“Those to whom people said: ‘A great army isgathering against you, hence you should fear it, but such only increased theirfaith and they said: ‘For us Allah is sufficient’; He is the Perfect Disposerof affairs” (3:173).
There is no question that there aredifferences in the outward deeds of humankind. This is a reflection and anaspect of the increase and decrease in faith. One must not believe, though,that such is the only fluctuation of faith. Actually, all of the aspects offaith are exposed to this possibility, including— or especially— the deeds ofthe heart. Even the level of “belief” in the heart or certainty can change inone person and certainly is different from one person to the next. Indeed,one’s love for Allah, fear of Allah, trust in Allah and other aspects of theheart are probably the most prone to change and fluctuation.
Perhaps every individual has experiencedthis fact described in the verses above. At times, a person is very aware ofAllah and of his fear and love for Him. This strong feeling in the person’sheart brings tranquility and warmth to the person and it also keeps him fromcommitting sins. Not only that, it drives him to sacrifice and work harder forthe sake of Allah. He becomes very anxious to get up late at night for prayer,for example, or give freely for the sake of Allah. However, at other times, perhapswhen the affairs of this world are engulfing him, his remembrance and attachmentto Allah is not that great. He does not feel that great feeling of faith in hisheart. His behavior and actions are not of the same quality as they are atother times. When he encounters thisstage, when he thinks about getting up at night for prayer or giving charityfor the sake of Allah, his soul becomes too tired or not willing to sacrifice.This is nothing but the fluctuations of faith in the person’s heart.
There may be times when a person is at avery high level of faith and remembrance of Allah. When he mixes with worldlyevents, his family and friends, he may not be at that same level. This type ofoccurrence even happened to Abu Bakr. A hadith in Sahih Muslim statesthat Abu Bakr asked Handhalah, another Companion, how he was doing. He answeredthat he was committing hypocrisy. He explained that by saying that when theyare with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and reminded of Heaven and Hell, theyare as if they are seeing Heaven and Hell. Then when they retreat to theirfamilies, they forget much of what they felt earlier. Abu Bakr stated that healso experienced the same. This is something natural. The person should learnto appreciate those times when he was at his highest level of faith and seek tomaintain them for as long as possible.
Even the level of affirmation and knowledgein the heart varies from person to person and time to time in one person. IbnTaimiyyah states that the affirmation in the heart of the person who simplyknows the general aspects of the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace beupon him) will not be the same as that of the person who knows the details ofthe Prophet’s life and teachings. Similarly, the one who knows more aboutAllah’s names and attributes, the life of the Hereafter and so forth will be ata different level of affirmation and knowledge than the one who is ignorant ofsuch matters. Ibn Taimiya alsoargues that the faith of a person who knows the proofs for his beliefs andrecognizes the falsehood of other beliefs will be stronger and greater than theone who is unaware of these aspects.
Ibn Taimiya concludes that there is nothingmore variable in the heart of man than faith. He says that people should beable to recognize this fact when they consider one of the components of faith,which is love. People recognize their own different levels of love. Lovesometimes simply implies a desire to be with or close to one’s beloved.However, it can reach the level where one cannot live without being in thepresence of one’s beloved. Similarly, faith,of which love for Allah is one component, can be extremely variable.
This question of faith increasing ordecreasing is not simply a theoretical question over which the scholars of thepast differed. If a person feels that he has faith and that it is a fixedattribute, he will not strive to increase his faith and he will not fear ornotice a decrease in it. This approach in itself can be very dangerous to hisfaith as the person may not recognize the signs that his faith is decreasing.
Thus, every believer must keep in mind thefact that faith increases and decreases. Hence, the believer should always beon the lookout for any sign that his faith is decreasing. Indeed, he shouldtake positive steps to increase his faith. One can find an example in the Companionsof the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). One Companion tookanother by the hand and said, “Come let us[increase our] faith for a period of time.” This was inreference to reading the Quran, remembering Allah and so forth, actions whichwill help one revive and increase one’s faith.
- Ibn Taimiya, Majmoo, vol. 7, p. 564.
- Ibn Taimiya, Majmoo, vol. 7, pp. 565-566.
- Ibn Taimiya, Majmoo, vol. 7, pp. 566-567.
- Recorded by al-Bukhari.