Bedrock of Faith: Belief in the Unseen

Taj Mahal Agra India

By Babatunde Jose

“I like the Muslim man ; he is not ashamed of his God : his life is a fairly pure one.” — General Gordon.

“Say: unbelievers, I will not worship that which ye worship; nor will ye worship that which I worship.

Neither do I worship that which ye worship; neither do ye worship that which I worship.

Ye have your religion, and I my religion.”  — Quran 109,

Alif. Lâm. Mîm. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil).

Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them;

A nd who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad)

And that which was revealed before thee and are certain of the Hereafter. – Quran 2:1-4

Belief in the unseen (Al-Ghayb) is a sine qua non, a fundamental condition of faith in Islam. Having faith in a vast, unseen world which cannot be comprehended by our sense of perception is a requirement for having faith in Allah. Allah said:

“This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil). Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them.” (Quran 2:2-3)

These verses of Sura Baqara lay emphasis upon the fact that belief in the unseen is bedrock of faith. A person is a believer if he possesses faith. Faith is born into the heart and is a genuine, spiritual state. Hear the Quran:

“The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts; and if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish aught of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Quran 49:14)

This verse of Sura Hujaraat distinguishes between the believer and the one who has accepted Islam. By proclaiming the testimonies of faith, one enters Islam; however, it is when true faith springs up in the heart that one becomes a believer. One fundamental element of faith is belief in the unseen. This unseen does not relate to those material objects which exist but at some point are not in our knowledge, and about which knowledge can be acquired with our sense of perception; rather, this unseen refers to all those realities and facts that cannot be perceived by our senses. These realities are present around us but our sense of perception does not have the ability to grasp them.

The scope of faith in the unseen includes, but is not limited to, faith in God, the Revelation, the Divine books, angels, the Day of Resurrection, the help of Allah, the promise of Allah, the might and mercy of Allah, and life after death, among other things. It includes all those facts which cannot be perceived by material senses.

It is reported that once someone asked Ali “Have you seen your Lord?” He answered: “I will never worship a Lord whom I cannot see.” The man then asked: “How did you see him? Explain it to us.” He replied, “Woe upon you! No one has ever seen Him with the physical eye, but hearts filled with the truth of faith have contemplated Him.”

How does this truth of faith emerge in our hearts? And why do so many people deny the realities and facts related to the unseen? The answers to these questions lie in the issue of guidance and deviation. “There are two types of guidance and deviation. The first guidance comes from the unpolluted and clean heart of a man. If he has not corrupted his soul and his thinking has not been affected with darkness of ignorance, he advances towards truth, and this advancement towards truth makes him eligible for the second level of guidance from Allah. Thus, it comes to believe that there must be a Being, unseen and un-perceptible through the senses, who is the beginning and end of every other thing. It also sees that the said Essential Being does not neglect even the smallest detail when it comes to creative perfection of His creatures. This makes him realize that the said Creator cannot leave the man to wander aimlessly hither and thither in his life; that He must have provided for him a guidance to lead him aright in his actions and morals. By this healthy reasoning, the man acquires the belief in One God, in the institution of prophethood and in the Day of Resurrection. In this way, his faith in the fundamentals of religion becomes complete. That faith leads him to show his servitude before his Lord, and to use all that is in his power – wealth, prestige, knowledge, power, and any other excellence – to keep this faith alive and to convey it to others”. Allama Tabatabai  in Al-Mizan. Therefore we can conclude that belief in the unseen can be attained only with uncorrupted soul and unbiased, clear, logical thinking.

Islam Places Great Importance On Having Faith

In order to become a Muslim, a person must testify, “I bear witness that there is no God but the One God, and Muhammad is a Messenger of God.” A Muslim must believe this without ever having seen God or Muhammad. Faith, then, is an essential character of a Muslim. In addition, Muslims also recognize all the prophets God has ever sent to guide humanity. These include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Muslims believe in the revealed books as well, such as the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, is the last revelation of God and it has remained preserved in its exact and original form for more than 1,400 years.

“Have faith” and “keep the faith,” along with other adages, are phrases we use daily. We reference faith to help keep us confident and send out some positive energy – either by having faith in a higher deity, having faith in ourselves, or having faith in others.

Faith in the context of religion is very defining for a person. It places the person in a belief system that develops into a way of life and provides its own unique system of logic to explain the phenomena of life around us. Faith in God enables humans to be thankful for the blessings they enjoy, and to be patient in times of difficulty, for they believe that nothing can happen without His will. Faith in the Divine Being also prompts people to be more in tune with their souls and to maintain a constant connection through prayer, supplication, and reflection. Ultimately, faith enables them to develop a deeper vision, one which goes beyond the sight of their eyes and the signals of their minds.

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.” (Quran 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.

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. 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)

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – Saint Augustine.  May we continue to be increased in faith; Amen.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend


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