What Would A Muslim Say:

Conversations, Questions, and Answers About Islam

Faith is a Choice

The discussion about religion and particularly Islam with my family has not been going well especially when they relate to ISIS or 9/11 and I try not to lose the argument. In our religion talks, there’s just not enough justification for me to explain other than “because Allah said so” which makes myself keep asking “Why?”

Former Islam 101 student

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

I would like to start my response with a quote from Reza Aslan, author of several books on Islam targeting non-Muslim laity:

Faith is a choice; anyone who says otherwise is trying to convert you. You either choose to believe that there is something beyond the material realm – something real, something knowable – or you don’t. If, like me, you do, then you must ask yourself another question: Do you wish to experience this thing? Do you wish to commune with it? To know it? If so, then it may help to have a language with which to express what is fundamentally an inexpressible experience. That is where religion comes in.

Reza Aslan, GOD: A Human History

The point of Reza Aslan, and my point as well, is that trying to find “incontrovertible” proof of God’s existence or the Truth Claim of any religion is a fool’s errand. Every religion. . . and I mean EVERY RELIGION, even the “religion” of atheism, has a basic foundational assumption that cannot be proven or disproven, it is simply taken as granted and the rest of the ideology is built up from that.

The scholars say that believers are categorized by three types of faith, usually believers start at the lowest and work their way up (but not always). The first and lowest level is the faith of the servant: this is one who comes to God through fear, and he is motivated by avoiding Divine punishment in this life and the next (this is how I started); this person tends to do the least religious requirements and this is where most of 7th Century Arabs were at. The second level is the faith of the merchant: this is one who comes to God through hope, and he is motivated by receiving Divine blessings in this life and rewards in the next; this person now starts doing extra religious and spiritual acts, trying to improve their relationship with their Creator and winning Divine approval. This is where I am now and I’m still struggling to get to the next level; by the way, this was the station of most of the Prophet’s companions. Finally the third level is the faith of the friend or lover: this is one who comes to God through love, and he is motivated purely for devotion and love for his Creator. Reward and punishment have no hold on him; he merely pours out his heart and body to all that which his Creator loves and avoid completely that which his Creator does not love. This was the station of all the Prophets and some of the inner circle of the Prophet’s companions.

The Arabic word islam means the state of perfect harmony that exists between God and the whole of creation. It also means devotion and submission, because harmony between the Creator and the creation requires that every element of creation knows its place and obeys the will of the Creator. The Arabic word muslim describes anyone or anything in the state of islam.

Prophet Muhammad taught that every human being is created muslim, but each has the choice whether or not to live in harmony with God.  The Qur’an states that a person is most completely at peace when living in the remembrance God: Those who believe and whose hearts find serenity in the remembrance of God; surely in the remembrance of God do hearts find serenity. (13:28)

So the fundamental goal of Islam, as a religion, is to guide people to harmony with God. Check out “Islam: The Way or Revival” on this Scribd LINK. Go to page 32 and read that chapter… it is included in the free preview and talks about many of your inner concerns.

The whole point of Islamic philosophy, the whole REASON why the Arabs of 7th century abandoned their hedonistic lifestyle and constant chasing after material wealth and status and women and sons is because Islam came to teach that THE WORLD IS IN FACT MEANINGFUL. There is a purpose behind it. That filled the void in their hearts, even though they had all the sex, wine, games, fighting, and glorification of the self that anyone could want. None of that satisfied the emptiness inside. The revelations of the Qur’an opened their eyes to a whole new worldview, and the teachings of the Prophet allowed them to implement that worldview and find peace and harmony with their Creator, the world around them, and their own inner souls.

People are very attached to their heritage, no doubt about it. It takes a supreme effort of internal insight and courage to make this break with the past and start a new “tree” with Islam. Yes this is difficult, but in the end. . . and this is the point that terrified the people of Quraysh … each person would face their Creator alone, without tribe, without parents, without money. So they had to make a choice, is this real? Is this life all there is? Or is there something after death that I have to consider? Do I follow my intuition on following this man (Muhammad) and risking my reputation, my tribe, my family? Or do I dismiss him and stick to what I was brought up with?

Each person has to make this choice for themselves.

Faith is a Choice

2 thoughts on “Faith is a Choice

  1. Asalaamu alaikum,

    I was wondering if you could provide the source of the three stations “faith out of fear, faith as a bargain, and faith out of love” concept. I feel like I remember this from al-Ghazali (or perhaps another scholar) but can’t find the text. If you could guide me to it inshAllah I would be so grateful.

    Thank you,

    1. Assalaamu alaikum,

      Actually, the original concept was described by Hasan al Basri and put in poetry form by Rabia al-ʻAdawiyya. Rabia once famously prayed:

      O God, if I adore you out of fear of Hell,
      Burn me in Hell.
      If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
      Lock me out of Paradise.
      But if I adore you for yourself alone,
      Do not deny to me your eternal beauty.

      Ibn al-Qayyim codified these sentiments in his famous “Ranks of the Seekers” book. Later traditionalists elaborated on that concept to what I described and Imam al-Ghazali made the concept famous in his book “Alchemy of Happiness”. . .

      The third cause is the love that is aroused by contemplation of the attributes of God; His Power and wisdom, of which human power and wisdom are but the feeblest reflections. … God said to the Prophet David, “That servant is dearest to Me who does not seek Me from fear of punishment or hope of reward, but to pay the debt due to My Deity.” And in the Psalms it is written, “Who is a greater transgressor than he who worships Me from fear of hell or hope of heaven? If I had created neither, should I not then have deserved to be worshipped?”

      And Allah knows best.

      May peace be with you,
      Ahmed Rashed

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