والحمدلله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah
Just as a ship needs sails if it is to capture the breeze and move ahead, a bird can only fly upon the wind with two strong wings and the help of its Lord…
One of these wings is hope, and was the topic of the last tarbiya; the other wing is fear and will be the subject of this week, focusing on Imam Ibn-ul-Qayyim’s classic manual of Islamic spirituality, “Madarij Al-Salikeen.”
Both hope and fear are counterparts and complements to one another – two wings of the same bird – but ‘fear’ is a difficult concept since it has many different meanings or nuances in the Arabic. But inshAllah with this tarbiya we will try to understand these different meanings and also the importance of having fear as Muslims so that we might internalize the aspects that can bring us closer to God and act upon what He commands:
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true” (At-Tawbah: 119).
The Station of Fear.
From among the stations of worshiping Allah and seeking His help is the station of fear.
Fear is one of the most important stations on the path and most beneficial for the heart. Fear is an obligation upon everyone, Allah says, “So fear them not, and fear Me alone, if you are believers” (ÃL-Imran: 175; The actual word used for fear in this verse is ‘khawf’). Another verse says, “And Me alone you all should fear” (Al-Baqarah: 40), the actual word being a derivative of ‘rahba’. And, “So do not fear people, but fear Me” (Al-Ma’idah: 44), the actual word in Arabic being ‘khashya’. Different connotations of these various terms in Arabic for fear will be discussed herein.
Allah has praised those who possess the attribute of fear saying, “And such (are the believers) who are humbled by the fear of their Lord…” (Al-Mu’minun: 57)
Fear (of Allah’s displeasure or punishment) is not only for grave sinners, but also for the pious, observant believers, as the following hadith illustrates: A’isha (Allah be well pleased with her) asked, “O Messenger of Allah, is the verse ‘And those who dispense their charity while their hearts fear that to their Lord they must return’ (Al-Mu’minun: 60) referring to someone who commits fornication, drinks alcohol and steals and still fears Allah? The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “No, O daughter of the Siddiq, but it refers to one who fasts, perform salah and gives charity, and fears that it may not be accepted from him.” (Tirmithi). Al-Hasan, commenting on this, said, “By Allah, they (the Companions) obeyed Him and strove hard in it, yet they feared it might be rejected. A believer combines righteousness with fear in his heart, while a hypocrite combines evil with impunity.”
The terms ‘wajal’, ‘khawf’, ‘khashya’, and ‘rahba’ used in the Qur’an are often translated as ‘fear’, but they are not synonyms. Abul-Qasim al-Junayd said, “Al-khawf is the anticipation of punishment.” Another scholar said, “Al-khawf is the moving of the heart upon the cognizance of that which is feared.”
The word khashya is more specific than khawf, for it is specific to the true knowers of Allah – as Allah, subHanahu w ta’ala, has said, “Truly, those who fear Allah from among His servants are the knowers.” (Fatir: 28) Hence, khashya is fear associated with the intimate knowledge (ma’rifa) of Allah – as the Prophet (pbuh) said, “I am most mindful of Allah among you, and most intense in fearing Him.” (Bukhari, Muslim). Khawf is movement in its essence while khashya is concentration, stillness, and holding of breath. For example, someone who sees a fierce enemy or a flood or something like that has two states: first, movement in order to flee from it, and this is the state of khawf. Second, his stillness in a place safe from danger – and this is khashya.
Ar-Rahba means the urge to run away from the danger – which is the opposite of ar-Raghba, which means the urge of the heart to journey towards that which it likes.
Al-Wajal is the trembling of the heart upon the cognition or remembrance of someone whose power or punishment one fears.
Al-Haybah is fear associated with awe and glorification, and its greatest form is that which occurs in association with love and intimate knowledge (ma’rifa).
Al-khawf, then, is for the common believers, while al-khashya is for the scholars with profound knowledge, while al-hayba is for those nearest to Allah. The extent of one’s fear for Allah is proportional to one’s knowledge – both formal and experiential – of Allah. As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “I am the most knowledgeable of Allah among you, and most intense in His khashya.” In another narration of the same hadith, the word used is khawf instead of khashya. The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “If you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much…” (Ahmad)
When faced with his object of fear, a man with khawf turns to fleeing and grabbing, while a man with khashya seeks the support of knowledge. For example, when a layperson is faced with an illness, he seeks to protect himself (and seeks someone who could help) while a skilled physician turns to investigating the illness and the cure.
Abu Hafs says, “Al-khawf is Allah’s lash with which He straightens up those fleeing from his door.” He also said, “Al-khawf is a lamp in the heart, with which the good and the evil inside of the heart can be seen – and everyone you fear from, you run away from him, except Allah – when you fear Him, you run towards Him for refuge.”
Hence, the one who fears Allah is a refugee toward his Lord’s (mercy) from his Lord’s (displeasure).
Abu Suleiman said, “Whenever fear (of Allah) departs a heart, it is ruined.” Ibrahim ibn Sufyan said, “When fear of Allah resides in hearts, it burns away the sources of lust and eradicates worldly attachments.” Dhul-Noon said, “People will stay on the path so long as they have (Allah’s) fear – when this fear leaves them, they will go astray.”
Fear, however, is not the end in itself, but a means towards an end. When that end, Allah’s ultimate pleasure, is attained, there is no need for fear. As Allah says to the people of Paradise: “there is no fear upon them, nor do they grieve.” Fear is associated with actions, while love is connected with being and attributes. When the believers enter the Realm of Allah’s eternal blessings, their love will multiply, while their fear will disappear. Hence, the place of love is higher and nobler than the place of fear.
The true and praiseworthy fear is that which stops a person from prohibitions of Allah. But when fear exceeds this boundary, it may bring hopelessness and despair.
Abu Uthman said, “Sincerity of fear is vigilance from sins, open and secret.” And Ibn Taymiyyah has said, “The praiseworthy fear is that which prevents you from the prohibitions of Allah.”
The author of al-Manazil, Shaykh al-Harawi, said, “Al-khawf is to do away with careless sense of security by envisioning the great news (of the Last Day).” He further said, “The beginning of fear is the fear of punishment, and this kind of fear is sufficient to establish the soundness of ones faith. It is born out of ones affirmation of the warning (of Allah’s punishment), recognition of one’s transgressions and consideration of the punishment.” Thus, fear is preceded by awareness and knowledge – for a man cannot fear what he does not know.
Two more things are related to fear: the thing or occurrence that is feared, and the way that leads one to it. Lack of knowledge of either of these leads to a concomitant lack of fear. If one does not know that a certain act leads to a feared outcome or he knows so but does not know the value or might of that which he claims to fear, one does not really have true fear. Similarly, an active awareness of the punishment or loss that one fears (as opposed to a mere passive and abstract knowledge of it) is an indication of the sincerity of fear and sound faith.
Another praiseworthy category of fear is to fear returning to the state of sinfulness and heedlessness after one has attained closeness to Allah and sincere fear of His displeasure – for if one feels unduly secure in one’s state, it is likely that one will go back to the state of sinfulness.
The heart in its journey towards Allah (swt) is like a bird whose head is love, and hope and fear are its two wings. When the head and the two wings are sound and healthy, the flight of the bird is good; but when the head is cut off, it immediately dies, and when either or both wings are deficient, the bird cannot properly fly. The righteous predecessors preferred to strengthen the wing of fear during good times when heedlessness is feared, and to strengthen the wing of hope at times of calamity and when death is near.
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‘Fear’ is much deeper than the emotion we feel when confronted with heights or public speaking or lions and tigers and bears. Allah says, “Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rent asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect” (Al-Hashr: 21). Allah is so great and His words are so powerful that had the Qur’an been revealed to something as strong as a mountain it would still have crumbled in fear. This can only give us more love and respect for our beloved Prophet and Messenger! It teaches us that only he (pbuh) was worthy of receiving the revelation and also tells us how much he feared Allah. Following the exemplary life of the Prophet (pbuh) therefore, fear of Allah is not something to be shunned but is actually something we should welcome and embrace so that we might improve our character and continue our wayfaring toward Allah.
Thus, fear is actually a beautiful thing for the Believer. It is perhaps proper to understand fear as something desired, something ‘loved’; for inshAllah it ultimately brings us closer to Allah. This is likewise why Mu’adh ibn Jabal said the following: “Acquire knowledge, for surely it leads to fear of Allah…” (and the quote continues on the virtues of seeking knowledge (yet another tarbiya topic inshAllah)) As aforementioned, the people with knowledge are the ones who truly fear Allah because every bit of beneficial knowledge increases their awe, humility, and submissiveness toward Allah. We pray to Allah that He makes us of those people…
And we ask Allah to overlook our shortcomings and not take us to account for our mistakes, but to shelter us with His Mercy and His shade on That Day when there will be no shade but His; we ask Allah to give us the understanding of hope and fear and to make us from amongst the people of knowledge, always striving to seek His pleasure; and we also ask Allah to make us of the people of Paradise, that we might be amongst the Prophet and the righteous Companions who truly feared Allah.
And Allah knows best…