In the last edition of the Ribaat newsletter, I wrote about the creed of Islam, la ilahailla Allah. This is the first pillar of Islam: belief, and testifying to this belief forms the door to enter into Islam. This makes one a Muslim (one who accepts Islam), but how can we graduate to the next level of becoming a mu’min (a true believer)? How can we enrich and beautify both our inner beliefs and our outer actions?
Islam is a religion of faith that manifests in action.One simply cannot stand without the other. Thus, those who contend that they are on the straight path because they believe, so they don’t need to practice some of the actual tenets of Islam are misled. Similarly, people who focus entirely on practice without sincere faith in Allah and love for His creation are astray as well.
Sincere belief, by definition, germinates action. If, for example, one truly believes that water and sunlight are necessary for a healthy plant, they would be sure to water their plant and place it near a window. If they do not, they would not be surprised if it fails to thrive. It’s the same with faith.
Conversely, every action needs to be connected to a faith-based intention in order to be recognized and experienced as a good deed. So washing one’s hands, face, arms, and feet without the intention of wudu will not count as purification, nor will abstaining from food and drink for a whole day count as fasting.
The Quran often refers to faith and action together in the oft-repeated phrase
“آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات”
referring to those who “have believed and have done good actions.” Their place in Heaven is foretold, their actions are praised, and their demeanor is described by Allah. This shows us clearly that there is a direct link between belief and action.
What does this action look like? Dr. Tamara Gray explains that there is no vacuum of time between one deed and another. As we understand belief to be continuous, such is the doing of good deeds. It is a way of living, not a series of deeds that are separated by quiet times of inaction. In Arabic, the two phrases “آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات” are of parallel structure, but this does not quite translate into English, as people envision the doing of one good deed to be separate from the next.
Obeying Allah’s commands and avoiding His prohibitions, whether internal or external, in public or private, is not an easy task. It’s not a short-term action with a defined start and end. It is ongoing, constant, daily, every minute, and every second. One Ribaat student relates that she kept waiting to arrive at a point where she had succeeded. A place where she would find the struggle of her spiritual path behind her. She would have arrived. Then she realized that there is no such place. No one arrives. That would be like arrogantly telling Allah,“OK, thanks, I’m good now.” On the contrary, the path is the destination. Our journey always continues. Alhamdulillah for friends and teachers along the way who help us deepen our faith and manifest it in ever-more-beautiful worship and actions.