I was asked to meet a ‘revert’ the other day. In this case I mean an Arab born Muslim who had traveled to Canada, fallen into sin and denial, then turned towards God through Christianity. She looked at me and said, “a believer knows another believer” and I shuddered. Had I had a shred of intelligence I would have fled at that very moment. Instead I stayed, attempting to understand, attempting to redirect her. When I left I was not only upset, but also thoroughly and deeply repulsed by our conversation.
A good friend of mine was born a Christian, ran away from overbearing and difficult parents to an Arab husband. She became a Muslim, dragging her husband along with her into religiosity. Then 25 years later she dumped it all and returned to her parents – who hadn’t changed a bit. I tried to talk to her, too. In this case I was told that I just did not understand.
What is it that steals one’s faith?
Faith is a matter of the heart, and a matter of the mind. Where it exists, there is confidence and yet with arrogance, it disappears. Trials of this dunya can trial one’s faith, and too much ease in this dunya can do the same. We are influenced ever so deeply by the people that we meet, spend time with, look up to, and open up to. Yet at times we must close the door to those closest to us because their influence will only drag us away.
The loss of faith begins with a secret that is harbored in the chest – the secret that opens the door to shaitan, and lends an ear to all that will leave us destroyed. It is the secret that whispers, “I’m not happy – I want to live an easier life.” It might say, “My trials were unfairly given to me.” It can say, “Why do I have to work so hard when others have it so easy.” Or perhaps, “I’m tired of feeling like an outsider, I just want to be ‘normal.’ ”
The Prophet’s lifetime was not immune to the trial of loss of faith. Though admittedly, it was less prevalent, and more dangerous since those who entered into Islam had had the privilege of actually knowing the Prophet himself and being part of the connection between the earth and the heavens through revelation; nonetheless there are examples of such tragedy.
In the time of the Prophet ﷺ we find that Um Habiba and her husband went to Abyssinia to escape the abuse and harm of Quraish. There they found relief from such persecution. Ubaid Allah (Um Habiba’s husband) had been a Christian before the beginning of Islam and it seems that either the trial of ease was too much for him, or being surrounded by Christians was more than he could bear. One night his wife had a terrible dream, “I saw Ubaid Allah – my husband – with a terrible and distorted appearance, I was afraid and said, ‘By God, his state has changed.’” When her husband awoke he told her that he had reverted back to Christianity. She said, “By God, this is not what is good for you,’” and she told him of the dream she had seen, but he took no heed, turning to the drinking of wine, till his death.
What was it that pulled him away from the belief in a present prophet? Was it the temptation of this dunya? Was it being of the minority in a country of Christians? Did he cut himself off from the other Muslim immigrants such that he was not able to carry his faith? It does not seem that he took counsel from his wife, since even her dream had little effect on him. He had met the Prophet ﷺ, endured hardship for the sake of his new religion, and then gave it all up. Even his dunya was destroyed.
We also find the story of Abu Qais b. al Aslat; he was known in Yathrib (Medina), as the Haneef (one of a handful of people who rejected idolatry and clung to the belief of Abraham). He was vocal about his beliefs, and spoke of the upcoming prophet. When the Prophet ﷺ came to Medina Abu Qais’ people said to him, “O Abu Qais, here is the person you used to describe to us.” He said, “Yes, he has been sent in truthfulness.” And he came to the Prophet ﷺ and asked him, “What do you call to?” The Prophet answered, “To the witnessing of no god but God and that I am His messenger.” And he mentioned the laws of Islam. Abu Qais said, “How good and beautiful this is. I will settle my affairs and return to you.”
Here it is clear that he recognizes the truth in Islam, and his previous beliefs are solidified in the person of the Prophet ﷺ. Unfortunately on his way to ‘settle his affairs’ he met Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Saloul, who asked him, “Whence from?” He said, “From Muhammad; he presented me with talk so excellent, the same we used to know and the Rabbis used to tell us of.” Abdullah b Ubayy said, “By God you are but loathe to fight the Khazraj.” Abu Qais became angry and wanting to prove he was not adopting Islam to avoid battle out of cowardice said, “By God I will not become a Muslim for a whole year!” And he turned to his home until he died before the year was out. Hearing only personal insult, Abu Qais lost out on belief because of the influence of a person. That slight became more important to him that his belief, and more important to him than following the Prophet ﷺ.
Abdullah b. Khatal was gathering sadaqah at the Prophet’s ﷺ instruction, when he killed a servant in a fit of temper and then ran away from Islam, and assumedly, his conscience. He could not face the Prophet ﷺ, could not face Allah, could not face the reality of his sin; so he chose escape instead. His sin was great – indeed murder is of the worst of sins – but his turning away from Islam was worse still. Had he faced the Prophet ﷺ he would have met with his just rewards – in dunya that would most likely have been a serious punishment, but in akhira it may have been forgiveness and acceptance.
Three differing incidents where faith was lost – three clear causes; weakness or lack of steadfastness, the opinion of others or the challenge to one’s pride, and sin – that dragged the otherwise sound of mind to great and terrible loss.
Our media culture has raised us to believe things about faith, things that are not part of the Islamic outlook. We have been raised to believe that people of faith should be ‘perfect’ – they should not make glaring errors. Thus if a new Muslim, or newly practicing Muslim, witnesses that of which she disapproves; doubt insidiously enters her heart. We have been raised to believe that pleasure is quick and immediate; so working hard to achieve religiosity seems incongruent with what we ‘know’. We have been raised to believe that we are terribly important – that somehow our opinions matter greatly in the scheme of the world. Modern culture would have each of us developing our own religion and religiosity – our own individual way of seeking ‘peace’; each and every one of us a ‘pharaoh’ in our own way.
We have also been raised to believe in the disposability of all things. Along with plastic plates and newspapers; people can be disposed of, lives can be recycled, and nothing is really important enough to sacrifice for.
Faith, however, is not disposable. It must not be lost because of the influence of any other human being – not those who are close to us and call us to another faith, nor those that are near and laugh at the faith we have. We must not seek after an image – but rather a reality. The image of the ‘happy go-lucky’ non-Muslim is one created by media and our imagination. The truth is that our happiness and peace are directly related to our faith and the deeds that support that faith.
We must cling to our faith with both hands; as the Prophet ﷺ says – ‘hold on with our teeth.’ We must turn our faces away from those that tempt us to another life style. We must run with our hands over our ears from that which whispers to us to give up, or that which asks us to give victory to our nefs instead of our faith. It is our most valuable asset; more so than our children, our jobs, our spouses, our homes, our money, our jewelry, our friends, our positions. It is more valuable than all of the things that we give our days and nights for. Faith is not disposable. Cling to it with every cell of your body, your heart, and your soul.
Islam has given us the tools we need to clutch our faith to our chests. In adhering to that which is fard, and abstaining from haram; we protect ourselves and avoid the sins that might otherwise take us down a dangerous path. In filling our minds with the Quran and its meaning, with knowledge of the life of the Prophet ﷺ, and with basic knowledge of Islamic sciences – we build a fortress against that which seeks to create doubt. In keeping to the Islamic schedule of prayer and worship we create a heart that burns brightly and cannot be put out by the winds of opinion and personal sensitivities.
When faced with a person who has lost her faith, take stock. Recognize and know that of all the trials available to humanity, she has suffered the most – indeed her suffering is not over. Do not react in arrogance, but in humility. Ask yourself what you could have done to help her, ask yourself what you are doing to protect yourself.
Look to your life, and the lives of those around you. Create homes that pulsate with halal and repel haram. Fill days with learning and teaching, fill nights with worship and tears. Call upon your Lord to protect you and your loved ones from the worst and most difficult trial of all – the trial of faith.