The First Pillar of Islam: Faith
When I was a kid I hardly ever believed my parents. “Andrew, don’t touch. It’s hot!” I touched it anyway and was burned. “Eat too much pizza and you’ll have a stomach ache.” I did it anyway and it turned out they were right. Ignoring the advice of our parents–especially in those rebellious teenage years–is an understood phenomena in our culture. Sometimes, though, we even shun the advice of our closest friends who, like our parents, typically just want us safe and happy.
“Andrew you shouldn’t date her, she’s a ________.”
I didn’t listen there either and it cost me years of trouble.
Islam is built upon a foundation called the “Five Pillars of Faith.” This works out pretty well for us because I cover certain topics week by week here on Project Conversion. The first pillar is faith. But what is faith?
The Qur’an says,
“The Apostle [Muhammad, pbuh], and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; they say: We have heard, and we pay heed…” Qur’an 2: 285
The word “believe” is used three times in this verse. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews that “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1.
Faith then is a form of trust. How can we have faith in something or someone we do not trust? Trust, in its reciprocal, is faith in what we hear or see. It’s the “evidence of things not seen.” I had to trust my mom about the stove based on past experience. If she lied to me before, I had no reason to trust her. Conversely, I also have a choice to ignore trustworthy advise and burn myself.
We also see in the Qur’an verse above that the believers had faith in that which was bestowed upon him from on high. Who is the “him”? Well, it’s Muhammad [pbuh]. God may have delivered the Qur’an (literally the “recitation”) to the people, but he had to do it through someone. That someone required a trustworthy character. Someone others might have faith in because as the verse tells us, God bestowed the Qur’an not on the people directly, but on Muhammad [pbuh].
Faith also comes through consistency of good advice or quality of action. This is why the believers the verse is talking about “…heard and we pay heed.” Paul goes on to write that “…faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God.” Muhammad [pbuh] recited the Qur’an to his people for over 20 years. That, my friend, is consistency. Because this Qur’an proved true and Muhammad [pbuh] proved trustworthy, the faith of the people increased and that is why we have the Qur’an today along with over one billion Muslims. This is trust, trust in God for delivering divine instruction for our lives, trust in Muhammad [pbuh] that what he recited is true and from God, and faith in our own intuition that we might choose the correct path. While Allah promised blessings for those who believe, oftentimes we spend our lives with a test of faith against the contrary.
The first pillar of Islam is faith because without faith, we cannot perceive the subtle world of Allah. A Muslim’s first action in joining the faith and often last words before departing this life is called the Shahada. The statement of faith declares,
For this to work, one must–I must–trust this statement to be true. I must believe that God is real, that he is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He alone is worshipped. In addition, because Allah did not bring the Qur’an to me personally, I must trust that Muhammad [pbuh] is Allah’s messenger. Notice though in the first verse of the Qur’an quoted above that we must believe in ALL the apostles and messengers of Allah and make no distinction between them. I must believe in Adam, and Noah, Moses, Abraham, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Muhammad (peace be upon them all) and others from the Tanakh and Bible.
Of course, there are challenges with this task. Many see the contradictions between these books and ask, “how can one accept all these messengers and books as coming from one God when they contradict one another?” Well, that’s a story for another day. In many other cases, we simply need proof–real experience–in order to believe. For me as a kid, I had to touch the stove to understand the danger. As a teenager, I had to sate that girl before I realized I should have kept my distance. Sometimes, having faith and trust in what we cannot see (like the future results of our choices) is the best option.
As a Muslim or any faithful person, how do you increase your faith daily? For many, this month of Ramadan and fasting increases faith and trust in Allah. What about prayer? What about the physical world around you? What supports your faith, regardless of your religion? And if you aren’t a person of religious conviction, what supports your faith in the absence of the divine?