What is Extraordinary Faith?

To look at the first of the extraordinary qualities that Rasoolullah(SAW) displayed in his character – Faith – we can quote from Barbara Winters about the essential character of faith – the ability to trust enough to take risk.

When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.

Notice the use of words – she doesn’t say, ‘Faith is believing.’ She says, ‘Faith is knowing,’ and in that is a world of difference. To believe with complete certainty without the possibility of doubt is to know. That is what enables one to take risk. To step off the edge knowing that you will not be allowed to crash; but that instead you will step on to another level of awareness and connection with Allah(SWT) that you never thought possible.

Faith is essential because without it, the monumental task of changing people’s hearts is impossible. It is a small word with big meaning. It means different things to different people. So let me define what I mean by ‘Faith’.

To me, faith is a dynamic process that is based on the interaction of three factors: Patience in the face of hardship and thankfulness for Allah(SWT)’s bounties; repentance for our transgressions and mistakes and seeking Allah(SWT)’s pleasure and closeness to Him by His worship because we love Him.

Faith as Barbara Winters puts it, ‘is to know’ when there is no sign that one is right. Faith is not blind as the materialistic world likes to believe. Faith is to be able to see beyond material to that which can’t be described or seen with the eyes of the head but which is clearly perceptible to the eyes of the heart. I recall an incident reported from World War II.

It was reported that after a very intense engagement with the Germans, a soldier asked permission from his officer to go into no-man’s land to bring back the body of his partner who had fallen during the battle. The officer tried to reason with the man and said, ‘Look he is dead. What is the good of risking your life to bring back a dead body?’ But the soldier was adamant and persistent and so in the end the officer gave in and ordered the company to lay down covering fire while the soldier went out to the body of his friend. A few minutes later, he returned unharmed, with the body of his friend. The officer asked him, ‘So was that worth risking your life? To get back a dead man?’

The soldier replied, ‘Yes Sir. It was worth it because when I reached him, he was still alive and said to me, ‘I knew you would come for me.’ He was waiting for me and he died in my arms. Yes Sir, it was worth it.’

Faith is not blind. It sees what those without faith cannot see. It sees through the lens of love, of devotion, of gratitude for favors done – without reason. Faith is the yearning to be with the beloved. Faith lights the dark road of disappointment at the end of backbreaking effort because it knows that success and failure in this path is not measured in miles but by the willingness to stand up and make that effort to please the One who knows what is in your heart. Faith is the smile on the face of the one who walks on when all others have turned their backs because he is listening to a voice that they cannot hear.

As he walks, others stop to look and wonder; then slowly they turn around and join him until there is a caravan. They follow him because that gives them meaning and they find their own fulfillment.

Faith, in the language of Islam is Tawakkul. About this Allah(SWT) said:

And for those who fear Allah, He (always) prepares a way out (of difficulty), And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him.

Talaaq 65:2-3

Tawakkul or Faith is the result of three things as mentioned above.

  • Tawba (Repentance)
  • Sabr wa Shukr (Patience & Thankfulness)
  • Love of Allah(SWT)

The most powerful story about Tawakkul (Faith) from the Seerah is at the very beginning of Prophethood where Rasoolullah(SAW) stood on the top of the hill of Safa and called out, ‘Wa Subaha!’

Narrated Ibn `Abbas: When the Ayah: ‘And warn your tribe of near-kindred – was revealed, Rasoolullah(SAW) ascended the
Safa (mountain) and started calling, “O! Bani Fihr! O! Bani `Adi!” addressing various tribes of Quraish till they were assembled. Those who could not come sent their agents to see what was happening. Abu Lahab (one of Rasoolullah(SAW)’s uncles) and other people from Quraysh came. Rasoolullah(SAW) then said, “Suppose I told you that there is an (enemy) cavalry in the valley intending to attack you, would you believe me?” They said, “Yes, for we have not found you speaking anything other than the truth.” He then said, “I am a warner to you about a terrible punishment (in the Hereafter) if you don’t leave the worship of idols and worship Allah(SWT) without ascribing any partners.” Abu Lahab said (to Rasoolullah(SAW)) “May your hands perish on this day. Is it for this that you gathered us?” Then it was revealed: “Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he! His wealth and his children will not profit him….” (111.1-5)
Sahih Bukhari Vol. 6, Book 60, Hadith 293

If you reflect, Rasoolullah(SAW) had several choices in the way to introduce Islam to his polytheistic community. He could have claimed the right of tribal superiority and nobility. He belonged to the most noble of the noble – Banu Hashim from Quraysh. So he could have attempted to establish himself as the primary tribal leader and then introduced Islam.

Alternatively, he could have gone the social reformer route. Makkah was a place that was characterized by social evils of excess, oppression and sin. Muhammad(SAW) could have spoken out against those first, got a lot of people on his side and then introduced Islam as the doctrine on which his social reformist movement was based.

Finally he could have introduced Islam as an alternate religion, a new way of looking at things, a new theory – equal to everything else that exists, an alternate way at arriving at the truth, another road to Rome. Not as the only road that leads to Jannah, the only way to salvation, the only religion of truth other than which nothing will be acceptable to Allah(SWT) on the Day of Judgment. He could have presented Islam as one of the many new age theories and fads that do the rounds today, which in a polytheistic society have, wide acceptance.

Yet he did nothing of the sort. He didn’t use any of the alternatives that were available to him but stood out clear from everything and announced to his people, ‘Leave the worship of idols and worship Allah(SWT) alone without ascribing any partners to Him or be prepared to be punished when you meet Allah(SWT).’

By this method of calling, at one stroke he managed to antagonize everyone in Makkah because ideologically he attacked their religion and showed up its imaginary nature. Its mythology stood out for what it was; a myth. And he introduced the concept of accountability to Allah(SWT) from whom nothing is hidden. Not a comfortable thought for those who had become used to doing whatever they liked on the basis of their own personal wealth and power. The rich and powerful of all times never take kindly to the thought that they will be called to account one day and will have to pay for their deeds. All these things were so foreign and alien to the people of Makkah in general and the Quraysh in particular that they instantly rebelled. The Quraysh were particularly affected because they were the priestly class, the custodians of the Ka’aba in which they had housed their idols – 350 of them; the worship of which, especially during the annual pilgrimage was a major source of income for them.

Muhammad(SAW)’s message threatened not only their beliefs but much more importantly in their eyes, their economy and that they couldn’t bear. So they fought him, tooth and nail. The only way to understand why Rasoolullah(SAW) chose this particular way to preach Islam is to go the Qur’an and see what all the Anbiya of Allah(SWT) did. They all did the same thing. They announced their message clearly and directly without beating about the bush or disguising it in any way.

hey didn’t ask for any reward from the people, either monetary or social or political. They performed their actions fearing nobody other than Allah(SWT) and looking for reward from nobody other than Allah(SWT). This directness in preaching and teaching without material reward was the hallmark of the Anbiya of all times. Muhammad(SAW) was merely repeating what the brotherhood of Anbiya had always done through the ages, as long as mankind needed guidance. To this day the inheritors of the Anbiya – the people of knowledge who take the word of Allah(SWT) to the rest of mankind – also follow the same method. They speak clearly and directly and they work without expecting or accepting any reward from the people.Anyone who changes this methodology has cut himself off from the glorious continuous tradition of the Anbiya and from the help of Allah(SWT) that comes with it.

I always think of this story about the very beginning of the preaching of Islam whenever I think of the powerful, deep, enduring and unshakable faith of Rasoolullah(SAW) because it illustrates his complete reliance on Allah(SWT) for success whereby he simply did what he had been ordered to do without allowing anything, including his own judgment, to interfere in the way that he had been ordered to follow.

Allah(SWT) ordered him to warn his people. And that is what he did. It is not that there is anything bad or incorrect about using your own reasoning but for the one receiving Revelation there is no option but to follow what he receives without question. The same logic applies to those who bear that Revelation today – the Muslims – who believe in what was revealed, in its truth, its address to all people, its Divine origin and in its unchanging applicability until the end of time. We do what we have been ordered to do without question, without changing or altering the message in any way. That demonstrates our own integrity.

This is what distinguishes the Muslims from those who also received the Revelation before them – for they changed and interpreted and altered until the Revelation lost its Divine qualities and the Word of God became the Word of Man. Muslims through the ages have never been guilty of this.

The whole period of Prophethood in Makkah of 13 years is a period of disappointment after disappointment, failure after failure. If one were to look for material signs of potential success, there are none. How then did Rasoolullah(SAW) still continue with his mission, his energy and commitment undiminished, standing in the night and connecting to His Rabb and working through the day to take his message to anyone who would stop to listen – whether or not they accepted what he had to say. No matter how they reacted or what they did, he never lost patience, never got angry, never reacted to them and their bad behavior and he never gave up his mission or even slacked in the slightest in propagating it. For him and his mission there were no weekends, no holidays, no intervals – he worked constantly day and night without respite. What, other than complete and total faith can sustain such effort? And who other than the Messengers of Allah(SWT) can have that to a level of excellence? In our lives one of the many critical lessons to learn is this capacity to sustain effort in the face of disappointment and apparent failure. It is not the fastest but the most resilient who wins the race. We give up too easily, are too easily discouraged and are too focused on getting visible results. We forget that Islam enters the heart and that entry is for the most part, invisible.


Excerpt from Sheikh Mirza Yawar Baig book – “Leadership Lessons from the Life of Rasoolullah: Proven techniques of how to succeed in today’s world”

Paperback version

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