One of the best parts about being a Muslim in this age of increasing moral decay, confusion, and corruption is that Islam has already made clear for us what our beliefs are. I am fortunate enough to lecture to Muslim audiences all around the world, and it’s amazing how many Muslims fail to appreciate just how much time it saves us to know that we do not have to think on our own to figure out the answers to difficult questions in life, once we realize that the most important knowledge is found in the Holy Qur’an, and in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).
Those who do acknowledge this crucial fact find tremendous peace and contentment in their lives, because they have been promised Allah (subhana wa ta’aala)’s mercy in the afterlife by His Messenger (and so to openly disbelieve this is to call the Messenger of Allah a liar, nauzubillah!). However, it would be a mistake to conclude that Allah does not want us to think beyond this. In fact, if a Muslim ceases to think, he will merely have a superficial belief in the beliefs that Allah commands us to believe and will throw us in the Hellfire for questioning. Many Muslims, unfortunately, are content to simply leave their belief at this initial stage. And while this is important, there are several techniques that you can use in order to strengthen your belief so that you begin to sincerely believe the correct Islamic beliefs.
If applied correctly, these principles have the effect of cleansing or “washing” your brain from impure thoughts that can take you away from the right path, so that you can “cultivate” the beliefs Allah has ordained on us.
Step One: Educate Yourself on Your Religion
All Muslims know that Allah has sent the Qur’an and the Noble Messenger as His most precious gift to mankind. The knowledge that these things are perfect are the foundation of being Muslim. But what does the Qur’an say? What example did the Messenger set for mankind? If you are like most Muslims, you are not really sure aside from a few basic things. And while simply believing in them gives you blessings and assures you the mercy of Allah, they can benefit you even more if you actually read them to know what they say.
Start by reading the Qur’an, a little bit every day. Many Muslims are immediately transformed by reading it, if their psyche is primed for it. But if yours is not, do not worry, because for some people, the Qur’an is difficult to understand. This is because the Qur’an is so perfect and amazing, sometimes people are not ready for it. Accept this as your own shortcoming, and as a sign that you need to work harder to understand Allah’s message to mankind. Seek out those who are more learned than you to help you and guide you, and pray that Allah gives you understanding.
You should not expect this process to happen overnight. Rather, it takes time. But rest assured that if you invest enough of your emotions in understanding the Qur’an, and pin your hopes for salvation to it, Allah has created the human psyche in such a way that eventually you will begin to see meaning in it. One of the most amazing qualities of the Qur’an is that it is very vague in some parts, which allows you to project almost any kind of hope and meaning onto it. And yet it is very vivid and specific with its descriptions of physical punishment, which serves as a strong motivator to find some kind of meaning in it as opposed to rejecting it.
Additionally, the more you surround yourself with, and subordinate yourself to, people who demonstrate true iman, the more the peer pressure and the fear of alienation will help keep you on the right path, which is just another way Allah has shown us mercy in helping us stay on the right path to avoiding Hellfire.
Another very important topic for reading is the amazing life of the Messenger of Allah. There is an abundance of books by Muslim scholars (and many by non-Muslim scholars) that emphasize in great detail how amazing this man was, while either omitting any controversies, or glossing over them in a way that makes it possible to understand them.
In fact, seeking knowledge on all topics is the responsibility of every thinking Muslim. But it is important to remember that you should be “biased” toward knowledge that confirms what Muslims already know is true in the Qur’an, and which comports with what the Messenger of Allah has already told us is true and correct.
Anything that contradicts these things should be avoided, and of course, anything that openly criticizes and questions these things is of suspect scholarship and motives. In fact, things that fall into the latter category demand more than simple avoidance from Muslims who want to strengthen their iman, which brings us to our second step.
Step Two: Defend Islam Against Unfair Attacks
It is one thing to profess belief in Islam, but think about this: if you really believe something- if you really love something- are you going to allow someone to spread misinformation about it? If someone is spreading lies about your mother or your father, are you simply going to allow them to do that? The reality is that not only will you not allow this, but you might even get angry with the person who is spreading these lies. As Muslims, we love Islam more than we love our own parents. And yet still, Islam teaches us to be restrained in dealing with people who attack Islam, which is why Muslims feel they are doing non-Muslims a favor when they tolerate criticism of Islam. So even though anger is a natural response, here is how to approach a situation like this.
First, it is important to know the difference between a “fair criticism” of Islam, and an “unfair, hate-fueled attack” against Islam. The difference is that any criticism that is either a) of Muslims, rather than of Islam as a religion; or b) phrased in a respectful manner so that it can be easily refuted; is considered “fair” criticism of Islam. Any other kind of criticism that questions fundamental tenets that mainstream scholars have concluded that Allah has ordained for Muslims is, by definition, an “unfair, hate-fueled attack” against Islam, and against Allah and His Messenger.
Though anger towards such hate-fueled attacks is understandable, it is really only a last resort for believing Muslims. It is far better to try other techniques. For example, you can point out how the person is either “not a qualified scholar” of Islam or even how they have no knowledge at all of Islam, since a person who is questioning Islam, by definition, is not qualified to speak about Islam. Alternatively, you can point out how their attitude is rooted in Islamophobia and bigotry. In fact, this tactic in the liberal West is fast becoming as effective as accusing someone of blasphemy or apostasy is in Muslim majority countries. It is very effective in countering the continued spread of misinformation.
Another excellent technique is to change the subject entirely, by pointing out flaws and shortcomings in the religion or perspective of the person who is slandering Islam, and showcasing their own hypocrisy and double standards. This tactic, as well as the prior ones, are all proven techniques at “obfuscating” any issues the person is trying to raise about Islam.
Of course, if the issue they are raising seems indefensible and you feel you need a scholar to help you deflect the hateful person’s attacks, simply say that the thing they are criticizing is not part of Islam, and that the people who are doing it are not true Muslims. Maybe they are simple people who are adopting tribal customs that are not part of Islam. Maybe they are just crazy people, or people who have political grievances against Western foreign policy. Maybe they are Muslims who are misguided and are not following Islam correctly. Maybe they are secretly Jews, as Jews can be very tricky. Either way, the key to success is to become convinced that the other person is wrong the moment you realize they are attacking Islam. If you adopt a defensive posture immediately, Allah will help you find a way to either debunk their argument, or at least a way to walk away from it without learning anything new that might compromise your iman.
Step 3: Achieving the State of Iman
After you have done the first two steps you will start to notice something. You will go from merely saying you believe in Islam in a general sense to really feeling in your heart it is right. This feeling in your heart is Allah’s love, taking over your life. It is a very good feeling to know that you know what Allah wants and that He is guiding you, and that all you have to do is follow his instructions in order to continue to feel Allah’s special love.
When you are in this state, there is nothing that a person can ever say that will take you out of this state of mind. Even when there is so-called contrary “evidence” presented against Islam, Allah makes it easy for you to ignore this information because facts are not even important anymore. Your iman puts you in a state of “denial” of all things that contradict Islam.
Things like science, anthropology, astronomy, physics, and history come to be viewed as mere human constructs that are only useful to the extent that they increase our material comforts and support our belief in Islam. Whenever they threaten our belief in Islam, they are temporal, irrelevant and dangerous, because our iman allows us to cognitively “disassociate” ourselves from the contradictions.
The True Meaning of Jihad
These days the media is saturated with messages that push the idea that the Islamic concept of jihad is meant to refer only to the physical struggle that is obligatory on all Muslims against oppression. This could not be further from the truth.
The real jihad is a struggle against logic and reason, which can take you away from Islam and from the path of Allah, if you are not careful.
This is not to suggest that Islam is not logical. Islam is the only logical religion, the only religion which encourages its followers to think before blindly following it and accepting it without question. But the reality is that there are times when your human logic is incapable of grasping the logic of Allah. And it is important to recognize that while Islam encourages any logic that strengthens belief in Islam, it strongly discourages and condemns any logic that detracts from belief in Islam, and a belief in Allah, and the Qur’an, and the supreme perfection of the teachings of the Messenger of Allah. The real jihad is not physical. It is the concerted peaceful effort to break down any resistance to the idea that Islam is sacred, because it came directly from Allah.
It is a tragedy of the Muslim world that most Muslims do not actively engage in this jihad. Some do. But a good many remain affected and swayed by the corrupting influences of secularism, science, and logic and reason, and while they may espouse Islamic beliefs outwardly, they inhibited from fully developing their belief in the Islamic beliefs. This hypocrisy is, unfortunately, too common among Muslims. A full explanation of the Islamic perspective on hypocrisy and how it is regarded by Allah is beyond the scope of this essay. But it is highly recommended “motivational reading” for any Muslim who is having difficulty getting started in applying these proven mental techniques for strengthening their iman.