Fear ruins everything. It robs us of everything, including our relationship with God and our peace of mind in this world. To overcome fear, we must learn to cultivate trust in God.
By Rayhan Al-Safawi
عدة من أصحابنا، عن أحمد بن أبي عبد الله، عن أبيه، عن حمزة بن عبد الله الجعفري، عن جميل بن دراج، عن أبي حمزة قال: قال أبو عبد الله (عليه السلام): من عرف الله خاف الله ومن خاف الله سخت نفسه عن الدنيا
“Whoever recognizes Allah fears Allah, and whomever fears Allah abandons this world.” (al-Kafi, Volume 2, page 68)
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine two nights ago. I was interested in hearing from his side as to what my spiritual and personality flaws were. I thought that it wasn’t enough just to examine myself, I needed an honest outsiders perspective.
The conversation was very fruitful. I learned things about myself that I was not aware of, and I also remembered things which I had long forgotten. As the night went on after my conversation, I continued thinking about my flaws and how they have been the cause behind my personal and spiritual failures. Like most people on this earth, my flaws are multifold. I have lied, cheated, gossiped, flattered and procrastinated in my personal work and prayers. I have been moody with family members, dry, disconnected and sometimes careless because of the sense of putrid fear that rots me my core. Due to these traits, I’ve lost friends, opportunities, and have often embarrassed myself.
The next question I had was the following two questions. What is it that makes me so fearful of this world, the fear which seems to be at the root of all of my negative traits? I may be wrong, but the conclusion I have reached is that many (not all) of our spiritual diseases stem from the lack of tawakkul, that is, relying on God and being confident that He will see us through in this life and the Next and light the candle for us in our darkest moments.
We often lie, cheat, flatter, hate, act pretentiously because we fear that we will lose something, either prestige, money, jobs, opportunities, friends, relationships, reputations or that we will simply miss out on a pleasure or experience. Fear also destroys our relationship with God because our anxious need to preserve ourselves subverts our moral principles through lying, cheating, dishonesty. Fear also makes us angry and anxious, two negative emotions that are often behind why we become so rude, cold and/or distant with those who are closest to us.
Fear also blinds us. It immerses us into our own problems making us forget all the blessings around us. By imprisoning our minds, it makes us forget or even belittle our other obligations, including the obligation to pray, obey to God and being kind to His creation.
Fear may also lead to procrastination. Procrastination does not mean that we are lazy. No, it means that we are doing everything except what we are supposed to be doing (religious practice, work etc.). There are many reasons why we procrastinate, but I believe that fear is one of the major reasons. We procrastinate and distract ourselves because we want to distract ourselves from the fears in life (maybe what we are doing won’t lead to anywhere?)
The cure to of this kind of fear is in fearing God. When you think of salvation and eternity, you realize that the petty problems of this world are exactly that, petty. They are temporary and fleeting, but what is permanent and lasting is the Hereafter. What is a temporary problem here (say, 60 or 70 years) in the world when faced with eternity?
Fearing God alone makes living in this world a bit easier. By stripping fear from us from other things, our minds become more peaceful and that is the beauty of fearing God. It is not like other fears, it is the only fear that brings true inner peace. As a result of this peace of mind, our mind gains more energy and discipline. We not only see positive effects in our religious life, but in our work life as well.
So what can we do to instill the fear of God in us? According to a good friend of mine, it begins with performing our prayers on time. The word for worship (ʿibādah) in Arabic literally means to “to soften.” In pre-Islamic Arabic, the word meant to soften a path (tarīq muʿabbad). To worship God thus means to soften the grounds of one’s heart and make it fertile for proper spiritual traits such as fear of God. Not everyone who prays becomes fearful of God because not everyone who makes a ground fertile for plants actually plants something. To make use of prayer, one must also have some awareness of one’s own flaws and a real will to want to get rid of these flaws.
Now you may wonder, don’t we need to fear God to worship Him in the first place? That is correct, but there are levels of fear. One the one hand, there is a basic fear of God that is paralleled with fear of things or situations other than Him. This is where most religious people fall into. On the other hand, there is another fear that a person only has towards God. Outside of God, the person in question is fearless and hence the hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (s) “whoever fears God alone, God will make the world fear Him.”
I leave you with the following hadith to ponder on:
الحسين بن محمد، عن معلى بن محمد، عن الحسن بن علي الوشاء، عن المثنى بن الوليد، عن أبي بصير، عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام قال: ليس شئ إلا وله حد، قال: قلت: جعلت فداك فما حد التوكل؟ قال: اليقين، قلت: فما حد اليقين؟ قال: ألا تخاف مع الله شيئا
Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (as) said, “There is not a thing except that it has a conclusion.”
A man asked, “May I be your sacrifice! What is the conclusion of relying on God (tawakkul)?”
The Imam replied, “Certainty (yaqeen).”
The man asked, “What is the conclusion of certainty?”
The Imam replied, “That one does not fear anything alongside God.”
(al-Kafi, Volume 2, page 57)