A Good Tree Bears Good Fruit

Change and Accountability

SINCE MY CONVERSION to Islam, one of the questions that has plagued my heart has been whether I have truly changed. Am I the same old Kaighla, changed only in my outside appearance? Do I handle problems differently than I used to and unlike the majority of the non-Muslims around me? Has the message of Islam, of complete submission to Allah, really permeated my heart? When these questions start to bother me, I realize that the answer can only be found in searching my actions, because a person can say “Lâ ilâha illa Allah” until he is blue in the face, but without having allowed those words to speak to his heart, tongue, and mind, they will not save him.

I was recently reading a friend’s blog post. She was talking about “freedom in Christ.” I love her dearly, and this is not about attacking the people I love who have chosen to be Christian, but I was struck by the complete lack of accountability in this view of “freedom in Christ.” She was writing about how rather than preaching at a congregation, admonishing them to control their tongues and such, the preacher should talk about the love of Christ, that we don’t have to live a perfect life because Jesus already has.

This just reminded me of my life as a Christian, when I would hear those sorts of encouragements and be rocked by the drastically different message I found in the Bible. I wanted so badly to believe that my actions did not really matter in the long run, but, in fact, I could find no single place in all the Bible where God says that a person will not be held accountable for his sins, where one need not choose not to sin because, “Hey, Jesus has your tab.”

Immunity and Fallibility

Of course, the average Christian today would say: “Our motivation to not sin is found in our love of Jesus. We don’t want to sin because we love him.” This is really nice to hear, mâshâ’Allah, as I love Jesus (peace be upon him) as well. But, loving Jesus, no matter your level of love, will never stop you from sinning — as Christians themselves admit that it is impossible for a human being (except Jesus) not to sin. It is our inherent nature, they say, our deepest drive.

Alamdulillâh, Allah understands very well that we are human and therefore fallible. Because of this love for us, He gave us a religion that comprises all the needs of a human, from spiritual to physical to emotional. Allah knows that sometimes our deeds just do not match our intentions. There is a well-known saying of Prophet Muhammad in which he told his Companions that good deeds alone are not enough for a person to enter Paradise, not even him, that is, the Prophet himself. Narrated Abu Hurairah:

The deeds of anyone of you will not save you [from the Fire [of Hell]]. They said: “Even you [will not be saved by your deeds], O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “No. Even I [will not be saved] unless and until Allah bestows His grace on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely, and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target [Paradise]. (Bukhâri)

I love this adîth because it calls us to do the best we can in this life, but to be aware that our good deeds alone do not qualify us for the tremendous blessing of Paradise. Only the grace of Allah, the Exalted, bestowed upon us can save us from Hell-fire. Yet Allah and Prophet Muhammad call us to do good deeds anyway! He does not say, as most Christians today do, that since your good deeds alone cannot qualify you to enter Paradise, don’t really worry too much about doing good deeds or avoiding bad ones. It will all be washed away in the end. You are free! He doesn’t tell them, Don’t bind yourself with rules and teachings that prohibit you from sin. You are free!

And how far this wishful counsel is from the truth!

Neither Prophetic Nor Scriptural

The Evangel that Christians claim to uphold does not seem to uphold their free-to-sin tidings. In the Book of James in the New Testament, Christians are reminded of this important truth:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say: “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…. You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? (James 2:14-17, 19-20, New Living Translation)

Or, if that isn’t convincing enough, let’s hear from what Christians uphold to be the words of Jesus himself:

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so can you identify people by their actions. Not everyone who calls out to me: “Lord! Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On Judgment Day many will say to me: “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name” But I will reply: “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s Laws” (Matthew 7:17-23, New Living Translation)

Did anyone notice the similarities in Muhammad and Jesus’ words (peace and blessings upon them both)? They said the same things! Like Muhammad, Jesus submitted himself to God, he obeyed God, and he prayed to God. Both of these prophets warned us that we are responsible for our actions and that faith is useless if it does not change our lives. When Allah speaks in the Quran about those who believe, He often pairs it with “and do good deeds.” These two choices go hand-in-hand, and one cannot avail us of the other. As a Muslim now, I have the duty laid upon me to try to maintain balance in my life, never spending too much time and energy in caring for my family at the expense of my worship, never spending so much time and energy in maintaining my home at the expense of enjoying and training my children. In this same way, I have to always remind myself to be humble before Allah, to stand before him in my salat and say, again, that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is His final Messenger.

I pray that by speaking these words aloud, my ears will hear and in turn tell my heart, and my heart will in turn tell my tongue and the cycle will continue. Truly, the only hope we have is in maintaining our faith in Allah and in following the guidance of his prophets –in our time, Prophet Muhammad.

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