FEAR IS A common emotion, and “scared” is a word we often hear. It is an older sense of the English word “fear” that is key to our success in responding to Allah’s Guidance, and thus in attaining His blessings. Allah repeatedly instructs us in the Quran to “fear” [only] Him:

itaqu Allah!   “Fear Allah!”

Taqwa is the noun form of this Arabic term and a key Islamic concept.

Fearful Vs. Scared

The one who” fears Allah” need not be scared of Him. How so? “Scared” implies an alarmed state of consciousness, akin to a disarming panic. The scary thing has caused a loss of equilibrium, an absence of tranquility, or a dearth of our sense of the well-being which results from submitting to Allah’s requirements for us and enjoying Allah’s blessings.

We naturally fear people or things which we perceive can, or are likely to, harm us or to thwart our ambitions. But “fear” has strong positive connotations as well as strong negative ones. Guidance is readily received by those who “fear” Allah:

This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah; who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend … believe in the Revelation … and have the assurance in the Hereafter. Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:2-4

For those accepting the guidance of “the Book,” the Quran, prosperity is promised. The guided ones are those whose “fear” is towards Allah:

They are on (true guidance) from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper. Sûrat Al-Baqarah 2:5

A proper attitude toward our Creator and Maintainer is so essential to our well-being that we are exhorted to arrange our affairs such that when death comes to us—whenever that might end up to be—we are to be found in a psycho-spiritual state of submission (“islam“) to our Maker. “Islam” is a functional, descriptive term, as well as a label to distinguish the revival of revelation given to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, as opposed to  what remains of revelation given to communities following previous prophets of Allah:

O you who have attained to faith! Be conscious of God with all the consciousness that is due to Him, and do not allow death to overtake you before you have surrendered yourselves unto Him. Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:102

Clearly the functional message is that we must be vigilant to live up to our name as “Muslims,” meaning those who are in submission to Allah—preferably both in good times and bad:

And there is, too, among men many a one who worships God on the borderline [of faith]; thus, if good befalls him, he is satisfied with Him; but if a trial assails him, he turns away utterly, losing [thereby both] this world and the life to come: [and] this, indeed, is a loss beyond compare! Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:11

Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Fear

The healthy attitude of “fear” towards our benevolent Lord is often co-opted and corrupted by our chief adversary (Shayân)—to cause us to be terrified of him and thus to give in to his pressure to do wrong, or, he may use our natural fear of what other people can do to us:

It is but Satan who instills [into you] fear of his allies: so fear them not, but fear Me, if you are [truly] believers! Sûrat Âl ʿImrân, 3:175

We are warned not to be seduced by Shayṭân, but rather to “fear Allah.” When we fear other than Allah, we lose His blessing. We lose our way when our connection to Him is broken. If Allah has protected the believers in the past, He can be counted on to do the same with us:

O you who believe! Call in remembrance the favor of Allah unto you when certain men formed the design to stretch out their hands against you, but (Allah) held back their hands from you: So fear Allah.  And on Allah let Believers put (all) their trust. Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:11

Say: “Not equal are things that are bad, and things that are good, even though the abundance of the bad may dazzle you; so fear Allah, O you that understand, that you may prosper. Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:100

Tapping Into God-Consciousness

How does one ramp up her/his healthy “fear of Allah”? By invoking Allah (alone) for our needs and restraining one’s self from evil deeds—and especially through regularizing our practice of the Prayer (Ṣalâh):

Say: “Shall we call on others besides Allah–things that can do us neither good nor harm—and turn on our heels after receiving guidance from Allah–like one whom the evil ones have made into a fool, wandering bewildered through the earth, his friends calling  ‘Come to us,’ (vainly) guiding him to the Path?

Say: “Allah’s guidance is the (only) guidance, and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the worlds–to establish regular prayers and to fear Allah: For it is to Him that we shall be gathered together.” Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:71-72

Call on your Lord with humility and in private: for Allah loves not those who trespass beyond bounds. Do no mischief on the earth, after it has been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): For the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good. Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:55-56

Freely sharing one’s resources, as acts of charity (zakâh), with those in need is also associated with appropriately restraining one’s speech and one’s choices in “fear” of Allah’s approval:

The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, and fear none (at all) except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance. Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:18

“Fear” of Allah in its positive sense is associated with trust in Allah even in the most difficult of circumstances—such as during the terrible upheavals of the coming Last Hour, when the earth will be convulsed in preparation for Final Judgment:

O mankind! Fear your Lord!  For the convulsion of the Hour (of Judgment) will be a thing terrible! Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:1

Those who trust in other than Allah, they, too, will find themselves “guided”–but not to a satisfying “reward”:

About the (Evil One) it is decreed that whoever turns to him for friendship, him will he lead astray. And he will guide him to the penalty of the Fire. Sûrat Al-Ḥajj, 22:4

The Beginning of Wisdom

Even prophets had to be reminded of their pivotal responsibility to their Lord:

O you messengers! Enjoy (all) things good and pure, and work righteousness; for I am well-acquainted with (all) that you do … I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore fear me (and no other). Sûrat Al-Mu’minûn, 23:51-52

Again, the Quran is not speaking, primarily, of being “scared” or “fearful” of Allah; it is speaking of being conscious of Him in awe and deliberate submission, leading one to trust Allah’s guidance and provision–and to behave accordingly.

Yes, if we know that we have lost our healthy “fear of Allah,” then we may justifiably become fearful of having displeased our Lord. It is normal to be deeply disturbed at the prospect of losing the best that one has in life.

While Allah commands us to “fear” Him—that is, to respect Him in awe and submit to Him, He balances this directive with the assurance of His Mercy and His provision for us to return to the correct human condition of submission to Allah:

When those come to you [O Muhammad] who believe in Our Signs, say: “Peace be on you”; your Lord has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented and amended (his conduct), lo! He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:54

As followers of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ we are reminded of the key to our success:

Verily, those who live in awe for fear of their Lord; those who believe in the Signs of their Lord; those who join not (in worship) partners with their Lord; and those who dispense their charity with their hearts full of fear, because they will return to their Lord—it is these who hasten in every good work, and these who are foremost in them. Sûrat Al-Mu’minûn, 23:57-61

To “fear Allah” is to be “afraid” of displeasing one’s most trustworthy and dependable Mentor and constant Confidant. This is a healthy fear. The Muslim wants to submit to the Guidance of Allah because s/he desires, more than anything else, to please Him. The pull towards pleasing Allah goes hand-in-hand with a push away from what will displease Him:

And those who fear the displeasure of their Lord—for their Lord’s displeasure is the opposite of Peace and Tranquility—and those who guard their chastity;  and those who respect their trusts and covenants; and those who stand firm in their testimonies; and those who guard (the sacredness) of their worship—such will be the honored ones in the Gardens (of Bliss). Sûrat Al-Maʿârij, 70:27-35

To be continued, inshâ’Allah.

1 Comment

  • Mustafa

    Mon 25 Safar 1437AH 7-12-2015AD - 3:22 pm

    It is important to know that fear commanded of believers in Islam is not just some vague concept like “awe” or “humility” but actual genuine fear, the kind a man gets when he thinks something horrible may happen to him. The Sahaba RA weren’t just afraid when they did badly but when they did good deeds as well. We are supposed to have awe and humility and trust in Allah aza wa jal as well as be scared of his punishment in the akhirah. Both are required according to the ayat, not one without the other.

    One of the righteous people used to weep night and day, and something was said to him about that. He said: “I am afraid that Allah will see me committing sin and will say: ‘Go away from Me for I am angry with you.’” Hence Sufyan used to weep and say: “I am afraid that my faith will be taken away at the moment of death.”

    Isma’il ibn Zakariya described Habeeb ibn Muhammad, who was a neighbour of his. He said: “Every evening I heard him weeping and every morning I heard him weeping, so I went to his wife and said: ‘What is the matter with him? He weeps in the evening and he weeps in the morning!’ She said to me: ‘By Allah, when evening comes he fears that he will not live till morning and when morning comes he fears that he will not live till evening.’”

    The salaf (righteous predecessors) used to weep and grieve a great deal. When Yazeed al-Raqaashi was criticized for weeping a great deal and it was said to him, “If the Fire had been created exclusively for you, you would not weep more than this,” he said: “Has the Fire been created for anyone other than me and my companions and brothers among the jinn and mankind?”

    When ‘Ata’ al-Sulaymi was asked: “What is this grief?” he said: “Woe to you! Death is close at hand, the grave is my house, on the Day of Resurrection I will stand and my path is over a bridge across Hell, and I do not know what will become of me.”

    Faddalah ibn Sayfi used to weep a great deal. A man entered upon him when he was weeping and said to his wife: “What is the matter with him?” She said: “He says that he wants to undertake a long journey and he does not have proper provision for it.”

    One night al-Hasan woke up weeping, and he disturbed the other people in the house with his weeping. They asked him what was the matter and he said: “I remembered a sin that I committed and I wept.”

    It was narrated that Tameem al-Daari (may Allah be pleased with him) recited this verse (interpretation of the meaning): “Or do those who earn evil deeds think that We shall hold them equal with those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah- Islamic Monotheism) and do righteous good deeds” [45:21] and he started repeating it and weeping until morning came.

    Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) used to weep intensely, and it was said to him: “Why are you weeping?” He said: “I do not know what is ahead of me – Divine pleasure or divine wrath.”

    Sa’d ibn al-Akhram said: I was walking with Ibn Mas’ood and he passed by the blacksmiths, who had brought a piece of iron out of the fire. He stood and looked at the molten iron and wept.

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