The Reasons for Failing to Fear Allah
Say: “Who provides for you out of heaven and Earth? Who controls hearing and sight? Who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living? Who directs the whole affair?”They will say, “Allah.” Say, “So will you not guard against evil?”
As openly revealed by Allah in His verses, when those people who possess only superficial belief are asked about it, they will admit their belief in Allah, but the fearful awareness of Him will be found wanting. The clearest proof of their condition is that neither in their speech nor in their behavior do they display the least sign of fear or caution with respect to Allah. There are well-known reasons underlying this.
The lack of a true appreciation of Allah
Generally amongst the populace an understanding of religion based on hearsay is widespread. The majority of people have not familiarized themselves with Allah’s own descriptions of Himself and His attributes as they appear in the original source of religion, namely the Qur’an. Yet Allah has introduced Himself to us in the Qur’an in the clearest and most authentic manner possible. The knowledge of most people regarding Allah consists of what they have heard from their respective families, relatives and from here or there. As a result of this, people’s understanding regarding Allah varies widely.
The interesting point about this is that it has never occurred to a great many people that the things they have heard and been taught in their immediate environments could be incomplete or even totally incorrect. Even if it has occurred to them, they would be most unlikely to go out of their way to do the research that would be required in order to ascertain the truth. This is a serious mistake which could result in going to the Fire as a consequence of not identifying Allah correctly or giving proper recognition to His many great attributes.
This kind of people think of Allah in general terms with respect to His attributes of The Forgiver (Al Ghaffar), The Helper (An Nasr), The Provider (Ar Razzaq), the Subtle One (Al Latif), The Preserver (Al Hafiz), The Merciful (Ar Rahim) and The Protector (Al Muhaymin). Limiting their focus to attributes such as these simply results in an unbalanced sense of comfort and complacency, since Allah has other attributes such as The Avenger (Al Muntaqim), The Punisher (Al Muazzib) and The Subduer (Al Qahhar). However, the people mentioned above would not know what these attributes of Allah actually mean. They cannot think of our Lord in these terms. They do not realize that these attributes will be brought to bear upon their actions, their behavior and their conversations.
Even though they may be aware of some of Allah’s attributes by name, they remain unaware of their full import and the manner in which they are going to impinge upon their eternal lives. Either they have a one-sided view of Allah’s many attributes, or they imagine that they do not apply to them in any way.
For example, if an injustice has been perpetrated on them, they believe that in the Hereafter Allah, with His infinite justice will seek retribution for this injustice. However, they fail to realize that they too will be faced with Allah’s punishment if they do not believe in the Qur’an and act by it as they should. Mankind was created to worship Allah, but if they reject the purpose of their creation, they will without doubt face the consequences of this disbelief. The most severe of punishments is required for such an enormous transgression, hence the existence of Hell. Hell, being the most terrible place ever created is the arena for punishments whose severity lies far beyond man’s powers of imagination. It subsumes and surpasses many times over the greatest agonies imaginable on Earth.
These people we describe do not have fearful awareness of Allah and behave carelessly; they are heedless of their own consciences and are completely lacking in understanding. They have no proper perception of Allah’s strength and His power, His majesty and His vastness, His exaltedness and His greatness. Hence, they fail to experience the kind of inner awe and deep trepidation appropriate to the prospect of being exposed to His wrath. As a result of this, they do not strive to earn Allah’s approval or to implement His commands to the best of their abilities. Neither do they abide by His prohibitions, preferring to lead carefree lives. They fail to show the gratitude and appreciation required for the blessings Allah has given them, therefore ungratefulness becomes a permanent feature of their beings. In the end however, the price for living a careless life on Earth will be paid with an eternal life of fear and torment.
The mistaken beliefs of the disbelievers about the Hereafter
As well as being unable to give Allah the recognition due to Him, many ignorant people also possess deficient knowledge and many false beliefs about the Garden and the Fire. These people enjoy their lives on Earth to their hearts’ desire, they rebel against Allah and then, they assume they will be forgiven after spending a short period in Hell. However, the end that awaits them is much more painful than they assume, because Hell is an abode of punishment which may last for eternity for those extreme disbelievers who do not heed Allah’s warnings. Allah emphasizes that Hell has been created for disbelievers and for those people who persist in their disbelief. The Qur’an makes it clear that there is no way back for them:
Hell lies in wait—a homecoming for the profligate, remaining in it for countless aeons. (Surat an-Naba’: 21-23)
The pain and sufferings of Hell are beyond imagination. Hell is a frightening environment where Allah’s attribute as the Subduer (Al-Qahhar) becomes manifest in all its severity and where the punishments that are inflicted far exceed anything imaginable on Earth. For an individual who is barely capable of withstanding the pain of a drop of boiling water, or cold temperatures or even the slightest hunger, to claim that they could bear such forms of punishment without too much difficulty is a clear indication of their complete lack of awareness and understanding. As we have said from the outset, anyone who imagines that Allah’s punishment is a matter to be taken so lightly, is someone who has no idea whatsoever of the reality of Allah’s power.
Being fooled by their allotted time on Earth
In order that people might be properly tested, Allah has granted us all a fixed period of time in the temporal world. He sends us warnings and grants us every opportunity to repent and to correct the mistakes we may have made. However, for people who do not live by the religion, this very generosity is yet part of what lies behind their inability to fear Allah as they should. In order to avoid the consequences of their actions, people are in general extremely careful when it comes to behavior which brings an immediate comeback. Let us look at the following example.
Let us suppose that a person is working for a company on a good salary, and has been given an important set of targets to meet, knowing that failure to achieve these targets would be likely to result in the termination of his employment with this company. It requires no great stretch of the imagination to guess how much sheer effort and determination would go into the task. The very thought of the loss he would face in the event of losing his job would ensure that any lesser approach to it would be entirely out of the question. He would do everything possible, even to the extent of sacrificing his comfort, his sleep and even abandoning other assignments in order to meet his objectives and escape the enormous distress that would result from failure. This is all very well but the question is whether such people feel the same level of urgency with respect to the much greater reality of having to account to Allah? The truth is that the vast majority do not because they do not see death and the Hereafter as imminent realities, according to them the life they are leading is much more realistic.
Yet in a Qur’anic verse the allotted time on Earth given to people is referred to as follows:
If Allah were to take mankind to task for what they have earned, He would not leave a single creature crawling on it, but He is deferring them until a specified time. Then, when their time comes, Allah sees His servants! (Surah Fatir: 45)
These people imagine that when they do something which Allah does not consent to they will instantly be punished with “raining brimstone,” when this turns out not to be the case they see it as a licence to continue with their excesses. This illogical thinking can be seen in people of the disbelieving communities who have lived at every period throughout history, and whose reasoning is described by Allah in the Qur’an in the following way:
… And [they] say to themselves "Why does Allah not punish us for what we say?" Hell will be enough for them! They will roast in it. What an evil destination! (Surat al-Mujadala: 8)
This distorted point of view is held by the majority of people who do not believe and people whose belief is only superficial. These people who think they will not be punished for their actions, and who therefore think they are extremely clever, are in fact being gradually pulled towards their punishment from a direction unknown to them:
… And [they] say to themselves “Why does Allah not punish us for what we say?” Hell will be enough for them! They will roast in it. What an evil destination! (Surat al-A‘raf: 182)
In similitude to those open and obvious punishments which Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an, subtle and hidden punishments can overtake a person at any time, even whilst still on Earth. An example of such a case is when someone who is in the habit of displaying attitudes or moral conduct which are offensive to Allah, is suddenly struck by a debilitating illness. Needless to say, these afflictions are not confined to the physical senses; the fear which Allah will cause to grip the heart or just sheer stress, will suffice in order to make an individual’s existence extremely uncomfortable. Therefore Allah has drawn attention in the Qur’an to fear being a type of punishment:
Allah makes an example of a city which was safe and at peace, its provision coming to it plentifully from every side. Then it showed ingratitude for Allah’s blessings so Allah made it wear the robes of hunger and fear for what it did. (Surat an-Nahl: 112)
Whilst behaving in a manner which Allah does not approve of, no person can ever be sure that misfortune is not hovering above him, ready to strike at any moment. There is no protection against any of Allah’s punishments. Allah has informed us of this reality in the Qur’an:
Do the people of the cities feel secure against Our violent force coming down on them in the night while they are asleep? Or do the people of the cities feel secure against Our violent force coming down on them in the day while they are playing games? Do they feel secure from the plan of Allah? No one feels secure from the plan of Allah except for those who are lost. (Surat al-A‘raf: 97-99)
The same warning is reiterated in another verse:
Do you feel secure against Him causing the shore to swallow you up or sending against you a sudden squall of stones? Then you will find no one to be your guardian. Or do you feel secure against Him taking you back into it another time and sending a violent storm against you and drowning you for your ingratitude? Then you will find no one to defend you against Us. (Surat al-Isra’: 68-69)
It should not be forgotten that mankind is in a state of helplessness, and that we are completely dependent on Allah for everything. The distresses of trials and hardships can only be faced by relying on Allah and receiving strength from Him. However, those who do not accept the reality of their limited capacity and who do not fear Allah are left by themselves to confront their punishments and misfortunes, both the overt and the hidden ones. Given that the human make up does not posses the capacity to withstand these afflictions, the only safe and successful route is to fear Allah to the best of one’s ability and to lead a life consciously based on fearful awareness of these realities.
Assuming that only the very rebellious will be subjected to punishment
Despite the majority of people knowing that following their death, Allah will call them to account for the lives they have led, and that after this reckoning they will be sent to either the Garden or the Fire, they make no preparation for their life in the Hereafter. Although these people assert their belief in the existence of the Hereafter, the lifestyles they lead are hardly any different from those of the outright disbelievers. Furthermore, they display not the least hint of embarrassment about it.
The lifestyles of both groups are, to all intents and purposes, identical in appearance, attitudes, behavior, goals and ambitions. The only difference between them is that the one claims to be Muslim, while the other makes no such claim. In spite of the former group’s willingness to assert their belief in the Qur’an, their failure to abide by the judgments of the book they claim to believe in causes them no sense of discomfort or awkwardness whatsoever.
The reason for their apparent state of indifference to the openly contradictory nature of their position is their further assertion that their hearts are pure and that they cause no harm to anyone.
Their attitude is based on the confident belief they will never be sent to the Fire, in other words they view themselves as certain candidates for admission to the Garden. What is also particularly interesting are the criteria they have come up with in order to define the type of person who will enter the Fire, and the corresponding arrogance with which they declare everyone else as fit for the Garden.
According to them, the people deserving of the Fire are the criminals and delinquents one generally sees on television or in the papers such as murderers, thieves, terrorists, and assorted deviants who are determined to cause harm to others. Those excluded from this list, the “average person,” who constitute the majority of humanity however, assume all their sins will be immediately forgiven.
It is the nature of the criteria they themselves have selected which has given rise to the assumption that they are of the people of the Garden, given that they have not committed murder or stolen anything and that they are not terrorists. Thus despite their claims to being Muslims, neither their willingness to commit all forms of transgression, nor their unwillingness to worship, nor their unwillingness to abide by the Qur’an and to lead their lives safely within the limits established by Allah, arouses within them any sense of fear or nervousness. The simple reason for this is their mistaken assumption that none of these actions or omissions constitute sufficient cause to be sent to the Fire.
However, this is a terrible mistake, which may drag them to the pits of the Fire. These ignorant people conjure up values and priorities in the name of Islam, which are very different from those contained in the Qur’an. In other words, matters on which Allah places the greatest importance end up, according to their facile reasoning, being considered as marginal. Thus, their self-invented religious perspectives offer them a lifestyle which is completely at odds with a genuine fear of Allah. In the following Qur’anic verse Allah draws attention to the corrupt logic of these people:
Say: “Who provides for you out of heaven and Earth? Who controls hearing and sight? Who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living? Who directs the whole affair?” They will say, “Allah.” Say, “So will you not guard against evil?” (Surah Yunus: 31)
These people cannot adhere to the commands and prohibitions of the true religion because of their determined commitment to their own version of things. Hence, they continue to lead their lives under a false sense of security induced by the fatal misapprehension that they are destined for the Garden; they are merely fooling themselves. However, no matter how much they deceive themselves their conscience will always remind them of the true reality. When confronted with the realities of the Qur’an, they find it impossible to admit that they have wasted their entire lives with sins and grave mistakes, they absolutely refuse to listen to anyone who tries to clarify the situation for them. Therefore, in order not to have to dwell on it, they consciously distract themselves by focusing on other issues. In other words, when anything comes up or a thought enters their minds that might cause them fear or anxiety, they immediately turn their attention elsewhere, preferring to remain in a state of imaginary safety. They attempt to block out thoughts of Allah, His threats, and His punishment, in other words, they exist in a state of perpetual denial of the reality of their predicament: the impossibility of escaping the inescapable justice of Allah. However hard they try, their mindless determination to avoid the truth will not save them from the fearsome conclusion awaiting them.
The false idea that “Allah will forgive us anyway”
An evil generation has succeeded them, inheriting the Book, taking the goods of this lower world, and saying, “We will be forgiven…” (Surat al-A‘raf: 169)
As indicated in this verse, despite not leading a life as prescribed by Allah, people assume that they will nevertheless be forgiven. Without a doubt, the foremost reason for this assumption is their inability to properly comprehend Allah’s attributes and His justice due to their reliance on a form of reasoning which has little or no Qur’anic foundation. Although Allah is forgiving and will forgive the wrong actions of His servants, the prerequisite for this forgiveness is outlined by Allah in the Qur’an as follows:
Allah only accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and then quickly repent after doing it. Allah turns towards such people. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. There is no repentance for people who persist in doing evil until death comes to them and who then say, “Now I repent,” nor for people who die disbelievers. We have prepared for them a painful punishment. (Surat an-Nisa’: 17-18)
However, there are those who, having been repeatedly warned both openly and secretly, are aware of the truth and yet remain far removed from fearing Allah, and persist with their distorted claim that Allah will forgive them nevertheless. This kind of misapprehension is a clear example of Satan’s ability to mislead and deceive people. It is one of his many lures, which leads to all forms of wrong actions and falsities being continuously committed. Furthermore, Allah’s declaration that, “No one is safe from the punishment of his Lord” (Surat al-Ma‘arij: 28), is clear proof that no one is guaranteed forgiveness in this way.
Assuming themselves as deserving of the Garden
There can be no doubt that a distorted understanding of the Qur’an will give way to a similarly distorted view of the Hereafter. Hence, the majority of ignorant people share the common belief that they are worthy of the Garden. Many of these people possess no concept of being questioned for their actions following their death. According to them, even if such a possibility existed they think that they would be met with a positive outcome, thereby fooling themselves into a false sense of security.
Allah has given an example in the Qur’an of a garden owner who was arrogant and self-assured. He did not fear Allah and because of his wealth was extremely spoilt. The high yield of his gardens as well as their beauty served as a basis for his self-assurance. The sensation of power he derived from this seduced him into believing that his possessions were indestructible and everlasting, and he adopted a stance of absolute insolence:
He entered his garden and wronged himself by saying, “I do not think that this will ever end. I do not think the Hour will ever come. But if I should be sent back to my Lord, I will definitely get something better in return.” (Surat al-Kahf: 35-36)
The owner of the garden serves as an example to people nowadays who in essence have forgotten the Hereafter and the Day of Judgment, and who have perpetrated excesses and disrespected the boundaries set out by Allah. Furthermore, faced with the prospect, as they see it, of eternal non-existence or possibly entering the Fire and facing its punishment, they deceive themselves with the idea that they will eventually enter the Garden. The behavior of those people whose shallow mentality permits them to deny the Day of Judgment when it suits them, and who by the same token, manage to imagine themselves worthy of the Garden, is a clear indication that they lack fearful awareness of Allah.
Their Claim to Love of Allah
Another reason why people do not fear Allah and act cautiously is their claim that they love Allah. However, the true love of Allah requires respect and distancing oneself from those things that the beloved dislikes, but what is interesting is that when we examine the lifestyle of these people none of these signs can be found. A person who sincerely loves Allah will above all else be extremely sensitive towards Allah’s boundaries, he will love the things He loves and will be extremely cautious of those things that Allah dislikes. In every detail of his life, he will seek to please Him by demonstrating his deep respect, trust, and submission with absolute devotion. However, someone who professes that he loves Allah despite leading a life, which transgresses Allah’s boundaries, cannot be speaking with sincerity. This insincerity will inevitably attract retribution and a severe punishment.
The important point here is that a verbal declaration of love of this kind is nothing more than an exercise in self-deception and an outward display of over confidence. Such attitudes are in complete opposition to the spirit and the message of the Qur’an.
True Muslims fear Allah and strive to punctiliously abide by His commands. One of the finest examples of this is the Muslim women who lived in the time of our Prophet (saas). The female believers of the time embraced Almighty Allah's command regarding covering their heads with great enthusiasm and desire, and immediately obeyed. The following is narrated from Hazrat Aisha regarding the excellent behavior of women at the time when the verses regarding the headscarf were revealed:
When the verse "they should …draw their head-coverings across their breasts." was revealed, they tore their capes and covered themselves with those." (Ibn Kathir, Commentary on the Hadith and the Holy Qur'an Tefsiri, Vol. 11, p. 5880)
The Muslims who came after also obeyed this command with great enthusiasm and determination.
Fear based upon Ignorance
Allah is well acquainted with people’s circumstances and every hope, prayer and thought that goes through their minds. This being so, what needs to be done is to turn to Allah with sincerity and to seek His friendship. A sincere inner fear produces a predisposition that will ensure submission, encourage a state of positive morality and progress towards gaining Allah’s love.
The fear of the people who do not live by the religion however, is different. Their sense of fear is temporary. When they are tested with a difficult situation, they remember Allah’s wrath and fear the consequences. However, no sooner does Allah save them from their predicament, than they revert to their previous state of denial. With regard to this matter the Qur’an gives the following example:
It is He Who conveys you on both land and sea so that when some of you are on a boat, running before a fair wind, rejoicing at it, and then a violent squall comes upon them and the waves come at them from every side and they realize there is no way of escape, they call on Allah, making their religion sincerely His: “If You rescue us from this, we will truly be among the thankful.” But then, when He does rescue them, they become rebellious in the Earth without any right to do so. Mankind, your rebelliousness is only against yourselves. There is the enjoyment of the life of this world and then you will return to Us and We will inform you about what you did. (Surah Yunus: 22-23)
As seen from the above example the fear of such people will not benefit them. In direct opposition to the believers, they will not learn and take heed or reflect upon the meaning of such events. Therefore, Allah informs us in the Qur’an that it is those who experience fearful awareness that will take heed:
He who has fear will be reminded. But the most miserable will shun it. (Surat al-A‘la: 10-11)
Here we see that the insincere people mentioned in the above verses are from the second group of people. That is because they do not have a sense of profound inner fear towards Allah. The incidents they are confronted with will not lead them towards the right path. Allah has informed us in the Qur’an of the conduct of these people in countless verses. For example:
Say: “To whom does the Earth belong, and everyone in it, if you have any knowledge?” They will say: “To Allah.” Say: “So will you not pay heed?” Say: “Who is the Lord of the Seven Heavens and the Lord of the Mighty Throne?” They will say: “Allah.” Say: “So will you not guard against evil?” Say: “In Whose hand is the dominion over everything, He Who gives protection and from Whom no protection can be given, if you have any knowledge?” They will say: “Allah’s.” Say: “So how have you been bewitched?” The fact is that We have given them the truth and they are liars.(Surat al-Muminun: 84-90)