Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-rahim
If you read the title then yes, there is a way for a person to actually grow his faith if he wanted to. There are many atheists and agnostics who actually want to believe but for some reason don’t feel the certainty or this elusive feeling of faith.
Just to give to you straight it’s this: la ilaaha illallah (There is no god but Allah).
Normally this would be translated as there is no god but God, but the name “Allah” is not simply “the God” but is an actual name of God, of His essence. The word “Allah” isn’t God in and of itself (as it is just a physical thing) but it has a portion or connection to the essence and the vibrations and sound of “Allah” also resonates with us more than simply the word “God” does.
In Imam al-Ghazali’s book “The ninety-nine beautiful names of God”(Al-Maqsad al-asna fi sharh asma Allah al-husna) he writes that the name “Allah” refers to the actual Existent Being that is God, that he exists independently of anything and everything is contingent upon Him. Imam al-Ghazali also writes that the name Allah is unique in that it contains the essence of all the attributes of God and it itself can refer to nothing else but the Actual Existent Being of God either literally or metaphorically. Unlike God’s other names like “Merciful” or “Knowing” which can apply to people as well, Allah can only refer to the Existent Essence itself.
To have faith is to have an awareness, to have an awareness is to be conscious of it, and to be conscious of it, you must point your consciousness on it and become familiar with it. This is in essence what worship to Allah is, it is remembrance of Him. This has a deeper significance than just “oh yeah I remember that I believe in Allah and that he exists”. No, it is deeper than that, it is in actual fact a deep-rooted acknowledgement that Allah exists and that He deserves to be obeyed (meaning that your actions need to align with His Will). A believer who disobeys God knowingly is better than an atheist, but at worse can be a hypocrite and so is lower than a believer who tries to follow God in spite of his lower impulses.
The natural state of man is belief in God, and if the heart is not facing towards Allah then it is dead. This is why in sufism the practice of repeating with the tongue (silently or loudly) the confession of unity “No god but Allah” or simply “Allah” is necessary to wake the heart up and enliven it with vigour and faith again.
In “The Secret of Secrets” written by Hadhrat Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani he writes:
“Our Mater the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said ‘The best declaration of remembrance is the one which I and all the other prophets before me recite. It is in the divine phrase “La ilaaha illallah”.’
There are different levels of remembrance and each has different ways. Some are expressed outwardly with audible voice, some felt inwardly, silently, from the centre of the heart. At the beginning one should declare in words what one remembers. Then stage by stage the remembrance spreads to one’s being – descending to the heart, then rising to the soul; then still further it reaches the realm of the secrets; further to the hidden; to the most hidden of the hidden. How far the remembrance penetrates, the level it reaches, depends solely on the extent to which Allah in His bounty has guided one.”
In essence you start with a yearning for knowledge of “meaning of life” and the “purpose” of our existence. This yearning leads one to finding God (usually). Once God has been found then comes the excruciatingly painful process (for some at least) of actually submitting to God as a display of their yearning to be close to Him. If such a one is lucky enough to initiated with Sufis he will be given some names or something to repeat thousands of times a day in order to cleanse him and increase the burning of faith in his heart, or enliven a dead one.
I recently came across “Memoirs of a dervish” by Robert Irwin which details his experience of his conversion to Islam and practicing sufism with the Alawiya order in Mustaganem, Algeria. He started out as a militant atheist and anarchist but in his late teens he took the confession of faith and converted to Islam. What’s interesting is that when he arrived at the sufi lodge (zawiya) in Mustaganem the Sheikh gave him a dhikr (remembrance chant) to repeat thousands of times a day (as well as to read the Quran, which he did in English). Robert doesn’t say what he repeated but I think it must have been “Allah” or “La ilaaha illallah” but on the 6th day he decided to convert to Islam.
This for me was very promising as it is an anecdotal evidence of remembrance leading to faith and higher spiritual states.
Normally the seeker goes through stages which their guide helps them through. In the first stage, the seeker says “La ilaaha illallah”. Once this remembrance has reached a certain stage, then the seeker is told to say “Allah” more often. Then after this he goes on to say “Hu” or other Divine Names depending on the seeker’s circumstances and needs as different Divine Names have different effects.
A sufi has two goals that he needs to focus on which actually work together and complement each other. The first and most important goal is to make God the center of one’s life, make God in your thoughts and intentions constantly without forgetting God and becoming immersed in the little or large day-to-day activities and problems. The other goal is to have excellent manners and behaviour and treating the rest of creation (and yourself) with kindness and respect. In fact these two goals go hand in hand. When we remember what pleases God, and remember our yearning and desire to please Him, then it becomes easier or more natural to exhibit good and kind behaviour.
Muslims have the behaviour and manners of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as an example and everyday becomes a day of working at this ideal, working towards it by acquiring good habits and losing bad habits. The devotional remembrance practices are actually very important and is not limited to just chanting or repeating God’s Names, but also by increasing your knowledge of religion, by reading and learning more about scripture, by reading about other strong believers and thinking about your inner state and relationship with God. Personally, I’ve found that I virtually think about God a lot (which is part of the reason I started this blog).
For me, I’ve completely passed the stage where I’m looking at “theological arguments” for God’s existence. It’s not even a question in mind. Rather my daily task is to continue my devotions until I reach the stage of real witnessing.
Once the faith of God is ignited in one’s heart, then he has to live by God otherwise the heart will harden again and the person will spiral into vice and debauchery (if he’s not vigilant).
If you are already a believing muslim then here is another dhikr to repeat 40 times each day to keep your heart from dying: “Ya hayyu ya qayyuum, la ilaaha illa anta” (O Living and Self-existent one, there is no god but you). Hamza Yusuf relates this in this video about Imam Kittaani who relates that he saw the Prophet Muhammad in a vision and he asked the Prophet to ask Allah to not cause his heart to die. The Prophet then told him to say the previously mentioned dhikr 40 times each day. This is a great dhikr for those that are willing to do it.
I hope those of you who have been searching really try this. Meditations and remembrance of Allah’s names works even if you don’t believe in what you’re saying. This is simply the power of Reality. Everything good and correct in this article is from Allah, and any mistake is from me.
If you have any comments please feel free to leave one below or like this article as feedback. 🙂