Al-Hamdu lillaahi Rabbil 'Aalameen was-Salaalu was-Salaamu 'alaa Nabeeyanaa Muhammad wa 'alaa Aalihi wa Sahbihi wa man tabaa Sunnatihi ilaa Yawmiddeen.
Faith is indeed a blessing from Allaah and should not be taken for granted. Just as it may increase and become fuller and stronger, it may also weaken and become less and less until it is minimal or nonexistent. Hence it becomes very important for a Muslim to take steps not only to preserve his faith but also to increase it.
The uppermost branch of faith is the true, sincere, committed belief in Laa i1aaha illallaah Muhammad Rasoolullaah. Eemaan has over seventy branches. The lowest or most basic branch is to remove something harmful from the path. Abu Hurayrah related that the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said:
“Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allaah and the humblest of which is the removal of what is injurious from the path; and modesty is a branch of faith.” (Muslim)
Basically, to do everything that Allaah, subhaanahu wa ta'alaa, has ordered us to do is a part of faith and to avoid all that He has asked us to avoid is a part of faith. A Muslim's level and strength of faith are based upon his attitude and approach when he fulfills this.
“Then we have given the Book (the Qur'an) for inheritance to such of our servants as We have chosen. But there are among them some who wrong their own souls - some who follow a middle course- and some who are, by Allah's leave, foremost in good deeds. That is the highest grace.” (Qur’an) 35:32. Thus, man falls into one of the three following categories:
1 - Dhaalim li Nafsihi: This person is self-oppressed. He is constantly falling into sin and maybe committing various acts of Shirk.
2- Al-Muqtasid: He does only the basic obligations and is satisfied with this. He may also indulge in those things that are Makrooh (that which has been discouraged by Allaah and His Prophet (s.a.w.s.), but not prohibited).
3 - Saabiq bil Khayraat: This person lives as if he were in a race with others in doing that which is liked by Allaah. He does all of the obligatory deeds and, not being satisfied with this, he will strive to do more of the Nawaafil (the optional acts in the Sunnah). He will make every attempt to avoid the Makrooh acts in fear of what they may lead him to.
One may ask, is it within the capacity of man to avoid all haraam and makrooh and live his life doing only halaal, fard and naafil deeds? Yes, it is very possible. Allaah, subhaanahu wa ta’ala tells us in the Qur-aan:
“On no soul does Allaah place a burden greater than it can bear …” ( 2:286)
“O you who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves and adore your Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) and do good so that you may prosper. And strive in His cause as you ought to strive; He has chosen you and has placed no difficulties on you in religion …” (22: 77-78)
All actions fall into one of two categories:
1) The obligatory acts which we are asked to avoid or do for the benefit of the individual and society. If we do not perform them, we are falling into sin.
2) Those other than the obligatory deeds, which guide us to good in this life and which raise our level in the hereafter, placing us among the Saabiq bil Khayraat. Therefore of the first steps to increase Eemaan is to work harder to do this second category of optional good deeds. We must look for the doors that lead to good. These doors are many and we often have the opportunity to enter them but don't realize it. Kindness to parents and the poor, for example, are entrances to good deeds that are available to most everyone. And the benefits are twofold: I) The personal benefit you gain through your deeds and
2) The benefit that is gained by society when you perform them.
Any door to good that you enter will place you closer and closer to the Saabiq bil-Khayraat level of faith. It will help you to attain righteousness and guidance and increase your Eemaan. Even paradise has doors for the faithful, those who were of the Saabiq bil-Khayraat in their fife on earth. Abu Hurayrah related that the Messenger of Allaah (s.a.w.s.) said: “...Those who engage in prayer will be invited to enter by the Gate of Prayer; those who take part in jihaad will be invited to enter by the Gate of Jihaad; those who give sadaqah will be invited to enter by the Gate of Sadaqat and those who fast will be invited to enter by the Gate of Ar-Rayyaan.” Abu Bakr said: “No distress will rest on him who is invited to enter by those gates, but will any one be invited to enter by all those gates?” He replied: “Yes, and I hope that you may be one.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Bakr, radi Allaahu 'anhu, was of the Saabiq bil-Khayraat. He was never satisfied in doing a little or just one thing. He constantly opened and entered the doors to good and eagerly sought out others. On one occasion, the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, asked his Companions who among them had fasted the day before Abu Bakr replied that he had. He then asked who had visited the sick the previous day. Abu Bakr replied that he did. Then he asked them who had given Sadaqah. Abu Bakr said that he had. Umar, who always tried to compete with Abu Bakr in doing good deeds, admitted in respect, admiration and humble acknowledgment that he was much less than Abu Bakr.
How does one enter these Eemaan -- strengthening doors and thereby step up in levels of faith? It occurs by possessing those qualities and performing those deeds that constitute the different parts of faith called Shuab Al-Eemaan (Shuab meaning parts). In stepping forth, certain approaches must be followed so that one’s effort is sincere and upon the right path.
The first of all deeds is du'aa - supplication. Due to our absorption in today's worldly life it is very important that before we perform any deed for Allaah we clear our minds of such preoccupations and direct our attention to Him. There are two kinds of du'aa: Du'aa of request for help in this life and the hereafter and du'aa of worship in which you are actually praising Allaah. We should, before setting forth to do any deed, ask Allaah to allow us to perform the deed and allow us to perform it well. A man asked the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam -- to teach him a supplication that would embody all supplications. He told him to make the following duaa:
“Allahumma a'anee'alaa dhikrika wa shukrikah wa husnibaadatik.” (“Oh Allah, Help me to remember You often, and to thank You often, and to perfect my worship of You.”) (Abu Daud and Nasai)
The highest branch of faith - Laa i1aaha illallaah - must be fully developed within one's life. The understanding of its deep implications will have a tremendous effect in one's level of faith as well. The one who says it sincerely in his heart will be admitted into paradise. Mu'aadh bin Jabal asked the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam: “O Messenger of Allaah, tell me of an act which will take me into paradise and will keep me away from Hell-fire. He said: You have asked, me about a major matter, yet it is easy for him whom Allaah Almighty makes it easy. You should worship Allaah, associating nothing with Him; you should perform the prayers; you should pay the Zakaah; you should fast Ramadaan; and you should make the pilgrimage to the House. Then he said: Shall I not show you the gates of goodness? Fasting (which) is a shield; charity (which) extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire; and the praying of a man in the depths of night. Then he recited:
“Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Rabb in fear and hope and spend out of that We have bestowed on them; no soul knows what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do.” (16:32)
Then he said: “Shall I not tell you of the peak of the matter, its pillar and its topmost part? I said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allaah.” He said: “The peak of the matter is Islaam; the pillar is prayer; and its topmost part is jihaad ...” (An-Nawawi Forty Hadith)
The quality of the faithful is that they perform Salaah with regularity, humility, and submissiveness (khushoo'). Allaah, subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa, tells us in the first verses of Soorat Al-Mu-minoon:
“Successful indeed are the believers; those who humble themselves in their prayers.” (23:1-2)
The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: “There are five prayers which Allaah has prescribed for His servants. For those who perform them properly without disrespectful omissions, there is a guarantee that Allaah will admit them to paradise. To those who do not observe them (properly), Allaah offers no such guarantee. He may punish them or he may admit them to paradise as He wills.” (Abu Daud, Nasai and Ibn Majah)
“Two members of my community may perform the prayer in such a way that their bowing and their prostration are as one, yet their prayers may be as far apart as heaven and earth.” (Al-Haarith)
“Though a man performs the entire prayer, he may get no credit but for a half of it, or a third, a quarter, a fifth, a sixth, or a tenth. A man gets credit only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious.” (Ahmad)
If you were to prepare to visit a dignitary, a king, or even your supervisor, you prepare yourself for such a meeting with great concern for every detail, being completely absorbed in this encounter. So what of your encounter with Allaah during prayer? Shaytaan will try as hard as he can to distract you. He will take away from you as much as he is able to and as much as you allow him to. A Muslim should always approach Salaah with the realization that he is preparing to face His Rabb. The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: “Verily Allaah faces his servant in prayer as long as he does not turn away.” (Tirmidhi) The sharh (explanation) of this hadeeth tells us that to “turn away” has two meanings:
1) The turning away of the heart so that your heart is not really present in your prayer.
2) The turning away of the eyes, looking about in distraction while praying.
The renown scholar, Ibn Al-Qaym, has described the different performances of Salaah in relation to khushoo' and classified people into four categories:
1- The one who offers prayer but is late in doing so, does not observe the requirements such as a proper ablution, and does not cover the 'awrah. As for the performance of the prayer itself, the pillars of the prayer are deficient, standing and prostration are not performed properly.
2- This person fulfills the physical conditions for prayer and performs the prayer as required yet is completely overcome by al-wasaawis - the whisperings of Shaytaan. His mind is completely removed from his prayer until the time for tasleem.
3- This person also offers the prayer properly and is also afflicted by al-wasaawis but he fights it and is in a constant battle.
4- This very special person is he who finds prayer an oasis. He approaches it the prerequisites perfectly before his Rabb. He may even be unaware of happenings around him due to his private meeting with Allaah.
In the first case, this person has made the attempt to fulfill his obligation to pray but is not sincere. He will be punished for the deficiencies in his prayer. In the second case, we have a person who makes sincere efforts to fulfill the prayer but is weak against Shaytaan and does not fight him. He will be rewarded for only the part of his prayer he did well as described in the hadeeth above; one half, one third, etc. As for the third category, this person is considered a mujaahid against the whisperings of Shaytaan. He will be rewarded for his sincere efforts and Allaah will direct him to righteousness. The final category is of those very rare individuals, the one we all wish to be in. They perform the prayer as the Prophets of Allaah did, removing their hearts completely from the world. They love prayer most of all. Their eyes are filled with joy and ecstasy when they perform it. There is no question of their reward and their superiority of faith.
Prayer is a very important part of one's Eemaan and plays a significant role in life. To achieve its benefits, it must be performed properly. It helps prevent one from committing evil and makes one successful in this fife as well as in the Hereafter - but only when it is performed properly, humbly and sincerely. At the time of prayer angels spread about calling man to “put out the fire (of sins)” that he is burning. (At-Tabarani)
Allaah has promised us that prayer removes sins committed between them. The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: "Verily when a Muslim performs Wudu properly, and then observes Salaah five times a day, his sins fall off just as these leaves have fallen off. He then recited the following aayah: 'And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night; for those things which are good removes those things which are evil. That is a reminder for the mindful.'” (11:114) (Ahmad)
It is not possible that a Muslim who observes prayer correctly could stand before his Rabb without asking forgiveness for the sins he has committed. If you develop khushoo' in your prayer, you cannot consist in committing sins because the effort of your prayer makes you aware and ashamed of your misdeeds. For example, if you are backbiting, your prayer will make you conscious of your deed. Your level of consciousness will be elevated and your faith will, In Shaa Allaah, increase. This will make you less likely to fall into major sins.
When a Muslim fasts he does so not only through abstaining from food and drink but he also shuns bad deeds, false words, etc. The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: “Whoever does not give up false words and evil actions, Allaah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” (Bukhari)
Fasting also presents many benefits other than simply fulfilling the commandments of Allaah and being rewarded for it. If you are prone to incline to or fall into sin, fasting will lessen your evil inclinations. For example, a man who is unable to marry is recommended to fast which will lessen his desires. We also know from the hadeeth, “The devils are chained during Ramadaan...” that during fasting, man is not as easily influenced by them. This you can see in your own personal change of religious consciousness when you fast during Ramadan. For the one who fasts properly, gaining the full benefit, it is an exercise and training for the whole year. You gain a kind of power and change which you carry with you through the year. But you should not stop once Ramadaan ends. Make fasting a habit, at least occasionally. The Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, consistently fasted at least three days a month. By fasting periodically you retrieve some of the spiritual uplifting that Ramadaan brings throughout the year. This is a very strong faith strengthening tool that all can apply.
Here we are referring to the charity you give voluntarily not the obligatory Zakaah, which you are subject to punishment if you do not give. It is the voluntary Sadaqah that strengthens faith. The more you do the more you erase your bad deeds. Sadaqah is not only monetary. There are many deeds that are considered Sadaqah. If someone wishes to give sadaqah and you assist in its delivery, you are rewarded for having given sadaqah yourself. 'Aa-ishah related that the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, informed them as to who would follow him in death saying: “The one who has the longest hands amongst you would meet me most immediately. She further said: They (they wives of the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) used to measure their hands as to who was the longest. It was the hand of Zaynab that was the longest amongst them as she used to work with her hand and spend (that income) in charity.” (Muslim) It was Zaynab bint Jahsh whose “long hand” reached out to the poor so often; not with money, but with food and other things that she had to give, that was the first of his wives to die after him.
The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said: “Every Muslim has to give Sadaqah.” He was asked:” If someone has nothing to give what should he do?” He said: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people then asked: “If he cannot rind even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy who appeal for help.” They then asked: “If he cannot do that?” He replied: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
He also said: “None of you (women) should consider even a sheep’s trotter (the bone with very little meat on it) too insignificant a gift to give to her neighbor.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Mu'aadh bin Jabal related from the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam: “Sadaqah extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)
The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, also said: “The believer's shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his Sadaqah.” (Ahmad)
The more you are involved in giving Sadaqah, truly for the sake of Allaah, not to show off before others, the more it will encourage you to do good which will also strengthen you in faith.