3 Steps to Exploring the Ocean of Faith

Our faith in God is defined through the concept of taqwa. Sometimes translated as literally the “fear” God’s punishment, taqwa is actually a concept as wide and deep as the ocean, filled with different levels, currents, and understandings.

To encompass these many meanings, most scholars today have shifted away from the concept of fear and rather translate taqwa as “consciousness.” In the Quran, there are two critical verses that provide the outline:

O believers! Be mindful of Allah in the way He deserves,1 and do not die except in ˹a state of full˺ submission ˹to Him˺.2 (3:102)

This verse gives us the basic outline. To be a Muslim, and have the promise of Paradise fulfilled, we must fear God as He should be. God is the creator of the universe, the One who is truly in control of our affairs no matter how much we would like to think otherwise.

With a God so powerful, omnipresent, and merciful to creation, why should we not work to make ourselves more aware?

The second verse shows us how to get to that level:

So be mindful of Allah to the best of your ability, hear and obey, and spend in charity—that will be best for you. And whoever is saved from the selfishness of their own souls, it is they who are ˹truly˺ successful. (64:16)

Putting this verse at the center, this article provides three steps to developing your own version of taqwa, God-consciousness.

Step One: Listen to God (and His Prophet)

“Listen” is always a good advice. Think about it in your daily life. When you are dealing with another human being or a group, the best thing to do is to listen to every opinion, process what you are hearing, and then act.

Here, you are hearing directly from the Creator of the universe regarding matters of your eternal soul, an even better opportunity to pay attention. When you listen, realize that God speaks to us in many ways, beginning most clearly through the Quran and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad.

Having trouble listening? Pray two rak’ahs of istikhara, asking God to show you the way to developing your faith. You probably won’t feel anything immediately, but after centering yourself and focusing, your heart will tell you the answer. 

Once you have heard something, the most important step included in the verse is to obey. Listening is passive, and anyone no matter how weak they are in faith can listen to God’s commands.

It takes a different person altogether to act and apply those commands in your life. Start with the basics: morals, ethics, prayer, and fasting, slowly putting the Sunnah into practice according to your own circumstances.

Step Two: Bring Ethics into Your Finances

The next term in the Quranic verse is to “spend” in the way of God, but it means much more than donating to your favorite charity.

A popular statement that I would often hear from my teachers is “Remove the bad before bringing in the good.” Before you think about where to spend your money, think about where you are getting it from in the first place. Is it a permissible source?

That doesn’t just mean to stop dealing in forbidden practices, but also to make sure that the way you earn your income is legitimate in the eyes of God.

If you run a business, are you running it ethically? If you are an employee, are you performing your duties to the best of your capabilities? Or if you are financially reliant upon others, are you proving that you deserve that support?

Then comes the test of how we spend our money. We all have our necessities and luxuries, and this article is not about lecturing you on how much money you spent on clothes last month.

Rather, we should be conscious of the fact that what we spend our money on matters, as it affects both the world around us and our relationship with God. Consider ethical questions such as environmental impact and workers’ rights the next time you take out that credit card.

As a result, the more conscious you are about both where your money comes from and where it goes, the more aware you are about those around you and the better you will feel about how you run your life.

Those who are more respectful and conscious of God’s creation ultimately find themselves getting closer to God.

Step Three: Guard Against Yourself

The term in the Quranic verse translated as “stinginess” (shuhh) should be understood in the strongest way possible.

According to a Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad warned that shuhh is “more intense than being stingy.”

The self (nafs) is designed to think only about what you need. It feeds off the satisfying you get when you fulfill your own desires rather than focusing on others, creating a cycle that at first seems great but quickly leads to your personal – and spiritual – destruction.

There are many ways to tame your self and control your desires. Following the first two steps above are good starting points.

More importantly, however, whenever you start down a path you should ask yourself basic questions like. Do I really need this? Or Should I really be doing this? If the answer to these is no – no matter how begrudgingly it comes – you should re-evaluate your decision.

Breaking away from the self is the last and greatest step in the development of a Muslim’s faith, hence its placement at the end of the Quranic verse.

Most of us will never reach that final point; but simply knowing that your self is there, monitoring and guarding against it, puts you on the path of “the successful.”

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.