Reflections on the Branches of Faith

Many times when we think of the example of the Messenger, peace be upon him, we think of particular actions or statements, but to follow him is to do more than this.

Reflections on the Branches of Faith
6/7/2012 – Religious – Article Ref: OI1205-5102
Number of comments: 1
By: Jamaal Diwan
OnIslam* –

The Love of God is the spring from which faith flows and the foundation from which our following of the example of the Prophet is born. It is narrated in an authentic tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that he said:

“Faith is seventy-something branches. The highest of the branches is the statement ‘There is no god but God’ and the lowest of them is to remove something harmful from the road. Modesty is from faith.” (Muslim)
In this simple tradition the Prophet clarifies to mankind that faith requires more than lip-service. Faith is an ongoing struggle towards improvement, a journey of actualization and a mission of carrying the message of truth to all of creation.

Therefore, yes, the foundation of such faith is the core conceptualization of the oneness of the Creator and the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth, but it is also manifested in other things. That faith shows itself in the way that one pays attention to their internal states and their intentions behind their actions. It manifests itself in outward actions, such as smiling in the face of a stranger or a family member, or removing something harmful from the path.

It is out of this tradition and its profundity that Imam Al-Bayhaqi wrote his monumental work The Branches of Faith. The work is over ten volumes long and covers many different areas of Islamic thought and practice.
It is a compilation of traditions of the Prophet Muhammad as well as the righteous people who came after him. It consists of seventy-seven branches of faith and is in actuality a magnum opus for the ethical teachings of the Prophet. This is because although the first several branches deal strictly with issues of belief, many of the chapters that come thereafter deal with varying issues of social ethics and manners.

Clearly in dealing with such a work it is not possible to cover everything. Rather, we will choose certain chapters and then combine between the material in those sections as well as personal reflections in order to discuss the topic at hand.

The 10th of the Branches of Faith: Love for God

In these verses the importance of love for God is clear. This is not merely a side issue but rather something that is central…

A man came to Ibn Surayj and he asked him:

“Where do you find in the Quran that love for God is required?”

He said, “I do not know, but so-and-so says so.”

The man said, “It is in His statement:

“Say, ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your relatives, wealth which you have obtained, commerce wherein you fear decline, and dwellings with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than God and His Messenger and struggling in His cause, then wait until God executes His command. And God does not guide the defiantly disobedient people” At-Tawbah 9:24
This is because such a threat does not come except in response to something which is required.

In another place in the Quran God says:

“And, among the people are those who take other than God as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love God. But those who believe are stronger in love for God” Al-Baqarah 2:165
And also:

“Say, ‘If you love God, then follow me [Muhammad], God will love you and forgive you your sins. And God is Forgiving and Merciful'” Al-Imran 3:31
In these verses the importance of love for God is clear. This is not merely a side issue but rather something that is central within the Islamic perspective on life. It is this love that is the spring from which faith flows and the foundation from which our following of the example of the Prophet is born.

The centrality of love for God is also emphasized in various traditions of the Prophet. In one of these traditions the Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

“There are three characteristics which if a person has them, he will taste the sweetness of faith: for God and His messenger to be more beloved to them than anything else; to love another person purely for the sake of God; and to hate to return to disbelief just as they would hate to be thrown into fire” (Al-Bukhari).
But What is Love for God?

Through these various verses and traditions it is clear that love for God is a fundamental part of faith. However, sometimes although we know something in a general way we need indicators and details in order to really understand what it actually means. This is something that takes us past mere sloganeering and into the realm of true understanding and actualization. As such the scholars mentioned several different meanings for what love for God really is. Amongst these are the following:

The conviction that He is worthy of praise from every perspective and that there is nothing in His attributes except that it is a reason for His deserving praise. This means to understand that God is the Magnificent and the Glorious, that all of His attributes and descriptions are such that they require from us to stand in awe of Him and praise Him an abundant praise.
The conviction that He is excellent to His servants, bestowing upon them all sorts of goodness from His immense bounty. This entails recognition of the source of all good and His generosity upon His creation.
The conviction that His excellence towards His servants is such that the servant’s speech and actions can never be enough to fulfill the required level of gratitude towards Him.
To be perpetually concerned that He will turn away from us, thereby taking our gnosis of Him which He has generously bestowed upon us away.
For all of the person’s hopes and desires to be concentrated upon Him, glorified and exalted is He, and to never think at any time that he or she is not in need of Him.
To follow the example of Prophet Muhammad .
To be vigilant in performing the obligatory and seek His proximity through the recommended acts as much as possible.
For the mentioned meanings to have such a stronghold on the person’s heart that they are continuous in their remembrance of Him in the best way possible.
So What Should I Do?

There are two particular things that are specifically or implicitly mentioned by Imam Al-Bayhaqi that we can focus on when trying to increase our love for God. The first is to follow the example of the Prophet and the second is to be consistent in His remembrance.

The great scholar and exegete Ibn Kathir mentioned when commenting on the verse of the Quran…

“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of God an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day and [who] remembers God often,” Al-Ahzab 33:21
…that this pattern is in his speech, actions, and internal states.

Many times when we think of the example of the Messenger we think of particular actions or statements, but to follow him is to do more than this. It is to also seek the internal states that accompanied those external actions and statements; concepts such as sincerity, integrity, honesty, humility, generosity, courage, forgiveness, etc. As such one of the ways that we can increase in our love for God is to increase in our love of His messenger. This can be accomplished through a deep study of his life and his characteristics, while continuously seeking to follow his practical example in our daily lives.

The other thing that we can do to increase our love for God is to engage constantly in His remembrance. Imam Al-Bayhaqi actually spends much of the chapter on this concept and mentions a large number of traditions highlighting the importance of remembering God and the merits of particular supplications and actions. Here we will mention only two, and anyone who is interesting in more detail can refer to books such as Riyad al-Salihin of al-Nawawi and The Fortress of the Muslim.

The first is a tradition wherein the Messenger said:

“The most beloved words to God are ‘O my Lord you are exalted above all imperfection and to You is all praise, blessed is Your name, exalted are You, and there is no god except You.

And the most hated words to God is for a person to say to his brother, ‘Be mindful of God,’ and for his brother to respond with, ‘Worry about yourself.'”
This tradition gives us a severe reminder about arrogance but it also highlights the merit of this particular phrase.

Another tradition states,

“Two words, they are light on the tongue, heavy on the scales, and beloved to the Most Merciful: Glory and praise are to God and Glorified is God the Most Great.” (Al-Bukhari & Muslim).


In this [discussion] we dealt with the importance of love for God, showing some of the evidences for its obligation and discussing some of its signs. However, Al-Bayhaqi did not leave us without action items and thus we were reminded also of the importance of following the Messenger and remembering God as critical means for attaining His pleasure.

May He, the Loving, increase us in our love for Him and soften our hearts to His remembrance.

Source – OnIslam – Jamaal Diwan


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