What is your faith, asked the person sitting next to me at an airport transit lounge whom I had befriended while waiting for my next flight, that was delayed by several hours. I had started a conversation with him which turned into some kind of metaphysical discussion about the purpose of human life, when he politely asked me the above question. I, in turn, asked him, What do you mean by faith, he replied, You know, everybody has a faith, except, of course, atheists. I continued, This does not explain what is meant by faith. To this, he gave the following explanation: A Christian's faith is Christianity; a Jew's faith is Judaism; a Muslim's faith is Islam; and so on. It seemed to me that my new friend thought that he had a good deal of understanding in this matter. I interrupted, But you are talking about religion. He continued, Yes, kind of but religion is different from faith. For example, a Christian's faith is Christianity but his religion could be Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. . . According to my friend's logic, then, a Muslim's faith is Islam and his religion could be well Sunni or Shia etc. But that is not how most Muslims think, I told my friend; Muslims think that their faith is Islam—which is their religion. I then asked my friend, What do you mean by religion, At this point, he gave a long sermon type lecture: Religion is too complex to understand. It is a private matter between man and God, and your faith is your personal subjective belief in Him in whatever way you prefer. God is merciful, very forgiving. So, He will forgive any mistakes we humans make. It really makes us all feel very good that when we commit sins and pray and ask for forgiveness from God, He forgives. All praise be to Him who is so forgiving. When God is so generous and gracious that, whether or not we really understand the meaning of faith, or any other religious concept for that matter; and since He is going to forgive us anyway, then why bother exploring these concepts in great detail and depth. Let us keep following what our ancestors and scholars have explained. After all, they were great people and great scholars. They traveled long distances, suffered greatly in search of truth and knowledge and took extreme care to preserve and transmit that knowledge to us so that our lives become easier and successful in the sight of God. We will get all the rewards and go to heaven by simply practicing our faiths the way our forefathers told us. It is wrong to question and deviate from what they have passed on to us.
At this point, I decided not to ask any further questions from my friend. I sensed a bit of uneasiness in him. Otherwise, I would have liked to ask: What does he mean by God's forgiveness? By His mercy, His generosity, His graciousness, and His praise? And what is the meaning of prayer? I had first asked a simple question as to what is meant by faith. Not only did he not answer my question, several other questions entered my mind as well. I told him that I have immense respect for all the great works of all those great scholars. But they were limited by the knowledge available to them at their time. Tremendous advancements have since then been made in various branches of knowledge such as Physical, Biological, and Social Sciences and Humanities; and we can better explain the religious concepts in the light of this new knowledge—especially in the fields of anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, embryology, neurology, and astronomy. My friend seemed perplexed at this statement, and he commented, What do these various fields of knowledge have to do with faith or religion and he repeated his earlier statement that faith is a private matter between man and God. So, my friend had completed a full circle and came back to the beginning of our conversation. I felt that explaining one concept in terms of another concept and then building a circular chain of arguments is not a satisfactory approach. I told my friend that I am not satisfied with this approach of explaining faith by using circular arguments and want to investigate it further. My friend, on the other hand said, that he is fully and completely satisfied with this approach and has a good feeling about it. At this point, an announcement was made that our flights were ready to depart. Then we parted he on his flight, I on mine.
I kept wondering during my flight: Isn't life like this, too? Everyone is waiting in the transit lounge called Earth for one's flight—to the next world. But of course, there is a significant difference. Unlike the daily flights originating from different places and going to various destinations, life's flight originates from a single source and takes us to a single destination.
Meaning and Definition of Imaan or Faith
The root of the word Imaan is a-m-n which means: to be calm and quiet in one's heart; to be protected from fear; trust worthiness and truthfulness (Taj al-Urus) . Iman or Faith means to accept truthfully, to be convinced, to verify something, to rely upon or have confidence in something. Iman is usually translated in English as faith or belief, and faith in turn signifies acceptance without proof or argument, without reference to reason or thought, knowledge or insight. According to the Quran, Iman or Faith is conviction which is based upon reason and knowledge; a conviction that results from full mental acceptance and intellectual satisfaction; the kind of conviction that gives one a feeling of inner contentment and peace. And a Momin believer is one who accepts truth in such a way that it ensures his own peace and helps him to safeguard the peace and security of the rest of mankind. In fact, Al-Momin is one of the attributes of Allah Almighty Himself Quran Chapter 59 Verse 23
The Importance of Reason in Imaan or Faith
The Quranic view of reason and its place in human life deserves careful consideration. Man has been granted a mind which enables him to think, and through the instrument of intellect, is supposed to build up a system of knowledge. Reason converts the raw data supplied by the senses into knowledge and the Quran assigns to reason an important role in life: The worst of beasts in the sight of Allah Almighty, they are the deaf and dumb who do not use their intellect to understand. Quran Chapter 8 Verse 22
This is a graphic description of the degradation of man when he does not employ reason to his service. Such a man, the Quran tells us, not only lives a worthless and debased life here but also renders himself unfit for the hereafter which he enters after death: There are many among Jinns and human beings, who lead such a life as makes it obvious that they are meant for hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not; they are like cattle — nay, are worse; they are the heedless. Quran Chapter 7 Verse 179