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Last Updated: 2013/01/20
Summary of question
What should a person do if he wishes to be firm and steadfast in his beliefs?
question
I wish to know what a person is required to do, if he wants to be firm and steadfast in his beliefs.
Concise answer
To understand religion and acquire spiritual perfection, the period of youth is a golden and blessed opportunity. Our religious beliefs are not only about knowing and learning; in fact they have also more to do with practical wayfaring and self-reconstruction.  However, the basis of beliefs is cognition or knowledge of God. In order for a person to acquire such knowledge he has to, as per the Quran, know himself and the universe. Studying books and contemplation over the world will lead him to a rational understanding of God. However, knowledge of the “self” is more important and significant due to the fact that it leads to knowledge of God. There are two ways to gain self-knowledge: One is to ponder over one’s “nafs” (self), the effects and qualities of his nafs which can guide us towards our creator. Secondly, journey in the “self” which includes four stages:  a) solitude with the self, b) solitude with God, c) living away from one’s own homeland, d) union and separation.  Two important points should also be taken into account: One is practical adherence to religious laws and injunctions (which is called ‘piety’ in religious terminology); second, having an attachment or love of God and His noble servants (i.e. the prophets and imams).  These two help increase and fortify the iman (belief).
Detailed Answer
To decide to change one’s vision and belief and to strengthen one’s faith in God is a highly valuable and sacred move. It is necessary to attach importance to it and to strive patiently. One should not be happy with his superficial understanding of religious matters; rather it is necessary to restudy and deepen one’s belief. In order to attain this objective, there are two routes that need to be traversed together. One is the consolidation of beliefs in scientific, rational and philosophical aspects; the other is the internalization of beliefs and knowledge of God through an esoteric journey.  There is no doubt that over and above to it, practical adherence to moral rules and religious rules and also establishing emotional union which is love of God and noble servants is necessary as it will help strengthen the iman (faith). In this respect, we shall now explain the four aspects:
1. Strengthening scientific knowledge:
It is necessary for a Muslim to believe in the fundamentals of faith with his own insight and understanding, and he cannot follow anyone in this respect i.e. he cannot accept the word of another who knows, simply because he has said it.  Moreover, the beliefs that are based on contemplation and research  lead to consolidation of beliefs and further adherence because believing in something is different from  having knowledge of ideological beliefs.  Perhaps, there are people who have knowledge of monotheism but they do not believe in it. The Holy Quran says about pharaohs: “And they rejected those Signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof: so see what was the end of those who acted corruptly!”[1]
The first step for a person to take is to contemplate over himself and the world in which he is living. Is this world real? If it is, where do I stand in it?  Does the universe have sense or it does not? And finally, does the world have a wise and knowledgeable creator? Obviously, a positive or negative response to each of the above questions will impact our course of action. The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) says: "May Allah bless the man who knows wherefrom he has come; where he is and where he will go".[2] These significant words of Imam Ali visualize this sort of self-consciousness.
Hence, the first step you will have to take is to know God and to try, as far as possible, to further your knowledge in this regard. Make your efforts to understand the attributes of the creator of the Lord of the Universe. In order to tread this path, you need to contemplate more than you need to do anything else. Try to benefit from others’ constructive and helpful thoughts. After passing this stage and realizing the fact that this world is not and cannot be without a wise and mighty creator, the question arises whether the Lord of the universe has determined a way for human perfection or He has left man in the hand of his own counsel. This is where the discussion concerning prophethood and leadership arises.
In this regard and in order to prove the prophethood of the prophets, the Quran is the biggest guide and miracle which we can turn and make recourse to.  There is no doubt that by reading and understanding this heavenly book and pondering over its verses and arguments, we will come to understand the truth as well as the importance of certain discussions concerning resurrection, leadership and other divine teachings.
2. Esoteric journey:
There are different types of belief in God and one has to traverse a special way for attaining each of them. Contemplation and journeying within the self (nafs) is one of those ways which the Holy Quran has also called unto mankind to tread.  Self-contemplation has different instances which are required for spiritual wayfaring and progress. That is to say, knowledge of the ‘self’ serves as a prelude to knowledge of God as the Holy Prophet said: "He who knows himself, knows his Lord."[3], [4] This kind of knowledge is effective and lasting because of its being esoteric. We will now draw the reader’s attention to two aspects of knowledge of the “self”:
2-1 Pondering over the existential specifics and qualities of one’s own self, an action which acquaints him with the very profound existential effects and secrets of his own reality. Self-consciousness helps us know God, His attributes and acts. In other words, it acquaints us with monotheism, its levels and with the universe and truths about it.
2-2. Journeying in the self and its effects: This stage is profound and difficult but the very same journey in the “self” is considered to be the closest and shortest way to Allah. In this method which is done by way of a special method and procedure, the wayfarer cuts off from everything returning to his own reality. His reality which is from the light gets manifested and then the gate of knowledge and intuition (intellectual discover) opens to him. The journey starts and then something happens which is inexplicable.
In this respect, we will elaborate on how this spiritual journey which strengthens and consolidates the belief takes place.
1-2-2: Solitude: If we ponder over ourselves, we will see that we are alone and severed from all things which we thought to be with. We are always in a special solitary state and we are “ourselves” and what we have in ourselves. It is only then that some of the realities of the verses of Quran are revealed to us to some extent, verses which are referring to loneliness. We are alone but we are unmindful of it. We will realize it at the time of death and when we are transferred to the next world.[5]
2-2-2: Solitude with God: In a solitary condition, man sees himself with God only, the Creator and Sustainer. He sees that he is with the Truth and in communion with Him. In our solitude with God, we are only with Him and He is with us.[6]
In this position, if we are successful in our journey, the light of Tawhid (monotheism) will begin to enlighten us internally. Polytheism will be shaken and that the rules of faith (iman) will come to the fore; the barriers will go away and we will be awakened. We do not consider anyone as our master and contriver except Him. We believe all benefits and losses are from Him; judgment is His; beauty and glory are His and are seen for Him. At this stage we see that that there is no “guardian”, “helper” and “worshipped” other than Him.[7] There are, however, some people who wrongly believe that there is someone else who help and guard them and who they worship. Thus, they have gone astray.”[8]
3. Living away from one’s own homeland: In one’s solitude, if a person can turn to himself and embark on a journey within his “self”, not only does he find himself with his Sustainer but he will also understand through intuitive knowledge that he has stayed away from his original place and lost something. In other words, he feels like he is a stranger with a big gap between him and his real place which is the position of proximity and complete intuition. There is a barrier between him and his real place.
He clearly feels the difficulties of being away and separated, a feeling whose nature no one knows except those who are involved. It is not something to be written or described in words.
4. Union and separation: As the wayfarer continues to traverse the path to the Truth, he will come to know that he is closer to the Truth despite he being away and separated from it. That is to say, we are close to Him and He is also very close to us.[9] And we see that the thing that we thought to be good for us has only severed to be a barrier and hindrance:
In short, we see that despite being separated, He is closer to us than everything else. He is even closer to us than we are to ourselves.[10] Here we notice that the obstructions or barriers which are in between us and God are with us and in us; otherwise there is no reason to be deprived of seeing Him. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He encompasses everything and is All-Knowledgeable and Omnipresent.
These barriers and obstructions are our deeds, intentions, morals, tendencies, attachments and paying attention to this and that and to us ourselves. The way to salvation is to purify ourselves from everything and repel all other things from us. It is through purification of ourselves and breaking away from all other things that we can remember and seek Him and attain the rank of shuhud (intellectual intuition). There is no doubt that this detachment does not mean living an isolated and reclusive life; in fact, one must be among people but not with people. That is, he should not take part in ungodly activities but he should help in promotion of good and charity.
The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (a.s.) says, “Arif (gnostic) is one who has cognition of himself, then gets himself free and purifies himself of all those things that keep him away.[11]
In any case, what bridges the gap between a person and his Lord is practical wayfaring and adherence to religious laws and the holy Shari’ah. In reality, the thing that helps an individual see the face of his Lord is cognition of the reality of one’s own “self” and moving on towards his original position and this is not possible except through piety and continence.[12]
3. Practical adherence:
Self-purification which, in our religious sources, is termed as “greater Jihad” is the most important cause of perfection and consolidation of faith.  As well, performing the acts of worship correctly and precisely by observing the rules, etiquettes and manners will impact one’s beliefs positively making them stronger.  According to the Holy Quran and Islamic traditions, man’s actions are very effective in consolidating or weakening religious beliefs. The Holy Quran says:  “And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.”[13]
It goes without saying that bad and sinful actions gradually weaken man’s beliefs and even leads him to disbelief (kufr). In this respect, the Holy Quran says: “In the long run evil in the extreme will be the End of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of Allah, and held them up to ridicule.”[14]
4. Creating an emotional bond:
One of man‘s important aspects with which he is characterized is the emotion which plays an effective role in his beliefs. Emotion is so important an aspect of the human life that in some traditions religion has been described as being equal to love. Imam Baqir (a.s.) said: “Religion is not but love.”[15]
Real love makes man obey the beloved and do in the best possible manner whatever the beloved wants him to do. That is why Imam Sadiq (a.s.) recites the following verse after the aforementioned hadith: “Say: If you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”[16]
 

[1] The Arabic version of the verse is:
«وَ جَحَدُواْ بهِا وَ اسْتَیقَنَتْهَا أَنفُسُهُمْ ظُلْمًا وَ عُلُوًّا  فَانظُرْ کَیفَ کاَنَ عَقِبَةُ الْمُفْسِدِین‏» (Naml: 14 )
[2]  «رحم اللّٰه امرء أعد لنفسه و استعد لرمسه و علم من أین و فی أین و إلى أین»  Faiz Kashani, Muhammad Mohsen, Al-Wafi, vol.1, p. 116, Isfahan, first edition, 1406.
[3] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.2, p. 32, Al-Wafa Institute, Beirut, 1404 A.H.
[4] For further information in this regard, vide: Tafsir al-Mizan, Allamah Tabatabai, under 105 of Surah al-Maidah.
[5] «...و یَأتِینافَرداً» He comes to Us alone. «وَکُلُّهُم آتِیه یَومَ القِیامَۀ فَرداً»  All of them (being in the heavens and on earth) come on the Day of Judgment alone.  وَ لَقَدْ جِئْتُمُونا فُرادى‏ کَما خَلَقْناکُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَ تَرَکْتُمْ ما خَوَّلْناکُمْ وَراءَ ظُهُورِکُمْ وَ ما نَرى‏ مَعَکُمْ شُفَعاءَکُمُ الَّذینَ زَعَمْتُمْ أَنَّهُمْ فیکُمْ شُرَکاءُ لَقَدْ تَقَطَّعَ بَیْنَکُمْ وَ ضَلَّ عَنْکُمْ ما کُنْتُمْ تَزْعُمُونَ  And certainly you have come to Us alone as We created you at first, and you have left behind your backs the things which We gave you, and We do not see with you your intercessors about whom you asserted that they were (Allah's) associates in respect to you; certainly the ties between you are now cut off and what you asserted is gone from you.
[6] «هُوَ مَعَکُم أَینَ مَا کُنتُم»، He is with you wherever you are. Al-Hadith, 4.
[7] «أَلَم تَعلَم أَنَّ اللهَ لَهُ مُلکُ السَّماواتِ وَألارضِ وَمالکُم مِن دونِ اللهِ مِن وَلِیٍ وَلا نَصِیرٍ» (Do you not know that Allah's is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and that besides Allah you have no guardian or helper? ) Al-Baqarah, 107.
[8]  «وَیَعبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللهِ مالا یَنفَعُهُم وَلا یَضُرُّهُم » (And they serve besides Allah that which neither profits them nor causes them harm) Al-Furqan, 55.
[9] «ونحن أقرب إلیه من حبل الورید» (And We are nearer to Him than the jugular vein.”, Qaf, 16.
[10] « واعلموا أن الله یحول بین المرء و قلبه ». (And know that Allah cometh in between the man and his own heart, and that He it is unto Whom ye will be gathered. ) Al-Anfal, 24
[11] « العارف من عرف نفسه فأعتقها ونزهها عن کل ما یبعدها» Amadi, Ghurar al-Hekam, p. 240, hadith 4841, Propagation Office Publications, Qom 1366 (1986).
[12] Shuja’ei Muhammad, articles, Soroush, Tehran, first edition,  1372, vol.3, pp.223-224.
[13] Al-Hijr, 99.
[14] Al-Room, 10.
[15] Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol.8, p. 79, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah.
[16] Aal-e Imaran, 31.

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