Chapter 3: Religious Faith

The foregoing discussion has made it clear that without having an ideal and faith man cannot pass a healthy life nor can he render a fruitful service to humanity and human culture. A man not having an ideal and faith will either be submerged in self-seeking or will be converted into a lifeless robot groping in darkness and not knowing his duty in respect of the moral and social questions of life. He will perforce show queer reaction to such questions.

A man who adheres to a school, an ideology or faith, knows his responsibility clearly. But a man whose responsibility is not made clear by a school or a system, will pass his life in bewilderment and will sometimes be drawn to this direction and sometimes to that. He will become an incongruous being. In, fact there cannot be two opinions about the necessity of being attached to a definite school or an ideology.

It is important to note that it is religious faith alone that can convert a man into a true believer and can suppress his selfishness and self-seeking under the impact of a doctrine and an ideology. Religious faith creates in the individual a sort of unqualified submission so that he can no longer entertain any doubt even about the most trivial doctrines of his school. He holds his school dear to his heart, regards his life without it as meaningless and absurd and supports his ideology with zeal and fervour.

Distinctions Of Religious Faith

Religious tendencies impel man to make efforts even at the cost of his natural and individualistic feelings. He sometimes sacrifices his life and his social position for the sake of his faith.

This is possible only when the ideal of a man attains an aspect of sanctity and gains absolute control of his existence. It is religious force alone which imparts sanctity to an ideal and imposes its authority on man.

It is true that often people sacrifice their life, their property and all that is dear to them not for the sake of any ideal or religious faith but under the pressure of psychological complexes, malice, revenge or as a severe reaction to the feeling of being oppressed and suppressed. Such cases are common in every part of the world.

But there is a difference between a religious and a non-religious ideal. As the involvement of religious belief imparts sanctity to an ideal, sacrifices are made for the sake of it most voluntarily and naturally. A task performed voluntarily shows a sort of choice, but a task performed under the influence of complexes and perturIbng inner pressures, means a sort of explosion. Evidently there is a vast difference between the two.

Furthermore, should the world conception of a man be purely material and based exclusively on perceptible realities, he will find every kind of social and human idealism contrary to the perceptible realities of his relations with the world as felt by him on any particular occasion.

The American psychologist and philosopher of the early 20th century, William James says: "The outcome of a perceptional conception is only selfishness, not idealism. Idealization will not go beyond the limits of fantasy if it is not based on a world conception whose logical result is the ideal in question. Man should make a world of his own ideas, consisting of the realities existing within himself, and live with it happily. Anyhow, if idealism stems from a religious belief, it will be based on a conception of the world, the logical result of which will be the espousal of social ideals. Religious faith is a sort of friendly relationship between man and the world, or in other words, a sort of harmony between man and universal ideals. In contrast, non-religious beliefs and ideals are a sort of breaking away from the external world and building an imaginary world which in no way finds any support from the former".

Religious belief not only prescribes for man a number of duties irrespective of his natural inclinations, but also completely changes his view about the world, in the structure of which he begins to discern new elements. The dry, cold, mechanical and material world is transformed into a living and conscious world. Religious belief changes man's impression about the universe and the creation. William James says: "The world which the religious thinking presents to us is not only this very material world in a changed form but also includes many features of which a materialist cannot think"1.

Besides all this, every human being has an innate tendency to believe in truth and sacred and adorable realities. Man has many hidden capabilities ready to be fostered and promoted. All his inclinations are not material. He has spiritual tendencies so which are innate and not acquired. This is a fact which is supported by science.

William James has said: "Let any number of our motives and incentives have their source in this world, but as most of our desires and inclinations are not in keeping with any material calculations, it is evident that they spring from the metaphysical world".2

As spiritual inclinations do exist, they should be fostered and fostered well and carefully. Otherwise they are likely to deviate from the right course and cause irreparable loss.

Another psychologist, Erich Fromm says: "There is none who is not in need of a religion and does not want limits for his orientation and a subject for his pastime. A man himself may not distinguish between his religious and non-religious beliefs and may believe that he has no religion. He may regard his attachment to the apparently non-religious objectives, such as wealth, power or success as simply a sign of his interest in practical affairs and a pursuit of his own welfare. The question is not, whether a man has or has not a religion. The question is what religion he has"3.
What this psychologist means is that a man cannot live without hallowing and adoring something. If he does not acknowledge and worship only Allah, he is bound to recognize something else as a supreme reality and to make it the object of his faith and worship.

As man is in need of an ideal and a faith and by his instinct seeks something which he may hallow and adore, the only way open to us is to augment our religious faith, which is the only faith which can really bring man under its sway.

The Holy Qur'an is the first Book which has described religious faith as a sort of concord between man and the entire creation:

"Do they seek anything other than the religion of Allah? But to Him submits whosoever is in the heavens and the earth." (Surah Al-e-Imran, 3:83).

The Holy Qur'an has also described religious faith as a part of the innate nature of man:

"Be devoted to the upright religion. That is the nature in which Allah has created man." (Surah ar-Rum, 30:30).

Effects And Advantages Of Faith

We have already referred to the effects of religious faith. But in order to explain the advantages of this valuable asset of life and a spiritual wealth in a better way, we propose to discuss them more elaborately.

Tolstoy, the Russian writer and philosopher says:

"Faith is that thing with which people live".

An Iranian poet and thinker, Hakim Nasir Khusrow addressing his son says:

"I have turned to religion because to me the world without faith is like a prison. I would never like the domain of my heart to be ruined".

Religious faith has many pleasant effects. It creates happiness and delight, promotes better social relations and reduces and relieves worries which are an essential feature of this world. Now let us explain the effect of religious faith from all these three angles:

A. Happiness And Delight

Optimism is the first effect of religious faith from the viewpoint of the creation of happiness and delight. A faithful man is optimistic about the world, the life and the creation. Religious belief gives a particular shape to man's attitude towards the world. As religion maintains that creation has a goal and that its goal is nothing but betterment and evolution, naturally religious belief affects the outlook of man and makes him optimistic about the system of the universe and the laws governing it. The attitude of a faithful man to the universe is similar to the attitude of a man living in a country about which he is sure that its systems, laws and formations are just and fair, which those who are at the helm of its affairs are sincere and well-intentioned, and that in it opportunities of making advancement are available to everyone including himself. Such a man will naturally maintain that the only thing which may keep him or anyone else backward, is the lethargy and inexperience of the person concerned, and that he and all others owe a responsibility and are required to do their duty.

A faithful man will hold himself responsible for his backwardness and will not blame his country and its administration for that. He believes that if there is anything wrong, which is because he and others like him have failed to discharge their duty properly. This feeling will naturally arouse his sense of self-respect and impel him to move forward hopefully.

In contrast a disbeliever is in the universe like a man living in a country about which he believes that its system, laws and formations are unjust and corrupt, and that he has to accept them against his will. The heart of such a man will always be full of malice. He will never think of improving himself. He will think that where everything is wrong, his own uprightness will be of no use at all. Such a man never shall enjoy the world. For him the world will always be like a dreadful prison. That is why the Holy Qur'an says:

"He who turns away from remembering Me, his life will be burdensome." (Surah Ta Ha, 20:124).

Indeed it is faith which expands our life internally and saves us from the pressure of spiritual factors.

From the viewpoint of the creation of happiness and delight the second effect of religious faith is the illumination of heart. As man sees the world illuminated by the light of truth, his heart and soul are also illuminated. Faith is a lamp, which illuminates his inmost. In contrast, a disbeliever finds the world dark, dingy and meaningless, and as a result his own heart remains dark in his supposedly dark world.

The third effect of religious faith from the angle of happiness and delight is the expectation that good efforts produce good results.

From purely material point of view, the world is indifferent as to who goes along the right and just path and who goes along the wrong and unjust path. The result of a deed depends only on one thing, namely the amount of the effort put in it.

But according to the viewpoint of a faithful man the world is not indifferent and neutral in regard to the effort of those who do what is right and those who do wrong. The world's reaction to the effort of these two groups is not the same. The system of the creation supports those who make efforts for the cause of truth, justice and integrity.

The Holy Qur'an says:

"If you help Allah, He will help you." (Surah Muhammad, 47:7).

"Allah does not deprive the righteous of their reward" (Surah at-Tawbah, 9:120; Surah Hud, 11: 115; Surah Yusuf, 12:90).

The fourth effect of religious faith from the viewpoint of the creation of happiness and delight is mental satisfaction. Man by nature seeks success and the very idea of achieving it delights his heart. The apprehension of dark future frightens him and disturbs his peace. There are two things which make man happy and satisfied:

(i) Effort

(ii) Satisfaction in regard to the conditions prevailing in his environment.

The success of a student depends on two things: firstly, his own effort; and secondly, the suitability of the atmosphere of the school and the encouragement he receives from the school authorities. If a hard-working student has no confidence in the atmosphere of his school and in his examiners, he will all the year round be apprehensive of an unfair treatment and will be seized by a sense of anxiety.

Man knows his duty to himself. This aspect does not cause him any worry because what disturbs a man is a sense of doubt and uncertainty. Man is sure about all that concerns himself. What disturbs him and is not clear to him is his duty to the world.

The questions which perturb him most are: Are good deeds of any use? Do truth and honesty serve any useful purpose? Is deprivation the end of doing one's duty? These are the questions which cause anxiety and concern in the most dreadful form.

Religious faith restores man's confidence in the world and allays his distrust about its behaviour towards him. That is why we say that one of the effects of religious faith is mental peace.

Another effect of religious faith from the angle of delight and happiness is the better enjoyment of the pleasures known as spiritual pleasures. There are two types of pleasures that man can feel. Those of the first type are related to one of the five senses and are felt as the result of a contact between an organ of human body and an external object. The eye gets pleasure through seeing, the ear through hearing, the mouth through tasting and the sense of touch through touching. The other type of pleasures are those which are related to the spirit and the inner senses of man. They have no connection with any particular organ and are not obtained through contact with any external object. Such is the case with the pleasures which one gets from doing good or rendering service to others, from enjoying respect and popularity, or from one's success or the success of one's child. These pleasures are neither especially related to any organ nor are they under the direct influence of any external and material factor.

Spiritual pleasures are stronger and more lasting than material pleasures. The pleasure which the true worshippers of Allah get from their worship which they perform with humility and in which they are fully absorbed, is of this nature. In the language of religion it has been described as the 'taste of faith' and the 'flavour of faith'. Faith has a flavour which is better than and superior to every other flavour. Spiritual pleasure is enhanced when a virtuous act such as the acquisition of knowledge or rendering service to others is performed or success is achieved in a task actuated by religious sense. Any act which is performed for the sake of Allah is an act of worship and is Pleasurable.

B. Role Of Faith In The Improvement Of Social Relations

Like some other animals man is gregarious. No individual can by himself meet all his needs. It is essential that life should be led on somewhat cooperative basis. Gains and obligations should be shared and a sort of division of labour should be established. Anyhow, there is one difference between man and other gregarious animals like bees etc. Other animals follow the principle of the division of labours by instinct. They have no power not to abide by this law. In contrast, man is a free agent. He has a Power of choice and performs his work of his own accord and regards it as his duty. In other words, social instinct has been forced on other gregarious animals. But though man's needs are social, no such instinct has been imposed on him. Man's social instinct exists within him in the form of an urge which can be fostered and promoted by means of education and training.

A sound social life means that all individuals respect the laws as well as the rights of each other, show friendly feelings to each other and consider justice to be sacred. In a healthy society everyone should like for others what he likes for himself and should dislike for others what he dislikes for himself. All should have confidence in each other, and their mutual confidence should be based on their spiritual qualities. Everyone should consider himself to be responsible to his society, should show the same qualities of piety and chastity in privacy and in public alike, and should do good to others without affectation of kindness. All members of society should resist tyranny and injustice and should not allow any oppressor to create any mischief. All should respect moral values and live together in complete unity and harmony like the organs of one body.

It is religious faith alone which, above all, respects truth, honours justice, encourages kindness and mutual confidence, inculcates the spirit of piety, acknowledges moral values, emboldens the individuals to resist tyranny and unites them into a homogeneous body.

Most of the outstanding men who have shed luster on the world and have shone on the firmament of history, were inspired by religious feelings.

C. Reduction Of Worries

Human life consists of successes and achievements, joys and delights as well as failures, afflictions, grief and worries. Many afflictions and failures can be forestalled or remedied, though only after considerable effort. Evidently it is man's responsibility to fight nature and convert the misfortunes of life into good fortunes. Anyhow, many of the bitter events cannot be forestalled, nor can they be counteracted. For example, take the case of old age. One has to become gradually aged and to advance towards decay. Old age, debility and concomitant diseases and disabilities make the life of an aged man difficult. Fear of death and the apprehension of leaving the world to others is always painful.

Religious faith creates in man a power of resistance and makes the bitterness of life sweet. A faithful man knows that everything in this world has a method. Should it not be possible for him to get rid of the bitterness of life, he would be compensated by Allah in some other way, provided he shows right reaction to his misfortune. To a faithful and pious man old age is pleasant and more enjoyable than young age for two reasons: firstly, he does not believe old age to be the end of everything and secondly, he spends all his spare time with great relish in adoring and remembering Allah.

The attitude of a faithful man to death is different from that of a disbeliever. To a faithful man death does not mean annihilation and total destruction. It is only shifting from the transient and little world to the everlasting and big world. Death is moving from the world of action to the world of obtaining results. As such a faithful man counteracts his fear of death by engaging himself in good deeds called by religion "good work".

It is admitted as an indisputable fact by the psychiatrists that most of the psychic diseases resulting from mental worries and bitterness of life are more commonly found among the non-religious men. The religious men having strong faith are comparatively immune from these ailments. A malady of our modern times which has emerged as the result of the weakening of religious faith is the increase in the incidence of the psychic and neural diseases.

  • 1. Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 508. (New York, 1929).
  • 2. Psychoanalysis and Religion, op. cit., p. 508. (New York, 1929).
  • 3. Psychoanalysis and Religion, op. cit., p. 508. (New York, 1929).