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Pursuing Yaqeen: How to Build Unshakeable Faith and Trust in God | Blog


Published: December 23, 2023 • Updated: January 8, 2024

Author: Sh. Mohammad Elshinawy

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

The meaning of Yaqeen in Islam

And [recall] when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” He said, “Do you not believe?” Abraham said, “Of course, I do, but just so my heart can be reassured.”

The fortification of one’s faith should occupy the mind of every virtuous person throughout their lives. Why else would it be etched in the Qur’an until the end of time that even the great Prophet Ibrāhīm (as)—despite “of course, believing”—was determined to attain even greater heights of certainty, except that he feared his faith falling prey to satanic whispers, or being fractured under the hammers of hardship?
Allah, the Almighty, says in His Noble Book,

And among humanity are those who worship Allah on the verge [of faith]; if some good reaches him, he is reassured by it; but if some trial befalls him, he turns his back [on faith]—losing out on this world and the hereafter. That is truly the clearest loss.

Hence, humanity ultimately yields only two classes of people: those reassured by their faith, and those whose faith depends on being reassured. Put differently, people will either invest their lives in active pursuit of certainty like Ibrāhīm (as), or they will be haunted in this life and the afterlife by letting themselves sink into the swamps of doubt.
A crystal-clear Qur’anic reality is that while Allah grants this world to those He loves and those He hates, He only grants conviction and certainty to those He loves. But like all treasures, conviction’s value is based on its rarity. Abū Bakr b. Abī Maryam narrates that the early scholars would say, “Nothing has descended to this earth in greater scarcity than certainty.” However, unlike the limited supply of the finite material world, certainty is available to every sincere seeker who makes the sacrifices needed to drink from its fountains and resist its erosion in their hearts. We find this sacred formula in the statement of the Prophet ﷺ,

The earliest of this nation will find strength in its austerity (zuhd) and certainty (yaqīn), and its last will face destruction in its stinginess (bukhl) and false hopes (amal).

Notice the profound interplay between these respective pairs. The certainty of the early Muslims inspired their austerity, for it was their surety of Allah (yaqīn) that allowed them to resist clinging to worldly pleasures at all costs. Likewise, it was their indifference (zuhd) to this world that allowed them to sacrifice it for faith when necessary. On the other hand, the stinginess of many later Muslims is based on their false hopes, as it is their utopian fantasies (amal) about this life that lead to stinginess (bukhl) and an inability to sacrifice for God. It is that very stinginess that bars them from attaining greater certainty in their hearts.
As uncomfortable a truth as it may be, the root cause behind the frail religious commitment of many later Muslims is the absence of adequate certainty in their hearts more so than the lack of Islamic knowledge in their minds. As Sufyān al-Thawrī (rA) once said, “If certainty were to land in the heart as it should, the hearts would take flight out of longing for Paradise and fearing the Hellfire.” Similarly, Luqmān the Wise (rA) once advised, “My dear son, the labor [of faith] cannot be shouldered except with certainty. Whoever’s certainty wavers, then his actions waver as well.” Similarly, we even find Allah (st) declaring this about the most fundamental acts of submission to Him, the daily prayers,

And seek help through patience and prayer, and it is indeed a burden except for the humble—those certain that they will meet their Lord and to Him they will return.

So whenever the sacred knowledge of Revelation is taken lightly, and its imperatives are observed carelessly, this Qur’anic principle should reverberate in our minds. Highlighting the power of certainty as a driving force towards all good, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (rA) said,

Only through certainty was Paradise ever sought, and only through certainty was the Hellfire ever fled from, and only through certainty were [proper] intentions for the obligations made, and only through certainty was adhering to the truth endured. It is a profound favor [of God] to be spared of trials, for by Allah, everyone appeared comparable during ease, and then they were separated when the trial descended.

The Prophet ﷺ would often appeal to Allah to be kept armored by an ironclad certainty that would make life’s inevitable blows bearable. In one famous supplication, he would say,

...and [grant us, O Allah] a share of certainty (yaqīn) that would lighten for us the calamities of this world.

Indeed, only with the sword of certainty can a person slay the phantoms of grief over the past and anxiety about the future, which paralyze countless souls who are plagued with doubt. Only a heart laced with certainty refuses to blame others for what Allah—in His perfect justice and wisdom—withholds, or risks angering Allah in order to please people, or over-depends on transient beings that were created from dust and will soon be reduced back to it. Only a person whose heart is liberated through certainty is not left stranded to understand life’s hardships solely in materialistic terms. Allah (st) says about the faithless,

They [only] know the apparent nature of this worldly life. As for the hereafter, they are with regards to it completely oblivious.

As for the people of certainty, what they witness with their eyes and heart converge. They view this transient world through His promise that every pain of the believer here (in this life) will very soon mean pleasure there (in the afterlife). Their insight illustrates for them how they will be elevated for their patience, and how they are being cleansed through their ordeals, thereby enabling them to be content in the shade of their conviction.
Finally, and most fundamentally, certainty in faith is a requirement for any good deed to be rewarded in the Hereafter, as the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “I testify that none is worthy of worship but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; no servant meets Allah with these statements—not doubting them—except that he will enter Paradise.” In light of this, Bilāl ibn Sa‘d (rA) would say to people,

O servants of the Most Gracious, know that you are working these short days for truly long days, and in this perishing world for a permanent world, and in this realm of grief and exhaustion for a realm of bliss and immortality. But whoever will not act with certainty in that, let them not trouble themselves.

Similarly, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī (rA)—a companion of the Prophet ﷺ—said,

Oh, how remarkable is the sleeping of the intelligent and their eating, and how it surpasses the sleeplessness of the foolish and their fasting. A speck’s weight of righteousness from a person with piety (taqwā) and certainty (yaqīn) is superior to, heavier, and greater than a mountainload of worship from the deluded.

By that, he was referring to both the validity and multiplied value of a good deed in relation to its doer’s degree of conviction.

Three Steps to Certainty

(1) Build faith by studying islam

The sacrifice for certainty must often begin with a dedication to comprehend what makes Islam an objective truth, an undeniable reality, and the farthest thing from blind faith. Being familiar with the explanatory power of Islam, and its intellectual and moral greatness, is the first step for many people to experience the sweetness of faith firsthand. The Qur’an reminds us that the “clear truth” of Islam (among many other proofs) justifies confidence in God:

So put your trust in Allah, for you are certainly upon the clear truth.

Nobody is above learning and relearning this, and hence some of the earliest scholars such as Khālid b. Maʿdān (rA) said, “Study certainty (yaqīn) just as you study the Qur’an, so that you can recognize it [as truth] for yourselves, for even I study it.” Even among the companions, we find Jundab b. ‘Abd Allāh (rA) saying, “We were strong youngsters alongside the Prophet ﷺ who learned faith before we learned the Qur’an. Then, we learned the Qur’an and were increased in faith by it.” Ibn Masʿūd (rA), another companion, added, “...and those after us will find it easy to memorize the Qur’an, and difficult to act upon it.”

(2) Build faith by avoiding sinful acts

The next sacrifice required on the path of certainty is to refrain from sinful acts. One of the dreadful effects of disobeying Allah is that each and every sin committed by a person causes spiritual damage to their heart. Since the heart is the locus of recognizing God on an experiential level, the glorification of God bleeds from every heart in proportion to the wounds it incurs at the hands of sinfulness. For this reason, Allah (st) invites us back to certainty by mending those wounds with repentance, and by reinfusing the heart with glorification anew:

So be patient, for the promise of Allah is certainly true, and seek forgiveness for your sins and glorify the praises of your Lord morning and evening.

Abū Sulaymān al-Dārānī (rA) was once asked, “How is being acquainted with God achieved?” He said, “Through obeying Him.” Note how he wisely linked knowing God to one’s pious conduct and not just their textual knowledge. In another report, when ʿAbd al-Wāḥid b. Zayd (rA) encountered a devout monk en route, he insisted to stop to benefit from his advice. The austere worshiper only said, “O ‘Abd al-Wāḥid, if certain knowledge (‘ilm al-yaqīn) is what you’re after, erect an iron wall between yourself and your worldly desires.”

(3) Build faith by seeking righteous company

The third sacrifice necessary for those serious about cementing their certainty is to minimize in their surroundings every factor that threatens it. Just as we must distance ourselves from atmospheres conducive to sinful behavior, we must also quarantine ourselves away from those infected with doubt. As Allah (st) said,

So be patient, for the promise of Allah is undoubtedly true. And do not let those without certainty cause you to waver in faith.

Hence, there should be no ambiguity around the fact that unnecessarily socializing with doubters will gradually erode a believer’s certainty. And once that occurs, a person will not only falter in leading their lives with consistent strides towards Allah’s pleasure, but will also be disqualified from being a guiding light for their brethren in humanity. As Allah (st) said,

And We made from among them leaders, guiding by Our command, when they were patient and [when] they were certain of Our signs.

It is from the mercy of Allah that religious leadership is not granted to those with flimsy faith, so that they do not sabotage the faith of others when they inevitably crumble. However, regardless of who lives as a leader, king, knight, or pawn, the “chess match” must someday end and all the players must be returned to the same “box”—the dark box about which the Prophet ﷺ said,

As for the believer (or: “the certain”), he will say, “That [man you ask about] was Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. He came to us with clear proofs and guidance, so we accepted him and followed him.” It will be said to him, “Rest in comfort, we have verified that you had actual certainty.” As for the hypocrite (or: “the doubter”), he will say, “I don’t know. I heard the people saying something, so I said it as well.”

Notes

1 Qur’an 2:260.
2 Qur’an 22:11.
3 Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Kitāb al-yaqīn, ed. Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawras (Beirut: Dār al-Bashāʾir, 2004), 33.
4 Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Kitāb al-zuhd, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Salām Shāhīn (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1999), 12.
5 Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī, Fatḥ al-Bārī sharḥ ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, ed. Maḥmūd b. Shaʿbān ʿabd al-Maqṣūd et al., (Medina: Maktabat al-Ghurabāʾ, 1996), 1:15; Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ, ed. Shuʿayab al-Arnaʾūṭ (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1985), 7:260.
6 Qur’an 2:45–46.
7 Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Kitab al-yaqīn.
8 Al-Tirmidhī, Sunan al-Tirmidhī, no. 3502.
9 Qur’an 30:7.
10 Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Kitāb al-yaqīn.
11 Muḥammad Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, al-Fawāʾid, ed. Muḥammad ʿAzīz Shams (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2019), 1:206.
12 Qur’an 27:79.
13 Ibn Māja, Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Māja, no. 61. 
14 Muḥammad al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān, ed. Aḥmad al-Bardūnī and Ibrāhīm Aṭfīsh (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyya, 1964), 1:40.
15 Qur’an 40:55.
16 Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Aḥmad ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī, Istinshāq nasīm al-uns min nafaḥāt riyāḍ al-quds (N.p.: al-Fārūq al-Ḥadīthah lil-Ṭibāʿah wal-Nashr, 2004), 316, https://shamela.ws/book/151144/27.
17 ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Kitāb al-zuhd (Damascus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1999), 80.
18 Qur’an 30:60.
19 Qur’an 32:24.
20 Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 1338; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2870.
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