Between Hope and Fear

Muslim WakeUp’s most recent article deals with the scoresheet mentality in religious observance, where promised rewards for good actions are tallied up like a “pile of candy”. I agree with Pamela’s assessment that this is the morality of toddlers. As a convert, this kind of thinking has very little appeal. In fact, this simplistic kind of morality is probably responsible for driving a good many people out of their inherited religion, muslim or otherwise. My father recalls his religious instruction being “hell avoidance” training with little other context. He was Catholic, but every religion has this at some level.

Now, the rewards that Pamela writes about come from the Hadith, so none of us can say these things are not valid, or that they are not of use in motivating us to do good. Why else would Nabi Muhammad have said it? [Aside: I got married early in part because of the hadith that the salat of the married person is worth 23 times the salat of the unmarried. Little did I know this is because you have 23x less time to pray…] The problem only comes when we count on our actions to purchase us this or that. It smacks of Catholic indulgences. Focusing on the candy lessens Allah’s Mercy and His Justice. It makes it more difficult for us to be between hope and fear of our final destination. (Hey, I can’t be in danger of Hell, I’ve already earned 5 umbrellas in Paradise!)

It is an article of faith as a muslim to believe in the reality of Allah’s reward in Paradise and His punishment in Hell. I don’t think what Pamela writes denies that at all. When Rabia prayed (horribly paraphrased) “Lord, if I worship You out of desire for Your Paradise, deny me of it, and if I worship You out of fear of Your Hellfire, plunge me in it”, she was certainly not denying their existence or even making small the reward or punishment of these places. She was expressing the idea that this is not the highest and purest reason to do good deeds.

We can cultivate deep fear of Hell and hope of Paradise without keeping score. This was the way of the Salaf (The first few generations of Muslims, not the modern-day nutters from Saud. But you knew that.), who would weep, faint and even expire upon remembering the hellfire, and become elated and weep for joy upon remembering God’s mercy and Paradise. A great article on this last point is The Impressibility of the Salaf.

Imam Ahmad in his Kitab al-Zuhd (“The Simple Life” p. 248 #880) narrates from Abu Hayyan that when Ibn Mas`ud passed by the furnace of a blacksmith as they were fanning the fire, he fell unconscious.

SubhanAllah! Ibn Mas’ud collapsed even though he had not committed a sin; remembering the reality of the Hellfire was sufficient!


5 thoughts on “Between Hope and Fear

  1. Assalamu alaikum
    ‘Hasanat’ or ‘thawab’ is not the same as candy or
    pavlovian rewards. This a horrible analogy.
    Rewards mentioned in ahadith are just indication of the hierarchy of the ‘amal –
    it is the basis of Fiqh awlawiyah – Fiqh of priorities.
    Sort of like saying: congregational praying in the mosque is better than praying alone,
    Tending,feeding,and suckling the baby is better than optional prayers, giving alms to the needy is better than going for umrah etc..
    another name for ‘Hasanat/thawab’ is ‘rahmah’ = God’s Mercy
    It is not the same as money, gold or candy
    A person who understands the priorities of ‘amal, he understand the religion – it is ‘tafaqquh fiddin’
    Now, equating this with ‘candy mentality’ – this is pure absurd!
    This is why the muslims in the sad state they are today…
    Rich people spend exorbitant sums of money to build huge Colossal Mosque, when it is better to spend on giving scholarships to students for acquiring knowledge, wether secular or religious –
    which will eventually uplift the state of the ummah.
    Some will spend a lot of money going for umrah every year – when it is better to give this money to poor destitutes living around them!
    If the know about ‘hasanat’, about mercy of ALLAH,
    they would surely spent their money in alms for the needy.
    When you have knowledge about ‘fadha’il’, about hasanat and thawab – then you will see the workings of ALLAH’s Mercy/Rahmah around you and your life –
    you will see Mercy of ALLAH, when somebody feeding a starving cat..
    when a mother suckling his baby,
    when a father has to stay awake all night because
    his baby has abdominal problem,
    When an expectant mother laboriously move around
    carrying the baby in his womb for 9 months,
    you will see the ‘hasanat’ the thawab the mercy of ALLAH continously – showering on her

    And then when you, being human, commitied sins,
    then you will see the Mercy of ALLAH,
    when you bury the ‘sayyi’at’ with ‘hasanat’
    until such times when hasanat overwhelms the sayyi’at….

    when you continue in this path – then one day
    you will see ALLAH change your sins into mercy,
    your ‘sayyi’at’ into ‘hasanat’..

    Then you will learned to love ALLAH
    after you love ALLAH
    with full love
    you will forget about heaven and hell
    you will be with ALLAH

  2. Thanks for your comments, brother. I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. Just so I am not being misunderstood, I do not equate Allah’s promise of reward in Paradise to be like bribing with candy. As you state, it helps us to understand priorities in our actions. What is like bribery with candy is the extraction of these by some muslims into lists or scoresheets of actions and their rewards, deprived of any other context. It is not a reflection on God’s promises but on our response and approach to them. I recall seeing such a scoresheet that was even more crass than the one MWU references. It had 20 or so items, and ran something like, “If you want to get “x” in heaven, than do “y”. If you want to get “a” in heave, than do “b”. I’m sorry, but that falls way short of the admirable approach that you have given us in your post above.

  3. assalam-o-alaikum,
    thank you for putting in words something i have had a personal problem with for a long long time. this kind of reward based faith system is what prevails to an uncomfortable depth in the indian sub continent at least. associating numbers with good deeds rankles me, for in the final picture, on the day of judgement, what good is your recital of a surah if it was done merely to get an x number of good deeds. isn’t faith and prayer only valid in the context of considering our ultimate destiny and not merely an exercise in keeping your score of good deeds one above your total of bad deeds?

    also, jazakallah for adding ublog to your blogroll.

    assalam-o-alaikum,
    ubaid.

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