Comprehending The Meaning Of Reverence
The instinct of reverence is innate and constant in human beings, for it is the feeling of the need for the Creator and the Organiser, regardless of how people interpret that Creator. Whether they are Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, believers in nature as the organiser, Muslims or atheists this instinct is innate.
The instinct of reverence does not exist amongst the animals, it the only instinct unique to man. It is triggered when man perceives his own weakness and mortality which generates certain emotions
Belief via the emotions alone will lead to untrustworthy results as emotions fluctuate and are triggered by thoughts and realities and therefore non-permanent. Therefore Islam does not leave the emotions as the only way to belief, however nor does it leave the mind as the only way to belief. Rather the innate feeling of weakness that ignites the instinct of reverence in human beings must be connected to the rational belief.
As it is dangerous to understand the proofs for the Islamic belief academically such that one is able to articulate the arguments for it in elaborate detail but not to connect it repeatedly with the feeling of reverence. For this would produce someone who understands the Islamic belief but is weak in adherence to the rules that emanate from it.
The instincts are different to the organic needs in terms of agitation. This is because the organic needs are agitated from an internal impetus which can be sensed when one is hungry, thirsty or tired. Whilst what agitates the instincts is either certain types of thoughts or the tangible reality that makes the emotions require satisfaction.
As an example, the procreation instinct is agitated by thinking of an attractive individual of the opposite sex, or of anything related to sex or actually seeing an attractive individual or anything related to sex. Without this impetus from thoughts or reality the instinct would not be agitated.
Similarly the reverence instinct is agitated by thinking about thinking about man’s own weakness such as thought about death or thinking about the verses (ayaat) of the Quran, the day of judgement or what is related to it and the realisation of the greatness of Allah (swt) by contemplating upon any aspect of man, life and the universe. Thus, the effects of the instinct appear when a thought or reality agitates it.
The Western culture detracts people away from reverence. The ignition of the survival and procreation instincts dominates Western societies and those strongly affected by its culture. Unfortunately this reality has afflicted some Muslims where the reverence instinct is only ignited very occasionally, possibly in the month of Ramadhan, during an illness or when facing a death.
This has led to a spiritual vacuum in Western societies where the feeling of emptiness, misery and depression are increasing.
Allah (swt) has encouraged people to ponder upon His (swt) creation such as the earth, animals, sea, stars and themselves. This pondering and contemplation makes man appreciate his own weakness and the Magnitude of Allah (swt). The pondering about the creation of Allah (swt) is the characteristic of the one who believes in Allah (swt) as a truth.
Al-Shafi once said: “The leaf of the mulberry tree. Its colour, smell, taste and everything about it seem one and the same to you. But a caterpillar eats it and it comes out as fine silken thread. A bee feeds on it and it comes out as honey. A sheep eats it and it comes out as dung. Gazelles chew on it and it congeals producing the fragrance of musk. Who has made all these different things come from the same type of leaf?”
From a leaf to a lofty mountain to gravity and electricity, the creation of Allah (swt) all indicate His greatness and confirm his superiority.
Man is frail, weak, easily hurt, prone to illness and is destined for death. He is nothing but a spec of sand in the vast Universe which submits to Allah (swt). Realising ones mortality aids in sparking the feeling of reverence and veneration of the immortal, Allah (swt).
Abu Tharr (ra) said The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Visit the graves, as it will be a reminder of the Akhirah, and wash the dead, as taking care of an empty body is an outstanding admonition, and pray over the Janaiz (funerals), as it may sadden you, for the sad one is in the shade of Allah” [Ibn Abi Al Dunya and Al Haakim -Good chain of narrators]
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Increase the remembrance of that which destroys all desires” [Al Tirmidhi]
And he (saw) said, “If animals knew what the sons of Adam knew of death, you would not have found any fat on them to eat” [Al Baihaqi in “Al Sha’ab”].
Remembrance is not crying and wailing and blaming one’s self when one is on the brink of death, or attending a funeral or visiting graves alone. Rather, remembrance of death is when a believer imagines that he will meet his Lord at any moment, and his actions will be cut off, as will his ability for repentance. So he will be aware of himself, careful to obey Allah (swt), wary of his Lord every second of his life.
The companions of the Prophet (saw) even those who had been promised Jannah in their lifetimes would continuously ensure that they would keep themselves in an atmosphere of contemplation and thought such that some would faint when hearing a particular verse from the Quran and others cry when thinking about death and the day of Judgement.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) was the most fearful of the people, and cried the most? Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (ra) once said to him: “Your hair has become grey, Oh, Messenger of Allah.” So he (saw) said: “[Surah] Hud and its sisters have made my hair grey: Al-Waqi’a, ‘Amma Yatasaa’alun and Itha Al-Shamsu Kuwwirat.”
And it was narrated by Ibn Najjar, of Ibn ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah (saw) overheard a reader reading: “With Us are Fetters (to bind them), and a Fire (to burn them)” [Al-Muzammil: 12] and he (saw) fainted.
Therefore it is not enough for the Muslim in order to maintain his Taqwa to simply understand the rational arguments for the Islamic belief, rather he must continuously ponder upon the Quran and the Universe around him in order that the reverence of Allah (swt) is strong. This would lead him sanctify Allah (swt) and obey his commands and prohibitions.