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Strengthening our Faith through Knowing Allah
category: Soul Purification
Living in the West, it seems that we are surrounded by people who do not understand our faith. Confused by our surroundings, we must ask ourselves 'Do we understand our own belief system?' Our imaan is not always strong, and sometimes we find ourselves slipping away from the right path through no fault except our own ignorance, especially as to how we may strengthen our faith and ourselves in order to combat our inner desires as well as the temptations it calls us to.
Many of us find ourselves embracing Islam, or revisiting (when more mature) the Islam we were once taught through loved ones, but with a much more sincere approach. Through a lack of what should be basic knowledge, we appear to enter a state of emotional faith that places us on an almost transitional level. We rarely begin on the basis we should be working from, and we are reliant on any small conversation to guide us or help to maintain the uplifting and exciting feelings we have found. Iman has been specifically described in videlicet terms as in the Hadith narrated by Umar (ra):
"One day we were sitting with Allah's Messenger (pbuh)and a man suddenly appeared before us, wearing a very white dress, having very black hair, without any signs of journey upon him. He approached until he sat before the Prophet (pbuh)with his knees touching the Prophet's knees and he placed his hands on his thighs and said 'Oh Mohammed, inform me about Islam' Allah's Messenger (pbuh) said 'Islam is to bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah, to offer the salat, pay zakat, fast during the month of Ramadan, and to make Hajj if you are able and have the means to make the journey..' The man said, 'You spoke the truth.' We were surprised at his asking and confirming at the same time. He said 'Inform me about Iman'. The Prophet (pbuh) said 'Iman is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, and Messengers, the Last day and to believe in His divine preordaining of all that is good and evil.' He again said 'You spoke the truth.' He said 'Inform me about Ihsan.' He (pbuh) said 'Ihsan (perfection) is to worship Allah as if you see Him; if you can't see him, surely He sees you.' He said, 'Inform me about the Hour.' He (pbuh) said, 'The one asked has no more knowledge of it than the questioner.' He said, 'Inform me about His signs.' He said, 'The slave girl will give birth to her mistress and you will see the barefooted, naked, impoverished shepherds competing with each other in tall buildings.' Then the stranger left. The Prophet (pbuh)remained seated for quite a while, then he asked Umar 'Oh Umar, do you know who the questioner was?' He said, 'Allah and His Messenger know best.' He said 'That was Jibreel, he came to teach you your religion.'" 
Notice the mentioning of the pillars of Islam first, as one must know what he or she is required to embark on if they wish to become a practising Muslim. The shahadah carries with it a great deal of important and influential status, so significant is it that we must refer to our shahadah as our first operation amongst conviction and therefore must know of Allah and His messenger.
As our pillars of imaan are cited, we must take clear note of them. We are told at the end of the hadith that Jibreel (as) came to "teach you your religion", and we must understand the importance of this hadith as we live in our common world. In this hadith, faith is described and we are afforded a precedent to follow, in order not to confuse ourselves with this life and the hereafter.
What I would refer to as an emotional faith seems to posses and occupies many of us and we are often inclined to this state as an initial reaction to the zeal of practicing Islam and uttering our first shahadah. Being overwhelmed by the emotion that this first shahadah can bring, we become addicted to the emotion it creates. Similarly likened to the feeling of love, it has a domineering influence and can easily become addictive. The upkeep of this imaan is extremely difficult as it has no firm basis, and inevitably at times we become overwhelmed with other emotions that just as easily overpower our faith. If imaan is based on a feeling or emotion, it will become submissive, just as fear can override happiness, love can override sadness, and so on. We try to hold on to this imaan with nasheeds that we believe strengthens our faith, seemingly becoming reliant on other people to 'lift' and 'help' us. This is a dangerous and somewhat lazy way of establishing our faith, and though in the beginning natural, a dependence on this feeling of zeal has no basis in the deen.
We have to endure many hardships and calamities in our lives, and in this state of imaan we do not stand a chance. At one point or another we will find ourselves weakened without even noticing. Learning and studying other branches of what could be politics and global legislation before our grounding upon the pillars of faith could almost certainly be described as a deception of Shaytaan helping us to believe we are gaining knowledge and that it is helping us succeed. While all of this is happening, he is helping us to bypass what we really need to adhere to - our basis and rationale that is Tawhid.
How many of us are clear on the Names and Attributes of Allah, without premise? Knowing Allah is a very important part of our relationship with Him, and once gained, this knowledge is never lost forming a firm basis for our Tawhid, and subsequently, our faith - true faith. Knowing Allah makes a person love as well as fear Him, it helps us place our trust in Him, increasing sincerity in all actions. This is the essence of human happiness. There is no other way of knowing Allah except by knowing His most beautiful names and understanding their meanings. We are strengthened in our relationship with Him, by increasing our first pillar of imaan by knowing Allah.
As Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman ibn as-Sa'di (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
"Believing in, and knowing the most beautiful names of Allah includes three types of Tawhid: Tawhid al Rububiyyah (unity of Divine Lordship), Tawhid al Uluhiyyah (unity of Divine Nature) and Tawhid al Asma wa'l safaat (unity of Divine Names and Attributes). These three types of Tawhid form the essence and joy of faith (joy here implying peace and relief from stress), and his knowledge is the basis and purpose of faith. The more a person learns about the Names and Attributes of Allah, the more his faith increases and the stronger his conviction becomes." 
Also, Ibn Al Qayyim Al Jawziyyah (may Allah have mercy on his soul) said:
"The key to the call of the Messengers, the essence of their message, is knowing Allah through His Names, Attributes and Deeds, because this is the foundation on which the rest of the message from beginning to end is built." 
If we occupy ourselves with the learning of Allah, we are doing what we were created for. The meaning of imaan is not merely to think we believe in Allah, or blindly assume that we know Him, for real imaan is based on solid knowledge, and a true dependence is based on a reliant trust.
The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) spent over a decade with his sahabah in Makkah, strengthening their faith even before the inclusion of prayer which occurred in Medina. Most early chapters are those of imaan and can be related to the pillars. Belief is penetrated by a cognitive, astute and sophisticated wisdom - all through knowledge.
Allah the Most High says in the Qur'an:
"except for those who bear witness to the truth knowingly (that there is no god but Allah - la illaha il-Allah) and they know - (in their hearts the meaning of the words they utter with their lips)." 
Our whole lives have been based on knowledge. We were never born with wisdom. We are only at the stage of ability we possess now through knowledge and guidance we have been allowed to acquire, given by Allah through our environment. Let us not retire to anything less when it comes to our deen, and knowing our Creator.
It can always be a taboo subject when admitting we are slipping in our efforts to maintain a hold on our faith, and hence, we don't always refer to such subjects. Through complete understanding of who Allah is, and our knowledge building us instead of our emotion, we hope to accomplish our relationship with Allah that we so desperately need and live for. In procuring such knowledge we will find our emotions are of a deeper and more meaningful level of faith. We must know our Lord to satisfy ourselves, and render ourselves a true imaan, fully restored which no emotion can sway, emotions that register as a result of knowledge.
 Sahih Muslim
 Al Tawdah wa'l Bayan li Shararat al Iman by Sa'di - p.41
 Al sawaa'iq al-Mursalah 'ala al-Jahamiyah wa'l-Mu'attilah by Ibn al Qayyim. p.150-151
 Al- Zukhruf 43:86
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