The Branches of the Tree of Faith

Peace, one and all…

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In a tradition found in Imam Nawawi’s wonderful book Riyadh al-Saliheen, we find the following hadith related by Abu Hurairah (may God be pleased with him), in which the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is reported to have said:

‘Iman [faith] has sixty odd or seventy odd branches.  The uppermost branch of all these is the testimony of faith ‘la ilaha illa Allah‘ [‘there is no god but God’] while the least of them is the removal of harmful objects from the road.  And shyness is a branch of faith’ (Hadith no. 125)

As with other ahadith, in previous years I read this hadith as simply being a description of iman.  Of course, it is this, but as I read it again this morning, I realise it is also more than this.  Or, at least, I have briefly glimpsed another layer, which I didn’t see before.  That is, this is not merely a dry description of faith, it reveals something quite fundamental: everything in my life is a level of iman.  Or, to put it more carefully, everything I do, say and think is part of my unfolding relationship with God.  As such, it is a mistake to think that anything I do is somehow disconnected from that relationship.  It is all part and parcel of the same reality.  If God is the context of everything, then everything I am must always relate to that context. 

This is perhaps why the highest level of faith referred in the text is the testimony of faith itself.  In other words, the highest branch of iman is to plumb the profound depths of la ilaha illa Allah.  This is also why removing harmful obstacles from the road is mentioned.  Relationship is a reciprocal affair, so if I want to improve my own relationship with Allah, I must help and serve others.  Shyness enters into this discussion because, I think, it relates to humility (amongst other things).  That is, my service must be truly humble – to the point where I no longer see the act of service itself (or, rather, I know longer see my own actions as having some inherent merit of their own – all merit comes from God).

I am reminded of two other sayings of the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam).  In the first, he (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said:

La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah [to say, ‘there is no power or movement except in God’] is a remedy for ninety-nine ailments, the least of which is sorrow’

In other words, understanding that everything is part of a greater whole is a great comfort (at least it is to me).  Furthermore, it is important to understand fully that this reality is one of compassion and mercy.  In the second tradition, he (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said:

La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah is one of the treasures of the Garden [Paradise]’

To realise (and thus, in a sense, see) that all life is inter-connected is like walking in the gardens of paradise, beneath which rivers flow.  This is why, in a tradition related by Ibn Mas’ud (God be pleased with him), the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said:

‘A true believer does not taunt or curse or abuse or talk indecently’ (Riyadh al-Saliheen 1734)

Because, to do so would be to speak ill of that living oneness, of which we all partake.

‘…and my affair I leave to Allah.  Verily, Allah is the All-Seer of (His) slave’ (40:44-45)

And my last prayer is in praise of God, the Sustainer of all the worlds.

Related posts:

Ma’as salama,
Abdur Rahman

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4 thoughts on “The Branches of the Tree of Faith

  1. Asalaamu alaykum.

    Masha’allah, insightful post.

    I often use this hadith as a reminder myself and others in the ISoc. If the ‘lowest’ branch of Iman being the removal of harmful objects from the road – meaning that even on our daily commute we have to make a positive and beneficial change to the enviroment around us simply to qualify as an entry-level Muslim. So, to truly fulfill the greaters level of being a Mu’min, we have to leave benefit and good wherever we are, whenever we are – and a whole lot of it.

    What struck me as well at a lecture during our ‘Iman Week’ was when Dr Abdullah noted that ar-Rasul (saw) very rarely gave philosophical or abstract definitions of Islam/Iman/Ihsan etc… They were very often very practical and achievable – though no doubt part of much longer journey.

    May Allah help us attain true belief, and may blessings be upon our teacher ar-Rasul (saw).

    Salaam.

  2. Wa alaikum salaam Abdul Azim,

    Thank you for your comments. Anything I have written that is right, comes from Allah. Only the errors are mine.

    You’re right – to qualify as an entry-level Muslim we have to be of benefit to others, and this never changes, no matter how ‘advanced’ we may or may not be.

    Dr. Abdullah’s insight is very interesting. May we all be blessed enough to achieve whatever goodness we can.

    Amin to your dua.

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