Causes of Decrease in Imaan
Just as it is required of the Muslim to be aware of the causes for the increase of imaan in order for him to apply them, likewise, it is demanded of him to know of the causes of its decreases so that he remains apart from them. This obligation emanates from the perspective found in the proverb: I learnt evil, not for evil, but to guard against it…for whoever among the people is not aware of evil, will fall into it.
Moreover, it has been established in the Sahihayn from Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, may Allah be pleased with him, that he said: “The companions used to ask the Messenger of Allah concerning the good and I used to ask him about the evil in fear of it afflicting me.”
Ibn al-Jawzi said: “Being well-versed with evil embodies an alertness against falling into it.”
Thus, learning the causes behind the decrease of imaan and being aware of the factors that weaken it and of how to safeguard one’s self from them, is a vital matter which must be looked at. In fact, gaining knowledge of these causes is no less important than learning the causes for the increase of imaan.
The non-maintenance of the causes of the increase of imaan, neglecting to strengthen it and paying no regard to this, is deemed as a cause from the causes, that decrease imaan. To, therefore, disregard the issues and not pay any attention to them, weakens and decreases the imaan. So, just as their preservation is a cause for increase, in like manner, their disregard is a cause for decrease.
Regarding the causes for the decrease of imaan and the factors that weaken it, they are many and of different sorts. However, in general, there are two categories and a number of factors reside under each category:
As for the first category, it is made up of the internal causes or inherent factors, which bear effect upon the Imaan, by decreasing it. There are many factors.
This is one of the most significant causes for the decrease of Imaan, just as knowledge is one of the greatest causes for the increase of Imaan. The knowledgeable Muslim does not prefer the love and enactment of matters that harm him and cause him pain and misery, to that which constitutes his benefit, success and rectification.
Ibn al-Qayyim writes: “It has been purported that the corruption of intent is caused by the corruption of knowledge. Since, if the person truly knew of the harm and its implications within the detrimental action, he would not have preferred it. This is why, when one has knowledge that a particular desirous and delicious food contains poison, he does not dare approach it. Thus, his knowledge of the various types of harm present within the harmful act is weak and his resolve to avoid what he could fall into as a result of committing the act, is also weak.
“Moreover, your Lord is towards those who do evil out of ignorance and afterward repent and do righteous deeds. Verily, your Lord, thereafter, is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Qur’an 16:119]
The meaning of “… out of ignorance…” in these verses, is out of the doer’s ignorance of its consequences, and obligation of the anger and punishment of Allah. It is his ignorance of the fact that Allah sees and observes him, and ignorance of the decrease of imaan that returns to him or its complete disappearance.”
We ask Allah to aid our hearts with knowledge and imaan and that He protects us from ignorance and transgression.
Heedlessness, Aversion and Forgetfulness:
These three matters constitute immense cause for the decrease of imaan. One who is stricken with heedlessness, troubled with forgetfulness and turns away, his imaan will decrease in accordance to the presence of some or all of these three matters. It will impose on him, ailment of the heart or its death because of its prevalence by misconceptions and desires.
Concerning heedlessness, Allah has condemned it in His Book and He mentioned that it is a reprehensible mannerism, which is from the code and conduct of the disbelievers and hypocrites. Allah also warns against it very severely. Allah says: “And surely. We have created for Hell, many (a people) from the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they understand not, they have eyes with which they see not and they have ears with which they hear not: they are like cattle. Rather, they are even more astray. They indeed, are the heedless ones.” [Al-Qur’an 7:179]
Allah says: “Verily, those who hope not for their meeting with Us, but are pleased and satisfied with the life of the present world and those who are heedless of our signs; those, their abode will be the Fire because of what they used to earn.” [Al-Qur’an 10:7-8]
Allah says: “… and verily, many among mankind are heedless of our signs.” [Al-Qur’an 10:92]
Thus heedlessness, which is defined as negligence that occurs as a result of a lack of care and alertness, is a dangerous disease. If it afflicts a person and overwhelms him, he will not bother with obedience of Allah, His remembrance and worship. Instead, he will be occupied with matters of distraction, which distance him from the remembrance of Allah. Moreover, if he does perform certain deeds in obedience to Allah, he does them in an inadequate state and inappropriate manner, so his actions are void of humility, humbleness, repentance, fear, tranquility, truthfulness and sincerity.
Committing Disobedience & Embarking Upon Sinful Deeds:
The harm and bad effect of this factor upon imaan is well known to all. Thus, imaan, as stated by more than one of the Salaf, “increases with obedience and decreases with disobedience”. Just as accomplishing the obligatory and recommended deeds that Allah has ordained increases imaan, then likewise, performing the forbidden and disliked deeds that Allah has not enjoined, decreases imaan.
However, sins vary greatly with respect to their rank, the evils they entail and the intensity of their harm. This is as Ibn al-Qayyim has mentioned: “Without doubt, kufr, fusuq and disobedience are of levels just as imaan and righteous actions are of levels.”
Allah says: “They are in varying grades before Allah and Allah is All-Seer of what they do. [Al- Qur’an 3:163]
He says: “For all there will be degrees, according to that which they did. And your Lord is not unaware of what they do.” [Al-Qur‘an6:132]
Ibn al-Qayyim mentions in this respect, a brief and yet more than adequate statement, which is to the point. He says: “Lack of tawfiq: incorrectness of opinion; concealment of truth (from him); corruption of the heart, lack of remembrance, squandering of time; dislike of creation (of him); alienation between the servant and his Lord; prevention of supplications being answered; hardness of heart, the exclusion of blessings in one’s sustenance and life; deprivation of knowledge; the apparel of degradation; humiliation subjected by the enemy; constriction of the chest, being put to trial with evil companionship who corrupt the heart and waste time; lengthy anxiety and sorrow; hardship of life and gloominess of circumstance … are a result of disobedience and negligence of the remembrance of Allah, which is comparable (in magnitude) to the vegetation that is produced by water and the burning that is caused by fire. The opposites of these matters arise from actions of obedience.”
The Soul that Greatly Commands Evil:
This is a condemned soul, which Allah placed inside the individual. It orders him with every evil, invites him to all perils and guides him to every vulgarity. This is its nature and that is its trait, except for the soul that Allah grants tawfiq and which He makes firm and assists. None has been saved from the evil of his soul except by the tawfiq of Allah, as Allah says relating from the wife of Al- ‘Aziz.
“And I free not myself (from the blame). Verily, the soul does indeed incline greatly to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Qur’an 12:53]
Thus, evil is concealed within the soul and it necessitates actions of evil. If Allah lets the servant have his own way with his soul, he will perish at the evil of his soul and the evil actions that it sanctions. If Allah, on the other hand, grants the servant tawfiq and assists him, he will deliver from all of this.
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, states: “Allah has assembled two souls: a soul that greatly orders (evil) and a soul that is content and they are hostile towards one another. Whenever one diminishes, the other strengthens. Whenever one takes pleasure in something, the other suffers pain as a result of it. Nothing is more difficult for the soul that constantly encourages evil than performing deeds for Allah and preferring His pleasure to its own desire. Likewise, there is nothing more difficult upon the content soul than performing deeds for other than Allah and that which the incentives of desire bring about and there is nothing more harmful to it than desire. And the war is continuous, it cannot come to an end until it completes its appointed time from this world. The precise determination, however, is that it is one soul, which has (different) characteristics. Thus, it greatly encourages evil. If it becomes opposed by imaan, it becomes one that reproaches often; it commits a sin then censures its doer and reproaches with regard to doing or not doing an action. If the imaan strengthens, it then becomes one that is content…”
These are external causes or influences, which bear effect upon the imaan by decreasing it. These are in reference to when the cause of the effect traces back to other than the person himself. Such causes can be generalized into three factors:
He is held to be a strong external reason, which causes imaan to decrease. Shaytan is a vehement enemy to the believers. He awaits calamities to afflict them. He has no desire or goal other than to jolt the imaan in the hearts of the believers and to weaken and corrupt it. Whoever submits to the whisperings of Shaytan, complies with his notions and does not retreat to Allah for refuge from him, his Imaan weakens and decreases. Indeed, it may disappear in its entirety depending on the Muslim’s response to such whisperings and notions. It is, for this reason, that Allah has warned us of Shaytan in the sternest sense and He has clarified his dangers, the detrimental consequences of following him as well as the fact that he is an enemy to the believers. Allah ordered the believers to take him as an enemy.
Allah says: “O you who believe! Do not follow the footsteps of Shaytan, and whosoever follows the footsteps of Shaytan, then, verily he (i.e., Shaytan) commands Fahsha’ (i.e., to commit indecency and lewdness, etc.) and Al-Munkar (i.e., disbelief, shirk, to do evil and wicked deeds, to speak or to do what is forbidden in Islam, etc.)…” [Al-Qur’an 24:21]
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, says: “Beware of enabling Shaytan to establish himself in the very home of your thoughts and intentions, as he will corrupt them in such a manner that will make difficult its correction thereafter. He will cast all sort of whisperings and harmful thoughts at you and he will prevent you from thinking about what may benefit you and it is you who have aided him against yourself by empowering him over your heart and thoughts and he then placed you in the possession of such thoughts.”
The World & It’s Allurement:
This is the second external factor, which bears effect on a person’s imaan by decreasing it.
Hence, one of the causes of the decrease and weakness of imaan is to be engrossed with the transient things of this temporary worldly life; to occupy one’s time with it; be devoted to seeking it and to race after its pleasures, temptations and seductions.
Whenever the servant’s longing for this world intensifies and his heart becomes attached to it, his obedience will weaken and his Imaan will decrease accordingly.
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, says; “The extent of the servants desire for the world and of his pleasure with it, determines his slackness towards obedience of Allah and seeking the Hereafter.”
Accordingly, Allah, the Wise, the All-Aware, censured the world in His Book and made clear its vileness and wretchedness in many verses in the Noble Qur’an. Allah says: “Know, that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, just like the vegetation after rain, which pleases the tillers; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter there is a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and there is forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment,” [Al-Qur’an 57:20]
The Prophet (sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “By Allah, it is not poverty that I fear for you, but l fear that the world will be spread out for you just as it was spread out for those before you and then you will compete for it just as they competed for it and then you will be destroyed just as they were destroyed.”
The hadith is agreed upon in another wording, “… you will be distracted just as they were distracted.”
They are the most harmful people to a person’s imaan, behavior and manners. Mixing with them and accompanying them is a great cause that decreases and weakens imaan.
It has been established that the Prophet (sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “A man is upon the deen (i.e., way of life) of his khalil (i.e., close companion), so each one of you should look to see whom he takes as a khalil”
Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr said: “The meaning of this, and Allah knows best, is that, a person accustoms himself to the actions he views from those he accompanies and the (meaning of) deen is habitude. As such, he ordered one to only accompany the person who is seen to have (manners) that are graceful and beautiful, since goodness is mannerism.”
The saying of ‘Adi Ibn Zayd embodies the meaning of this hadith: “About the person, do not question but, ask about his companion, since every companion emulates the one he associates with.”
Likewise, the saying of Abi al-‘Itahiyyah: “Who could (still) remain unknown to you if you were to look at his companion? The like of this is very great”, the meaning of this is that a person is not to associate with one who will lead him to actions and ways that are lamentable. As for the one who is not feared (to give such an effect) in this regard, then there is no harm in accompanying him.
Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi said: “A man is upon the deen of his khalil, means: do not take as an intimate companion, anyone, other than one whose deen and trustworthiness you are pleased with, because when you do take one as an intimate companion, he will lead you to his deen and way. Do not endanger your deen or take a risk with your soul by taking as an intimate companion, one, whose deen and way is not pleasing.”
Hence, mixing with the fussaq and people of evil is one of the most severe causes for the decrease and weakness of imaan. In fact, even for its disappearance and annihilation and that is dependent upon the condition of evil of such people as well as the level of mingling with them.