Ibn Qayyim (may Allah have mercy upon him), once articulated something beautiful concerning a believer and our stance towards love, hope and fear in Allah Exalted is He. He said: “The heart on its journey towards Allah the Exalted is like that of a bird. Love is its head, and fear and hope are its two wings. When the head is healthy, then the two wings will fly well. When the head is cut off, the bird will die. When either of two wings is damaged, the bird becomes vulnerable to every hunter and predator.” [Madarij as-salikeen].
He employs the beautiful example of a bird to illustrate how significant it is for a believer to balance these three powerful emotions correctly. He shows us that we must not allow one to take precedence over the other, such that we become engulfed by fear or too neglectful. If, for example, a believer fears Allah too much, practicing Islam might become overwhelming for him. He will lose hope in the Mercy of Allah. Likewise, if a slave becomes too hopeful in Allah’s Mercy, and ignores His punishment, he might fall short in some obligatory acts of worship, believing that Allah will definitely admit him to paradise even if he leads an unfulfilling life, constantly disobeying his Creator.
Often, growing up, I come across certain individuals who stress the importance of igniting a balance of both fear and love of Allah within their children. Sadly, this is a principle often dismissed. We always hear, and some of us have experienced this ourselves, that if we do not fulfil a particular Islamic obligation, or we do not abide by a certain way of life, then we will go to hell. Parents will teach their children things like, “You must pray or else you will go to hell”, or “You must wear hijab or else Allah will punish you severely”. Rather than constantly threatening believers with fear, we should emphasize the Merciful attributes of our Creator too. Instead of threatening children with hell, parents should choose a different approach at times, saying something like: “You must pray because it is a command from Allah, and look at all He has blessed you with. Do not perceive salah as a chore, but rather a unique opportunity to connect with your Lord, pray so that He can be merciful towards you, for salah is one of the keys of paradise.” And concerning hijab, we can outline the benefits of wearing hijab, reinforce that it is not an object of oppression, but rather freedom; that Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, commands His female slaves to observe hijab because it serves as a shield from many dangers we may not perceive. A different approach, and reinforcement on the love of Allah as well as fear makes all the difference. If you think about it, when we love someone, we desire to please him or her always. So developing love in Allah would push us towards willingly obeying him (not because we are forced or our parents told us), we would delight in committing good deeds, whether obligatory or recommended, knowing that it will please our Creator. We would rush towards obedience, and abstain from evil sins as much as we can, we would rectify our intentions, find happiness in practicing Islam and developing pride in our Islamic identities.
You may be struggling with Islam and your identity as a Muslim presently, perhaps because you are one of those individuals who was taught Islam in this threatening and scary way. You were deprived of knowledge concerning your Kind and Merciful Lord. For me, reading and understanding the Quran, as well as studying this deen was the way through which I managed to eliminate any bad thoughts, and develop love in Allah balanced with fear. I urge the youth to do the same, as developing love for your Creator is one of the most beautiful feelings, your worries and struggles will gradually disappear, your primary focus and concern will be Allah. Fearing Him will enable you to quit crossing the boundaries of this religion and strive harder to attain paradise. Loving him will make everything in practicing Islam easier, and we will delight in committing good deeds for His sake.