Collective Iman – An experiment and a conclusion

About Iman

‘Iman,’ that linguistically means “faith” or “belief,” is used in this post in its comprehensive sense. It includes belief that resides in the hearts, what would be said by the tongue, and the actions that follow. It includes rituals as well as character. It is what the Prophet (pbuh) meant when he said, “Iman is some sixty branches, the highest of which is ‘No god but Allah,’ and the lowest is removing the harm from the road. Modesty is a branch of Iman.” The believers (al-Mo’minoon, the people of Iman), although are described with this title achieve different levels of Iman given the amount of belief that resides in their heart and the actions they do. Iman goes up and it goes down. There are better believers than other believer and a person is a better believer at one time than he/she is at another. Think of Iman as a score the believer achieves. The maximum score is infinity and the minimum score is an extremely high unknown score that you get by attesting that there is no god except Allah. One can increase the score by obeying Allah and His Messenger and the score goes down by different acts of disobedience. The +ve unit is called “Hasanah” and the -ve unit is called “Sayy’ah.”

About ‘Collective’ Iman

It is obvious that Iman is an individual quality. The score of Iman is an individual score. Before Allah, we will be standing alone individually reporting our deeds to Him. “Each of them will come to Him alone” [Surat Mariam]. The score of people around me does not affect my score nor does my score affected theirs.* However, in this life as Allah promised support and victory to the believers and stated conditions and laws for this support, Iman plays a very significant role in bringing about this support. “We will grant support to Our Messengers and to the believers …” [Surat Ghafir]. Allah’s support to us as a community** depends with a great deal on the amount of Iman we collectively score.

About Measuring Iman

Measuring Iman is not easy since it involves quantities that exist in the heart. It is almost impossible to measure how much faith people have in their hearts. Even actions that are apparent cannot be counted easily given that they depend greatly on the intention, something that resides in the heart as well. Even the angels who record the deeds of each one of us fail, sometimes, to translate some deeds to Hasanat and Allah orders them to write these deeds as they are and He will reward accordingly.***

Although difficult one can have an idea by observing some indicators. For example, the Messenger (pbuh) said, “If you see a person frequent mosques, be a witness that he has Iman.” Indicators are numerous. “… Charity is a proof … ” as the Prophet says. Of course, it is impossible to be decisive but our good deeds are a good indicator of our Iman score. Good deeds lead to higher Iman score and hence can serve as a good indicator. Having a higher Iman score leads to doing even more good deeds and the indicator becomes more useful. Is it possible that someone will be doing tons of deeds and his/her Iman score is very low or vice versa? Yes, but very unlikely.

Experiment

In our weekly Halaqah, a study circle with about 10 people who are diverse in age and experience, we wanted to have a few personal aims to achieve on our own. And to help one another achieving those goals, we will follow up and check on one another. Therefore, every week when we meet, we check on our achievements on those personal goals and we do not move to the second goal unless we achieve 80% of the first goal. The difficult part is that we will have to achieve this 80% collectively. If one person achieves 100% and the collective score is below 80%, we keep trying.

Our first goal was that each one of us spends 15-20 minutes a day to do something related to the Qur’an. It can be reading, reciting, memorizing, listening, or understanding as long as the main focus on these 20 minutes is the Qur’an. If one misses a day, he cannot make it up. At the beginning of our weekly meeting, we report the number of days we have fulfilled the goal and with simple averaging we get our “collective” achievement of this goal. Originally, we have been getting very low individual scores and hence a very low collective scores. With a little bit of encouraging words –and sometimes blameful  words– as well as tactics like pairing and text reminding our individual scores started getting higher. However, we hardly got close to 80% given that one person with 10% can pull the average down.

After 8 consecutive weeks of failing, we finally celebrated the passing of 80% only to drop down again to 50% the very next week. 😦 We are still working on it and we will achieve it isa

Reflections

  • It is amazing how supportive it is to be part of such a group who encourages you to always be close to Allah and do what benefits you in this life and the life after. If you are not part of such a group, go find yourself one.
  • I learned that collective success is way more difficult than individual success. We need to achieve as a community to score a high level of Iman to bring about Allah’s support to us.
  • This experiment shows clearly that we have to help one another to do good as Allah ordered. It is not enough that I achieve. I have to help others achieve, for their achievement will contribute to the collective achievement. A person with 10% can pull the score way down even if my own score is 100%
  • It is really a very strange feeling to be the one who pulls the score down. You feel you are the source of defeat. It is a mixed feeling of embarrassment and determination, one for not achieving and another to achieve next time.
  • Maintaining achievement is as difficult or even more difficult than achieving in the first time. The drop from 80% to 50% in the very next week is a demonstation of that.
  • 15-20 minutes a day with the Qur’an does not seem to be a tough target to achieve. However, it appears that we stayed away from the Book of Allah to the extent 15-20 minutes became difficult. We are very consumed with our life to spare 20 minutes a day! Very scary.
  • I like our choice of not enabling people to make up for the missing days. A plant who depends on water may die if it stays away from water for 3 or 4 days. It won’t help to put 3 days worth of water after the plant dies. Similarly, our soul needs Allah’s guidance in the Qur’an. Staying away from the Qur’an for days is like the plant staying away from water for days.

We will continue and I may write again some more reflections probably after we add a second goal to achieve along side with the first one. Until then, you can share your reflections/advice in the comments section.

* unless one of us contributed to the guidance of the other.
** as small communities and a whole community around the world since Muslims around the world are an Ummah
*** as reported in several Hadiths
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