It was narrated from Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “There are three characteristics, whoever attains them will find the sweetness of faith: when Allah and His Messenger are dearer to him than all others; when he loves someone and only loves him for the sake of Allah; and when he would hate to go back to disbelief as he would hate to be thrown into the fire.”.
This important hadith represents one of the basic principles of Islam. In it, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) speaks of three characteristics that are among the most sublime characteristics of faith. Whoever perfects these characteristics will find the sweetness of faith, for faith has a sweetness and a flavour that may be tasted in the heart just as the sweetness of food and drink may be tasted in the mouth. Just as one cannot enjoy the sweetness of food and drink except when one is in good health, by the same token, if the heart is sound and free of the disease of misleading whims and desires and forbidden pleasures, it will taste the sweetness of faith, but if it is sick and unhealthy, it will not taste the sweetness of faith; rather it may find sweetness in that which could lead to loss and doom, namely desires and sins. Whoever tastes the sweetness of faith will find pleasure in doing acts of worship and obedience, and will give them precedence over worldly pursuits, putting up with hardship for the sake of Allah (may He be exalted).
The first characteristic is when Allah and His Messenger are dearer to him than all others. Love of Allah stems from knowing His names and attributes, contemplating His creation and what is in it of wisdom, purpose and wondrous things. Love of Allah also stems from reflecting on the blessing that He has bestowed upon people, for all of that is indicative of His perfect might, wisdom, knowledge and mercy. A person’s love for His Creator (may He be glorified and exalted) will lead him to adhere to His laws and obey Him, and refrain from what He has forbidden. Love of the Messenger (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) stems from love of Allah, and what results from that love is following the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) in what he enjoins and forbids, such as obeying Allah (may He be glorified and exalted). The Muslim should love the Messenger (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) more than he loves himself and more than he loves his father, his mother, his son, his daughter, his wife, his friend, his relatives, and all people.
The second characteristic is when one loves someone and only loves him for the sake of Allah. This encourages us to love one another for the sake of Allah, which is one of the strongest bonds of faith, for it is not love for the sake of exchanging benefits or attaining worldly gains; rather what brings them together is love for the sake of Allah. As a result of that love, the Muslim will try to help and benefit his Muslim brother and will refrain from harming him, as it says in the hadith narrated in as-Sahihayn: “The Muslim is the brother of his fellow Muslim; he does not wrong him or let him down. Whoever meets his brother’s needs, Allah will meet his needs, and whoever relieves a Muslim of some worldly distress, Allah will relieve him of some of the distress of the Day of Resurrection. Whoever covers a Muslim (conceals his sin), Allah will cover him (conceal his sin) on the Day of Resurrection.”
The third characteristic is when the Muslim would hate to go back to disbelief as he would hate to be thrown into the fire. For when faith takes root in the heart and the individual adheres sincerely to it and tastes its sweetness and flavour, he will love it and will love to be steadfast in adhering to it and to learn more about it, and he would hate to leave it. In his case, his hating to leave it will be greater than his hatred of being thrown into the fire. When a person tastes the sweetness of faith in his heart, he realizes the bitterness of disbelief, evildoing and sin. It was said that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said this as a warning to the Sahabah, for they had been disbelievers then had become Muslim, but some individuals still had some inclination in their hearts to what they had known in the past. Hence the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) explained to them that going back to disbelief would be like a man throwing himself into the fire, because the ultimate fate of the disbelievers is to be thrown into the fire of hell; recanting one’s repentance and going back to sin is also like throwing oneself into the fire of hell, because of the seriousness of the sin of disbelief and going back to it. .