Our relationship with Allah is characterised primarily by three emotions: love, fear and hope.
The fear of Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) should make us tremble in awe of Him and humble us in front of Him.
Some say that we should mainly focus on loving Allah and having hope in Him. They argue that positivity will bring people closer to the dīn. However, this is misleading and can damage our understanding and application of the dīn.
Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) says, “…They used to race towards the good deeds and invoke Us with hope and fear; and they were humbly submissive to Us” (21:90).
In a ḥadīth qudsī, Allah says, “By My Glory, I will not combine two fears nor two assurances for My slave: if he feared Me in the world, I will grant him safety on the Day of Judgement. And if he felt safe from Me in the world, I will make him fear Me on the Day of Judgement.” (Ibn Ḥibbān)
In life, you tend to run away from what you fear. For example, anyone who is scared of spiders or rodents will freeze or run away upon seeing them. However, fearing Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) is unique and beautiful. It makes you flee to Him, and not away from Him. The more you fear Him, the more you turn to Him.
A fear of worldly matters is usually accompanied by a dislike of it. However, the fear of Allah is coupled with love and respect. You are in awe of Him.
Although Allah is beyond all worldly examples, think of an elderly grandfather or an older person who is well-respected. As soon as he enters the room, everyone falls quiet out of respect for him. The silence is not because this elder is a tyrant of the household; rather, it is because of the respect that his family accords him. This type of fear is known as haybah or khashyah, a reverential type of fear.
It is this emotion that the senior Companion ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) felt when he was in the presence of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. He said even though he ﷺ was the most beloved of people to him, he could not describe him. This is because whenever he was in his company, he was unable to look directly at his blessed face. He would lower his head and humbly gaze downwards, out of deep respect and awe.
The fear of Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) is not an irrational fear. It is a fear built on knowledge. The more you get to know Him, the more you fear Him. You are in constant awe of His majesty, greatness and power.
The Fear of Jibril
When the Prophet ﷺ saw Jibrīl (ʿalayhis-salām) in his original form, he had 600 wings, and his huge size filled the horizon between the sky and the earth. Jibrīl is the best of angels, who was tasked with the most prestigious responsibility of transmitting the word of Allah. Despite his physical and spiritual greatness, the Prophet ﷺ saw him on the night of Miʿrāj (ascension) looking like “a worn-out piece of cloth due to the fear of Allah” (Ṭabarānī). Jibrīl’s knowledge of Allah’s majesty and greatness reduced him to this state.
Aim to strike a balance between excessive fear and a lack of fear. If there’s too much fear, you’ll end up in despair. And if there’s too little, you’ll become complacent and feel secure from Allah’s punishment. Fear is a deterrent. It prevents you from becoming distracted, disobeying Allah and falling off the right path.