Part 1 | From Īmān to Kufr: The Rise & Fall of the ‘Pious’
“So after the truth, what else can there be, save error? How then are you turned away?” 
Whilst the numbers of those apostatising from Islām are far less than in any other religion, it is nonetheless a phenomenon which takes place in the Muslim community, particularly in this age where being Muslim is as the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“There will come a time when holding on to your Īmaan (belief) will be like holding on to hot coals”. 
In addition, we are currently living in an age where religion and morality have been pushed aside, the floodgates of immorality and secularism have been opened, and where Islamophobia is at a record high, there are those who have made an industry from selling their faith for fame and fortune by either renouncing their faith openly, or by seeking to fictitiously claim to be Muslim whilst targeting Muslims and seeking to call for a reformation of the Qur’ān and its interpretation. In some of these cases, there are individuals who never really had any association to Islām other than it being their birth-right i.e. they were born in a Muslim household. There are others however who were well known within the community for their piety, some even participated in one of the greatest of deeds in Islām, jihād in the path of Allāh. Many of us struggle to understand how a person can go from a path of righteousness, in some cases living in the laps of scholars, to one of destruction and living in the laps of the shayatīn and enemies of Islām. The following events which have come to pass should serve as a reminder that we should not be surprised by such people and they should enable us to understand that such incidents have happened before and will continue to happen.
Where better to start than Iblīs. The essence of being a Muslim is to submit oneself in ultimate humbleness to Allāh. But it is perhaps a great irony of humans that when we become more humble and submissive to Allāh, a grave trap awaits many of us where we become arrogant believing our level of submission and righteousness to be greater than that of others. Of course, the chief character in all this, from whose life we can all learn vital lessons, is Iblīs himself, may Allāh curse him.
When discussing the story of Iblīs, we learn from Ibn Kathīr that many reports have been transmitted from the Salaf (pious predecessors), and most of them come from the Isrāiliyyāt (tradition of the Children of Israel), which may have been transmitted in order to be examined i.e. as opposed to being accepted as is. Allāh knows best about the veracity or otherwise of many of them. Some of them are definitely to be rejected because they go against the truth which we hold in our hands, the Qur’ān. We know from the Glorious Qur’ān that he was indeed a jinn as Allāh says:
“…So they prostrated themselves except Iblīs (Satan). He was one of the jinn…” 
Al-Ḥasan al-Basri said: “Iblīs was not one of the angels, not even for a single moment. He is the father of the jinn, just as Ādam (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is the father of mankind”. It is nevertheless accepted that Iblīs was noted for his piety such that he was brought in the company of the angels and those nearest to Allāh. When Allāh created Ādam (ʿalayhi al-Salām) he shaped him into a human being, but he remained a figure of clay for 40 years. The angels went past him and were seized with fear by what they saw, and Iblīs felt fear most. He used to pass by the hollow figure of Ādam, buffeting it, which would make a sound like pottery. And Allāh tells us,
“(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels: ‘Truly I am going to create man from clay. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me, then you fall down prostrate to him….. So they prostrated themselves except Iblīs (Satan). He was one of the jinn; he disobeyed the command of his Lord…… (Allāh) said: ‘O Iblīs! What prevents you from prostrating yourself to one whom I have created with both my hands? Are you too proud (to fall prostrate to Ādam) or are you one of the high exalted?’ (Iblīs) said “I am better than he. You created me from fire, and you created him from clay… Get out, for you are of those humiliated and disgraced.”
The trap of arrogance was indeed one which the accursed Iblīs fell into and due to his arrogance, he was cast out and became the accursed. You will find this very same characteristic in some of those in our times who were known for their piety and have subsequently strayed. In such cases, when you analyse matters carefully, you will find it was their arrogance in believing that the Muslim community and/or the group they subscribed to owed them something on account of their own perceived piety, be it respect, acknowledgment of a good action, or a certain position, perhaps, which eluded them. The likeness of such a situation is like a business deal in which one party has not been informed of the price.
Another story which comes to mind in this discussion is that of Barsisa. At the time of Banī Isrāīl (Children of Israel), there was a man in a small village called Barsisa who was a monk and known for his piety. One day three brothers were called upon to take part in the noble and blessed deed of Jihād. They had a sister and they did not want to leave her by herself. They thought that the safest place to leave her was in the care of Barsisa because he was the most trusted man they knew. When asked, Barsisa said: “Aʿūdhu billāh (I seek refuge in Allāh), get away from me.” This was because he was scared of falling into sin. The brothers said, “We have nowhere else to leave our sister but with you. We don’t trust anyone else.” So Shaytān came to Barsisa in the form of Waswasah (Whisperings) and said, “If you do not accept, she might be left with somebody who might not be trustworthy. You have to take this responsibility.”
So Barsisa told the brothers, “Leave her in the empty house across the road from my monastery.” The brothers then left her there and went for Jihād. Barsisa took care of their sister and would leave her food outside his house and she would have to come out and walk across to his doorstep to pick up her food. Sometime later however, Shaytān told Barsisa, “somebody might see her by herself coming out and this is not safe for her so why not leave the food closer for her?” Barsisa agreed and started leaving the food outside her house. But Shaytān was not happy with this either, so sometime later, he returned and asked Barsisa, “Why don’t you go in and leave it on the table, so that no one sees her coming out and going in alone at all”. Again, Barsisa agreed and he started leaving the food on the table in her house.
Then again one day Shaytān said, “Why don’t you talk to her, she is all alone and has no one to talk to”. So Barsisa agreed and started talking to her from behind a door. Shaytān then asked Barsisa to just go in and talk to her, and finally, he had got them alone in a room together and this led to him committing Zina (fornication). In fact, she also became pregnant. As soon as the baby was born, Shaytān returned and said to Barsisa, “What have you done? When her bothers return, you will be in serious bother so get rid of the evidence”. So Barsisa killed the baby and buried it. The whisperings continued that the mother of the baby would not keep this story from her brothers and he then killed her also. When her brothers returned from Jihād years later, Barsisa informed them that their sister had died of illness. Later that night, Shaytān came to the brothers in a dream and informed them about what Barsisa had done and where the child and their sister could be found. The brothers awoke in a state of shock and dug up the fake grave and found it empty. They then dug the placed Shaytān showed them in the dream and found the child and their sister!
So they went to Barsisa and forced him to disclose the secret of what happened. He went ahead and told them the whole story. The three brothers took Barsisa to the King’s court where Barsisa knew he would be given the death penalty. Shaytān came to Barsisa again for the final time. This time he revealed himself and told him he was the one whispering the thoughts to him. And he said that he could save Barsisa so long as Barsisa made Sujūd (prostration) to him. Barsisa, out of desperation made Sujūd to him, this confirmed his Kufr (disbelief) and Shaytān said to him “I am free of you, I fear Allâh, the Lord of the ‘Ālamīn (mankind, jinns and all that exists)!” and left Barsisa who was then stoned to death. On the day of judgement, he will be resurrected making sujūd to Shaytān.
This story shows how a person’s own sense of piety was used against them in a cunning and patient manner by Shaytān for indeed had Shaytān asked Barsisa to fornicate, kill a person or make sujūd to him at the outset, he would not have done so. Similarly, you have some today who claim to be Muslim whilst believing in concepts such as secularism and evolution, concepts which some years before they themselves would have declared as a heresy but such is the arrogance in how they consider their own intellect, that they seek to interpret a matter which none before them had ever done.
ʿUbaydullāh b. Jaḥsh
ʿUbaydullāh b. Jaḥsh was married to Umm Ḥabibah Ramlah bint Abi Sufy`ān (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha), the mother of the believers and sister of the great companion Muʿāwiyah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu). She became Muslim with her husband ʿUbaydullāh. It is stated by some that he was amongst those who believed in the religion of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) being part of the group of Waraqa bin Nawful who were awaiting the coming of a Messenger before the Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) messengership, at a time when many around him were worshiping idols. He was among the early group of people who became Muslim which is why he and his wife made Hijra, migrated to the land of Al-Habasha (Abyssinia, modern day Ethiopia). The significance of the Hijra is embodied in the Islamic calendar in that the inception of the Islamic calendar is taken from this date as it represents a history of perpetual struggle between truth and falsehood, freedom and oppression, light and darkness and between peace and war. This Hijra was made at the instruction of the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) for a group of Muslims to escape the persecution by the Mushriks, polytheists of Makkah. This was a group which contained great names which would illuminate the sky like bright starts such as ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān; Ruqayya bint Rasūlullāh; Jʿafar b. Abi Ṭālib; Zubayr b. al-ʿAwwām; ʿAbdurrahmān b. ʿAwf; Abū ʿUbayda; Musʿab b. ʿUmayr; ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum).
But despite being from amongst the foremost who embraced Islām and despite being among those who were blessed enough to see and take his Shahādah (declaration of faith) from the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) himself, ʿUbaydullāh b. Jaḥsh is remembered today for being the person who, whilst living in Habasha, became Christian and left Islām. He stayed in the land of Habasha until he died and he died as a Christian. As for his wife, she remained true to her faith and later when she came to Madīnah, her steadfastness was rewarded by Allāh through her marriage to the greatest of creation, the Prophet of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and thus she is awarded the prestigious title, as is the case with all the wives of the Prophet, and forever remembered as one of the Ummahātul-Muʾminīn, Mothers of the Believers.
Points to Note:
The great lesson to be taken is that Shaytān will always seek to lead mankind astray. In some cases, the early steps in the path to destruction may even appear to be quite sincere, but the end result bears witness to its evil at source.
We should always seek refuge in Allāh from Shaytān and we should never think we have enough knowledge or are strong enough to be free from him.
We must never forget that Īmān (faith) is a gift to us, a gift which must be nurtured and cherished, and which is the means of admittance into Paradise inshāAllāh (God Willing). Indeed the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Allāh gives worldly things to those He loves and to those He does not love, but He gives Īmān only to those He loves, so he who is given Īmān by Allāh has been loved by Him.” 
What a great blessing has been lost by those who have renounced their faith for their desires and worldly gain.
We should also make sure that we always keep in check our intentions lest we join the list of those who are damned, and we must be aware of not becoming the person whom ʿUmar b. Al-Khattāb` (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) described when he said: “Whoever decorates himself by displaying to the people some characteristics that Allāh knows are contrary, will be disgraced and dishonoured by Allāh” . Another important reminder is that we should never become too attached to contemporary personalities and shuyūkh because you do not know in which state they will die. This is contrasted to holding on to the view of the classical scholars, since you know that they died upon Islām
Let us constantly remember that no one is safe from misguidance. We should therefore remember to constantly ask Allāh to keep us on the straight path and let us remember the words of the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) wherein is a supplication which he, even whilst being the Messenger, the Imām (leader) of the Messengers and best of the Messengers would often recite.
ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿAas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said that he heard Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saying, “All the hearts of the offspring of Ādam are between two fingers of Ar-Rahmān’s Fingers, as one heart. He turns it (in any direction) as He wills”. Then Allāh’s Messenger made the following supplication:
يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِى عَلَى دِينِكَ
“Yaa Muqallibal Quloob Thabbit Qalbee ‘alaa Deenik”.
“O Allah! The Turner of the hearts, turn our heart towards Your obedience/religion.”
In Part 2 of this article, inshāAllāh (God willing) we will look at the opposite of what we have discussed here; we will trace some stories and events in relation to the following topic: “From Kufr to Īmān: Guidance and Honour of the Righteous”
Notes: Al-Qur’ān, 10:32  Tirmidhi  Al-Qur’ān, 18: 50  Al-Qur’ān, 38: 71-78  Al-Qur’ān, 18: 50  Al-Qur’ān, 7: 11-13  Tarikh b. Asakir. Vol. 69, Pg. 135 – 136  Aḥmad  Ad-Daaraqutnee, 4/207  Muslim