The following is the translation of a chapter from the Arabic book 'Al-Fikr al-Islami' (The Islamic Thought) by Sheikh Mohammad bin Mohammad Ismael Abduh, an Assistant Professor at the Egyptian University (now known as Cairo University) in the past.
Fear is one of the external appearances of the survival instinct. Its existence in man is inevitable because it is a part of his creation and it existed in him naturally with his creation. However, it is like other external appearances of the survival instinct such as sovereignty, defence, and compassion and others, even like those of other instincts, which are the religiousness and reproduction; it does not appear unless there is a motive. If there is no such motive, fear will not appear at all. This motive, which provokes fear, is the same like any other motive that provokes any of the instincts. It is either a tangible physical thing, or a thought that is connected with it or related to it. However, this physical tangible thing or thought must be understood that it causes fear of felt emotionally that it causes fear. Unless this understanding or that feeling occurred, then no fear will take place, because the energy of the instinct will not move nor will it be agitated unless the emotions of fear in the thing have been connected with a concept or with an instinctive identification. Thus, though it is an innate nature that is created with man, fear does not occur except with the presence of something that agitates it.
Fear is once of the dangerous problems due to which the declined peoples and the weak nations suffer humiliation and backwardness. If fear dominated on a person it prevented him of the life pleasure, deprived him of the noble characters, caused in him the mental disorder and the incapability to judge on matters and paralysed in him the memory and capability of identification.
The worst type of fear is that from imaginations and ghosts. This does not occur except to those of weak minds. This is either because the mind in them did not grow, like the children; or due to the absence of enough information to link them with reality, such as the ignorant people and every person who lacks the information because of his (type of) life in society as the case of most women; or due to natural weakness in their brains such as the foolish people and the disabled ones and their likes. The fear in these people is treated either by deep discussion with them and bringing near the matters to their understanding; or giving them thoughts related to what they sense of on the condition that these thoughts have a reality they can sense. With this treatment they can rid themselves of the power of fear, either by removing it or reducing it gradually until its ‘deep rooted’ concepts are up rooted.
There is another type of fear that is less dangerous than the fear of imaginations. It is that which results from the incorrect evaluation of matters. So man might see something thinking it is scary, though it might not be so. He might see a sleeping dog thinking it is a mad dog, for he had seen a similar mad dog before. So he becomes frightened from passing it in the road and flees from it. Had he verified the matter, he would find it to be a tame dog that does not scare, and it is sleeping and not feeling of his presence. He might see a lion inside a cage, so he becomes afraid to approach it lest the lion comes out to him. The lion might rage, so his fear increases and he runs away thinking the lion might go out of the cage. The lack of estimation mostly occurs in the semantic matters such as an article or a speech in a place, or conversation with a ruler or discussion with an influential person or the likes. The lack of proper estimation of matters causes him fear, so he abstains from writing, giving a speech or discussion in fear of harm.
There is another common fear that results from the absence of comparison between what results from undertaking an action and what results from abstaining from doing it. Both of them cause harm; so the error in this comparison leads to fear from the simple matters and the fall in dangers. This is like the fear from the oppressive ruler that he might inflict harm on the individual, which leads to inflicting harm on the Ummah and including the individual himself as one of the Ummah. This is also like the fear of the soldier in the battlefield from death, which leads to the annihilation of the whole army including the soldier himself. This is also like the fear from prison for the sake of the ‘aqeedah which he embraces, that lends to the waste of the ‘aqeedah from him, which is more harmful than the prison or the disappearance of the ‘aqeedah from the worldly life. This type of fear is very dangerous to the Ummah, which leads to dangers, rather to destruction and annihilation.
However, fear is useful and beneficial in some situations, and it is necessary to exist or to initiate. It is also harmful and destructive in some situations, and it must not exist and must be treated and removed. So the fear from the real dangers is beneficial and it is obligatory. Recklessness of these dangers and the lack of fear from them is harmful, and it should not occur, whether they were dangers on the individual himself or on his Ummah. Fear in this case is the guard and the protector. Therefore, it is necessary to explain the dangers that surround the Ummah so as to take account of them and work to defend her and to remove these dangers. The fear from Allah (swt) and from His torment is beneficial and obligatory, and it is the guardian and the protector. Therefore, it is necessary to agitate the fear from Allah (swt) in the souls, and to explain the degree of the torment of Allah (swt) for committing the sins and the kufr, so that people follow His deen, and perform His orders and abstain from His prohibitions. This fear and its like is beneficial and useful; and it must exist, and work should be done to create it, for it is the guard and the protector; and it is the one that secures the march of man at the straight path.
Therefore, fear is a part of man’s innate nature. The concepts are responsible for agitating it in man, and for removing it from man. In some areas, it is of the most dangerous on man; and it is of the greatest benefit in other areas. In order that man protects oneself of its dangers, and enjoys of its benefits, it is obligatory upon him to keep it under the control of the true concepts alone, which are the concepts of Islam.