When what has existed in the past occurs to your mind, it is called remembering and recollecting; if what occurs to your mind is existent at the moment, it is called finding and tasting and perceiving. It is called finding because it is a state which you find for yourself. And, if the existence of something in the future occurs to your mind and prevails over your heart, it is called expectation and anticipation. If the thing expected is abhorred, with pain in the heart resulting from it, it is called fear and distress. If it is something desired, with pleasure and relief of heart resulting from the expectation of it and the attachment of the heart to it and the occurrence of its existence to your mind, that relief is hope.
Fear is the fruit of knowledge that results from the knowledge of God with His attributes and the knowledge of a sin or the act(s) itself committed. For one to possess this ‘knowledge’ they must have already reached a state of higher awareness through seeking guidance which sets them apart from others who do not. Consequently, this means the ones who can possess fear – and effective fear at that which drives forward action rather than create indolence – must already bear characteristics of righteousness. Those who have knowledge of truth are those who can fear God; like the animal who has knowledge of its powerful predator and understands the dangers of remaining in plain sight of him. Only these have the wisdom upon which they can act accordingly, which is something the ignorant are deprived of.
Hope, not so on the other hand, is a companion to fear. It has been considered to be stronger than fear and should outweigh fear as it can be intertwined with love for a being (God) which lights a fire of passion in the heart unlike fear. Hope shares the same roots with fear in terms of the requirement of knowledge. Only after becoming well acquainted with God, His mercy, and the requirements to first do whatever is in our control can we yield the right to hope. We commonly misunderstand the meanings and values of hope and fear usually attributing them each to opposite polar ends; when in reality the antithesis of hope is despair and to fear it is security. Both are mentioned vehemently in the Qur’an as both are designed to work synergistically in balance to drive us forward in action and protect our souls from stagnation.
Know that fear is an expression for the suffering of the heart and its conflagration by means of the anticipation of what is abhorred as a future contingency. [And this has been made clear in the exposition of hope.] And whoever is intimate with God, whose heart is ruled by truth and who lives in the present through his seeing the majesty of truth perpetually, no longer turns to the future and is possessed of neither fear nor hope. More, his state has become higher than fear or hope, for both of these are reins which preclude the soul from its excursions into laxness.
Akin to the chemistry of our physical bodies, we require a balance – an equilibrium – to be maintained when it comes to matters of the soul. Hope and fear in equilibrium creates a resultant force which fuels productivity in our actions. However when one side skews to an extreme, it interferes with this balance and in turn disrupts productivity. For one to indulge in hope when they have not had any input from their part to gain the hoped for item in question, it is a matter of complacency and self-deceit which ultimately leads to zero productivity – this is not hope. Conversely, when one is too fearful of an outcome they are prone to becoming crippled by it to the point they fall into despair which, as already mentioned, is the unhealthy opposite of hope – and this also results in zero productivity as the person completely eliminates any ambition to seek. Therefore one should be striving to always return to the equilibrium if they find themselves outside off it – to treat despair from excessive fear with hope and self-deceit with false security from excessive hope with fear. And God knows us better than we do ourselves so He provides us with many places, time and time again, to reclaim our equilibrium and top up on our spiritual fuel.
All quoted text is from Imam Ghazali’s Book of Fear and Hope (William McKane Translation), part of The Revival of The Religious Sciences.