zeal, or excessive fervor, is easy to understand. Children who have only just learned to speak often can’t be convinced to stay quiet; when a person enters mindfully into a religion, it’s understandable that he might want to totally immerse himself in it, abandoning all aspects of his life that require him to compromise its rituals. (Note I said rituals, not beliefs. I’m getting to that.) Religion is the way he talks to God, and once you find you can talk to God, why do anything else? Hence, zeal. I am awakened promptly at 4:30 in the morning by it every day, when the dawn call to prayer blasts out from the nearest mosque at a very 21st century volume.
Many believers pass through this phase; Ali and some of the readers have been talking about it in the comments thread of the previous post. Most people who have experienced zeal will agree that it has a lifecycle; if one is thoughtful and introspective, it typically passes, interrupted by a period of bitterness and disillusionment, ultimately replaced by a quieter and deeper faith.
I think that zeal gets unfairly maligned here. In fact, I do believe that zeal is good, even neccessary, for faith. Why should zeal be defined as "excessive" fervour? Why should any amount of genuine fervour for Allah be excessive?
My zeal drives me forward in faith. Faith is not and should not be a purely intellectual excercise. Zeal is why I can awake for salaat al-fajr daily; zeal is how I can fast during Ramadan; zeal is how I pray salaat al-maghrib in parking lots or office corridors or whereever I happen to be. Zeal is how I avoid doubt about the societal and career consequences of wearing my traditional attire or sporting a beard. Were faith purely introspective or intellectual, bereft of zeal, then the practice of faith does indeed become mere ritual, nothing more.
In a nutshell, it is zeal that gives me the power to maintainn my introspection, to have a deeper and more solid faith. And heaven forbid my faith ever be "quieter" ! Or that my zeal ever have a "natural lifecycle". I have never experienced bitterness or disillusionment in faith because I have not succumbed to the Dawkinsesque conceit that reason is greater than faith. Part of why Islam is submission is in the submission to the truth that lies beyond the grasp of your own reason.
We are not vulcans. Faith can not and should not be tamed to the spartan constraints of reason. Faith - like a child - must be set free. The analogy to children speaks powerfully and positively to me; in my daughter I see a zeal that inspires me.