“He said, ‘Tell me about Imaan.”
The next thing the Angel Jibreel asked the Prophet Muhammad (s) about was Imaan.
What is Imaan or faith? Who is a believer? What is disbelief? Who is a disbeliever? These questions appeared very early in the history of Islam, and with them came divisions amongst the Muslims. Without going into the details of the sects that resulted from these divisions, one important point emerges that we should learn from.
When it comes to any concept from the Qur’an and Sunnah, historically speaking, there have been two approaches to determine its meaning.
The first approach is to discover the meaning of that concept from the Prophet (s) and how he (s) passed on the understanding of this knowledge to his Companions (r), and them to their followers.
The second approach is to go directly to the word itself (eg a Quranic term) and try to discover its meaning from a linguistic or logical viewpoint, without first studying how Allah (swt) and His Prophet (s) explained those terms. This approach has led to many misunderstandings about the concept of Imaan and the advent of heretical groups.
If we firmly believe that the Prophet Muhammad (s) explained the entire religion in a clear manner to his (s) Companions (r), and that he (s) explained everything that needs to be known about the meaning of the Qur’an and how to apply its teachings in our daily life, then we should have no need to look elsewhere for guidance.
It is clear from evidence contained in the Qur’an and Sunnah that Imaan comprises of belief, statement and action. Concerning belief in the heart, Allah says in surah al-Maaidah, verse 41:
“O Messenger, let not those who hurry to fall into disbelief grieve you, those who say, ‘We believe’, with their mouths but their hearts have no faith.”
If what is contained in the heart is not sound and proper, then nothing else will be sound and proper. Belief in the heart is the foundation and driving force behind all the other components of Imaan. Next, one needs to state one’s belief with the tongue. This plays a two fold role of being a statement of fact while also being a statement of commitment to that fact. The Prophet (s) stated:
“Imaan is composed of [approximately] seventy branches. The greatest is the statement ‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah’ and the lowest aspect is removing something harmful from the road. And modesty is a branch of faith.” (Recorded in Muslim)
Here we can see that Imaan incorporates both statement and action. When one is committed to belief in Allah (swt) and His Messanger (s) then naturally one shows one’s belief by following this with actions of obedience to what Allah (swt) has commanded.
Imaan can increase and decrease, this is the case with both the level of belief in the heart as well as the commitment to carrying out acts of obedience. We all feel these levels of fluctuation in our daily lives, but if we sincerely turn to Allah (swt) and ask for His (swt) guidance, there are greater levels of Imaan waiting for us InshaAllah. Doing good deeds with the right intention increases Imaan, and doing sinful deeds decreases Imaan.
Committing sins does not make you a disbeliever or take you out of the fold of Islam unless they are shirk (making partners with Allah) or kufr (disbelief in Allah and His Messenger). The sinner may be punished in the Hellfire, but those with even the slightest amount of Imaan in their hearts will eventually enter Paradise. This is the belief that was passed on from the Prophet (s) to his Companions and it is the only view that takes into account all the relevant pieces of evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
“And give glad tidings to those who believe and do good deeds that for them will be gardens through which rivers flow…” (surah al-Baqarah:25)
The pillars of Imaan will be discussed in the next entry InshaAllah.