The Foundations of the Islamic Belief
by Al Ghazali (died 505/1111)
Shaykh Ahmad Darwish
Mosque of the Internet
P.O. Box 601, Tesuque, NM 87574 USA
Belief, Submission and Ihsan (“Sunni Sufis”).
The Relationship Between Belief and Islam and the
Differences Which Distinguish Them.
Whether Belief Increases or Decreases and the Qualifications
Which the Good, Early Generation Laid Down Concerning It.
This chapter is comprised of three matters.
First matter: People disagreed concerning the meaning of Islam (submission), whether it was identical with iman (belief) or different therefrom; and, in the event it was different, whether it was removed from belief and could exist without it, or inseparable from it and does not exist without it.
Some have said that they are one and the same thing. Others say that they are two different things wholly unrelated, and still others say that although they are two different things, they are closely related to each other.
Abu Talib al Makki had something to say in this connection; yet what he said was greatly confused and extremely long. Let us, therefore, proceed to declare the truth without bothering with that which is useless.
To begin with, this discussion comprises three considerations: First concerning the literal meaning of the two terms Islam and Iman (Submission and Belief); Second the technical meaning of the two terms in the Qur’an and prophetic quotations; Third the functions which they fulfill in this world and the next.
The first is one of language, the second is of interpretation, and the third is of jurisprudence and Religion.
The first consideration concerning the literal meaning of the words.
“Belief” means literally “acceptance”. Concerning the brothers of Joseph, Allah says: “They said (to Jacob): `We went racing and left Joseph with our things. The wolf devoured him. But you will not BELIEVE us, though we speak the truth'” (Ch.12:17 Qur’an), which is the same as saying that he will not accept their word.
Islam on the other hand means submission, and surrender to Allah through yielding and compliance; and henceforth abjuring rebellion, pride, and stubbornness.
Acceptance lies in the heart while the tongue serves as its interpreter. But submission is more comprehensive and pervades the heart, the tongue and the senses. For every acceptance with the mind is a submission and a disavowal of pride and unbelief.
The same is true of verbal confession as well as of obedience and compliance with the senses. According to the dictates of language Islam is the more general term, while belief is the more specific. Therefore belief (Iman) represents the noblest part of Islam.
Consequently every acceptance is submission, but not every submission is acceptance.
The second consideration treats the technical meaning of the two terms in the Qur’an and prophetic quotations.
The truth of the matter is that the Religion i.e. the Qur’an and prophetic quotations, has used the two terms as synonyms interchangeably, as different terms of different meaning, and as related terms, one being a part of the other.
Their use synonymously is shown in the Words of Allah when He said, “So We brought the believers out of that they were in. We found in it but one household of those who had surrendered themselves,” (Ch.51:35-36 Qur’an). Yet as a matter of fact there was only one family. Allah says: “Moses said: `O my people, if you believe in Allah, in Him put your trust if you are Muslims.'” (Ch.10:84 Qur’an).
The Prophet also said, “Islam is built upon five pillars.” At another time the Prophet was asked what belief was and he gave the same answers, namely the five pillars. (The bearing witness that there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet, prayer, obligatory charity, pilgrimage, the fast of Ramadan).
The use of the terms Islam and belief to signify different meanings is shown in the Words of Allah when He said: “The Arabs declare: `We believe.’ Say: `You do not’ rather say, `we submit’..” (Ch.49:14 Qur’an). This means that they have surrendered outwardly only. In this case the Prophet used belief for acceptance with the mind only and used Islam for surrender outwardly through the tongue and limbs.
(Similarly when Gabriel assumed the appearance of a stranger) and questioned the Prophet concerning belief the latter replied saying, “Belief is to believe in Allah, His Angels, Books, Prophets, the Last Day, the resurrection of the dead, the Judgement, and in the Decrees of Allah, the good and the evil.” Gabriel then asked what Islam was, to which the Prophet replied by citing the five pillars. He thus used Islam for submission outwardly in word and deed.
According to a prophetic quotation related on the authority of Sa’d the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – once gave a certain man a gift and to another he gave nothing whereupon Sa’d said: “O Prophet of Allah. You have given this man nothing although he is a believer.” The Prophet added, “Or a Muslim.” Sa’d repeated his question and again the Prophet added, “Or a Muslim.” Their use as related terms, the one being a part of the other is shown by what has been related concerning the Prophet of Allah – the praise and peace be upon him – when he was asked what deeds were best and he replied, “Islam”; and when he was asked which type of Islam was best he answered: “Belief”. This proves the use of Islam and belief (Iman) both as different terms and as related terms the one being a part of the other, of which latter use is the best linguistically, because belief is in reality a work – in fact the best of works.
Islam on the other hand is submission either with the mind or with the tongue, or with the senses; but the best is the submission with the mind. It is that acceptance which is called belief.
The use of the terms Islam and belief as two different words of different meanings, as related terms, the one being a part of the other, and as synonyms, does not overstep the possibilities which the language allows. Their use as different terms of different meanings makes belief signify acceptance with the mind only, which signification conforms to the dictates of language; it makes Islam signify submission outwardly, which thing is also in harmony with the requirements of language. For the submission in part is also called submission, since the unanimous agreement of the scholars application of a term is not a necessary prerequisite for its use.
For example, he who touches another with a part of his body is nevertheless called contiguous despite the fact that the whole of his body is not in contact with that of the other.
Hence the application of the term Islam to outward submission, although the inward submission is lacking, is in complete harmony with the rules of language. In this sense were the Words of Allah used when He said “The Arabs declare: `We believe.’ Say: You do not’, rather say, `we submit,’… (Ch.49:14 Qur’an).
The same is true of the use of the two words Islam and Iman (belief) in the prophetic saying related by Sa’d where the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – added: “Or a Muslim.” He did that because he preferred the one to the other. What is meant by the use of the two terms as different words of different meanings is that the terms contend for superiority and vie with each other in excellence.
Their use as related terms, the one being a part of the other, is also in harmony with the rules of language. It is the use of Islam for submission with the mind as well as with word and deed; while using belief for a part of Islam, namely acceptance with the mind. This is what we meant by the usage of Islam and belief as related terms, the one being a part of the other. It satisfies the rules of language with respect to both the specific application of belief and the general use of Islam, which is all-inclusive.
It was in this sense that the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – used the term belief when he replied to the question put to him as to which type of Islam is best, thereby making it a particular aspect of Islam and a part of it.
The use of the two terms synonymously, thereby using the word Islam for both inward and outward submission, would make it all submission; the same is true of belief, which may be used freely and its particular meaning extended, thereby making it general and including under it outward submission. This is quite possible because the outward submission through word and deed is the fruit and result of inward submission.
Thus the name of a certain tree is freely used to signify both the plant itself as well as the fruit of the plant.
Similarly the significance of the term belief may be extended so as to become general, thereby making it synonymous with the term Islam and in exact agree- ment with it. Allah said: “We found in it but one household of those who had surrendered themselves,” (Ch.51:36 Qur’an).
The third consideration deals with the legal rules which govern the two terms.
Islam and belief have two functions, one which pertains to the Hereafter and one which pertains to this world.
The function which pertains to the Hereafter is for the purpose of bringing people forth from Hell fire and preventing them from remaining there for ever.
The Prophet of Allah – the praise and peace be upon him – said, “Whoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought forth from Hell fire.” People disagreed concerning this function and concerning its fulfillment, and have asked what things comprised belief. Some have taught that it is simply an inward adherence and verbal confession. Others add a third element; deeds according to the pillars of Islam.
We shall then remove the veil and declare that there is no disagreement at all that anyone who combines in himself all these three elements will have his final abode in Paradise. This is the first degree.
The second degree is that where a person has the first two elements and a part of the third, namely inward adherence and verbal confession together with some good deeds according to the pillars of Islam, but commits one or several great sins.
According to the Mu’tazilites, a person by committing such great sins departs from the true belief but does not thereby become an unbeliever, but he becomes an “in between”. He is neither a believer nor an unbeliever but occupies an intermediary position between the two, and will remain eternally in Hell fire. This, however, is false as we shall show.
The third degree is where the person fulfills the inward adherence and verbal confession but fails to perform the deeds according to the pillars of Islam with his limbs. People have disagreed concerning it. Abu-Talib al-Makki held that deeds were a part of belief and the latter is incomplete without them. He also claimed that the unanimous agreement of the scholars backed his position and cited in its support proofs and evidence which tend to prove the contrary, such as the Words of Allah: “Those who believe and do the things that are right.” This quotation would indicate that deeds are something over and above belief rather than a part of it. Otherwise the reference to deeds would be a repetition, which is redundant.
It is strange that Abu-Talib al-Makki should claim the support of the unaminous agreement of the scholars for this position of his and yet relate the following prophetic saying: “No one would be declared an unbeliever unless he should deny what he has professed,” and finds fault with the Mu’tazilites because they insist that a person who commits a great sin will remain eternally in Hell fire. Yet he who holds such views holds the same views of the Mu’tazilites, since if he were asked whether or not a person, who accepted Islam with his heart and testified with his tongue thereto and then died, would be in Paradise, he would say `Yes’, thereby asserting that belief could exist without deeds.
We would then add another question and ask him whether or not that person, if he had lived until the time of prayer had arrived, but neglected to perform his prayer and died immediately after, or if he had committed fornication and died, whether or not he would remain eternally in Hell fire? If he should answer, `Yes’, he would agree with the Mu’tazilites; but if he should say, `No’, it would amount to a declaration that deeds are neither a part of belief itself nor a prerequisite for its existence. Neither are they necessary for gaining the reward of Paradise. But if he should say that what he meant was that the person would remain eternally in Hell fire only if he had lived a long time without either praying or attempting any of the deeds prescribed by the Religion, we would say, exactly how long is that period, and how many are those good deeds through the neglect of which belief is rendered worthless? How many of the great sins would, if committed, annul belief?” Such a thing is impossible to determine and no one has ever done so.
The fourth degree is represented in the case of the person who accepts Islam inwardly with his mind but dies before either confessing it verbally with his tongue or performing any of the deeds which its pillars prescribe. Would it be said that such a person died a believer? People differ on this question. Those who insist on verbal confession as a prerequisite of belief would say that he died before fulfilling the conditions of belief. But this is false because the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – said, “Whoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought forth from Hell fire.” This person’s heart overflows with belief; how then would he remain eternally in Hell fire? Furthermore when Gabriel asked Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – concerning belief, the only condition set forth was to believe in Allah and His Messenger, His Angels, His Books, the Last Day, the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgement, and in the Decrees of Allah, with good or evil, as has already been mentioned.
The fifth degree is when a person accepts Islam in his mind and lives long enough to be able to confess the two phrases of the witness with his tongue and to know that they are obligatory upon him, but, for some reason, he does not so confess them. It is possible that his failure to confess them with his tongue is like his failure to pray. Concerning such a person we will say that he is a believer not doomed to Hell fire eternally. Because belief is simple acceptance and the tongue is its interpreter.
It is certain, therefore, that belief exists in its entirety even before its verbal confession with the tongue, so that the tongue can interpret it. This is the most plausible position, since there is no choice but to follow the exact meaning of terms and to satisfy the dictates of language. The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – said, “Whoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought forth from Hell fire.” The heart does not become void of belief because of the failure of the person to fulfill the duty of confessing that belief with the tongue, just as it does not become void of belief because of the failure of the person to perform obligatory deeds.
Some people have said that to confess the two phrases of the witness with the tongue is indispensable because it is not merely an outward expression of the inward belief, but rather the sealing of a contract and the commencement of a life of witness and obligation. The first position is the more correct.
In this connection the Murji’ites have gone to the extreme, declaring that no one who professed to be a Muslim will ever enter Hell fire, and that a believer, even if he should sin, is sure of salvation. We shall see to it that their position is refuted.
The sixth degree is to say with the tongue that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, but disbelieve it in his heart.
We have no doubt that the fate of such a person in the Hereafter is with the unbelievers, and that he will remain eternally in Hell fire. On the other hand we are sure that in this world, the affairs of which are entrusted to imams and governors, he will be reckoned among the Muslims, because we have no access to his heart and have, therefore, to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he adheres in his heart to what he had professed with his tongue.
We, however, have our doubts concerning a third matter, namely the status which exists in this world between such a person and his Creator, Allah, in the event that one of his relatives dies, and as a result of his relative’s death he accepts Islam in his heart as well. Having thus accepted Islam in his heart as well, he questions the learned men concerning his status saying, “I did not accept Islam with my heart, (although I had confessed it with my tongue), until my relative died. Having fallen heir to his property. I wish to know whether or not it is lawful for me to receive it?” Or in case he had married a Muslim woman (while he disbelieved in his heart), but upon his marriage he came to accept Islam in his heart; would he be required to repeat the marriage contract again? These questions are controversial and leave room for different opinions.
Thus it may be said that the decisions of this world, whether they are clear or hidden, depend upon the express confession of Islam.
It may also be said that, in so far as they pertain to the individual in his relationship to other men, these decisions depend upon the outward confession of Islam, because the heart of the individual is not known to others besides himself and Allah. The more correct position, and Allah knows best, is that it is unlawful for that person to receive the inheritance of his deceased relative, and that he must repeat the marriage contract a second time. For this reason, Hudhayfah used to stay away from the funerals of hypocrites, and it was customary for `Umar to follow his example and absent himself whenever Hudhayfah did so.
Nevertheless prayer over the dead is a formal ceremony, although it is also one of the acts of worship. To guard oneself against what is unlawful is, like prayer, among the obligations of the individual towards Allah. This is not contradictory to our saying that inheritance is the law of Islam. Islam is surrender, in fact complete surrender is that which includes both outward and inward acts. These are doubtful problems in jurisprudence, based upon the outward meaning of words, vague generalities, and mechanical analogies. Consequently no one immature in knowledge should think that he could arrive at absolute certainty in any of these cases, although it has been customary to cite them under those parts of scholastic theology where absolute certainty is the desired goal. For no one who follows the common practices and conventional formalities will ever succeed.
(i) The confusion of the Mu’tazilites and the Murji’ites
If you should say, “What then are the fallacies of the Mu’tazilites and the Murji’ites (and anyone who follows this way of thought), and what are the proofs that their position is false?” I would then say that their fallacies arose from their failure to understand certain generalities mentioned in the Qur’an.
As to the Murji’ites, they said that no believer would enter Hell fire, although he might commit every possible sin. They based their position on the Words of Allah when he said, “And whoever believes in his Lord, shall fear neither shortage nor injustice” (Ch.72:13 Qur’an) and again in His Words when He said: “Those who believe in Allah and His Messengers are the sincere and the martyrs before their Lord. They shall have their reward and their light. But those that disbelieve and belied Our verses, are the inhabitants of Hell.” (Ch.57:19 Qur’an).
They also quote the Words of Allah: “Every time a host is cast therein, its keepers will ask them: `Did no one come to warn you?’ `Yes,’ they will reply, `but we belied the Warner (Messenger) saying: `Allah has not sent down anything, you are in great error!'” (Ch.67:8-9 Qur’an).
His saying: “Every time a host is cast therein”, is inclusive and therefore every one who is thrown into Hell fire must have treated the warner as a liar.
They also quote the Words of God “In which none shall be roasted except the most wretched sinner, who lied and turned away.” (Ch.92:15-16 Qur’an). In this verse we find a specification, as well as an affirmation and a negation. Again they quote the Words of Allah: “Whosoever comes with a merit, for him there is better than it, and they are safe on that Day from its terror.” But belief is the beginning of good deeds.
Again they quote, “And Allah loves the good doers.” Allah also said: “We do not waste the reward of him who does good deeds.” (Ch.18:30 Qur’an). But they have no proof in any of these verses, because when belief is mentioned in them it means belief coupled with good deeds.
We have shown that belief is used to signify Islam, which is in conformity with the heart, word, and deed. Supporting this interpretation are many prophetic quotations concerning the punishment of sinners and the extent of their penalty.
Furthermore the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – said, “Whoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought from Hell fire.” But how could anyone be brought forth from Hell fire if he had not first entered therein? We also find in the Qur’an the following Words of Allah: “Allah does not forgive (the sin of inventing an) association with Him, but He forgives other sins to whomsoever He will.” (Ch.4:116 Qur’an). The fact that Allah may exempt from punishment according to His Will. The usage of “willing” indicates divisions.
He also said: “He who disobeys Allah and His Messenger, for him is the Fire of Hell, which he will be in forever.” (Ch.72:23 Qur’an). To declare such a person an unbeliever is, nevertheless, unjust.
Allah also said: “The evildoers shall suffer an everlasting punishment.” (Ch.42:45 Qur’an). And again, “But those who come with an evil deed shall have their faces thrust into the fire.” (Ch.27:90 Qur’an). Some of the understanding of the generalities of these verses on first impression contradict the other generalities. Therefore we must resort to the understanding of the specific versus general and also to discipline interpretation on both sides; especially when prophetic quotations are clear in their pronouncements that the sinners will be punished. In fact the Words of Allah, “There is not one of you who shall not go down to it.” (Ch.19:71 Qur’an) is almost an express declaration that punishment is inevitable to all, because every believer cannot help but commit an offense.
Furthermore, by the Words, “In which none shall be roasted except the most wretched sinner who lied and turned away.” (Ch. 92:15-16 Qur’an). Allah meant certain particular people, since the appellation `the most wretched’ refers to a particular person.
Again in His Word, “Every time a host is cast therein, its keepers will ask them” (Ch.67:8 Qur’an) refers to a special group of unbelievers. At any rate dealing with statements which are linguistically “general” to convey the meaning for “special” is not an uncommon practice.
Because of this last verse al-Ash’ari as well as several other scholars of theology fell into the denial that all “general” usages, and that such usages await a qualifier “evidence” to clarify their meanings.
The fallacy of the Mu’tazilites arose from failure to understand the following Words of Allah. Allah says: “I am all Forgiving for he who repents, believes, practices good deeds, then is guided.” And His Words when He declared, “By the afternoon time! Surely the human is in a (state of) loss, except those who believe and do good deeds…” (Ch.102:1-3 Qur’an). Also His Words when He said, “There is not one of you who shall not go down to it: such is a thing decreed, determined.” (Ch.19:71 Qur’an) and continued saying: “We will save those who fear Us…” (Ch.19:72 Qur’an). Also the Words of Allah: “And whosoever disobeys Allah, and His Messenger, indeed for him is Hell, and therein they will abide forever.” As well as every verse in which Allah mentions good deeds coupled with belief.
Also the Words of Allah when He said: “He who kills a believer deliberately – his recompense is Hell, he is eternal there.” (Ch.4:93 Qur’an). These generalities are also specific as is proved by the Words of Allah when He said: “but He forgives other sins to whomsoever He will.” (Ch.4:116 Qur’an). Therefore freedom to forgive men sins, other than the sin of polytheism, must be left to Allah.
Similarly the words of the Prophet when he said, “Whoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought forth from Hell fire,” prove the same thing.
Allah declared: “As for those who believe and do good deeds, We do not waste the reward of him who does good deeds.” (Ch.18:30 Qur’an). And again “Allah does not waste the wage of the good-doers.” How then would Allah suffer the reward of belief itself as well as that of good deeds to be lost because of one single offense? As for the Words of Allah: “He who kills a believer deliberately,” they mean whoever kills a believer because of his belief, and the words have been revealed for that particular purpose.
You may say, “What has already been said will lead to the conclusion that belief obtains without good deeds although it is well known that the good, early generation said that belief comprises inward adherence, verbal confession and good deeds; explain to us therefore the meaning of all this. I shall then say it is not unlikely that good deeds are considered a part of belief, because they perfect and complete it, just as it is said that the head and hands are part of man. It is evident that a person will cease to be human if his head no longer exists; but he will not cease to be a human being if one of his hands is lost through amputation.
Similarly both the exaltation and the praise are considered a part of prayer, although it is not annulled by their omission. Therefore acceptance with the heart stands in relation to belief as does the head in relation to the existence of man, since the one depends for its existence upon the other and ceases to exist when the other no longer is. The remaining good deeds are like the limbs of the body, some are more important than the others.
The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – said: “A believer is no longer a believer when he commits fornication.” Furthermore the Companions held the same opinion as the Mu’tazilites concerning the fact that a person ceases to be a believer when he commits the sin of fornication. What this really means is that such a person is no longer a real believer possessing a complete and perfect belief, just as the deformed individual whose limbs have been amputated is described as being no longer a human being; in other words he lacks that perfection which is beyond actual humanity.
(ii) The Increase and Decrease of Belief
Second Matter: You may say, “The good, early generation have agreed that belief is subject to increase and decrease – increasing with obedience and good deeds, and decreasing with disobedience and sin.” In that case I shall say that the good, early generation are just witnesses, and no one has any right to depart from their judgment. What they have said is true; but the important thing is to grasp its meaning. It proves that good deeds are not an integral part of belief nor a basic thing for its existence. Rather they are an addition which augments belief. Both the surplus and the deficit exist, but nothing increases in itself. Thus it cannot be said that man’s head is an addition or a surplus which increases his stature or size; but his beard and corpulence are.
Similarly it is not permissible to say that prayer is augmented and increased by kneeling and prostration; rather it is augmented by the manner of its execution and the usages followed therein. This, therefore, is a clear declaration that belief as such does exist, and that once it exists, it may vary, subject to increase and decrease.
If you then say that the ambiguity lies in the problem of acceptance, how could it increase and diminish when it is always the same? I shall then say that if we put aside all hypocrisy and ignore the opposition of adversaries and then lift the veil off the exact meaning of the word, all ambiguity will be removed. Consequently we say that belief is a common noun used in three different ways.
(iii) The Definitions of Belief – Iman
The first usage denotes an acceptance with the heart, a belief based on the authority of other believers without the benefit of revelation and an open heart. This is the belief of the ordinary people; in fact it is the belief of all people except the elite.
This belief is, as it were, a knot bound around the heart, sometimes tightened and made stronger and sometimes loosened and made weaker, just like the knot in a piece of string.
Do not consider this unlikely but remember the tenacity of Jews in holding fast to their doctrine, how they cannot be shaken or moved from it either by threatening, or warning, promising or admonishing, examining or proving.
The same is true of Christians and innovators among whom exist some who can be made to doubt with the least word, and can be made to move from their belief with the least attraction or threat, although, like the Jews, they do not doubt the veracity of their own doctrine, yet they differ in the degree of their determination.
Such variations in the degree of determination also exist in the true belief, and good deeds influence the development and growth of this determination, just as irrigation influences the growth of trees.
Allah says:, “Whenever a chapter is revealed, some of them ask: `Which of you has it strengthened in belief?’ It will surely increase the belief of the believers and give them joy.” (Ch.9:124 Qur’an). And again, “It was He who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers so that they might add belief to their faith.” (Ch.48:4 Qur’an). According to a prophetic saying; “Belief is subject to increase and decrease.” This is accomplished by the influence of good deeds upon the heart, a thing which is not perceived except by those who meditate over their different inner states during the hours of worship and apply themselves solely to it through the presence of the heart at the time of inactivity and languor, as well as realizing the variations which are inherent in devoting oneself in these states to the articles of belief, so that the tie which binds him to his belief might become firmer and consequently harder to undo for the person who wishes to loosen it with doubt.
In fact if the person, who believes that the orphan offers him the opportunity to reveal the quality of mercy, will act according to his belief and show kindness toward the orphan, he will be assured within himself of the real existence of mercy as well as of its manifold increase through its active operation.
Similarly, if the person who believes in modesty will, in accordance with his belief, humble himself before another person, he will sense the quality of modesty within himself at the time he performs the act.
The same is true of all the qualities of the heart: all bodily actions proceed from them, and then the very influence of these actions react upon them, thereby confirming their existence and increasing their strength. This subject will be discussed in two volumes of my book “Ihya Uloom Ad-Din, The Revival of Religious Knowledge” one volume speaks of the destructive characteristics and another of the characteristics of safety. In which we mention the relation of the inward to the outward and that of deeds to beliefs.
This relation is of the same nature as that of the relation between the visible world and the invisible world.
By the visible world, which is also called `alam al-shahadah, (the witnessing world) I mean the world which is perceived by the senses; and by the invisible world, which is also called `alam al-ghayb, (the unseen world) I mean the world which is perceived by the light of the heart.
The heart belongs to the invisible world while the members of the body as well as their activities belong to the visible world. The subtlety and fineness of the interdependence of the two worlds have led some to think that they are closely connected, while others thought that there was no world except the visible which is made of the concrete and tangible bodies.
One who has perceived the two worlds and realized first their independence and then their interdependence expressed his observation in the following manner: “The glass was fine, the wine was clear. So confusion spread: to some it seemed nothing but glass; while others swore `This is but wine, no glass is here’.” Let us go back to the main purpose of our discussion, especially since the invisible world is outside the scope of the science of practical religion.
Nevertheless the two worlds are connected and interdependent. For this reason the science of revelation extends its scope every now and then into the realm of practical religion and does not withdraw until it imposes some obligations.
This then is how belief, in accordance with this usage, increases through good deeds. For this reason, `Ali said, “Indeed belief will loom as a single white spot in the heart of man. If the man will do that which is good the white spot will grow and spread until the whole heart is white. Whereas hypocrisy makes it first appearance as a black blotch in the heart of a man. If the man will do that which is unlawful, the black blotch will grow and spread until the whole heart is black, and blackness becomes man’s second nature.” Allah says: “No, but what they used to do has veiled their hearts.” The second usage of the term belief denotes both acceptance and deeds, just as the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – stated: “Belief comprises over seventy divisions.” The same thing is also seen in the words of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – when he said: “A believer is no longer a believer when he commits fornication.” And when deeds become an integral part of belief, it becomes evident that it is subject to increase and decrease. Does this, however, affect belief which is mere acceptance? The question is one of opinion, and we have already stated that it does.
The third usage of the term belief denotes certain acceptance resulting from revelation and an open mind as well as from seeing truth with the light of the heart. The last is the least to lend itself to increase. I shall, however, say that the way in which the heart accepts certain things which are free of doubt differs.
Thus the way the heart and mind accepts the fact that two are greater than one is unlike the way it accepts the fact that the world is created and originated. Although there is not the slightest doubt of the certainty of either fact. For certain things differ in the degrees of their clarity and in the degrees to which the mind accepts them.
We touched on this subject in the section of certainty in the “Book of Knowledge” under the characteristics of the learned people of the Hereafter; therefore there is no need to go over it again.
In all these usages it became evident that what they have said concerning the increase and decrease of belief was true. How could it not be true when we have the express testimony of the prophetic sayings: “Whosoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought forth from Hell fire.” In another prophetic saying: “He will be brought forth from Hell fire, who has in his heart the weight of a dinar of belief.” Why then should the amount differ if the belief in the heart does not vary?
(iv) The Clause of “Allah Willing” in Stating One’s Belief, Question and Answer
You may ask, “What then have the good, early generation meant with the saying: `Allah willing, I am a believer!'” A qualification implies doubt, and to entertain doubts concerning the veracity of belief amounts to unbelief. Yet all the good, early generation used to refrain from giving a definite reply concerning belief, and were extremely careful not to commit themselves.
In this connection Sufyan al-Thawri said, “He who says, `Before Allah I am a believer, is a liar; and he who says, `I a really a believer’, is an innovator.” But how can he be a liar when he himself knows that he is a believer? For he who is a believer in himself is a believer before Allah, just as he who is big and generous in himself and is aware of this fact, will be big and generous before Allah.
The same is true of him who is likewise glad, or sad, or hearing, or seeing. On the other hand if man were asked whether or not he was an animal it would not be fitting for him to reply, “Allah willing, I am an animal.” When Sufyan made this statement he was asked, “What then shall we say?” Thereupon he replied, “We believe in Allah, and that which has been sent down to us.” (Ch. 2:130 Qur’an).
And what is the difference between saying, “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us” and saying, “I am a believer?” Once al-Hasan was asked, “Are you a believer?” To which he replied, “If it is the Will of Allah”. Thereupon he was told, “O Abu-Sa’id? Why do you qualify your belief?” He answered and said, “I fear saying, `Yes’, and then Allah will say, `You have lied Hasan.’ Then I shall rightly merit His punishment.” He also used to say, “I fear that Allah may find that I have done something abominable to Him and will consequently abhor me and say, `Go away. I accept none of your deeds.’ Then I shall be working in vain.” Ibrahim ibn Adham once said, “Whenever you are asked, `Are you a believer?’ say, `There is no god except Allah’.” At another time he said, “Say, `I do not doubt belief; your question to me is an innovation’.” `Alqamah was once asked, “Are you a believer?” to which he replied, “I hope so. Allah willing.” Al Thawri said: “We believe in Allah and in His angels, Books, and Prophets. But we do not know what we are before Allah.” You may ask all this and say: “What then is the meaning of all these qualifications?” The answer to your question is that these qualifications are correct and are put forward for four reasons, two of which arise from doubt, not of the reality of belief itself, but of its end and perfection; and two do not arise from doubt at all.
The first reason which does not arise from any doubt at all is the care not to be decisive for fear of self-praising and making one’s self out to be pure. Allah says: “Do not praise yourselves.” And again, “Haven’t you see those who praise themselves?” And again: “Behold how they devise a lie against Allah.” A certain wise man was once asked, “What is detestable truth?” He replied, “Man’s praise of himself.” Belief is one of the highest forms of praise and to be definitely certain of it amounts to absolute praising. The formula of qualification (Allah willing) is nothing but an attempt to temper and tone down such praising, just as when the man is told that he is a physician, or a jurisprudent, or a commentator, he will say, “Allah willing,” not because he doubts that the fact but simply to avoid being boastful.
This formula is that of disavowing and disclaiming the fact itself and means disclaiming one of the implications of the fact which is self justification. Following this interpretation, when the person is asked concerning something uncomplimentary, it will not be fitting for him to put forth any such qualification.
The second reason for the use of these qualifications is courtesy by remembering Allah at every time and under all conditions, and by submitting all things to His Will. Thus, Allah instructed His Prophet in courtesy and said to him: “Do not say of anything: `I will do it tomorrow,’ (without adding) `if Allah wills.'” (Ch.18:23-24 Qur’an). Nor has Allah limited the use of the qualifying phrase to those things the occurrence of which is subject to doubt. On the contrary He said: “You shall certainly enter the Sacred Mosque in security if Allah wills, with hair shaven or cut short and without fear.” (Ch.48:27 Qur’an) although He had known that they were undoubtedly going to enter it and that He had willed their entrance.
What Allah instructed the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – in the use of the qualifying formula. Consequently the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – learned the lesson and showed his courtesy by the use of that formula in connection with everything he had said -whether that thing was known with certainty or doubtful; so that when he entered the cemetery, he said, “Peace be upon you, the believing inmates of this abode. Indeed, if it is the Will of Allah, we shall follow you.” This he said, not- withstanding the fact that death is not subject to any doubt, because courtesy demands that Allah is always remembered and that all things are made dependent upon Him.
This formula indicates such a thing and has become, by virtue of its common use, representative of the expression of desires and wishes.
Thus when you are told that such and such a person is about to die and happens to say: “If it is the Will of Allah,” you betray your desire and not your doubt. The same is true when you are told that a certain person will recover from his sickness and you say, “Allah willing,” by way of expressing your earnest desire.
The phrase has thus been transferred from one expressing doubt to one which signifies desire. Also, in the same way is its transfer to express courtesy and respect for remembering Allah in all circumstances.
The third reason for the use of those qualifications arises from doubt and means, “Allah willing, I am truly a believer,” since Allah spoke of some particular men as being true believers.
Consequently believers are divided into two groups: those who are described as truly believers and those who are not. This arises from doubt concerning the perfection of belief and not its reality.
Every person doubts the perfectness of his belief, yet this doubt does not constitute unbelief. Doubting the perfectness of belief is right and justified for two reasons: The first is because hypocrisy militates against the perfectness of belief, and hypocrisy is something hidden while freedom from it is readily discerned or determined.
The second is because belief is perfected through the fulfillment of good deeds which are not known to exist in their perfect form.
As for deeds Allah says: “The believers are those who believe in Allah and His Messenger, and do not doubt; and who struggle in His way with their possessions and their selves. Such are the truthful ones.” (Ch.49:15 Qur’an). The doubt would, there- fore, be concerning this truthfulness.
Similarly Allah says: “But righteousness is to believe in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Book, and the prophets.” Thus Allah laid down twenty qualities, such as the fulfillment of promises and fortitude under hardship, as conditions for belief and then said, “Indeed, these are they who are true.” Allah also says: “Allah will raise up those who believed among you, and those who have been given knowledge in ranks.” (Ch.49:11 Qur’an). He also says, “Those who spent before the victory and took part in the fighting, are mightier in rank and are not equal to those who spent and fought thereafter.” (Ch.47:10 Qur’an). He also says: “They are of ranks before Allah.” The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – said, “Belief is uncovered and its clothing is piety.” And again, “Belief comprises of over seventy branches, the least of which is to clear an obstacle from the road.” This shows the dependence of the perfectness of belief on good deeds.
(v) Belief is Pure From Hypocrisy
Its dependence on freedom from hypocrisy and concealed polytheism is shown by the words of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – when he said, “Four things, if they gather in a person make him a hypocrite, no matter how often he prays, fasts, claims that he is a believer; he who lies when he speaks, breaks a promise when he pledges his word, betrays a confidence when he is trusted, and deviates from justice when he enters a controversy.”
In another narration “And when he makes a compact with his neighbor, he defrauds him.” A prophetic quotation related on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, says, “The hearts are of four kinds: a sealed heart, which is the heart of the unbeliever; a two-faced heart, which is the heart of the hypocrite; a clean heart from the midst of which a radiant lamp sheds its radiant light; and a heart which contains some belief and some hypocrisy. The belief it contains is like a vegetable which receives its nourishment from fresh waters. The hypocrisy it contains is like an ulcer which feeds on pus and blood, whichever of the two substances will prevail will determine its fate.” According to another narration: “Whichever will prevail will seal his doom.” The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – also said, “The most hypocritical people of this nation are those among the reciters (of Qur’an)”. In another narration he said: “Polytheism among my people is more subtle than the creeping of the ant on the rock.”
(vi) Narrations Concerning Freedom from Hypocrisy
Hudhayfah said, “During the time of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – there were things which made the man who repeated them a hypocrite as long as he lived. However, now, I hear these same things repeated ten times a day, (and no one seems to mind).” A certain learned man said, “The person closest to hypocrisy is he who deems himself free thereof.” Hudhayfah also said, “Hypocrites are more numerous today than they were at the time of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him -. At that time they used to conceal their hypocrisy; now they reveal it.” Such hypocrisy militates against the reality of belief as well as against its perfectness. It is something concealed and subtle: the farthest removed from it are those who are constantly afraid of it, while those who deem themselves free of it are they who are nearest to it.
A Hasan al Basri was once told: “There is no more hypocrisy nowadays.” To which he replied, “Brother! Were the hypocrites to perish from the land you would feel lonely on the way.” Again either al Hasan himself or someone else said, “Were tails to grow on the backs of the hypocrites and trail behind them our feet would no longer be able to touch the earth.” Once Ibn `Umar, on hearing a man speak disparagingly of al Hajjaj (the Umayyad governor), told him, “Would you speak disparagingly of him if he were here present?” The man answered, “No.” Thereupon Ibn `Umar said, “We used to consider this hypocritical at the time of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him -. The Prophet said, `He who has a fork-tongue in this world will, in the Hereafter, be made fork-tongued by Allah'”.
The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – also said, “The worst man is the two-faced who meets one people with one face and another people with another face.” Al Hasan al-Basri was once told, “There are some who say that they do not fear hypocrisy.” Thereupon he answered, “By Allah, I would rather be sure that I am free of hypocrisy than have all the gold in the world.” Al Hasan also said, “Among the different kinds of hypocrisy are the disagreements between the tongue and the heart, between the concealed and the revealed, and between the entrance and the exit.” A certain person told Hudhayfah: “Indeed, I fear I am a hypocrite.” To which Hudhayfah replied, “Do not fear. If you were a hypocrite you would not have feared hypocrisy. Indeed, hypocrisy does not fear hypocrisy.”
Ibn abi Mulaykah said, “I have known one hundred and thirty of the Companions of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him -, all of whom feared hypocrisy.” It was related that the Prophet of Allah – the praise and peace be upon him – was once sitting with a group of his Companions who were discussing a certain man and praising him highly. Suddenly, while they were in the midst of their discussion, the man himself appeared before them with his face still wet with the water of ablution, carrying his shoes in his hands and his forehead covered with dust from prayer. Thereupon they said to the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – “Behold. This is the man whom we were discussing.” The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – turning to them, said, “I see on his face the mark of satan.” Then the man came and, after greeting the group, sat in their midst. The Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – then addressed him and said, “Tell me, I ask you by Allah, have you not said to yourself when you approached the group that there was no one among them who was better than you?” The man replied, “By Allah! Yes, I did.” In his prayer the Prophet said, “O Allah, I seek refuge in You against the evil of things I did and things I left undone.” He was then asked, “Are you afraid O Prophet of Allah?” To which he replied, “What could make me feel secure when the heart lies between two of the fingers of the Merciful, and He does with them what He wills?” Allah says: “And there shall appear to them, from Allah, that which he did not expect.” This was interpreted in commentaries to mean that men have done things which they thought were good but on the Day of Judgement these things will appear in the balance in the scale of evil.
Sariy al Saqti once said, “If a person enters a garden containing trees of every kind and on them are birds of every kind, and then each bird calls to him in a different language saying, `Peace be upon you, O friend of Allah’, and as a result he feels very well pleased and satisfied, he becomes their captive.” These prophetic quotations and narratives reveal to you the gravity of the matter, particularly because of the subtle nature of hypocrisy and hidden polytheism, and bring out the fact that no one can be safe from them.
This led `Umar ibn-Khattab to ask Hudhayfah about himself – whether or not he was numbered among the hypocrites.
Abu Sulayman ad Darani said, “I heard a certain governor say something and I wanted to express my disapproval of it but feared lest he order me to be killed. And although I did not fear death I was afraid lest I became tempted to boast before men when my spirit departs. For this reason I refrained from expressing my disapproval of the governor’s words.
This kind of hypocrisy strikes against the truth, perfection, and purity of belief, rather than against its reality.
(vii) Classification of Hypocrisy
For hypocrisy is of two kinds: The one results in parting with Religion, pursuing infidels and joining the company of those who are deemed eternally to Hell fire; the second leads the person to Hell fire for a certain period of time and puts him down from the high ranks of Paradise and demotes the people who are close to Allah from their high ranks. It is a field open to doubt and therefore it is desirable to resort to the use of qualifications therein.
Tis kind of hypocrisy rises from the disparity and disagreement between the concealed and the revealed, from feeling secure from the deep counsel of Allah, and from conceit and other things from which only the people who are close to Allah are free.
The fourth reason for the use of these qualifications arises also from doubt. It is the fear of the end, for no one knows whether or not he will still have any belief at the hour of death.
If he should end with unbelief all his previous deeds would come to nothing and fail, because (the value of these deeds) depend entirely upon their good ending. Thus if a fasting person were asked early in the day concerning the validity of his fast and replied, “I am surely fasting,” but later in the day he broke his fast, it would become evident that he was lying since the validity of his fast depends upon the maintenance of the fast until sunset at the end of the day. And just as the day is the set period for the fulfillment of fasting, so the lifetime is the set period for the fulfillment of the validity of belief. To describe it as valid before its conclusion simply because it has already been fulfilled in part is very doubtful and its end is frightful.
It was because of the end that most of those who fear Allah have wept. For the end is the outcome of a preordained event and the result of the Eternal Will which does not become known except when the preordained event itself takes place and which no human being can ever tell.
The fear of the end is the result of the fear of that which was preordained and there may appear in the present a thing which will give the lie to the words, (“I am a believer”). And who can be sure that he is one of those for whom Allah has preordained good things.
It has been said that the Words of Allah: “And when the agony of death comes in truth,” (Ch.50:19 Qur’an) mean that the preordained thing (has been fulfilled) and made known.
One of the good, early generation said that deeds would be judged by their ends. Abu ad Darda’ used to swear by Allah saying: “There is no one who feels safe in his belief who is not robbed of it.” It was also said that some sinful deeds were not punished except by their sad ends. We seek refuge in Allah against such deeds and such punishments. It has also been said that such punishments await those who falsely claim righteousness and the gift of miracles.
One of the gnostics once said, “If I were given the choice between martyrdom at the outer gate of the house and death as a true believer at the door of an inner room, I would choose the latter because I do not know what might occur to me and divert my heart from true belief on my way (from the inner room) to the outer gate of the house.” Another said, “If I had known a certain person to have been a true believer for the last fifty years and then, even though so frail a thing a pole should hide him from my sight before his death, I could not be sure that he died a true believer.” According to one condition, “Whoever says, `I am a believer’, is an infidel; and whoever says, `I am learned’, is ignorant.” In the interpretation of the Words of the Allah, “And the Words of your Lord are completed in truth and in justice.” It has been said that truth relates to those who died a believer and justice relates for he who dies an unbeliever.
He – the High – said: “And all final matters belong to Allah.” No matter how little doubt may be in such cases the resort to qualification is obligatory, because belief is a means of grace for the Hereafter just as fasting is a means of grace for absolving the heart from guilt in this life. Whatever fast is rendered void before sunset it is no longer a fast and will not absolve from guilt. The same thing is true of belief. In fact a person may be asked about a previous fast concerning which there is no doubt. He will be asked, “Have you fasted yesterday?” and he will reply. “Yes, Allah willing.” For genuine fasting is the only acceptable fasting, and the acceptable fasting is unknown except to Allah.
For this reason it is desirable to use the qualification, “Allah willing” in all the deeds of righteousness. This will imply doubt as to their acceptance by Allah, since such acceptance, despite the outward fulfillment of all the prerequisites of validity, may be blocked by hidden causes unknown except to Allah, the Lord of lords of the Mighty Majesty. Hence it is desirable to entertain some doubts concerning the validity.
These, therefore, are the different reasons for the desirability of qualifying one’s answers when asked about his belief.
With it we conclude the book of the Foundation of Islamic Belief.
The book concluded with the praise of Allah, the High and Allah praised our Master Muhammad, and every chosen worshipper. The following principle is explained by Ahmad ibn ad-Darwish
(viii) Ihsan – Perfection
In the fourth chapter, Imam Ghazali elaborated upon two of the three parts of the Religion; Islam with means submission and Iman which means belief. There is a third part which he did not discuss in this book and that is Ihsan.
Simply, Ihsan in the beginning of Islam was referred to as Ihsan or Zuhd which means doing without; a form of purification. Later it became known as Sunni Sufism in which participants have an unconditional discipline of following the Sunni Order (Way of the Prophet).
Ihsan is mainly an ethical and spiritual course which respects and follows the scholars of Ihsan as well as the other two parties of scholars namely, the scholars of Iman (belief) i.e. Imam Ashari and Salaf (first generation) as well as the scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence i.e. Shafi’i, Hanballi, Maliki, and Hanafi.
In simple words, Ihsan is based on three dimensions: For the sake of self cleansing, one asks Allah for forgiveness repeatedly, over and over again. This is followed by the multi repeated remembrance of bearing witness that there is no god except Allah. Thirdly, by the abundant repeating of the the praise of Allah and His angels for Prophet Muhammad as prescribed in the Qur’an – the praise and peace be upon him -.
During the time of Imam Ghazali, the practice of Ihsan was common and he too followed a spiritual sheikh of Ihsan. In his book “Al Munqiz min Ad- Dalal” (The Safety from Deviation) he investigated the validity of the roots, theory, and practices of many sects from Greek philosophy to the heritage of the Indians and Chinese. In this book he dissected and analyzed each sect individually and certified without any doubt that the Sufism of the Sunni Muslims was by far the best path to the Creator.
Having a spiritual guide is highly recommended.
The undermentioned Prophetic quotation describes the three parts of the Religion – Islam, Iman and Ihsan. “One day when we (the companions) were with the Messenger of Allah – the praise and peace be upon him – a man with very white clothing and very black hair came to us. There was no sign of travel upon him and none of us recognized him.
He sat down in front of the Prophet – the praise and peace be upon him – with his knees touching his. Then, placing his hands on his thighs he said: `Tell me, Muhammad about Islam.’ He replied: `Islam means that you bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, that you pray (the five daily prayers), pay the obligatory charity, fast the month of Ramadan and make the Pilgrimage to the House (Ka’bah in Mecca) if you have the means.’ The man replied: `You have spoken the truth.’ We were surprised at his questioning and then confirming that he had spoken the truth.
Then the man asked: `Now tell me about Iman (belief).’ He replied: `It means that you believe in Allah, His angels, His Messengers and the Last Day, and that you believe in both the decree of good and evil.’ The man replied: `You have spoken the truth.’
`Now tell me about Ihsan (linguistically, perfecting).’ He replied: `It means that you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, because He sees you although you do not see Him.’
Then the man asked: `Now tell me about the Hour.’ He replied: `The one who is asked about it is no better informed than the one who is asking.’ So the man asked: `Then tell me about its signs?’ He replied: `That the maid servant will give birth to her mistress and the bare- footed, naked, poor herders are seen living arrogantly in high buildings.’
Then the man departed, and after I had waited for a long time – the Prophet, the praise and peace be upon him – asked me: `Do you know who the questioner was Umar?’ I replied: `Allah and His Messenger know best.’ So he told me: `He was Gabriel who came to teach you your Religion.’
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