قٌالَتِ الأَعْرٌابُ آمَنٌّا قُلْ لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلٌكِنْ قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنٌا وَلَمٌّا يَدْخُلِ الإِيـمٌانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِنْ تُطِيعُوا اللٌّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لاٌ يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمٌالِكُمْ شَيْئاً إِنَّ اللٌّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
The Desert ‘Arabs (come to you O’ Muhammad) and say ‘We have true belief!’ Say to them [O’ Muhammad, blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny] that, ’You are not true believers, rather you have only submitted [to Allah], since true faith has not yet entered into your hearts. However if you were to obey Allah and His Messenger [Muhammad, blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny] then nothing would be reduced from your good deeds. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.’ (49:14).
The axis of discussion of this verse revolves around a group of people who were “apparently” Muslims that were pretending to be of those who submitted and had true faith - however not even the smallest amount of faith existed in their hearts!
This group is known as the hypocrites whose danger is much more serious than that of others, since the Jews and Christians are the known and apparent enemies of Islam; however the hypocrites are the undistinguishable enemies. Thus, the damage and injury that people at this level can inflict is much greater than the other group (Jews and Christians)1
By studying the verses of the Qur’an in which the words ‘Islam’ and ‘«man’ are mentioned in their various forms, one can reach to the conclusion that in most cases, the word ‘Islam’ (submission) is used as an opposite to ‘Shirk’ (polytheism) and ‘Iman’ (true faith) is used as an opposite to ‘Kufr’ (disbelief) and ‘Fisq’ (wickedness).
The lexical meaning of the word Islam is ‘submission and humility’; while the lexical meaning of the word Iman is ‘assurance and confidence’. Therefore, the meaning of Islam in the language of the Divine teachings is the state of humility and submission to the Creator of the Universe and that which is opposite to this is Shirk (polytheism) and Ilhad (atheism). It should also be mentioned that an atheist is not humble or submissive to anything, whereas a Mushrik (polytheist) submits to idols, bodies or things that have been fashioned by one’s own hands.
Seeing as to how during the time when the Qur’an was being revealed, the meaning of a Mulhid (atheist) was a person who did not believe in a Creator, in most cases, the word Islam was used as an opposite to Shirk and a Muslim was used as an opposite to a Mushrik. Pay attention to the following verses of the Qur’an:
قُلْ إِنِّي أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ أَوَّلَ مَنْ أَسْلَمَ وَلاٌ تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِيـنَ
“Say (O’ Muhammad): "Certainly I have been commanded to be the first of those who submit (to Allah (in Islam)) and unquestionably not to be of those who join (gods) with Allah.” (6:14).
فَإِلٌهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وٌاحِدٌ فَلَهُ أَسْلِمُوا وَبَشِّرِ الْمُخْبِـتِينَ
“So then your god is One God: submit then your will (entire presence) to Him (in Islam): and give the good news (O’ Muhammad) to those who humble themselves.” (22:34).
مٌا كٌانَ إِبْرٌاهِيمُ يَهُودِيًّا وَلاٌ نَصْرٌانِيًّا وَلٌكِنْ كٌانَ حَنِيفًا مُّسْلِمًا وَمٌا كٌانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِيـنَ
“(Prophet) Ibrahim was not a Jew, nor was he a Christian; but he was true in faith (Hanif) and he bowed his will (entire presence) to Allah (in Islam), and he was not of those who joined gods (with Allah).” (3:67).
نَعْبُدُ إِلٌـهَكَ وَإِلٌـهَ آبٌائِكَ إِبْرٌاهِيمَ وَإِسْمٌاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَقَ إِلٌـهاً وٌاحِداً وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
“We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, of Ibrahim and Isma’il and Ishaq - the one (True) God (Allah) and to Him do we all submit (in Islam).” (2:133).
قُلْ إِنَّمٌا يُوحَى إِلَيَّ أَنَّمٌا إِلٌهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وٌاحِدٌ فَهَلْ أَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
“Say (O’ Muhammad): ‘That which has been revealed to me (from Allah) is that your God is the One God (Allah): will you then be of those who submit to him as Muslims (in Islam)?” (21:108).
لاٌ شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَ بِذٌالِكَ أُمِرْتُ وَ أَنٌا أَوَّلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
“He has no partners and to this I have been commanded and I am the first of those who submit (one of the Muslims).” (6:163).
لاٌ إِلٌـهَ إِلاٌّ الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرٌائِيلَ وَأَنٌا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
“There is no god except Him Whom the Children of Isra’il believe in and I am one of those who submit (to Allah in Islam).” (10:90).
By paying close attention to these verses that present the meaning of Islam and all the derivatives that come from this word, we see that truly this word means humility to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and turning away from all forms of polytheism and diverging thoughts.
Seeing as to how the worship of the One Creator and abandoning any sort of polytheism and not paying heed to any created object, is the fundamental belief of all of the Heavenly Teachings, it is because of this fact that from the very first day that mankind was created, there has never been more than one true religion and that is al-Islam, just as it is mentioned in the Qur’an:
إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ الإِسْلاٌمُ
“Unquestionably the only Din (complete code and way of life) acceptable to Allah is al-Islam.”(3:19).
وَ مَنْ يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الإِسْلاٌمِ دِيناً فَلَنْ يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ
“And whoever chooses other than al-Islam as his Din - then it will never be accepted from him.” (3:85).
Given that the Qur’an wishes to invite the followers of the Injil and the Tawrat to one common goal and aim, all of humanity have been invited towards al-Islam. In addition, the reality of Islam is that the followers do not turn to polytheism and the worship of idols, as it has been mentioned in the Qur’an:
...أَلاٌّ نَعْبُدَ إِلاٌّ اللٌّهَ وَلاٌ نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلاٌ يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنٌا بَعْضاً أَرْبٌاباً مِّنْ دُونِ اللٌّهِ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنٌّا مُسْلِمُونَ
“’…that we shall not worship any other creature or entity other than Allah and we shall not setup with Him partners and we will not take some people over us as lords other than Allah.’ So then if they turn away (and do not accept these things) then say to them (O’ Muhammad) that ‘Bear witness surely we are of those who submit (as Muslims).’” (3:64).
Again, since the reality of Islam is to worship Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and to turn away from everything other than Him, and during all times and ages this is what mankind has been commanded to follow, we see that even after building the Ka’bah, Prophet Ibrahim al-Khalil al-Rahman (peace be upon him) prayed to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) to make him and his children Muslims, when he said:
رَبَّنٌا وَاجْعَلْنٌا مُسْلِمَينِ لَكَ وَ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّـتِـنٌا أُمَّةً مُسْلِمَةً لَكَ
“O’ our Lord! Make us from those who submit to You (as Muslims) and also (make) our children to be from the nation of submitters (Muslims) to You.” (2:128).
The Qur’an also holds firm to the belief that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) had named those people who worshipped Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) from a previous time as being Muslims:
هُوَ سَمٌّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمَينِ مِنْ قَبْلُ
“It is he (Ibrahim) who called you Muslims from before.” (22:78).
From these verses of the Qur’an, we can deduce that the truth of Islam and the principle goal of this religion (in the instances that have been elucidated to in these verses) is submission and obedience in the presence of the Truth which takes form in the worship of One God (Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He).
It goes without saying that the centre for this form of true submission which is also the basis through which one is saved from the fire of hell and is graced with the bounties of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) is the heart and the soul of the person. Therefore, a Muslim is one who is humble and submissive from the bottom of his heart towards Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and does not accept anyone or anything other than Him at the level of Lordship.
The first part of the body that this manifests itself on to is the tongue of the person (through the verbal declaration), followed by the other parts of the body. Therefore the true meeting point of submission and obedience is the heart and soul of a person and the tongue is simply the faculty through which it is made known.
In the Qur’an, the word Iman (true faith) is used as an opposite to the word Kufr (disbelief). A point that must be mentioned in relation to this is that Iman is a mental state of believing and accepting something. With this said, we see that Kufr is in the meaning of covering up something and thus is the opposite of Iman. It is said that through his own disregard and denial (of the Truth), a disbeliever covers up the true visage of the Truth and in this relation, the Qur’an states:
وَ مَنْ يَتَبَدَّلِ الْكُفْرَ بِالإِيـمٌانِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوٌاءَ السَّبِيـلِ
“But whoever changes from true faith (Iman) to disbelief (Kufr) has definitely strayed from the correct way.” (2:108).
هُمْ لِلْكُفْرِ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَقْرَبُ مِنْهُمْ لِلإِيْمٌانِ
“On that day, they were nearer to disbelief (Kufr)than they were to true faith (Iman).” (3:167).
إِنِ اسْتَحَبُّوا الْكُفْرَ عَلى الإِيْمٌانِ
“If they love disbelief (Kufr) over true faith (Iman).” (9:23).
يُؤْمِنُونُ بِاللٌّهِ وَ الْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ
“They have true faith (Iman) in Allah and the Last Day.” (3:114).
أَلَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلاٌةَ
“Those people who have true faith (Iman) in the unseen and uphold the Salat.” (2:2).
وَكَذٌالِكَ أَنْزَلْـنٌا إِلَـيْكَ الْكِتٌابَ فَـالَّذِينَ آتَيْـنٌاهُمُ الْكِتٌابَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ
“And thus (it is) We that have sent down the Book (al-Qur’an) to you (O’ Muhammad). So, the people who have been given the book have true faith therein.” (29:47).
The conclusion that we arrive at by studying these verses is that the intended meaning of Islam in the language of the Qur’an is submission and humility in the presence of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He); while Shirk is classified as humility in the presence of idols – which are made from the things that Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) Himself has created.
The meaning of Iman in the Qur’an is voluntary submission and obedience to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and those things which are connected to Him such as the Prophetic Mission of the Prophets, the Day of Judgement, the Heavenly books and other (such) things and this is the opposite to Kufr in which all of these things or even some of them are denied and not accepted.
If the true visage of Islam is submission and attestation, then without doubt the true focal point of these two states is the ruh (spirit) and the soul of a person, and the tongue and other parts of one’s body are the places where the physical manifestations of these two states are made.
However, if the meaning of these two words is simply to show or demonstrate one’s submission and obedience even though in the heart and deep down in the soul of the person, there are no effects present - just as we find people in whose hearts there is no effect of submission or obedience, however by their words they act as if they are submitting and obedient to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) - then in this event the manifestation of submission and obedience will simply remain on their tongues. In some of the verses of the Qur’an, this sort of external or apparent form of Islam and dishonest Iman has been mentioned.
In relation to the cause of revelation of the verse under discussion, the Commentators of the Qur’an have narrated that a group of people from the tribe of Bani Asad came to the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) to ask permission to use the Zakat and they made known to the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) that they had true faith in him (they had Iman). Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) commanded the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) to say to them that, “You have accepted Islam (not Iman), since true faith has not yet entered into your hearts.”
It goes without saying that just as Iman had not entered into their hearts, so too Islam (submission) had also not entered into their hearts and their submission or acceptance of Islam was nothing more than a verbal attestation. However, why is it that the Prophet told them: “Do not say that you have true faith (Iman), rather say that you have submitted (accepted Islam)” since from the apparent point of view they had accepted Islam and Iman, however deep down inside themselves, they had neither Iman nor Islam? We will elaborate upon these points later on.
In the Qur’an, there are some verses which speak about verbal faith such as:
لاٌ يَحْزُنْكَ الَّذِينَ يُسٌارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ مِنَ الَّذِينَ قٌالُوا آمَنٌّا بِأَفْوٌاهِهِمْ وَ لَمْ يُؤْمِنْ قُلُوبُهُمْ
“(O’ Muhammad!) Do not let those people grieve you who race each other into disbelief (Kufr) (if it be) among those who say “We believe” with their mouths but whose hearts have no true faith (Iman).” (5:41).
From this discussion, it is clear that the true focal point of Islam and Iman is the heart and soul of a person and the tongue is the place where the physical manifestation of these two traits takes place. Sometimes however, it is possible that the true physical manifestation of Islam and Iman do not occur and the presence of Islam and Iman is not made known within the depths of a person.
Therefore, opposed to what some people may imagine, Iman is not particularly related to the heart and Islam is not particularly related to the tongue (verbal confirmation) - rather both of these, both from the inner and the outer aspects - are of various degrees and levels.
The popular and prevalent meaning of these two terms are just as have been mentioned, however there are some other verses of the Qur’an and ahadith that offer another interpretation of them, of which we mention some of them here.
1. Sometimes Islam is defined as the physical submission, whereas Iman is limited specifically to the ethereal beliefs and these are the meanings of these two words when they are used together as opposites to one another. The person who is hearing these words is in a position where he must separate (two things from themselves), as can be seen in the verse under discussion.
In this verse, we see that the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) had been commanded by Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) to tell the people from the tribe of Bani Asad who had come to him to ask permission to use the Zakat and outwardly showed that they had accepted the faith. It was here that the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) was commanded to tell them that they had accepted Islam (submission), but not Iman (true faith).
This sentence clearly shows that by attributing Islam to these people, they had traversed one of the stages and levels of Islam which was the verbal submission but not all of the levels that Islam entails. Also by negating any sort of Iman that they possessed, this negation was only in relation to some of the stages and levels of Iman of which the hidden or true faith of the heart is that which was negated from these people and not all the levels of Iman. This is the case since we see that from the apparent aspect they had accepted Islam and they also had Iman, however if we looked at what was deep in their hearts, they neither had Islam nor Iman.
It is possible that the reason why these two words are used in this fashion is that the most clear area of manifestation of submission (to Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He) is the tongue and the most natural part of the body in which Iman would be made manifest is the soul and spirit of a person. Due to this, in the verse under discussion we see that the word Islam is simply the Islam of the tongue and Iman is the Iman of the spirit; and because of this, it is correct to state that one of these confirms the other one, while the other one negates the first one.
2. Islam is a phrase that is confessed by the tongue and is linked to the beliefs that one has in his heart. However in regards to Iman, in addition to this (definition), it also entails acting according to one’s responsibilities (of the religion) and this is the meaning that has been specified in the ahadith.
Muhammad ibn Muslim has narrated from either Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir or Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (peace be upon them both) that it was said:
أَلإِيـمٌانُ إِقْرٌارٌ وَ عَمَلٌ وَ الإِسْلاٌمُ إِقْرٌارٌ بِلاٌعَمَلٍ
“Iman is the confession (by the tongue) and acting (according to one’s responsibility) and Islam is confession (by the tongue) without acting.”2
In a letter which Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (peace be upon him) wrote to Ma’mun, he summarized Islam by stating the following:
وَأَصْحٌابُ الْحُدُودِ مُسْلِمُونَ لاٌ مُؤْمِنُونَ وَ لاٌ كٌافِرُونَ
“The people upon whom the punishment of Allah must be meted out are the Muslims, not those who have true faith (Mu’minun), nor the disbelievers (Kafirun).”3
However, these people (of the tribe of Bani Asad) are Muslims, since both in their heart and through their tongue they had testified to the truthfulness of the religion of Islam, however they were not true believers (Mu’minun).
This is said because the foundation of Islam is based on acting according to the injunctions of the religion whereas a person who commits a sin that necessitates the punishment that Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) has prescribed has naturally trampled upon a series of responsibilities that Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) has placed for him.
Building up on this interpretation, there is a well-known hadith which has been narrated in the books of the Ahl al-Sunnah and the Shi’a that states:
لاٌ يَسْرِقُ السٌّارِقُ حِيْنَ يَسْرِقُ وَ هُوَ مُؤْمِنُ وَ لاٌ يَزْنـى الزٌّانِي حِيْنَ يَزْنـى وَ هُوَ مُؤْمِنُ.
“At the time that a thief is stealing and (at the time that) an adulterer is committing adultery, he is not a Believer.”4
In this interpretation, Iman has been sited as an opposite to sin and rebellion (against the laws of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He) and Islam has been used as an opposite to Kufr or disbelief.
3. Within the definition of Iman, in addition to Islam being one of the conditions, Wilayah (recognizing the true successors of the Messenger of Allah, blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) is also a prerequisite. After mentioning the definition of Islam as being the confession to Tawhid (Oneness of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He) and the Prophetic Mission of the Prophet of Islam (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) and fulfilling one’s religious obligations, Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) went on to say:
أَلإِيـمٌانُ مَعْرِفَةُ هٌذٌا الأَمْرِ مَعَ هٌذٌا فَإِنْ أَقَرَّ بِهٌا وَ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ هٌـذٌا الأَمْرِ كٌانَ مُسْلِماً وَ كٌانَ ضٌالاً
“Iman (means) to recognize and believe in this issue (Wilayah of us, the Ahl Al-Bayt) and if one testifies to this but does not recognize this issue (the Wilayah of the Ahl Al-Bayt), then he is a Muslim and he is misguided.”5
The dispute as to the reality of what Islam and Iman are is a dispute that is long running. The great teacher of the Shi’a, late Shaikh Mufid (may Allah be pleased with him) in his precious work Awail al-Muqalat6 has clearly explained the opinion of the Shi’a. Also, the late scholar ‘Allamah Majlisi (may Allah be pleased with him), in his discussion on Kufr and Iman7, has brought forth both verses of the Qur’an and ahadith in relation to this dispute. However we bring this discussion to a close by quoting the words of Shahid ath-Thani (may Allah be pleased with him):
The difference of opinion amongst the Scholars in relation to the meaning of these two words can be divided into three categories:
Issue 1: Do the words Islam and Iman, from the point of view of their purport and subject have a different (lexical) meaning or is their substance one and the same?
The answer to this question was made clear in the beginning of this discussion since these two words, from the point of view of their lexical meaning have two distinct and different meanings. The reality of Islam is humility, while the definition of Iman is submission, confirmation and voluntary obedience to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He). With this said, how is it possible to say that the original meaning of these two words – whether from the point of view of their lexical meaning or how they are used in the religion – are one and the same?
Issue 2: In the meanings of these two words, is there a sense of sharing of a common ground or not? By this we mean that is every true Muslim also a true Mu’min and vice-versa or not?
Answer: If this question is related to the common and prevalent meaning of these two words, then without doubt the meanings of them would lead us to accept that there is a relationship and both mean the same thing, since if someone is humble and submits himself to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He), then certainly between himself and that which is related to him (his body parts), there will also be submission. There are some verses of the Qur’an which show that both of these words are equal in meaning:
فَأَخْرَجْنٌا مَنْ كٌانَ فِيهٌا مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَمٌا وَجَدْنٌا فِيهٌا غَيْرَ بَيْتٍ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
“Then We brought forth such as were therein of the believers. But We did not find therein save a (single) house of those who submitted (the Muslims).” (51:35-36).
However, if this question is related to the final three meanings that were mentioned, then without doubt the relationship between these two words is that they share some commonality but also have their own independent meanings. By this we mean that everyone who has true faith (Iman) is a Muslim, however not all Muslims have true faith (Iman).
In the first definition that was given for Iman, it was mentioned that Iman is a firm belief which is rooted in the heart, whereas in the second definition, it was mentioned that Iman is to fulfil one’s responsibilities. The third interpretation was that Iman means to recognize and accept the rightful successors of the Prophet; whereas for one to be considered a Muslim, none of these three things are necessary.
Issue 3. Are the issues that are related to the practical laws of Islam such as purity (taharah), one’s life and wealth being sacrosanct (from other Muslims) and the permissibility to eat meat that has been slaughtered by such a person and the other rulings in Islam specific to the one who has Iman or even to the one who professes Islam?
Answer: If this question is related to the common and prevalent meaning of these two words, then we must state that the issue of the practical laws of Islam are simply related to submission and the apparent obedience to Islam. Thus, it is not necessary to delve deep into the inner submission of the heart and true acceptance of the teachings.
However if this question is in relation to the other three meanings of these two words, especially the first meaning that Islam is related to the apparent testimony and that faith is an internal issue rooted in the heart, then it must be stated that the practical laws of Islam are limited to only that – Islam – not Iman. This reality can easily be seen by looking through the history of the life of the Prophet (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny) and the ahadith of his successors.
In the beginning days of Islam, anyone was able to openly testify to their acceptance of Islam even if they did not have such a belief in their hearts and their submission was accepted and the laws of Islam were applicable to them. Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said:
أَلإِسْلاٌمُ يُحْقَنُ بِهِ الدَّمُ وَ تُؤَدَّى بِهِ الأَمٌانَةُ وَ يُسْتَحَلُّ بِهِ الْفَرْجُ وَ الثَّوٌابُ عَلى الإِيـمٌانِ.
“One who accepts Islam, his blood will be sanctified (he cannot be killed); anytime he gives you a trust, it must be returned; and (sexual) relations are made permissible (after marriage), however the reward (from Allah) is limited to Iman (true faith).”8
In another tradition, Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) has said:
أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أُقٌاتِلَ النٌّاسَ حَتَّـى يَقُولُوا لاٌ إِلٌهَ إِلاٌّ اللٌّهَ فَإِذٌا قٌالُوهٌا فَقَدْ حَرُمَ عَلَيَّ دِمٌاؤُهُمْ وَ أَمْوٌالُهُمْ
“I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no creature or entity worthy of worship except for Allah, and when they say this then at that time, their blood and property are sacrosanct.”9
- 1. This topic has been thoroughly explained by this author in his commentary of Surah al-Munafiqun under verse number 4 that reads:
هُمُ الْعَدُوُّ فَاحْذَرْهُمْ…
“They are your enemies so then beware of them…” (63:4).
- 2. Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 68, Page 246.
- 3. Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 68, Page 262.
- 4. Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 68, Page 270.
- 5. Usul al-Kafi, Volume 2, Page 24.
- 6. Usul al-Kafi, Volume 2, Page 15.
- 7. Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 68, Page 225-301.
- 8. Al-Mahasin, Page 285.
- 9. Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 68, Page 262.