Before discussing the articles of faith, a couple of introductory topics need to be touched upon. The first concerns the definition of “faith” or “belief” from an Islamic perspective. The second concerns the basis of one’s faith.
The Definition of “Belief”
For many an English speaker, “belief” simply means the acknowledgment the something is true. Thus, one can be asked, “Do you believe that God exists?” and the reply may be, “Yes.” The same person may be asked a follow-up question, “Does your belief in God have any influence or ramifications upon your life, your deeds and your goals?” To this question, the same person who says he believes in God will reply, “No.” Given this common scenario, the following question must be addressed: Could this type of belief possibly be equivalent to what Islam means by, for example, “belief in Allah”?
The foundation of one’s Islam starts with what is in one’s heart and one’s beliefs. Thus, Islam has put a great emphasis on what to believe in, as shall be discussed in this chapter. At the same time, though, Islam also stresses what “belief” is supposed to be. Belief, from an Islamic perspective, cannot be something that a person claims is in his heart while it has no influence on the person’s life and behavior. On the contrary, the beliefs in the heart should be the driving force behind everything the individual does. The true and effective beliefs never remain at an abstract level but their influence is manifested on a day-to-day practical level. To take a simple example, the question of cheating and stealing is directly related to one’s overall belief system. If a person believes that these acts are morally wrong and that there is an all-knowing, just God who will hold him accountable for his deeds, he will most likely refrain from such acts. But if a person does not believe in any eternal ramifications or any day of judgment, his deciding factor may only be the chances of being caught and the severity of the punishment for those acts.
In fact, true belief does much more than make a person realize the negative or positive ramifications of an act. As a person develops in his faith and his beliefs become stronger, his faith molds the very way he looks at thing. His love for something and his hatred for something is determined by his beliefs about that thing. For example, when he recognizes that God loves something, he realizes that that thing must be wonderful and also deserving of his love. On the contrary, if God dislikes something, the individual realizes that that thing must be filled with traits that are deserving of his dislike as well.
One can take the example of smoking. Someone may believe that smoking is harmful and wrong by accepting the facts showing smoking to be harmful as true but he continues to smoke and he does not let what he recognizes to be true guide his actions. In other words, he does not submit to the truth he sees nor does he implement what it implies. His factual knowledge about smoking has not permeated into his heart such that he develops a hatred for smoking due to its evils. Hence, his recognition of the facts is not the same thing as “belief” or, in Quranic terms, imaan. Imaan necessitates that one has the willingness to submit to or enact what one recognizes to be true. In the case of true belief or Imaan, if that Imaan is strong and healthy at that moment, then it will put the feeling of hatred in the person’s heart for that act that he believes to be wrong or harmful. It will keep the person from wanting to commit that harmful act.
At the same time, it will put the love for all good deeds into his heart. Thus, Allah says,
Allah has endeared the Faith to you and has beautified it in your hearts, and has made disbelief, wickedness and disobedience hateful to you. These! They are the rightly guided ones
Such a faith will, therefore, rule his life and it will guide him to what he should do. (If, however, his faith is weak and can be overcome by other forces in the heart, it may not have that effect.)
Therefore, true belief means that one acts in accordance with that belief. When, for example, an individual says that he believes in the angels, it means that he knows that the angels are present and that they are actually recording his deeds. This should affect him in that he will not perform those deeds that he does not want those angels to see and record.
Thus, a thorough study of the Quran and Sunnah shows that faith or Imaan has certain components. These components were summed up by the earliest scholars in their saying, Imaan is statement and action.” Statement here includes both statement of the heart (affirmation) and statement of the tongue (verbal profession). Action includes both the actions of the heart (willingness to submit, love and so forth) and actions of the body (such as prayer and so forth).
For the sake of clarity, over time, these two components were broken down into the three following essential components of Imaan(1) Belief in the heart; (2) Profession by the tongue; (3) Performance of deeds by the physical parts of the body.
In sum, faith, meaning true and definitive belief in something, should lead to a corresponding submission to what one believes in. Otherwise, it is simply an acceptance of a fact but it is not the Islamic concept of “faith” (imaan). Thus, Ibn Uthaimeen wrote,
Imaan is the affirmation that requires acceptance and submission. If a person believes in something without acceptance and submission, that is not imaan. The evidence for that is that the polytheists [Arabs] believed in Allah’s existence and believed in Allah as the Creator, Sustainer, Giver of Life, Bringer of Death and the Manager of the Universe’s Affairs. Furthermore, one of them even accepted the messengership of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) but he was not a believer. That person was Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet (peace be upon him)… But that [belief in the Prophet (peace be upon him)] will not avail him whatsoever because he did not accept and submit to what the Prophet (peace be upon him) brought.
The second introductory issue concerns the basis for one’s faith. In the English language, there is a common conception that “faith” implies believing in something that one cannot prove. In other words, “faith” requires what is known as a “leap of faith,” where one goes beyond what can be rationally accepted to mere blind acceptance and belief. This approach is very much contrary to the Islamic conception.
From an Islamic perspective, one’s faith must be "knowledge-based," so that both the heart and the mind find solace in it and submit to it with a firm resolution. Islam does not demand that humans believe in matters that go against their own nature and reasoning that God has given them. Instead, Allah calls upon humans to reflect—look at the creation, at their own selves and everything around them. Allah points to different aspects of the creation and describes them as signs for those people who reflect.
When humans honestly reflect upon the creation around them, very clear conclusions should result: (1) This existence could not have come about without a wise and intelligent creator and (2) such a wise and intelligent creator would not create this without some purpose behind it. Thus, Allah says, “Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying),
Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire
Allah also says
Do they not think deeply (in their own selves) about themselves? Allah has created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, except with truth and for an appointed term. And indeed many of mankind deny the Meeting with their Lord” (30:8). Again, Allah says, “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?
The Quranic argument is that it is not logically possible to come to any other conclusion. Indeed, if a person believes in God as the Creator, by definition it is unbecoming of such a noble and great Creator to create all of this order and beauty and yet have no purpose behind that creation. A person who believes in a creator yet believes that this creator had no purpose or thought behind his creation is describing a creator that is childlike and unintelligent. It is hard to believe that a creator like that could possibly come up with a creation like the one that everyone witnesses today. No, indeed, the creation points to certain attributes of the Creator and it points to there being an important and great purpose behind this entire creation. The whole nature of the existence points to the Creator being one of very special character who would not create anything of this nature simply in sport or jest. That Creator could only be Allah with His perfect and sublime attributes—that is, this creation needs Allah and it could not be just and proper except under the control of Allah, exactly as Allah is. Thus,
Allah says in the Quran,
Had there been therein (in the heavens and the earth) gods besides Allah, then verily they both would have been ruined. Glorified be Allah, the Lord of the Throne, (High is He) above what they attribute to Him
A second very important conclusion that one can derive by simply pondering over this creation is that the one who created this from nothing can easily recreate it. If He has the ability to recreate things even after their demise, this also means that He has the ability to resurrect them and bring them all in front of Him. This thought, obviously, has very ominous repercussions for humans and their behavior in this world. Thus, Allah points out this fact and reminds humans of its meaning throughout the Quran.
See they not that Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, is Able to create the like of them. And He has decreed for them an appointed term, whereof there is no doubt. But the wrong-doers refuse [the truth and accept nothing] but disbelief
Another set of verses state,
And he [the human] puts forth for Us a parable, and forgets his own creation. He says, ‘Who will give life to these bones when they have rotted away and became dust?’ Say (to them O Muhammad), ‘He will give life to them Who created them for the first time! And He is the All-Knower of every creation! He, Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, when behold, You kindle therewith. Is not He, Who created the heavens and the earth Able to create the like of them? Yes, indeed! He is the All-Knowing Supreme Creator. Verily, His Command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is! So Glorified is He and Exalted above all that they associate with Him, and in Whose Hands is the dominion of all things, and to Him you shall be returned
The one who negates the resurrection is expecting that Allah will treat the wrongdoers like the pious people. This is an unbecoming expectation of Allah. Allah makes it clear that such will never be the case, highlighting that such thoughts can only come from those who disbelieve in God.
And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them without purpose! That is the consideration of those who disbelieve! Then woe to those who disbelieve from the Fire! Shall We treat those who believe and do righteous good deeds, as the evildoers on earth? Or shall We treat the pious as the wicked?
Although it is beyond the scope of this work, the Islamic beliefs in the Quran and the truthfulness of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are also based on clear and direct evidence. The belief in the Quran as being a revelation from God is not a blind belief but is directly related to the miraculous nature and extreme beauty of this book itself. Similarly, believing in the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is also supported by signs pointing to his coming in earlier revelations, the Prophet’s own noble character, the victory that God bestowed upon him, the change that was brought about in an entire generation and afterwards under his guidance and so forth.
The point is that the Islamic beliefs in God as the only creator and lord, the belief in a purpose of life, the belief in a resurrection, the belief in the Quran and the belief in the truthfulness of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are all based on knowledge and an understanding that is consistent with one’s human nature. In fact, because they are knowledge-based, any increase in one’s knowledge related to these beliefs leads to an increase in one’s faith. Thus, knowledge and faith are never battling against each other in Islam. Again, this is because there are no mysteries or absurdities that one is demanded to believe in. Mysteries and absurdities require “leaps of faith” and they are completely absent and alien from Islamic beliefs.
- Cf., Ahmad ibn Taimiya, Majmoo Fatawaa Shaikh al-Islaam ibn Taimiya (collected by Abdul Rahmaan Qaasim and his son Muhammad, no publication information given), vol. 7, p. 672.
- Muhammad ibn Uthaimeen, Sharh Hadith Jibreel Alaihi al-Salaam (Dar al-Thuraya, 1415 A.H.), pp. 4-5.
- Meaning both the heavens and the earth.
- It is true that there may be many things beyond the realm of human experience and direct comprehension. However, even the belief in those matters is based on the beliefs that are justifiable and understandable. For example, some people may not be able to accept the fact that some form of punishment occurs to a person while he is in the grave. He may argue that he sees dead people rotted away in the graves and there is no sign that they are suffering any punishment. However, no one can deny that humans can suffer in many ways even if their physical bodies are not being harmed at all. In fact, a person’s mind can even experience imaginary physical pain. In any case, the point is that all these secondary beliefs are completely consistent when the proper premises are understood, such as Allah’s great power and ability to create what He wills.