Wednesday 21 December 2022

Understanding Islam: Difference between Islam and Iman

We have written a number of posts to clear many a doubt about Islam and how to better understand it. Today we take on a subject which is mostly misunderstood by many non-Muslims, and even Muslims. But perhaps we are too shy to clear our doubts and understand various terminologies related to Islam. The theme thus being discussed in this post is The Difference between Islam and īmān (إِيمَان ).

To start with, many believe that by taking Shahadah, one has become a Muslim and that is all about it. But those who ponder over religious matters know for sure that by taking Shahadah, they have only taken the first step on a long and arduous journey that lies ahead after entering the fold of Islam.

Here we would like to quote the 14th verse of Surah 49 Al Hujaraat (The Private Chambers) which set forth a ground to clarify the difference between Islam and Iman (Faith):

قَالَتِ الۡاَعۡرَابُ اٰمَنَّا​ ؕ قُلْ لَّمۡ تُؤۡمِنُوۡا وَلٰـكِنۡ قُوۡلُوۡۤا اَسۡلَمۡنَا وَلَمَّا يَدۡخُلِ الۡاِيۡمَانُ فِىۡ قُلُوۡبِكُمۡ​ ۚ وَاِنۡ تُطِيۡعُوا اللّٰهَ وَرَسُوۡلَهٗ لَا يَلِتۡكُمۡ مِّنۡ اَعۡمَالِكُمۡ شَيۡـئًـا​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ‏
(49:14) The Bedouins say: "We believe.'' Say: "You do not believe. But say, `We have submitted,' for Faith has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Forgiving, Most Merciful.'

In very simple explanation, Islam is the submission to enter the religion we call Islam. A newly reverted Muslim may outwardly pray five times, pay Zakat, keep fats during the month of Ramadan and also perform Hajj, if his pocket allows to embark upon the journey. But we do not know what goes into his heart: Whether his decision to enter the fold of Islam is really engrained into his heart and he is ready to embark upon a journey based on the commandments of Allah as mentioned in Qur'an and Hadith and Sunnah of the last of the prophets, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ? Or in other words, as the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had said that " الإسلام علانية والإيمان سريرة " - Al-Islam is the apparent (declaration) and al-Iman is the hidden (belief). That is, one's true conviction in Allah is the hallmark of Islam. Unless one's heart is not filled up with love for his Creator and is willing to undertake a journey as commanded for his, he may continue to be in the fold of Islam but with weak Iman.  For, from now onward, he is to accept the will of Allah without an iota of doubt and hesitation.

The more a Muslim is tested, encountered with tests and trials, more his faith gains. In fact, those who choose to obey are tested more than others for Allah knows they will succeed and will accordingly raise their status, both in this world and in the Hereafter.
Differentiation between faith (Iman) and Islam is best answered by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ when one day Angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) came and asked, "What is faith?" Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) replied, 'Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection." Then he further asked, "What is Islam?" Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) replied, "Islam is to worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan." (Read full hadith here). 
You may scroll down to listen to a short yet enlightening commentary on the subject by eminent Muslim scholar Mufti Menk.

The very next verse, Allah clarifies:

اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا بِاللّٰهِ وَرَسُوۡلِهٖ ثُمَّ لَمۡ يَرۡتَابُوۡا وَجَاهَدُوۡا بِاَمۡوَالِهِمۡ وَاَنۡفُسِهِمۡ فِىۡ سَبِيۡلِ اللّٰهِ​ ؕ اُولٰٓـئِكَ هُمُ الصّٰدِقُوۡنَ‏ 
(49:15) Indeed the ones possessed of true faith are those who believed in Allah and His Messenger and then they did not entertain any doubt and strove hard in the Way of Allah with their lives and their possessions. These are the truthful ones.

Skipping out the commentary by eminent Muslim scholar Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Mouddi in his explanation of the verse 14 mentioned above, which explains the background which shows the behavior of some of the newly reverted Muslims who had only outwardly accepted Islam with their hollow hearts, lets focus on the actual substance that differentiates between the terms Islam and Faith, that is Iman:
Another translation of the words qulu aslamna can be; Say: We have become Muslims. From these words some people have concluded that in the language of the Quran, Mumin and Muslim are two opposite terms. A Mumin is he who has believed sincerely and a Muslim he who might have accepted Islam only verbally without true faith. But, in fact, this is an absolutely wrong idea. No doubt the word iman here has been used for sincere affirmation by the heart and the word Islam for only outward and external submission but to understand them as two independent and mutually contradictory terms of the Quran is not correct. A study of the Quranic verses in which the words Islam and Muslim have been used, shows that in the Quranic terminology of Islam is the name of the Faith, which Allah has sent down for mankind. It comprehends the faith and obedience both, and a Muslim is he who believes with a sincere heart and obeys the commands practically. This is borne out by the following verses:
Indeed, Islam is the only right way of life in the sight of Allah. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 19).
And whoever adopts any other than this way of submission (Islam), that way shall not be accepted from him. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 85).
And I have approved Islam as the way of life for you. (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 3).
Whomever Allah wills to guide aright, He makes his breast wide open to Islam. (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayat 125).
Obviously, in these verses Islam does not imply obedience without the faith. Here are some other verses: Say (O Prophet): I have been enjoined to be the first one to affirm (faith in) Islam. (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayat 14).
If they have surrendered (to Islam), they are rightly guided. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 20).
All the Prophets, who were Muslims, judged the cases according to the Torah. (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 44).
Here, and at scores of other places, acceptance of Islam cannot mean adopting obedience without the faith. Likewise, here are a few verses in which the word Muslim has occurred signifying the meaning in which it has been used repeatedly in the Quran: O you who have believed, fear Allah as He should truly be feared and see that you do not die save as true Muslim. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 102).
Allah had called you Muslims before this and has called you (by the same name) in this Quran, too. (Surah Al-Hajj, Ayat 78).
Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Muslim, sound in the faith. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 67).
And remember that when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the walls of this House, they prayed: Lord, make us Thy Muslims and also raise from our offspring a community which should be Muslim. (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 128).
(The Prophet Jacob’s will for his children): O my children, Allah has chosen the same way of life for you, hence remain Muslims up to your last breath. (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 132).
After a study of these verses who can say that in these the word Muslim implies a person who does not believe sincerely but has accepted Islam only outwardly? Therefore, to make the claim that in the Quranic terminology Islam implies obedience without the faith and the Muslim in the language of the Quran is he who accepts Islam only outwardly is absolutely wrong. Likewise, this claim also is wrong that the words iman and mumin have been used in the Quran necessarily in the sense of believing sincerely. No doubt, at most places these words have occurred to express the same meaning, but there are many places where these words have also been used for outward affirmation of the faith, and all those who might have entered the Muslim community with verbal profession have been addressed with, “O you who have believed”, no matter whether they are the true believers, or people with a weak faith, or mere hypocrites. For a few instances of this, see (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 156); (Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 135); (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 54); (Surah Al-Anfaal, Ayats 20-27); (Surah At-Taubah, Ayat 38), (Surah Al-Hadid, Ayat 28); (Surah As-Saff, Ayat 2).

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The actual word is: اَسْلَمْنَا. Here it refers to outward obedience. It occurs in the Arabic language in this meaning also. The implication is that it is not befitting for them to lay claim to faith; what they can say is that when they saw that Islam had become a political force, they submitted to its authority. This too is a form of subservience and how can they term it as a favour?

True faith, which when entering a person, grasps the mind and heart in such a way that nothing from his thinking and deeds remains unaffected and uninfluenced by it.

(God shall not make any reduction in your deeds.) He will fully reward them. Hence this obedience will be of benefit to them; nothing of these has any benefit for God.

([So, reform your selves.] God certainly is Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.) This is an invitation to reform one’s self. Most of these people were naive. Thus, besides warning them, they are invited at various instances to turn towards God and seek forgiveness; their Lord’s mercy awaits them; He is very forgiving.

Yusuf Ali Explanation
The desert Arabs were somewhat shaky in their faith. Their hearts and minds were petty, and they thought of petty things, while Islam requires the complete submission of one's being to Allah. See next verse. Some of the failings of the desert Arabs are described in xlviii. 11-15. But the reference here is said to be to the Banu Asad, who came to profess Islam in order to get charity during a famine.

'This is what ye ought to prove if your faith has any meaning, but ye only say it with your tongues.'

Tafsir Qur'an Wiki:
As the Surah draws to its end, it fittingly explains the truth of faith in reply to those Bedouins who claimed to be believers when they did not even understand the nature of faith. This also serves as a reply to those who tried to press their acceptance of Islam as a favour they thought they did for the Prophet. In essence, they do not appreciate that it is only through God's favour that people believe.

The first of these verses is said to have been revealed in relation to the Bedouins of the Asad tribe who, as soon as they accepted Islam, boasted saying, 'We have attained to faith.' They even counted this as a favour they performed for the Prophet. They said to him: "Messenger of God! We have become Muslims. Other Arabs have fought you, but we have not." God wanted to show them the truth of what was in their hearts when they said this, stating that they only embraced Islam in submission while the truth of faith had not touched their hearts or souls. "Say [to them]: 'Believers you are not. Rather say, "We have submitted ourselves', for true faith has not entered your hearts." (Verse 14)

Nevertheless, God's grace has dictated that they will be rewarded for every good action they do, letting nothing go to waste. Even the outward manifestation of Islam, which has not yet penetrated into people's hearts to become genuine faith, is sufficient to make their good deeds count and be recorded. Thus, their deeds are not wasted like those of unbelievers. No part of their reward is wasted as long as they continue to obey: " If you truly pay heed to God and His Messenger, He will let nothing of your deeds go to waste." (Verse 14) This is because God is quick to grant forgiveness and bestow His mercy. He accepts from His servant the first step and rewards him for submission and obedience while waiting until faith settles in his heart: "God is indeed much-forgiving, merciful." (Verse 14)

For explanation of the aforesaid verse by Ibn e Kathir, please click here.

You may like to listen to a short but crystal-clear delineation by Islam and Iman by Mufti Menk:
May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others' lives miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 

وَمَا عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ الۡمُبِيۡنُ‏ 
(36:17) and our duty is no more than to clearly convey the Message.”
That is Our duty is only to convey to you the message that Allah has entrusted us with. Then it is for you to accept it or reject it. We have not been made responsible for making you accept it forcibly, and if you do not accept it, we shall not be seized in consequence of your disbelief, you will yourselves be answerable for your actions on Day of Resurrection.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully. It will also help the Muslims to have grasp over social issues and their answers discussed in the Qur'an and other matter related to inter faith so that they are able to discuss issues with non-Muslims with authority based on refences from Qur'an.

Note: When we mention God in our posts, we mean One True God, we call Allah in Islam, with no associates. Allah is the Sole Creator of all things, and that Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing. Allah has no offspring, no race, no gender, no body, and is unaffected by the characteristics of human life.

Photo | references: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

For more Q&A about Understanding Islam, please refer to our reference page: Understanding Islam - Frequently asked Q&A

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Jazak Allah khair for sharing very informative and helpful blog on
Understanding Islam: Difference between Islam and Iman.
May Almighty Allah bless you for this kar e khair.

Thanks Jamil for flowing my blog

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