One day a strange man appeared in Medinah. He walked towards the gathering of the Sahabah who were sitting in a semi-circle in front of the Messenger (SAW). There was something different about him. Everyone began to turn and look in his direction. His shiny black hair contrasted with the whiteness of his skin. Why were his clothes so clean, they all wondered. They began to watch him with furrowed brows. “We do not know him, and yet he certainly does not look like a traveller.” They murmured to one another as they took another glimpse at the handsome stranger who carried himself in such a dignified manner.
The companions were happy when people came to ask questions. They fell silent and watched with delight as the man approached their group.
“O Messenger of Allah (SAW), shall I come nearer to you?” asked the man.
“Yes,” replied the Prophet (SAW).
The man knelt down, touching his knees to the front of the Prophet’s (SAW). He then placed his hands on the Prophet’s thighs and asked, “What is Islam?”
The Prophet (SAW) replied: “It is to testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; to pay Zakaat; to fast the month of Ramadhan; and to perform Hajj to the House (Kaba).”
“Then what is iman (Faith)?” the man asked.
The Prophet (SAW) replied: “It is to believe in Allah, in His Angels, in Paradise, in the Hellfire, in resurrection after death, and in Divine Preordainment in its entirety (which is to believe that Allah I has already decreed everything that happens in our lives, both in terms of blessings and hardships.)”
“Then what is Ihsan?” the man asked.
The Prophet (SAW) replied: “It is to perform deeds for Allah as if you can see Him; and if you cannot see Him (which you are unable to do) (then continue to worship Him with fear, submission, sincerity, and full concentration); for indeed, He sees you.”
“And when is the Hour?” the man asked.
“The one being questioned about it knows no more about it than the one asking the questions,” said the Prophet (SAW).
“Then what are its signs?” the man asked.
“(It will be near at hand) when the naked, barefooted, poor shepherds of sheep (become wealthy and) compete with one another in the construction of buildings; and (it will be near at hand) when female slaves give birth to their masters.” Said the Prophet (SAW).
With that the man left. The Prophet asked his companions to go and get him, but after searching everywhere they could find no trace of him.
Days passed and finally the Prophet (SAW) asked Umar (RA) “O Ibn Al-Khattaab, do you know the identity of the questioner who asked (so many questions the other day)?”
“Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW) know best,” replied Umar (RA).
“That,” the Prophet (SAW) said, “was (the Angel) Jibreel. He came to teach you your religion.”
From that moment until this, Jibreel’s questioning of the Prophet (SAW) has taught us the meaning of Islam, Iman, Ihsan, and the signs of the Last Day. This hadith has been dutifully passed down to each generation so that Muslims would understand what constitutes being a Muslim and moreover a Muslim who has iman (faith) and Ihsan. The lesson was so valuable that Jibreel was ordered to take a human form to deliver it and to do so before all of the Sahabah who witnessed it that day and understood the depths of its meaning.
Allah states in His Glorious Quran, The bedouins say: “We believe.” Say: “You believe not but you only say, ‘We have surrendered (in Islam),’ for Faith has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger (SAW), He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Only those are the believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and afterward doubt not but strive with their wealth and their lives for the Cause of Allah. Those! They are the truthful. (Al Hujuraat 14-15)
Both the hadith and ayah above indicate that being a Muslim/surrendering is different than being a Mumin/having iman. Being a Mumin is of a higher status and should be a goal for any Muslim. Just as Allah reminds the bedouins that faith doesn’t come automatically upon saying shahadah, we too should know that Islam is a journey which doesn’t end at the beginning. Knowledge and faith come with time and effort.
As a revert, I remember the day I took my shahadah and became a Muslim. It seems like yesterday but it’s been almost 30 years. Looking back at my journey, I have learned many things about Islam through books, lectures and classes. The more I have learned the more it has changed me and the more I have realised how little I knew then and how far I still have to go. Knowledge in Islam is vast and endless and our quest for it should be the same.
How do we attain faith?
Imam Bukhari has informed us that iman is comprised of belief in the heart which includes our intentions. It also includes the statements that cross our tongues and the actions that our limbs take. Iman comes about with knowledge, so the more we learn and apply what we have learned to our lives, the more our hearts will be filled with belief insha Allah. Studying our deen should be an ongoing process so that we can continue to increase in iman rather than decrease, as faith is not something which remains stable but instead is in continuous flux. If it isn’t increasing, it’s decreasing.
What are signs of faith?
On the authority of Abu Huraira the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allah, and the humblest of which is the removal of what is injurious from the path: and modesty is a branch of faith.” (Sahih Bukhari)
In this hadith, iman/faith is compared to a tree. As it grows from the heart of the believer, more branches appear. When the roots of that tree are based upon sound and certain knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah learned for the sake of Allah, He will insha Allah increase the faith in our hearts which will manifest itself in our behaviour. Ideally, we will be steadfast in increasing our ibadah and good deeds, following the way of the Sunnah, while abstaining from bad deeds. Hopefully this cycle would continue, although realistically we have failings and faith is not always on the increase.
Faith based on knowledge acted upon by good deeds is how the companions changed from being a divided, quarrelsome, and underdeveloped people into an Ummah which rose to unimaginable heights, changing the course of history forever. True faith today can bring about that same change.
In the upcoming iman series, we will attempt to increase our knowledge by examining iman in more detail. We will look at the factors Jibreel has outlined for us in the Hadith which take you from submission to belief.
Ann (Umameer) Stock reverted to Islam 27 years ago and lives back and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband. She has dedicated her life to helping the next generation of Muslims, beginning with her own children and grandchildren.