Islam vs. Iman Excerpt from the sermons of Imam Abdulmoneim Mahmoud Khattab

Islam vs. Iman Excerpt from the sermons of Imam Abdulmoneim Mahmoud Khattab


By Nilofer F. Yusafzai

What is the definition of Islam? One person, referring to a Hadith, may say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “You will be Muslim if you say the shahada – I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger.”

This is a beginner’s definition of Islam.

Another person may say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people will be safe.”

A third person may define and analyze Islam linguistically. Islam is taken from the Arabic infinitive silm. Silm means peace. Peace with what? It means peace with Allah, peace with oneself, and peace with our fellow human beings. Peace with Allah means being obedient to Him and obeying the rules and laws He has revealed for human beings to live by. Peace with oneself means to honor and respect yourself. Peace with our fellow human beings means not aggressing on the lives and rights of others.

Looking at it from yet another aspect, Islam is a bundle of relationships. What should be your relationship with your children, neighbors, with the Christians, the Jews, and with humanity as a whole? Islam organized and ordered all these relationships, and showed us how we are supposed to act. Islam is a universal religion which organizes the relationships, not only among human beings, but also our relationships with the animals, cats in your house, the dogs, the car that you drive, the environment that we live in, the air, and the ocean which is the source of water. These are bundles of relationships which Islam organized.

We often make the mistake of perceiving Islam in a very, very narrow sense. We must understand the depth of what the term Islam represents. In the Qur’an, we find general rules for what man should do with everything that he utilizes or comes in contact with. The Qur’an contains general rules from which you can derive many laws for every sphere of life.

We can also define Islam as being a way of life. It means that one ought to practice Islam every second of one’s life. You have to deal with people according to Islam, walk in the street according to Islam, sleep according to Islam, and apply Islam to everything in your life. That is the totality of Islam.

For example, there are people who pray in the mosque every day yet neglect their duties to pay zakah. Prayer and zakah are two of the fundamental pillars of Islam and are always mentioned in the Qur’an side by side. Why observe one and ignore the other?

There is a difference between Islam and Iman. One who professes Islam is termed Muslim, and one who engendersIman in his heart is termed mu’min, or believer. From one’s utterances, we judge a person as a Muslim but we cannot judge one as mu’min, because Iman is in the heart and none knows what is in the heart except Allah. Islam is an utterance by the tongue, while Iman is a belief in the heart.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Allah does not look at your outward appearance and your goods. He looks only at your hearts and your deeds.” (Muslim)

Iman is deeper than Islam. Iman means pronouncing the shahadah with your tongue, internalizing it in your heart, and then acting accordingly.

In the spectrum of belief, there is a degree even higher than Iman, which is called Ihsan. Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, to know that He sees you. These are three categories, one above the other. Islam is the lowest category, Iman is the middle, and Ihsan is the highest degree of faith.

If we consider Islam as representing a bundle of relationships, then there are certain rules that must be followed in all these relationships, based upon the directives of the Qur’an. How to treat your father, mother, wife, husband, how to treat the environment, all these constitute the relationships.

The words of the shahada must be followed by belief in the heart and righteous actions; then Islam becomes Iman.

{Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah” and then remained on a right course – the angels will descend upon them [saying], “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised.”} (Chapter 41, verse 30)

The first part of the verse puts a person in the category of Islam; the second part puts a person in the category of Iman. The first part is a pronouncement, a declaration, something oral, but the second part is action, remaining steadfast on the right path and to abide by the rules revealed by Allah.

This divides people into two kinds. Every Muslim says, “Allah is my God, my Creator, my Sustainer.” But the second part of the verse, following the straight path, is ignored by the majority. Action is necessary to complete the command. The meaning of istiqama is to follow the straight path, without which there will be no Iman. That is the distinction between Iman and Islam.