Islam and Iman (Belief and Faith)

Keywords: Islam, Iman, definition of Islam, Definition of Iman (Faith), Difference between Islam and Iman, Belief and Faith, Conviction and certainty (yaqeen), outer worship, outer deeds, inner belief, heart beliefs


         The word ‘Islam’ comes from the root: Aslama (أسْلَمَ) which means: to Submit, to Surrender and to Obey.

 –  In religion, Islam means: to Submit and Surrender to One God, to Obey Him by following His orders (obligations) and avoiding things He has forbidden (sins), and to believe that Prophet Muhammad is the last Prophet and Messenger of God.


   The word ‘Iman’ (Faith) comes from the root: Aamena (آمن) which means to believe.

– In religion, Iman (Faith) means: To believe with one’s heart, to confess with one’s tongue, and to do worship with one’s limbs.


    Then, Islam describes the basic principles and apparent obligatory deeds of the religion of Islam (like the Daily Prayers and Fasting),

   while Iman (Faith) describes the deeper belief in the heart (like belief in God and the Hereafter), the inner conviction of the true and fair message of Islam (like belief in justice for all), and the sincere devotion to God.

          Iman (faith) describes a greater level of righteousness and piety, greater adherence to God’s commands, higher level of morality, and deeper attachment and consciousness of God.

     The level and status of the Mu’min (Faithful or true believer) with God is higher than that of a Muslim.  A Mu’min (the faithful) observes the rules of God more closely.


     Thus, there is a distinction between a Mu’min (faithful) and a Muslim (believer).  A Mu’min is more religious and observant of God’s commands than a Muslim.

    The question is, how can the Muslim reach a higher status and become a true believer or Faithful (Mu’min).  Prophet Muhammad mentioned many signs that indicate Faith or Iman, and described many ways of becoming a Mu’min.  Once we apply these ways and try our best to follow them, then there is a hope that we may reach the level of true Faith or Iman.  What are those signs and what are those ways?


 Signs of Faith (Iman):

    There are many signs of Iman or Faith, some are mentioned in the following hadith:

     عن أَنسٍ رضي اللَّه عنه عن النبيِّ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « ثَلاثٌ مَنْ كُنَّ فِيهِ وَجَدَ بِهِنَّ حَلاَوَةَ الإِيَمَانِ: أَنْ يَكُونَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْهِ مِمَّا سِواهُما، وأَنْ يُحِبَّ المَرْءَ لا يُحِبُّهُ إِلاَّ للَّهِ، وَأَنْ يَكْرَهَ أَنْ يَعُودَ في الكُفْرِ بَعْدَ أَنْ أَنْقَذَهُ اللَّهُ مِنْهُ كَمَا يَكْرَهُ أَنْ يُقْذَفَ في النَّارِ» .  متفقٌ عليه . ـ

   Narrated Anas Ibn Malik -May God be pleased with him- that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- said:

There are three qualities whoever possesses them will taste the sweetness of faith (Iman): That God and His Messenger (Muhammad -prayer and peace be upon him) are more beloved to him than all else.  That he loves another Muslim and he only loves him for the sake of God.  And that he hates to return to disbelief after God has saved him from it as he hates to be thrown in fire.”  Related by Al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim.

Among the signs of true Faith or Iman and ways to reach Iman are the following:

1) To Love God and His Messenger above all else

2) To remember God often

3) To like and dislike for the sake of God.

4) To have Piety and Righteousness (Doing obligations and Repenting of sins).

5) To do Self- Reckoning daily (Muhasabah).  


1) To Love God and His Messenger above all else:

           God is our Creator, Provider and Sustainer, and thus we love Him the most.  In return, God loves us the most but we need to follow His commands and obey His rules.  This relationship strengthens with belief and worship and weakens with disbelief and sins.  But God still loves the son of Adam and keeps His door open to him all the time.  God is the Most Merciful and Most Generous and therefore we love Him the most.  After God, we love the Prophet the second most as he conveyed God’s message to us and showed great mercy for us and for humanity.  Loving God and His Messenger is an obligation in Islam.  Acting upon that love is a sign of true Faith. God the Exalted says:

     قال الله تعالى: { وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَتَّخِذُ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ أَنْدَادًا يُحِبُّونَهُمْ كَحُبِّ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِلَّهِ} البقرة 165.  ـ

        God -the Exalted- says: {And among people are those who take other than God as equals (to God); they love them as they love God. But those who believe are stronger in love for God (than anything else)} (surah 2, verse 165).

God mentioned that the Faithful or Mu’mineen love Him the most and above all else.  This is a sign and a praise for the true believers.


 2) Remembering God (Making Dhikr) often:

Dhikr means remembering and mentioning God -the Exalted- with the tongue and more so with the heart.  The believer loves God the most, and so that love appears in his heart as strong belief in God and conviction in His promise, on his tongue as mentioning God’s name often, and in his actions as obedience and worship of God.

When the believer loves God truly, he mentions God often.  Thus, mentioning and remembering God (Dhikr) is a sign of true faith.  

  God the Exalted says: {Whoever remembers Me, I remember him}, and if God remembered someone then that person is blessed and happy indeed. 

   The believer must remember and mention (make Dhikr) God often, so that our tongues and hearts must be busy with it most of the time.  There are different athkar for different occasions.  But most of the time, we should make istighfar (ask God foe forgiveness), and send prayers on the Prophet.  Moreover, there is supplication or du’a for everything, the more we know the better.  If we can’t remember all then we should just make Dhikr like subhana Allah sometimes, Alhamdu li Allah sometimes, la ilaha illa Allah sometimes, and so on.  

   The Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- gave a parable for the person who mentions God and the one who does not in the following hadith:

   وعنْ أبي مُوسَى الأشعريِّ رضي اللَّه عنهُ عن النبيِّ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « مَثَلُ الَّذِي يَذكُرُ رَبَّهُ وَالَّذِي لا يَذْكُرُهُ، مَثَلُ الحَيِّ والمَيِّتِ» .  رواهُ البخاري . ـ

      Narrated Abu Moosa Al-‘Ash’eri -may God be pleased with him- that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- said: “The example of the one who remembers his Lord in comparison to the one who does not, is like the live compared to the dead.” Related by Al-Bukhari.

Dhikr or remembering and mentioning God is important because as mentioned in the hadeeth above, it makes the difference between someone whose heart is alive and dead, that is with regard to the level of faith in the heart.  The one who makes Dhikr more often will have more faith or Iman.


 3) To like and dislike for the sake of God:

           God did not create us without a purpose.  God created us to worship Him and obey His commands, then He would reward the obedient and punish the sinners and disobedient.  Thus, the believer must consider God in everything he says or does.  The believer should only say or do things that please God while avoiding things that may bring about the displeasure or wrath of God.  Likewise, the believer should love those who are loved by God, and dislike those hated by God. The believer should love good deeds and the people who do good deeds.  The believer should dislike sins and those who stand for sins or promote them.  The believer does not hate people (rather the believer wishes good and guidance for all people), but hates the evil they represent. 

         Liking and disliking for the sake of God is a sign of true faith, as the person gives preference to what God likes over his own likes, and dislikes what God dislikes regardless of his own preferences.  Only a true believer can do that as shown in the following hadith:

عن معاذ بن أنس الجهني أن النبي صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ سئل عن أفضل الإيمان، فقال: « أن تحب لله، وتبغض لله، وتعمل لسانك في ذكر الله» .  رواه أحمد. ـ

Narrated M’ath Ibn Anas Al-Juhani that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- was asked the best of Faith (Iman), so he said: “It is to like for the sake of God, to dislike for the sake of God, and to keep your tongue busy with the remembrance of God.” Related by Ahmad.


4) To have Piety and Righteousness:

     Piety means doing all obligations of Islam and avoiding all sins.  Obligations (wajibat) include praying on time, fasting Ramadan, giving Zakah, obeying parents, treating people nicely, and all other wajibat.

   The believer must repent of all sins. The believer must first stop doing things forbidden by God, and then must ask God’s forgiveness.  He must promise God not to do these sins again.  If he did them again, then he must repent again and ask God to forgive him. 

The Prophet said that whoever feels glad for his good deed and feels sad and remorse for a sin he has committed then he is faithful, as shown in the following hadith:

عَنْ أَبِي أُمَامَةَ الباهلي رضي الله عنه‏:‏ أَنَّ رَجُلًا سَأَلَ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ‏:‏ مَا الْإِيمَانُ‏؟‏ قَالَ‏:‏ «‏ إِذَا سَرَّتْكَ حَسَنَتُكَ، وَسَاءَتْكَ سَيِّئَتُكَ، فَأَنْتَ مُؤْمِنٌ. قَالَ‏:‏ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، مَا الْإِثْمُ‏؟‏ قَالَ‏:‏ ‏« إِذَا حَاكَ فِي صَدْرِكَ شَيْءٌ فَدَعْهُ» .  رواه أحمد والحاكم بإسناد صحيح. ـ

Narrated Abu Umamah Al-Bahili -may God be pleased with him- said: “A man asked God’s Messenger -prayer and peace be upon him: ‘What is Faith?’ He said: ‘If you are happy with your good deeds and saddened by your misdeeds, then you are believing faithful.’ The man said: ‘O Messenger of God, what is sin?’ He said: ‘If something waivers in your soul and you feel uncomfortable about it, then you should leave it.’”  Related by Ahmad.

  Thus, the more we obey our Lord, the closer we get, and that will increase our faith or Iman.


  5) Making Muhasabah (Self-Reckoning):  

    The Hereafter is the real and eternal life, while this worldly life is only transient and temporary.  One of the pillars of Iman or Faith is to believe in the Hereafter and the Day of Judgment.  As soon as someone dies, his hereafter (‘akhirah) starts.  Then, s/he will be asked about everything s/he did in this life.  We will be asked about all sins we have done, we will be asked about all blessings we used to enjoy, all good things we used so carelessly, we will be asked about how we used our bodies, and we will be asked about our money and income whether it was lawful or unlawful.  So we will be asked about everything in ‘Akhirah.  Then shouldn’t we start asking ourselves those questions now so that it would be easier for us then? 

     عن أبي بَرْزَةَ رضي الله عنه أن رسولَ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « لا تَزُولُ قَدمَا عبْدٍ يَومَ القِيامَةِ حَتَّى يُسْأَلَ عَنْ أَرْبعٍ: عَنْ عُمْرِهِ فِيمَ أَفْنَاهُ، وَعَنْ عِلْمِهِ مَا عَمِلَ بِهِ، وعَنْ مالِهِ منْ أَيْنَ اكْتَسبهُ وَفِيمَ أَنْفَقَهُ، وَعَن جِسْمِهِ فِيمَ أَبْلاه» .  رواه الترمذي وقال: هذا حديث حسن صحيح. ـ

     Narrated Abu Barzah -may God be pleased with him- that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- said:
The two feet of any slave on the Day of Judgment shall not move on until he is asked about four things:
About his age, how he consumed it;
about his knowledge, how he acted upon it;
about his money, from where he earned it and how he spent it;
and about his body, how he wore it away.”   Related by Al-Tirmidhi with authentic narration.

  The believer is supposed to review his actions every day, and consider the sins he committed and then repent of them, consider God’s blessings on him and thank God for them, and think of God’s great creation.

وعَنْ أبي يَعْلَى شَدَّادِ بْن أَوْسٍ رضي اللَّه عنه عن النبيِّ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « الكَيِّسُ مَنْ دَانَ نَفْسَهُ وَعَمِلَ لِمَا بَعْدَ المَوْتِ، وَالعَاجِزُ مَنْ أَتْبَعَ نَفْسَهُ هَوَاهَا وَتَمَنَّى عَلَى اللَّهِ» .  رواه التِّرْمِذيُّ وابن ماجه وأحمد والحاكم . ـ

        Narrated Abu Ya’la Shaddad Ibn Aws -may God be pleased with him- that the Prophet -prayer and peace be upon him- said: “The sensible is the one who subjugates (humbles and account for) himself, and works for what comes after death.  While the helpless is the one who lets his self follow its desires, and wishes on God.”  Related by Al-Tirmithi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, and Al-Hakim.


  Thus, Self-reckoning is one of the signs of Iman or Faith.  The faithful always considers his actions and reflects on his deeds.

   When the faithful considers his sins every day, he will automatically feel remorse and make istighfar or ask God’s forgiveness, then he will not be asked about it in the grave.  When he thinks of God’s blessings and thanks Him for it, then he will not be asked about it. The more we consider our actions, the more attention and care we will pay, and the more obedient to God we will become.  Obeying God more (ta’ah) increases faith or faith.

    The best thing to do is to spend 5 minutes before sleep in Self-Reckoning (Muhasabah).  Before going to sleep, sit down and think of three things:

 1) 2 minutes: think of three sins (haram) you have done today, and then seek repentance and forgiveness from God.

 2) 2 minutes: think of three blessings or ni’mah that God has given you today and make Shukr; thank God for it.

 3) 1 minutes: think of a sign of God’s great creation.  Think of the sky, of the sea, of the ocean, of the human being, of the animals, one thing at a time.  Think of God’s great universe, for this will give you a sense of how small you are and how Great and Powerful our Lord is.  

      The one who ponders upon God’s great creation more often, will have more faith or Iman.


        Then in summary, there are many signs that indicate Iman or true faith, including: 1) To Love God and His Messenger above all else, 2) To remember and mention God often, 3) To like and dislike for the sake of God, 4) To have Piety and Righteousness (Doing obligations and Repenting of sins), and 5) To do Self- Reckoning daily (Muhasabah).

      Know that if these steps are done regularly then they indicate that the person is Mu’min or faithful or a true believer.  And the reward of a Mu’min is much, much higher than that of a Muslim.  So we should try to reach this stage and strive to attain that closeness.  This will require opposing Satan and the evil-inclined self, letting the good self become victorious, and praying God all the time to grant us guidance and success.  And God knows best.