Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim,
When one is trying to climb the steps of faith, one has to go through the first steps in order to get to the last. There is no short-cut. This is why the angel Jibreel asked questions about it, urging the Prophet to define what each consists of, in the hadith Jibreel, which is the second hadith of Al Arba’in an Nawawi.
Aslama, from the root letters sa-la-ma, gives the meaning of “to surrender something.” This meaning is manifested in the following dua of the Prophet:
اللهم أسلمت نفسي إليك، ووجهت وجهي إليك …
O Allah! I have submitted myself to You. I have turned my face to You . . . [Al- Bukhari and Muslim].
Similarly, aamana means “to believe in something.” Allah Azza Wa Jall says:
The Messenger has believed (aamana) in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the mu-minoon. [2:285]
Ahsana means “to perfect/polish something.”
These three words, when taken together, denote the steps or levels of faith a person can strive to attain.
According to the Prophet’s definition, recorded in the said hadith, Islam consists of five things:
- that you should testify that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger,
- that you should perform salah (ritual prayer),
- pay the zakah,
- fast during Ramadan,
- and perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to the House (the Ka’bah at Makkah), if you can find a way to it (or find the means for making the journey to it)
A person can be a Muslim as long as he testifies to his belief in Allah and His Messenger, and manifests that belief through his actions, even if he is not a true believer. Allah said in the Quran (translation of the meaning):
The bedouins say, “aamanna (We have believed).” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘ aslamna (We have submitted),’ for eemaan has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything.…”[49:14]
This is the minimum that is required from a person in order to ensure entry into Paradise.
The pillars of eeman are six, as stated in Hadith Jibreel:
- that you believe in Allah and
- His angels and
- His Books and
- His Messengers and
- in the Last Day, and
- in fate (qadar), both in its good and in its evil aspects.
Allah gives various descriptions of mu-mins in the Quran, and there are also various hadiths mentioning certain acts which necessitate eeman. All these are outward manifestations of iman, which are bound to occur if correct belief in the above six things is there in our hearts.
The following are some of these examples:
The believers have already prospered. The ones who in their prayer are submissive. And the ones who from idle talk are veering away. And the ones who at giving the Zakat are active. And the ones who are preservers of their private parts- …. And they are the ones who pay heed to their deposits and their covenant. And they are the ones who preserve their prayers. [23:1-9]
Allah then informs us of the consequence of being mu-mins.
They are those (who are) the inheritors. Who will inherit Paradise. They are therein eternally (abiding). [23:10-11]
There are three things, whoever has them has found the taste of eemaan (One of the narrators) Bundar said: ‘The sweetness of eemaan (حَلاَوَةَ الإِيمَانِ); When he loves a man and only loves him for the sake of Allah. When Allah and His Messenger are more beloved to him than anything else; and when being thrown into the fire is dearer to him than going back to disbelief after Allah has saved him from it. [Sunan Ibn Majah 4033]
Surely the mu-minoon are only the ones who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts tremble and when His ayat (Signs or verses) are recited to them, they increase them in belief, and in their Lord they put their trust, The ones who keep up the prayer and expend of what We have provided them. Those are truly the ones who are believers; they have degrees in the Providence of their Lord, and forgiveness, and an honorable provision. [8:2-4]
As is evident in the above two verses, it is necessary to have true eemaan in order to ensure entry into Paradise and safety from Hellfire. Also, Allah mentions ‘those who believe and perform good deeds’ when He Azza Wa Jall refers to people of Paradise, or those who are successful.
The Prophet described ihsan in Hadith Jibreel in the following terms:
It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.
The Prophet also said,
Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan in all things. [Al Arbain an Nawawi # 17]
These two hadith are apparently talking about different things, but actually they are the same concept. When one enters into this state of awareness of Allah, one is driven by one’s own heart towards the pleasure of Allah. It becomes easy to excel in good deeds, both obligatory and superregatory, and it becomes easy to avoid prohibited things. As one continues rising in this level, one’s rank with Allah keeps increasing, and so does one’s place in Paradise.
The transition from eemaan into ihsan is captured in the following ayah:
There is not upon alladheena amanu wa amilus salihaati blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and aamanu wa amilussalihaat, and then fear Allah and aamanu, and then fear Allah and ahsanu; and Allah loves the muhsinoon. [5:93]
Not everyone can attain ihsan, and it is not obligatory to attain it. Allah mentions in the Quran certain highly praiseworthy actions, and thereafter mentions His love for the muhsins:
Who expend in easiness and tribulation, and (are) the repressors of (their) rage, and are the clement towards (their) fellow-men; and Allah loves the muhsinoon. [3:134]
But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the muhsinoon. [5:13]
Some Special Rewards of the Muhsin
- Protection from Fear and Grief:
Yes, whoever submits his face in Islam to Allah while being a muhsin will have his reward with his Lord. And no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. [2:112]
- Allah’s Love:
And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good. [2:195]