What Is Iman? (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

“What is your faith?”, asked the person sitting next to me at an airport transit lounge whom I had befriended while waiting for my next flight, that was delayed by several hours. I had started a conversation with him which turned into some kind of metaphysical discussion about the purpose of human life, when he politely asked me the above question. I, in turn, asked him, “What do you mean by faith?” He replied, “You know, everybody has a faith, except, of course, atheists.” I continued, “This does not explain what is meant by faith?” To this, he gave the following explanation: A Christian’s faith is Christianity; a Jew’s faith is Judaism; a Muslim’s faith is Islam; and so on. It seemed to me that my new friend thought that he had a good deal of understanding in this matter. I interrupted, “But you are talking about religion.” He continued, “Yes, kind of—but religion is different from faith. For example, a Christian’s faith is Christianity but his religion could be Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. . .” According to my friend’s logic, then, a Muslim’s faith is Islam and his religion could be well Sunni or Shia etc. “But that is not how most Muslims think,” I told my friend; “Muslims think that their faith is Islam—which is their religion.” I then asked my friend, “What do you mean by religion?” At this point, he gave a long sermon type lecture:

“Religion is too complex to understand. It is a private matter between man and God, and your faith is your personal subjective belief in Him in whatever way you prefer. God is merciful. He is very forgiving. So, He will forgive any mistakes we humans make. It really makes us all feel very good that when we commit sins and pray and ask for forgiveness from God, He forgives. All praise be to Him who is so forgiving. When God is so generous and gracious that, whether or not we really understand the meaning of faith, or any other religious concept for that matter; and since He is going to forgive us anyway, then why bother exploring these concepts in great detail and depth. Let us keep following what our ancestors and scholars have explained. After all, they were great people and great scholars. They traveled long distances, suffered greatly in search of truth and knowledge and took extreme care to preserve and transmit that knowledge to us so that our lives become easier and successful in the sight of God. We will get all the rewards and go to heaven by simply practicing our faiths the way our forefathers told us. It is wrong to question and deviate from what they have passed on to us.”

At this point, I decided not to ask any further questions from my friend. I sensed a bit of uneasiness in him. Otherwise, I would have liked to ask: What does he mean by God’s forgiveness? By His mercy, His generosity, His graciousness, and His praise? And what is the meaning of prayer? I had first asked a simple question as to what is meant by faith. Not only did he not answer my question, several other questions entered my mind as well. I told him that I have immense respect for all the great works of all those great scholars. But they were limited by the knowledge available to them at their time. Tremendous advancements have since then been made in various branches of knowledge such as Physical, Biological, and Social Sciences and Humanities; and we can better explain the religious concepts in the light of this new knowledge—especially in the fields of anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, embryology, neurology, and astronomy. My friend seemed perplexed at this statement, and he commented, “What do these various fields of knowledge have to do with faith or religion?” And he repeated his earlier statement that faith is a private matter between man and God. So, my friend had completed a full circle and came back to the beginning of our conversation. I felt that explaining one concept in terms of another concept and then building a circular chain of arguments is not a satisfactory approach. I told my friend that I am not satisfied with this approach of explaining faith by using circular arguments and want to investigate it further. My friend, on the other hand said, that he is fully and completely satisfied with this approach and has a good feeling about it. At this point, an announcement was made that our flights were ready to depart. Then we parted—he on his flight, I on mine.

I kept wondering during my flight: Isn’t life like this, too? Everyone is waiting in the transit lounge called Earth for one’s flight—to the next world. But of course, there is a significant difference. Unlike the daily flights originating from different places and going to various destinations, life’s flight originates from a single source and takes us to a single destination.

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

Since I had resolved to investigate for myself the meaning of faith in depth, I turned to the most authentic source I knew: Allah’s book, the Qur’an, to find out the truth about it. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have lost interest in exploring the meanings of some of the most fundamental concepts and principles of Islam. Among such concepts is the most important one, called Iman.

As every Muslim knows (or should know), Iman is the foremost and essential requirement of Islam. Without proper Iman, one cannot become a Muslim even if one is born in a Muslim family. In fact, Iman is something which has to be (self) consciously acquired in order to become a Muslim, constantly maintained in order to remain a Muslim, and continually reinforced and fortified in order to begin the next life as a Muslim. Therefore, Iman is something which cannot (and should not) be taken for granted. (Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted.)

If Iman is so important that it is the kernel of life here and a savior in the hereafter, then it becomes necessary for each of us to find out what Iman really is. It is not right to say that I am a Muslim (and therefore I have Iman) because I was born in a Muslim family. As we will see shortly, the Qur’an (and that means Allah) does not accept this as a valid argument.

What is Iman and what is its definition in the context of Islam? We will have to explore this question in some depth (as mentioned earlier). This is a fundamental question concerning Muslims and Islam. But one thing is quite clear: A definition of Iman which contradicts any Qur’anic principle cannot be accepted as Iman in Islam, no matter where and whomsoever it may have come from. After this preamble, let us explore, first of all, the meaning of the Arabic word Iman and its definition given in the Qur’an by Allah.

Meaning and Definition of Iman

The root of the word Iman is a-m-n which means: to be calm and quiet (in one’s heart); to be protected from fear; trustworthiness and truthfulness (Taj al-Urus). Iman means to accept truthfully, to be convinced, to verify something, to rely upon or have confidence in something. Iman is usually translated in English as faith or belief, and faith in turn signifies acceptance without proof or argument, without reference to reason or thought, knowledge or insight. According to the Qur’an, Iman is conviction which is based upon reason and knowledge; a conviction that results from full mental acceptance and intellectual satisfaction; the kind of conviction that gives one a feeling of inner contentment and peace. And a Mu’min is one who accepts truth in such a way that it ensures his own peace and helps him to safeguard the peace and security of the rest of mankind. In fact, Al-Mu’min is one of the attributes of God Himself(59:23).

Allah gives a comprehensive and an objective definition of Iman in the Qur’an in Sura Al-Baqarah as:

To believe in Allah, and in the hereafter, and in Malaika(angels or Allah’s forces), and in the Book, and the Prophets.” (2:177)

[Notice that the Qur’an mentions only five components of Iman. The sixth component (Qadr), has been added later. The prevalent belief in Qadr among Muslims (which is translated as preordination, foreordination, predestination, destiny, or fate) is derived from Zoroastrian (Magian) concept. The concept of Qadr and Taqdir according to the Qur’an and Iqbal have been discussed already in a series of two articles entitled “Iqbal and Taqdir – Part I & II. For details, please refer to them.]

To deny any of the above leads one into the category of deviated ones (i.e., unbelievers):

Anyone who denies Allah, His Malaika, His books, His messengers, and the day of judgement has gone far far astray.” (4: 136)

Here again only five components have been mentioned. In the context of Iman, many use verse (2:62) and say that God has said that if Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Sabians believe in God and the hereafter and do good deeds, then they will go to Heaven.

First of all, this verse does not say that they will go to Heaven; it only says that they will have their reward (ajr) with their Rabb (Nourisher) and they will have no fear or sadness. Second, one cannot isolate this verse and ignore the rest of the other verses related to this same topic. For example, verse (2:137) says:

So if they (Christians and Jews) believe the way you (the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions) believe, then they are indeed on the right path.”

Another verse (4:47) says that it is necessary for the people of the book to believe in the Book revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) i.e. the Qur’an. Therefore, it is clear from these verses that what verse (2:62) is implying is that anyone (without any exception) can be a Mu’min no matter what his previous faith may be (including the born Muslims). But everyone has to believe in the entire Qur’an as a revealed guidance. This is what is meant by belief in God. Saying that I believe in God and not accepting his Books (including the only preserved Book of God in the original form existing in the world now, the Qur’an) as guidance for life, is in reality, not a belief in God. As a necessary corollary to this is the requirement of believing in all the Prophets and the means of message delivery, i.e., Malaika (Allah’s forces or Angels). And since Allah wants to see how well we used His gifts (of life and His Book of guidance), hence requiring us to believe in the day of judgement and accountability. This explains why it is necessary to believe in all the five components of Iman where each component has its own objective reality. This means that each of these components of Iman exists and is real just as the sun exists and is real. So, there is nothing subjective about Iman.

The Importance of Reason in Iman

The Qur’anic view of reason and its place in human life deserves careful consideration. Man has been granted a mind which enables him to think, and through the instrument of intellect, is supposed to build up a system of knowledge. Reason converts the raw data supplied by the senses into knowledge and the Qur’an assigns to reason an important role in life:

“The worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use their intellect to understand.” (8:22)

This is a graphic description of the degradation of man when he does not employ reason to his service. Such a man, the Qur’an tells us, not only lives a worthless and debased life here but also renders himself unfit for the hereafter which he enters after death:

“There are many among Jinns and human beings, who lead such a life as makes it obvious that they are meant for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not; they are like cattle—nay, are worse; they are the heedless.” (7:179)

This point is again emphasized in Sura Al-Furqan. The Prophet (PBUH) is addressed:

“Do you think that most of them hear or have sense? They are but as cattle—nay but they are further astray.” (25:44)

The Qur’an expects man to think and use his power of understanding in the light of the guidance provided by wahi or revelation from God. These two sources of guidance, i.e., reason and revelation, are supplementary to each other. If they are kept within their proper spheres, then there will be no conflict between them. the Prophet (PBUH) is commanded to say:

“This is my way. My invitation to you to follow Allah’s path is based on reason and insight—mine as well as of those who follow me.” (12:108)

The Qur’an challenges the opponents of Islam to produce arguments in support of their contention:

“Ask then, (O Prophet!) Bring your proofs if you are the truthful.” (2:111)

They are admonished when they argue about things of which they have no knowledge:

“Why, therefore, do you wrangle concerning that about which you have no knowledge?” (3:66)

The Qur’an asks us to refrain from arguments about which we have no knowledge:

“Do not pursue that whereof you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing and sight and the heart, each of these will be asked.” (17:36)

It is clear from these verses that Allah puts an extraordinary emphasis on (human) reason and intellect. Those who do not use reason are called worse than animals by Allah. The revelation from Allah is meant to be used with reason and understanding in order to enlighten our minds and hearts and not to be followed blindly:

“Those who do not use their intellect, the matter remains confused to them.” (10:100)

“The blind and the seeing are not equal, nor is the darkness equal to light, nor is shadow equal to the sun’s refulgence; nor are the living equal to the dead.” (35:19-22)

“Say (O Prophet!): Are those equal; those who know and those who do not know?” (39:9)

And most important of all, Allah says that even His revelations are not to be accepted blindly. The Believers (Mu’minin) according to the Qur’an, are:

“Those who, when the revelations of their Rabb (Nourisher and Sustainer) are presented to them, do not fall thereat deaf and blind.” (25:73)

Thus, the Qur’an calls upon all human beings to apply their minds (with open minds, not with an a priori bias, prejudice or ancestral customized thoughts) to its teaching, and to strive constantly to grasp its meaning and rationale. The following commands are for everyone (and not just for the U’lemas):

“Do they not think deeply in the Qur’an?” (4:82, 47:24)

“This book (i.e., the Qur’an) has been sent down on you (O Prophet) that they may think deeply on its verses.” (38:29)

[It must be emphasized here that pondering in the translation and tafseer of the Qur’an is not equivalent to pondering in the Qur’an.]

Thus, Iman has to be individually acquired which requires that each of us consciously strive to acquire knowledge and understanding by using our own God-given gift of reason and intellect in the light of the revelation given in the Qur’an, so that Iman can enter our hearts.

Aspects of Iman

Let us list here several aspects of Iman from the Qur’an which shed light on its reality:

Iman is not to accept it with the tongue but to accept it with the heart. (2:8-9)

To accept everything which the Qur’an says as truth is Iman. (2:26)

In order to acquire Iman in Allah, it is necessary to first reject every authority other than Allah. (2:25-26)

Iman will lead human beings from darkness towards light. (2:257)

In matters of Iman, one’s profession is irrelevant. (26:111-112)

Unless Iman enters the heart, it cannot be called Iman (and consequently, one cannot call oneself Mu’min). One can only say that one has surrendered to Islam. (49:14)

Allah does not discard anyone’s Iman. (2:143)

Finally, an important aspect which must be emphasized here is that no form of force or coercion (direct or indirect, temporal or spiritual) can be used in connection with Iman. This is because it contradicts the very definition of Iman. (As we have seen, Iman is derived from a-m-n which means peace in the heart.) So any forced conversion cannot be allowed in Islam. In fact, forced Imanis no Iman at all.

The journey which I undertook in order to discover for myself the meaning of faith revealed one thing very clearly—Iman in Islam is not a (blind) faith held privately and subjectively (without any rationale or reason) between an individual and God. As we have seen, there is a clear, explicit, and objective definition of Iman given in the Qur’an and Allah has Himself explained the process of how to acquire it in various other verses related to this topic. Therefore, it is not proper (for any Muslim, at least) to say that faith is a private, subjective matter between an individual and God. Nevertheless, the maxim “faith is a private matter” is accepted as a universal truth. It seems no one thinks that any serious effort is needed to investigate its in-depth meaning and provide a proof for this oft repeated phrase. A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that those who believe in this maxim are really contradicting themselves in their daily lives. A good religious speaker greatly influences people’s thoughts and beliefs. The moment one opens one’s private belief to be influenced by others, it no longer remains private. So much so, that an accomplished religious leader can cause havoc in people’s lives to the extent that a single statement of his may cause them to give up their lives and/or take other people’s lives. Some people may say that (private) faith held firmly can not be influenced by others, but I think this is not possible.

And we know that this scenario is physically as well as psychologically impossible now in the age of the information super highway, world wide web, and the Internet. As a matter of fact, this distinction between private and public domain of human life is the product of a concept called dualism which finds no sanction anywhere in the Qur’an. Life is a unity which cannot be bifurcated into private and public parts, religious and secular parts, or material and spiritual parts. In the words of Iqbal:

“Thus the affirmation of spirit sought by Christianity would come not by the renunciation of external forces which are already permeated by the illumination of spirit, but by proper adjustment of man’s relation to these forces in view of the light received from within.

“. . .With Islam, the ideal and real [i.e. spiritual and material] are not two opposing forces which cannot be reconciled. The life of the ideal [i.e. spiritual life] consists, not in a total breach with the real [i.e. material life] which would tend to shatter the very organic wholeness of life into painful oppositions. . .

“Islam, however, faces the opposition with a view to overcome it. . .Islam, recognizing the contact of the ideal with real, says ‘yes’ to the world of matter and points the way to master it with a view to discover a basis for a realistic regulation of life.”

(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, pages 7-8.)

Unfortunately, this is what life has become today—comprised of painful oppositions in our feelings and emotions, in our thoughts and actions—because the foundation (i.e. faith) on which the life’s superstructure is to be built as a coherent system is flawed.

Now if the foundation itself is defective, no matter how much tinkering and patch-up job is done to save the superstructure(of a society), sooner or later it is going to collapse. Many of them have collapsed already and many are on the way moving towards their final destiny.

In fact, we are all on a mission and a journey, continuously moving towards a final destination whether we realize it or not. The electrons and neurons in our bodies, the earth we inhabit, the solar system, the galaxy—from the smallest to the biggest, everything and everyone and the life in general, are all on a journey towards their goal determined by Allah.

Allah says in the Qur’an that if all the trees on the planet became pens and all its oceans became ink, the words of Allah (and the meanings contained in them) would not be exhausted (31:27, 18:109). That means we are limited by our finite capacity of knowledge and understanding. But still, Allah enjoins on every one of us (who call ourselves Muslims) to use our reason, intellect, and the up-to-date human knowledge and to directly try to understand and explore the meanings of His revelations (as noted earlier in many verses, especially verse 25:73). We will never be able to exhaust the meanings of Allah’s words but we are asked, nevertheless, to keep striving continuously. That is why it is all the more important not to give up and stop this process by saying that our great scholars of the past have already explored all there was to be explored and they have understood all there was to be understood. And we simply have to refer to them in matters of Islam. This passive approach on our part will not absolve us from our duty to ponder directly in the Qur’an as required by Allah. This requirement is for each and every generation and for all time to come.

So, with this spirit as the driving force, we will consider another important aspect of Iman called Iman-bil-Ghaib in the Qur’an (usually translated as belief in the unseen). We will venture to explore its meaning in the next part of this article where we will also explain the overall relationship of Iman with another significant concept called A’mal.

The journey continues…

=============== Part 2 ==============

We have seen (in the first part of the article) that Allah demands Iman in all of the Quran (and not in parts of it) from everyone – be they born Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sabians, or from any other religion. But the situation is critical as far as born Muslims are concerned because they are under the impression that they have Iman by virtue of their birth. Most Muslims are, in fact, Muslims because they were born in Muslim families, so much so, that a person born in a Sunni family is considered Sunni just as a person born in a Shia family is considered Shia. If they were born in Hindu, Jewish or Christian families, they will be Hindus, Jews, or Christians, respectively. In view of the prevalent belief systems then, how can a born Muslim justify his/her Iman in light of the Quran? Remember that if a person did not have the freedom to choose something, he/she is not responsible for it. So, if we (born Muslims) did not freely and consciously choose Islam, we are not entitled to it in an active sense but only in a passive sense.

Originally, all the Sahaba (R) had accepted Islam with due thought and understanding and therefore, they were among the category of true Quranic mo’mins. However, many tribes accepted Islamen masse (110:2) when Islam had become well-established as a system with rule of law in society. The Quran refers to these people as follows:

“These bedouins say that they are mo’mins. O Prophet! Tell them that you do not have Iman. You have only accepted to surrender (to Islam). Iman has not yet entered your hearts.” (49:14)

[All references to the Quranic verses are from Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, New Revised Edition, Amana Corporation, Brentwood, Maryland]

We discussed earlier in detail the meaning and aspects of Iman from the Quran which sheds light as to why these bedouins should not call themselves mo’mins. If Allah does not let these bedouins call themselves mo’mins, who willingly accepted to enter Islam, how can born Muslims call themselves mo’mins, who did not accept Islam by choice and did not fulfill the requirements of Iman?

So one can easily conclude, without doubt, that Allah says Iman must involve reasoning, understanding, and full mental acceptance based on reason. However, it is easy to see what kind of an internal conflict a Muslim might endure, thinking on the one hand that he needs to utilize powers of thought and reasoning, but still in the end, needs to believe in something which is beyond sight and beyond reasoning, the ghayb. This leads many God-fearing pious Muslims to create a mental dichotomy of their inner and outer universes (spiritual and material; religious and scientific). How can this internal conflict be resolved? – Only through the understanding of what Iman-bil-ghayb really is.

Iman-bil-ghayb in verse (2:3) is usually translated as “belief in the unseen.” This translation prompts many to say that the Quran requires blind faith because Allah requires us to believe in the unseen. They wrongly conclude from this that reason, intellect, understanding, thought and knowledge have no place or lesser place in Iman. As we have seen, there are numerous verses in the Quran which specifically require us to use our reason and intellect to acquire and strengthen Iman (e.g. 8:22, 7:179, 25:44, 12:108, 17:36, 10:100, 39:9, 4:82, 47:24, 38:29, and most importantly, 25:73). So, there seems to be an apparent contradiction in the Quran. But there obviously cannot be any contradictions in the Quran because Allah very clearly says in verse 4:82 that if this Quran was from other than Allah, then there would have been many contradictions in it. This means that the contradictions are in our minds and not in the Quran.

In order to remove this apparent contradiction in our interpretation of Iman-bil-ghayb, we have to focus on the meaning of the Arabic word ghayb.

Let us begin our journey.

Anything which is hidden from the eye but exists is called ghayb. If something exists as a concept but is hidden from the eye, then it is also called ghayb. Ghaabatun, refers to a thick forest in which the ground is hidden from the trees. Ghayyubaat-as-Shajar refers to the roots of a tree which are hidden in the ground and are not visible (Taj-al-Urus). A horse that reserves (hides) some of its strength in a race is called farasun ghaa’ibun and a horse that exerts and manifests (reveals) all its potential in a race is called farasun shaahidun (Lane’s Lexicon).

Thus it is necessary that something ghaa’ibun must exist somewhere although hidden from the eye. When it is exposed to the eye then it is called mash-hoodun. If that thing is not present anywhere (does not exist) then it cannot be called ghaa’ibun. This is the reason ghibatun means to backbite (to talk about the faults present in a person) in his/her absence, whereas if the backbiting is false (e.g. rumors) and not present in the person being talked about (does not exist), it is called buhtaanun, not ghibatun (Taj-ul-Urus).

If we go deeper in our investigation of ghayb, we find that there are different aspects of ghayb. Most people think of only the first aspect when ghayb is mentioned to them, and do not realize the other essential aspects of it.

Ghayb in the Divine Universe in the Divine Universe

The only way mankind can gain knowledge about the divine universe is through wahi (revelation). The ghayb of the divine universe (which can never be perceived by mankind) is what most Muslims usually think of when ghayb is mentioned to them. They mechanically repeat a list stating Allah, Heaven, Hell, etc. as examples of ghayb. Indeed, these are the truths and realities (including God’s nature and His personality) which are beyond human sense-perception, and are also referred to as “al-ghayb“. The Quran says about Allah:

“No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is beyond all comprehension.” (6:103)

“There is nothing whatever like unto Him.” (42:11)

That is, as far as God Himself is concerned, He is beyond human comprehension and no example can be given to explain His nature and personality. Therefore, God did not ask us to close our eyes and sit in a solitary place and meditate in order to discover Him or try to recognize Him as is done in mysticism. Our finite minds cannot comprehend even the infinite time, let alone Godwho created time.

However, we have been given the ability to comprehend the Quran and the attributes of Allah that are mentioned therein. Some of the attributes are exclusive to God alone and no human can have a share in them, e.g. Al-Awwal (the First), al-Aakhir (the Last), al-Zaahir (the Evident), al-Baatin (the Hidden). These four attributes are expressions of God’s infiniteness (57:3). There are other attributes though, which we can understand and even emulate within human limits. For example, God is Al-Rahim (the Merciful), Al-Karim (the Generous), Al-Hafeez (the Protector), Al-Mo’min(the Provider of security), Al-Aleem (the Knowing), Al-Aziz (the Powerful) etc; so we should try (within human limits) to develop these characteristics in our own characters. But most Muslims, instead, have spent (and continue to spend) a lot of their time and energy concentrating on those attributes which are exclusive to God alone. This, in spite of the fact that Allah clearly tells us that it is an exercise in futility (as mentioned above in 6:103) — and therefore waste of time. According to Iqbal:

“Agar na sahl hon tujh par zameen ke hangame

Buri hay mastiye adesha haa-e-aflaaki” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“If you can not face the problems of the world (with courage), then it is useless to be meditating about Heaven” (Translation from Urdu)

Allah asks us to reflect on His work (i.e., the universe) (3:190-191) and His word (i.e., his Book, the Quran) (4:82, 47:24). His signs are all around and inside us — signs in the universe, signs in the selves of human beings, and signs presented in His Book. God’s message (His work and His word) can only be understood by reflecting and pondering His various signs. And since this reflection and pondering requires knowledge and understanding, we are constantly urged by Allah to acquire knowledge and understanding of the physical universe as well as the human universe. That is, there is no short cut to God.

Ghayb in the Physical Universe in the Physical Universe

There are many forces in the universe that are hidden from human sense-perception. As human knowledge advances, many forces that are hidden (ghayb) become revealed (mash-hood, from the root shahada). In the words of Iqbal:

“Yeh dunya da’wate deedaar hay farzande Adam ko
Ki her mastoor ko bakhsha gaya hay zauqe ‘uryaani”(Transliteration from Urdu)

“This world invites every human being to observe it, because every hidden object has been endowed with desire to be uncovered” (Translation from Urdu)

For example, the atom and its immense forces have existed ever since the universe came into existence, but they were hidden from human sense-perception. Only in the twentieth century has human knowledge advanced to the level where the atom and its immense forces have been revealed. The Quran has presented this aspect of the revelation of hidden forces as signs for the proof of its message:

“Soon we will show them our signs in the physical world as well as inside their own selves (nafs) until it becomes manifest to them that this Quranic message is the truth.” (41:53)

To what does this ayah refer when it says “inside their own selves (nafs)”? This leads us to the ghayb of the Human Universe (which includes mankind’s social, political, economical, psychological, etc., spheres of life).

Ghayb in the Human Universe in the Human Universe

A farmer plants seeds in the soil. He toils in his farm, day in and day out, and provides the proper nourishment to the plants at appropriate times. He also tries to protect his farm from harmful agents. He does all these things over a period of several months and comes home empty handed every time. Someone unfamiliar with farming will laugh at him and even consider him mad because he spends his money, time, and effort and comes home empty handed. The question is, what is the driving force behind his effort? The answer is easy – his efforts have not been realized yet. But he has the firm belief that one day he is going to harvest a big crop. So, here “Iman-bil-ghayb” clearly means to have firm belief in the unseen results of ones effort. In the case of the farmer, one can say that he knows from prior experience that the result of his firm belief in farming will be a big crop, if he followed the proper rules of farming. Similarly, our Sahaba (R) struggled and persevered in the path of Islam with the firm belief that their seeds of Iman would produce results later. But unlike the farmer, there was no prior experience and knowledge about the eventual results in the case of our Sahaba (R). It was their firm faith in Iman-bil-Ghayb, i.e., “belief in the unseen results” that constantly drove them and kept them struggling and exerting in the path of Allah. If they had any doubt about the results, they would not have lifted even a single step. It should be remembered that a system produces results after it is implemented – and it takes time to implement a system. Implementers of the system must have firm faith in the “unseen results” that they will eventually come as a necessary consequence of their efforts – if they didn’t, they would not proceed further.

Knowledge of Ghayb

There is yet another fact of ghayb and mash-hood. Experts in astronomy can tell precisely when there will be an eclipse of the sun. During the age of superstition, these type of people were considered as possessing supernatural powers and were even worshipped. But now science has advanced to such an extent that very precise predictions can be made based on astronomical calculations about natural phenomena. [Unfortunately, we Muslims, even in this age, fight about using astronomical calculations in Islam].

But these kinds of predictions can be made only for objects that possess no choice or options. These objects must follow certain fixed set of natural laws. No accurate predictions can be made for creatures having freedom of choice or options.

According to Iqbal:

“Tere maqaam ko anjum shanaas kya jaane
Ki khaake zinda hay tu taabaye sitaara naheen” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“How can an astrologer know your place? You are a living dust (being) and not subject to stars” (Translation from Urdu)

One cannot even make predictions about tiny creatures what to say of human beings who have immense power and freedom of choice. This can better be illustrated by an example. Consider 20 Nobel laureates sitting around a big table, busy making predictions about objects ranging from subatomic particles to extremely large galaxies. Then a fly comes from somewhere and sits on the table. All the Nobel laureates combined together cannot predict where this fly will go next. Now, one can imagine that if for such a small creature as a fly, all the experts cannot predict what it is going to do in the future, how can future predictions be made about human beings who possess so much more power and freedom than a fly. Therefore, all those involved in predicting the future of human beings are proponents of falsehood. The Quran says that an individual cannot himself/herself say what he/she is going to do the next day and where his/her death will be, let alone predicting the future of someone else(31:34). This refers specifically to divine ghayb regarding the operation of human free will, i.e., man’s future actions. Allah says in the Quran that no one has the knowledge of ghayb except Him (27:65). He has the keys of the ghayb (6:59). Even the prophets (peace be upon all of them) did not have the knowledge of ghayb (11:31), except what Allah told them about it via revelation (3:44)(remember, knowledge of divine ghayb is only through wahi or revelation).

Since the revelation of Allah ended on our prophet (PBUH), no human being can now receive any knowledge of ghayb from Allah after him. So, anyone who claims knowledge of ghayb is, in fact, claiming prophethood. The Quran says about such people that they are guessing and conjecturing in the ghayb (18:22).

Iman-bil-Ghayb and Its Impact on Human Life

If Iman-bil-ghayb is translated as belief in the unseen God, then how does this concept impact our lives? God exists whether or not one believes in Him. If one person believes in God and another person does not believe in Him, what difference does it really make in their daily lives? There must be a tangible and observable difference, otherwise, it is meaningless to believe in God. In reality, one who believes in Allah (a Muslim) must openly display a different life, achieving and striving for goals set by Allah and shown by our Prophet(PBUH). According to the Quran, Muslims are expected to establish the world’s best nation, and thus there should be a clear difference between one who believes in Allah and one who does not. A Muslim gives witness to the truth of Islam; he is its living Shahaada (this Arabic word means to manifest, to be or make witness to). However, this accomplishment comes after some time, not immediately. That is, the results of the living shahaada remain hidden at its beginning as was the case during the early periods of our Prophet’s (PBUH) mission. This, in fact, led non-believers to question the validity of his message because the results of the Iman did not come out right away. Allah guarantees that the results which are hidden from the eyes in the beginning will definitely come, but at a later time. There is a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of those who have firm belief in the unseen results, the Iman-bil-ghayb. This is a promise from Allah and He does not deviate from His promise:

“Allah has promised those among you who acquire Iman and (under the direction of that Iman) do good work (beneficial to humanity, i.e. righteous deeds) then He will, of surety, grant them, in the land, inheritance (of power).” (24:55)

“And who is more faithful to his Covenant than Allah?” (9:111)

“The promise of Allah; Never does Allah depart from his promise.” (30:6).

Thus, according to the meaning of the Arabic word ghayb, and in the context of establishing Islam as a living society (the practice), it is more meaningful to translate Iman-bil-ghayb as the belief in the unseen results of Iman (the theory — based on reason, knowledge, and understanding).

It was mentioned in the beginning that the situation is critical for born Muslims as far as Iman is concerned. Let us see what the Quran has to say on this issue. In verse 4:136 Allah is specifically addressing those Muslims who did not consciously made efforts to acquire Iman:

“O you who believe! Acquire Iman in Allah and His messenger and the Book (the Quran) which he has sent to His messenger and the books which he has sent before”(4:136)

The people addressed here, were members of the Muslim community who had not acquired Iman with due thought and understanding. Obviously, born Muslims fall into this category, and therefore, this verse applies to them as well – as it applied to the bedouins (49:14) and to the people of the book (2:62, 2:137, 5:69) at the time of the Prophet(PBUH). When the Quran was presented to them and they were asked to follow it, they used to say that we will follow only that which has been passed on to us by our forefathers:

“When it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has revealed (i.e., Quran):” They say: “Nay! We shall follow the ways of our forefathers: “What! Even though their forefathers did not use their intelligence (to analyze what their forefathers had transmitted to them) and did not use God’s guidance (to enlighten their path)” (2:170)

The same theme is echoed in several other verses such as (5:104, 31:21, 34:43, and 43:21-24). The Quran mentions that every Prophet was greeted with similar reply (14:10, 43:22-24) when he called on his people to follow God’s revelation, e.g., Noah(7:70, 23:24); Moses(10:78, 28:36); Saleh(11:62); Sho’aib(11:87); Ibrahim(21:53-54, 26:70-76); and finally Prophet Muhammad(11:109, 34:43, 38:7)(Peace Be Upon All of Them). As long as born Muslims continue to give similar reply (that we will follow the ways of our forefathers) to the call of the Quran, to acquire Iman by conscious choice, they will be treated in the same way by Allah as the past nations. This is the law of Allah and Allah’s law does not change for any one (17:77, 33:38).

Neither born Muslims accepted Islam by their free will nor born non-Muslims accepted Kufr by their own free will. The Quran always addresses people as those who have accepted or rejectedIman (i.e., those who made a choice). Being Muslims because of accident of birth is not the same thing as accepting Islam by conscious choice. Therefore, it is essential for born Muslims to critically examine their faith in the light of the Quran, discarding all non-Quranic concepts no matter where they may have come from – from forefathers, religious scholars, or mystics etc. These non-Quranic concepts may be hidden deep down in our subconscious minds. Nevertheless, they have to be taken out before Iman can enter our minds as demanded by the first pillar of Islam: La Ilaha Illallah. Remember ! There are no mention of Sunni or Shi’a, Ahle Hadith or Ahle Fiqha, Hanafi or Maliki, Shaafa’i or Hanbali, J’aafari or Zaidi, Ithna ‘Ashri or Sash ImamiaMuslims in the Quran. There are only Muslims mentioned in the Quran. The Quranic Iman can not enter a Sunni heart, or a Shia heart. It can only enter an open heart.

“And that those on whom knowledge has been bestowed may know that the (QURAN) is THE TRUTH from your Rabb (Nourisher), so that they may acquire Iman in it and their hearts may be made humbly (open) to it.”(22:54)

Thus the real challenge is: Do we have the courage and the patience to go deep down in our hearts and try to cleanse them from all types of non-Quranic concepts so that Iman can enter? Or, do we simply want to keep practicing what our forefathers have passed on to us? The choice is ours. But we better be prepared to face the consequences of that choice.

In the words of Iqbal:

“Yeh shahaadat gahe ulfat mein qadam rakhna hay

Loag samajhte hain asan hay Musalman hona” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“People think that it is easy to be a Muslim. In fact, being a Muslim is to provide proof and witness of Iman at every step” (Translation from Urdu)

There are very clear barometers mentioned in the Quran for us to measure whether or not we meet the criteria of Iman. One such criterion is mentioned in verse 3:139:

“So loose not heart, nor fall into despair. If you are mo’mins, then you will have the upper most position (over all other nations)”(3:139)

Our Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaba (R) started initially with the faith and conviction in “unseen results”, the Iman-bil-ghayb and did reach the top of the world in a matter of thirty to forty years. Thus they fulfilled the criterion of being mo’mins according to the verse 3:139. We, on the other hand, have been fooling ourselves (for more than fourteen hundred years) that we have faith inIman-bil-ghayb by simply reciting these words. No wonder, every nation has surpassed us (and we are undoubtedly at the bottom) in spite of all the wealth which Allah has blessed us with. Is it the will of Allah that we are, collectively as Muslims, in such a pitiable and degraded state in the world? Is it the will of Allah that we be punished? Or is Allah testing us? Is it the will of Allah that millions of Muslim (and non-Muslim) babies should die due to lack of medicine and food although immense wealth is floating right under their feet? What is the will of Allah and what connection does it have with Iman? And what relationship does Iman have with ‘Aml. These are serious questions which require in depth answers.

We will discuss these questions in a future article.

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