Iman in Islam

MV: After coming back from MIST, I realized the word “Iman” was used a lot through out each lecture. Your Iman is what determines your Muslim. So lets just say this post could highly important in terms of being a Muslim.

Thanks to Br. Mohsin Hassan for providing me the information.

The Islamic tradition holds that the revelation granted to Muhammad had three principle elements: islam or submission to God, ihsan or moral and spiritual duties to the rest of humanity, and iman or faith. This word, faith, is a fairly poor rendering of iman ; one might better understand the word if it’s translated as “reasoned faith” or “conviction.” What constitutes this faith is summed up in the shahadah or confession of faith: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The consequences of that latter clause in the shahadah means that the confessor believes that all the words contained in the Qur’an , the sacred text of Islam, are the words of God spoken directly to Muhammad. Iman , then, is the conviction that every word, every truth, and every imperative contained in the Qur’an is true and binding on the believer.

This conviction, however, is not the same thing as our sense of “belief” or “faith.” In the Christian tradition, from which all European languages draw the meanings of words such as “belief” or “faith,” faith is a process that is above reason. In fact, in foundational and early Christianity, human reason is considered suspect and a faculty far inferior to that of faith. Christian faith or belief, then, is anti-rational or, better yet, supra-rational. In contradistinction to this, Islamic iman is deeply implicated in the rational capacity of humanity. Unlike foundational and early Christianity, the Islamic tradition holds that human rationality is the highest capacity given to humans. It is only through the use of human reason that anyone can be said to have faith at all.

Iman involves a process in which the individual comes face to face with revelation and examines that revelation with his or her powers of reason. The individual weighs the claims of revelation against other alternatives and it is really only after that process of examining revelation and weighing the alternatives that the decision to believe revelation can be called

iman . So while “belief” in the early Christian tradition is the result of either a gift of God or the result of a “will to believe,” iman is freely chosen and acquired through the human use of reason. Any believer who performs the rituals of Islam without using his or her reason to weigh the merits of Islamic revelation is imperfect; that person has achieved islam without iman . Properly speaking, submission to God should result from iman rather than exist independently of it.

It is for this reason that one of the most common statements about faith (iman ) in the Qur’an is that it can never be forced on anybody: “There is no coercion in religion.” This includes coercion of any kind: physical, mental, or economic. This has led to Islam’s tolerance of other religious viewpoints; while non-believers must pay steep taxes in Islamic society, they are not otherwise to be penalized or oppressed because of their faith.

The nature of iman as “faith from reason” has also contributed to Islam’s long tradition of rationality. While Christian Europe largely threw away the philosophy and science of the classical world—considering the wisdom of fools—the classical rational sciences continued in the Islamic world from which the Europeans re inherited it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Richard Hooker


One thought on “Iman in Islam

  1. I also wrote a post on iman recently ( I agree that iman is different from belief. There is an element of rationality lacking in belief but present in iman. Also, iman requires action. A Hadith says, “None of you is a believer until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” So brotherhood is closely tied to iman, and by refusing to act as brother (or sister) to other Muslims, one is refuting one’s own belief.

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