The Meaning of Iman

Muftī Rashīd Ahmad Ludhyānwī


In a public gathering, Gandhi stated these words while delivering a speech: “I do not understand why I should not recite the kalimah? Why should I not praise Allāh? Why should I not accept Muhammad as His messenger? I have faith in the saints and the prophets of all religions.” Can Gandhi be called a Muslim for saying the aforementioned words? Please attend to the reply quickly, because I have need for it for a religious publication. Explain with proof, may the Most Merciful reward you.


The definition of īmān is:

التصديق بما علم مجيئ الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم به إجمالا فيما علم إجمالا وتفصيلا فيما علم تفصيلا

Tasdīq (assenting) to what is known that the Messenger (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) came with, briefly in that which is known briefly, and in detail in that which is known in detail.”

In this definition, the intent of “assent” is neither logical assent – meaning recognition and perception of a connection [between a subject and its predicate][1] – nor linguistic assent – meaning the attribution of truthfulness to a speaker.

Rather, the intent is Shar‘ī assent which is a combination of three things:

  1. Recognition (ma‘rifah)
  2. Linguistic assent (tasdīq lughwī)[2]
  3. Submission and acceptance (inqiyād wa stislām)

Or it will be said that the reality of īmān is only linguistic assent, while recognition and submission are conditions for the realisation of īmān.

According to the Jahmiyyah, īmān is merely recognition, which is rejected because this is not volitional. Īmān is volitional, due to it being something [human beings are] made accountable for, and accountability occurs only in volitional acts. Moreover, His (Exalted is He) statement, “Gain knowledge that there is none worthy of worship but Allāh” (47:19) proves īmān is acquired, while recognition is not acquired. Moreover, recognition is an [internal] state, while assent is an action, and there is conflict between the two.

The texts of the Glorious Qur’ān refute the Jahmiyyah. Allāh (Exalted is He) said: “They denied them out of sheer injustice and arrogance, though their hearts believed them” (27:14), “Those whom We have given the Book recognise him as they recognise their own sons” (2:146), “Yet when there came to them that which they did recognise, they denied it” (2:89). And Allāh (Exalted is He) said, quoting Mūsā (upon him peace) addressing Fir‘awn: “You know well that these were sent down by none but the Lord of the heavens and the earth as signs. And, I am afraid O Fir‘awn, you are going to be destroyed” (17:102).

Thus, mere recognition is not sufficient for īmān. Rather, assent and submission are also necessary.

Imām al-Haramayn said in al-Irshād:

Upon verification, tasdīq is an internal speech, but it is not established except with knowledge.Imām al-Haramayn

Ibn al-Humām said:

“The outward [meaning] of the speech of al-Ash‘arī in this context is that tasdīq is an internal speech and it is preconditioned by recognition, the absence of which entails its absence. There is [also] the possibility that īmān is a combination of recognition and internal speech, so each of them is an integral component of īmān.

“Thus, for the realisation of īmān in both interpretations, it is necessary to have recognition, that is, cognition that the claim of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) is in accordance with reality and something else, which is internal acceptance and submission, by accepting the commands and prohibitions, which necessitates reverence and not belittling. This internal acceptance is the meaning of internal speech, and this is how the author [al-Ghazālī] expressed it in his discussion on ‘īmān’ and ‘islām.’ We only said that something else is necessary with recognition, and that is internal acceptance, because of what has preceded of the realisation of mere recognition in the presence of disbelief.”

‘Allāmah al-Zabīdī said in Sharh al-Ihyā’:

“The most apparent [position] is that tasdīq is an internal speech besides recognition, because what is understood from tasdīq linguistically is attribution of truthfulness to a speaker, which is an action, and recognition is not an action but is from the category of an [internal] state, in contrast to the description of an action. Thus, it is entailed that both submission, that is acceptance, and recognition, are excluded from the notion of tasdīq linguistically, while their consideration is established in Sharī‘ah for īmān. Their consideration in this fashion is based on their being two components of its meaning in the Sharī‘ah, or two conditions for its consideration for the operation of its laws in the Sharī‘ah. The second [interpretation] is superior, since the first necessitates taking īmān out of its linguistic meaning to another Shar‘ī meaning, and that is rejected because there is no evidence necessitating it being so, because it is contrary to the default condition. Thus, it will not be resorted to except on the basis of evidence, and there is no evidence.

“In fact, it [i.e. īmān] is demanded of the Arabs frequently in the Book and Sunnah, and those who responded to it responded without asking for its meaning, and if a question did occur from them, it was only about what īmān pertains to [and not īmān itself]. The non-realisation of īmān without recognition and acceptance does not entail their being components of its meaning in the Sharī‘ah, because of the possibility that they are conditions of īmān in the Sharī‘ah, while its reality is tasdīq of specific articles [of belief] in the linguistic sense. Once this is established, it is apparent that linguistic tasdīq may appear without them [i.e. acceptance and submission], together with disbelief, which is the very opposite of īmān.”

‘Allāmah al-Ālūsī discussed some of this, and said after some comments: “The outcome of this is the non-acquisition of tasdīq for an obstinate person [who refuses to proclaim the truth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) despite recognising its truth], as it [i.e. tasdīq] is the opposite of rejection; while what is achieved by him is recognition which is [only] the opposite of ignorance. They have agreed that this recognition is external to linguistic tasdīq, and that is what is considered in īmān.” (Fath al-Mulhim)

In sum, regardless of whether linguistic tasdīq (assent) can or cannot be separated from recognition and submission, [internal] submission is necessary for the realisation of īmān. Without submission, verbal testimony is not considered.

In declaring the truth, the words of Heraclius bear so much weight, yet because of not having submitted, he cannot be called a believer (mu’min). After explaining the circumstances of the prophets (peace be upon them), Heraclius said: “If all that you say is true, he will soon have sovereignty over the place of these two feet of mine. Indeed I had knowledge that he will emerge, but I did not think he will be from you. If I knew I could reach him, I would endeavour to meet him, and if I were in his presence, I would wash his feet.” Heraclius said: “This is the king of this nation, he has emerged.” A letter came to him from his companion agreeing with the opinion of Heraclius on the emergence of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and that he is a prophet, whereupon he said: “O Assembly of Romans. If you have [hope] for success, guidance and that your kingdom remains, pledge to this prophet.” (Sahīh al-Bukhārī).

In Fath al-Bārī, [Ibn Hajar says]: “[It is reported] from al-Tabarānī: Caesar said: ‘I know him to be such.’ In a disconnected [report of] Ibn Ishāq: Heraclius said: ‘Woe to you! By Allah, verily I know that he is a prophet that has been sent.’ In Musnad Ahmad [it states] that he wrote from Tabūk to the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) that I am a Muslim. The Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘He lied. Rather, he is [still] upon his Christianity.’ In Kitāb al-Amwāl of Abū ‘Ubayd with a sahīh chain to the disconnected [report of] Bakr ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Muzanī the like of this, and its wording is: He said: ‘The enemy of Allāh lied. He is not a Muslim.’ Based on this, the author of al-Istī‘āb said that he believed, meaning expressed faith, but he did not persist on it, and he did not practise on its dictates, but was greedy for his kingdom and favoured this perishing [realm] over the everlasting [life].” (Fath al-Bārī)

Al-Nawawī said: “There is no excuse in what he said: ‘If I knew I could reach him, I would endeavour to meet him,’ because he recognised the integrity of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), yet he was greedy for sovereignty and craved leadership so he favoured them over acceptance of Islām, and that has been reported explicitly in Sahīh al-Bukhārī.” (‘Umdat al-Qārī)

Heraclius confessed with the tongue and even sent in writing that I am a Muslim. Despite this, the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) did not regard him as truthful, because there was no submission. Similarly, merely due to his confession and words, it has not be claimed that Waraqah ibn Nawfal was a Muslim. Rather, his faith was established from the dream of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace).

Abū Tālib showed so much support for the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace). He endured such burdensome difficulties in the spread of Islām. He continued to support the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) in every way, verbally and practically. He said in addressing the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace):

You invited me and I knew that you are truthful.
Indeed you spoke the truth and you were, from before, trustworthy.
By Allāh! They will never reach you with their [entire] group,
Until I am laid to rest, buried in the earth!
Proclaim your cause, no harm will come to you.
Bear glad tidings of that and let eyes be cooled by you.
Indeed I knew that the religion of Muhammad
Is from the best of religions of all creatures as dīn.
Were it not for blame or fear of insult,
You would find me open to that plainly.

Despite this, because there was no submission, Abū Tālib cannot be regarded as a mu’min.

In Fath al-Mulhim, the following statement of Hāfiz Ibn Taymiyyah is quoted:

“In fact, Abū Tālib and others, despite their love for the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and their love for the elevation of his word due to not having envy for him and their knowledge of his honesty and their acceptance of it, they were driven to not following his upright religion and his straight conduct because of their sympathy towards the religion of their people and their dislike for separating from it and earning the displeasure of Quraysh. Hence, they did not leave īmān due to not knowing, but due to personal whims. So how can it be said in spite of this that every disbeliever only disbelieved due to having no knowledge of Allāh?”

It says in Fath al-Mulhim:

“Based on this, disbelief is of types: disbelief of rejection, disbelief of denial, disbelief of obstinacy and disbelief of hypocrisy. That is, if the denial – meaning, the non-acceptance – is with the heart and with the tongue both, it is the first. If it is only with the tongue together with the acquisition of recognition and certainty with the heart, it is the second. And if it is together with the acquisition of recognition and confession of the tongue and merely due to obstinacy, it is the third. (Heraclius, Abū Tālib and Gandhi fall in this category). And if it is only with the heart along with acceptance and loyalty with the tongue, it is the fourth.”

It is realised from the above discussion that for the realisation of īmān, surrender is necessary.

Furthermore, the measure of the presence and realisation of surrender is that every person understands that this person has entered into Islām, having left his earlier religion.

The explanation of this measure is written with these words in al-Durr al-Mukhtār:

“Disbelievers are of five categories: those that deny the Creator like the materialists, those that deny the oneness [of Allāh] like Zoroastrians, those who affirm it but deny the sending of the messengers like the philosophers, those that deny both [the oneness of Allāh and the prophets] like the idolaters and those who affirm both but deny the inclusiveness of the messengership of the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) like [some] Christians. Thus, in the first two, the statement lā ilāha illAllāh is sufficient [as proof for the acceptance of Islām]. In the third, the statement Muhammadur Rasūlullāh [is sufficient] and in the fourth either of them [is sufficient] and in the fifth both of them [are necessary] along with disassociation from every religion that differs from the religion of Islām…That which fatwa is given upon is its validity with the two testimonies without disassociation [from other religions], because pronouncement of them has become a symbol of Islām. Thus, he will be killed if he turns back and did not repent.”

It states in Radd al-Muhtār under his statement, “Thus, in the first two, the statement lā ilāha illAllāh is sufficient”:

“Because they refuse the testimony completely, so when they confess it, it is evidence of their īmān.”

And under his statement, “In the third”:

“If he were to have said lā ilāha illAllāh, it would not be determined that he has accepted Islām because he denies messengership, and he does not refrain from this statement. And if he had said, ‘I bear testimony that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’, it would be determined that he has accepted Islām because he refrained from this testimony, so confession of it is evidence of īmān.”

And under his statement, “In the fourth”:

“He explained its reason in al-Durr, that he denies both realities, so whichever of them he bears testimony to, he has entered into Islām…And he added that if he were to say, ‘I am a Muslim,’ he is a Muslim because idol worshippers do not claim this description for themselves but distance [themselves from it] with the purpose of angering Muslims. The same is the case if he were to say, ‘I am on the religion of Muhammad’ or ‘on monotheism’ ‘or on the religion of Islām.’”

And under his statement, “In the fifth”:

“Apparently if he were to pronounce the two testimonies and state clearly that the messengership extends to the Israelites and all others, or he said, ‘I bear testimony that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allāh to all creation, mankind and jinn,’ that too will suffice for disassociation [from all religions], as the Shāfi‘īs have clearly stated.”

Under the title “notice”, he said:

“I say: He (upon him blessing and peace) only sufficed with the two testimonies because the people of his time would deny his messengership completely, as will come. Further, know that it is derived from the ruling of [some] Christians [described above] that the one whose disbelief is due to denial of a necessary article [of faith], like the prohibition of wine, for example, it is necessary for him to disassociate himself from what he used to believe, because he would confess the two testimonies along with it, so it is necessary for him to distance [himself] from it, as the Shāfi‘īs clearly stated, and as is obvious.”

And under his statement, “In al-Durar, he made the condition of disassociation general for every Jew and Christian”:

“[It says in al-Dhakīrah:] As for Jews and Christians, acceptance of Islām in his time (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) was by [declaring] the two testimonies, because they would deny his (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) messengership. As for today in the lands of ‘Irāq, one will not be considered to have accepted Islām for as long as he does not say, ‘I disassociate [myself] from my [earlier] religion and I have entered into the religion of Islām’, because they say that he is a messenger to the Arabs and the non-Arabs but not to the Israelites. [Imām] Muhammad stated this.

“It says in Sharh al-Siyar of Sarakhsī: ‘As for the Jews and Christians today in the midst of the Muslims, when one of them pronounces the two testimonies, he will not become a Muslim, because they all say this. There is no Jew or Christian amongst us but he says this sentence. When we inquire from him [about it], he says: The messenger of Allāh to you not to the Israelites.’

“Then he said: ‘If he were to say, I am a Muslim, he would not become a Muslim thereby, because every group claims this for itself. The Muslim is [literally] the one that submits to the truth, and every adherent of a religion claims that he submits to the truth. Our teacher, Imām [al-Halwānī], would say, except the Zoroastrians in our lands, because the one amongst them who says, I am a Muslim, he becomes a Muslim, because they reject this description, and they insult their children with it [saying], O Musalmān!’

“…Based on this, the same would be said of the Jews and Christians in our lands, because they refuse to say, ‘I am Muslim,’ such that when one of them wishes to withhold himself from something he says: ‘If I do this, I will become a Muslim.’ Thus, when he says, ‘I am a Muslim’ wilfully [and not in mockery], that is evidence of his acceptance of Islām, even if he has not been heard pronouncing the two testimonies, as stated in Sharh al-Siyar regarding one who offered salāh in jamā‘ah, that he will be determined as having accepted Islām, and that the acceptance of Islām will be determined based merely on the mark of the Muslims with respect to the obligation of performing [Janāzah] Salāh over him when he dies. Moreover, they strongly refuse to pronounce the two testimonies, so when they pronounce them wilfully, it is necessary to consider him as having accepted Islām, because this is greater than a [mere] mark.

“There is no doubt that [Imām] Muhammad only made disassociation [from their previous religion] a condition based on [the circumstance] that was [prevalent] in his time, in terms of confessing messengership in contrast to [the circumstance] that was [prevalent] in the time of the Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) of rejecting it. Hence, since they reject it in our time and they refuse to pronounce the two testimonies, it is necessary that the ruling reverts back to what it was in his (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) time, as there no longer remains any reason to divert from it; while [Imām] Muhammad only gave a ruling based on [the circumstance] that was [prevalent] in the lands of Irāq, not in general as suggested incorrectly by what is in al-Durar.

“About this, ‘Allāmah Qāsim [ibn Qutlūbughā] mentioned that he was asked about a Sāmirī that pronounced the two testimonies and then took it back, and he replied with what the outcome of which is, that ‘his beliefs will be examined, since they mentioned that some Jews restricted the messengership of our Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) to the Arabs, and for such a person, the two testimonies alone are not sufficient, as distinguished from one who denies the messengership completely. Some whose hearts Allāh has blinded considered them one group in all lands, such that they determined that the Christian who denies messengership and articulated the two testimonies as remaining on Christianity because he did not distance [himself from his earlier religion].’

“The upshot is that that which must be relied upon is that if his state is unknown, he will be interrogated about it, and if it is known as in our time, the matter is obvious.”

And he said under his statement, “pronouncement of them has become a symbol of Islām”:

“He demonstrated with the word ‘become’ that [the circumstance] that was [prevalent] in the time of Imām Muhammad has changed, because in his time they would not decline to pronounce it, so it was not a mark of Islām, which is why he made disassociation [of the person’s earlier faith] a condition along with it. However, in the time of Qāri’ al-Hidāyah, it had become a mark of Islām, because no one would pronounce it except a Muslim, like this time of ours…This must be resorted to in the Egyptian lands of Cairo because the two testimonies are not heard there from the people of the book, and this is why [Imām] Muhammad restricted it to Irāq….And this is what is practised upon. Thus, it should be preserved.”

And he said under the title, “Conclusion”:

“Know that acceptance of Islām also occurs by action, like salāh in jamā‘ah, or confession of [having performed] it, or Adhān in some masjids, or Hajj, and attending the rites, not salāh by oneself and ihrām alone. The commentator has presented this in verse at the start of Kitāb al-Salāh, and we have presented its commentary earlier in full detail, and we mentioned there that there is no difference in accepting Islām by an action between a Christian or another. The intent is that this is evidence of having accepted Islām, so the one who does that will be assessed accordingly.” (Radd al-Muhtār, Kitāb al-Jihād, Bāb al-Murtadd)

From this detailed passage of al-Durr al-Mukhtār and Radd al-Muhtār, it is clear that the measure for establishing surrender is custom. In the present custom, it is not conceivable that the one who said words like Gandhi is a Muslim. Nor do nonreligious people avoid and refrain from such words. Greater praise than Gandhi’s of Islām and the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) is found from adherents of different religions in prose and in poetry. After saying these words, the public, the Hindu and the Muslim and the speaker himself understood him to be a Hindu. Even the mistaken impression of him having become Muslim did not cross anyone’s mind. This is why, after the death of Gandhi, the Muslim ‘ulamā’ who were very familiar with Gandhi’s biography, and in fact were his companions in politics, even they did not call for janāzah salāh and a Muslim burial for Gandhi. Nor did the Hindus, having understood him to be a Muslim, express any displeasure at preparing his burial. In short, based on these words of Gandhi, neither Muslims nor Hindus considered him to be a Muslim. Nor did Gandhi himself have the knowledge or notion that he became a Muslim with these words. If he had, he would subsequently have adopted the way of the Muslims, or at least made a bequest for janāzah salāh in his will. Such words, in fact even more [emphatic words] than them, were always said by intelligent people from other religions. Yet, no one considered them Muslims.

In the present custom, one is considered Muslim only when he says clearly, “I am a Muslim,” or without mockery, he recites the two testimonies and subsequently adopts the behaviour of Muslims. Gandhi’s statement, “I have faith in the saints and the prophets of all religions” is a belief contrary to Islām. It is apparent from this that Gandhi considers all present religions, Islām, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and so on to be true. Gandhi’s belief and [the fact] that he did not enter Islām is very clear from this last sentence.

The reality is that he only made this declaration to deceive the Muslims, just as a hunter uses a prey’s voice to catch it. If Gandhi really believed Islām to be true, what prevented him from accepting Islām? To consider such a deceiver and categorical disbeliever a Muslim is [itself] disbelief.

And Allāh guides whoever He wills to the straight path.
22 Rabī‘ al-Awwal, 74 Hijrī (November, 1954)

Ahsan al-Fatāwā, H. M. Saeed, 1:60-5

[1] According to the logicians, “assent” (tasdīq) is to understand the connection between two words, the subject and its predicate. For example, in the sentence “Allāh exists”, Allāh is the subject and “exists” its predicate, and the connection between the two words is an affirmation of Allāh’s existence.

[2] That is, to affirm the truthfulness of the speaker – in this case of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him)

Mawlana Zameelur Rahman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.