The difference between Iman & the Shariah rules

The following is from the English translation of a section of the abridged tafsir based on the book ‘Tayseer ila usool it-Tafsir’ by Shaykh Ata bin Khalil Abu Rishta.

Here, it is necessary to pause at the topic The Shariah Rules and Iman to explain the difference between them both. So, I say (wa billahi at-taqfiq) Iman is linked to at-Tasdeeq al-jazim (decisive assent), whereas the shariah rules are linked to performing actions and establishing them. So, Iman is ‘at-Tasdeeq al-jazim al-muTabiq lil-waqi’ ‘an daleel’ The decisive assent conforming to reality with an evidence.

at-Tasdeeq al-jazim (decisive assent) means definite conviction that does not have the possibility of uncertainty nor open to doubt. This is the linguistic meaning itself for Iman, i.e. at-Tasdeeq al-jazim 

al-MuTabiq lil-waqi’ (conforming to reality) means that the sensed reality affirms it and does not contradict it. For it to become decisive assent and in conformity with reality, it must have a definite evidence, whether that evidence is:

Aqli (intellectual), i.e. the result of an intellectual study of the sensed reality. Such as a study of the sensed creation to prove that Allah (subhaanahu) is its creator. Or, a study of Allah’s revealed speech – the Qur’anal-karim – to prove that it is Allah’s speech and not the speech of mankind, and therefore prove that Muhammad, who came with Allah’s speech is a messenger from Allah.

Or (the evidence could be) Naqli (transmitted), i.e. by way of transmission definitely from Allah (subhaanahu) in His book al-karim, or from His messenger (saw) in the mutawatir hadith from him (saw). That is like the iman in the unseen, the Angels, the previously revealed books, the previous prophets, the last day and the qadr, its good and bad. He (subhaanahu) says in surah an-Nissaa’ verse 136:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ مِن قَبْلُ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِاللّهِ وَمَلاَئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلاَلاً بَعِيدًا 
“O you who believe! Believe in Allah, and His Messenger, and the Book which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent down to those before, and whosoever disbelieves in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away.”

And he (saw) said in reply to the question of Jibreel (as) about iman“to have iman in Allah, His Angels, His books, His messengers, the last day and al-qadr, its good and bad is from Allah ta’ala
This is iman and with that meaning it is the opposite of kufr. Other than the mo’min is definitely a kafir and there is no half mo’min and half kafir.

Allah says of the comparison of Iman with kufr:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَسْتَحْيِي أَن يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَّا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ فَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ فَيَقُولُونَ مَاذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِهَـذَا مَثَلاً يُضِلُّ بِهِ كَثِيراً وَيَهْدِي بِهِ كَثِيراً وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِ إِلاَّ الْفَاسِقِينَ 
“Verily, Allah is not ashamed to set forth a parable even of a mosquito or what is bigger than it. As for those who believe, they know that it is the Truth from their Lord, but as for those who disbelieve, they say: “What did Allah intend by this parable?” By it He misleads many, and many He guides thereby. And He misleads thereby only those who are al-fasiqoon” [al-baqarah:26] 


إِنَّ الَّذِينَ اشْتَرَوُاْ الْكُفْرَ بِالإِيمَانِ لَن يَضُرُّواْ اللّهَ شَيْئًا وَلهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ 
“Verily, those who purchase disbelief at the price of iman, not the least harm will they do to Allah. For them, there is a painful torment.” [aal-‘imran:177]


وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَـَذَا بَلَدًا آمِنًا وَارْزُقْ أَهْلَهُ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ مَنْ آمَنَ مِنْهُم بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ قَالَ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَأُمَتِّعُهُ قَلِيلاً ثُمَّ أَضْطَرُّهُ إِلَى عَذَابِ النَّارِ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ 
“And when Ibrahim said, “My Lord, make this city a place of security and provide its people with fruits, those of them who believe in Allah and the Last Day.” He answered: “As for him who disbelieves, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him to the torment of the Fire, and worst indeed is that destination!” [al-baqarah:126]

اللّهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ يُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّوُرِ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ أَوْلِيَآؤُهُمُ الطَّاغُوتُ يُخْرِجُونَهُم مِّنَ النُّورِ إِلَى الظُّلُمَاتِ أُوْلَـئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ 
“Allah is the Wali of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into light. But as for those who disbelieve, their auliyaa are taghut, they bring them out from light into darkness. Those are the dwellers of the Fire, and they will abide therein forever.” [al-baqarah:257]

وَلَـكِنِ اخْتَلَفُواْ فَمِنْهُم مَّنْ آمَنَ وَمِنْهُم مَّن كَفَرَ 
“but they differed – some of them believed and others disbelieved” [al-baqarah:253]

يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكْفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُواْ الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ
“On the Day when some faces will become white and some faces will become black; as for those whose faces will become black: “Did you reject iman after accepting it? Then taste the torment for your kufr.” [aal-‘imran:106]


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِذَا لَقِيتُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ زَحْفاً فَلاَ تُوَلُّوهُمُ الأَدْبَارَ
“O you who believe! When you meet those who disbelieve in a battle-field, never turn your backs to them.” [al-anfaal:15]

أَمْ تُرِيدُونَ أَن تَسْأَلُواْ رَسُولَكُمْ كَمَا سُئِلَ مُوسَى مِن قَبْلُ وَمَن يَتَبَدَّلِ الْكُفْرَ بِالإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوَاء السَّبِيلِ
“Or do you want to ask your Messenger as Musa was asked before. And he who changes iman forkufr, verily, he has gone astray from the right way.” [al-baqarah:108]

And other verses.

This is in relation to Iman, so it is linked to at-Tasdeeq al-jazim.

As for the shariah rules, they are linked to implementation, whether positively or negatively, i.e. like performing the prayer or the prohibition of stealing.

The one who differs with the shariah rules differs from the one who differs with al-iman (al-aqeedah). The lack of iman is kufr, whereas the lack of implementing the shariah rule is fisq (transgression) and sinfulness, but is not kufr except if it was rejection or denial, or was connected to a kufr aqeedah, such as the one who does not pray while denying the obligation of prayer, or drinks wine denying its prohibition, or prostrates to an idol, or prays the prayer of the disbelievers, or such like.

[they disbelieved, those who refused to pay zakat in the time of Abu Bakr (ra) because they denied it and sought the removal if its obligation on them. So, they were considered to be murtadeen (those who changed their deen) and were fought on that basis.

Like this, Iblis disbelieved, Allah curse him, when he refused to prostrate, denying the soundness of Allah’s command in his opinion, Allah’s curse be upon him. He saw that it is correct that Adam should prostrate to him, as he was created from fire and Adam from mud.

قَالَ مَا مَنَعَكَ أَلاَّ تَسْجُدَ إِذْ أَمَرْتُكَ قَالَ أَنَاْ خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ
(Allah) said: “What prevented you that you did not prostrate, when I commanded you?” Iblis said: “I am better than him, You created me from fire, and him You created from clay.” [al-a’raf:12] ]

Therefore, committing a sin differs from kufr. I say this because we hear these days those who declare his Muslim brother a kafir based on dhann (suspicion and doubt), such that takfeer (declaring another a kafir) became easy for them, while takfeer of a Muslim without a qataiy (certain) evidence is a grave matter in Islam. Rasul Allah (saw) said: “Whoever said to his brother, O kafir, one of the two will yield that”compiled by Ahmad.

So, whoever sees his brother committing a sin, does not rush to takfeer, rather he rushes to enjoin him to good and forbid his munkar, to straighten his brother’s situation, so he acknowledges his sin, and repents to his Lord (swt).

Iman is linked to at-Tasdeeq al-jazim and its place is in the heart. We are not able to reveal what is inside the heart, except if its owner clearly explicitly informs us, hence we said that the takfeer of a Muslim without definite evidence (daleel qataiy) is a serious issue with Allah.

That is from one angle. From another angle, the one who outwardly shows Islam, but in his heart rejects it, then that Islam will not benefit him with Allah, rather it increases his punishment upon punishment, because it is the Islam of the hypocrites (al-munafiqoon).

إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ فِي الدَّرْكِ الأَسْفَلِ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُمْ نَصِيرًا
“Verily, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths (grade) of the Fire; no helper will you find for them.” [al-Nisaa:145]

Because of that, Allah denounced the statement of the Arab Bedouin “آمنا” (we have Iman) on their tongues but without entering their hearts, even though they behaved like the Muslims externally

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
The Bedouins say: “We have Iman.” Say: “You do not have Iman, but say, ‘We have surrendered,’ for Iman has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [al-Hujaraat:14]

In this verse is a further explanation about dealings in the dunya. So, whoever shows Islam without revealing his kufr in a clear way, so he is dealt with ostensibly as the Muslims are dealt with, even if he was a kafir in his heart, known to Allah.

All of that is to prevent takfeer of the people based on dhann without certainty, because iman is linked to at-Tasdeeq al-jazim al-mutabiq lil-waqi ‘an daleel (The decisive assent conforming to reality with an evidence) – as we explained before.

Not declaring the perpetrator of a sin a kafir does not mean to belittle the status of sin, rather the sin is a serious matter in Islam. Its perpetrator has a punishment in this life and the next, however, takfeer of the Muslim without a definite evidence is a serious matter with Allah, so takfeer of the Muslim is not right for any sin, so long as nothing from Islam is denied.

We’ll say a final word. Some question about the increase of Iman and its decrease:

Iman with the meaning that we mentioned (at-Tasdeeq al-jazim al-mutabiq lil-waqi ‘an daleel (The decisive assent conforming to reality with an evidence)) does not increase nor decrease, as it is tasdeeq jazim, andjazm (decisiveness) cannot be other than complete (kamil). There is no 90% iman which then increases to 95% or 100%, and there is no iman that is 100% which then decreases to 95% or 90%, because that reduction means the lack of decisiveness – i.e. doubt and uncertainty – so with that it is not iman but kufr.

So that the picture becomes clear, we say:

Increase and decrease (az-Ziyadah wa an-Naqsaan) are linguistically from the homonyms (al-alfadh al-mushtarakah) (having more than one meaning). They come with meaning: increase and decrease of the limits – i.e. in size and breadth; and they come with the meaning of strength and weakness. The qareenahindication is what limits which if the meanings are intended. So, if the increase and decrease are connected to iman, then the meaning is from the perspective of strength and weakness, because the increase or decrease of the limits is not correct with at-Tasdeeq al-jazim. So, from that perspective, the following verses are understood:

آلَّذِينَ قَالَ لَهُمُ النَّاسُ إِنَّ النَّاسَ قَدْ جَمَعُواْ لَكُمْ فَاخْشَوْهُمْ فَزَادَهُمْ إِيمَاناً وَقَالُواْ حَسْبُنَا اللّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ
“Those unto whom the people said, “Verily, the people have gathered against you, therefore, fear them.” But it increased them in iman, and they said: “Allah is Sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs.” [aal-imran:173]

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُهُ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَعَلَى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
“The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a fear in their hearts and when His Verses are recited unto them, they increase their iman; and they put their trust in their Lord;” [al-anfaal:2]


وَلَمَّا رَأَى الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْأَحْزَابَ قَالُوا هَذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَصَدَقَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَمَا زَادَهُمْ إِلَّا إِيمَانًا وَتَسْلِيمًا
“And when the believers saw al-ahzab, they said: “This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger had spoken the truth, and it only added to their iman and to their submissiveness.” [al-ahzaab:22]

i.e. that Muslims’ iman was strengthened and firmed due to these matters that Allah (subhaanahu) explained in the previous verses. That is because increase or decrease of the limits is not correct for iman with the meaning that we have elaborated (at-Tasdeeq al-jazim al-mutabiq lil-waqi ‘an daleel (The decisive assent conforming to reality with an evidence)), otherwise it was indecisive (ghayr jazim) so was turned into doubt and uncertainty and became kufr.

It is worth mentioning that when (the word) iman comes without any qaraain (indicators) its meaning is as was mentioned before, but when it came without that meaning, then it is the qareenah that makes its meaning clear. For example:

وَمَا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ
“And Allah would never make your iman to be lost” [al-baqarah:143]
means ‘your prayer’, because after the qiblah was changed, the verse was revealed

“And We made the qiblah which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels. Indeed it was major, except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never make your iman to be lost. Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.”

so, it comforted the Muslims that their previous prayer towards the first qiblah was accepted and for them is its reward.

And for example, the hadith of Rasul Allah (saw) Iman is over seventy divisions. Its highest is the saying of La ilaha illa Allah, and its least is removing something harmful from the street.” It is well known that not removing something harmful from the street does not make the person a kafir. So, iman here means the obedience to Allah generally. Also, the hadith of Rasul Allah (saw)“the adulterer does not commit adultery while he is a mu’min The messenger (saw) did not punish the adulterer with the punishment of the murtad (apostate), rather with the Hadd punishment (that Allah set) for adultery, while considering him Muslim, praying for him and burying him in the graveyard of the Muslims. The action of the Messenger (saw) is a qareenah that the meaning of the word iman in the hadith is not the meaning that is to do with belief and is opposite to kufr, rather it is to indicate the graveness of the crime of adultery, as if the one who commits it lost his iman when he did it, from the category of al-majaz (the metaphorical expression) to indicate the severity of the crime.

The difference between iman and the shariah rules has become clear from all that has preceded.

We ask Allah (subhaanahu) that our hearts be contented with iman, and that we stick to the shariah rules in our sayings and actions, and that Allah (subhaanahu) gathers us with those whom Allah favoured of the Prophets, the truthful ones, the martyrs and righteous. How good are they as companions!

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