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November 26, 2020

Faith, Kufr and Human Rights in Islam

Faith, Kufr and Human Rights in Islam


Alongside the concepts of iman and islam, the concept of rights occupies a central position in Islam. On a closer examination, it will become apparent that the concept of rights is integral to both iman and islam. In the Farewell Speech[1] of the Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) heavy emphasis has been placed on the rights in Islam:

“Verily your blood, your property is as sacred and inviolable as the sacredness of this day of yours, in this month of yours, in this town of yours. Behold! Everything pertaining to the Days of Ignorance is under my feet completely abolished.”

By Motiur Rahman

In this speech, human rights are equated with the inviolableness of the holy Qaba. The distinction between the pre-Islamic jahiliya (Days of Ignorance) and Islam seems to be marked by the arrival of human rights. In the West, John Locke (1632 -1704) stated that the people had the natural rights to life, limb and property[2]; in Islam it had been formulated a millennium earlier.

This paper is going to be concerned with a limited number of key concepts in Islam: namely kufr, iman, Islam and rights. These four concepts are to some extent intertwined with each other and cannot be separated in Islam. An alternative way of looking into these concepts is through the elaboration of the concepts of rights by the Prophet, peace be upon him, himself. Looking at it from this way, the religion of Islam can be said to be based on a formulation of rights. As a theocentric religion, God has the right to be recognized in His Lordship while the servant has the right be provided and cared for. In the Qur’anic worldview, the heavens and the earth belong to God, who is the attentive Lord, Merciful and Compassionate, has outlined a system of rights spanning from the sphere of ritual worship to social interactions. These rights are embedded in the five pillars of Islam: that of shahadah (verbal confession of the unity of God), salat (ritual prayers), fasting, zakat, and hajj. There is hardly any room to draw a distinction between the religious and the secular – as the first hadith recorded in the collection of al-Bukhari mentions that all actions are judged according to intentions – God rewards social transactions if this is done in accordance with good intentions – fi sabili-llah.

In the Qur’anic worldview, the sphere of rights can be divided into two areas:

rights of God over the people (and vice versa)

the rights of people over each other

The last category is very complicated as Islam allows for a complex society on differing levels of rights for different groups. For example according to a hadith by Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet, the mother has the most right on a man, while the man has the most rights on his wife!

I must stress that the ‘rights’ in Islam is by no means synonymous with the modern sense of the word in the West, and they must not be confused with modern human rights. Although there may be similarities and overlappings between the rights in Islam and modern human rights, and at times they do complement each other, it is by no means synonymous.

As we shall see, in Islam the concepts of rights is central to its socio-religious and political order. On a closer examination it will become apparent that in the social and political sphere of Islam it is practically of more consequential than religious aspects of Islam, i.e. worship. For this reason, more so than the religious, it was vehemently opposed by the Meccan elite, who foresaw the consequences it would have on their society and the neighbouring ones.

Islam has both directly and indirectly influenced the modern world, initiated the debates of rights and freedom, and precipitated the notion of human equality, where now we have come to a point where we are taking human rights for granted and given, whereas it was an unheard of and alien concept during the time of the Prophet.

Toshihiko Izutsu, in his Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an, has discovered three layers of moral discourse in the Qur’an – “those that refer to and describe the ethical nature of God; those that describe the various aspects of the fundamental attitude of man towards God, his Creator; and those that refer to the principles and rules of conduct regulating the ethical relations among individuals who belong to, and live within, the religious community of Islam.[3]” Izutsu explained that the first group of concepts are composed of the “so-called Names of God: words such as ‘Merciful’, ‘Benevolent’, ‘Forgiving’, ‘Just’ or ‘Majestic’, describing this or that particular aspect of God, God is conceived in the Qur’an as in all Semitic religions, as being of an essentially ethical nature. This group of concepts, which was later developed by the theologians into a theory of divine attributes and which may aptly be described as Divine Ethics,…[4]”

The remaining two groups, according to Izutsu, may be termed Human Ethics, which are divided into the ethical relationship of man to God; and of the relations between man and his brethren living in the same community. Izutsu was primarily concerned with the man to God concepts although he made references to man to man relationships in the attempt “to distinguish between the ethical principles of the Qur’an and those of Jahiliyah[5]” in the book mentioned above.

This is an important classification and has been extremely helpful in taking a systematic approach towards understanding some key concepts in the Qur’an. Izutsu explains that his method is “to describe the semantic category of a word in terms of the conditions in which it is used. What features of the environment are necessary if the word is to be used properly to designate a given event? Only by attempting to answer such a question can we arrive at the correct meaning of a given word.[6]” I shall look at some his definitions when I discuss some of the relevant topics.

This paper will be divided into four chapters, in the first chapter I will discuss the concept of kufr (unbelief); in chapter II, I will discuss the concept of iman; chapter III islam; and lastly in chapter IV, I will discuss rights in Islam and its relation to iman.

I shall first examine the key central concepts of our interest, and then analyze these concepts in terms of the system of rights granted by Islam.

Chapter 1: Kufr

Izutsu says:

“Kufr not only forms the very pivot round which revolve all the other negative qualities, but it occupies such an important place in the whole system of the Qur’anic ethics that a clear understanding of how it is semantically structured is almost a prerequisite to a proper estimation of most of the positive qualities. Even a cursory reading of the Scripture will convince one that the role played by the concept of kufr is so peculiarly influential that it makes it presence felt well-nigh everywhere in sentences about human conduct or character. In my opinion, even the concept of faith or belief, as the highest ethico-religious value in Islam, may be best analyzed not directly but rather in terms of kufr, that is, from its negative side.[7]”

From the philological perspective the root kufr means to ‘cover’. An example from the Qur’an is that the farmer is a kafir when he is planting the seeds![8] Izutsu has suggested a 5 fold evolution in the shades and grades of meaning of the word kufr.

1. Initially in the philological sense of Arabic language it probably meant ‘to conceal or cover up’. 2. This, in relation to God’s gifts and mercy, becomes ingratitude and thanklessness, at times even rebelliousness. 3. This attitude may become manifested in ‘takdhib’, giving the lie to God and his messengers. 4. Thus it becomes the antonym of iman, frequently contrasted with the mu’min and muslim in the Qur’an. 5. kufr, in the sense of denying God, manifests itself in the characteristics of pride, and insolence, as opposed to the central Islamic attitudes of taqwa and tadarru.

Kufr in terms of ungratefulness

Examples for the meaning in relation to the second category (ingratitude) mentioned are:

“Whoso does good and works as a pious believer, there shall be no ingratitude (kufr) for his efforts. Verily, We Ourselves write it down for him.” [21:94].

Another place where the term kufr has been mentioned in this sense in the Qur’an:

“Hast thou not seen those who paid back God’s favour with ungratefulness (kufr), and induced their people to dwell in the abode of perdition? In the gehenna they shall roast – an evil resting-place indeed!” [14: 28-29].

These Qur’anic verses mentioned above and other similar verses demonstrate that kufr here is taken to mean ungratefulness to God of His favours. This is contrasted directly with shukr or thankfulness in the Qur’an:

“So remember Me, and I will remember you. Be thankful to Me (wa-ushkuru li), and be not ungrateful to Me (wa-la takfurun).” [2: 152]

This view is supported by the ahadith[9], e.g.

“The Prophet (may God bless and give him peace) said: ‘I was shown the Fire [i.e. Hell], and lo! most of the inhabitants were women who had been characterized by kufr (yakfurna).’ It was asked, ‘Does that mean they used to disbelieve in God (yakfurna bi-Allah)?’

He [the Prophet] said: ‘No, the word means they used to be ungrateful towards the husband (yakfurna al-‘ashir) and used to be ungrateful for acts of kindness (yakfurna al-ihsan).’”[10]

And also in another hadith:

Messenger of Allah observed: ‘O womenfolk, you should give charity and ask much forgiveness for I saw you in bulk amongst the dwellers of Hell’. A wise lady among them said: ‘Why is it, Messenger of Allah, that our folk is in bulk in Hell?’ Upon this the Holy Prophet observed: ‘You curse too much and are ungrateful to your spouses. I have seen none lacking in common sense and failing in religion but (at the same time) robbing the wisdom of the wise, besides you.’ Upon this the woman remarked: ‘What is wrong with our common sense and with religion? He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Your lack of common sense (can be well judged from the fact) that the evidence of two women is equal to one man, that is a proof of the lack of common sense, and you spend some nights (and days) in which you do not offer prayer and in the month of Ramadan (during the days) you do not observe fast, that is a failing in religion.’[11]

This kufr, according the famous Muslim commentator, al-Baydawi, turns into kafur or ingrate nature of man when it becomes very excessive. In this condition man is forgetful of all the benefits and kindness he receives from God, however, he is constantly mindful of the slightest hurt or difficulty he has fallen in to.

This is made mention of in the following verses:

“Your Lord it is who drives the ships for you in the sea so that you may seek after his bounty. So merciful is he towards you. Moreover, when some affliction befalls you in the sea, those whom you call usually (idols)

forsake you, leaving Him alone. But when He brings you safe to the shore, you turn away. Man is indeed an ingrate (kafur).” [17: 68-69]


“So long as We let man taste of mercy from Us, he is very glad thereof. But the moment some evil befalls him because of that which his own hands have done, he shows himself to be an ingrate (kafur).” [42: 47-48]

An interpretation of this verse is that God does not send evil upon man, but man rather earns it as a result of the deeds his own hand produce.

“When they ride in the ships they pray to God, holding out their religion sincerely to Him alone. But as soon as He has brought them to shore safely, behold, they return to polytheism. Let them act ungratefully for what we have given them! Let them betake themselves to merry-making. Soon they will come to know. [29: 65-66]

The following verse details out a list of God’s favours to mankind:

“God it is who created the heavens and the earth, and sent down from heaven water, and produced therewith fruits as provisions for you. And He subjected to you the ships to run upon the sea as He commands. And he subjected to you the rivers. And he subjected to you the sun and the moon to run their fixed courses. And he subjected to you the night and the day. Yea, He gave you all you asked Him. If you count God’s favours, you will never number them. Verily, man is transgressing (zalim), too ungrateful (kaffar, emphatic form of kafur). [14: 32-34].

Here ungratefulness (kufr) is mentioned in conjunction with unfairness and wrongfulness (zulm).

This is contrasted against Islam in another verse in the Qur’an:

“And God it is, too, Who has made for you, of that which He created, shelter from the sun, and established the mountains as places of refuge, and has made for you garments to protect you from the heat, and made for you the garments to protect you from each other’s violence. Thus He fulfils His favours towards you, that haply you may surrender (i.e. become Muslims). But if, with all this, they still turn their backs, thy (i.e. the Prophet’s) mission is only to deliver the clear message. They recognize the favours of God, and yet they deny them, for most men are ungrateful.” [16: 81-83]

Here kufr, as an antithesis to Islam is to deny the favours of God, even after recognizing them and turning the backs to the Prophet’s message.

Kufr in terms of denying God’s signs

Now for the examples of the point 3 in the Qur’an mentioned earlier, in which kufr is used in the sense of disbelieving the signs of God:

“O people of the Book! Why do you disbelieve (takfuruna) in the signs of God, when you yourselves bear witness to them?” [3: 70]

This verse is suggesting the element of takdhib or ‘giving the lie’ deliberately after seeing the signs of God. Disbelieving the signs of God is kufr. As God mentions that:

“Indeed We have displayed in this Qur’an all sorts of similitudes [signs], but most men refuse aught but disbelief (kufur).” [17: 89]

Explaining the signs, God says:

“Have not those who disbelieve (kafaru) seen that the heavens and the earth were stitched together, and We unstitched them asunder, and made out of water all kinds of things? Will they not believe for all this? And We set on the earth mountains firm-rooted, lest it should totter with them, and We placed therein ravines for paths, that haply they may be guided. And We established the heavens as a solid roof. Yet from our signs they still turn away.” [21: 30-32]

“How can you disbelieve (takfuruna) in God, seeing that you were lifeless and He gave you life? He will give you death again, then He will give you life again, then unto Him you shall be brought back.” [2: 28]

These verses remind the favours of God, yet deliberately turning away from them leads to kufr.

Denying the resurrection is also kufr, the Qur’an mentions that the unbelievers say:

“‘What! When we are bones and rubbish, shall we really be raised up in a new creation? Have they not seen that God, who created the heavens and the earth, is able to create the like of them? He has set for them a definite term, wherein there is no doubt. Yet again the wrongful people (zalim) refuse aught but disbelief (kufur).” [17: 98-99]

This verse links zulm with kufr. That is to be in the state of kufr is to be in the state of zalim.

Kufr in terms of denying Revelations

The Qur’an is also known as the furqan (the discernment or the criterion) and light in the words of the Qur’an, and it is the sole basis for making judgements. The Qur’an also appeals to reason, but this is placed below of that of revelation. In the classic period of Islam there have been in-depth and heated debates on the subject of ‘Reason versus Revelation’, the Ash’arite and Maturidite theologians took the position against the Mutazilites and the philosophers that reason is only valid as long as it does not contradict the revelation and is subservient to human reason. Abu Hamed al-Ghazzali has discussed the subject in length in his Tahfat al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers). The Qur’an states:

“If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God Hath revealed, they are (No better than) Unbelievers.” [5 :44]

Kufr in terms of denying God’s Prophet

Moreover, denying the prophethood is also kufr, because, without the acceptance of prophethood there is no basis for the divine Revelations, the Qur’an, as understood by Muslims as being the “Word of God”.

“Are we to follow a mortal from ourselves? Then verily, we should be in error and folly. Is it possible that the Revelation should be cast upon him alone out of all of us? Nay, rather he is an impostor (kadhdhab), a self-conceited fellow.  [54: 24-25]


“This is only a wizard, an impostor. What, he has made al the gods into One God? That is indeed an astounding thing!” [38: 3-4]

This level of kufr can be wilful rebellion, arising out of jealousy and envy, as the Qur’an says:

“Many of the people of the Scripture would fain turn you back into disbelievers, (kuffar) after profession of faith (iman), through the envious nature of their souls, after the Truth has become manifest unto them.” [2: 109]

Kufr of this category is not forgiven and the unbelievers of this category will not be guided:

“How shall God guide a people who disbelieved (kafara) after having once believed and testified to the truth of the Messenger, to whom clear signs came? …Verily, those who disbelieve after their profession of faith, and go on increasing in disbelief, their repentance shall not be accepted. [3: 86, 90]

Are these the apostates (i.e. those who turn away from God) who are mentioned in this verse, who were once convinced of the truth of the Prophet’s, (peace be upon him) message, then deliberately rebelled due whatever reasons, such as political or tribal loyalties?

In another place in relation to the people of the Scriptures it is mentioned:

“When there comes to them what they know to be the truth, they disbelieve in it. The curse of God be on the disbelievers. What a bad bargain they sold their souls for, that they should disbelieve in that which God has sent down, mortally offended because God bestows of His bounties upon whomsoever of His servants He will. Thus they have brought upon themselves wrath upon wrath. For the disbelievers there shall be shameful chastisement. And when it is said to them, ‘believe in that God has sent down’, they reply, ‘we believe only in that which was sent down to us, and they disbelieve in what comes after it, though it is the truth that confirms what they possess.” [2: 89-91]

Another group of unbelievers are mentioned in the Qur’an, who are proud and stubborn, say that:

“We will never believe in this Qur’an, nor in the Scriptures before it”. [34: 31]

In this verse, the group of unbelievers cannot be from the people of the Scriptures, but stubborn atheists who do not even entertain the possibility of iman and are persistent on their refusal to believe in God.

Izutusu discusses the nature of kufr in this category under his heading The Heart Of A Kafir[12] whereby the hearts of the unbelievers is sealed:

“We made for them hearing, and eyesight, and heart, but their hearing, and their hearts availed them naught, seeing that they always denied the signs of God and they are now surrounded on all sides by what they used to mock at.” (46: 26]

“They say, ‘Our hearts are veiled from what thou callest us to, in our ears is deafness, and between us and thee there is a partition.” [41: 5]

Kufr in terms denying Oneness of God (shirk)

“Praise be to God who created the heavens and the earth, and put in order the darkness and the light. Yet the kafirs ascribe equals unto the Lord.” [6: 1]

The nature of shirk is explained by the Qur’an:

“Whenever God was alone invoked, you disbelieved, but if others were associated, you believed.” [40: 12]

The Qur’an explains these names are only empty names without any substance to them:

“They ascribe unto God associates. Say, ‘Name them.’ Is it that you would tell Him what he knows not in the earth? Or are they but empty names? Nay, but their contrivance appears fair to the kafirs, and thus they are kept away from [God’s] way.” [13: 33]


“They surely are kafirs who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ For the Messiah said, ‘O children of Israel worship God, my Lord and your Lord.’ Verily, whoso ascribes unto God associates, God has surely forbidden Paradise unto him, and his final abode shall be the Fire. For the wrong-doers there shall be no helpers. They surely are kafirs who say, ‘God is the third of the Three.’ Nay, there is no God save One God. If they desist not from saying so, there shall befall those of them that commit such an act of kufr a painful chastisement.” [5: 72-73]

Your God is one God; so (as for) those who do not believe in the hereafter, their hearts are ignorant and they are proud. [16.22]

If we assume kufr to be the direct opposite of iman then the characteristics associated with it is also the directly opposite of the characteristics of the believer, bearing in mind that there can also be possibly grey areas in this spectrum of iman and kufr. In the following chapter I shall look into some of the qualities of iman.

Chapter 2: iman

According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam II (IE2) iman, the Arabic word usually translated in English as faith (in God). The Arabic root ‘mn has the connotations of “being secure, trusting in, turning to” implying “good faith, sincerity” = amanah, therefore “fidelity and loyalty” (amanah) and thus the idea of “protection granted” i.e. aman. The IE2 also states that the fourth form (amanah) has the double meaning of “to believe, to give one’s faith” and (with bi) “to protect, to place in safety”. Thus iman means sometimes the act and sometimes the content of faith, and at times both of them together.

So, iman may be divided into various constituent parts: sincerity, security, safety, loyalty, trust, turning to, and so on. This has been addressed by Muslim jurists and theologians over emerging Muslim history. Traditional Muslim thinkers have usually narrowed iman down to three components: qawl, tasdiq, and ‘amal or words, sincerity and deeds. Different schools have given different emphasis on these three dimensions of faith, which we shall examine.

The five areas of iman are then:

Repentance (taubah) – turning towards God:

“And most surely I am most Forgiving to him who repents and believes and does good, then continues to follow the right direction.” [20.82]

“Except him who repents and believes and does a good deed; so these are they of whom Allah changes the evil deeds to good ones; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [25.70]

“But as to him who repents and believes and does good, maybe he will be among the successful.” [28.67]

“Except such as repent and believe and do good, these shall enter the garden, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly in any way” [19.60]

Reliance upon God (tawakkul)

“Say: Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us; He is our Patron; and on Allah let the believers rely.” [9.51]


“Surely he has no authority over those who believe and rely on their Lord.” [16.99]

The above three necessarily leads further to:

Good Faith and Sincerity

O you who believe! be not unfaithful to Allah and the Apostle, nor be unfaithful to your trusts while you know. [8.27]

Fidelity and Loyalty

The Qur’an mentions of the believers that:

“Their reward is with Allah: Gardens of Eternity, beneath which rivers flow; they will dwell therein for ever; Allah well pleased with them, and they with Him: all this for such as fear their Lord and Cherisher.” [98:08]

Thus it leads them into “protection granted” or aman.

We shall examine these areas in detail from Islam’s primary sources, i.e. the Qur’an and ahadith.  

Branches of faith from the Qur’an and ahadith

The ahadith state that there are over 60 or seventy branches of faith. I shall start from the Qur’an’s description of the believer, and then look at some of the characteristics of iman mentioned in the ahadith, to gain a general idea of what is entailed in the concept of iman in the earliest sources of Islam, that is, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Iman  according to the Qur’an

The Qur’an says regarding the true believer:

“Only those are [true] believers who, whenever Allah[13] is mentioned, their hearts quiver, and when His signs are recited to them, they increase in belief, and upon their Lord they place reliance, those who attend divine service steadfastly, and expend of what we have bestowed upon them. These are the believers in the true sense (haqqan).” [8:2-4]

This verse quoted above lists the following qualities of the believer:


tawakkul or reliance upon God.

Charity (spending from what God has provided)

Tranquillity at the mention of God,

And in another place,

“Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely by Allah’s remembrance are the hearts set at rest.” [13.28]


“And despair not of Allah’s mercy; surely none despairs of Allah’s mercy except the (kafirun) unbelieving people.” [12:87]

“Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed (asrafoo) against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [39:53]

Repentance towards God – for tauba (repentance) has three components,[14] that of tauba, awba and inaba – and the increase in faith when reminded about God (i.e. when the Qur’an is being recited)

“And whenever a chapter is revealed, there are some of them who say: Which of you has it strengthened in faith? Then as for those who believe, it strengthens them in faith and they rejoice.” [9.124]

Jihad (struggle in the cause of God)

O you who believe! Fear Allah, seek the means of approach unto Him and strive (jihad) in His cause so that you may prosper. [5:35]

And in other places, for example,

“Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their persons and their substance; for theirs (in return) is the Garden” [9:111]

Since, in the language of the Qur’an, Allah has purchased the believers in exchange for the Garden, the Qur’an enumerates the following further qualities of the believers and informs of glad tidings in the proceeding verse:

Performance of divine service (Rituals)

“They who turn (to Allah), who serve (Him), who praise (Him), who fast, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah; and give good news to the believers.” [9.112]

In the category of worship includes, praise, fasting, bowing i.e. the daily rituals in Islam. This verse further adds another two elements in the concept of believer, that of:

Enjoining good and forbidding evil,

Keeping to the limits (hudud) set by God.

Further 3 elements have been mentioned:

“Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them.  And who believe in that which has been revealed to you and that which was revealed before you and they are sure of the hereafter” [2:3-4]

  • Belief in the unseen (iman bil-ghayb)
  • Establishing of Prayers
  • The Resurrection

From the following verses amongst others, the Qur’an stipulates the need to have faith in previous revelations, and as a result, in the previous prophets:

“Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Qur’an; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” [9.111]

Belief in the Qur’an and Previous revelations (e.g. Taurat, Injeel and Zabur)

Previous prophets:

“Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).”.” [2:136]

The Qur’an makes no distinction in the concept of believer between the Injeel, Taurat, and the Qur’an:

“Those who believe, and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [2:62]

And also,

“Those who believe, those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians, – any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, – on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [5:69]

The Qur’an describes itself as the ummi al-kitab[15] (mother of Books), and that “and there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything green nor dry but (it is all) in a clear book.”[16] The other previous revelations are contained in the ummi al-kitab, for example, the scrolls of Abraham and Moses,[17] mentioned in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is “confirming that which was (revealed) before it, and a guidance and glad tidings to believers”[18].

In other places, the Qur’an says,

“Say: ‘If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.’” [18:109][19]


Patience is an indispensable characteristic of the believer, for the Qur’an advises:

“O you who believe!be patient and excel in patience and remain steadfast, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, that you may be successful.” [3.200]

To judge by God and His Messenger:

 “If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God Hath revealed, they are (No better than) Unbelievers.”[5:44]

Also in another place:

“It becomes not a believer, whether man or woman, when God and His Apostle have decided any affair, to have his or her own choice in the affair. Whoever disobeys God and His Apostle, he has indeed gone astray into manifest error.” [33:36]

Muhammad as the last Prophet and the Seal of Messengers

The Qur’an mentions this:

“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things”. [33:40]

Another few qualities which are mentioned of the believers is that of:

  • humility,
  • avoiding idol talk,
  • and sexual fidelity.

These qualities are mentioned in the following verses:

“Prosperous indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers, who shun idol talk, who are active in giving charity, who hold back their genitals except from their own wives and what their right hands possess … who keep faithfully their trusts and their covenant, who are assiduous in observing their prayers. These are the inheritors who will inherit Paradise, to dwell therein forever.” [23:1-6, 8-11]

“Surely (as to) those who believe and do good and humble themselves to their Lord, these are the dwellers of the garden, in it they will abide.” [11.23]

Love for neighbours and relatives

“That is of which Allah gives the good news to His servants, (to) those who believe and do good deeds. Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives; and whoever earns good, We give him more of good therein; surely Allah is Forgiving, Grateful.” [42.23]

Iman according to ahadith

Now we shall turn to the ahadith for what it mentions as requirements for iman.

Predestination (qadar)

According to ahadith, the belief in predestination and the divine decree is essential to faith:

“Abu Abdur Rahman! There have appeared some people in our land who recite the Holy Qur’an and pursue knowledge. And then after talking about their affairs, added: They (such people) claim that there is no such thing as Divine Decree and events are not predestined. He (Abdullah ibn Umar) said: When you happen to meet such people tell them that I have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with me. And verily they are in no way responsible for my (belief). Abdullah ibn Umar swore by Him (the Lord) (and said): If any one of them (who does not believe in the Divine Decree) had with him gold equal to the bulk of (the mountain) Uhud and then, it (in the way of Allah), Allah would not accept it unless he affirmed his faith in Divine Decree.” [Sahih Muslim, Kitab Al-Iman, Book 001, Number 0001]

Ensuring public safety (desisting from mischief):

“It is narrated on the authority of Jabir that he heard the (Holy Prophet) say: A Muslim is he from whose hand and tongue the Muslim’s are safe.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0065]

“It is reported on the authority of Anas that the Prophet of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: There are three qualities for which anyone who is characterised by them will relish the sweetness of faith: he to whom Allah and His Messenger are dearer than all else; he who loves a man for Allah’s sake alone; and he who has as great an abhorrence of returning to unbelief after Allah has rescued him from it as he has of being cast into Hell.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0067]

From the hadith quoted above, the following four characteristics are enumerated:

  • The love for God,
  • His Messenger,
  • Love for the sake of God
  • Abhorrence for unbelief:

Just as the love for God and His Prophet is part of iman so is the love of the Companions of the Prophet, followed by love and hospitality shown to fellow-creatures in society:

Love for the Companions of the Prophet:

“It is reported on the authority of Anas that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed: The sign of a hypocrite is the hatred against the Ansar and the sign of a believer is the love for the Ansar.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0136]

Love for Hazrat ‘Ali

“Abu Zirr reported: ‘Ali observed: By Him Who split up the seed and created something living, the Apostle (may peace and blessings be upon him) gave me a promise that no one but a believer would love me, and none but a hypocrite would nurse grudge against me.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0136]

Preference of others over one’s self:

“It is arrested on the authority of Anas b. Malik that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed: one amongst you believes (truly) till one likes for his brother or for his neighbour that which he loves for himself.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0072]

Three more characteristics mentioned below are found in the hadith below:

  • Good moral conduct,
  • Hospitality
  • Kindness:

“It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed: He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should either utter good words or better keep silence; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should treat his neighbour with kindness and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should show hospitality to his guest.” [Sahih Muslim: Book 001, Number 0075]

Preventing evil

“It is narrated on the authority of Tariq b. Shihab: I heard the Messenger of Allah as saying: He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith.” [Sahih Muslim: Book 001, Number 0079]

A part of iman is to be to sincere in both words and deeds, to put into practise what one preaches, and to preserve the ways of the Prophet and be obedient. The following two points are mentioned in the hadith:

  • To practice what one preaches,
  • To abstain from innovations (i.e. adherence to the Sunnah):

“It is narrated on the authority ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed: Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command.

Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practise, and practised whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0081]

To not to be in a state of major sin:

“It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira: A fornicator who fornicates is not a believer as long as he commits fornication, and no one who steals is a believer as long as he commits theft, and no one who drinks wine is a believer as long as he drinks it, and repentance may be accepted after that.” [Chapter 25: Book 001, Number 0109]

Being polite and having concern for the wellbeing of the general public is also part of faith according to the Sunnah.


Public welfare

“It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessing be upon him) said: Faith has over seventy branches or over sixty branches, the most excellent of which is the declaration that there is no god but Allah, and the humblest of which is the, removal of what is injurious from the path: and modesty is the branch of faith.” [al-Bukhari, Book 001, Number 0056]

So, complete iman has sixty or seventy branches, the foremost being the profession of One God (shahadah), while the braches include modesty and concern for the public wellbeing.

These characteristics of iman, as found in the holy Qur’an, are universals human qualities unrelated to culture, regardless of time and place, and they are objective not subjective models of reality[20] and not models for reality, fixed and unchanging over time. However, the actual forms of ritual worship, which are only mentioned in the Qur’an and become elaborated in the Sunnah are particularized in the shari’ah. What I mean is that the five pillars in Islam in its universal form have been practised in different modes and ways before the arrival of the last Prophet, peace be upon him. For example, according to the Qur’an, in the previous revelations there too was shahadah, prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and charity (zakat). The Qur’an, according to the Muslims, is the eternal and uncreated Word of God sent down as the final revelation to Muhammad, His prophet.

These then, are some of the branches of faith, which are not exhaustive, and are said to be numbered around sixty or seventy branches, according to the two varying accounts mentioned in the ahadith.

The grades of faith:

As we have seen with the case of kufr, iman also has grades and shades, and according some hadith it can increase as well as decrease[21].

The Qur’an says:

“Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).” [2:57]

The People of the Book

“It is reported on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas that Mu’adh said: The Messenger of Allah sent me (as a governor of Yemen) and (at the time of departure) instructed me thus: You will soon find yourself in a community one among the people of the Book, so first call them to testify that there is no god but Allah, that I (Muhammad) am the Messenger of Allah, and if they accept this, then tell them Allah has enjoined upon them five prayers during the day and the night and if they accept it, then tell them that Allah has made Zakat obligatory for them that it should be collected from the rich and distributed among the poor, and if they agree to it don’t pick up (as a share of Zakat) the best of their wealth. Beware of the supplication of the oppressed for there is no barrier between him and Allah.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0027]

From the hadith quoted above, it appears that the People of the Book are counted among the believers (at least to some extent), the Prophet is instructing Mu’adh to first convince them to accept Muhammad as the Messenger of God, peace be upon him; if they do that then persuade them to pray, and after that, the payment of Zakat.

 “And most surely of the followers of the Book there are those who believe in Allah and (in) that which has been revealed to you and (in) that which has been revealed to them, being lowly before Allah; they do not take a small price for the communications of Allah; these it is that have their reward with their Lord; surely Allah is quick in reckoning.” [3.199]

From this verse it is quite clear that there are some among the People of the Book who qualify as believers, and who accept the prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him, and do not doubt in the revelations made to him as well as the previous revelations of the older prophets, peace be upon them. This is made abundantly clear from the following verses:

“And whoever comes to Him a believer (and) he has done good deeds indeed, these it is who shall have the high ranks.” [20.75]

“Surely Allah will cause those who believe and do good deeds to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, surely Allah does what He pleases.” [22.14]

Chapter 3: Islam

Muslim, according to the IE2, is the “one who submits to God”, the plural of it being the Muslimun in the Qur’an. Islam is only mentioned 8 times in the Qur’an; however the verb aslama occurs more frequently in the Qur’an. It conveys two meanings: one which is “surrender to God,” which is an inner action; while the other is the adherence to the message of the Prophet i.e. the profession of Islam. Islam is mentioned as a call from God in contrast to falsehood [61:7]; in conjunction with the light of God [39:22] and [6:125].

There is also the connection between Islam and religion made in the Qur’an [3:19, 3:85 and 5:3].

From this same hadith, also known as the Gibrail Hadith, we have the definition of the concepts of iman, Islam and ihsan, three key concepts in the Islamic tradition:

“My father, Umar ibn al-Khattab, told me: One day we were sitting in the company of Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him. None amongst us recognized him.

At last he sat with the Apostle (peace be upon him) He knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs and said: Muhammad, inform me about al-Islam. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Al-Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay zakat, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the (House) if you are solvent enough (to bear the expense of) the journey. He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth. He (Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: It amazed us that he would put the question and then he would himself verify the truth.

He (the inquirer) said: Inform me about Iman (faith). He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil. He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth.

He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about al-Ihsan (performance of good deeds). He (the Holy Prophet) said: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He, verily, sees you.

He (the enquirer) again said: Inform me about the hour (of the Doom). He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: One who is asked knows no more than the one who is inquiring (about it). He (the inquirer) said: Tell me some of its indications. He (the Holy Prophet) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and master, that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herds vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings. He (the narrator, Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: Then he (the inquirer) went on his way but I stayed with him (the Holy Prophet) for a long while.

He then, said to me: Umar, do you know who this inquirer was? I replied: Allah and His Apostle knows best. He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: He was Gabriel (the angel). He came to you in order to instruct you in matters of religion.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0001]

One interpretation of this hadith al-Islam seems to be in the sphere of actions or ‘amal consisting of the five minimum requirements or pillars of external action:

1. Testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.

2. Establishing the 5 prayers,

3. Paying of the Zakat,

4. Observing the fast of Ramadan,

5. And perform pilgrimage if physically and financially feasible

These actions since they are external suggest the physical action of surrendering (Islam) to God, while iman (faith) according to this hadith is explained as the six concepts of tasdiq (cognitive concepts that must be affirmed in the heart):

1. Affirming faith in Allah,

2. Faith in His angels,

3. In His Books,

4. In His Apostles,

5. In the Day of Judgment,

6. Affirming faith in the Divine Decree.

These actions are internal in contrast to the ones mentioned above. From this hadith it seems that Islam is the external aspect of the religion while iman is its inner aspect. This is also suggested by Imam Abu Hanifah’s statement;

“Lexically, there is a difference between Iman and Islam, but [in the shari`ah] there is no Iman without Islam, nor does there exist Islam without Iman, the two being [inseparable], like the inside and outside [of something].” [Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.)- al-Fiqh al-Akbar]

From another hadith, the distinction is being made between the believer and the Muslim (one who only superficially follows the shari’ah):

“Sa’d narrated it on the authority of his father (Abi Waqqas) that he observed: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) distributed shares (of booty among his Companions). I said: Messenger of Allah! Give it to so and so, for verily he is a believer. Upon this the Apostle of Allah remarked: Or a Muslim. I (the narrator) repeated it (the word” believer”) thrice and he (the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him) turned his back upon me (and substituted the word)” Muslim,” and then observed: I bestow it (this share) to a man out of apprehension lest Allah should throw him prostrate into the fire (of Hell) whereas in fact the other man is dearer to me than he.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0276]

Ihsan on the hand seems to be about sincerity, “you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He, verily, sees you”.

According to the Qur’an Islam seems to be a gift from God to man and not vice versa, man should be grateful for being the beneficiary of God’s gift and not be boastful:

“Say: ‘Do not count your Islam as a favour to me; nay, but rather God confers a favour upon you, in that he has guided you to belief, if it be that you are truthful” [49:17]. The Qur’an also draws a distinction between Islam and iman: “the Bedouins say: ‘we believe’. Say: you do not believe; rather say, ‘we surrender’ (aslamna). Faith has not yet entered into your hearts” [49:14].

The definition of Islam according to the Qur’an:

“Say, ‘We believe in God and that which has been sent down upon us, and that which was sent upon Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and which was given unto Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction whatsoever between them, surrendering as we do unto Him…And whoso desires to have other that the Islam (surrender) as religion, it will not be accepted of him, and he shall be among the losers in the Hereafter.” [3: 84-85].

Izutsu agrees with al-Bukhari, who made the distinction between two kinds of Islam: (1) the formal and superficial type of Islam which is not always purely religious, and (2) the ‘real Islam’ (al-islam ala al-haqiqah). The semantic structure of Islam is based on ideas such as reliance, dependence, humbleness, patience, etc.,

Again in numerous other ahadith:

“It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that a bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, direct me to a deed by which I may be entitled to enter Paradise. Upon this he (the Holy Prophet) remarked: You worship Allah and never associate anything with Him, establish the obligatory prayer, and pay the Zakat which is incumbent upon you, and observe the fast of Ramadan. He (the bedouin) said: By Him in Whose hand is my life, I will never add anything to it, nor will I diminish anything from it. When he (the bedouin) turned his back, the Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: He who is pleased to see a man from the dwellers of Paradise should catch a glimpse of him.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0014]

Chapter 4: Rights in Islam

In this chapter I will briefly examine the concept of rights in Islam, the freedom of religion and lastly, the position on apostasy at the end. The system of rights in Islam, can be classified on the similar lines along T. Izutsu’s categories of ethics in Islam.  As I have mentioned earlier, in his book, Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an, he distinguishes between the three categories (1) God to Man ethical relations, (2) Man to God ethics, and (3) man to man ethical relationships. These ethical relationships can be classified into two categories of relationships: 1) the rights between man and God, and 2) the rights between people. Islam, being a theocentric and revealed religion, there is no automatic assumption of any kind of rights in the absence of God, or secular rights. Muslims are unanimously agreed that God is beyond any needs, that He is not compelled by anyone or anything, He does as He pleases, Everyone is accountable to Him, while He is not accountable anyone.[22] It is then that God confers rights on His creatures out of His mercy but not by necessity.

That God has rights is based on many similar ahadith:

“It is narrated on the authority of Mu’adh b. Jabal: I was riding behind the Prophet (may peace be upon him) and there was nothing between him and me but the rear part of the saddle, when he said: Mu’adh b. Jabal: To which I replied: At your beck and call, and at your pleasure, Messenger of Allah! He moved along for a few minutes, when again he said: Mu’adh b. Jabal: To which I replied: At your beck and call, and at your pleasure, Messenger of Allah! He then again moved along for a few minutes and said: Mu’adh b. Jabal: To which I replied: At your beck and call, and at your pleasure, Messenger of Allah. He, (the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him) said: Do you know what right has Allah upon His servants? I said: Allah and His Messenger know best. He (the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him) said: Verily the right of Allah over His servants is that they should worship Him, not associating anything with Him. He (the Holy Prophet) with Mu’adh behind him, moved along for a few minutes and said: Mu’adh b. Jabal: To which I replied: At your beck and call, and at your pleasure, Messenger of Allah! He (the Holy Prophet) said: Do you know what rights servants have upon Allah in case they do it (i. e. they worship Allah without associating anything with Him)? I (Mu’adh b. Jabal) replied: Allah and His Messenger know best. (Upon this) he (the Holy Prophet) remarked: That He would not torment them (with the fire of Hell).” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0046]

Generally, then, the rights in Islam can be put into the two spheres of:

1.      the rights of God

2.      the rights of man

Rights of God

The concepts I discussed in the last chapter related to iman from both the Qur’an and the ahadith, I propose to analyze these concepts in terms of rights. All the concepts pertaining to faith (iman), fall either in the category of the rights of Allah and the Messenger or in the category of the rights of the people.

The concepts mentioned in points 1 – 15 in Chapter 2, which are the essential components of iman, – i.e. fear, hope, tranquillity, repentance, reliance, rituals, limits fixed by God (hudud Allah), belief in the unseen, acceptance of all previous revelations and previous prophets, belief in resurrection, humbleness, patience, humility and judging by the Revelations – belong to the sphere of the rights of Allah. The remaining components of iman belong to the sphere of rights of man. As the Qur’an states:

It is not piety (birr) that you turn your faces towards the East or the West but righteousness is that you believe in Allah and the Last Day, and in the Angels, and in the Books, and in the Prophets, and expend of the wealth out of love for Him to the nearer of kin, and to the orphans, and to the needy, and to the wayfarer, and to the beggars, and for the emancipation of the captives; and establish the Prayer and pay the poor-due (zakat). [2:177]

These rights are not inherent in things in themselves, but are revealed by God in the divine revelations. Without the belief in God, these rights are not binding. Very similar arguments are found in the Thomas Hobbs’ Leviathan, where the guarantee of the functioning of civil society depends upon the establishment of a powerful king in order to guarantee peace, stability and security, without whom life becomes nasty, brutish and short!

The five pillars in Islam, the first being the shahdah is the acceptance of the guarantor of rights, a Sovereign, without Whom there is no security or moral obligations when it contradicts human self-interest, indeed in some cases it would be quite irrational to act contrary to self-interest, as Hobbs had argued convincingly[23].

All the ritual forms of worship in Islam are orientated towards society in one way or another, the salat (five daily prayers) symbolise and embody the concepts mentioned above, and furthermore, the social elements of equality before the sight of God, fraternity and the responsibility of each towards the other is signified.

The third pillar of Islam, i.e. fasting, is in one aspect the cleansing of the soul in front of God and only for God, as various ahadith mention that God is the reward for fasting; in another aspect it is orientated towards society in terms of managing anger, having sympathy for the poor, being charitable, refraining from all misconduct and harming others in the community.

Hajj (pilgrimage) is also orientated towards society in one aspect – that the gathering of the believers at the same time and the same place, stripped of the signs of worldly dignity and rank – of fraternity and equailty, on another a total surrender and presence before God in humility and submission, i.e. Islam!

The remaining pillar of zakat (alms-giving), in aspect is the purification on the self and the containment of greed, recognition that the world belongs to God and that wealth is a gift from God to man. It is a means of expressing gratefulness to Him on the one hand, on the other, a social redistribution of wealth, that members in a society have rights upon each other. In Arabic, the word zakat signifies growth, both economically and spiritually.

Rights of man

Obeying authority is a requirement on the believer:

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination.” [4:59]

This ensures the safety ad security of the community. After God and His Prophet the believers are asked to obey whoever is in power, whether this person is from the slaves of Abyssinia, as reported in the ahadith. In the Farewell Speech[24] of the Prophet the rights of people has been central – the completing of the message of Islam had been marked by the conferring of rights on people – a new social order where man is accountable to and responsible for his brethren. This system of rights included everyone, men, women, slaves, believers and unbelievers, that people had the right to life, honour and property:

“And worship God, and ascribe naught as partner unto Him, be good to your parents, and to kindred, and to orphans, and to the poor, and to a neighbour whether kinsman or alien, and to a fellow-traveller, and to the wayfarer, and to the slaves whom your right hands possess.” [4: 36]

God sets out the systems of rights in Islam in this verse among others, in a descending order, giving a vision for a society where no one is left behind including the traveller and the foreigner, laying the blueprint for a welfare state. In these verses different forms of rights are awarded to all kinds of people regardless of their religion or nationality.

Islam allows for social hierarchies, and can be adapted to the complex needs of societies over time. The primary sources are mainly concerned with the universal human values, as we saw earlier in Chapter 2, which each society can implement in its particular modes without violating the fundamental universals, regardless of the cultural context.

Men are described as pre-eminent over women in the Qur’an. This is also true also in practice, women cannot divorce as easily as men, two women are equivalent to one male in giving legal testimonies, women inherit half of their brothers. However, women are not charged with the responsibility of providing for the family, she and her children are the responsibility for her husband or the nearest male member of the family. Muslim societies are structured in patriarchal lines, and the shari’ah actively preserves it.

The family

First and foremost of the rights placed in the Qur’an is the right of God, then the family, and then society is mentioned lastly. In the family, the parents[25] are conferred the most rights followed by the children and wives. 

The Qur’an clearly distinguishes between the rights and even between the ranks of men and women:

“And the women have rights similar to those (of men) over them in fairness. But men are a rank above them, for God is Mighty, Wise.” [2: 228]

 This is explained elsewhere in the Qur’an that:

 “Men have pre-eminence above women because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So the good women are obedient and in the absence of their husbands guard their rights as Allah had enjoined it to be guarded.”  [4:34]

The responsibility for the upkeep of the family have been enjoined on the husband (and male members), this is reflected in the shari’ah distribution of inheritance between the male and the female members of the family.

That the religion of Islam, its beliefs and practices are purely based on the concepts of rights is abundantly clear from many different ahadith, major sins are always numbered as the violation of rights as set out in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, for example:

 “It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdur-Rahman b. Abu Bakra that his father said: We were in the company of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) that he observed: Should I not inform you about the most grievous of the grave sins? (The Holy Prophet) repeated it three times, and then said: Associating anyone with Allah, disobedience to parents, false testimony or false utterance. The Holy Prophet was reclining, then he sat up, and he repeated it so many times that we wished that he should become silent.”  [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0158]

In other places:

“’Abdullah reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him): Which sin is the gravest in the eye of Allah? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you associate a partner with Allah (despite the fact) that He has created you. He (the reporter) said: I told him (the, Holy Prophet): Verily it is indeed grave. He (the reporter) said: I asked him what the next (gravest sin) was. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you kill your child out of fear that he shall join you in food (i.e. poverty). He (the reporter) said: I asked (him) what the next (gravest sin) was. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Then (the next gravest sin) is that you commit adultery with the wife of your neighbour.” [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0156]

Indeed, as some of the ahadith has it, once a person honours the rights of God i.e. He is One and alone, He has the right to be worshipped (shahadah), then in such a case the believer has the right to be forgiven for all his other violations:

“Abu Dharr reported: I came to the Prophet (peace be upon him ) and he was asleep with a white mantle over him. I again came, he was still asleep, I came again and he had awakened. I sat by his side and (the Holy Prophet) observed: There is none among the bondsmen who affirmed his faith in La illaha ill-Allah (there is no God but Allah) and died in this state and did not enter Paradise. I (Abu Dharr) said: Even if he committed adultery and theft? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: (Yes) even though he committed adultery and theft. I (again said): Even if he committed adultery and theft? He replied: (Yes) even though he committed adultery and theft. (The Holy Prophet repeated it three times) and said for the fourth time: In defiance of Abu Dharr. Abu Dharr then went out and he repeated (these words): In defiance of Abu Dharr.”  [Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0172]

[1] Sahih Muslim, Book 007, Number 2803

[2] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, first published 1690.

[3] Izutsu, T, Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002, p.17

[4] ibid. p.17

[5] ibid. p.18

[6] ibid. p.13

[7] Izutsu, T, Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002, p.119

[8] Qur’an 57:20 “Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers (kuffara); soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away.”

[9] hadith = statement or action attributed to the Prophet, (ahadith = plural of hadith)

[10] Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 28

[11] Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0142: It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. Umar

[12] Izutsu, T, Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002, pp.127-130

[13] I have not translated Allah into English here as the Arabic word Allah is essential in Sufi remembrance, which in this verse can alternatively be read as a physical description of Sufi dhikr.

[14] See Abdul Qadir Jilani’s (b.1078) Sufficient Provision for Seekers of the Path of Truth (Al-Ghunya liTalibi Tariq al-Haqq) trans. by Muhtar Holland, 1997

[15] Qur’an, 43:04

[16] Qur’an, 6:59

[17] Qur’an, 87: 18-19

[18] Qur’an 2:97, also see 61:06

[19] Also similarly in Qur’an, 31:27

[20] For a discussion on cultural relativism see, Bassam Tibi, Islam between Culture and Politics, (second edition) 2005

[21] “Faith wears out in the heart of any one of you just as clothes wear out, so ask Allah to renew the faith in your hearts.” Reported by al-Haakim in al-Mustadrak, 1/4;. Al-Haythami said in Majma’ al-Zawaa’id, 1/52,

[22] Qur’an 21:23

[23] Thomas Hobbs, Leviathan, see Chapter 13 for his complete argument

[24] Sahih Muslim, Book 007, Number 2803

[25] E.g. Qur’an 17: 23-24, 29:8, 31:14, 46:15

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Inner Dimensions of Hajj


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