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The Essence of Faith
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

Iman (faith) is an ancient religious term. The root امن is also found in Hebrew and means considering something to be true and relying on it. The word امين (amen) is made from this word and through it we corroborate something. In the Qur’an iman has been used in this meaning. Thus if something is accepted with the certitude of the heart then this is called iman. The foundation of this word is iman (faith) in God. If a person accepts the Almighty such that he submits his heart and mind to Him to the utmost, then in the terminology of the Qur’an, he is a mu’min (believer). Imam Farahi writes:

Thus the conviction which exists with all the conditions and corollaries of humility, trust and acknowledgment is called faith. And a person who professes faith in God, in His signs, in His directives, submits all that he has to Him and is happy on all His decisions is called a mu’min. 1

It is this very essence of faith on account of which the Qur’an demands from a person that besides substantiation from the heart, his words and deeds should also testify to it. Thus it calls every act of virtue emanating from iman and an essential quality of a believer. Narratives which say that a Muslim is he from whose hands and tongues other Muslims are secure,2 and faith has a little over seventy branches, one of which is modesty, 3 and he who has faith in God and the Hereafter should show kindness to his neighbours, respect his guests and say kind words or remain silent,4 refer to this very essence of faith. It is evident from this discussion that righteous deeds are mentioned after belief in the Qur’an as an explanation and in reality it is like mentioning a specific category after a general one. Imam Farahi writes:

Faith resides in the heart and in the intellect and in matters of heart and intellect a person cannot only deceive others, but at times even deceive himself. He thinks that he is a believer, whereas he is not. For this reason, two witnesses have been appointed over faith: words and deeds. And since words uttered can be untrue, therefore a person who merely professes faith through his words has not been regarded as a believer; it is essential that a person’s deeds should testify to his faith.5

 إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُهُ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَعَلَى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ  الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلاَةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ حَقًّا لَّهُمْ دَرَجَاتٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ وَرِزْقٌ كَرِيمٌ (٨: ٢-٤)

True believers are those whose hearts are filled with awe at the mention of God, and when His revelations are recited before them their faith grows stronger and they are those who put their trust in their Lord alone, are diligent in their prayers and spend [in Our cause] what We have given them. Such are the true believers. For them are ranks before God and forgiveness and a very respectable sustenance. (8:2-4)

Similarly, the Qur’an says:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ (١٥:٤٩)

True believers are those who have faith in God and His messenger and then were never entangled in any doubt and fought with their wealth and with their persons in the cause of God. It is these who are true [in their faith]. (49:15)

No doubt, in the eyes of law every person who professes faith in Islam with his tongue is a Muslim. The extent of his faith can also not be ascertained as far as law is concerned; however, as far as true faith is concerned, it is never static. Verses 2-4 of Surah Anfal quoted earlier show that the faith of a person grows stronger when he remembers God and hears His revelations and witnesses His signs in the world within him and in that around him. The Qur’an has compared faith to a tree whose roots are deep in the soil and branches spread in the vastness of the sky:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللّهُ مَثَلاً كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاء  تُؤْتِي أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا وَيَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ (١٤: ٢٤-٢٥)

Have you not reflected how God has mentioned the example of the word of purity? Its example is like that of a pure tree whose roots are deep in the earth and branches are spread in the sky; it yields its fruit in every season by the directive of God. [This is a parable of the pure word] and God mentions such parables to men so that they may take heed. (14:24-25)

While explaining these verses, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi has written:

In the verse, the expression “word of purity” obviously refers to the “word of faith”. It is compared by the Almighty to a fruit-laden tree whose roots are firmly implanted in the soil and whose branches are nicely spread in the sky and it is bearing fruit in every season with the blessing of its Lord. Its roots being deeply implanted in the soil refers to the fact that faith is deeply and firmly implanted in human nature and that it is not like a plant which has sprouted from dung that has no root and a slight calamity can uproot it like the word of disbelief about which the Qur’an has used the words إِجْتُثَّتْ مِنْ فُوْقِ الأَرْضَ مَا لَهَا مِنْ قَرَار (١٤: ٢٦) (which can be uprooted from the very surface of the earth; it has no stability, (14:26)). On the other hand, like a strong tree it has firm and deeply set roots so that even if a storm passes upon it, it is not disturbed by the slightest. The verse goes on to describe that it is lavishly fruit-laden and that it is not like a barren tree which neither provides anyone with shade nor with fruit. Its spaciously spread branches in the sky provide shade to caravans and in every season provides them with sustenance and nourishment from its fruit. This obviously refers to the blessings and benefits which a believer bestows on his own life and through it on others who in some way come in his contact. These blessings and benefits by nature are both ideological as well as practical. They bear witness to a person’s faith and through it a person becomes dear to God and attains His nearness.6


Same is the case of one’s faith growing weaker. Thus if a person instead of making it stronger through sound knowledge and righteous deeds does acts which are against the requirements of faith, it grows weaker, and in some cases is totally wiped out. Some verses such as هُمْ لِلْكُفْرِ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَقْرَبُ مِنْهُمْ لِلإِيمَانِ.(On that day, they were closer to disbelief than belief) 7 point to this aspect. The Qur’an has emphasized that people who continue to lead a life laden with sin and sin completely encompasses their life or become so arrogant that they deliberately cross the limits set by God or intentionally kill a Muslim their faith will carry no weight and they will have to face the eternal punishment of Hell 8 except if God on the basis of His wisdom decides to forgive someone. 9 Thus at one instance it is said that after disobeying the Prophet (sws) any claim to faith is not acceptable to the Almighty:

فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا (٦٥:٤)

But they will not – I swear by you Lord – they will not be true believers until they seek your arbitration in their disputes and then feel no discomfort in their hearts on the verdicts you give in their disputes and submit to you entirely. (4:65)

Certain narratives of the Prophet (sws) also explain this reality:

When a fornicator commits fornication, he is not a believer at that time and when a thief commits theft, he is not a believer at that time and when a drinker consumes liquor, he is not a believer at that time. 10

None of you can be a believer unless I become dearer to you than his son, his father and all other people. 11

I swear by the one in whose grasp is my life that a person cannot be a believer unless he likes for his brother whatever he likes for himself.12

When any person among you sees an evil [in his circle of authority], he should try to curb it by [the force of] his hands. If he does not have the faith to do it, he should try to curb it by his tongue and if [even] this is not possible, he should consider it bad in his heart and this is the lowest level of faith. 13

He who deceived [others] is not from among us.14 He who struck his cheeks or tore his dress or spoke in the manner people spoke in the age of jahiliyyah is not among us.15

It is evident from this that both faith and righteous deeds are essential to one another. Thus just as righteous deeds are necessary for faith, similarly faith is necessary for righteous deeds. At all places, the Qur’an has stated this professing faith to be the very first condition for salvation. The reason for this is that if a person deliberately rejects the Almighty and His signs or invents a lie upon Him by associating partners with Him then this is arrogance and about arrogance the Qur’an has clearly said that a camel can enter the eye of a needle but an arrogant person cannot enter Paradise:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُواْ بِآيَاتِنَا وَاسْتَكْبَرُواْ عَنْهَا لاَ تُفَتَّحُ لَهُمْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاء وَلاَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى يَلِجَ الْجَمَلُ فِي سَمِّ الْخِيَاطِ وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُجْرِمِينَ  لَهُم مِّن جَهَنَّمَ مِهَادٌ وَمِن فَوْقِهِمْ غَوَاشٍ وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الظَّالِمِينَ (٧: ٤٠-٤١)

Indeed those who denied Our revelations and evaded them in arrogance, the gates of heaven shall not be opened for them and neither shall they be able to enter Paradise except if a camel is able to pass through the eye of a needle. [This is their punishment] and thus do We punish the criminals. Hell shall be their bedding and the flames of Hell shall be their covering and in this way do We punish the evil-doers. (7:40-41)

Consequently, the Qur’an has said that deeds have no basis without faith. They are like ashes which strong winds have scattered away. On the Day of Judgement, not a speck of these deeds will remain of any worth to them before the Almighty. All that a person earned will be doomed and the punishment of such evil earning would await him:

مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ بِرَبِّهِمْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَرَمَادٍ اشْتَدَّتْ بِهِ الرِّيحُ فِي يَوْمٍ عَاصِفٍ لاَّ يَقْدِرُونَ مِمَّا كَسَبُواْ عَلَى شَيْءٍ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الضَّلاَلُ الْبَعِيدُ (١٨:١٤)

The deeds of people who disbelieved the Almighty are like ashes which are subjected to severe wind on a stormy day. They shall gain nothing from what they do. This is straying far into error. (14:18)

In Surah Nur, the deeds of people who are devoid of the treasure of faith are compared to the mirage found in a desert which is a mere eye wash. A thirsty person jumps towards it thinking it to be water but when he comes near he comes to know that what he thought as waves of water were actually grains of shining sand:

وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاء حَتَّى إِذَا جَاءهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ (٣٩:٢٤)

And as for the disbelievers, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty thinking that it is water [leaped towards it] until when he came near it he found nothing: In fact, he found God there. Then He took his account and swift is God in taking account. (24:39)

(Translated from Ghamidi’s Mizan by Shehzad Saleem)







1. Farahi, Majmu‘ah Tafasir, 1st ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991), 347.

2. Bukhari, No: 10; Muslim, No: 41.

3. Bukhari, No: 9; Muslim, No: 35.

4. Bukhari, No: 6019; Muslim, No: 48.

5. Farahi, Majmu‘ah Tafasir, 1st ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991), 349.

6. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tazkiyah Nafs, 4th ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 2005), 325.

7. The Qur’an, 3:167.

8. The Qur’an, 2:81; 4:14; 4:93.

9. The Qur’an, 4:48.

10. Bukhari, No: 5578; Muslim, No: 57.

11. Bukhari, No: 15; Muslim, No: 44.

12. Bukhari, No: 13; Muslim, No: 45.

13. Muslim, Nos: 49, 50.

14. Muslim, Nos: 101, 102.

15. Bukhari, No: 1297; Muslim, No: 1103.

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