By Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on 29 and 30 May 2017 at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town

Last night we discussed the importance of Salawaat and how it guarantees a Divine response.

Tonight we will speak about an issue that is so important that I first want to connect it to the previous lecture on Salawaat and obtain blessing from it by quoting a hadith from the Prophet (SAWA) wherein he says, “Raise your voices with Salawat on me, because as a result of this, hypocrisy disappears”!

In the Dua, Imam Zainul Abideen (AS) moves on to refer to Imaan and says:

وَبَلِّغْ بِإيْمَانِي أكْمَلَ الإِيْمَانِ،

“and cause my faith to reach the most perfect faith”

The explanation of the first part of this Dua will take a bit long as it serves as the foundation of Nobal Moral Conduct.


The literal definition of Imaan is having trust, confidence and conviction in something with all your heart. Imaan comes from the Arabic root word “amn”, which means “peace”. The link between peace and Imaan is that peace overtakes your soul once you have complete Imaan. And thus the Quran says:

أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“Lo! With the Remembrance of Allah, Hearts attain tranquility” (Surah Ra’d Verse 28)

In English for Imaan we say “faith” or “belief”.

Different religions have different belief systems and followers of those religions have faith in that belief system. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc have their own belief systems.

In practical terms, Imaan is belief, and any system of belief seeks to answer some fundamental questions about life regarding:

– the origin of creation,

– who we are, and

– where are we going?


The next issue to consider is what is the source of this faith that you have?

Sometimes you believe in something as you have knowledge on the matter – thus your knowledge can be one source of your belief. e.g. you know there is a God and Creator of this world and after knowing, you believe in this knowledge and have faith, trust and confidence and conviction in it.

However, that is not always the case!!

Often our faith is based on what we have been taught and simply blind following!

Why do you believe there’s one God? Because your Mowlana says so!

There are some who hold beliefs which are a mere claim as their intellects cannot grasp their reality, and therefore they believe without any knowledge.

An example of this is the concept of the trinity in Christianity…you are just expected to believe that the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one and the same thing even though your intellect cannot grasp it.

Other times, beliefs can stem from cultural factors, as is the case with many traditional faiths.

Example African Traditions are held with firm conviction though there is no real argument for it.


From this, we can see that there is no compulsory relationship between faith and knowledge i.e. you can have one without the other. Sometimes you can have knowledge but no Imaan and sometimes you can have Imaan but no knowledge.

A common example quoted in this regard is smoking, while we may all have knowledge that smoking is harmful to your health, this does not mean that it has been transformed into Imaan, as many people who have this knowledge still smoke. So Imaan is when knowledge becomes conviction!

It is also important to note that gaining knowledge is not in your control, once you have been informed of a fact, it is part of your knowledge even if you did not want to know. When all the prerequisite conditions of knowledge are there, knowledge will come to you.

However, once you have knowledge, your soul becomes mukallaf in that it becomes responsible and is then responsible for either ignoring that knowledge or turning that knowledge into conviction (in our example, either continuing to smoke, or changing your habit). So while knowledge is not fully in our control, Imaan is within our control which results in it having control of our soul.

Imaan is thus something intentional – you know something but decide whether you want to be believe in it or not.


The Quran thus provides us with numerous examples of people who had knowledge about what is truth and haq, but had no faith in it.

Look at Surah 27 verse 14:

وَجَحَدوا بِها وَاستَيقَنَتها أَنفُسُهُم ظُلمًا وَعُلُوًّا ۚ فَانظُر كَيفَ كانَ عاقِبَةُ المُفسِدينَ

“They impugned them —though they were convinced in their hearts— wrongfully and defiantly. So observe how was the fate of the agents of corruption.”

This verse refers to those who rejected the miracles of Nabi Musa(AS), the Quran clearly states that in their hearts they knew the actions of Nabi Musa(AS) was more than magic, but that did not convert to faith.

In relation to the time of our Prophet (sawa), there is an example in Surah 2, verse 146:

الَّذينَ آتَيناهُمُ الكِتابَ يَعرِفونَهُ كَما يَعرِفونَ أَبناءَهُم ۖ وَإِنَّ فَريقًا مِنهُم لَيَكتُمونَ الحَقَّ وَهُم يَعلَمونَ

“Those whom We have given the Book recognize him just as they recognize their sons, but a part of them indeed conceal the truth while they know”.

In this verse, the Quran is referring to the People of the Book (Christians and Jews – especially their leaders) who recognised that Prophet Muhammed (SAWA) was a Prophet of God, and had knowledge of this, but once again this did not translate into faith.

Note how the Quran, to explain to us the level of knowledge that they had says that they recognise Prophet Muhammad (sawa) so well – its like recognising their own children…this means they had no doubt about it – yet they chose not to believe in him.

Another example is of Abu Jahl, who was one of the most vehement opponents of the Prophet (SAWA). He never showed any mercy or compassion to Prophet Muhammad (sawa).

One day, people suddenly saw him being very kind to the Prophet (SAWA), and were concerned that he was coming under his influence. People asked him about his behaviour, and Abu Jahl replied, “By God I swear that I know for sure Muhammed is truthful, but how is it possible that we be the followers of the offspring of Abd Manaf?”

There are masses who are maybe misguided, but leaders like Abu Jahl and Abu Sufyan who were very intelligent knew for sure about the truthfulness of Prophet Muhammad (sawa). It is thus interesting to note that in history, it is often the leaders of society who have struggles converting the knowledge which they possess into faith.


Another issue to consider is that sometimes people have Imaan or faith in their heart, but for some reason decide that they do not want to express it openly.

Based on Quran and the narrations of the Prophet (sawa) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s), the pronouncement of faith is considered to be important, but there is no necessary relationship between the pronouncement of faith and faith itself.

The opposite can also be the case where people claim expressly that they have Imaan, yet there is no trace of it in their heart.

There are thus examples in history where there are those who have faith have not proclaimed it, and the converse is also true.

The Quran gives us an example of this in Surah Hujarat (49), verse 14;

قالَتِ الأَعرابُ آمَنّا ۖ قُل لَم تُؤمِنوا وَلٰكِن قولوا أَسلَمنا وَلَمّا يَدخُلِ الإيمانُ في قُلوبِكُم ۖ وَإِن تُطيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسولَهُ لا يَلِتكُم مِن أَعمالِكُم شَيئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفورٌ رَحيمٌ

“The Bedouins say, ‘We have faith.’ Say, ‘you do not have faith yet; rather say, “We have embraced Islam,” for faith has not yet entered into your hearts. Yet if you obey Allah and His Apostle, He will not stint anything of [the reward of] your works. Indeed Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.”

The Quran clearly makes a differentiation between the proclamation of faith, and actual faith held in the heart.

From this we also understand the difference between Islam and Imaan. Islam is proclamation by tongue, which makes you Muslim and all legal consequences (in terms of marriage, inheritance, your life and dignity being protected, etc.) apply to you. But this does not mean that you have Imaan in your heart.


An important discussion opens up at this point that was a big issue in the history of Islamic Theology. A question is now posed whether Imaan is only something related to your heart as we seem to identify in the verse discussed above from Surah Hujarat?

If Imaan is related to your soul, do your actions matter? i.e. could you have Imaan but your actions do not reflect this (e.g. someone has Imaan, but does not pray, or fast etc.)? There is actually a group of people who believe this, that Imaan is purely related to what is in your heart.

But then there is another group of people who believe that since Imaan is something that has penetrated your heart (and become conviction), it is impossible that this won’t reflect in your actions i.e. you can’t separate Imaan from actions (as the source of actions is the soul). So if your soul is ruled by Imaan, your actions will manifest it, and if your actions are not good, it is a reflection of your soul.

Put differently they say that if Imaan has penetrated your heart and your actions don’t reflect it, it is a contradiction and means that Shaytaan still has power over you in that you are worshipping Shaytaan and not Allah.


Now we might ask how is it that people appear to be believers but still commit sins?

A hadith explains this phenomenon very beautifully when it says that “when a believer steals, he does not steal while he is mu’min” i.e. at that point in time when committing sin he loses his Imaan.

Or “a believer never commits adultery while he is a believer” also makes this point that while the parties are involved in this ugly act, they are not believers for that moment in time.

Yes subsequent to commit sin, they come to realise their wrong doing and then repent and return to Allah and become believers again.

This is why Imam Zainul Abideen (AS) is asking for a firm Imaan which remains stable and does not sway!


Look at the example of Iblees who knows that Allah exists and even has Imaan in Allah as he worshipped Allah for 6000 years. When he was misguided and rebelled, he still uses words that indicate his recognition of Allah when he says:

قَالَ فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

“(Iblis) said: ‘Then by Your glory, I shall misguide them all together’,” (Surah Saad Verse 82)

So Shaytaan even swears by Allah’s dignity, however his belief was mixed with hypocrisy, and therefore his actions are contrary to the knowledge and belief he had.

Some writers, when looking at the story of Iblees say that he had Imaan but did not have action.

But Allamah Tabatabai makes an interesting point in relation to Iblees and the supposed belief that he had. When Almighty Allah commanded the Angels and Iblees to bow down to Prophet Adam (a.s), it says that Iblees refused and displayed his arrogance. And then the Quran reveals the condition of his belief. It says in Surah Baqarah Verse 34:

أَبَى وَاسْتَكْبَرَ وَكَانَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ

“he refused and was full of pride, and was one of the disbelievers.”

He says that the Quran is saying that he was always a kaafir and disbeliever – it only became apparent in this event. (Note the verse does not say that he became kaafir from that point as some translations seem to indicate).

So we learn this that a kaafir can also make ibaadat! But what kind of ibaadat is it! Ponder on this point!!


So where does this weakness of Imaan come from?

Sometimes it is due to hypocrisy.

Sometimes it is due to cherry picking of beliefs based on our own preferences and comforts in belief, as opposed to surrendering ourselves fully to the Will of Allah. As the Quran says:

وَيقُولُونَ نُؤْمِنُ بِبَعْضٍ وَنَكْفُرُ بِبَعْضٍ

And they say: “We believe in some and disbelieve in others” (Surah Nisaa Verse 150)

This is an example of having partial Imaan. Sometimes those who are revolutionary only look at verses of Quran which help to stir up the emotions of people but have little interest in the rest of the Quran.

So we conclude that Imaan cannot be separated from having action that reflects it.


From the above mentioned discourse we learn that Imaan is something very comprehensive and thus Prophet Muhammad (sawa) says:

“Imaan is conviction by one’s heart, admission by one’s tongue and action by one’s organs”
This indicates that Imaan has 3 stages…bearing in mind that it comes AFTER Islam which is something proclaimed but nothing penetrates your heart.

Based on his understanding of the verses of Quran, Allamah Tabatabai says there are 3 levels of Imaan.


The first level of Imaan is when truth penetrates in your heart and you, your body and thoughts completely surrender before this belief. Thus your body in action follows this belief.

But it’s possible in this level sometimes your body does not follow whats in your heart.

In Surah Zuhruf Verse 69 says:

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِآياتِنَا وَكَانُوا مُسْلِمِينَ
“Those who believe in Our Ayat [Verses, Signs, Proofs] and are submitted [to Truth] at all times.”

Here “Muslim” is not the Islam referred to earlier which was mere proclamation of the tongue but their Imaan converts to complete submission to Allah.

And in Surah Baqarah Verse 208 we read:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ ادْخُلُواْ فِي السِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً
“O you who believe, enter into Obedience of Allah all of you”

Again obedience is said to be the outcome of Imaan.

In Surah Hujarat Verse 15 we read:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأمْوَالِهِمْ وَأنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ اُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ

“Believers are only those who have believed in Allah and His Messenger (S) and then doubt not but strive with their possessions and their lives for the Cause of Allah. They are the truthful [in their claims to faith].”

Once more the issue of complete surrender being a result of Imaan is mentioned.


Then there is a second level of Imaan that is more than submission referred to earlier.

Sometimes you are surrendered and do as Allah wants – but here you LOVE to surrender and enjoy surrendering as you reached a point of obeying Allah due to seeing Allah or at least you realise that Allah sees you!

At the first level you still might desire to do haraam but don’t do it due to having surrendered to Allah…but second level you hate doing haraam.

Thus Surah Nisaa Verse 65 says:

فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا

“But no, by your Lord! They do not believe (in reality) until they make you the judge regarding the disagreement between them, then they find within themselves no dislike of which you decide and submit with full submission.”

This is surrender with the love of surrendering.

In Surah Mu’minoon Verse 1 to 3 we read: 

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلاَتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ
وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُونَ

1. “Successful indeed are the believers, ”
2. “Who are humble in their prayers, ”
3. “And those who keep aloof from (what is) vain, ”

“khushoo” in salaah is due to a higher level of Imaan – being dedicated and humble in salaah is something we struggle with due to not having that level of Imaan and similarly they avoid that which is meaningless and vain while we often are stuck in enjoying that which is vain.


The third level of Imaan is that after surrendering before Allah and even forcing yourself to do so, one’s heart becomes soft, then love sinks in and the heart completely surrenders – that’s how far you can go out of your free will.

Now to go further, Allah Divine intervention is required as the next level is not something that you achieve by yourself and that is the station of absolute servitude.
In Surah Baqarah Verse 128 we read an interesting Dua of Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) as follows:

رَبَّنَا وَاجْعَلْنَا مُسْلِمَيْنِ لَكَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِنَا أُمَّةً مُّسْلِمَةً لَّكَ وَأَرِنَا مَنَاسِكَنَا وَتُبْ عَلَيْنَا إِنَّكَ أَنتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

” ‘Our Lord, make us submissive (Muslims) to You, and of our progeny an Ummah (a nation) submissive to You, and show us our ways of worship, and turn to us (mercifully); for surely You are the Oft-Returning, the Most Merciful’.”

Why would Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) who is already Muslim ask Allah to make him “submissive”?

This is Islam that he cannot achieve out of his own and thus prays for Allah to give it to him.

Once you reach here, then what happens?

In Surah Yunus Verse 62 & 63 we read:

“Behold! Verily no fear shall be upon the friends of Allah, nor shall they grieve;”
“Those who believe and constantly keep from evil.”


Now these 3 levels of Imaan as explained above are in the understanding of Allamah Tabatabai. That does not mean it ends there.

There are many ahadith that indicate many levels of faith.

There’s a long hadith that speak of 3 main qualities for completion of Imaan being:

– thorough understanding of religion,

– proper management of financial affairs,

– patience in hardships.

There’s hints about the Imaan of Salmaan al-Farsi when one of the Imams says that:

“Imaan has ten degrees and Salmaan’s faith is on the top level”.

Thus we find narrations indicating that when Angel Jibraeel (a.s) would come to the Prophet (sawa) he would say “Convey my salaam to Salmaan” and thus you can understand another narration which says “Salmaan is from us Ahlul Bait”!

There was a great companion called Abu Thar Ghaffari who was known for outstanding sacrifice, standing for justice, was a lover of Imam Ali (a.s), a fighter against Muslim capitalists of his time, etc.

Now narrations state that “if Abu Thar knew what is in heart of Salman, he would kill him”! That is because the understanding of Imaan in heart of Salman was so great that even a person with the capacity of Abu Thar cannot take it!

Thus Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) asks “O Allah let my Imaan reach to the most perfect level of Imaan”

To be continued……….