January 16, 2022

Levels of Eeman – Islam, Taqwa and Ihsaan


Eeman is the Arabic word for belief. As an Islamic concept, it is means believing in the Islamic articles of faith – Allaah and all of His attributes, His angels, His books, His messengers and the Last Day and the life Hereafter. Anyone who believe in these realities is a Mu’min (a believer).

Eeman is a matter of inner conviction of a person known only to him or Allaah, invisible to other human beings. A person may claim to believe, without really believing.


Literally, Islam means submission and surrender to a power resulting in peace in the society. As an Islamic concept it means submitting to Allaah SWT unconditionally in obedience so that all decisions in life are made according to His commands and teachings. This is the natural result of true faith. A person who truly has Eeman will naturally live by Islam. However, living Islamically is not possible without true Eeman – a person will not obey Allaah, unless he believes in Him. In short, there can be no Islam without sincere Eeman.

This lifestyle of unconditional obedience to Allaah is called the Deen of Islam. A person who surrenders unconditionally to Allaah, accepting Islam as his Deen, is called a Muslim. And, no one can be a Muslim without being a Mu’min. Also, while Eeman is invisible, people can observe the lifestyle of a person and see if one is living by Islam or not. Thus, human behaviour and lifestyle is a good indication of a person’s Eeman or lack of it.

Two sides of a coin

The relationship between sincere belief and Islam is such that both are the two sides of the same coin, inseparable and coexistent. Therefore, the Qur-aan uses the two words sometimes interchangeably, as in the following examples:

So, We evacuated whoever of the believers were there. 36 But We did not find other than a single house of Muslims in there. (Adz-Dzaariyaat 51:35-36)

So, Moosa said, “O my people! If you do believe in Allaah, then in Him you must have Tawakkul if you are Muslims.” (Yoonus 10:84)

Now, the matter of belief is not simply binary or black and white. People may have different levels of faith with different degrees of commitment, ranging from the weakest to the strongest.


Nifaaq mean hypocrisy; a hypocrite is called Munaafiq. A person who claims to believe but does not really believe is a Munaafiq. So is the person who has such a weak faith that he practices the easy teachings of Islam but when a difficulty is encountered, or his worldly interest is endangered, he disregards the Islamic teachings.


Taqwa literally means saving oneself from dangers and undesirable outcomes. As an Islamic term, it means a mindset of diligently staying away from and avoiding any thoughts, views, decisions, words or actions that will be displeasing to Allaah SWT. This attitude of Taqwa must govern all affairs of one’s life throughout one’s life. That is the minimum requirement for a person to be called a Muslim. If a person’s Eeman is not strong enough to create the attitude of Taqwa, he is not a Muslim but is a hypocrite. This is indicated by the following verse of the Qur-aan:

O you who have believed! Live by Taqwa of Allaah as much as it is Allaah’s right, and do not die except that you are Muslims.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:102)

Accordingly, a believer who wants to die as a Muslim must have attained a prescribed level of Taqwa.


Ihsaan means excellence. As an Islamic concept, it means pursuing excellence in living by the Islamic paradigms as a Muslim – excellence in living by faith in and submission to and Taqwa of Allaah SWT such that in addition to diligently avoiding His displeasure, a Muslim keenly and passionately strives to maximize His pleasure. A Muslim who lives by the attitude of Ihsaan is called Muhsin. Ihsaan includes pursuit of excellence in fulfilling one’s obligations both to Allaah and fellow human beings. A Muhsin goes beyond being fair and just to being generous, gracious and magnanimous. According to the Qur-aan, excellence towards one’s parents is the most important of all.

Iĥsaan is the desired level of performance for a Muslim. Those who perform at that level are loved by Allaah SWT.

A Common Misunderstanding

The relationship between Eeman, Islam, Taqwa and Ihsaan can be illustrated by the following diagram:


That is according to the use of these terms in the Qur-aan and that is how they were understood at the time of the Prophet. However, subsequently, a wrong perception has developed due to a misunderstanding of verse 49:14:

14 The Bedouins say, “We believe.” Clarify to them, “You have not believed; rather, you can only say, ‘We have submitted’, because the faith has not yet entered into your psyches.” (Al-Ĥujuraat 49:14)

Some Bedouin tribes did not really believe in Islam but surrendered to the Islamic government to benefit from its power and resources, and thus pretended as if they had become believers. This matter of their surrender to the Islamic polity was described using the proper Arabic word for it “aslamna”, which literally means exactly what was intended, i.e., “We have surrendered / submitted”. If this verb is used as an Islamic terminology, it would mean “We have become Muslim by surrendering to Allaah SWT”. However, the context of the verse makes it abundantly clear that here it has been used in its literal sense, not as the Islamic term.

Ignoring the context, when it is translated as “Say: we have become Muslims, because the faith has not yet entered into your psyches”, people wrongly conclude that being a “Muslim” is inferior, insincere or without real faith, while being a “Believer” is superior and genuine. This is an absolutely invalid conclusion that not only disregards the context of this verse but ignore all other uses of the same words in the Qur-aan. Who in his right mind can say that the submission of Ibraheem and Isma‘eel in offering the sacrifice described in the following verse with the same verb was (na‘oodzhu billaah) insincere or without faith:

So when they both submitted (aslamaa) and he put him down upon his forehead,… (Aŝ-Ŝaafaat 37:103)

Consider the following examples of verses where the words Islam and Muslim have been used for true, sincere and ideal belief in Islam:

Both Ibraheem and Isma‘eel prayed, “Our Lord! Make us your Muslims and from our progeny a Muslim Ummah”… When his Lord asked him (Ibraheem) to become Muslim, He said, ‘I become Muslim to the Lord of the universe’…  O My children! Indeed, Allaah has chosen a Deen for you, so do not die except that you are Muslims. (Al-Baqarah 2:128-132)

So, if they argue with you, say, “I have submitted myself entirely to Allaah as a Muslim and so has everyone who follows me;” and say to those who have been given the Book and to those unaccustomed to the Book, “Do you submit yourselves as Muslims?” So, if they become Muslim, then indeed they found the guidance; but if they turn back, then your duty is only to convey the message. And Allaah is Watchful of His slaves. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:20)

The Ĥawariyyoon (1) said, “We are Allaah's helpers. We believe in Allaah, so be a witness that we are Muslims.” (Aali ‘Imraan 3:52)

… Then, if they turn away, say to them, “Bear witness that we are Muslims.” (Aali ‘Imraan 3:64)

Ibraheem was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but an upright Muslim.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:67)

O you who have believed! Live by Taqwa of Allaah as much as it is Allaah’s right, and do not die except that you are Muslims.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:102)

125 Who can be better in Deen than the one who submits (aslama) himself entirely to Allaah, excels in performance and earnestly follows the ideology and paradigms of Ibraheem, the single-mindedly devout? And Allaah took Ibraheem as a friend. (An-Nisaa 4:125)

And when I inspired the white-clad disciples (Ĥawariy) to have faith in Me and My messenger, they said, “We believe, so bear witness that we are Muslims.” (Al-Maaidah 5:111)

Say (O Muĥammad), “I am commanded to be the first of the Muslims who submits to Allaah in obedience (aslama). (Al-An‘aam 6:14)

Say, “Indeed, Allaah's guidance is the only true guidance; and we have been commanded to submit ourselves (li-nuslima) to the Lord of all creations (Al-An‘aam 6:71).

Say, “Indeed, my rituals of worship, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are all for Allaah, the Lord of all creations. 163 He has no partner; and this is what I have been commanded, and I am the first of those who submit to Him as Muslims.” (Al-An‘aam 6:162-163)

So Moosa said, “O my people! If you do believe in Allaah, then in Him you must have Tawakkul if you are Muslims.” (Yoonus 10:84)

O Creator of the universe by rupture from nothing (2)! You are my Patron in this world and the Hereafter; make me die as a Muslim and join me with the righteous. (Yousuf 12:101)

He named you Muslims in this (Qur-aan) as well as before it. (Al-Ĥajj 22:78)

You can make to hear only those who believe in Our revelations and have submitted as Muslims. (Ar-Room 30:53)

Whoever submits himself wholly to Allaah (yuslimu) and strives to excel, he has indeed grasped the most trustworthy handle; and with Allaah rests the outcome of all affairs. (Luqman 31:22)

And who can be better in speech than one who invites to Allaah and acts righteously and says, “I am indeed one of the Muslims.” (Fussilat 41:33)

Shall We then treat the Muslims like the criminals? (Al-Qalam 68:35)

Ibraheem was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but an upright Muslim.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:67)

Some of us have submitted to Allaah as Muslims while others are deviant; so, whoever has submitted (aslama), they have sought out the right course. (Al-Jinn 72:14)

1  Ĥawariyyoon is from the root word Ĥawr (whiteness) and means white-clad people. This was a group of people who had originally pledged their repentance through Yahya and who were called Essenes, Zaddikim or Zadokites (Testifiers of truth), Sons of Zadok (Truth), and Sons of Light. Because of the wearing of only white garments and their commitment to spiritual and physical purity, they were called ‘Ĥawaariyyoon’, ‘The white-garment people’ by the Qur-aan.
2  The word Faaŧir means the One Who created out of nothing by tearing apart, rupture or bursting open.

In all of the examples given above, the words Islam, aslama, being Muslim or submissive have very clearly been used for believing truly in Allaah, surrendering completely to Him in obedience and accepting His Deen. Thus, being Muslim cannot mean a claim without faith. Obviously, when Ibraheem and Isma’eel prayed “Make us Muslims”, they were not praying to be Muslims without the true faith. Or, when Allaah told us that Ibraheem was a Muslim, He did not mean that he was a Muslim without faith. The truth is that a Muslim is the one who has truly believed and, as a result, has submitted in obedience to Allaah SWT. Being a Muslim in itself implies and predicates a true faith. That is why verse 3:20 declared, “If they accept Islam, then indeed they found the guidance”. The following verses also explain that the true and sincere faith is what makes one a Muslim.

Say, “We believe in Allaah and that which has been sent down to us and that which was sent down to Ibraheem, Isma‘eel, Isĥaaq, Yaʻqoob and his descendants, and that which was given to Moosa and ‘Eesa, and that what was given to the prophets from their Lord – and we do not discriminate among any of them – and we are submissive to Allaah as Muslims.” (Al-Baqarah 2:136)

Let them know, “We believe in Allaah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibraheem, Isma‘eel, Isĥaaq and Ya‘qoob and his descendants as well as in what was given to Moosa and ‘Eesa and to the other prophets from their Lord; we do not discriminate among any of them; and to Him do we submit as Muslims.” (Aali ‘Imraan 3:84)

In fact, excluding two instances 48:16 and 49:14 where it has been used in its literal meaning of surrendering to a conqueror, the Qur-aan uses different forms of the verb aslama (for surrendering to Allaah in obedience, submitting to Him as Muslims and accepting Islam) 19 times and the noun “Muslims” 37 times in its plural forms. But not even once, it has been used for insincere or false pretense!

On the other hand, during the time of the Prophet, the words  “Kaafir” and “Mu’min” were  merely the differentiators between those who rejected the Prophet’s teachings as the Messenger of Allaah and those who accepted, whether genuinely or not. Thus, when the Qur-aan addresses the believers by the phrase “O You who have believed” its addressees include all kinds of believers and hypocrites. The insincere believers were often exhorted to believe truly and improve their performance, implying that their faith is not as sincere and solid as it is desired to be and that improvement in faith and actions is needed. Examples are quoted below:

156 O you who have believed! Do not be like those who disbelieve… (Aali ‘Imraan 3:156)

136 O you who have believed, believe in Allaah and His Messenger and the Book that He has gradually and systematically sent down to His Messenger, and the Book that He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allaah and His angels and His messengers and the Last Day, he indeed has strayed far astray. (An-Nisaa 4:136)

54 O you who have believed, whoever from among you turns back from his Deen, let him; Allaah will soon raise a people whom He will love and they will love Him, who will be humble towards believers, stern towards disbelievers, striving hard for Allaah’s sake, without being afraid of the reproaches of the critics. That is the grace of Allaah, which He bestows upon whom He wishes; and Allaah is Boundless, All-Knowing. (Al-Maaidah 5:54)

20 O you who have believed! Obey Allaah and His Messenger and do not turn away from Him while you hear his instructions. 21 And do not be like those who say, “We hear”, but they do not listen. (Al-Anfaal 8:20)

27 O you who have believed! Do not betray Allaah and the Messenger, nor knowingly betray your trusts. (Al-Anfaal 8:27)

38 O you who have believed! What is the matter with you that when you are asked to set out in the way of Allaah, you gravitate to the ground (unwilling to rise)! Do you cherish the life of this world more than that of the Hereafter? Remember, then, that all the enjoyments of worldly life will seem so trivial in the Hereafter. (At-Tawbah 9:38)

7 Believe in Allaah and His messenger, and spend (for Allaah’s cause) out of what He has entrusted to you; so those of you who believe and spend shall have a great recompense. 8 And what is the matter with you that you do not believe in Allaah when the Messenger is inviting you to believe in your Lord and He has taken your covenant, if you are true believers? (Al-Ĥadeed 57:7-8)

28 O you who have believed, live by the Taqwa of Allaah and truly believe in His Messenger; He will then grant you a double portion of His mercy, endow you with Light by which you will walk, and forgive you; and Allaah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al-Ĥadeed 57:28)

2 O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? 3 Grievously odious in the sight of Allaah and infuriating to Him is that you say what you do not do. (Aŝ-Ŝaff 61:2-4)

While the previous section had demonstrated that as far as the Qur-aan is concerned the word aslama or Muslim has always been used for a true, practising believer except in two instances where it has been used in its literal meaning; the above examples indicate that the phrase “who have believed” was used for all claimants to faith – both the sincere ones and  those who claimed but did not really believe. The following verse indicates how Allaah SWT uses hardships to distinguish sincere believers from the fake believers.

On no account would Allaah leave the believers in the condition that you are in until He separates the wicked from the good. Nor would Allaah inform you of the hidden matters; instead, Allaah chooses from His messengers whom He wills. Therefore, believe truly in Allaah and His messengers; if you believe truly and keep the Taqwa mindset, then you shall have a great reward. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:179)

The following verse further shows that a “believer” may only be pretending:

O you who have believed, when the believing women come to you as emigrants, assess them. Although Allaah is most knowing of their faith, if you establish that they are believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers. (Al-Mumtaĥinah 60:10)

The following verse indicates that there can be people who may have faith but it will not be of any use because their faith did not result in any goodness in their personality or behaviour:

The day that some of the signs of your Lord do come, a person’s faith shall not benefit him if he did not believe before, or earn some good through his faith. (Al-An‘aam 6:158)

Even verse 102 of Aali ‘Imraan quoted earlier is exhorting the believers to attain Taqwa and die as Muslims, meaning they need to improve in their faith and maintain Taqwa at the desired-level to be considered Muslims.

In essence, if a person has a true faith (Eeman) his behavior will show it by his obedience to Allaah SWT (Islam); hence, only a true believer will become a Muslim. In other words, a person cannot fully submit to Allaah SWT in obedience (Islam) unless he has true faith (Eemaan) – a person cannot be a Muslim without being a true believer.

Evidence from Hadeeth

These concepts have been explained in the following famous hadeeth called hadeeth of Jibreel, reported in Saheeh Muslim on the authority of ‘Umar (RA), who said:

One day while we were sitting with Allaah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), a man dressed in extremely white clothes and with very black hair appeared before us. No traces of journeying were visible on him, and none of us knew him. He sat down close by the Prophet, rested his knee against his thighs, and said, “O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.”

The Messenger of Allaah said, “Islam is that you testify that there is no deity except Allaah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform Salaah, pay Zakaah, fast during Ramadhaan, and perform Hajj to the House, if you are able to do so.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” We were astonished at his questioning him (the Messenger) and telling him that he was right, but he went on to say, “Inform me about Eeman.”

He (the Messenger of Allaah) answered, “It is that you believe in Allaah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and in the Last Day, and in Qadr (predetermination), both in its good and in its evil aspects.” He said, “You have told the truth.”

Then he (the man) said, “Inform me about Ihsaan.” He (the Messenger of Allaah) answered, “It is that you should serve Allaah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet (know that) He sees you.”

He said, “Inform me about the Hour. “He (the Messenger of Allah) said, “About that, the one questioned knows no more than the questioner. “So, he said, “Well, inform me about the signs thereof. “He said, “They are that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute, the herdsmen of the sheep (competing with each other) in raising lofty buildings. “Thereupon the man went away. I waited a while, and then he (the Messenger of Allah) said, “O ‘Umar, do you know who that questioner was? “I replied, “Allaah and His Messenger know better. “He said, “That was Jibreel (the Angel Gabriel). He came to teach you your Deen.” (Muslim)

It is evident from this hadeeth that Islam is not a surrender without faith but a surrender because of faith; Eeman being the first pillar of Islam, without Eeman, there can be no Islam; hence, without being a Mu’min, none can be a Muslim.

Current Situation

Thus far we have explained the correct concepts as indicated by the Qur-aan; however, currently all of these terms are being grossly misused. Nowadays, even those who are working against Islam or have no Eeman are calling themselves Muslims or Mu’min as well as those who are violating the basic tenets of Islam, disbelieve in some of the articles of faith and/or violate core Islamic teachings still call themselves Muslim and/or Mu’min.

Therefore, the Islamic terms should not be understood in the light of what contemporary Muslims do, but how the Qur-aan and the Prophet defined and used them.

Posted in Clarifications on January 16, 2022 by Ayub Hamid

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