What is the definition of faith in islam? What does faith mean in the quran?
The term imān lexically means “approving, confirming what a person says, accepting what he says with peace of mind, giving confidence to the other person, believing sincerely and wholeheartedly.” The terms imān and ‘itiqād are synonymous, and they also mean surrender and submission.
As a term, imān refers to approving the religion of Allah by heart, that is, it means believing wholeheartedly that the decrees brought by the Prophet, which are known with certainty, are true and accurate. Accordingly, the truth and the essence of faith is the affirmation of the heart. The affirmation of the heart is the unchanging essential element of faith.
Some of the verses and hadiths showing that faith consists of believing from the heart are as follows: “O Messenger! let not those grieve thee, who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say “We believe” with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews…”, and “Those whom Allah (in His plan) wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam…”
The Prophet (saw) also said about faith in the heart: “Allah (swt) will admit into Paradise those deserving of Paradise, and He will admit whom He wishes out of His Mercy, and admit those condemned to Hell into the Fire (of Hell). He would then say: See, he whom you find having as much faith in his heart as a grain of mustard, bring him out.”
Accordingly, a person who believes with his heart, but cannot express his faith or who due to various reasons such as being mute or under threat says he has no faith, is considered a believer based on the faith found in his heart. As a matter of fact, ʿAmmār Ibn Yāsir, one of the Companions, during the Meccan period could not stand the torture and the incessant death threats of the Qurayshi polytheists, and although he believed in his heart, he reluctantly had to openly state in public, with his tongue, that he was not a Muslim and that he was leaving the religion of Muhammad. Regarding this incident, in the following Qur’anic verse it is stated that he was still a believer, “Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters unbelief, except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.”
Māturīdī (d. 333/944) and Imam Ash’arī (d. 324/936), the imams of the two creedal schools of the Ahl al-Sunnah, consider the affirmation of the heart sufficient for faith. However, Imam Māturīdī considers acknowledgment by the tongue necessary only for worldly rulings.
Their proofs are as follows: It is stated in the Holy Qur’an that the words of the hypocrites, who said that they believed with their tongues but did not believe in their hearts, were disregarded. The verses stating that true faith should be rooted in the heart also support this view.
Moreover, in various hadiths, attention is drawn to the significance of the affirmation of the heart in matters of belief. The following incident that happened to Usama Ibn Zayd (d. 54/674) is related to this subject. Usama (r.a) narrates: “The Messenger of Allah sent us in a raiding party. We raided Huraqat of Juhaina in the morning. I caught hold of a man and he said, “There is no god but Allah,” I killed him, thinking that he was lying out of fear. However, this event made me ponder a lot. On my return, I informed the Messenger of Allah (saw) about the incident. The Prophet said to me: “Did you tear his heart in order to find out whether it had professed or not?”
According to Abu Ḥanīfa, his followers, al-Pazdawī (d. 482/1089) and al-Sarakhsī (d. 490/1097), faith is the affirmation of the heart and the acknowledgment of the tongue. This is because when faith is not disclosed by words or behaviors, with the exception of having a valid justification such as being nonverbal or being forced into unbelief, it creates uncertainty about the person. As a matter of fact, Imam Māturīdī also considers acknowledgment with the tongue necessary for the implementation of worldly decrees, since affirmation with the heart is a secret matter that cannot be known.
The following is stated in the Qur’an: “Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters unbelief … on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.” In this verse, it is stated that disbelief expressed by the tongue drives a person out of the religion. In comparison, faith should include the acknowledgment of the heart as well as the acknowledgment expressed by the tongue. The Prophet said: “I have been commanded that I should fight against people till they declare that there is no god but Allah, and when they profess it that there is no god but Allah, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.”
Shafiʿi, Malik, Ahmad Ibn Ḥanbal, Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1064), and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) described faith as follows: “Imān is the affirmation of the heart, the acknowledgment of the tongue, and the fulfillment of the main principles of Islam.” It can be observed in this definition that the scope of faith has been expanded with the addition of fulfilling the “deeds” as well. However, by “deeds”, they meant the perfection of faith and not that anyone who does not act in accordance with the principles laid down will fall into disbelief. According to another view of Imam Ash’arī, besides the confirmation of the heart, imān consists of words and deeds. For this reason, faith increases and decreases.
Allah has set forth some indicators and conditions implying belief. These are what we call the fundamental principles of Islam, which consist of kalimah al-shaḥādah, five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage, and similar matters. Whoever is seen performing these deeds is judged to be a believer and benefits from worldly provisions such as being allowed to be an imam for the ritual prayers, a man is allowed to marry a Muslim woman, and the funeral prayer is performed over them when they pass on, and they are permitted to be buried in a Muslim cemetery. These deeds give strength to faith, strengthen the light of faith in the heart, save people from torment, and assist them to reach Allah’s grace and help.