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Îmân and Islam (Correct faith)  >  Îmân and Islam  >  Types of Iman

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Types of Iman

Question: How many types of iman are there?
Although iman is a whole, it is divided into three in respect of its strength:

1. The iman obtained by religiously ignorant people by imitating their parents in belief and acts of worship is termed iman-i taqlidi [imitative belief]. It is feared that such people may lose their iman.

2. The iman of people who have learned the rules of Islam —i.e., fards, wajibs, sunnats, mustahabs, mubahs, harams, makruhs and mufsids—from ‘ilm-i hal books and act upon this knowledge of theirs is termed iman-i istidlali, that is, knowing with proofs. The iman of such people is strong.  

3. This type of iman is the iman of ‘ârifs. If all people became disbelievers, their heart would never be clouded with even the slightest doubt. Such iman is analogous to that of prophets, and it is termed iman-i haqiqi [real belief].

Iman communicated by our Master the Prophet cannot be inquired, that is, cannot be studied, in order to learn whether it is true or not. Iman itself is, without consulting the mind, experience or philosophy, to confirm and to believe the facts which Hadrat Muhammad communicated as the Prophet. If one confirms them because they are reasonable, one has confirmed the mind and the Messenger together, in which case the Prophet has not been trusted completely. When confidence is incomplete, there is not iman because iman cannot be broken.

The rank of prophethood is beyond and above the mind and thought. To study what the Prophet has communicated to see whether they are suitable with the mind means disbelieving and distrusting the rank of prophethood. In matters pertaining to aqidah and the next world, it is necessary to follow and obey the Prophet without consulting the mind.

Those who have not reached the grade of fana (that is, those who are not awliya) in tasawwuf cannot attain the real belief.
[fana: forgetting everything except Allahu ta’ala; dispelling the love of the world from the heart.]

Hadrat Muhammad Ma’thum states:
Allahu ta’ala can be known in two ways:
1. Knowing Him the way the scholars of Ahl as-Sunna communicated,
2. Understanding of the great men of tasawwuf.

In the former, the nafs has not given up disobedience, and iman is metaphoric. This iman may leave. In the latter, because the nafs itself has become a believer too, iman is protected from being lost. This real belief is referred to in the hadith-i sharif, “Oh my Rabb! From You, I want iman the end of which is not disbelief,” and in the 136th verse of the Surat-un-Nisa (what means), “Oh Believers! Believe in Allah and His Rasul.” In fact, this verse says (what means), “Acquire the real belief.”

Hadrat Imam-i Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahimah-Allahu ta’ala), in order to attain the real belief, although he was at a high degree in knowledge and ijtihad, ran to be in the service of Hadrat Bishr al-Hafi (and Zunnun-i Misri) although he was at a high degree in knowledge and ijtihad.

Imam-i A’zam Abu Hanifa (rahimah-Allahu ta’ala) gave up the work of ijtihad in his last years. He attended Hadrat Ja’far as-Sadiq’s (rahimah-Allahu ta’ala) suhba for two years. When he was asked why he had done so, he answered, “Nu’man would have perished if it weren’t for those two years.” Although both imams [Abu Hanifa and Ahmad ibn Hanbal] were at ultimately high grades in knowledge and acts of worship, they went to the superiors of tasawwuf and attained ma’rifa and its fruit, real belief. [Volume 2, Letter 106]

The 143rd verse of Surat-ul-Baqara which declares (what means), “Allahu ta’ala does not make your iman go away,” and the hadith-i sharif “Allahu ta’ala does not take back the iman of His servants. But He makes the knowledge fade away by annihilating the ’ulamashows that Allahu ta’ala does not take back the real faith and batini [interior, hidden] knowledge. [Irshad-ut-talibin]

Imitative belief
Is it permissible to follow a person who is said to be a scholar but not known for certain whether he is an Ahl as-Sunnat scholar?
It is not permissible to follow teachings of someone only on the basis of his fame and celebrity or on the basis of intense propaganda which promotes his books or speeches without knowing whether or not he is  an Ahl as-Sunnat scholar. One may be ruined and led to spiritual disasters if one follows someone with respect to belief and acts of worship without investigating him from dependable sources.

One does not have to imitate anyone in order to be a Muslim or in order to understand the existence of Allahu ta’ala, His Oneness, His Power and His other Attributes. Any sane person who has learnt science can easily understand His existence and thus obtain belief by only contemplating. It is foolishness not to understand the existence of a Creator while one sees His creation. Islam commands everyone to contemplate in this fashion and thus obtain belief. A person who believes in the existence of Allah has to find the true religion, Islam. Saying “I believe in Allah” does not carry any weight without believing in Islam. Is a person who does not believe in the religion communicated by Allah as communicated by Him considered to have belief in Allah?

Even though it is permissible to obtain belief by way of imitation, people who acquire their belief in this manner are considered sinners on account of their desertion nazar [careful examination] and istidlal [reasoning]. However, as declared unanimously by the savants, it is permissible to imitate an imam of madhhab in deeds and acts of worship without investigating. (Hadiqa)

A correct belief which is acquired by only imitating (taqlid) parents or teachers is judged as valid. Yet people who acquire their belief in this fashion are considered sinners on account of their desertion of the necessary studies, i.e., their not studying and learning the scientific knowledge briefly and not developing their mind to contemplate and understand the existence of Allahu ta’ala. There are other scholars, however, who say that a person’s lack of scientific knowledge does not mean leaving nazar and istidlal because they have obtained belief from their parents or by reading books or by contemplating as they have accepted belief by thinking and reasoning.

It cannot be called imitation (taqlid), because iman does not develop as soon as one asks and learns the fundamentals of belief. After learning them, one contemplates, loves and accepts them; and following this process, belief comes into existence. Islam commands people to have iman in this manner. Iman that has been formed without contemplating, loving and understanding them after learning them is imitative belief, and it is without proof. Those who become disbelievers by only imitating their parents stand exemplary for the issue. Actually, the iman advised by Islam is the one obtained through understanding, proofs, and one’s own free will. The disbelief of disbelievers does not take root from their own choice, but they are just in imitation of their parents. It is, in turn, transferred from generation to generation.
Iman means accepting by heart all things revealed to our Master the Prophet by Allahu ta’ala and delivered by him to us and stating this belief with the tongue. Place for the belief is qalb [spiritual heart]. The spiritual heart is a power which exists in the biological heart. Situations beyond one’s control, such as duress, dumbness, and sudden death when there is no time, absolve one from the compulsion of stating one’s belief with the tongue. Imitative belief, which one has developed without understanding, is acceptable, too. It is sinful not to understand and not to think of the existence of Allahu ta’ala. To deny any one of the fundamentals of belief means to deny all of them. However, it is considered as iman to express belief in them as an ensemble without knowing all the fundamentals individually.

Iman-i istidlali
Question: Is iman obtained through istidlal [reasoning] not superior to the iman obtained through taqlid [imitation]?
Hadrat Imam-i Rabbani says:
The iman [belief] that people have obtained by imitating the prophets is iman-i istidlali, for those who imitate so have understood with their reason and deliberation the fact that everything the prophets have communicated is true because the mu’jizas [miracles] Allahu ta’ala has given to prophets in order to reveal their prophethood prove beyond doubt that all prophets are truthful. The iman which is worthless is the one acquired by following one’s parents. It is the belief developed by not reflecting over the fact that the prophets are truthful and what they have communicated is true, but by simply imitating one’s parents. Such an imitative belief is valueless according to the majority of the scholars. As for the intellect-based belief obtained through reasoning and reflection, a person can reach the iman by following this process; however, a few people have achieved this. Shame upon those who try to obtain belief only by way of reasoning (istidlal) without imitating the prophets! Allahu ta’ala prescribes how we should obtain belief. As a matter of fact, the 53rd verse of Surat-u Al-i ‘Imran declares (what means): “Our Lord! We believe in what You have revealed and we follow Your Messenger.” (First Volume, 272nd Letter)

Extricating ourselves from imitative belief
What is necessary for us to know in order not to be imitators in iman?
Observing and learning the explicit order and harmony on the earth, in the sky, in creatures and in your own body, and thus reflecting over the existence of a Being who has created all of them extricate you from being an imitator in belief. We are not imitators in belief, but imitators in deeds.


Date of Update
16 Temmuz 2024 Salı
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