The different levels in the True Religion of Islamic Monotheism: Islam, Iman & Ihsan
Islam means to surrender to Allah with Tawhid, to submit to Him with obedience and purity from Shirk (associating partners with Allah) and from its adherents. For one to be Muslim, one must have the following three:
1. He believes that Allah is the One, and that He has no partner and that none has the right to be worshipped except Him.
2. He submits to Allah Almighty with obedience to Him; he executes those orders that the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (SAW), came with, meaning that he believes him in what he says, obeys him in what he commands, and stays away from that which he forbids – as Allah Almighty says:
And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it). [Al-Hashr 59:7]
3. He purifies his heart from all forms and kinds of Shirk. One becomes a Muslim when he utters the two testimonies of faith, and when he applies the rest of the pillars of Islam.
The Five Pillars of Islam
1. To bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
2. To establish the prayer (Salat).
3. To give Zakat (the obligatory charity).
4. To fast the month of Ramadhan.
5. To make pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Sacred House (Ka'bah), for whoever is able to do so.
Iman, upon which success in this world and the next depends, is composed of the following three elements:
1. Acknowledgement with one's tongue.
2. Faith in one's heart.
3. And action with one's limbs.
Iman increases with obedience, decreases with disobedience. One must have in him the preceding three elements for him to be a believer (Mu'min). But what do those elements mean?
Acknowledgement with one's tongue
This means that one acknowledges with his tongue and bears witness to the fact that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad (SAW) is the Messenger of Allah.
Faith in one's heart
This means that one believes with his heart in that which he uttered with his tongue, so that he is saved from being among the hypocrites, about whom Allah Almighty says:
And of mankind, there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day" while in fact they believe not. [Al-Baqarah 2:8]
Action with one's limbs
This means to apply the pillars of Islam and its obligatory duties – prayer, Zakat, fasting Ramadhan, Hajj to Allah's Sacred House (i.e., Ka'bah), for whoever is able to do so. From the completeness of action is for one to be dutiful to his parents, to join ties with relations, to be kind and generous to the creation, for all of these are proofs that establish the veracity of Iman in his heart.
Iman, then, is not merely a word that is uttered by the tongue; moreover, the heart must believe it and then action must follow. It has been related that Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, "Iman does not come with adornment or wishful thinking, but it is something that settles in the heart and is witnessed by action."
The Six Pillars of Iman
1. Belief in Allah.
2. Belief in the angels.
3. Belief in the Divine Books of Allah revealed to his Messengers.
4. Belief in all of the Messengers.
5. Belief in the Last Day, when Allah will resurrect all of the creation from their graves and then judge them for their deeds. Allah Almighty says:
So, whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. [Al-Zalzalah 99:7, 8]
6. Belief in Al-Qadar (Divine Preordainment) – the good and bad of it, the sweet, and bitter of it. This means that the Muslim believes that, before Allah created the creation, He had knowledge of all that was to occur; he believes that whatever Allah wills happens and that Allah has complete power; and he believes that only that which Allah wills takes place in the universe: what He wills happens, what He doesn't will, doesn’t happen. When one of Allah's worshippers has Iman in Al-Qadar, he greatly influenced in many ways – for example, the following:
- He has patience when faced with hardship.
No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in the Book of Decress (Al-Lawh Al-Mahfuz), before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah. [Al-Hadid 57:22]
- He is satisfied and calm because he knows that Allah decreed his provision, his life span, and all of the matters that he wants and achieves. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
Then He sends the angel who blows into him the Ruh (spirit). And He orders him (the angel) to write four matters: his provision, his (time of) death, his deeds… [Recorded by Al-Bukhari 6:303]
And the proof for the six pillars is this verse:
It is not Al-Birr (piety, righteousness) that you turn your faces towards the east and (or) the west (in prayers); but Al-Birr is (the quality of) the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets… [Al-Baqarah 2:177]
And the proof for Al-Qadar is the following verse:
Verily, We have created all things with Qadar (Divine Preordainments of all things before their creation, as written in the Book of Decrees (Al-Lawh Al-Mahfuz). [Al-Qamar 54:49]
In the famous Hadith of Jibril, 'Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "One day, as we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (SAW), a man appeared before us: he had on a garment that was pure white and his hair was pure black; though no sign of travel was upon him, not one of us knew him. He sat directly in front of the Prophet (SAW), making his knees touch those of the Prophet (SAW), and placing his hands on the Prophet's thighs. He said, 'O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.' The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, 'Islam is to bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; to establish the prayer; to give Zakat; to fast Ramadhan; to make pilgrimage to the House (Ka'bah), for whoever is able to do so.' (Recorded by Muslim) [Sahih Muslim 1:139]
The man said, 'You have spoken the truth.'" 'Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "We were amazed at him because he first asked a question and then affirmed the veracity of the answer. He then said, 'Inform me about Iman.' The Prophet (SAW) said, 'To believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in Divine Preordainment, the good of it and the bad of it.'"
One cannot reach the level of Iman unless he is first a Muslim.
Literally, it means doing something proficiently and with sincerity; what it means in the Shari'ah is for you to worship Allah Almighty as if you see Him, though you don’t see Him, He certainly sees you. The following verse is the proof for Ihsan:
Truly, Allah is with those who fear Him (keep their duty unto Him), and those who are Muhsinun (good-doers). [An-Nahl 16:128]
One cannot reach the level of Ihsan unless he is first a Muslim and a believer (Mu'min).
[Credit goes to 'What Must Be Known About Islam', a comprehensive book, compiled by Muhammad bin 'Ali Al-Arfaj, translated by Darussalam, global leaders in Islamic books.]