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Faith: Does It Increase and Decrease?

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Those who declare Islam without observing the good deeds and refraining from misdeeds are with weak iman.

Iman (faith) has been linguistically defined as believing and confidence. Termly, it is defined as the expression of the tongue, the conviction of the heart and the work of the organs, and it increases and decreases. The expression of the tongue refers to the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith; no one is worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger).

The conviction of the heart is to believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Prophets, the Last Day and the Divine Decree. The work of the organs means the observance of good deeds and the abstention from misdeeds. This is the position of Ahl As-Sunnah Wal-Jama`ah (the followers of Sunnah and Muslim community) regarding the concept of iman.

Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned in his book Al-Fatwa that Imam Ash-Shafi`i said, “There has been an ijma` (unanimous agreement) among the companions of the Prophet, their followers and our scholars that iman is a declaration, work and conviction and that none of the three suffices for the others.”(Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu` Al-Fatawa)

Ahl As-Sunnah view that iman can be increased or decreased. It increases by doing good deeds, acts of worship and contemplating on the Qur’an, rulings of Islam, hadiths and the creation of Allah, and decreases by misdeeds, following evil desires and Satan and negligence of reciting the Qur’an.

Narrated Abu Hurairah: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Iman consists of more than sixty branches, and modesty is a branch of faith.” (Al-Bukhari)

This meaningful and highly expressive hadith is one of the greatest hadiths of Islam. It deals with the concept of iman and highlights one of its parts, namely modesty.

The Prophet shows us that the term of iman is not restricted to beliefs but it includes actions as well. He informs us that iman consists of more than sixty parts and it includes sayings and deeds, as mentioned in other narrations of the hadith.

Yet, someone may say, “The Prophet was asked ‘what is iman?’ in the well-known hadith of Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) and he restricted the meaning of iman to belief.” Sheikh Ibn `Uthaimin clarifies this by saying, “Iman in the sense of belief is based on six principles, which are mentioned in the hadith of Jibril (peace be upon him), when he questioned the Prophet, who said: “iman means to believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and the Divine Decree, both good and bad.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Yet, the broad meaning of iman includes good deeds of various kinds and it has seventy-odd branches. In this context, Allah called prayer iman in His saying:

And never would Allah have caused you to lose your iman. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)

The scholars of Tafsir (Qur’an Exegesis) said: “iman” here means prayer, because the companions used to pray towards Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa before they were commanded to face the Ka`bah in their prayers.” (3)

The hadith at hand proves the stance of Ahl Al-Sunnah, that is iman is not only restricted to beliefs but it includes deeds. In the hadith, the Prophet mentions that modesty, which is the work of organs, is a branch or part of faith.

Also, there is another narration of the hadith that the Prophet said, “Iman has sixty odd or seventy odd branches. The uppermost of all these is the Testimony of Faith “La ilaha illallah” (there is no true god except Allah) while the least of them is the removal of the harmful objects from the road. And modesty is a branch of Iman.” (Muslim)

Thus, it considered the Declaration of Faith and the work of organs, represented in the removal of harmful objects from the road and modesty, as branches and parts of iman.

Actually, this is an extremely important principle that should be understood and taken into consideration. There are those who claim that pronouncing the Testimony of Faith is enough to be a believer deserving the Mercy of Allah and His Paradise. This hadith refutes these false claims, because a Muslim has to work hard to get closer to Allah by means of acts of worship.

A Muslim with perfect faith is the one who declares Islam by the tongue, believes in Allah, His Messenger and what they told and commanded, and performs the good deeds and refrains from misdeeds. Those who declare Islam without observing the good deeds and refraining from misdeeds are with weak iman and are treading the ways of Satan and hell-fire.

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Mohamed Okasha is a graduate of Al Azhar University, Faculty of Languages and Translation, Department of Islamic Studies in English. He is a former editor in the Shari`ah section at Islamonline.net. Currently, he is an editor at the EDC (E-Da`wah Committee) in Kuwait.

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