As an introduction, I like to mention some general observations first. I decided to write this article in the context of a Facebook discussion, focused on the topic of Iman and aqeedah. To explore the relevant aspects, a number of queries were posed. This article is in fact part of a larger work in progress. I articulate my thoughts here acknowledging my limitations as a fallible human being. However, hopefully the readers will consider the thoughts here with an open mind and in light of the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet (PBUH), and make up their own minds in regards to the issues and ideas discussed here.
To appreciate what we are exploring, one needs to remember that the Qur’an is the only divine revelation in its entirety. Let’s think like the generation of the Sahaba that to have salvation in the life hereafter they needed to enter the fold of Islam and to be steadfast under this fold till their death. It requires IMAN and to shape one’s life according to the guidance of Islam as per the Qur’an and the life and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The generation of the Sahaba did not indulge in matters of Iman beyond what is entailed in the Qur’an and their focus, guided by the Prophet, was orthopraxy (primarily, correct and exemplary conduct). Later on Muslims fell into the same kind of tendency like other religions, and got indulged in what is known as orthodoxy (primarily, correct or accepted creeds), much delinked from orthopraxy.
The terms introduced in the Qur’an and by the Prophet ARE significant and fundamentally important. I hope that we, as Muslims, can agree on this premise. It can also be a premise that if a term is important to our Deen (especially as a core term), it would have been introduced in the Qur’an and in the words of the Prophet.
The reality is that the generation of Sahaba did not know any term beyond what the Qur’an and the Prophet taught them, nor did they invent any. What they were taught was not only sufficient for them, but it was also the right set of terms and concepts. Having said these, let us now briefly explore the questions I posed in the Facebook discussion.
- What is the difference between Iman and Aqeedah?
Iman is an Islamic term that appears extensively in the Qur’an and hadith. It means a person reaching the stage of faith (a sense of confirmation about the truth of the specified aspects and publicly affirms – shahadah – indicating the acceptance of those aspects). The people who have Iman are known as Mu’min. After shahadah, unless someone professes otherwise to repudiate or renounce their faith, they are identified as Muslims and are accorded the respect and rights to them from Islamic viewpoint. Iman is what distinguishes a person from non-believers. Notably, Iman is a domain of God, as no one knows the authenticity of our faith except Allah Himself. We only see people in their practice as Muslims, and that also in their external aspects, because ultimately actions are based on our intentions (niyyah), and we will be judged according to the knowledge of Allah, not necessarily what we see as people acting in this world.
The aspects related to Iman are two types:
a. In the first category, the fundamental aspects of faith are mentioned in the Qur’an and hadith in a categorical and unambiguous way, leaving no room for interpretation or difference of opinion:
i. Belief in God (Allah)
ii. Belief in Book (Kitab and divine revelation in general and previously revealed books in particular)
iii. Belief in the Prophets and messengers in general, and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last messenger and prophet, in particular
iv. Belief in angels
v. Belief in the life hereafter (there is life after death; we will be resurrected; we will be held accountable; people receiving salvation will enter Paradise, while who would be denied salvation will enter hell).
vi. Belief in Qadr
b. In connection with the above mentioned aspects, there are some details in the Qur’an.
Those aspects are also part of our Iman.
i. The Qur’an says about Allah that He is Ahad (One and only) and that He is self-sufficient (as-Samad) and that He is not comparable to anyone else (lam yakun-lahu kufuwan ahad). These are clear verses of the Qur’an and constitute part of our Iman.
ii. The Qur’an says that drowsiness or sleep does not overtake Him (2/al-Baqara/255).
Muslims accept these elaborations about Allah, or any other matter of Iman as specified in the Qur’an as they are mentioned. These are also precepts that unite the Muslims, as far as these fundamentals are concerned.
In contrast with Iman, Aqeedah is not a term in the Qur’an or hadith. We are here talking about Aqeedah as a term, not what it has been derived from or what its Arabic root is. For example, when we talk about Islam, Deen, Iman, Shari’ah, Taqwa, Adl’, Ihsan (beneficence), etc., these are Qur’anic terms. While we might try to understand the root and linguistic meaning of these, these are exact and specific terms which are pivotal to Islam.
In contrast, Aqeedah involves taking the aspects of Iman and extending it to a detail level, which often involves human interpretation or sources, including certain hadith, that might have varying acceptability or interpretation. Anything subject to interpretation and amenable to variation of opinion cannot be the basis for distinguishing Muslims and believers from non-Muslims and non-believers, respectively.
It is also important to note that identifying anything as Aqeedah is elevating it to a level of dogma, based on which people can be categorized as Muslims or non-Muslims, with implications for their rights and sanctity. On the basis of “sahih” or “pure” Aqeedah, an individual or group considers itself deserving salvation, while the contrary of it is deemed or condemned (suggesting) that these people would not receive salvation. Also, in orthodox (but not necessarily correct) understanding, a fellow human being’s life, property, and honor is not safe from a Muslim, unless that fellow embraces Islam. Thus, categorizing, condemning or renouncing any Muslim has serious implications when we say they are deviant, zindiq, bid’ati, etc. That’s why it is critically important that Iman should be simple and unifying, rather than at the level of details controversial and divisive. It is clear that Iman, as explained above, serves as a common denominator among Muslims, while various Aqeedah at the level of details, which is subject to interpretation of fallible human beings, routinely and almost consistently divides and mutually alienates us.
- Why is the term Aqeedah absent in the Qur'an and hadith?
Those who cannot discuss Iman without reference to or accretion of Aqeedah, must address the fact that the term Aqeedah (and we are talking about the term itself, not the root or what it is derived from) is simply absent in the Qur’an and hadith. A thorough search of the comprehensive digital database containing not just the Sihah Sitta (six canonical collections of hadith) but also all other well-known and lesser known hadith collections, the term Aqeedah is simply not there. The Qur’an did not introduce this term. The Prophet did not introduce this term. The noble generation of companions did not know or use this term. That raises the question, as to why? If it is not just important, but also fundamental or central to Islam as a Deen, why wouldn’t it be in the Qur’an or hadith? Notably, the term does not occur in Imam Shafi’i’s Kitab al-Umm (he passed away in 150 AH/767 AD); it does not occur in the earliest books commonly classified as books of aqeedah, such as al-Iman ibn Abi Shaiba (Ibn Abi Shaiba passed away in 235 AH) or in al-Tawhid ibn Khuzaima (Ibn Khuzaima passed away in 923 AD/311 AH); it does not occur in the earliest of Tafsirs, such as Tafsir Ibn Abbas or, more prominently, Tafsir at-Tabari (Imam Tabari died in 310 AH/923 AD).
Iman in the Qur’an
The basics of Iman are specified in the Quran as following:
“The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers ...” [2/al-Baqara/285]
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets …” [2/al-Baqara/177]
Iman in hadith
In regard to the fundamentals of Iman, it is no different in hadith.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
One day while the Prophet (ﷺ) was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came and asked, "What is faith?" Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) replied, 'Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, #43, https://sunnah.com/bukhari/2/43]
- How the best generation among the Muslims, the generation of the Sahaba, became the best generation WITHOUT this term?
It is primarily because they were given and they committed to what was really needed, and what united them and prevented them from falling into schism regarding orthodoxy. If they considered something in regard to faith to be wrong and inappropriate, they would express and convey their thought, without condemning their fellow Muslims and without forgetting that they are ruhamau-bainahum (mutually compassionate among themselves) (48/al-Fath/29). They were focused on purifying themselves and transforming themselves into good human beings to serve as the model for the humanity to emulate.
- If Aqeeda "is one of the most important terms in our deen," why Allah Himself left it out from the Qur'anic and Sunnatic vocabulary related to our Deen?
The answer is simple. Islam does not need this term, especially as it is understood in traditional or orthodox way. Anything that is explicitly and categorically mentioned in the Qur’an (not requiring interpretation by fallible humans) or anything in hadith that does not contradict the Qur’an and without any contradiction as far as other hadiths on the same subject, is part of our Iman. We do not need to invoke the extra-Qur’anic term, aqeedah, in this regard and context.
- Who has given us the right to make this "one of the most important terms in our Deen"?
The simple answer is that Allah and His Prophet did not consider this to be an important term, and we do not have the right to turn it into an important term.
- What is (are) the implication(s) of something being part of aqeedah? What is the problem introducing this term later?
While it might be considered an innocuous accretion to the Qur’anic and Sunnatic terminologies, the evolved scope of it and the way it has been used or abused to create schism in the ummah, indicates that we should be sticking to the clearly specified, smaller set of articles of Iman, as did the generation of Sahaba.
As explained earlier, an aqeedah is not just a matter of faith, it separates Muslims and non-Muslims, believer and disbelievers. Indeed, Iman is for that purpose of differentiation. Any details regarding Iman which is subject to interpretation, was not intended by Islam, the Qur’an, or the Prophet to be elevated to the level of dogma (orthodoxy).
For example, God is One (Ahad), it is part of our Iman, based on clear and indisputable verse of the Qur’an. However, does Allah have a chair/seat/throne (kursi), or whether He sits on that kursi is allegorical (mutashabihat). As a Muslim I do need to acknowledge what the Qur’an says, but without engaging in overreaching effort to interpret it. Thus, if someone says that Allah says about kursi, then there must be a kursi, as Muslims we should not take umbrage, if we do not agree with it. As a Muslim I do not agree with it, but this is not a matter of Iman that requires taking a position on. And, if I do not accept the interpretation that Allah actually sits on a kursi, it would be WRONG for anyone to condemn or repudiate me. What is important is that we can communicate about what we agree or disagree, but we must not cross the line by judging others, which is the domain of God and indulging in that kind of judgment, is like playing God, one of the most serious offenses from God’s viewpoint.
- Why is the term Iman inadequate for the purpose for which this additional term Aqeedah has been invented?
There is a background to the emergence of Aqeedah as a distinct and important term. After the generation of the Sahaba, as Islam spread throughout the world and Muslims had to contend with people and religions of various parts of the world, they started venturing into details of Iman. For understanding and illumination such venture was okay. But it went beyond that. People started articulating position and making arguments not only to prove their correctness and purity, but also to disprove others. Gradually, aqeedah became so detailed that instead of being able to count articles of Iman on one or more fingers, elaborate treatises were written; for examples, Aqidah at-Tahawiyya, Sharh al-Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah, or Kitab at-Tauhid. The details in these and other books of this genre - whether the controversy of revelation vs. reason, Qur’an being created or uncreated, God being Omnipresent (anywhere and everywhere) or not, predestination vs. freedom of choice, Iblis being from angels or jinns, the Prophet being made of light (noor) vs. made of clay (soil, like us as human beings), the Prophet being the first to be created or not, and any and all such disputes - might be important to some. As long as we limit our role to explain and illuminate for our better understanding, it is okay. What is inappropriate and unacceptable is elevating any of these CONTROVERSIAL aspects that are subject to interpretation to the level of Aqeedah (dogma or orthodoxy).
As soon as such aspects are turned into aqeedah, we engage in fitna of dividing ourselves. In our history the details of faith, which evolved or devolved into “aqeedah” was not only theologically divisive, but also various groups tried to align themselves with the rulers of their time and found ways to bring the wrath of the ruling authorities against their detractors. Such tendency only hardened the position against each other. In the process, some groups tried to label or have their detractors officially classified as deviants or even non-Muslims. Mu’tazilas may have been rationalists, but also were irrational in engaging the ruler of the time al-Ma’mun to persecute religious scholars of both Sunni and Shi’a background. Of course, throughout history there have been times when the Sunnis have persecuted the Shi’as (for example, beginning during the Umayyad period) and the Shi’as during their reign during Safavid period did their persecution of the Sunnis. Even today various groups of Muslims in their respective countries try to put pressure on their governments to label or designate certain groups as non-Muslims or take them to court for their deviant views. Incidentally, governments should never be trusted with arbitrating who is faithful or believer and who is not.
The core of this mutual animosity has been aqeedah, as defined and understood by each sect or group. Indeed, nothing has been like a lightning rod or fault line to divide Muslims than aqeeda, a domain beyond the simple and indisputable domain of Iman as specified in the Qur’an and Sunnah. The implications of such aqeedah are dangerous and highly toxic, as already being witnessed in Muslim societies. Instead of witnessing for Allah to attract and invite non-Muslims to Islam, we are bickering, haggling, fighting among ourselves to mutually turn Muslims into non-Muslims. Sunnis condemn the Shi’as for their deviant aqeeda, and Shi’as also do the same against the Sunnis. Muta’zila vs. Ash’aris, Sufis vs. legalistic orthodoxies, Ahl al-Sunnah vs. Ahl al-hadith, Barelvis vs. Deobandis, Jamaat-e-Islam vs. anti-Jamatis, Tabligh vs. non-Tablighis, we are engaged and indulged in sectarianism, where because the “others” are deviant, zindiq, bid’ati, we can’t sit with them, we can’t have intermarriage, we can’t work together for good, common cause.
We are no longer Muslims according to each other, not based on the precepts of Iman, but based on our Aqeedah, which is mostly reflecting our fallible and biased interpretation. It is said: “If your Aqida is wrong- nothing will be accepted by Allah”. This is not just a wrong position, but a dangerously arrogant position. This is how we have condemned each other and pushed our fellow Muslims to the door of hell, while creating a hellish schism among ourselves. As long as we have Iman, as taught by the Qur’an and the Prophet, through explicit and categorical articles of Iman, for our salvation Allah is ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim. Whom Allah will accept and whom He will not, let’s not arrogate ourselves to the seat of judgment of Allah. This is one of the things Allah hates most is to judge others on His behalf. While Iman must be appropriately based on the Qur’an and Sunnah, Allah’s judgment might not be based on details of aqeeda. This is an aspect that will be separately dealt with in an expanded work (in progress) in light of the Qur’an and Hadith.
Just look at the Muslim world and what have they done with Aqeedah in the name of “sahih” aqeedah. Every such puritan group is thinking that they are the saved one (one of the 73 or so sects) and others are condemned. We are indulged in playing God by mutually condemning each other, and it is based not on Iman, but on aqeeda. Let’s turn to the Qur’an about its message regarding sectarianism at the core of which is the issue of “sahih” aqeedah.
"So, direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.
[Adhere to it], turning in repentance to Him, and fear Him and establish prayer and do not be of those who associate others with Allah.
[Or] of those who have divided their religion and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has." [Qur’an 30/Ar-Rum/30-32]"
As a Muslim, I am comfortable with my interaction with Iman and its role in a Muslim’s life, just as it is enunciated in the Qur’an and by the Prophet. I do not need to engage in the controversy whether the Qur’an is created or uncreated, whether God has a hand or not, whether He sits on a kursi or not, whether the Prophet is created of noor or clay, whether Iblis is a fallen angel or a jinn. I am willing to explore and discuss these, but NOT as a dogma (aqeedah) to differentiate one group of Muslims from another. Let the rejoicing of sectarianism be for those whose fallible “interpretation” is more important to them than sticking to Iman, what the Qur’an and Prophet taught and what unites us than detailed aqeeda that divides us. As a Muslim I do not want any part of that rejoicing of sectarianism based on “aqeeda” of each group’s fallible interpretation. I am content with focusing on my Iman, just as the Qur’an and the Prophet (s) taught and the way the generation of Sahaba handled it. I also commit myself to focus on my own salvation hoping to receive mercy of God, and steadfastly refrain from playing God by judging others.
The Qur'an categorically admonishes us:
"Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects - you, [O Muhammad], are not [associated] with them in anything. Their affair is only [left] to Allah ; then He will inform them about what they used to do." [6/an-An'am/159]
The author can be reached at [email protected].
 “Literally, derives from the triliteral ‘-qa-da, ‘to tie a knot’ or ‘to enter into a contract.’ Islamic theology: belief system or articles of faith to which one is tied, as in a contract.” [El Fadl, Khaled Abou (2001). Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women (London, UK: Oneworld Publications), p. 601.
 For hadiths related perception and misperception and use and abuse, please refer to my book Toward Our Reformation: From Legalism to Value-oriented Islamic Law and Jurisprudence (IIIT, 2011).
 Al-Marja’a alAkbar In the Islamic Heritage, Version 4, Digital Future, n.d., http://www.digital-future.ca/en/product/al-marjaa-alakbar-in-the-islamic-heritage-version-4-0, accessed 15 November 2017.
 Imam Ibn Taymiyya (undated), Sharh Al-Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah, https://www.allahsword.com/ebooks/Aqeedah/Sharh%20Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah.pdf.
 Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahab (undated). Kitab at-Tauhid, https://www.islambasics.com/book/kitab-at-tauhid-the-oneness-of-allah.
 Muhammad Qasim Zaman (1997). Religion and Politics Under the Early ‘Abbasids: The Emergence of the Proto-Sunni Elite. BRILL. pp. 106–112.