Ibn Rajab’s Commentary on Hadith #2 of Imam Nawawi’s 40

The proof that all external acts are subsumed under the term Islam is found in many of the sayings of the Prophet (s), including, the following: 

1. “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe”; 

2. “Someone asked the Prophet (s), ‘Which Islam is best?’  He replied: ‘To feed the people and to greet those you know and those you don’t.’”; and, 

3. The Prophet said: “Islam is made up of eight parts. Islam, i.e., declaration of faith, is the first.  Regular prayer is the second.  Paying regulars alms is the third.  Performing jihad is the fourth.  Fasting Ramadan is the fifth.  Commanding the good is the sixth.  Forbidding the evil is the seventh.  Pilgrimage is the eighth.  Indeed, whosoever has no share of any of these has certainly failed miserably.”                 

To refrain from all acts Allah has prohibited is also a part of Islam.  The Prophet (s) said, “Minding one’s own affairs is a part of a person’s Islam.”  Imam Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi and Nasa`i also reported on the authority of al-‘Irbad b. Sariya, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet (s) said:                 “Allah has struck a parable: a straight highway, on either side of which are two walls.  Within both of the walls are open gates; curtains cover the doors.  At the gate of the highway is a caller who says: ‘O people! Enter the highway and do not stray away!’  There is another caller in the depths of the highway.  Whenever someone wishes to open one of  those doors, he cries out: ‘Woe to you! Open it not, for if you do, you shall certainly enter it!’  

The highway is Islam, the two walls are the limits of Allah, the gates are sins, the caller at the entrance of the highway is the Book of Allah, and the caller from the depths of the highway is Allah’s preacher [i.e., the voice of conscience] who resides in the heart of every Muslim.” 

Al-Tirmidhi added the verse of the Qur’an, “Allah calls to the Abode of Peace and guides whom He wills to a straight highway.” 


As for Iman (faith), the Prophet (s) explained it as inner beliefs in the heart, saying that it is belief in Allah, His Angels, His books, His messengers, resurrection after death, and belief in Divine Power, its good and its bad.  Allah (SWT) also described these five principles of Iman in the Quran using many of these same expressions, e.g., “The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed to him from his Lord, and the Believers [as well]”; “The righteous person is the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, and the Book.”  

Belief in the messengers necessarily requires belief in all that which they have authoritatively taught, including their teachings about the Angels, their fellow Prophets, the Book, the Next Life, and Divine Power, its good and its bad, as well as the attributes of Allah and the Last Day, e.g., the Sirat, Heaven and Hell.  It is through the Sunnah, then, that belief in Divine Power is part of the basics of Iman.                 

Someone might ask why the Prophet (s) seems to be making a distinction in this hadith between Iman and Islam, making all conduct a part of Islam, not a part of Iman, although the well-known opinion of the Salaf and the scholars of hadith is that Iman consists of three things: statements, conduct and intention, and that all conduct is subsumed, therefore, under the category of Iman.  Indeed, al-Shafi’i asserts there was complete consensus on this definition of Iman among the early Muslims, and several scholars of the Tabi’in, including, Sa’id b. Jubayr, Maymun b. Mihran, Qatada, Ayyub al-Sakhtiyari, al-Nakha’i, al-Thawri and al-Zuhri all were severely critical of anyone who claimed that conduct was not part of Iman. 

There are many verses in the Quran that demonstrate that conduct is part of Iman, e.g., “The Believers are indeed those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become restless, and when His signs are rehearsed unto them, they increase them in faith, and they place their trust in their Lord”.                 

Bukhari reported in his Sahih, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, that the Prophet (s) told the representatives of ‘Abd al-Qays, when they came to visit him: “I command you to perform four things: To believe only in Allah — and do you comprehend what is faith in Allah?  To testify there is no deity save Allah, to perform prayer regularly, to pay alms, to fast Ramadan, and to give a fifth of all spoils of war [to Allah].”                

Bukhari also reported in his Sahih, on the authority of Abu Hurarya, that “Iman is seventy-something [or sixty something] branches.  The highest branch is ‘There is no deity save Allah.’  The lowest branch is removal of harm from a public path, and modesty is a branch of Iman.”                

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