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

Bukhari also reported in his Sahih, from Abu Hurayra, that the Prophet said “The fornicator, at the time he fornicates, does not commit adultery while he is a [faithful] believer, and the thief, at the time he steals, does not steal while his a [faithful] believer.”   

These hadiths show that avoiding major sins are part of Iman because otherwise it would make no sense to describe the person who commits such acts to be negating aspects of his faith.                 

The way to reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements about the relationship of the word Islam to Iman is to understand that both have the same meaning when they are used without the other.  When they are used together, however, each one has a specialized meaning, as is the case in the hadith we are discussing.  Thus, when Islam and Iman are mentioned together, Iman refers exclusively to the belief of the heart and its knowledge, and Islam refers to a person’s surrender to Allah, his subservience to Him and his submission to Him.  For this reason, the Prophet said, as reported by Imam Ahmad, said “Islam is external and Iman is in the heart.”  For the same reason, the precise scholars have said that “Every Mu`min is a Muslim,” because when Iman becomes settled in the heart of a person, he performs the conduct required by Islam, as the Prophet said “There is a tiny part of the body that, when it becomes healthy, the entire body becomes healthy, and when it is ill, the entire body becomes ill.  That part of the body is the heart.”

                Not every Muslim is a Mu`min, however, because his Iman might be weak, in which case his heart is not perfect in its faith, although he performs some of the acts of Islam.  This was true of the Bedouin, about whom Allah said in the Qur`an “The Bedouin say, ‘We have believed.’  Say: ‘You have not believed, but rather say, ‘We have submitted.’”  According to the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas, these persons were not hypocrites, merely persons of weak faith. 

                Thus, someone whose faith is imperfect may not be a mu`min, according to this understanding of Iman, but nonetheless remains a Muslim.  As for Islam, it is not removed from a person merely for failure to perform some of the conduct Islam requires.  Only conduct that contradicts it in its entirety is sufficient to exclude a person from Islam.  There is nothing in the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) that shows that someone who abandons an obligatory practice of Islam, thereby leaves Islam.  There are expressions in the sunna whereby words such as kufr and nifaq are used to describe people who do some types of forbidden acts.  The scholars, however, agree that these words are metaphors for minor kufr or minor nifaq, not the type of kufr or nifaq that excludes one from Islam. 

                Therefore, when Iman is negated from a person, but Islam is attributed to him, e.g., the Bedouins, the meaning is that the Iman of that person has yet to be perfected.  Nonetheless, he shares with a Mu`min participation in the conduct of Islam, and he also has enough Iman whereby his acts of worship are accepted, otherwise he would not be a Muslim at all.  Thus, the texts in the Shari’a that speak of loss of Iman, or its absence, are taken to mean that such a person has yet to experience its truths, or lacks some of its essentials.  It is in this sense that Iman increases and decreases.

                It is very important to understand the relationship of Islam to Iman and Iman to Islam, because this has been the source of many fitan in the Muslim community, including the Khawarij, who thought that major sins exclude a person from Islam, and therefore, could be treated as non-believers.

                The previous discussion has shown that conduct falls both under the category of Islam and the category of Iman.  Therefore, both external actions and interior ones are both part of the conduct defined by Islam, including, sincerity of religious purpose (ikhlas al-din lillah), faithfulness to Him and His servants (al-nush lahu wa li-‘ibadihi), removing from one’s heart cheating, covetousness, and spite as well as all other types of harm and injury.

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