What Do We Believe In and How Do We Act?


“They believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and give alms out of what We have provided for them.” (Baqara 3)

The Qur’an al-Karim shows the righteous path to the pious who protect themselves from those that prevent their from achieving purification by obeying orders and refraining from the things that are forbidden. It is a true guide that guides to the straightforward path. The pious are such individuals that they believe in the unseen as well as establish their prayers, meaning that they perform their prayers satisfactorily. They also give to the needy from the bounties Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has granted them and thus perform their duties of zakat and sadaqah.

Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) mentions three distinctive characteristics of the pious in this ayah. The first is iman while the remaining two are salah and giving to the poor.

What is iman?

The first element in the ayah is “iman”. But what exactly is it?

“Iman” is a word that is derived from the root “amn”. “Amn” means being secure and trustworthy, it means to trust. Iman means to affirm. He who affirms keeps that which he affirms safe from belying or doubt and the affirmer himself is safe from lying about that which he affirms. To affirm something means to verify it. There are three levels of affirmation:

The first is the affirmation by . When someone internally confesses the truth of a statement or its speaker and when that person is sure of its veracity by , he has affirmed the statement or the speaker.

The second is the verbal affirmation. This is done by verbally stating a matter the truth of which one is certain of, by saying “that is so” in a manner that will suffice to let others know and hear.

The third is the affirmation by action, which requires taking the action that holding faith in the truth of a certain matter necessitates. If the affirmation by action is in conflict with the affirmation by , then it is artificial and pretentious.

The principle of iman, according to Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullahi alayh) and those who follow his path, is the affirmation by heart. Unless a handicap such as speech impairment or a forcing situation such as a form of coercion exists, verbal affirmation is also mandatory because iman is the sum of the action of the heart and the action of the tongue. Both of these factors are the essentials of iman. Nevertheless, the two are not equal in terms of their essentiality. The affirmation that is incumbent on the heart to uphold cannot be waived by any excuse. As an essential, this stands as absolutely imperative. Allah forbid, it begets blasphemy if the heart yields its affirmation.

As for the affirmation of the tongue; this is also essential but it can be forgone in situations where coercion leading to death or speech impairment is present. In that case, the affirmation by heart alone suffices. However, one who reneges on the duty of verbal affirmation despite having the ability and the freedom to do so becomes an unbeliever. On the other hand, certain acts of worship that are fundamental elements of Islam such as praying in congregation also can be considered as a valid form of verbal affirmation.

Islam’s purpose is not only to address the inner aspects of humanity but all of its internal and external aspects as a whole. The fact that the faith of a person withholding expressing their faith when there is no obstacle or excuse is of no value is a truth backed up by numerous evidences from the Qur’an al-Karim and the .

Although there is no doubt that action is the fruit borne by iman, it is not iman itself or a part of it. It is the desired result. Religion resembles a fruit tree. Affirmation by heart is as its roots underground while affirmation by tongue is as its trunk and deeds are as its branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. The fruit that iman is expected to yield is good deeds (amal-i saalih) and through this fruit, it becomes possible to draw closer to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). Just like a tree doesn’t become desiccated by having its branches cut off, by shedding its leaves or by failing to blossom and bear fruit, iman doesn’t cease to exist simply by not yielding visible, discernible results. On the other hand, when it is considered that trees that have been cut down from the ground level usually dry out and that the roots alone cannot be said to constitute a complete tree, iman that has not been professed is not a consummate iman.

This being the case, having iman has results and effects that manifest in the form of its most fundamental and primary principle that is to the whole of iman as the roots are to a tree, as well as the secondary principle that is comparable to the trunk of the tree. Following this, it has further degrees of results that are as the branches, blossoms and fruits. The maturity of iman and its is contingent on the consummation of these aspects.

The Great Ilmihal of Islam by Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen, who was one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the recent history, mentions the following statements with regard to the subject of iman:

“In terms of lexical meaning, iman is defined as believing in something and affirming it. As a religious term, it means accepting the religion sent by Allah the Exalted by heart and affirming everything that Rasulallah (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) has imparted on us by heart to an absolute degree.

While this is the essence of iman, it is also required to verbally express one’s acceptance of these decrees by heart and outwardly bear witness to their absolute truth if no deterrent to make such outspoken testimony impossible exists. Because, if a person embraces in their heart that which they should have their faith in but refrains from verbally expressing it, people cannot know of where his faith lies, and thus such a person cannot be deemed a Muslim.

It is also necessary to perform ibadat (acts of worship) such as praying salah and fasting as well as having iman, which comes into being by affirming one’s faith by heart and issuing verbal expression of it. Because we are charged with fulfilling these duties. Doing so strengthens iman, brightens the noor (light) in the heart, delivers from suffering in the afterlife unto the gifts and blessings of Allah the Exalted.”

Jarullah Muhammed al-Zamakhshari (rahimehullah) wrote in his tafsir: “If you ask what true iman is

I shall say so: True iman is for a person to believe in al-Haqq with their heart, to say it out loud and to affirm it by their actions and deeds. He who forgoes believing by heart is a munafiq (hypocrite) even if he verbally professes his faith. He who forgoes shahadah is kafir (unbeliever). He who forgoes the duty of performing deeds is a fasiq (sinner).”

‘They believe in the ghayb (the unseen)’

“Ghayb” means that which eludes both the mind and the senses such as sight or hearing, meaning it can be perceived neither by the senses nor by the mind. There are two types of ghayb:

  • Absolute ghayb regarding which there is no evidence: “And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him.” (An’am 59) The ghayb mentioned in this ayah is the absolute ghayb.
  • Ghayb regarding which there is available evidence: As explained in the Tafsir al-Khazin, one should believe in Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), his attributes, the angels, the prophets, the holy books, the day of judgment, the questioning, the reckoning, the punishment, and Hell in the afterlife as if he has seen them with his own eyes. These are unseen truths about which there are evidences. The ghayb indicated in the ayah is this second kind of ghayb. Those who believe in these aforementioned unseen truths are those who believe in ghayb. The highest level of iman is believing in ghayb.

Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) declares the first attribute of those who are conscious of him to be their in the unseen through His words in the ayah “they believe in the unseen”, thus summarily describing the iman aspect of the religion.

‘They establish prayer’

Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) mentions salah after iman. Salah as mentioned in the original Arabic version of the ayah lexically contains meanings such as “prayer, praise, recitation, mercy”. However, although the word encompasses these meanings, when one mentions salah, it is generally understood as the mainly obligatory prayers prescribed by Islam to be five times a day as well as optional and occasional prayers performed in the same manner. This is the sense that is referred to in the ayah.  Based on this particular sense of the word, salah “consists of a series of specific, sequential actions the first of which is takbiratul iftitah (opening takbir) and the last of which is tasleem.” The qiyam stage of salah involves recitation, the qa’dah (the sitting) involves glorification and prayer and finally the salah itself is a mercy for those who offer it.

The ayah says ‘they establish prayer’ and not ‘they perform prayer’. In this, there is great wisdom from several aspects.

“Iqamah” means raising, lifting up, elevating, setting up, erection or establishment of something and instituting. All of these senses are related to the salah which mankind is commanded to fulfill. The opposite of iqamah is “qu’ud”, which means sitting down or procrastinating over performing a task.

When we consider the “erecting” and “establishing” as the immediate senses of the word “iqamah” to reflect on the ayah, it reminds us of the which quotes as “salah is the pillar of Din (religion),” (Tirmidhi, Iman 8). The religion is likened to a structure in this and salah is viewed as its pillar. Iman can be said to be the foundation of this building. Thus, the ayah can be explained as meaning to build the structure of din by erecting the pillar of salah properly, thus making it stable, lasting and durable.

“Ensuring the iqamah of salah” is, in another sense, establishing salah by observing its arkaan (principles).

That is to say, it is submitting to Allah by abiding by its tadil al-arkaan (proper execution of the principles) and by trying to avoid having flaws or defects in the furud (obligatory duties), the sunan (non-obligatory practices of Rasulallah ﷺ) and the adab (proper conduct and manners) of the salah and humbly and befittingly establishing salah in persistent continuity.

The word “iqamah” is used to imply that there should be no deformity in the performance of salah. For, indeed, the act of straightening the bent shape of a deformed object is expressed through the word “iqamah” in Arabic. One should show due diligence towards the inward aspects of the salah as well as taking care to

Just like one takes care to fulfill the outwardly observable aspects of the salah and maintain the furud and the sunan within, he should also show due diligence towards the inward aspects of the salah, which is to maintain khushu (mindful reverence). Otherwise, that person will fall into the ranks of “those who are heedless of their salah.”

Whenever those who perform salah are mentioned with praise in the Qur’an al-Karim, reference to such people are always accompanied by an expression indicating that they perform salah with diligence and rigor. For instance, the translation of the following ayah says: “They believe in the unseen, establish (yuqimuna) prayer (salah).” On the other hand, when mentioning those who perform salah in heedless oblivion in the Qur’an, an expression that plainly and simply means “performing salah” is employed, as can be seen in the following ayah translation: “So woe to those who pray [But] who are heedless of their prayer.” (Ma’un, 4-5) Evidently, the ayah does not refer to those who establish salah as “woe to those who establish (yuqimuna) prayer (salah)”.

As mentioned in the tafsir of Ruh al-Bayan, Asim ibn Yusuf (quddisa sirruhu) asks Hatem al-Assam (quddisa sirruhu) “Can you manage to establish salah properly?” When Hatem al-Assam answers his question with a “Yes”, he then asks “How?” Hatem al-Assam (quddisa sirruhu) goes on to explain:

“When the time for salah nears, I refresh my wudu, I take my place where I perform salah and wait for every part of my body to find calmness. Then I see the Kaaba right in front of the middle of my eyebrows, the Maqam al-Ibrahim at the level of my chest and Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) present as transcendent of and beyond any space and knowing of everything in my heart. I feel as if my feet are on the Bridge of Sirat with on my right, Hell on my left and the angel of death behind me. Then I contemplate that this could be the last salah I will ever perform. I perform the opening takbir with Ihsan (as if seeing Allah Himself), recite the ayat with tafakkur, go down to ruku with humility and prostrate myself into sajdah with tadharru’ (humble beseeching). I sit down in perfect accordance with the rules of salah, I recite the tashahhud filled with hope and perform tasleem according to . I remain between fear and hope after the salah and promise to persist in performing salah in this manner.

Upon hearing this, Asim ibn Yusuf (quddisa sirruhu) asked:

“Ya Hatem! Is this how you perform salah?”

“Yes, I have been performing salah in this manner for thirty years,” answers Hatem al-Assam. Shedding tears, Asım ibn Yusuf says:

“I have never been able to succeed in performing salah like this.”

There is no possible way to list all of the physical and immaterial blessings and benefits of salah in this world and in the hereafter. However, suffice it to say that performing salah five times a day was sent down as an obligation on the night of Mi’raj. Mi’raj is the most precious moment that a human being.can experience in his life and it is the highest degree that can be achieved. Salah, on the other hand, is the best of the many states of worship, the one of highest worth. Time spent in salah is time spent in the best way possible. There is a share for muslims in salah from Our Prophet’s (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) meeting with Allah.

“They give alms out of what We have provided for them.”

The “Muttaqin” who are the pious who fear Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) do not only profess their faith and properly establish salah. They also give from the rizq bestowed upon them (provisions, subsistence) and even from that which is immaterial or spiritual in nature, and spend such things for Allah.

The infaq mentioned in the ayah could be fard or nafilah. Infaq is one of the foremost good deeds that brings a servant closer to his Lord. It also has many worldly benefits and reasons based in great wisdom. A reported on the matter is as follows:

“Good works protect from evil fates. Charity in secret extinguishes the wrath of the Lord, maintaining family ties increases life span.” (Tabarani, al-Kabir, 8014, Haythami, Zawaid, 39115)

The “rizq” in the ayah means pleasure and one’s lot in life, kismet. The legal (shar’i) meaning of the word is the same as its literal definition. According to this, it is defined as “something that Allah has bestowed upon a living being for its benefit and its pleasure.” As such, everything benefited from by eating, drinking or utilizing in any other way; children, spouses, work, wealth, knowledge and the like fall under the category of rizq. Property, wealth, family, children, knowledge and science that cannot be benefited from in a worldly or religious sense do not qualify as rizq.

“Infaq” means to expend that which is owned; to spend. It has fard, wajib and mandub subdivisions. This part of the ayah encompasses all of the almsgiving, monetary charity and donations with zakat and other forms of sadaqah being the foremost of these. But above all of them is one of the primary principles of Islam known as zakat. For this reason, most of the mufassirun (interpreters of the Qur’an) have stated that the “infaq” in the ayah signifies zakat while it also includes all other types of “infaq” mentioned above.

To summarize: Two types of deeds are mentioned as the qualities of the muttaqin (the pious) in the ayah after iman: Salah and zakat. They are the paramount of all the bodily and financial ibadat and serve as criteria for other ibadat. After all, Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) mentions abandoning salah as the borderline between iman (faith) and kufr (unbelief) (Muslim, Iman 146) while proclaiming zakat to be the bridge of Islam. These two ibadat being mentioned together in the ayah is due to the fact that they are the essence and, in a way, a symbol of all ibadat. Because all forms of ibadah are performed either with the physical body or with the wealth, or as is the case with the hajj, with both.

In the light of all this, salah represents all of the ibadat performed with the physical body while zakat stands for all that is performed with the wealth. In this ayah, all of the principles of iman are summarized in “ghayb” while all of the acts of worship are fundamentally encapsulated by salah and infaq, making this verse a concise detailing of the faith-related and action-related essentials of Islam.

Al-Haqq (subhanahu wa ta’ala) knows best.


(Raghib al-Ifsahani, al-Mufradat; Abu al-Qasim al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf; Fakhruddin Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir; Abu Abdullah al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an; Qadi Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil; Ebussuud Efendi, Irshad al-Aqli’s-Salim ila Mezaya al-Kitab al-Karim; Ismail Haqqi Bursevi, Ruh al-Bayan; Ibn Ajiba al-Hasani, Bahr al-Madid; Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili; Mehmed Vehbi Efendi, Hulasatu’l-Bayan)