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Faith (ImAn)

The very first book of the SahIh Muslim is the ‘Book of Faith’ (KitAb al-ImAn). It contains 431 traditions (ahAdIs) divided into ninety-two chapters. It discusses questions regarding faith. Someone comes to Muhammad from a great distance, yet without any sign of fatigue, and says: ‘Muhammad, inform me about al-Islam.’ The Messenger of Allah replies: ‘Al-Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay ZakAt, observe the fast of RamzAn [Ramadan] and perform pilgrimage.’ Later on, when the inquirer is gone, Muhammad tells ‘Umar: ‘He was Gabriel. He came to you in order to instruct you in matters of religion’ (1).1 This is the very first hadIs narrated by ‘Umar, the future KhalIfa, through several chains of narrators.

This theme runs through hundreds of ahAdIs. Al-Islam is faith in Allah, faith in Muhammad as His Messenger, faith in His Book, in His angels, in the resurrection, in the hereafter, and in the payment of the poor tax (zakAt) and the observance of fast (RamzAn) and pilgrimage.

Allah Is Not Enough

Belief in Allah alone in not sufficient. It must be accompanied by belief in the apostleship of Muhammad. A delegation of the tribe of RabI’a visits Muhammad. He tells the delegates: ‘I direct you to affirm belief in Allah alone,’ and then asks them: ‘Do you know what belief in Allah really implies?’ Then he himself answers: ‘It implies testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ Other things mentioned are prayer, zakAt, RamzAn, and ‘that you pay one-fifth of the booty’ (23). We shall hear more about war booty in its proper place.

In the same vein, Muhammad tells Mu’Az, whom he sends out as governor of Yemen: ‘First call them to testify that there is no god but Allah, that I [Muhammad] am the Messenger of Allah; and if they accept this, then tell them that Allah has made ZakAt obligatory for them’ (27).

There is a still clearer statement of Muhammad’s mission. ‘I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay ZakAt and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf’ (33).

Muhammad retails the word ‘Allah’ profusely, but there are times when even Allah occupies a backseat. ‘None of you is a believer till I am dearer to him than his child, his father and the whole mankind,’ Muhammad tells the believers (71).

Allah and his Messenger-rather, Muhammad and his God-prayer, zakAt, RamzAn, and pilgrimage are sometimes called the ‘five pillars’ of Islam, but there are other beliefs and institutions no less important which recur again and again in the HadIs. These are, to name the more important ones, Paradise, Hell, Doomsday, jihAd (holy war against polytheists,) jizyA (the poll tax paid by polytheists), war booty (ghanImah), and khums (the holy one-fifth). These are the staples of the religion preached by Muhammad. Allah becomes concrete in His threats and punishments of Hell, and in His promises and rewards of Paradise. Similarly, in the history of Islam, jihAd and war booty have played a more important role than even pilgrimage or zakAt. All of these concepts will come up for review in this study in their proper places.

Good and Evil Deeds

What are good deeds and what are bad deeds? These questions have been the concern of many religions, many philosophies, and many teachers. Islam too has provided its characteristic answers. It tells us that good deeds are not a matter of indifference but must be coupled with the choice of the right religion. Abdul HamId SiddIqI, the translator of the SahIh Muslim, gives the Islamic view in the following words: ‘The good deeds performed in the state of ignorance (outside the fold of Islam) are indicative of the fact that a man is inclined towards piety. But to be truly pious and virtuous it is quite essential to have the correct understanding of the Will of God. This can be confidently known only through the Prophets and is embodied in Islam. Thus without having faith in Islam we cannot serve our Master and Lord according to His Will. . . . The acts of virtue may be good in their own way but it is by coming within the fold of Islam that these become significant and meaningful in the eyes of the Lord’ (note 218).

In the eyes of Muhammad, a wrong theology is worse than wicked deeds. When asked, ‘Which sin is the gravest in the eyes of Allah?’ he replies: ‘That you associate a partner with Allah.’ To kill your child and to commit adultery with the wife of your neighbor are second and third in gravity according to Muhammad (156).

In fact, only a wrong theology can keep a Muslim out of Paradise. But no morally wicked act-not even adultery and theft-can prevent his entry. Muhammad tells us: ‘Gabriel came to me and gave me tidings: Verily he who died amongst your Ummah [sect, nation, group] without associating anything with Allah would enter paradise.’ In clarification, AbU Zarr, the narrator of the hadIs, asks Muhammad whether this is true even if the man committed adultery and theft. Muhammad replies: ‘Yes, even if he committed adultery and theft’ (171). The translator clarifies the point further: He says that adultery and theft ‘are both serious offences in Islam . . . but these do not doom the offender to the eternal hell,’ but polytheism or associating any god ‘with the Lord is an unpardonable crime and the man who commits it is doomed to Hell’ (notes 169 and 170).

If polytheism is the worst of crimes, monotheism, by the same token, is the best of virtues. Muhammad is asked about ‘the best of deeds.’ He replies: ‘Belief in Allah.’ ‘What next?’ he is asked. ‘JihAd,’ he replies (148). In Muslim theology the formula ‘belief in Allah’ of course means ‘belief in Allah and His Messenger.’ Once one accepts the theological belief in Allah and His Messenger, one’s past crimes are obliterated, and future ones hold no great terror. Muhammad gave this assurance to some polytheists who ‘had committed a large number of murders and had excessively indulged in fornication,’ but who were ready to join him. To another person who felt a sense of guilt about his past, Muhammad said: ‘Are you not aware of the fact that Islam wipes out all the previous misdeeds?’ (220).

Moral Values

Muhammad’s religion is predominantly theological, but moral values are not altogether neglected. The pre-Muslim Arabs believed in many moral values common to all mankind. Muhammad retained these values but gave them a sectarian twist. A Muslim owes everything to the ummah, very little to others. He has no obligations, moral or spiritual, toward non-Muslims as part of the human race, except to convert them by sword, spoils, and jizyA. For example, sincerity is a universal human value, and we should exercise it in our relations with one another irrespective of creed and nationality. But in Islam, it is limited to Muslims. Muhammad at one place defines al-din (‘the religion,’ i.e., Islam) as ‘sincerity and well-wishing,’ which should be a good definition for any religion. But on being asked, ‘Sincerity and well-wishing for whom?’ he replies: ‘For Allah, His Book, His Messenger and for the leaders and general Muslims’ (98). JarIr b. ‘Abdullah reports that he ‘pledged allegiance to the Apostle of Allah on sincerity and well-wishing for every Muslim’ (102).

Again, other moral values are given the same twist, and the universal is turned into the sectarian. Muhammad tells his followers: ‘Abusing a Muslim is an outrage and fighting against him is unbelief’ (122).

Theology Distorts Morals

No wonder that such a sectarian and preponderantly theological approach should now and then teach us topsy-turvy morals. Thanks to this approach, despoiling a whole people is meritorious if they are polytheists, but stealing booty once it is in the possession of Muslims is a mortal sin. A slave of Muhammad died in a holy war, thus automatically earning a place in Paradise as a martyr. But Muhammad saw ‘him in the Fire for the garment or cloak that he had stolen from the booty.’ On hearing this, some people were greatly perturbed. One of them who had presumably committed a similar act of pilfering, came to Muhammad ‘with a lace or two laces and said: Messenger of Allah, I found them on the day of Khaibar [name of a battle]. The Holy Prophet remarked: This is a lace of fire or two laces of fire’ (210). This means, as another text puts it, that like the two pieces of lace the man had stolen, there will be two columns of fire like unto these waiting for him in the hereafter.

To rob a whole people is piety, but to remove a paltry something from a looted treasure is moral depravity of a magnitude that deserves eternal fire. Men driven by ordinary temptations indulge only in petty crimes and small lapses, but committing real enormities needs the aid of an ideology, a revelation, a God-ordained mission.

The Pre-Muslim Arabs

Muslim theologians and writers are in the habit of painting a very dark picture of pre-Islamic Arabia. They describe it as morally depraved and utterly lacking in any sense of chivalry and generosity, referring to this period of history as the ‘state of ignorance or barbarism’ (jahilIyya). Everything good began with Muhammad. But there are many ahAdIs which prove the contrary. We are told that one HakIm b. HIzam did ‘many deeds of religious purification . . . in the state of ignorance’ (222). Another hadIs tells us that he ‘freed one hundred slaves and donated one hundred camels’ in this state (225).

Ordinarily such good acts do not avail a polytheist; but if he embraces Islam, it is a different story, and the whole complexion of his acts is changed. They are no longer wasted; they become fruitful and are credited to his account. Muhammad assures HakIm: ‘you have accepted Islam with all the previous virtues that you had practised’ (223).

Evil Thoughts and Evil Deeds

A Muslim is Allah’s prodigal son as well as His spoiled child. His past is forgotten unless it is good, his future is assured, and many things are permissible for him that are not permissible for a polytheist or even for a Jew or a Christian, the Peoples of the Book. Jesus spoke of ‘lusting with the eyes’ regarding it as bad as lust in its more visible form. But Muhammad gave greater latitude to his followers: ‘Verily Allah forgave my people the evil promptings which arise within their hearts as long as they did not speak about them or did not act upon them’ (230). This idea is expressed with less partiality and in more universal terms in the Indian spiritual tradition. God knows that man is weak and forgives his lapses and failure but supports his strength and multiplies his good. The less theistic but not less exalted yogic systems would put this idea somewhat differently and in more psychological terms-we should not harp too obsessively on our lapses, but should dwell more lovingly on the Divine within us.

Muhammad Has the Largest Following on the Day of Judgment

Muhammad tells us that he ‘will have the greatest following on the Day of Resurrection’ (283). And understandably so, for the hellfire is on his side. The hellfire will be busy consuming the opponents of Muhammad, and there will be no one left for Paradise to receive except the Muslims.

Muhammad tells us: ‘He who amongst the community of Jews and Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state of disbelief, he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire’ (284). The Jews and Christians will suffer in hell not only for their own unbelief in Muhammad, they will also act as proxies for any Muslims who happen to be sent there. ‘There would come people amongst the Muslim on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and he would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians,’ Muhammad tells us (6668). This would also, incidentally, solve the problem of space in heaven: ‘Space in paradise would be provided by Christians and Jews being thrown into Hell-Fire,’ the translator tells us (note 2967).

Another important segment of the infernal population is made up of women. Muhammad says, ‘O womenfolk . . . I saw you in bulk amongst the dwellers of Hell.’ When a woman asks him why it should be so, Muhammad tells her: ‘You curse too much and are ungrateful to your spouses. I have seen none [like them] lacking in common sense and failing in religion but robbing the wisdom of the wise.’ The ‘proof of the lack of common sense’ in them is the fact that in Allah’s law promulgated by Muhammad himself, ‘the evidence of two women is equal to one man’; and the proof of their failing in religion, as he tells them, is that ‘you spend some nights and days in which you do not offer prayer and in the month of RamzAn you do not observe fast’ (142). Women sometimes abstained from voluntary fasts because the Prophet had commanded that it was more meritorious for them to do their duty by their husbands than to fast. ‘Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, did not observe some fasts ‘due to the regards for the Apostle of Allah’ (2550). But, it seems, the very merit of women turns into its opposite: predestined damnation.2

The Day of Judgment

The Day of Judgment (qiyAmat), the Last Day (yaumu’l-Akhir), is an indispensable prop of Muslim theology. In the QurAn, the word qiyAmat appears seventy times and in addition has seventy-five synonyms, as shown by Mirza Hairat in his Mukaddma TafsIru’l Furqan.3 Along with its attendant concepts, Paradise and Hell, it pops up from practically every page of the HadIs too. The dreaded day (yaum), colorfully described as the day of ‘reckoning’ (hisAb), or of ‘separation’ (fasl), or of ‘standing up’ (qiyAmah), is mentioned over three hundred times in the QurAn.

The arrival of the Last Day will be announced by many signs. ‘When you see a slave woman giving birth to her master-that is one sign; when you see barefooted, naked, deaf and dumb as the rulers of the earth-that is one of the signs of Doom. And when you see the shepherds of the black camels exult in buildings-that is one of the signs of Doom’ (6). In short, when the poor and the deprived inherit the earth, that is the end of it according to Muhammad.

There is a vivid account of the Day of Resurrection in eighty-two ahAdIs at the end of the ‘Book of Faith.’ Muhammad tells us that on this day, Allah ‘will gather people,’ a ‘bridge would be set over the hell,’ and ‘I [Muhammad] and my Ummah would be the first to pass over it’ (349).

Unbelievers, of course, will be thoroughly miserable on this day but even the Jews and the Christians-the Peoples of the Book-will fare no better. For example, Christians will be summoned and asked, ‘What did you worship?’ When they reply, ‘Jesus, the son of Allah,’ Allah will tell them, ‘You tell a lie; Allah did not take for Himself either a spouse or a son.’ Then they will be asked what they want. They will say: ‘Thirsty we are, O our Lord! Quench our thirst.’ They will be given a certain direction, and Allah will ask: ‘Why don’t you go there to drink water?’ When they go there, they will find that they have been misguided; the water is no more than a mirage, and it is really hell. Then they will ‘fall into the Fire’ and perish (352).

On this day, no other prophet or savior will avail except Muhammad. People will come to Adam and say: ‘Intercede for your progeny.’ He will reply: ‘I am not fit to do this, but go to IbrAhIm, for he is the friend of Allah.’ They will go to IbrAhIm, but he will reply: ‘I am not fit to do this, but go to Moses, for he is Allah’s Interlocutor.’ They will go to Moses, but he will reply: ‘I am not fit to do this, but you go to Jesus, for he is the Spirit of Allah and His Word.’ They will go to Jesus, and he will reply: ‘I am not fit to do this; you better go to Muhammad.’ Then they will come to Muhammad, and he will say: ‘I am in a position to do that.’ He will appeal to Allah, and his intercession will be granted (377).

In many ahAdIs (381-396), Muhammad tells us that among the apostles he has a special intercessory power, for ‘no Apostle amongst the Apostles has been testified as I have been testified’ (383). If this is true, it gives substance to his claim that among the apostles he ‘would have the largest following on the Day of Resurrection’ (382). Thanks to his special role, ‘seventy thousand persons of [my] Ummah would enter Paradise without rendering an account’ (418), and Muslims ‘would constitute half the inhabitants of Paradise’ (427). Considering that unbelievers, infidels, and polytheists are strictly kept out, and that the entry of Jews and Christians also is prohibited, one wonders who will be the other half of the population of Paradise.

How did Muhammad acquire this special intercessory power? Muhammad himself answers this question: ‘There is for every Apostle a prayer which is granted, but every prophet showed haste in his prayer. I have, however, reserved my prayer for the intercession of my Ummah on the Day of Resurrection’ (389). The translator makes this statement clearer for us. He says: ‘The Apostles are dear to Allah and their prayers are often granted. But with every Apostle there is one request which may be called decisive with regard to his Ummah, and with it is decided their fate; for example, Noah in a state of distress uttered: ‘My Lord! leave not any one of the disbelievers in the land’ (al-QurAn 71.26). Muhammad reserved his prayer for the Day of Resurrection and he would use it for the salvation of the believers’ (note 412).

We have no means of knowing about the curse of Noah, but this kind of cursing is quite in Muhammad’s line. For example, look at his curse against several tribes: ‘O Allah! trample severely Muzar and cause them a famine . . . O Allah! curse LihyAn, Ri’l ZakwAn, Usayya, for they disobeyed Allah and His Messenger’ (1428).

In any case, when the disbelievers are being hurled into the Fire, Muhammad will not intercede even when he knows that no other intercession would avail: ‘Thou shalt not damn thy enemies, but needst not go out of your way to save them.’

The Prophet’s Father and Uncles

We must admit, however, that Muhammad was consistent. He reserved his power for saving his ummah, those who believed in Allah to the exclusion of AllAt and ‘UzzA, and in his own apostleship. He did not use it to save even his dearest and nearest ones like his father and uncle. Regarding his father, he told a questioner: ‘Verily, my father and your father are in the Fire’ (398). But he was somewhat more kind to his uncle, AbU TAlib, who brought him up and protected him but who did not accept his religion. About him, Muhammad tells us: ‘I found him in the lowest part of the Fire and I brought him to the shallow part’ (409). But even this shallowest part must have been roasting the poor uncle. Muhammad assures us that ‘among the inhabitants of the Fire AbU TAlib would have the least suffering, and he would be wearing two shoes of Fire which would boil his brain’ (413). Would you call that much of a relief?

Though Muhammad took pride in ‘establishing ties of relationship,’ he himself repudiated all ties with the generations of his forefathers and their posterity. ‘Behold! the posterity of my fathers . . . are not my friends,’ declares Muhammad (417). On the Day of Resurrection, their good works will not avail them. ‘Aisha, the Prophet’s young wife, reports: ‘I said: Messenger of Allah, the son of Jud’An [a relation of hers and one of the leaders of the Quraish] established ties of relationship, fed the poor. Would that be of any avail to him? He said: it would be of no avail to him’ (416).

God’s mind is made up with regard to the polytheists; therefore, a true believer should not even seek blessing on their behalf. As the QurAn says: ‘It is not meet for the Prophet and for those who believe, that they should beg pardon for the polytheists, even though they were their kith and kin, after it had been known to them that they were the denizens of Hell’ (9:113).

Muhammad’s Night Journey to Heaven

Various other matters, such as Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem, and the coming of DajjAl and Jesus before the Day of Resurrection, are also discussed in the ‘Book of Faith.’ These are quite important in Islamic lore.

One night, riding on al-BarAq, ‘an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule,’ Muhammad was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and from there to the different regions, or ‘circles’ (as Dante called them), of heaven, on the way meeting different apostles. Adam he met in the first heaven, Jesus in the second, Moses in the sixth, and Abraham in the seventh. Then he met Allah, who enjoined on the Muslims fifty prayers a day. But on the advice of Moses, Muhammad made a representation to Allah and the number was reduced to five. ‘Five and at the same time fifty’-one prayer will now count for ten-for ‘what has been said will not be changed’ (313). So nothing was really lost in efficacy, and five will do the work of fifty.

The more mystic-minded explain this journey spiritually, but Muhammad’s Companions and later on most Muslim scholars believe that the journey or ascension (mi’rAj) was physical. Many in his day scoffed at Muhammad and called his journey a dream. But our translator argues that precisely because it was not believed, it was not a dream! For ‘had it been only a dream, there would have been no occasion for such a reaction about it. Visions like this can flit across the imagination of any man at any time’ (note 325).


Muhammad had a belief of a sort in Jesus. In fact, this belief, along with his belief in the apostleship of Moses and Abraham, is often cited as a proof of Muhammad’s liberal and catholic outlook. But if we look at the matter closely, we find it was more a motivated belief, meant partly to prove his own apostolic pedigree, and partly to win converts from among the Jews and the Christians. In any case, his opinion of Jesus does not amount to much. He turned Jesus into a mujAhid (crusader) of his entourage. When Jesus returns in the Second Coming, no more than a pale copy of Muhammad, he will be waging war against the Christians as well as others: ‘The son of Mary will soon descend among you as a just judge. He will break crosses, kill swine, and abolish Jizya,’ Muhammad proclaims (287). How? The translator explains: ‘Cross is a symbol of Christianity. Jesus will break this symbol after the advent of Muhammad. Islam is the dIn (religion) of Allah and no other religion is acceptable to him. Similarly, the flesh of the swine is a favorite dish of the Christians. Jesus will sweep out of existence this dirty and loathsome animal. The whole of the human race would accept Islam and there would be no zimmIs left, and thus Jizya would be automatically abolished’ (notes 289-290). Jesus is regarded as a just Judge, but this only means that he will judge according to the sharI’ah of Muhammad. For, as the translator explains, ‘the SharI’ah of all the earlier prophets stands abrogated with the advent of Muhammad’s Apostleship. Jesus will, therefore, judge according to the law of Islam’ (note 288).


  1. All traditions in the SahIh are serially numbered. So also are the notes and comments of the translator. In quoting them, we give their numbers in parentheses. 

  2. A woman’s social and legal disabilities, and even her differential biological constitution and functions, are interpreted in terms of her moral inferiority for which Allah has rightly punished her. In his Counsel for Kings, Al-GhazzAlI (A.D. 1058-1111), a famous Arab divine of his time, says that ‘Allah, He be praised, punished women with eighteen things’: (1) menstruation; (2) childbirth; (3) separation from parents and marriage to a stranger; (4) pregnancy; (5) not having control over her own person; (6) a lesser share in inheritance; (7) her liability to be divorced and inability to divorce; (8) its being lawful for men to have four wives, but for a woman to have only one husband; (9) the fact that she must stay secluded in the house; (10) the fact that she must keep her head covered inside the house; (11) the fact that two women’s testimony has to be set against the testimony of one man; (12) the fact that she must not go out of the house unless accompanied by a near relative; (13) the fact that men take part in Friday and feast day prayers and funerals while women do not; (14) disqualification for rulership and judgeship; (15) the fact that merit has one thousand components, only one of which is attributable to women, while nine hundred and ninety-nine are attributable to men; (16) the fact that if women are profligate they will be given only half as much torment as the rest of the community at the Resurrection Day; (17) the fact that if their husbands die they must observe a waiting period of four months and ten days before remarrying; (18) the fact that if their husbands divorce them they must observe a waiting period of three months or three menstrual periods before remarrying (NasIhat Al-MulUk, London: University of Durham Publications, 1971; pp. 164-165). 

  3. All these synonyms are reproduced in QurAn Parichaya, a work in Hindi (author and publisher, Deva Prakash, Ratlam, India).