(Ranks of Islamic “Deen” (religion) /Hadith (2
محمد لهلال/ (Ranks of Islamic “Deen” (religion) /Hadith (2
Ranks of Islamic “Deen” (religion)
On the authority of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, God be pleased with him, who said: One day while we were sitting with the Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, there came before us a man with extremely white clothing and extremely black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and none of us knew him. He [came and] sat next to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. He supported his knees up against the knees of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and put his hands on his thighs. He said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Islam is to testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, to establish the prayers, to pay the zakat, to fast [the month of Ramadan], and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you have the means to do so.” He said, “You have spoken truthfully [or correctly]. “We were amazed that he asks the question and then he says that he had spoken truthfully. He said, “Tell me about Iman (faith).” He [the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him,] responded, “It is to believe in God, His angels, His books, His Messengers, the Last Day and to believe in the divine decree, [both] the good and the evil thereof.” He said, “You have spoken truthfully.” He said, “Tell me about al-Ihsan.” He [the Prophet] answered, “It is that you worship God as if you see Him. And even though you do not see Him, [you know], He sees you.” He said, “Tell me about the time of the Hour.” He [the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) answered, “The one being asked does not know more than the one asking.” He said, “Tell me about its signs.” He answered, “The slave-girl shall give birth to her master. And you will see the barefooted, scantily-clothed, destitute shepherds competing in constructing lofty buildings.” Then he went away. I stayed for a long time. Then he [the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him] said, “O Umar, do you know who the questioner was?” I said, “God and His Messenger know best.” He said, “It was [the Angel] Gabriel who came to teach you your “Deen” (religion).” This hadith was reported by Muslim.
(The Hadith English translation is copied from “Commentary on the forty hadith of al-Nawawi”)
Meanings and Lessons:
- I have used the transliteration “Deen” instead of “religion” as this latter is associated with a secular-Christian historical and contextual background at variance with that of Islam. Otherwise, taking both notions as synonymous would create some confusion, mainly for non-Arab readers. But we may retain the word “religion” just for the sake of facilitating communication and understanding.
- This lengthy hadith is of cardinal importance for understanding the religion of Islam, and for this, God, Exalted is He, sets an extraordinary scene and an impressive question/answer method to draw the attention to the ranks of this religion. The fact that Angel Gabriel comes in the shape of a man, and asks questions to which he confirms the answers certainly arouses curiosity and interest for the listener. And the bottom line was that Gabriel comes to teach us our “Deen” (religion). So, our religion encompasses three ranks or rungs: Islam, Iman and Ihsan.
- It is actually regretful to see the majority of Muslims focus their attention on the first component of religion, which is Islam, and deem the outward acts performed by a Muslim as expressive of the comprehensive religion. Very few Muslims are concerned about ascending the rungs of Iman and Ihsan. One reason might be that Muslim devotees can barely find a spiritual guide(s) who can take them gently and resolutely through the delicate journeying to God which entails disciplining the ego, refining the character and struggling to establish justice in a collective way.
- What is more lamentable is that very few Islamic writers from the Islamic mainstream movement elaborate on the three ranks of Islam and explore the ways to attain the lofty stations of our religion. Issues of politics and governance, though they must be part of a believer’s concern, have consumed their efforts and have eclipsed the core and ultimate goal which is strengthening and purifying our faith in preparation for the Encounter of God, the Almighty on the Judgment Day. What benefit can a Muslim draw from his political activism and struggle while his heart remains heedless, his ego unrestrained and character unrefined; “except for him who comes with a sound heart” (ash-Shu’ara’, 89).
- When we say that the outward acts of worship and good deeds are not sufficient for the aspiring believer, we do not depreciate the value of those acts and deeds, they remain the foundations without which no journeying to God, Exalted is He, is possible. We speak in terms of ranks, and Islam remains the foundation on which we can build our Iman and then aspire to Ihsan.
- “Iman” (faith) has over seventy or sixty branches, the highest in excellence is saying: “There is no god, but One God”, and the lowest is the removal of what is harmful from the path, and modesty is a branch of faith”, this a hadith narrated by Abu-Huraira. So, the believer has to strive hard to acquire the attributes of faith as an individual and as a member in the Muslim community. (See the book: “Branches of Faith” by Abdessalam Yassine for more details).
- Most God’s commands are directed to men and women of Iman, and the commands vary in their difficulty and they require trust in God, perseverance and high resolution to put into effect. So, if the believer is not imbued with the like of these attributes, he or she cannot brave the obstacles and fulfill the mission of Da’wa (calling to God), enjoining what is good and denouncing what is wrong, and serving his/her Umma.
- Believing in the Last Day and in the Unseen (Gayb) and talking about them in the circles of intellectuals has become a stigma for a wide number of Muslim thinkers. Some would try hard to introduce themselves as rational by eschewing any allusion to the Last Day and the Unseen in their lectures and writings so that they can have a place in the club of enlightened intellectuals and resonate with the global cultural orchestra. And this is of course plain diversion from the essence of the Islamic message and gross distortion of our faith.
- Al-Ihsan is another forgotten issue which very few of our Islamic modern writers and lecturers dare to tackle given the historically aberrant practices linked to some groups of Sufism, and to the intellectual terror exercised by the so-called defenders of Islamic belief. So, many writers, when dealing with Tazkiya (soul purification) are under self-censorship not to trigger a backlash that might discredit their scholarship and undermine their reputation among the Islamic mainstream movement. In this respect it is recommendable to read a precious book under the title of “al-Ihsan” by a contemporary author named Abdessalam Yassine, in which he extensively discussed several issues related to Tazkiya, but in the context of Jihad (Jihad in its broad sense, not the misinterpretation of Jihad as holy war).
- Al-Ihsan is the highest rank of our religion. This term has three main dimensions: Ihsan meaning perfection of our actions, all our actions so that they are compatible with the Prophetic model, Ihsan including all aspects of charity, benevolence, assisting the needy, beginning with kins and relatives and extending it to the Muslim community and all humanity, and Ihsan as mentioned in the hadith the highest rank of faith which entails permanent quest for nearness to God, the Almighty, witnessing His presence in your heart, loving Him by performing supplementary rituals, and seeing all the blessings and even hardships a gift from God.
- With respect to the signs heralding the nearness of the Hour, the Judgment Day, two signs are laid in the hadith: one sign connoting the cracks in family cohesion through a negative transformation of roles relating to parenthood and motherhood, particularly the role of mothers who must be the best placed to safeguard the “fitra” (inborn faith) of children as they grow up. The second sign is the community maladies that might afflict society to yield categories of people in pursuit of prestige and power through material acquisitions and the subsequent manifestation of pride, vainglory, arrogance, jealousy, among other social vices.
“And Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds”.