Believers: Who is a true believer?

Q61 :Who comes under the definition of a Muslim? There are people who have Muslim names and say that they are Muslims because they have Muslim parents. They rarely, if at all, practice Islam. Others may attend to certain Islamic practices on occasions, such as those who offer their prayers only on Fridays, and perhaps in Ramadan when they do fast. Please comment.


A61 : Once the Prophet asked a delegation who came to him in Madinah representing a tribe how they defined themselves. They said: "We are indeed believers." The Prophet said: "Everything has a substance, so what do you define as the substance of your belief?" They said to him: "We have fifteen characteristics. Five we have been told by your representative to believe in, and five you have ordered us to do and five are among our traditions. We will maintain [them] unless you instruct us to the contrary." The Prophet asked them about these. They told him that they believed in God, His angels, His revealed books, His messengers and in resurrection after death. Those were the five beliefs taught to them by the Prophet's representatives. The ones he instructed them to do were the declaration that there is no deity save God, prayers, zakah, fasting in Ramadan and pilgrimage. The five among their traditions were: To be grateful in time of plenty, to be patient in adversity, to accept God's will whatever it may be, to remain steadfast in battle and not to show pleasure when calamity befalls an enemy. The Prophet commended them on these and added five more to make their total twenty. He said to them: If you are truly as you say, then do not amass what you cannot eat, or build what you do not reside in, nor compete in what you will soon abandon. Fear God to whom you shall return and work for what you will soon be facing." Here we have an example where the Prophet makes it clear that there should be a practical interpretation of beliefs. Otherwise, it will remain theoretical. Hence, he defines faith as: "Something that is well established in people's minds and hearts, and to which credence is given by practice." So, faith cannot be treated as an academic theory or an abstract idea. Its practical effect has to be seen so that the claim of being a believer is seen to be true. Hence, Islam is embodied in statements and practices. The Prophet says: "Islam is built on five (pillars): the declaration that there is no deity save God and Muhammad is His messenger, regular attendance to prayer, the payment of zakah, the fasting in Ramadan and pilgrimage to the Sacred House when a person is able to do so." People who claim to be Muslims only because they have been born in Muslim families do not provide a practical proof of their claim. Yet, if they genuinely believe in the Oneness of God and the message of Muhammad, they are considered Muslims. If they do not go beyond that declaration, they are doing badly because of their negligence. They should be advised that their faith is not complete unless they attend to their Islamic duties. On the other hand, we must not allow ourselves to assume the mantle of judges who pass judgment on people, claiming that certain people are true Muslims while others are not. If a person tells us that he is a Muslim, we take his statement at its face value. But if he does not confirm his statement by doing the duties God has imposed on Muslims, we advise him that he is exposing himself to the risk of God's punishment. Some of these people say that God is too merciful to punish them They are not doing anything bad, they are simply not attending to their duties. This is a false argument. A person who does not fulfill a duty God has imposed is certainly doing something bad. What is worse than the deliberate negligence of a duty God has imposed? Besides, a believer does not say that God will certainly forgive him. He certainly hopes for God's forgiveness, but he does not behave as though it is a certainty. He must always balance that hope with the fear that he might not be forgiven. That balance should provide a motivation for him to attend to his Islamic duties.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )