Types of îmân

Question: What are the types of îmân?
Although îmân is a whole entity, it is divided into three types in respect of its strength:
1. The îmân obtained by religiously ignorant people through imitating their parents with respect to belief and acts of worship is termed îmân-i taqlîdî [imitative belief]. It is feared that such people may lose their îmân.

2. The îmân of people who have learned the rules of Islam —i.e., fards, wâjibs, sunnats, mustahabs, mubahs, harâms, makrûhs and mufsids—from ‘ilm-i hâl books and act upon this knowledge of theirs is termed îmân-i istidlâlî [that is, knowing with proofs]. The îmân of such people is strong.

[istidlâl: reasoning; inferring the existence of the doer of the work by seeing the work, that is, to know the existence of the Creator by seeing His creatures.]

3. This type of îmân is the îmân of ‘ârifs. If all people became unbelievers, their heart would never be clouded with even the
slightest doubt. Such îmân is analogous to that of prophets, and it is termed îmân-i haqîqî [real belief].

[‘ârif: a great scholar who has comprehended through their heart the knowledge about Allahu ta’âlâ and His attributes. For one to be an ’ârif, it is necessary to make progress and be promoted in the way of tasawwuf.]

Îmân communicated by our Master the Prophet (‘alaihis-salâm) cannot be inquired, that is, cannot be studied, in order to learn whether it is true or not. Îmân itself is, without consulting mind, experience or philosophy, to confirm, to believe the facts which Hadrat Muhammad communicated as the Prophet. If one confirms them because they are reasonable, one has confirmed mind and the Messenger together, in which case the Prophet has not been trusted completely. When confidence is incomplete, there is not îmân. For îmân cannot be broken.

The rank of prophethood is beyond and above mind and thought. To study what the Prophet has communicated to see whether they are suitable with mind means disbelieving and distrusting the rank of prophethood. In matters pertaining to tenets of belief and the next world, it is necessary to follow and obey the Prophet without consulting the mind.

Those who have not reached the grade of fanâ (that is, those who are not awliyâ) in tasawwuf cannot attain the real belief.

[fanâ: forgetting everything except Allahu ta’âlâ; dispelling the love of the world from the heart.]

Hadrat Muhammad Ma’thûm states:
Allahu ta’âlâ can be known in two ways:
1. Knowing Him as the scholars of Ahl as-Sunna communicated,
2. Understanding of the great men of tasawwuf.

In the former the nafs has not given up disobedience, and îmân is metaphoric. This îmân may go away. In the latter, because the nafs itself has become a believer, îmân is protected from being lost. This real belief is referred to in the hadîth-i sharîf, “Oh my Rabb! From You, I want îmân the end of which is not disbelief,” and in the 136th âyat of the Sûrat-un-Nisâ, “Oh Believers! Believe in Allah and His Rasûl.” In fact, this âyat purports, “Acquire the real belief.”

Hadrat Imâm-i Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahimah-Allahu ta’âlâ), in order to attain the real belief, although he was at a high degree in knowledge and ijtihâd, ran to be in the service of Hadrat Bishr al-Hâfî (and Zunnun-i Misrî).

Imâm-i A’zam Abû Hanîfa (rahimah-Allâhu ta’âlâ) gave up the work of ijtihâd in his last years. He attended Hadrat Ja’far as-Sâdiq’s (rahimah-Allahu ta’âlâ) suhba for two years. When he was asked why he had done so, he answered, “Nu’mân would have perished if it weren’t for those two years.” Although both the imâms [Abu Hanîfa and Ahmad ibn Hanbal] were at ultimately high grades in knowledge and ’ibâdât, they went to the superiors of tasawwuf and attained ma’rifa and its fruit, îmân-i haqîqî. [volume 2, letter 106]

Hadrat Thanâ’ullah ad-Dahlawî states:
He who has attained the grade of fanâ’ on the way of tasawwuf certainly dies with îmân. The 143rd âyat-i karîma of Sûrat-ul-Baqara which declares, “Allahu ta’âlâ does not make your îmân go away,” and the hadîth-i sharîf “Allahu ta’âlâ does not take back the îmân of His servants. But, He makes the knowledge fade away by annihilating the ’ulamâ” shows that Allahu ta’âlâ does not take back the real faith and bâtinî [interior, hidden] knowledge.[Irshâd-ut-tâlibîn]

Îmân-i taqlîdî (imitative belief)
Is it permissible to follow a person who is said to be a scholar but not known for certain whether (s)he is an Ahl as-Sunnat scholar?
It is not permissible to follow teachings of someone only on the basis of his fame and celebrity or on the basis of intense propaganda which promotes his books or speeches without knowing whether he is known as an Ahl as-Sunnat scholar. One may be ruined and led to spiritual disasters if one follows someone with respect to belief and worships without investigating him from dependable Ahl as-sunnat sources.

One does not have to imitate anyone in order to be a Muslim or in order to understand the existence of Allahu ta’âlâ, His Oneness, His Power and His other Attributes. Anyone who develops his mind to a level to understand knowledge of science can easily understand His existence and thus obtain belief by only contemplating. It is foolishness not to understand the existence of a Creator while one sees His creation. Islam commands everyone to contemplate in this fashion and thus obtain belief. A person who believes the existence of Allah has to find the true religion, Islam. Saying “I believe in Allah” does not carry any weight without believing in Islam. Is a person who does not believe in the religion communicated by Allah as communicated by Him considered to have belief in Allah?

Even though it is permissible to obtain belief by way of imitating, people who acquire their belief in this manner are considered sinners on account of their desertion nazar [careful examination] and istidlâl about creation and the existence of the Creator. However, as declared unanimously by the savants, it is permissible to imitate an îmâm of madhhab in deeds and acts of worship without investigating. (Hadîqa)

A correct belief which is acquired by only imitating (taqlîd) parents or teachers is judged as valid. Yet people who acquire their belief in this fashion are considered sinners on account of their desertion of the necessary studies, i.e., their not studying and learning the scientific knowledge and not developing their mind to contemplate and understand the existence of Allahu ta’âlâ. There are other scholars, however, who say that a person’s lack of scientific knowledge does not constitute a sin if (s)he is able to obtain belief from his/her parents or by reading books or by contemplating.

It cannot be called imitation (taqlîd), because îmân does not develop as soon as one asks and learns the tenets of belief. After learning them, one contemplates, loves and accepts them; and following this process, belief comes into existence. Islam commands people to have îmân in this manner. Îmân that has been formed without contemplating, loving and understanding them after learning them is imitative belief, and it is without proof. Those who become disbelievers by only imitating their parents stand exemplary for the issue. Actually, the îmân advised by Islam is the one obtained through understanding, proofs, and one’s own free will. The disbelief of disbelievers does not take root from their own choice, but they are just in imitation of their parents. It is, in turn, transferred from generation to generation.

There is no room for imitation in îmân. However, since imitation in acts of worship has been commanded by Allahu ta’âlâ, those who teach and learn the rules pertaining to acts of worship will attain Paradise.

Îmân means accepting by heart all things revealed to Muhammad “alaihis-salâm” by Allahu ta’âlâ and delivered by him to us and stating this belief with the tongue. Place for the belief is qalb [spiritual heart]. The spiritual heart is a power which exists in the biological heart. Situations beyond one’s control, such as duress, illness, dumbness, and sudden death when there is no time, absolve one from the compulsion of stating one’s belief with the tongue. Imitative belief, which one has developed without understanding, is acceptable. It is sinful not to understand, and not to think of the existence of Allahu ta’âlâ. To deny any one of the tenets of belief means to deny all of them. However, it is considered as îmân to express belief in them as an ensemble without knowing all the tenets individually.

Îmân-i istidlâlî (belief obtained through reasoning)
Is îmân obtained through istidlâl [reasoning] not superior to the îmân obtained through taqlîd [imitation]?
Hadrat Imâm-i Rabbânî says:
The îmân [belief] that people have obtained by imitating the prophets is îmân-i-istidlâlî, for those who imitate so have understood with their reason and deliberation the fact that everything the prophets have communicated is true. Because the mu’jizas [miracles] Allahu ta’âlâ has given to prophets in order to reveal their prophethood prove beyond doubt that all prophets are truthful. The îmân which is worthless is the one acquired by following one’s parents. It is the belief developed by not reflecting over the fact that the prophets are truthful and what they have communicated is true, but by simply imitating one’s parents. Such an imitative belief is valueless according to the majority of the scholars. As for the intellect-based belief obtained through reasoning and reflection, a person can reach the îmân by following this process; however, a few people have achieved this. Shame upon those who try to obtain belief only by way of reasoning (istidlâl) without imitating the prophets! Allahu ta’âlâ prescribes how we should obtain belief. As a matter of fact, the 53rd âyat of Sûrat-u Âl-i ‘Imrân declares: “Our Lord! We believe in what You have revealed and we follow Your Messenger.” (First Volume, 272nd Letter)

Extricating ourselves from imitative belief
What is necessary for us to know in order not to be imitators in îmân?
Observing and learning the explicit order and harmony on the earth, in the sky, in creatures and in your own body, and thus reflecting over the existence of a Being who has created all of them extricate you from being an imitator in belief. We are not imitators in belief, but imitators in deeds.