The Pillars of Eman
The tenets of Eman (faith in Muhammad and in his messenger hood) allows a gradual growth of piety from the fundaments of Islam to a higher form of belief. The Book reflects upon the spiritual development of those who already have a firm belief in Allah, the Hereafter and ‘doing what is righteous’, in sum, al-Islam. The following pillars of Eman are built perhaps similar to the sublime top floor of a massive building upon the pillars of al-Islam:
- The witness ( al-shahada) that Muhammad is Allah’s apostle: But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (revelation) sent down to Muhammad… (Muhammad 47:2) Only those are believers who have believed in God and His apostle, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the cause of God: such are the sincere ones… (Muhammad 47:15)
- The prayer ‘at stated times’: For such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times. ( Al-Nisa” 4:103)
- The giving of alms tax (spending). Note that spending (infaq) is a pillar common to both Islam and Eman because spending has a social (care for other people) as well as a spiritual dimension (the wish to come closer to God). The difference, however, is that spending in Islam is a natural act ensuing from the humans’ innate disposition (al-fitra)— ‘Whatever good you give, shall be rendered back to you…’ ( Al-Baqara 2:272)—while spending on the zakah tax in Eman is a social burden that does not come naturally: [How] prosperous are the believers! […] who pay the prescribed alms. ( Al-Mu”minun 23:1, 4,)
- The fast in the month of Ramadan: O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you… ( Al-Baqara 2:183)
- The pilgrimage to Mecca by ‘those who can afford the journey’: …Pilgrimage thereto is a duty man owe to God—those who can afford the journey… (al-Imran 3:97)
- Consultation: [Those who] respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation… ( Al-Shura 42:38,)
- The fight in God’s way (note: ‘there is no compulsion in religion’, Al-Baqara 2:256) for freedom, justice, and equality: Fighting is ordained for you, though you dislike it… ( Al-Baqara 2:216,)
These seven pillars of al-Eman are not exclusive but also include the pillars of Islam, such as belief in Allah, the Hereafter, and ‘doing what is righteous’. Muslim-Assenters ( muslimun) who, in addition, seek to become Muslim-Believers (mu’minun) are therefore fully obliged not to forget their commitment to fulfilling Islam’s three pillars of faith.
As we laid out, the fundamental difference between the two kinds of faith is that Islam is the innate (natural) disposition of all people in this world, while Eman is a form of ritual worship that contradicts humans’ innate disposition. Through these rituals, adherents of Eman differ from those who are not, but they do not differ in their moral behavior (respect for parents, avoidance of fraud and perjury, etc.), which is universally articulated in similar ways. As for the problem of disbelief (al-kufr), we have said that the Book correlates two kinds of disbelief to the two types of faith: disbelief in the realm of Islam and disbelief in the realm of Eman. The first kind of disbelief negates the existence of God, the Hereafter and ‘doing what is righteous’; it undermines the fundaments of Islam. Al-kafir bi’l-llah is, in short, an atheist who has dissented from God.
The second kind of disbelief rejects belief in Muhammad and his book. It refers to someone who refuses to acknowledge both Muhammad’s prophethood and his messenger hood. Both kinds of disbelief must be expressed in deliberate, fully articulated, and publicly stated views by which the disbelievers antipathetically oppose either kind of faith. Only those who have declared their disbelief in such an open and antagonistic manner, like for example Abu Lahab (the prophets uncle) who became a kafir because he was openly hostile towards Muhammad, shall be declared infidels. Others who did not openly contradict Muhammad’s message even though they did not believe in it, were quite rightly so not regarded as kafirs. O you who believe! Believe in God and His Apostle, and the scripture which He has sent to His apostle and the scripture which He sent to those before (him)… (Al-Nisa” 4:136) ‘Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief—God will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way.’ ( Al-Nisa” 4:137).