Degrees of Islam

There are three degrees of Islam:

1)      Islam

2)      Iman

3)      Ihsan

This is what is indicated by the hadeeth of Jibreel which was narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab رضي الله عنه who said:

One day when we were with the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and his hair was exceedingly black, and there were no signs of travel on him. No one among us recognized him. He came and sat down by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and rested his knees against his and placed the palms on his hands on his thighs.

He said: “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Islam is to testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish regular prayer, to pay zakaah, to fast Ramadaan and to go on pilgrimage to the House if you are able to.”He said: “You have spoken the truth.” And we were amazed at his asking that and saying that he had spoken the truth.

Then he said: “Tell me about Iman (faith, belief),” He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “It means believing in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, and believing in al-qadar (the divine will and decree), both good and bad.” He said: “You have spoken the truth.”

He said: “Tell me about Ihsan.” He صلى الله عليه وسلم said:  “It means worshipping Allah as if you can see Him, and although you cannot see Him, He can see you.”

He said: “Tell me about the Hour.” He said: “The one who is being asked does not know more about it than the one who is asking.” He said: “Then tell me about its signs.” He said: “The slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, naked, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings.” Then he departed and I stayed for a while. Then he said to me: “O ‘Umar, do you know who the questioner was?” I said: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said: “That was Jibreel, who came to teach you your religion.”

In Arabic the terms mean the following:

  • Islam means submission.
  • Iman means belief which is committed to submission.
  • Ihsan means doing something well, perfectly and sincerely.

When either of the words are used alone and not in conjunction with each other they all refer to the religion as a whole.

If there is any difference between them it is when they are used in conjunction with each other. The word Islam in conjunction with Iman refers to outward physical actions, the word Iman in conjunction with Islam refers to inward actions of the heart and the word Ihsan in conjunction with either or both of the words Islam and Iman means perfecting one’s outward and inward deeds.

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