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|Iman (increase & decrease)||| Print ||
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
ImanSeveral questions and queries have reached us stipulating that Iman is the decisive assent that conforms to reality and is based on evidence; that this is a Shari’ah definition of Iman and that there are several Ayat denoting that Iman increases, such as the saying of Allah (swt) in Surat al-Anfal: “For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their Iman strengthened, and put their trust in their Lord.” [TMQ]. So does Iman increase? Does it also decrease? What is the opinion in the difference among the scholars of the Ummah in respect of this matter? Is it the assent (Tasdeeq) that increases or the effect of Tasdeeq, in terms of humility, piety and deeds? What is the denotation of the Ayat in which the increase of Iman is mentioned?
The concept of Iman has been the subject of difference. It had been said that it was the assent with the heart, the acknowledgement with the tongue and the performing of pious deeds. It had also been said that it was the assent with the heart alone, and that it was the acknowledgement alone. Hence, when a difference occurred over the link between the acknowledgement with the tongue and the action of the limbs on the one hand and the assent of the heart on the other hand, and over what comes under the definition of Iman and what does not, the issue of increase and decrease in Iman or the lack of either branched out.
Those who adopt the opinion that actions come under the concept of Iman say that Iman increases and decreases according to the multitude and the scarcity of actions. Those who exclude actions from the concept of Iman say that Iman neither increases nor decreases, because assent is unacceptable with doubt, thus there is no room for increase and decrease.
Those who adopt the opinion of increase and decrease in Iman use a host of rational and textual arguments. The rational arguments are: The Iman of individuals from among the Ummah, including the Fussaq (transgressors), is not equal to the Iman of the prophets and the angels. Also, assent has several grades, because the assent of the Muqallid (imitator) is not like the one who knows the evidence, nor is it like the assent of the observer or the absorbed one who sees (the signs of) Allah (swt) in everything.
Also, the assent by the heart increases and decreases according to the multitude or the scarcity of insight and the clarity of evidences; assent increases through manifestation, and the Iman of the righteous is free of suspicion, thus it is stronger than the Iman of others.
As for the textual evidences, they include the saying of Allah in Surat al-Fatah: “It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add Iman to their Iman” [TMQ]. Also, the saying of Allah in Surat al-Anfal: “For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their Iman strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord.” [TMQ] And His saying in Surat al-Muddathir: “And that the Believers may increase in Iman.” [TMQ]; and in Surat al-Tawbah: “As for those who believe, their Iman is increased and they do rejoice.” [TMQ]. The textual evidence also includes the Hadith in which the Messenger of Allah (saw) was asked: “Does Iman increase and decrease?” He said: “Yes, it increases until one enters paradise and it decreases until one enters hell”; and the Hadith: “If the Iman of Abu Bakr was weighed against the Iman of this Ummah, it would outweigh it.” They also said that the Ayat mentioned the increase and anything that increases is also subject to decrease, except for the prophets due to the infallibility factor. The increase in the Iman occurs because of the increase in the pious deeds and the decrease occurs because of the decrease in pious deeds. The pious deed is to undertake what is commanded and abstain from what is prohibited.
Although these Ayat have mentioned the increase of Iman, the Mufassireen did however differ over their interpretation (Tafseer). Some of them proceeded with the attempt to confirm the increase and decrease in the assent, and they interpreted the Ayat as follows: The saying of Allah in Surat al-Anfal: “And when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their Iman strengthened,” i.e. the assent, they said that “the Iman of this hour is greater than yesterday’s, for he who assents twice and thrice, his assent increases in comparison with the past; what is meant by the increase is not the strength of the evidence, but rather the multitude of evidences.
Those who rejected the notion of decrease and increase interpreted the texts as follows:
The saying of Allah (swt) in Surat al-Anfal: “and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their Iman strengthened” [TMQ], and His saying in Surat al-Fatah: “It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add Iman to their Iman” [TMQ]; they said that this was applicable to the Sahaba, because the Qur’an was being revealed all the time and they would believe in it, thus their latter assent is an addition to the former. As for us, the revelation has ceased; and what has increased through confidence, multitude of pondering and the accumulation of proofs is in fact the fruit of assent and not its origin. As for the saying of Allah: “Find their Iman strengthened” [TMQ], and His saying in Aal Imran: “So it increased their Iman” [TMQ], it means the collective composed of the assent, the approval and the action, not the assent alone. As for the Hadith, “If the Iman of Abu Bakr were weighed against the Iman of this Ummah, it would outweigh it”, it was a preponderance in the reward because he was first in Iman. They also said: “It is not wrong to use the word Iman in reference to these actions in respect of their indication of assent with the heart overtly – “And never would Allah make your Iman of no effect” [TMQ] – i.e. your Salat – “Iman is over 70 grades, its top is the Shahada of there is no god but Allah and its last is removing nuisance from the road.”
Some of them said that the difference between Abu Hanifah and the rest of the Imams was simulated, because the fact that the actions of the limbs are imperative to the Iman of the heart, or part of Iman, while agreeing that the perpetrator of a major sin does not leave the fold of Iman, would render the difference irrelevant. Those who said that the neglecter of Salat is Kafir added to this foundation other evidences and they agreed that the adulterer, the thief, the drinker and the plunderer are not stripped of the quality of Iman completely. The saying of Ahl al-Sunnah that “Iman is a saying and an action” means that Allah (swt) wanted from the servants to assent with the heart and confirm with the tongue.
They also agreed that if one assented with his heart and confirmed it with his tongue, then refrained from acting with his limbs, he would be a rebel against Allah and His messenger, and he would deserve punishment, and some of those who do not include the actions in the definition of Iman say that his Iman would be like that of the Sahaba, the prophets and the angels, because Iman is the same thing.
Those who adopt the increase and decrease dealt with the Iman of the angels and the prophets and said: “The Iman of the prophets increases but does not decrease, because the perfect is only prone to perfection, and the Iman of the Messenger of Allah (saw) after the assent does not necessitate a disparity in Iman; they conveyed the consensus that the Iman of the angels and the prophets cannot decrease because of decrease in righteous deeds. They interpreted the saying of Allah in Surat al-Baqarah: “He said: ‘Have you not believed then?’ He said: ‘Yes, but for my heart to be reassured.’” [TMQ] as meaning: ‘Does your Iman not suffice you?’ He answered: ‘I have believed but just to reassure my heart by seeing the manner.’
In fact Iman according to Shari'ah is “the decisive assent that conforms to reality and is based on evidence.” The decisive assent means the gelling of the heart with the consent of Aql (reason), i.e. its origin is the decisive assent by the Wijdan (heart) on condition of the Aql consenting. As for action, it is not included in the definition of Iman, but rather it is the fruit of Iman, not its origin or its essence. Iman, in this Shari'ah sense, is not susceptible to increase and decrease because the decisiveness that bars the contradictory cannot be predisposed to increase and decrease. Either it is a decisiveness that bars any contradiction to it, or it is not. Hence, if the decisiveness is established, then there is no room either for increase or decrease. The increase is non-existent and is worthless in respect of the occurrence of decisiveness, and decrease is to bring decisiveness to a lower level, denoting doubt and suspicion which amounts to Kufr by unanimous agreement.
As for what they listed in terms of rational and textual proofs about the increase and decrease of Iman, the rational proof represents the evidence that Aql (reason) generates independently to confirm an issue. What they listed in terms of rational proofs cannot be deemed as sound evidence to confirm the issue, because the Iman of the angels cannot be researched rationally because angels are beyond the senses. As for the issue of the prophets’ Iman in comparison with the individuals of the Ummah, if Iman in this context means the assent by heart and the righteous deeds, then it has been established according to Shari'ah that the prophets are ahead of others. However, if by Iman the decisive assent were meant, then to say that the Iman of the two are disparate must be built upon the soundness of various degrees of decisiveness. Such an issue does not arise as rather than itself being sound and independent evidence, it would be dependent upon it. These two issues are subject to difference. Besides, if the disparity in the Iman of the two can be rationally established, how could Aql prove that the Iman of Lut and Haroun (peace be upon them) was below the Iman of Ibrahim and Mousa the moment they were chosen for prophethood? There is no way to prove this and to delve into it is futile. As for the extensive contemplation and the level of clarity in the evidences, these are subject to difference about whether they are related to the root of Iman or to its fruits, and to take a decision on either of the two matters must be directly referred to sensed perception in order to deem it as a sound rational proof; otherwise, the preponderance would be a judgement that lacks evidence.
As for the textual evidences, the issue of Iman is part of Aqeedah matters and its evidence must be conclusive because Aqeedah matters can only be taken by way of certitude. The mentioned Ayat are not conclusive in their allusion to the increase of Iman within the context of the assent by heart, let alone their denotation to its decrease. Scholars differed over their Tafseer but none of them claimed that the Tafseer of the others contradicted conclusive evidence and none of them accused the others of Kufr; each party deemed his Tafseer preponderant with one of the aspects of preponderance. Were the Ayat conclusive in meaning, they would stand as a valid argument with their own wordings and syntheses without the need for a Qareenah (conjunction) to indicate the intended meaning from them.
As for the Ahadith, not one single Hadith has been deemed as Sahih (sound) regarding the increase and decrease of Iman, neither Marfu’ (attributed) nor Mawquf (discontinued), and the issue was unknown in the time of the Sahaba. As for the report, “If the Iman of Abu Bakr was weighed against the Iman of this Ummah, it would outweigh it”, it is textually part of the dispute and Iman was explained as being the reward because he was among the first in Iman. Besides, it is impossible for Iman to mean assent in this context, for among people, there are thousands of Sahaba and they include the ten who were promised paradise, those who were mentioned in the Qur’an as having gained the pleasure of Allah (swt), the martyrs and righteous till the day of judgement. Hence to interpret it in the manner they did would not leave any merit or Iman for the Ummah. Besides, the report was not established as soundly attributed (Marfu’); it is rather the saying of Omar (ra) and the attribution in it is not specified. Its wording in the book of al-Shu’ab of al-Bayhaqi is as follows: “If the Iman of Abu Bakr was weighed against the Iman of the People of the earth, it would outweigh them.” Even if these reports were sound, they would not be deemed as proof because the issue is doctrinal and Aqeedah cannot be established via probability.
To argue that the Ayat mention the increase, that all that is susceptible to increase is also susceptible to decrease, that the Iman of the prophets is susceptible to increase through the increase of righteous deeds but not to decrease because of the exigency of infallibility, and that the decrease of Iman due to lack of righteous deeds cannot be applicable to the angels and prophets, is not correct. This is because if it is conceded that all that is susceptible to increase is also susceptible to decrease and that the Iman of the prophets is susceptible to increase, then the exception given to the susceptibility of decrease in the Iman of the prophets is arbitrary, especially as the exception is not conformable. The decrease in righteous deeds does not affect the infallibility because the righteous deeds are wider than the performing of Fardh and refraining from Haram; the righteous deeds means to perform all the commanded deeds and avoid all the prohibited deeds. The Ayat mentioned the disparity in the levels of righteous deeds among the prophets; besides, the evidence of infallibility is rational and not textual and the infallibility of the prophets is specific to the Tableegh (conveyance). Furthermore, the unanimous consensus that the prophets are exempted from decrease in Iman serves in itself as an evidence of the error in the claim that Iman increases and decreases, because if the increase and decrease were possible in Iman, it would be applicable to all humans; this inconsistency led them to justification and interpretation. As for the justification, they said that the Iman of the prophets increases but does not decrease because the perfect is that which is only susceptible to perfection. This is rejected, because it is only the absolute perfection that is not susceptible to increase and decrease. As for the relative perfection, it is susceptible to both increase and decrease and the perfection of the prophets is relative in comparison to other humans and not an absolute perfection that takes them out of their humanity. As for their interpretation, they found that the prophets experienced a major manifestation from time to time as was the case with the Messenger of Allah (saw) in the night of ascent, and they conceded that his Iman was not at the same level as after it, and yet they said that this does not necessarily suggest a disparity in their Iman. This is odd because if the Iman after the ascent was different to that before it, then this is none other than disparity itself. Since no sound evidence was produced in exempting the prophets from decrease in Iman, this compels them to list the Iman of the prophets under the denotation of the Ayat which were interpreted by the increase and decrease of Iman because the Messenger of Allah (saw) is included in the address; they have no other choice but to resort to interpretation or to seek a different Tafseer.
On the basis of the aforementioned, we conclude that the dispute over the increase and decrease is built upon the definition of Iman. The dispute in the definition of Iman emanates from the inclusion of actions in the name of Iman. This was attributed to the fact that some scholars relied on their definition of Iman on the reality of Iman demanded by Shari'ah, so they said it was an assent by the heart and they deemed the actions as an effect of this assent. The others relied on what was mentioned in the texts – Ayat and Ahadith – which talked about Iman and described it by increase and decrease, where they considered the actions were included in the definition of Iman. The former said that doubt or defect must not creep into the decisive assent because it would amount to Kufr; hence, the increase and decrease pertain to the effect of Iman which is the actions. The latter said that the increase and decrease pertain to the second part of the definition of Iman which is the action. Hence, we find that there is an agreement between them on the Hukm (verdict) on Iman and on the fact that a defect in Iman amounts to Kufr; they also agree on the Hukm of actions, namely that they amount to sin and not Kufr, except for their dispute over the neglecter of Salat because Salat was singled out through texts stipulating the Kufr of he who forsakes it, thus some of them adopted the literal meaning of the texts, like Imam Ahmed, and others interpreted these texts and classified Salat as an action because this is its reality, like the other Imams among others.
Therefore, the increase of Iman mentioned in some verses of the Qur’an means the strength of the link with Allah (swt) and the decrease of Iman means the weakness of the link with Allah. It does not mean the decrease in the decisive assent that conforms to reality and is based on evidence because the decrease in the decisive assent means the creeping of doubt and suspicion, and this is Kufr. The meaning of, “It increased their Iman” and “So that they may add Iman to their Iman”, is that their link with Allah (swt) has been strengthened due to their remembering that Allah will suffice them and that He is al-Qadir and al-Nasser, who alone can bring benefit and inflict harm, that nothing will happen to them except for what Allah has prescribed for them. Hence, the reports about the increase reflect the increase in their link with Allah with the presence of their Iman; this is due to their remembering that to Allah belong the soldiers of the heavens and the earth, and due to their conviction that Allah will grant them victory. This link is strengthened through the remembrance of Allah, the reading and the reciting of the Qur’an. Also, in order to strengthen this link, one needs to crystallise the concepts that emanate from the Aqeedah by illustrating the reality of these thoughts, perceiving their denotations and consolidating the assent in them by establishing their conformity to reality and delving into their evidences. Iman weakens when one engrosses his mind in worldly affairs and spends his time chasing the pleasures of this life.
15th Rabi’ al-Thani 1426
24th May 2005