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  3. Hadeeth 2 : An Explanation of Islaam, Eemaan and Ihsaan

Hadeeth 2 : An Explanation of Islaam, Eemaan and Ihsaan

Auther : Abu Zakaria An-Nawawi
34380 2008/02/07 2024/05/22

also on the authority of `umar (radi allaahu 'anhu), who said:

  one day while we were sitting with the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journey were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. he walked up and sat down in front of the prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam), with his knees touching against the prophet's (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs he said: “o muhammad, tell me about islaam.”
the messenger of allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “islaam is to testify that there is no deity worthy of worship but allaah and muhammad is the messenger of allaah, to perform prayers, to give zakaah, to fast in ramadaan, and to make the pilgrimage to the house if you are able to do so.”
he said: “you have spoken rightly”; and we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly.
he (the man) said: “tell me about eemaan.”
he (the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “it is to believe in allaah, his angels, his books, his messengers, and the last day, and to believe in divine destiny (qadr), both the good and the evil of it.”
he said: “you have spoken rightly.”
he (the man) said: “then tell me about ihsaan.”
he (the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “it is to worship allaah as though you see him, and if you do not see him, then (knowing that) truly he sees you.”
he said: “then tell me about the hour.”
he said: “the one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.”
he said: “then tell me about its signs.”
he said: “that the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, and that you will see barefooted, naked destitute shepherds competing in constructing lofty buildings.”
then he (the man) left, and i stayed for a time. the he (the prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “o `umar, do you know who the questioner was?”
i said: “allaah and his messenger know best.”
he said: “it was jibreel, who came to teach you your religion.”
it was related by muslim.

explanation of hadeeth 2

this is no doubt a great hadeeth, in that it includes within it all the outwardly apparent and inwardly actions, and all the sciences of the sharee'ah return back towards it due to its encompassing all the knowledge of the sunnah. hence some of the scholars have termed this hadeeth the mother/core of the sunnah (umm as-sunnah), just as soorah al-faatihah has been termed the mother/core of the qur'aan (umm al-qur'aan), due to its succintly containing all of the message of the qur'aan.

and in this hadeeth (from the mention of the white dress and black hair) is evidence for the beautification of ones appearance when entering upon the scholars, the pious and the kings, as jibreel (alayhi as-salaam) came to teach the people by his appearance, his statements and his actions.

the fact that the 'man' had no sign of travel upon him, and yet no one had ever seen him before surprised the sahaabah, as if he did not live amongst them then how did he just appear from 'nowhere'. in this way, jibreel (alayhi as-salaam) was able to attract their attention to what he was to say next. his statement 'o muhammad' rather than the respectful 'o messenger of allaah' that was obligatory upon the sahaabah, also helped to attain the full attention of the sahaabah.

his questions regarding islaam, eemaan and ihsaan show us that these are three distinct levels, with the level of ihsaan being the highest. it is important to note here that these terms when used together indicate specific meanings, whereas when used on their own they may encompass the meanings of the other terms. what this means will be explained in more detail below in shaa' allaah.

the term 'islaam' in its specific meaning refers to the outwardly apparent actions - such as the shahaadah, the prayer, paying the zakaat etc. if a person has the basic amount of eemaan required of him and then performs these major outward actions then he is at the level of 'islaam'.

the term 'eemaan' in its specific meaning refers to the inward beliefs of the heart, and for a person to enter the fold of islaam he must adhere to the basic beliefs mentioned in this hadeeth. however, in a more general sense the word eemaan denotes the beliefs and actions in the heart (eg aqeedah and fear of allaah), the statements of the tongue (e.g. dhikr of allaah) and actions of the limbs (e.g. fighting jihaad in allaah's cause). if a person achieves the basic outward actions of islaam, and then increases upon that in terms of his belief and his other actions, then he rises to the level of eemaan.

having eemaan in allaah means the attestation that allaah - glory be to him - exists, and is described with the lofty and perfect attributes, and is free from all deficient characteristics. and it includes the belief that he is one, the truth, the independent, and he is the only creator of all that exists, and he changes the creation as he wishes and he acts within his kingdom whatever he wishes.

and eemaan in the angels means attesting that they are his honoured slaves, and that they do not act except according to allaah's command.

and eemaan in the messengers involves attesting that they are truthful in all that they have conveyed about allaah, and that they were aided by allaah in the miracles that they performed to prove their truthfulness, and that they conveyed and explained the message of what allaah has ordered us with. also, we must respect and honour them all, and we must not differentiate between them.

and eemaan in the last day involves the attestation that we shall be brought back to life again after our death, and shall be collected together on the day of judgement, and on that day will be the accounting of our deeds, and the weighing in the meezaan (scales), and the crossing of the siraat (bridge), and finally the entry to either paradise or hellfire. and the belief that paradise is the place for rewarding the doers of good, while hellfire is the place for retribution for the doers of evil.

and eemaan in qadr (divine preordainment) includes the belief that allaah knows all that has happened and all that will happen, and that he has written this down in the protected tablet (al-lawh al-mahfooz) which is with him, and that nothing can happen except by allaah's will and permission.

and the way of the salaf and the imaams of the later times has been that whomsoever attests to and believes in these matters with a firm conviction having no doubt in them, then he will be counted amongst true believers, whether he arrived at these beliefs through detailed study of the intellectual proofs or not.

the term 'ihsaan' refers to the third and highest level, and is attained as mentioned in the hadeeth when the person worships allaah as though he sees him, and if he does not see allaah, then he worships him knowing that allaah sees him. the scholars have mentioned that the higher level of worshipping allaah as though one sees him is the level of mushaahadah. this implies that the person worships allaah seeing the effect of allaah's names and attributes in all the things around him. for example, when he sees mercy shown by an animal to its young he sees this as the effect of the mercy of allaah upon his creation, and so on and so forth. thus whatever the slave sees around him he is reminded of the perfect attributes of allaah 'azza wa jall. it does not mean that the slave sees allaah with his eyes, as this ru'yaa (seeing) is only for the believers on the day of resurrection. the second and lower level of ihsaan is where the slave is constantly aware of allaah watching him at all times.

the statement of the prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) that "the one questioned knows no better than the questioner" shows that even the prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam had no knowledge of when the last hour shall be. this knowledge is with allaah, and allaah alone. regarding the signs of the day of judgement, then two are mentioned in this hadeeth.

the first states that a slave-girl shall give birth to her master. some of the scholars have suggested that this could mean that the people will degenerate to the extent that they will sell their women slaves, from whom they have already had children. these children may then unwittingly buy their mothers as slaves, and thus become their masters. others have suggested that it means that children will become so bad mannered and insolent towards their parents that they treat their parents as though they were their slaves - and this is what we see in todays society.

the second sign is that the poor, destitute shepherds will compete with one another in building tall buildings. we only have to look to the arabian peninsula to see how people who were desert bedouins only a few decades ago are now literally competing with one another in constructing lofty sky scrapers. and there are some ahaadeeth from the messenger sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam indicating that constructing tall buildings is hated, if there is no genuine need for doing so.

so this hadeeth contains an explanation of islaam, eemaan and ihsaan. it has been narrated from the scholars of the past, such as imaam aboo al-husain ibn bataal al-maalikee that ahl-us-sunnah wa al-jamaa'ah are united upon understanding eemaan to consist of beliefs, speech and action, and that eemaan increases with the obedience of allaah and decreases with his disobedience. this is contrary to the statement of some of the deviant sects that eemaan is fixed or constant, and a person either has it or does not. so different people have different levels of eemaan, and we are not all equal in this respect. rather, we know from the statement of the prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam that the eemaan of abu bakr radiallaahu anhu was greater than the eemaan of the rest of the people combined (excluding allaah's messenger, of course).

and we also learn from this hadeeth that the person who attests to the shahaadataan and displays the major outward aspects of islaam is considered a muslim, while the one who goes further than that and increases in actions and beliefs is called a mu'min. thus the mu'min is at a higher station than the muslim. and the one who achieves the level of ihsaan is the best of the three and is called a muhsin - may allaah 'azza wa jall make us of them.


  • that the angel jibreel himself came to teach the fundamentals of the faith to the companions by asking questions to the messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam).
  • that one can teach others by asking about that which he already knows.
  • that if someone wants to know about islaam generally, then he should be made aware of the pillars which constitute it.
  • that islaam is built on the five pillars which have to be acted upon with eemaan and ihsaan. denying any one of these pillars and not wishing to fulfill any one of them makes one a non-muslim.
  • that belief in what allaah has destined for us, whether it is perceived to be good, or bad, is part of eemaan, and without believing in it, our eemaan is incomplete and defective.
  • that one must accept the messengers sent by allaah.
  • that one must develop ihsaan in all that he does so that he is as much aware as he can be that allaah is indeed watching every move that he makes.
  • that as part of the islaamic manner the teacher should be ready to accept and say that he does not know the answer or that he does not know it better than the enquirer.
  • that the signs of the last hour are real and cocern how we live and behave.
  • that although the companions were the best of the people and were the most knowledgeable, they did not interrupt with their own answers, nor did they show impatience at the questioner. therefore as part of the islaamic manners, if someone asks a question to the teacher in a group, then the others in the group should keep quiet until one of them is asked for help.
  • it is not permissible to say that there is a certain length of time left before the end of the world, for none knows but allaah, not even the messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam).
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