Is there a distinction between being a Muslim and being a Mu’min? The Qur’an definitely seems to use these terms distinctively, and does not take for granted or imply that they are interchangeable. In fact, it seems at points that the Qur’an implies that it is the Mu’minoon that are granted paradise and not necessarily the Muslims.
This question has often perplexed me because there are many non-Muslims I know who do consider themselves “believers”. Is it simply that carrying out one’s belief through the medium of Islam is the best path to manifest this belief?
Finally, a professor once explained the concept of din al-fitr as being all that man needs to fulfill his covenant with Allah, but because man forgets, the rahmah of Holy Books, Prophets, and Messengers is sent to guide him back to the Straight Path. This seems to imply that it is possible to be a believer without being a Muslim.
I realize these are “devils-advocate” type of questions, but nevertheless, I would appreciate your insights insha’Allah.
Both the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Mu’min’ have been used in the Qur’an in their literal sense as well as in their special connotation.
Explaining the word ‘Muslim’ as used in the Qur’an, I had written in one of my earlier responses:
The Qur’an has normally used the word “Muslim” in its literal sense. Literally, it means exactly what you have stated1. It is also clear from the Qur’an that this word was used by the followers of all the true prophets (pbut) of God. In this way, the Qur’an has actually made the point that the only way to success is “Submission to the commandments of God” or in other words, “Submission to the truth”.
However, on the other hand, the Qur’an has also used the word in the same meaning as we normally do (for example see Al-Hujraat 49: 14), i.e. referring to people who accepted Tawheed (belief in one God), Risalat (belief in the prophethood of Mohammad) and aakhirat (belief in the Day of Judgment).
This variance in the meaning and implication of the word, in my opinion, implies the two different facets of the word. In reality, the word implies a person who submits to the truth, while from a legal perspective, that is for the worldly purpose of distinguishing between Muslims and non-Muslims, the word referes to an individual who holds a particular set of beliefs.
On the other hand, the word ‘Mu’min’ is used for a person who believes (generally a person with true and sincere belief). As a term, however, it implies belief in one God, the hereafter, the prophets and all other necessary elements of belief, as stipulated in the teachings of the prophet (as summarized in Al-Baqarah 2: 285)
Keeping the given explanation in perspective, we see that these words have been used in the Qur’an in the following major connotations:
In contrast to each other – as in Al-Hujraat 49: 14. In such an instance, ‘islam’ refers to one’s apparent declaration of belief (which may not necessarily be true), while ‘imaan’ refers to true, sincere and deep rooted belief. Sometimes the word ‘imaan’ is used to imply true, but a slightly weaker level of faith, which does not have the power to generate an attitude of complete and unconditional submission – i.e. ‘Islam’ – as used in Al-Fath 48: 25 and Al-Baqarah 2: 8.
In support of each other – as in Al-Baqarah 2: 112. In such instances, ‘islam’ refers to ones attitude of submission to the directives of God and His messenger, while ‘imaan’ refers to the true belief that is the primary cause of the apparent attitude of submission.
As synonyms, where ‘islam’ refers to an attitude of unconditional submission to the directives of God, which is based on a person’s true and unshakeable belief in Him – as used in Al-Baqarah 2: 122; while ‘imaan’ refers to the true faith of a person in God, which must also entail unconditional submission to His directives and His will – as used in Aal Imraan 3: 110 and Al-Anfaal 8: 1 – 4.
It should be clear that a person’s success in the hereafter is actually the result of both his true and sincere faith – i.e. imaan – as well as his attitude of complete and unconditional submission toward the guidance that he receives from God – islam. Nevertheless, this should not be construed to imply that only those who believe in the last Prophet (pbuh) of God, shall qualify for the eternal bliss of the life hereafter. It only means that only those people shall qualify for the eternal rewards of the hereafter, who truly believed in and submitted to the truth that came their way and who did not reject any truth which their hearts and minds understood to be the truth.
I would tend to agree with the referred opinion expressed by your teacher. I would only add that even though it is possible that a person be a true believer, without being a Muslim – implying a Muslim in the legal sense – yet if such a true believer rejects the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) even after being convinced of his being a true prophet of the Almighty, then his true belief shall not benefit him in the least.
I hope this helps.
January 26, 2001
- i.e. “One who submits to God” [↩]