What is the difference between a Mo’min and a Muslim? In what ways are they similar, and what are the differences between them?
Is there a basis in the Qur’an for differentiating between these two terms?
The two terms, sometimes used interchangeably as synonymous [where no distinction is implied] are also used in separate connotations specific to each.
The word “Muslim“, the noun for the active agent (subject) of the Arabic verb “Aslama“, literally means “one who accepts/submits”. While the word “Mo’min” the noun for the active agent (subject) of the Arabic verb “Aamana” means “one who believes”.
When the two words are used in comparison, as is the case, for instance, in Surah Al-Hujraat 49: 14, the former is used to imply the apparent submission or acceptance of Islam of a person, while the latter is used for his real [internal] faith.
For a better understanding, consider the case of a hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person who apparently is a believer. He is a person who declares the oneness of God, accepts Mohammed (pbuh) as a messenger of God, offers his prayers and pays Zaka’h. Yet, in real terms, he is devoid of Imaan [true faith]. Thus, in real terms, such a person will be a “Muslim” from a legal or a worldly perspective but not a “Mo’min” in real terms or from the perspective of the hereafter.
However, it should be remembered that we – humans – cannot decide about the Imaan of an individual. This is only the authority and the position of the All-Knowing God, Who, based on His absolute knowledge can distinguish between the “Imaan” and the “Islam” of an individual. We – because of our lack of knowledge of a person’s true “Imaan” – will have to rely solely on what is apparent. Thus, from a worldly perspective, we cannot make any distinction between “Mo’min” and “Muslim“.
16th December 1999