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 Believing  Dilemma

A research article based on the question; are Muslims still considered a believer if he/she does not fulfil Islamic obligations, such as offering prayer etc.?

This article covers concept of Islamic beliefs along with believer’s characteristics. It also makes logical argument that it is irrational to believe in the God but disobeys Him at the same time. In the end it proves that fulfilment of the obligations is the essential component of the believer.

Written by Asim Nazir
Student of Master in Islamic Studies
Islamic University Qatar


ANS: Firstly we should understand that islamically “Muslim” means to submit one’s will to God and Allah addressed the believer with the name of Mohmin, which means "Believer".  Linguistically we may say Muslim is a synonymous of Mohmin but Islamically Mohmin is the right word for the believer. 
According to the Quran, believer (Mohmin) consists of two things (1) Beliefs (2) Obedience.

  1. Beliefs:

Allah said,
This Messenger of Ours believes in that which has been revealed to him from his Lord, and so do the believers: all of them believe in Allah, and in His angels, and in His Books, and in His Messengers, saying, ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers;’ and they say, ‘we hear, and we obey. We implore Thy forgiveness, O our Lord, and to Thee is the returning (Hereafter).
So, believing in oneness of Allah, in angels, in holy books, in hereafter and according to the other Quranic verses and hadiths believing in Qadar (Predestination) are the essential beliefs to be a believer in Islam. These beliefs mentioned in the Quran over and over in several places.
(2) Obedience:  
Quran mentions various times that "Obey Allah and His messenger" i.e. in chapter 3, verse 32, Allah says "Say, "Obey Allah and the Messenger." But if they turn away - then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers."
Now the question arises, how are we supposed to obey Allah? The logical answer would be, through the Quran & explanation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) because he is the one who brought the Quran to us otherwise we did not know who Allah was.
These are two fundamental principles of a believer (Mohmin). If someone does not have those beliefs as mentioned above & do not obey Allah and His messenger then according to the Quran he can’t claim to be a believer. Allah has thoroughly explained in the Quran on various places about the definition & characteristics of the believer (Mohmin), which are followings.
Characteristics of a Believer (Mohmin)
 Allah says in the Quran: “The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases in faith, and upon their Lord they rely. The ones who establish prayer, and from what We have provided them, they spend. Those are the believers truly.”

On other place Allah said, “Believers, they are the ones who turn to God in repentance, who worship Him, who praise Him, who go about in the land serving Him, who bow down to God, who prostrate themselves in prayer, who enjoin good and forbid evil, and who watch the limits set by Allah, and give glad tidings to them.”

In many other versesAllah has explained in detail, who retains the title of a believer and compendium of all those verses is that the believers are obedient, they worship their Lord, and they are the ones who are successful.

Logical Argument:
If someone believes in Allah but does not fulfil the obligations which Allah has commanded such as offering prayer or keeping fast etc, is he still believer? I would like to make my first argument, why do we believe in Allah and do not want to follow His orders (i.e. offering prayer etc)? Contemporary answers would be, "we don't have time to do it" or "It is very hard to do" or "it is not important".
There are many reasons of these answers; few of them are the followings:

  1. Obligations are burden rather worship: Religious obligations are often considered burden because of our lack of interest to recognize their purposes. For instance, praying is hard for those who don’t consider it part of their life and don’t realise how beautiful and tranquil it is to bow their heads in front of their creator.  Praying is hard for those who don’t comprehend its purpose and never tried to practice it. Once it is not the part of our life and we don’t appreciate its objectives, then it is like lifting a mountain on our arms or becomes less important.

On the contrary, some time we embrace very tough routine without any problem, like all other activities become part of our daily routine so easily i.e. exercise every day [running, gym etc], any entertainment activity, we get adjusted to our busy work routine without any problem because we know their significance. This proves, humans have abilities to adjust and similarly they can also adopt religious activities (i.e. prayer) in similar fashion. But most important question is, why we ignore religious practices (i.e. prayer) whereas fulfil all other engagements without delaying them? The simple answer is, we find religious duties (i.e. prayer) less important than other worldly activities because of our weak faith (no fear of God).    

  1. Lack of Knowledge: Why we have no fear of God? Because we never took interest in religion as it is seen as backward ideology in this "modern" world. It is simply because of lack of Islamic knowledge, as we are abandoning the Islamic education from our life and focusing more on the other side. Therefore our religious ignorance has increased and worldly actions have become more significant for us than religious deeds. In result of that fear of God has vanished from our hearts, as Allah said, "Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge.”
  2. Decline of Faith: Due to inadequate Islamic knowledge, faith (Emaan) has decreased to its minimum level, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) highlighted this issue and said, "When the believer commits a sin, a black spot appears upon his heart, if he repents and abandons the sin along with seeking forgiveness, then his heart will be polished. If he increases in the sin, then the blackness of his heart increased (means faith fades away).” This is the concept of “sealing of the hearts” Allah has described on many occasions in the Quran that when a God’s command  reaches to them they reject it frequently and become transgressors, in result of that Allah puts seal on their hearts as their punishment. For instance Allah says "…No, but on their hearts is a seal of what they have earned." Our hearts have become black (spiritually) due to our disobedience of our Lord and we don't consider a sin as a sin anymore. 
  3. Influence of Modern Western Ideology: Another vital reason of our religious ignorance is an attractiveness of the western liberalization which also has exaggerated this subject. Western negative attitude towards religion due to their ruthless encounter with European theocracy (esp. Christian Theocracy) in Middle Ages & the Age of Enlightenmenthas led us to believe that religion has no values rather it is a product of human’s intellectuality to civilize the society.      

My second argument is how irrational it is to believe in the Lord but disobey Him at the same time by ignoring all of His commandments. Are we in the state of believing dilemma where we think having faith in the Lord is essential but disobeying will not lead them to punishment? Would it be logical to just believe in Allah but refuse to obey Him? It is as though you acknowledge your manager as superior at work but don’t want to accept his orders. 
Allah’s commandments serve to distinguish between a believer and a disbeliever. Allah said in the Quran after explaining the characteristics of the believers that "....Those are the inheritors who will inherit al-Firdaus (Paradise).” They will enter paradise because they obeyed their Lord in the life of this world. Even the story of Shaytan (devil) and Adam in the Quran emphasizes on the issue of obedience and disobedience. It will be worth mentioning that Shaytan (devil) was expelled from the heaven not because he disbelieved in Allah but refused to follow His order to prostrate Adam.  Similarly how many stories Allah has stated in the Quran about previous nations who disobeyed Him and Allah gave them punishment i.e. Quran says "There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding." It will also be worth citing that the people of the Quraish (people of Makkah in the time of prophet) believed in Allah, they also believed in hereafter, but they associated partners with Allah and disobeyed Him.
The theme of the Quran is obedience of the Lord and that is why Allah revealed those holy books and sent messengers for guidance. The logical conclusion would be, no one can be guided until he obeys his Lord through following the books and messengers. Another important question arises in the mind, if having faith in the Lord was enough to be successful/believer, then what was the point to reveal all the commandments and emphasizing on their fulfilment? Some may argue, it is because of different level of the believers regarding their faith and which is why Allah has different levels in paradise. My response to this would be, faith has two fundamental components, having beliefs and being obedient of the Lord (as discussed above), which can be named as Fundamental Faith and essential for becoming believer. Another branch of the faith is Spiritual Faith which can fluctuate according to the believer’s deeds, as Allah said, “…and when His verses are recited to them, it increases in faith...”, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explained, “"Shall I not tell you something by which Allah effaces the sins and elevates the ranks (in paradise)? The Companions said: "Yes O Messenger of Allah." He said, "Performing the Wudu (ablution) properly in spite of difficult circumstances, walking with more paces to the mosque, and waiting for the next Salat (prayer) after an observing Salat (prayer).”
The believers will inhabit the different levels of paradise according to the quantity/quality of their deeds but entering into paradise will require both Fundamental Faith (Being believer) & Spiritual Faith (Righteous deeds i.e prayer, fasting etc) as stated in the Quran, “They who believe and do righteous deeds, those are the companions of Paradise. They will abide therein eternally.” Then how it can be concluded that it is enough to believe in Allah and there is no issue in His disobedience? Whereas Quran contradicts it.

Prayer the Obligation:
Let us observe one of the most important obligation in Islam, the Prayer. I have chosen it because it is the most popular event of Islam, and this argument is presented by majority of Muslims that they will not be accountable for just abandoning the Islamic obligations (such as prayer, fasting, zakah etc.) as long as they are morally good. My first counterargument would be, how did they draw this conclusion that they still have a moral character in the eyes of the God even being frequently disobedient to their Lord? Quran is very clear on this issue, a believer can’t be disobedient to his Lord, as it mentions, “Then is one who was a believer like one who was a disobedient? They are not equal.” We disobey Allah repeatedly by not following his commands and Allah said, “And Whoever disobeys Allah & His messenger, indeed Allah is severe in punishment.”, and another place Quran mentions, “Let those who contradict His commands beware a trial or a severe punishment.” Is someone still morally good in Allah’s eye if he disobeys Him?

Prayer is a 2nd pillar of Islam after the beliefs (as mentioned above) and it develops continuous consciousness of the God by building Taqwaa (fear of God). Allah has emphasized it 700 times to pray in the Quran. There is also an enormous collection of explanation by Prophet (peace be upon him) on its importance, as he said, "The difference between a Mohmin (believer) and a Kafir (disbeliever) is the abandoning of Salaah Prayer).” Allah made it clear, those who do not offer prayer, do not pay gratitude to Him and whoever disobeys Him he will go to hellfire, as mentioned in the Quran, [angels will ask the people when they will be thrown into hellfire] "And (ask) of the Sinners: What led you into Hell Fire? They will say: “We were not of those who prayed.". It is worth mentioning, these people mentioned in this verse will be Muslims but did not worship Allah, because Non-Muslims cannot say they are in the hellfire because they did not offer prayer as they don’t believe in Allah in first place. On another place Allah said, "Woe to those who are heedless of their prayers." In similar context Allah is describing the believers as disbelievers when they don’t pay Zakah (fixed annual charity) & who give Zakah, they are being addressed as believers in the following verse, Quran mentions, “And when they are told, ‘spend on others out of what Allah has provided you’ the disbelievers tell the believers: ‘Should we feed those whom Allah would have fed if He so wished? You are clearly in error.” Again this verse is referring to Muslims because Zakah is not an obligation on Non-Muslims and we undoubtedly can comprehend, whoever disobeys Allah and does not fulfil His commands, he is being referred as a disbeliever in the Quran.        
I would also like to shed some light on the above mentioned hadith which says the difference between a believer and disbeliever is abandoning a Salat (prayer). It is because Salat (prayer) is a worshipping and recognising the only one Lord in His oneness which separates a true believer from a disbeliever. Also, being morally good would be crucial to claim to be a believer but disobedience of the Lord is considered major sin by a God which overrides the concept of being good without fulfilling obligations. We can conclude now from above discussion that if a Muslim disobeys Allah by not following His orders, his believer’s identity is outrightly in doubt and to have just basic beliefs (oneness of Allah, in prophets, in holy books, in angels & in hereafter) would not be enough to save him. Allah knows best.

Please see Quranic verses (2:V128), (2:V132-133), (2:V136) and most prominently in chapter 2 verse 131 where it clearly shows that Muslim means to “Submit”.


Quran-Beliefs: (2:V2-6), (4:V162), (2:V177), (4:V136), (9:V29) etc. Quran-Predestination: (54:V49), (97:V1), (54:V53), (6:V59), (10:V61), (34:V3)

Quran (8:V2-4)

Quran (9:V112)

Quran (3:V16-17), (4:V162), (23:V1-11), (25:V63-76), (27:V2-4) etc.

Quran: (35:V28)

Sunan Ibn Majah, Chapter of Zuhd, English Version, Vol 1, Book 37, Hadith # 4244.

Quran: (83:V14). Also see (2:V7), (4:V155), (6:V46), (7:V100), (9:V87), (9:V93), (10:V74), (16:V108), (30:V59), (40:V35), (45:V23), (47:V16) & (63:V3).

Also called Medieval Period from 5th to 15th century AD.

Beginning in late 17th century in Europe. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, to challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith and to advance knowledge through the scientific method.

Quran: (23:V1-11)

Quran (12:V111)

Quran: (23:V84-89), (12:V106), (29:V61-63), (31:V25)

That Prophet said, “The people of paradise are one hundred and twenty ranks, eighty from this nation and forty from all other nations” Sunan Ibne Majah, Book of Zuhd, English version vol 1, Book 37, Hadith 4289, Also in Riyad as Salihin, Book of Virtue, Arabic/English version, Book9, hadith # 1054: “Prophet said, “He who purifies (perfor Wudu) himself in his house and then walks to one of the houses of Allah (mosque) for performing an obligatory salat (prayer), one step of his will wipe out his sins and another step will elevate his rank in paradise, (also in Sahee Muslim)

Quran (8:V2-4)

Riyad as Salihin, Arabic/English version, Book 9, Hadith # 1059, Narrated by Imam Muslim (author of Sahee Muslim)

Quran: (2:V82)

Qruan: (32:V18)

Quran: (8:V13)

Quran: (24:V63)

Sahee Muslim, English version, Darussalam publication, Book #1: The book of faith, Chapter 35, hadith # 246

Quran: (74:V41-44)

Quran: (107:V4-5)

Quran: (36:V47)

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