Eemaan is Belief, Statements, and Actions: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah begins surah al-Baqarah with the following words:

الم * ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ * الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ … ـ

Alif Lam Meem * This is the Book about which there is no doubt. A guidance for the muttaqoon * those who believe in the Unseen … [2:1-3]

In many of the books of tafsir, explanation of terms or important topics will usually be placed at the first mention of that thing in the mushaf unless there is some motivating reason to delay it. Here, al-haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir took the first instance of a derivative of the word al-eemaan to define and discuss it:

قال أبو جعفر الرازي ، عن العلاء بن المسيب بن رافع ، عن أبي إسحاق ، عن أبي الأحوص ، عن عبد الله ، قال : الإيمان التصديق . وقال علي بن أبي طلحة وغيره ، عن ابن عباس ، ( يؤمنون ) يصدقون . وقال معمر عن الزهري : الإيمان العمل . وقال أبو جعفر الرازي ، عن الربيع بن أنس : ( يؤمنون ) يخشون . ـ

Abu Ja’far al-Razi reported that … ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said, “al-Eemaan is belief”.

And ‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah and others transmitted that ibn ‘Abbaas said, “yu’minoon means: they believed”.

Mu’mar said that al-Zuhri said, “al-Eemaan is action.”

And Abu Ja’far al-Razi recorded that al-Rabee’ ibn Anas said, “yu’minoon means: they feared”.

قال ابن جرير وغيره : والأولى أن يكونوا موصوفين بالإيمان بالغيب قولا واعتقادا وعملا قال : وقد تدخل الخشية لله في معنى الإيمان ، الذي هو تصديق القول بالعمل ، والإيمان كلمة جامعة للإقرار بالله وكتبه ورسله ، وتصديق الإقرار بالفعل . قلت : أما الإيمان في اللغة فيطلق على التصديق المحض ، وقد يستعمل في القرآن ، والمراد به ذلك ، كما قال تعالى : ( يؤمن بالله ويؤمن للمؤمنين ) [ التوبة : 61 ] ، وكما قال إخوة يوسف لأبيهم : ( وما أنت بمؤمن لنا ولو كنا صادقين ) [ يوسف : 17 ] ، وكذلك إذا استعمل مقرونا مع الأعمال ؛ كقوله : ( إلا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات ) [ الانشقاق : 25 ، والتين : 6 ] ، فأما إذا استعمل مطلقا فالإيمان الشرعي المطلوب لا يكون إلا اعتقادا وقولا وعملا . ـ

Ibn Jarir [al-Tabari] and others said, “The most proper understanding is that these people are characterized by having eemaan in the Unseen, manifested in their statements, their beliefs, and their actions.” And he also said, “Fear of Allah could also be included in the meaning of al-eemaan, as it is an affirmation of one’s statement through his actions. al-Eemaan is a comprehensive term for an affirmative belief in Allah, His Books, and His Messengers, as well as actualizing that affirmation through one’s actions.”

I [ibn Kathir] say: As for al-eemaan linguistically, it can also sometimes be used to refer to the mere act of belief alone, and this usage can be found in the Qur’an, such as Allah’s statement:

يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّـهِ وَيُؤْمِنُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

They have faith in Allah and believe the believers (i.e. trust in and accept their testimony) [9:61]

or as the brothers of Yusuf said to their father:

وَمَا أَنتَ بِمُؤْمِنٍ لَّنَا وَلَوْ كُنَّا صَادِقِينَ

but you do not believe us even if we were truthful [12:17]

And likewise when al-eemaan is used in conjunction with actions, such as Allah’s statement:

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ

… except for those who believe and do righteous deeds [84:25]

But as for when the term al-eemaan is used in a general sense, then the proper Sharee’ah understanding of that eemaan which we should strive to have is none other than: beliefs, statements, and actions. 

هكذا ذهب إليه أكثر الأئمة ، بل قد حكاه الشافعي وأحمد بن حنبل وأبو عبيد وغير واحد إجماعا : أن الإيمان قول وعمل يزيد وينقص . وقد ورد فيه آثار كثيرة وأحاديث أوردنا الكلام فيها في أول شرح البخاري ، ولله الحمد والمنة . ـ

This is what most of the scholars state. In fact, al-Shaafi’ee, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu ‘Ubayd, and others have reported this as the consensus (ijmaa’) position: that al-eemaan includes statements and actions, and that it increases and decreases. And there are many statements from the Prophet and from the Salaf on this topic in the beginning of the explanation of Saheeh al-Bukharialhamdulillaah.

ومنهم من فسره بالخشية ، لقوله تعالى : ( إن الذين يخشون ربهم بالغيب ) [ الملك : 12 ] ، وقوله : ( من خشي الرحمن بالغيب وجاء بقلب منيب ) [ ق : 33 ] ، والخشية خلاصة الإيمان والعلم ، كما قال تعالى : ( إنما يخشى الله من عباده العلماء ) [ فاطر : 28 ] . ـ

There are some who explain al-eemaan in this ayah to mean “fear” in light of Allah’s statements:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَيْبِ

Verily! Those who fear their Lord unseen [67:12]


مَّنْ خَشِيَ الرَّحْمَـٰنَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَجَاءَ بِقَلْبٍ مُّنِيبٍ

those who feared al-Rahman unseen and came with a repentant heart [50:33]

[It can also carry this meaning, for] fear is at the essence of al-eemaan and knowledge, just as Allah said:

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ

It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. [35:28]

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 1/165-166]

See also: The Three Categories of Tawheed according to the Qur’an: Imam al-Shinqitee

See also: The Two Types of those who Believe in the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

One thought on “Eemaan is Belief, Statements, and Actions: Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: Tafsir of Surah al-Baqarah 1-20: al-Tafsir al-Muyassar | Tulayhah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.