Shaikh ul-Islam on the Increase and Decrease of Iman

Shaikh ul-Islam on the Increase and Decrease of Iman
Author: Shaikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyah
Source: Kitab ul-Iman (trans. S. Ahmed Tel)

Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah said:

If it is said: If absolute Iman includes all that Allah and His Messenger commanded, then, if some of the Iman diminishes, the sinners must be charged with unbelief as the Kharjites claimed, or abide forever in Hell and be deprived of Iman, as the Mu’tazilites claimed. The claims of the Kharijites and the Mu’tazilites were more erroneous than the claims of the Murji’ites. For there is a group among the Murji’ites who were considered good and praiseworthy people. However, the Kharijites and the Mu’tazilites were condemned by the consensus of the Orthodox Muslim community.

It is said: It should be known that the views of Mu’tazilites and Kharijites, with which none of the Orthodox Muslims agreed, implied that the people who committed major sins would abide forever in Hell. This claim was one of the important innovations because the Companions and Successors of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), their followers, and all religious Muslims agreed that whoever has an atom’s weight of Iman in his heart will not abide forever in Hell. They also agreed that our Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would be among those who would intercede to seek Allah’s permission for His intercession for the major sinners from his community. Indeed, both Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari relate that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said: “Every prophet is allowed one answered prayer. As for me, I delayed my request in order to intercede for my community on Judgment Day.”

This hadith will be mentioned in its proper place. However, some people have falsely related some sayings on the authority of the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). For example, it was falsely related on the authority of Ibn Abbas that there is no repentance for anyone who intentionally kills, and this is a further false claim about the Companions. For none of the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) ever related that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) either said that he does not intercede for major sinners or that he said that they [major sinners] will abide eternally in Hellfire. However, it was recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas, in one of his two narrations said: “There is no repentance for anyone who intentionally kills [a Muslim].” A similar error was related on the authority of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. However, the debate over repentance is different from the debate over eternal punishment in Hell. For killing involves a human right; that is why it was debated.

However, the saying, “If part of it [Iman] is lost, then the whole of it is lost,” is rejected, and it represents the essence from which many innovations concerning Iman emerged. Moreover, Mu’tazilites and Kharijites argued that if part of Iman is lost, the whole of it is lost as well; and thus, the major sinner will abide forever in Hell. In contrast, the Murji’ites argued that neither committing a major sin nor abandoning an obligatory deed results in losing Iman. The sayings of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and his Companions indicate that part of it is lost while the other part remains, as illustrated in the Prophet’s (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) saying: “He [Allah] will remove from Hell whoever has an atom’s weight of belief.” That is why the Orthodox Muslims said: “Iman exists in varying degrees among different people. It also may increase and diminish.” However, some of their followers said: “Iman increases but does not decrease,” as related on the authority of Malik in one of two accounts. Some [namely, Abd Allah Ibn al-Mubarak] said: “Iman exists in varying degrees.” But all the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) mentioned both the increase and the decrease of Iman. For example, people related on the authority of Hammad Ibn Salamah, on the authority of Abu Jafar, on the authority of his grandfather Umayr Ibn Habib al-Khatmi, one of the Companions of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), that he [the Prophet] said: “Iman increases and diminishes.” He was then asked: “How does it increase and diminish?” He replied: “If we hold Allah in remembrance, praise Him, and glorify Him, our Iman increases. But, if we hold Allah little in remembrance, our Iman diminishes. Similarly, Ismail Ibn Ayyaash relates on the authority of Jarir Ibn Uthman, on the authority of al-Harith Ibn Muhammad, on the authority of Abu al-Darda, who said: “Iman increases and diminishes.”

According to Ah mad Ibn Hanbal, who said that Yazid related, on the authority of Jafar Ibn Uthrnan: “Some or of all our scholars heard Abu al-Darda’ saying:

‘Indeed, it is a part of a man’s growth in knowledge to improve his Iman, make up for any decrease, know whether his Iman increases or diminishes, and know when and where Satan’s temptations may come.”‘ Also, Ismail Ibn Ayyaash narrated, on the authority of Safwan Ibn Amr, on the authority of Abd Allah Ibn Rabi’ah al-Hadrami, on the authority of Abu-Hurayrah, who said: “Iman increases and diminishes.” Ahmad Ibn Hanbal related, on the authority of Yazid Ibn Harn, on the authority of Muhammad Ibn Talhah, on the authority of Zubayd, on the authority of Dharr said: Umar Ibn al-Khattab used to say to his companions:

‘Let us increase our Iman [they hold Allah in remembrance].”‘ In the book of Gharib ul-Hadith, Abu Ubayd related the hadith of Ali which says: “Iman resembles a white spot on the heart; whenever Iman increases, the white spot increases as well.” It was related on the authority of Uthman Ibn Abd Allah and Amr Ibn Hind al-Jumali that al-Asmai said: “A lamzah, spot, is like a speck or something similar.”

Allmad Ibn Hanbal narrated, on the authority of Waki on the authority of Sharik, on the authority of Hilal and on the authority of Abd Allah Ibn Akim, who said:

“I heard Ibn Masud saying in his prayer: ‘Oh, Allah, increase our Iman, our conviction, and our knowledge [about religion].”‘ Similarly, Sufyan al-Thawri narrated, on the authority of Jami Ibn Shaddad and al-Aswad Ibn Hilal, who said:

Mu’adh Ibn Jabal used to tell a man: ‘Let us sit down to hold Allah in remembrance [in order to increase our Iman].”‘ Also, Abu al-Yaman narrated, on the authority of Safwan and Shurayh Ibn Ubayd who said that Abd Allah Ibn Rawahah used to take the hand of one of his companions and say: “Let us get up in order to increase our Iman for an hour in a posture that holds Allah in remembrance.” This increase in Iman was affirmed by the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) after his death and after the revelation of the whole Quran.

It was affirmed that Ammar Ibn Yasir said: “Three characteristics lead anyone who possesses them to have true Iman: to be just to oneself, to spend in spite of poverty, and to offer greetings to everybody [to those you know and to those you do not know].” Al-Bukhari recorded this in his Sahih. Also, Jundub Ibn Abd Allah, Ibn Umar, and others said: “We learned Iman, then we learned the Quran, and in turn increased our Iman. Indeed, there are many other sayings narrated on the authority of the Companions and their Successors that support the fact that Iman either increases or diminishes.

[Malik Ibn Dinar said that belief in one’s heart appears as weak and as frail as a small herb plant. If one cares for it, watering it with useful knowledge and good works, removing the thick underbrush that grows up around it and anything else that might weaken or thwart its growth, then soon it will thrive and increase. First it will grow roots, then branches, then fruits, until at last it rivals the mountains in size, casting shade that extends out to infinity. If, however, one shows no concern for it and neglects it, goats will come and pull it out by the roots, some little boy will carry it off, or the thicket will grow up around it, weakening or perhaps destroying it or depriving it of its moisture. And as this plant is, so also is belief.

Khaythamah Ibn Abd al-Rahman said that belief grows fat in times of fertility, and wastes away in times of drought. Its times of fertility are provided by good works, while its times of drought are brought on by sins and acts of disobedience.

One of the pious ancestors was asked: “Is it possible for belief to increase and decrease?” “Yes,” he replied, “it can grow until it towers like a mountain, or shrink until it is no larger than a particle of dust.”

Hudhayfah said in one of his sound traditions: “One might say of a certain man: ‘How long-suffering he is!’ ‘How witty he is!’ or, ‘How wise and judicious he is!’ even though he does not have belief in his heart the size of a grain of mustard seed.” In his other sound traditions we read that “the charms and attractions [of the world] are presented to people’s hearts as a mat is spread out [over the floor], one reed at a time. Any heart that partakes of them is stained with a black spot, while any heart that spurns them will take on a white spot until there comes to be two types of heart: one as white as a stone, which may never be harmed by temptation as long as the heavens and earth remain, and the other as black as an overcast sky, like an overturned earthen vessel that neither recognizes a good deed nor shuns an evil one except that which follows its own desire.” As for the tradition concerning the seventy thousand who enter Paradise without being called to account for [the sufficiency of] their deeds, it provides the most convincing evidence that belief may indeed increase or diminish, since the seventy thousand are described as having powerful, growing belief [that may be seen] through those qualities and attributes that make their belief manifest, and through their dependence on Allah in all of their affairs.

Abu Naim related, based on the account of al-Lay Ibn Sad, on the authority of Zayd Ibn Allah al-Yazni, on the authority of Abu Rafi, who said that a man related to him asked the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) about belief. In response he said: “Do you want me to tell you what pure, unadulterated belief is?” “Yes,” the man replied. “To have such belief means that if you offend or wrong anyone, be it your male or female slave or anyone else, you feel grief and regret; or if you give charity and do good, you feel joy and satisfaction.” A similar tradition is related by others on the authority of Yazid, on the authority of those who heard the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), when someone asked him about whether belief in one’s heart may increase or diminish, in reply to which the Prophet gave the response mentioned above. In addition, al-Bazzar said that it was related to us by Muhammad Ibn al Hassan al-Basri, on the authority of Hani’ Ibn al-Mutawakkil, on the authority of Abd Allah Ibn Sulayman, on the authority of lshaq, on the authority of Anas from the Prophet, who said: “There are three things that, if found within a person, cause him to merit reward and bring his belief to perfection: a temperament that enables him to live [peaceably] among people, piety that shields him from danger of disobedience to Allah, and a patient, forbearing spirit by which to ward off the ignorance of the ignorant. And there are four things that cause misery to those in whom they are found: a rigid outlook, hardness of the heart, excessive ambition, and greed for the things of this world.” The first group of attributes indicates the increase and strength of one’s belief, while those in the second group are evidence of its weakness and diminution.

Abu Yala al-Mawsili said that it was related to him by Abd Allah al-Qawariti and Yahya Ibn Said, on the authority of Yazid Ibn and Yahya Ibn Said, who said that it was related to them by Awf that he heard from (qah Ibn Abd Allah al-Mazni that Yazid said in his hadith at the mosque in Basrah: “I was told by a man [whose name Awf had forgotten] that he was in Madinah in a mosque with Umar Ibn al-Khattab and Umar said to one of those who were seated with him: ‘What have you heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) say about Islam?’ The man replied: ‘I heard him say that Islam began as a single tree trunk; then it was doubled, and then quadrupled. After this it grew to six times and finally flourished.’ Then Umar said to the man: ‘And what can happen after flourishing but that it should diminish?”‘ This is how it was related by Abu Yala in Musnad Umar; although in the Musnad of this obscure Companion of the Prophet its mention is more appropriate.

Abu Sulayman said that whoever does someone a good turn by night shall be rewarded by day, and whoever does someone a good turn by day shall be rewarded by night.

The increase of Iman is explicitly cited in many verses of the Quran. For example, Allah says: “For believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His Signs rehearsed, find their belief strengthened…” (8:2). Thus, if one feels a tremor in his heart when he hears the Signs of Allah rehearsed [not only when the Signs are revealed], his Iman increases. Indeed, a believer experiences this. When he hears the Signs of Allah rehearsed, his understanding of the meanings of the Quran becomes much clearer, his tendency to do good and his fear of committing evil is strengthened, and his knowledge of Allah and his desire to obey Him becomes stronger. Hence, his Iman increases. Similarly, Allah says: “Those [believers] to whom the people [hypocrites] said: ‘A great army is gathering against you: and frightened them: but it [only] increased their belief:’ They said: ‘For us Allah suffices, and He is the best Disposer of affairs”‘ (3:173). This increase in belief was due to their saying:

“For us Allah suffices, and He is the best Disposer of affairs,” when they were frightened by their enemy [not when the verse was revealed]. Allah also says:


“Whenever there comes down a Surah [a chapter from the Quran], some of them say: ‘Which of you has had his belief increased by it?’ Yes, those who believe, their belief is increased, and they do rejoice. But those in whose hearts is a disease, it will add doubt to their doubt…” (9:1225). This increase is not attributed to their affirmation that this Surah was revealed by Allah, but is due to their better understanding and practice of the meanings of the Quran. Thus, if it is a command to resort to jihad, their desire [to do this] becomes stronger, and if it is a prohibition from doing an evil, their hatred for doing it becomes stronger. For this reason, Allah says: “And they do rejoice.” Here, the word “rejoice” is not mere affirmation. Allah also says: “Those to whom We have given the Book rejoice at what has been revealed unto you: but there are among the clans those who reject a part thereof…” (13:36). Here, rejoicing is a response to the increase of Iman. Allah says: “Say in the Bounty of Allah. And in His Mercy, in that let them rejoice. . .” (10:58); and “. . . On that Day shall the believers rejoice. With the help of Allah….” (30:5). Allah also says: “And We have set none but angels as guardians of the Fire; and We have fixed their number only as a trial for unbelievers, in order that the people of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the believers may increase in belief….” (74:31); and “It is He who sent down tranquility into the hearts of the believers, that they may add belief to their belief.” (48:4).

This verse was revealed when the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) came back with his Companions from the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. Allah makes tranquility a condition for the increase of Iman. The word “tranquility” refers to peace of mind but not to the knowledge and certainty of the heart. Supporting this is His saying on the day of Hunayn. Allah says: “But Allah did pour His calm on his Messenger and on the believers, and sent down forces [angels] which you saw not…” (9:26); and “They two were in the Cave, and he said to his companion: ‘Have no fear, for Allah is with us.’ Then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces [angels] which you saw not…” (9:40). Indeed, on the day of Hunayn and on the day of the Cave, none of the verses of the Qur an were revealed. But, Allah sends down His tranquility and peace into the hearts of the believers. Therefore, they came back from Hudaybiyyah in order to increase their Iman.

This indicates that the increased Iman is a state of the heart and an attribute of it, and a work akin to its tranquility, calmness, and conviction. Conviction may be achieved through work and tranquility as well as through knowledge. Similarly, doubt may be in the realm of knowledge as well as in the realm of the heart’s tranquility. That is why the traditional prayer says: “Oh, Allah, we kindly ask you to send down of Your fear [into our hearts] that which prevents us [like a barrier] from disbelieving You of Your obedience [into our hearts] that which brings us closer and closer to Your Paradise, and of certainty that which enables us to endure with ease the world’s calamities.”

And in the hadith of [Abu Bakr] al-Siddiq, narrated by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi and others from the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), he said: “Ask Allah for good health and certainty. Besides certainty one can be given nothing better than good health. Therefore, ask Allah for them.” Hence, certainty in times of calamity and holding firmly to the belief that calamities happen with Allah’s knowledge and permission, produces tranquility and peace in the heart, and reliance on Allah. This is the most perfect Iman in Allah’s predestination of both good and evil, as illustrated in Allah’s saying: “No kind of calamity can occur, except with the permission of Allah: and if anyone believes in Allah, He [Allah] guides his heart the right way…” (64:11). said: “Ibn Masud narrated: ‘He is a man who when a calamity befalls him, knows that it happens with Allah’s knowledge and permission, feels content, and accepts it.”‘ Allah’s saying: “Allah guides his heart the right way,” refers to the increase of his Iman, as illustrated in the following saying of Allah. Allah says:

“But to those who receive Guidance, He increases the [light of] Guidance…”. (47:17). Allah also says: They were youths who believed in their Lord, and We advanced them in Guidance” (18:13).

The term “belief,” of all the terms mentioned in the Quran, is the one most frequently used in a muqayyad, conditioned, sense. When used in this manner, it does not include everything that Allah commands. However, when Iman is used in an absolute sense it encompasses [all] of those attributes or actions that are necessarily associated with it and the perfection of all that has been commanded. Allah says: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and spend of that whereof He has made you trustees. And such of you as believe and spend, theirs will be a great reward. And what is wrong with you is that you believe not in Allah! While the Messenger invites you to believe in your Lord has indeed taken your covenant, if you are real believers. It is He Who sends down His Manifest Verses to His Slave [Muhammad] that He may bring you out from darkness to light. . .” (57:7-9). Toward the end of the same chapter He also says: “Oh, you who believe! Fear Allah, and believe in His Messenger [Muhammad], He will give you a double portion of His Mercy, and He will give you Light by which you shall walk [straight], and He will forgive you. And Allah is All Forgiving, Most Merciful” (57:28).

Some Qur’anic interpreters explain the first verse as being addressed to the Quraysh tribe, and the second verse as being addressed to the Jews and Christians. However, this cannot be the case, for Allah never addresses unbelievers as: “Oh, you who believe.” After this Allah says: “So that the people of the Scriptures [Jews and Christians] may know that they have no power whatsoever over the Grace of Allah….” (57:29). It is agreed that this chapter of the Quran is among those revealed during the time when the Prophet was in Madinah; hence, it was not used to address the polytheists in Makkah. Allah says, “And what is the matter with you that you believe not in Allah! While the Messenger [Muhammad] invites you to believe in your Lord, and He has indeed taken your covenant, if you are real believers” (57:8). It is clear that this verse is not addressed to an unbeliever. Moreover, no covenant had been made with the unbelievers in Makkah, but rather with the believers who pledged their allegiance to the Prophet. All the Muslims who emigrated [to Madinah] acknowledged the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) as their leader, as did his Supporters on the night of al-Aqabah. However, the Prophet simply called them to realize and perfect their belief by performing those actions required of them both outwardly and inwardly, just as we ask Allah in every prayer we pray to guide us along the Straight Path. And although Allah guides believers to acknowledge [the truth of] the Prophet’s message as a whole, the detailed guidance in all that they say and do has not yet been realized. However, all this specific, detailed guidance is now a part of the belief that believers are commanded to have, and through it Allah brings them out of darkness into light.