Īmān is to firmly believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day and al-Qadr (divine decree) — also known as the pillars of īmān.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Īmān has more than sixty or seventy branches. The best of (these) is to declare there is no god worthy of worship but Allah; and the least of which is to remove something harmful from the path, and modesty is a branch of īmān” (Muslim).
The essence of īmān is to firmly believe in لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا اللّٰهُ: there is no god worthy of worship except Allah. Lā ilāha illā-Allāh is the greatest statement ever uttered, the foundation of faith and the cornerstone of existence itself. For it, the heavens and the earth were created. For it, thousands of messengers were sent. For it, the final hour will occur, the creation will be gathered and questioned, and then driven either into Hell or Paradise.
Ibn Abī al-ʿIzz al-Ḥanafī (raḥimahullāh) writes, “The Prophet ﷺ informed us that īmān has multiple components. And every component is classified as īmān. So ṣalāh is part of īmān. So too are zakāh, fasting and ḥajj; interior actions like modesty, trusting in Allah, being in awe of Allah, turning to Allah in repentance (are also from īmān), to the extent that even removing something harmful from the pathway is from īmān.”
Iman In Times of Fitan
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed Īmān wears out in the heart just as clothes wear out — so renew your īmān” (Ṭabarānī).
Īmān is like a tree. If it isn’t tended to, it will wither and die. It has to be constantly watered with beneficial knowledge, righteous deeds and the remembrance of Allah. Likewise, for it to grow into a strong healthy tree, it has to be protected from pests and weeds. In other words, we have to protect our hearts from sins, desires, and doubts if we want our īmān to be strong.
We cannot take our īmān for granted, especially in this era of trials (fitan). The Prophet ﷺ said, “Hasten to good deeds before being overtaken by trials that are like parts of the dark night. A man would be a believer in the morning and become a disbeliever in the evening, or he would be a believer in the evening and become a disbeliever in the morning. He sells his religion for a worldly gain” (Muslim).
Although this era of temptation is a tough test, the reward for staying firm in it is immense. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, ahead of you are days of perseverance (ṣabr), in which perseverance will be like grasping a hot coal. The one who does good deeds in these days will have the reward of fifty men whose actions are like yours” (Tirmidhī).
“Imān in times of trials and doubts is from the greatest blessings” – Ibn Taymiyyah (raḥimahullāh)
Why Do People Leave Islam?
With the onslaught of deadly trials such as atheism, secularism, liberalism and materialism, we are witnessing an increase in people leaving the dīn of Allah. Many in the Ummah are confused and lack clear direction and purpose in their lives.
The key reason for this is that, unfortunately, the essence of īmān did not enter the hearts to begin with.
Prior to embracing Islam, in one of his business trips to Syria, Abū Sufyān (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) was requested in the court of Heraclius, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Eager to know about the new Prophet, Heraclius asked Abu Sufyān many questions. Amongst them was Heraclius’s question: “Does anybody amongst those who embrace his religion become displeased and renounce the religion afterwards?” When Abū Sufyān replied in the negative, Heraclius made a pertinent observation: “This is (the sign of true) īmān, when its delight enters and merges fully in the hearts” (Bukhārī).
In other words, once īmān fully merges into the heart and flesh of a believer, he will never give it up for anything. Īmān has a sweetness: once you taste it, you will never be pleased with a substitute. Once you taste the sweetness, you will never want to let go of it, and you will feel very protective over it. As for the heart which has never tasted the sweetness of īmān to begin with, it will not even realise what it is missing out on. And when it loses īmān, it will not realise what it has truly lost.
A lack of knowledge about the inner dimensions of worship, and a lack of appreciation for the beauty of Islam, prevents us from tasting the sweetness of īmān. We often limit the practice of the dīn to external acts of worship and ignore the inner aspects, the essence of our actions. A person may pray or fast or perform any outward act of worship, but it is empty of its essence –and more of a ‘ritual’ or a ‘cultural practice’. It is devoid of a true connection with the Lord of the worlds.
Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says,
…قَالَتِ ٱلْأَعْرَابُ ءَامَنَّا قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا۟ وَلَٰكِن قُولُوٓا۟ أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ ٱلْإِيمَٰنُ فِى قُلُوبِكُمْ
The desert Arabs say, ‘We have believed.’ [Prophet], tell them, ‘You have not believed. What you should say instead is, ‘We have submitted,’ for īmān has not yet entered your hearts…’ (49:14).
In other words, these Bedouins are Muslims, but they are not Mu’minīn (believers), as īmān has not fully entered and merged into their hearts. These people are not disbelievers, but they are yet to taste the reality of īmān. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) says, “Indeed īmān has a joy and sweetness in the heart. Whoever does not experience it either lacks or is deficient in his īmān.”
In the next āyah, Allah (ʿazza wa jall) describes the true believers. He says,
“The true believers are those who believe in Allah and His Messenger—never doubting—and strive with their wealth and their lives in the cause of Allah. They are the ones true in faith” (49:15).
The true believers are those who have tasted the essence and sweetness of īmān: they are the ones who believe in Allah and His Messenger, and do not experience any doubts. This is because the delight of īmān has fully entered their hearts, leading them to give up what they love the most (i.e. their wealth and their own lives) for the sake of Allah. Only those who have tasted the true essence and delight of īmān are able to sacrifice in this manner.
Conversely, when īmān is not firm in the heart, the heart will gradually collapse when faced with trials and temptations. It becomes very easy for doubts to creep into the heart and, if not tended to, could leave one to eventually losing one’s īmān. Thus, a strong protection against doubts is to nurture hearts to taste the sweetness of īmān. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) writes, “Doubts will not be removed from the heart until the servant arrives at this state [of tasting the sweetness of īmān].”
Īmān is the core. Without it, everything collapses. It is the first thing we must learn about and it is the first thing we have to nurture in our youth. Jundub b. ʿAbdillāh (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said, “We were with the Prophet ﷺ and we were young men, nearing puberty. We learnt īmān before we learnt Qur’ān. Then we learnt Qur’ān, and increased our īmān through it” (Ibn Mājah). We have to strengthen īmān in our hearts. We have to make our hearts attached to Allah, so that we always turn to Him, be in awe of Him, have hope in Him, put our trust in Him, and love Him like no other.
What Is the Sweetness of Iman?
One of Allah’s greatest blessings upon the servant is that He makes īmān beloved to him, He adorns his heart with the beauty of īmān and He makes him taste its sweetness.
The sweetness of īmān refers to feeling joy in doing good deeds and in undergoing difficulties for the sake of Allah. The servant worships and undergoes difficulties, forsaking worldly pleasures in pursuit for the eternal pleasures of the hereafter. It is a contentment experienced by those who worship Allah sincerely.
Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh) writes, “Īmān has a flavour and a sweetness which is tasted by the heart just as the sweetness of food and drink is tasted by the mouth; for indeed īmān is the sustenance of the hearts, just as food and drink are the sustenance of the body.”
There is nothing like tasting the sweetness of īmān. You can read about it extensively, but you cannot understand it until you experience it.
“The one who is sincere for Allah will taste the sweetness of servitude to Allah, to the extent that it will prevent him from servitude to anyone else. This is because there is nothing sweeter nor more joyful or blissful than the sweetness of īmān, which consists of servitude to Allah, loving Him and being sincere in the religion for Him. This requires the heart to journey to Allah: to turn to Him in constant repentance, to love Him and to be in constant awe of Him.” – Ibn Taymiyyah (raḥimahullāh)
Sins: A Barrier to Tasting the Sweetness of Iman
Sins deprive us of tasting the sweetness of īmān and worship. The more sweetness and joy we find in sinning, the less joy and sweetness we find in worshipping Allah.
When we are sick, we do not enjoy the taste of food. Sometimes we cannot even taste the flavour of the food. If we are feeling nauseous, even the most expensive meal would not entice us to eat. Likewise, if our hearts are sick and diseased due to committing sins and following desires, we cannot enjoy the ‘sweetness of īmān’. Mālik b. Dīnār (raḥimahullāh) said, “If it pleases you to find the sweetness of worship and reach its peak, then place a wall of iron between you and the desires of the world.”
Wuhayb b. Ward (raḥimahullāh) was asked, “Can the sinner taste the sweetness of worship?” He said, “No, not even the one who considers doing the sin.”
How To Taste the Sweetness of Iman
The sweetness of īmān is attained through worshipping Allah holistically by combining the outer acts of worship with their essence: the inner states of the heart. There is a sweetness to be found in all the branches of īmān. There is sweetness in trusting in Allah, hoping in Allah, being in awe of Him; in performing ṣalāh, in reciting the Qur’ān, in making duʿā’ and so forth. The following are some means to tasting the sweetness of īmān specified by the Prophet ﷺ:
1) Love Allah and His Messenger ﷺ more than anyone else
2) Love a person for the sake of Allah
3) Have yaqīn (conviction) in Allah to the extent that you would rather be burned than turn to disbelief
The Prophet ﷺ said, “There are three [qualities] which, if they are found in anyone, shall cause him to experience the sweetness of īmān: that Allah and His Messenger are more beloved to him than everything else; that he loves a person only for Allah’s sake; and that he hates to return to disbelief after Allah had saved him, just as he would hate being thrown into the fire” (Bukhārī).
The above three qualities are the loftiest qualities of īmān. These three have been singled out as they combine the main principles of īmān. It is not possible to attain these unless one’s īmān is deeply entrenched in his heart.
4) Purify your soul
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever does three things will experience the taste of īmān: … a servant who purifies himself. A man asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! What does it mean for a person to purify himself?’ He replied, ‘He knows that Allah is with him wherever he may be” (Bayhaqī). Thus, in order to taste the sweetness of īmān, we have to purify our hearts from its diseases (pride, envy, greed, heedlessness, hypocrisy etc).
5) Give zakāh wholeheartedly
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever does three things will experience the taste of īmān: whoever worships Allah Alone and that there is no god worthy of worship but Allah, and he gives the zakāh due on his wealth every year, with his soul happy and helping him (to give zakāh)…” (Abū Dāwūd).
Thus, when a person gives zakāh happily, and does not feel like he is burdened or forced to do so, this quality leads him to tasting the sweetness of īmān.
6) Have firm belief in al-Qadr (Divine Decree)
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Everything has a reality, and the servant will not reach the reality of īmān until he knows that what afflicted him could never miss him, and that what missed him could never have afflicted him” (Aḥmad).
7) Be pleased with Allah as your Lord, Islam as your dīn, and Muhammad ﷺ as your Prophet
The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who is pleased with Allah as his Lord, with Islam as his religion and with Muhammad ﷺ as his Prophet — has tasted the flavour of īmān” (Muslim).
When you are happy with Allah as your Rabb, you are content with Him, and you do not seek other than Him. Rabb is the One who manages your affairs; thus, you are happy with how He manages your life. You are happy with what He decrees for you, including the tests you are afflicted with, and you are happy with what He has legislated. This ties in with you being happy with Islam as your dīn, since this is the perfect way of life that Allah has chosen for you.
What Does Tasting the Sweetness of Iman Lead to?
Experiencing the sweetness of īmān and acts of worship is a game changer. Once you have experienced it, your life will change and you will forever crave its pleasure. You will realise that no other blessing can compare. Ibrāhīm b. Adham (raḥimahullāh) said, “If the kings and the princes knew what we experience of spiritual bliss and happiness, they would fight us for it with their swords.”
The sweetness of īmān can overpower the bitterness of worldly difficulties. Similarly, once the heart experiences the sweetness of īmān, it detests sins and disbelief. Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says, “But Allah has endeared īmān to you, and made it beautiful in your hearts. And He has made disbelief, sins, and disobedience detestable to you. Those are the ones rightly guided” (49:7). The world is no longer the goal. The eyes are focused on the hereafter. Even in times of trials and temptations, the person is not swayed. The sweetness of īmān keeps him firm on the truth.
Let us always ask Allah (ʿazza wa jall) with the words of His Beloved ﷺ:
اَللّٰهُمَّ زَيِّنَّا بِزِيْنَةِ الْإِيْمَانِ ، وَاجْعَلْنَا هُدَاةً مُّهْتَدِيْنَ
O Allah, adorn us with the beauty of īmān and make us those who guide others and are guided themselves.
We ask Allah al-Mu’min, The Giver of īmān and safety to grant us the sweetness of īmān in this world and the sweetness of His company in Paradise.