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Asma Society | American Society for Muslim Advancement

"He is alive, there is no god but He. So, call upon Him, purifying your religion for Him."
—Quran 40:65

Muhammad's message starts with a simple recipe. It speaks to what constitutes right action, right knowledge, and right virtue, namely islam, iman, and ihsan. Islam, or submission to God, refers to our effort in a set of right ritual actions. Iman, or faith, refers to right beliefs about God. Ihsan, or virtue, refers to living with a God-conscious attitude, what Buddhists call mindfulness. It encompasses both the states of loving God with all your heart and opening yourself to union or intimacy with God.

Islam is not about worshiping Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad, or the traditions that they came to teach. It is about using any one of these traditions, or any authentic tradition revealed by God to humans, to worship in submission to God so that we can get really intimate with God.

There is a famous hadith, or narrative about the Prophet, that says that the Prophet was seated with his companions one day when a stranger, later identified as the archangel Gabriel himself, walked into their presence. Gabriel proceeded to sit directly in front of the Prophet and asked him a series of questions. He first asked, "Tell me, what is submission (islam)?" The Prophet answered it by listing what became popularly known as the five pillars of Islam: testimony of faith, daily prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage (which we will describe below). To the surprise of those watching, this unknown questioner said, "You are correct." Next he asked what faith is (iman), to which the Prophet answered by listing the five items of belief: in God, in the angels, in the Scriptures, in the Prophets, and in the Last Day and Hereafter. Again the questioner responded, "You are right." Then he asked, "What is [mastery of] virtue (ihsan)?" To which the Prophet answered, "[Mastery of] virtue is to worship God as if you see Him; and if you don't see Him, then [worship Him with the conviction that] He sees you."4

Muslims read this hadith as outlining a path of religious evolution, from a mere external observation of religiosity to an inner expression of faith to a state of intimacy with God. Even among the religious, not all human souls are inclined to intimacy with God, any more than all souls are drawn to be expert in medicine. And among those who desire divine intimacy, few are capable of the self-discipline and hard work that is demanded of them to achieve it, just as few who want to become doctors are truly capable of expending the effort.

(excerpt from What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Published by Harper San Francisco)