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Shi'a Beliefs
Tawhid (Monotheism)Tawhid of EssenceTawhid in AttributesTawhid in ActionsTawhid in Worship
Other BeliefsTawassulShafa'aTabarruk
Divine Justice
Bada'Amr Bayn al-Amrayn
Infallibility'Ilm al-ghaybMu'jizaIntegrity of the Holy Qur'an
InfallibilityWilaya'Ilm al-ghaybOccultation of Imam al-Mahdi (a) (Minor Occultation,Major Occultation) • Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a)Raj'a
End TimeHereafterBarzakhEmbodiment of ActionsBodily ResurrectionAl-SiratTatayur al-KutubMizanHashr
Other Outstanding Beliefs
Ahl al-Bayt (a)The Fourteen InfalliblesTaqiyyaMarja'iyyaTawalliTabarri

'Imān (Arabic: إيمان) or faith is a heartfelt belief in the teachings of the Prophet of Islam (s) and the Twelve infallible Imams (a). Shia jurists take faith to be a necessary condition for marja's, imams of congregational prayers, judges, and receivers of zakat. According to the majority of Shiite scholars, faith is not a matter of taqlid (following someone's lead).

According to Shiite theologians, faith requires the belief in the Imamate of the Infallible Imams (a) after the Prophet (s), in addition to belief in monotheism, the prophethood of the Prophet (s), Divine Justice, and resurrection. According to the Qur'an, having faith is different from having Islam, and is, indeed, of a higher degree. Moreover, faith is a matter of degrees and no one can be coerced to have faith.

Many Shiite scholars believe that having Islam is more general than having faith. Thus, everyone who has faith has Islam as well, but it is not the case that everyone who has Islam has faith too. However, some Shiite scholars, such as Khwaja Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and al-Shahid al-Thani, maintain that having Islam is the same as having faith, although apparent Islam is of a lower degree than faith.


In hadiths and jurisprudence, faith is used both in general and specific senses:

  • General meaning is one's certitude of the heart about all the Prophet (s) has brought from Allah.
  • Special meaning is to have faith in Imamate and guardianship of the twelve Imams (a) as well as the faith in its general meaning. According to this definition, all Twelver Shi'a are considered as faithful.[1]

Jurists use special meaning of faith in different discussions such as ijtihad, emulation (taqlid), cleansing, prayer, khums, fasting, i'tikaf, hajj, waqf, nadhr, qada', and witnesses.

Faith in its special meaning is a religious obligation and even the most important of all obligations and acts of worship and it is the requirement for acceptance of them which is a matter of consensus among all religious authorities. It is a prerequisite for the source of emulation [the religious authority], Imam of Congregational Prayer (imam al-jama'a), one to whom zakat and khums is given, judge, witness [at the court] and the one who is going to distribute the treasure assigned by the Sharia ruler. Many religious authorities have considered faith as a prerequisite also for the one who recites the adhan (call for prayer) and one who does hajj instead of another.

Al-Shaykh al-Mufid,[2] an Imami scholar, takes faith to consist in a heartfelt belief, verbal testimony, and action in compliance with God's orders. The same view is held by al-Shafi'i,[3] a Sunni scholar. Some Imami scholars, such as al-Sayyid al-Murtada, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani, al-Fadil al-Miqdad, and 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Lahiji,[4] believe that faith is an act of heart. Thus, faith is a heartfelt belief in God, in the Prophet, and in the revelation. Thus, verbal testimony is not required for having faith.

In Theology

Theologians have different theories about the special meaning of faith (the first theory has been accepted more):

Act of Heart

Faith is an act of heart: according to this theory, faith is the acknowledgement of God, the Prophet (s) and what he (s) has brought from God by heart. Mu'min [the faithful] is one who has faith in the heart and declaring by the tongue is not necessary; also action is separate from faith and its fruits. This acknowledgement is different from knowledge and is in fact inclination of the heart and the volitional act based on knowledge; thus, it is possible that one knows about something but does not acknowledge that which is a volitional act of heart like Jews of Medina who, according to the Qur'an, knew that the Prophet (s) was sent by God but they did not acknowledge him, "Those whom We have given the Book recognize him just as they recognize their sons, but a part of them indeed conceal the truth while they know." (Qur'an 2:146)

Most Ash'arites,[5] Maturidi and his followers,[6] some Imamiyyas such as Ibn Nawbakht, al-Sayyid al-Murtada, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani, al-Fadil al-Miqdad, and Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji][7] accepted this theory.

Mere Acknowledgement by the Tongue

Faith is the mere acknowledgment by the tongue: meaning that if one only recited shahadatayn without accepting them in the heart or practicing other obligations, he is regarded as faithful and thus a hypocrite is faithful in this world. This is the viewpoint of Kiramiyya and also attributed to some of Murji'a.[8]

Knowledge and Knowing

Faith is knowledge and knowing: and everyone agrees that Jahm b. Safwan believed in this definition; however, this viewpoint has also been attributed to some others such as Najjariyya, some of Qadariyya, some of Imamiyya and Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari.[9]

Doing Obligations and Abandoning the Forbidden

Faith is doing all the acts of worship including obligations, recommended actions and prohibiting the forbidden. Most Mu'tazilites,[10] Khawarij and Ghulat[11] are advocates of this definition including Abu Ali al-Juba'i, Abu Hashim al-Juba'i; but many of the Mu'tazilites of Basra believe that doing recommended actions is not a part of faith.[12]

Acknowledgment by the Heart and Admitting by the Tongue

This is the opinion of some Twelver Shia scholars such as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, al-'Allama al-Hilli[13] and Shaykh Salim b. Mahfuz.[14]

Acknowledgment by the Heart and Admitting by the Tongue and Practicing Acts of Worship

Faith is the acknowledgment by the heart and admitting by the tongue and practicing acts of worship. This is the viewpoint of Ahl al-Hadith (traditionists) and also some early scholars such as Ibn Mujahid,[15] al-Shafi'i,[16] and al-Shaykh al-Mufid from among Twelver Shi'a scholars.[17]

In Philosophy

In the view of philosophers, faith is the progress of soul in the course of theoretical perfection. Although, doing obligations and abandoning the forbidden is in the progress of soul in the course of theoretical perfection but this progress is, in fact, the result of that course of theoretical perfection; thus one who is faithful is one whose faith correspond to the realities of creation.

Declination of Faith

One of the most important theological discussions about faith is if the faith of the faithful would decline? Most theologians have accepted the possibility of declination of the faith of the faithful, but it is said that al-Sayyid al-Murtada regarded it impossible that a true faith would decline and al-Shahid al-Thani also accepted it.[18] Also, Al-Sayyid 'Abd Allah Shubbar believes in the separation of the two levels of the "perfection of certainty" and other levels, and believes that if one reaches the perfection of certainty, declination of faith would be impossible, otherwise it would be possible.[19]

Emulative Faith

There is disagreement on whether emulation is appropriate for faith or it should be achieved through reasoning. Sunni scholars[20] and also followers of Hashwids and Ta'limids accept emulated faith.[21] But, Mu'tazilites, most of the Ash'arites,[22] and Imamiyya (Twlever Shia) do not regard emulation in faith as sufficient and consider reasoning as required for having true faith.[23] Even though they disagree on whether the origin of such an obligation is intellectual or traditional, where for example Mu'tazilites and Imamiyya (Twlever Shia) regarded it intellectual and Ash'arites regard it traditional.

Articles of Faith

In the Qur'an, the following issues are mentioned as the articles of faith:

  1. Faith in God[24]
  2. Faith in all prophets (a)[25]
  3. Faith in what was revealed from God to prophets (divine books, etc.)[26]
  4. Faith in the Day of Resurrection[27]
  5. Faith in angels[28]
  6. Faith in the Unseen[29]

The important point is that the above articles of faith are inseparable, meaning that one would either believe in all of that and he will be faithful, or he is not faithful whether he believes in some of them or he does not believe in any of that. The Qur'an refers to this for example in "But those who have faith in Allah and His apostles and make no distinction between any of them —them He will soon give their rewards, and Allah is All-forgiving, All-merciful." (Qur'an 4:152) and "Those who disbelieve in Allah and His apostles and seek to separate Allah from His apostles, and say, 'We believe in some and disbelieve in some' and seek to take a way in between (150) it is they who are truly faithless..." (Qur'an 4:150, 151)

Fruits and Requirements

  • Faith is different from Islam and is at a level higher than that[30]
  • True faith accompanies the great love of God.[31]
  • God brings the faithful out of darkness into light.[32]
  • In many verses of the Qur'an, after praising faith, doing "righteous acts" by the righteous ones is mentioned so that their necessary connection is understood from it.
  • True faith is that can increase or decrease.[33]
  • Believers' hearts finds rest in faith.[34]
  • The faithful are fortified with an "immutable word" (firm saying) by God in their worldly life.[35]
  • Satan has no authority over the believers who have not accepted his guardianship.[36]
  • The Qur'an is a guidance and healing for believers.[37]
  • God made faith beloved and beautiful in believers' hearts.[38]
  • God's descent of composure into the hearts of the faithful enhances their faith.[39]
  • The faithful are those whose hearts tremble [with awe] when Allah is mentioned.[40]
  • The faithful when tested are jolted with a severe agitation.[41]
  • No one would become faithful through compulsion.[42]
  • Despite the Prophet's (s) eagerness, most people will not have faith.[43]

The words "mu'min" (one who is faithful), "mu'minun" (the faithful) and their attributes are mentioned in the Qur'an suggesting that the faithful is a special group of people, and their lifestyle is completely different from the non-faithful. They live having a completely different worldview, thoughts, manners, and habits. Their motive in life is formed in their promise to God.[44]

However, the faithful people are not immaculate and sinless people. In different verses of the Qur'an, the faithful have been heeded about their sins and mistakes and they have been asked to correct themselves.[45]

Principles of Faith

Shi'a theologians believe that believing in unity, divine justice, the Prophet (s) and Imamate of infallible Imams (a) after the Prophet (s), and the hereafter are requirements of faith.[46]

In the viewpoint of Mu'tazilites, essential requirements of faith are unity, divine justice, prophethood of the Prophet (s), reward and punishment, and enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.[47] In the viewpoint of Ash'arites, believing in the Prophet (s) for what we know he (s) has brought for certain such as the unity of God, obligation of daily prayers, general acknowledgement of what is known generally and detailed acknowledgement of what is known in details;[48] and in the viewpoint of Hanafites, faith requires belief in God, angels, divine books, prophets and the Day of Judgment.[49]

Relation of Islam and Iman

Another issue about faith is the relation between Islam and Iman [faith]:

  • Islam and faith are different: most of the Imamiyya[54] and Ash'arites[55] believe in this opinion. They believe that Islam is more general than faith and every faithful person is Muslim but every Muslim is not necessarily faithful.

According to Allama Tabataba'i, a contemporary Shiite philosopher and exegete, both having Islam and having Islam are of varying degrees, and any degree of having Islam is a prerequisite for obtaining the next degree of having faith. Thus, the first degree of having Islam is to accept apparent divine commands and prohibitions, and then the first degree of faith is heartfelt belief in the content of Shahadatayn, which leads to acting upon ancillary Islamic rulings.[59]


  1. Shahīd al-Thānī, Masālik al-afhām, vol. 5, p. 327-338.
  2. Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 440; Shubbar, Ḥaqq al-Yaqīn, p. 558-9
  3. al-Khamīs, Usūl al-dīn, p. 41
  4. al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, al-Dhakhīra, p. 536-7; Baḥrānī, Qawāʿid al-marām, p. 170; Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 442; Lāhījī, Sarmāya-yi īmān, p. 165.
  5. Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 177; Ījī, Sharḥ al-mawāqif, vol. 3, p. 527.
  6. Maturīdī, al-Tawḥīd, p. 395; Ghaznawī, Kitāb uṣūl al-dīn, p. 250-251.
  7. Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 442; Baḥrānī, Qawāʿid al-marām, p. 170; Lāhījī, Sarmāyi-yi īmān, p. 165.
  8. Ashʿarī, Maqālāt al-islāmīyyīn, vol. 1, p. 223; Muʿtazilī, Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa, p. 709; Shahristānī, al-Milal wa l-niḥal, vol. 1, p. 127.
  9. Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 177; Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 442.
  10. Ashʿarī, Maqālāt al-islāmīyyīn, vol. 1, p. 330; Muʿtazilī, Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa, p. 707.
  11. Ījī, Sharḥ al-mawāqif, vol. 3, p. 527; Qushjī, Sharḥ al-tajrīd, p. 393.
  12. Ījī, Sharḥ al-mawāqif, vol. 3, p. 527; Muʿtazilī, Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa, p. 709; Qushjī, Sharḥ al-tajrīd, p. 393.
  13. Ḥillī, Kashf al-murād, p. 426.
  14. Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 440-441.
  15. Qushjī, Sharḥ al-tajrīd, p. 393; Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 54.
  16. Khamīs, Uṣūl al-dīn, p. 41.
  17. Fāḍil Miqdād, Irshād al-ṭālibīn, p. 442; Shubbar, Ḥaq al-Yaqīn, p. 558-559.
  18. Shubbar, Ḥaqq al-yaqīn, p. 558-559; Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 54.
  19. Shubbar, Ḥaqq al-yaqīn, p. 573.
  20. Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 218.
  21. Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 59.
  22. Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 288.
  23. Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 54.
  24. Quran 2:186, 256; 3:52, 110, 193; 4:175
  25. Quran 3:179; 57:19; 2:177; 4:136
  26. Quran 2:136; 4:162
  27. Quran 2:8, 62, 126, 228, 232, 264
  28. Quran 2:177, 285
  29. Quran 2:4
  30. Qur'an 49:14
  31. Qur'an 2:165
  32. Qur'an 2:257
  33. Qur'an 9:124
  34. Qur'an 13:28
  35. Qur'an 14:27
  36. Qur'an 16:99
  37. Qur'an 41:44
  38. Qur'an 42:52
  39. Qur'an 48:4
  40. Qur'an 8:2
  41. Qur'an 33:11
  42. Qur'an 2:256
  43. Qur'an 12:103
  44. Qur'an 23:1-6, 9:71, 8:74, 33:23
  45. Quran 61:2; 63:9; 60:1; 49:1-12; 58:9
  46. Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 144-164.
  47. Ghazālī, Qawāʾid al-ʿaqāʾid, p. 145.
  48. Ījī, Sharḥ al-mawāqif, vol. 3, p. 527; Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 177.
  49. Ghaznawī, Kitāb uṣūl al-dīn, p. 252.
  50. Muʿtazilī, Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa, p. 705.
  51. Mufīd, Awāʾil al-maqālāt, p. 54.
  52. Khamīs, Uṣūl al-dīn, p. 435-436.
  53. Ṭūsī, al-Tibyān, vol. 2, p. 418.
  54. Mufīd, Awāʾil al-maqālāt, p. 54.
  55. Bāqlānī, Tamhīd al-awāʾil, p. 391.
  56. Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Qawāʾid al-ʿaqāʾid, p. 142-143.
  57. Shahīd al-Thānī, Ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, p. 120-121.
  58. Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 5, p. 207.
  59. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 1, p.301-303


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