Q. Can you tell us the difference between a mu'min (believer) and a Muslim? And what do you think of the famous hadith about the six arkan (pillars) of iman (faith)?
A: Let me start first with the hadith to which you refer. This is the famous one in which the angel Gabriel reportedly approached the Prophet while he is with a group of people and asked him some questions. The primary function of the hadith is a didactic one, and it reveals a certain sectarian bias. It certainly illustrates agreed upon beliefs of many Muslims except for the idea of predestination -- accepted only by certain schools. It allowed for a political use as well: if the people believed in it, then it would quell any desire to revolt against the caliph or dynasty of the time.
As for the difference between Islam and iman, we will refer to the article by the great scholar Abdul Khaliq Kazi. This was written in 1966 and supports a finding that Professor Fred Donner of the University of Chicago has written about; that the early followers of the Prophet were not in any separate religious denomination -- they also included Christians and Jews and were called "mu'mineen." This is also why the Qur'an indicates that every people have been given a shari'a and a program (shir'a and minhaj) -- indicating that your "religious" identity could have a shari'a that fits your culture and place, and that you could adhere to it and still be a "mu'min." This is why too in the Qu'ran you see that the Jews are told about the sanctity of the Sabbath, something that was not enjoined upon the Arab followers. You could follow Jewish constructs and be considered "Muslim." To accept Muhammad, you had to be a "mu'min."
Posted August 14, 2018