Aqeedah: Meaning and Usage

The word 'aqeedah and related words are constantly repeated by people in their everyday conversations. So we hear them saying "Ana a'taqid kadha (I believe such and such)," "Foolaan 'aqeedatuhu hasanah (So and so's belief is sound)," "The Islamic 'aqeedah is the strongest cause for the great Islamic victories in every time and place," "The war between us and the Jews is in fact an ideological war (harb 'aqaa'idiyah)" and so on.

What do people mean by the word 'aqeedah (faith)? What does this word mean in Arabic? What is the concept of 'aqeedah (faith) in Islam?

'Aqaa'id (plural of 'aqeedah) are the things which people's hearts affirm and believe in, the things that they accept (as true). These are matters which are held as certain beliefs, with no taint of doubt.1

'Aqd al-habl (tying the rope) means tying one part to another part, as opposed to untying it. In Arabic, the meanings of the word 'aqd revolve around ideas of adherence, certainty and affirmation. There is aayah (verse) in the Qur'an:

 لَا یُؤَاخِذُکُمُ اللّٰهُ بِاللَّغۡوِ فِیۡۤ اَیۡمَانِکُمۡ وَ لٰکِنۡ یُّؤَاخِذُکُمۡ بِمَا عَقَّدۡتُّمُ الۡاَیۡمَانَ ۚ .... ﴿ ۸۹

(Allah will not punish you for what is unintentional in your oaths, but He will punish you for your deliberate oaths ['aqqadtum];... (Qur'an 5: 89)

A deliberate oath is one in which there is resolve and determination in the heart, unlike an unintentional oath which may be spoken of without any intention.

'Uqood refers to the strongest of covenants, as when Allah (3), says:

يَأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا أَوْفُوا بِالْعُقُودِ.

O' you who believe! Fulfil [your] obligations [awfoo bi'l-'uqood]...) (Qur'an 5: 1) 

The Arabs say "a'taqada ash-shay'u" when a thing becomes solid and strong.2

In Islam, 'aqeedah (belief) is the counterpart of shari'ah, because Islam is composed of both 'aqeedah and shari'ah. Shari'ah means the practical duties enjoined by Islam, about acts of worship and dealings with others.

Aqeedah is a Matter of Knowledge in the Heart

'Aqeedah is not a practical matter, but a matter of knowledge which the Muslim is obliged to believe in his heart, because Allah has told him about these matters in His Book or through the Revelation to His Messenger (蟻).

The basic principles of the 'aqeedah Allah commands us to believe in are mentioned in the aayah (verse):

 اٰمَنَ الرَّسُوۡلُ بِمَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَیۡهِ مِنۡ رَّبِّهٖ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ ؕ کُلٌّ اٰمَنَ بِاللّٰهِ وَ مَلٰٓئِکَتِهٖ وَ کُتُبِهٖ وَ رُسُلِهٖ ۟ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَیۡنَ اَحَدٍ مِّنۡ رُّسُلِهٖ ۟ وَ قَالُوۡا سَمِعۡنَا وَ اَطَعۡنَا ٭۫ غُفۡرَانَکَ رَبَّنَا وَ اِلَیۡکَ الۡمَصِیۡرُ ﴿۲۸۵

The Messenger [Muhammad] believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and [so do] the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. [They say], 'We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers' - and they say, 'We hear, and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the return [of all].' (Qur'an 2: 285)

The Prophet (ﷺ) defined this belief in the famous hadith of Jibreel (Gabriel) (as) (may Allah's peace be upon him), in which he (ﷺ) said:

"Eemaan (faith) is to believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, the Meeting with Him and His Messengers, and to believe in the final Resurrection."3
So 'aqeedah in Islam refers to those matters of knowledge which have been transmitted in authentic reports from Allah and His Messenger, and which the Muslim must believe in with all his heart, believing in what Allah and His Messenger say.

Aqeedah means Certain Belief, with no Room for Doubt

In order for these principles to form 'aqeedah, we must believe in them firmly, with no room for doubt. If there is any element of doubt, then they are merely speculation, not 'aqeedah (belief). "Al-Mu'jam al-Waseet" defines 'aqeedah as a belief in which the one who holds that belief will not entertain any doubt whatsoever."4 Evidence (daleel) for that is found in the Qur'an:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا ...

(Only those are the believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and afterward doubt not...(Qur'an 49: 15)

(2)... الم (1) ذَلِكَ الْكِتَبُ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ 

Alif-Laam-Meem..This is the Book [the Qur'an], whereof there is no doubt. (Qur'an 2: 1-2)

رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ جَامِعُ النَّاسِ لِيَوْمٍ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ ...

"Our Lord! Verily, it is You Who will gather mankind together on the Day about which there is no doubt..."(Qur'an 3: 9)

Allah condemned the mushrikeen (polytheists) who were filled with doubt:

... وَارْتَابَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ فَهُمْ فِي رَيْبِهِمْ يَتَرَدَّدُونَ 

...There hearts are in such doubt that they even waver in their doubt.  (Qur'an 9: 45)


The Issues of 'Aqeedah are Invisible

It may be noted that the issues which we are required to believe in are unseen matters, not visible, tangible things. This is what Allah referred to when He praised the believers:

و الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ ...

Who believe in the Ghayb 5...(Qur'an 2: 3)

Allah is unseen, as are His angels and the Last Day. With regard to His Books and Messengers, one might think that they are visible, but what is referred to here is the belief that they come from Allah, i.e., that the Messengers were sent by Allah and that the Books were revealed by Allah, which is the matter of the unseen.

Correct 'Aqeedah and False 'Aqeedah

'Aqeedah (belief) is not exclusive to Islam. The adherents of religions and schools of thought inevitably have beliefs according to which they run their lives. This applies to individuals just as it applies to societies. From the beginning of the creation until the Day (of Judgement), until the time when Allah will inherit the earth and everything on it. Beliefs are divided into two kinds:

a) The correct 'aqeedah: It is composed of the set of beliefs brought by the noble Messengers. This is the one 'aqeedah, because it was sent down by the All-Knowing, All-Aware (Allah); it cannot be imagined that it differs from one Messenger to another, or from one time to another.

b) False beliefs: They are very many indeed. Their falseness stems from the fact that they are the product of human thought and intellect. No matter how great mankind may become, their knowledge is (and will remain) limited and is (and will continue to be) influenced by the customs, traditions and thoughts that surround them.

There are also false beliefs which are the result of distortion, changes and alteration, as is the case with the Jewish and Christian beliefs at the present time. They were distorted a long time ago, and were corrupted as a result of this distortion, even though each of them was originally a sound 'aqeedah.

Where is the true 'aqeedah today?

The true 'aqeedah today is not found anywhere except in the religion of Islam, because this is the protected religion which Allah (swt), has guaranteed to protect.

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَفِظُونَ

Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr [i.e. the Qur'an] and surely, We will guard it [from corruption] (Qur'an 15: 9)

The beliefs of other religions, even though they may contain some grains of truth here and there, do not present a clear image of the truth.

Whoever wants to know the true, correct 'aqeedah will not find it in Judaism or in Christianity, or in the words of the philosophers. He will only find it in Islam, in the original sources of the faith: the Qur'an and Sunnah, pure and clear and shining, which convince man's mind with evidence and proof, and fill the heart with eemaan, certainty, light and life.

 وَ کَذٰلِکَ اَوۡحَیۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ رُوۡحًا مِّنۡ اَمۡرِنَا ؕ مَا کُنۡتَ تَدۡرِیۡ مَا الۡکِتٰبُ وَ لَا الۡاِیۡمَانُ وَ لٰکِنۡ جَعَلۡنٰهُ نُوۡرًا نَّهۡدِیۡ بِهٖ مَنۡ نَّشَآءُ مِنۡ عِبَادِنَا ؕ وَ اِنَّکَ لَتَهۡدِیۡۤ اِلٰی صِرَاطٍ مُّسۡتَقِیۡمٍ ﴿ۙ۵۲

And thus We have sent to you [O' Muhammad] Rooḥ [a Revelation, and a Mercy] of Our Command. You knew not what is the Book, nor what is Faith? But We have made it [this Qur'an] a light wherewith We guide whosoever of Our slaves We will... (Qur'an 42: 52)

The Importance and Necessity of Islamic 'Aqeedah

The Islamic 'aqeedah is as essential for man as water and air. Without this 'aqeedah he is lost and confused. The Islamic 'aqeedah is the only one which can answer the questions that have always preoccupied man and still preoccupy human thought and cause frustration: where did I come from? Where did the universe come from? Who is the Creator? What are His attributes and names? Why did He create us and the universe? What is our role in this universe? What is our relationship to the Creator who created us? Are there other, invisible worlds beyond the world that we can see? Are there other intelligent beings apart from man? Is there another life after this life? If the answer is positive, what is that other life like?

There is no other belief today, apart from the 'aqeedah of Islam, that can answer these questions in a true and convincing way. Everyone who does not know or believe in this 'aqeedah is like that miserable poet 6 who knows nothing of it. He says:

I came, I know not from whence, but I came
I saw before me a path, so I followed it
And I shall continue to tread this path, whether I like it or not 
Where did I come from? How did I find this path?

I know not
Am I new or ancient in this universe?
Am I free, or a prisoner in chains?
Am I controlling my own fate in this life, or am I controlled?
How I wish I knew, but

I know not
My path, what is my path? Is it long or short?
Am I ascending, or descending?
Am I running through this life, or is it life that is running?
Or are we both standing still, whilst time runs?

I know not
I wonder, when I was in that unseen, secure world,
Did I know that I was hidden there
And that I would emerge and come into being?
Or, I wonder, did I not know a thing?

I know not
I wonder, before I became a complete human being, 
Was I non-existent, or was I something possible, or was I something? 
Is there an answer to this mystery? Or will I remain forever 
Not knowing... why I don't know?
I know not

What confusion is this! What anxiety this uncertainty brings to human souls! Do the children of this generation, who have missed out on knowledge of the "great universal facts" without which their lives cannot be sound and healthy, deserve to suffer these worries which fill their hearts and cause pain and complexes? Compare their situation to that of the Muslim who knows for certain all of these facts, and through them finds comfort and peace of mind. So he travels on a straight path towards a definite goal whose features are known.

Listen to this miserable poet speaking about death and one's ultimate fate:

If death is a punishment, what sin can the pure soul commit? 
If it is a reward, what blessings does the promiscuous soul deserve? 
If there is no reward or loss in it,
Then what is the point of calling things sinful or righteous?
I know not

If death is a kind of sleep after being awake,
Why do we not stay awake?
Why does a man not know when he is to depart? 
When will the secret be revealed so that he will know?
I know not

If death is a kind of sleep to allow man to relax 
And it is a setting free rather than an imprisonment, 
a beginning rather than an end,
Then why do I not love this sleep and long for this?
Why are souls so afraid of it?
I know not

After the grave, after death, will there be any resurrection 
And life, and eternity, or only final oblivion?
Is what people say true or false?
Is it true that some people know?
I know not

If I am resurrected after death, physically and spiritually,
I wonder, will I be resurrected in part, or in total?
I wonder, will I be resurrected as a child, or as an adult? 
Then will I know myself after I am resurrected?
I know not

He does not know what his ultimate destiny will be, and man's ultimate fate concerns him. He wants to be reassured about that destiny. We see the poet's pain, because he does not know where his ultimate destiny lies and what will become of him. He is misguided from the truth, his heart is filled with misery and laden with worry and grief. His wonderings have exhausted him. How many people there are in this world who are like this misguided, miserable poet! Some of them are able to express their misery and confusion, whilst others feel and suffer, but their thoughts remain trapped in their miserable souls.

"I know not," is the response to these eternal questions. These are not the words of this poet alone. Socrates, the thinker who is viewed as one of the giants of philosophy, clearly stated, "The thing that I still do not know about is the fact that I do not know."7 Indeed, scepticism/agnosticism (in Arabic, laa adriyah, lit. "not knowing") is an ancient school of philosophical thought.

Only through the guidance of Islam does man learn where he came from, where he is going, why the universe exists, and what his role is in this universe. He knows that in truth, and there is a great difference between those who know and those who do not know:

و أفمن يَمْشِي مُكِلًّا عَلَى وَجْهِهِ أَهْدَى أَمَن يَمْشِي سَوِيًّا عَلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

(Is he who walks prone [without seeing] on his face, more rightly guided, or he who [sees and] walks upright on the Straight Way [i.e. Islamic Monotheism]?(Qur'an 67: 22)

1 Risaalat al-'Aqaa'id by Shaykh Hasan al-Banna. See Majmoo' ar-Rasaa'il, 429. The Muslim scholars of earlier and recent times have discussed the issues of this branch of knowledge under the heading of Al-'Aqaa'id, although the word. 'aqeedah is not mentioned in the Book of Allah or in the Sunnah of His Messenger(蟻)
2 Lisaan al-'Arab, 2/836, listing of words derived from the root 'agada.
3 Bukhari. See Saheeḥ al-Bukhari bi Sharḥihi Fath al-Baari, 1/114; Muslim, 1/39, hadith no. 5. This version is narrated by Muslim.
4 Al-Mu'jam al-Waseet, 2/614.
5. Al-Ghayb: Literally means a thing not seen. But this word includes vast meanings: Belief in Allah, Angels, Holy Books, Allah's Messengers, Day of Resurrection and Al-Qadar (Divine Pre-Ordainments). It also includes what Allah and His Messenger informed about the knowledge of the matters of past, present, and future, e.g., news about the creation of the heavens and earth, botanical and zoological life, the news about the nations of the past, and about Paradise and Hell. (Footnote from Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur'an by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali).
6 His name is Eeliya Abu Maadi; the couplets quoted come from his lengthy poem entitled At-Talaasim (mysteries), from his collection of poems entitled Al- Jadaawil (streams), Pp. 106.
7. Ad-Deen by Ad-Darraaz, 69.

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