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by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
 Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
 7102 W. Shefford Lane
 Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.
 Website:  http://WWW.IRFI.ORG


What is the criteria laid down by Islam for a person to be known as, identified as and treated as a Muslim so far as matters of civil law and his social relations with other Muslims are concerned. The evidence on this point is divided into the following parts:

(1) From the Glorious  Quran, extracts showing that belief in God and His messenger makes a person a 'Muslim'.

(2) From the Hadith, incidents showing that during the life-time of the Noble Prophet Muhammad people embraced Islam by reciting the Kalima Shahadah.

(3) Opinion of Muslim authorities, throughout the history of Islam, again showing that to be known as a Muslim and included in the Islamic community, a person has only to profess the Kalima.

(4) Sayings of the Noble Prophet Muhammad, giving certain outward signs of a Muslim, so that a person showing those signs must be treated as a Muslim.

Imam Ghazali (d. 1111 C.E.): Ghazali, one of Islam's greatest philosophers, wrote:

"He who says, 'There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger', with the tongue but does not confirm it in his heart, there is no doubt that in the Hereafter he shall be included among the unbelievers, and shall enter hell. But there is also no doubt that, so far as affairs of this world are concerned, the religious and secular authorities shall include him among the Muslims because it is not known what is in his heart, and we are obliged to accept what is on his tongue.'' (Ihya al-Ulum, p. 97)

Lisan al-Hukam: The author of the classical Lisan al-Hukam wrote:

"It is written that if an atheist, or an idol worshipper, or one who believes in gods besides the One God, were to merely say, There is no god but Allah, he enters Islam. Or if he were to say, I believe Muhammad to be the messenger of God, he enters Islam. This is because the deniers of Islam refrain from saying these two formulae. Hence if he were to declare even one of these two commandments, he would be taken out of the category called non-Muslim, and would be considered as a Muslim.''                           (Lisan al-Hukam, p. 204) 

Imam Shafi`i: Shafi`i, founder of one of the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, related the following:

"It was reported to Umar, the second Caliph, regarding a certain man that he was not a believer at heart, but merely a Muslim in the outward sense. Umar asked him: `Is it not true that you are only outwardly a Muslim, and not really a Muslim, and your only reason for embracing Islam is to gain Islamic rights?' He asked Umar: `Sir, does Islam deprive those people of their rights who follow Islam only in the outward sense, and does it leave no way for them?' Umar said: `Islam has left a way for them', and then said nothing further.''                       (Kitab al-Um, vol. vi, p. 154)

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (d. 1958): He was a Muslim theologian, scholar and author of 20th century in India, who also held high political and ministerial posts in the republic of India. In his well-known Urdu commentary of the Quran, he writes:

"Here we draw attention to just one thing. What Islam has made as the basic expression of its teaching is known to everyone --- Ashhadu an la ilaha ill Allah, wa Ashhadu anna Muhammad-an abdu-hu wa rasulu-hu. That is, I confess that there is none to be worshipped besides God and I confess that Muhammad is the servant of God and His messenger.''                                                                                         (Tarjuman al-Quran, Delhi, 1931, vol. i, p. 119)

Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938 C.E.): This great poet-philosopher of Muslim India, and a national hero of Pakistan, writes:

``Once, under the influence of some spiritual urge, the Holy Prophet Muhammad told one of his companions: `Go and tell people that whoever in his life even once says with his tongue, there is no god but Allah, he should know that he shall enter paradise.' The Holy Prophet purposely omitted the second constituent of the Kalima, i.e. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, without professing which a person cannot be a Muslim, and he considered just the confession of the Unity of God to be sufficient.''                 (Khilafat Islamia, Lahore, 1923, pp. 9,--,10)


Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi (d. 1979 C.E.): Maulana Maudoodi is the best-known religious leader of Pakistan, and founder of the powerful Jama`at-i Islami political party. In a compilation of his sermons, he wrote:

"Brothers-in-Islam! You know that a man enters the pale of Islam by reciting a certain sentence. And even that sentence is not very long but a few words: There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Expressing these words by tongue, a person changes altogether. He was a kafir, and is now a Muslim. He was impure and is now pure.''                        (Khutbut-i Maudoodi, Pathankot, India, 1940, p. 24)

Who is a Muslim?
In very simple terms a Muslim is a follower of Islam. 
The word "Muslim" means one who submits to the will of God. This is done by declaring that "there is no god except one God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." In a broader sense, anyone who willingly submits to the will of God is a Muslim. Thus, all the prophets preceding the prophet Muhammad are considered Muslims. The Quran specifically mentions Abraham who lived long before Moses and Christ that, "he was not a Jew or a Christian but a Muslim," because, he had submitted to the will of God. Thus there are Muslims who are not submitting at all to the will of God and there are Muslims who are doing their best to live an Islamic life. One cannot judge Islam by looking at those individuals who have a Muslim name but in their actions, they are not living or behaving as Muslims. The extent of being a Muslim can be according to the degree to which one is submitting to the will of God, in his beliefs and his actions.

A Muslim is one who freely and willingly accepts the supreme power of God and strives to organize his life in total accord with the teachings of God. He also works for building social institutions, which reflect the guidance of God. There are no formal induction ceremonies into Islam. To formally become a Muslim, one has to bear witness to the statement of faith ("La Ilaha Il-lal-lah, Muhammadun Rasoolullah") by saying it. To become a true Muslim, one has to confirm the belief in that statement by heart, tongue and actions.

A Muslim's Character and Behaviour 1

Islam is a true religion because it teaches a person everything including how to act and behave, how to sit and talk and how to care and share. A Muslim is sure of himself both in this world and in the Akhirah (the Hereafter). He/she is always striving towards "falaah" (success, prosperity) and freedom from anxiety and is not troubled with doubts and conflicts. A Muslim family eats its meals together with Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir-Rahim and ends its meals together with Al-Hamdulillah. Everyone recites the Qur'an and prays at the appropriate times. Most importantly the children respect their elders and listen to their parents.

Muslims should be good role models and should set a good example to the non-believers so that when they look at a Muslim's character and behaviour and see how great it is, they would want to be Muslims too. Muslims have to project the right image especially when they're a minority in countries such as Canada and U.S.A. They should be honest, truthful, trustworthy, modest, patient, tolerant, punctual, kind, generous, forgiving, brave and hard working. They should be good to people even if those people are not good to them. Allah has said in the Glorious Qur'an "Tolerate patiently what they (the unbeliever) say and part from them in a polite manner" (73:10). Muslims should also practice forgiving people because Allah is always forgiving them. They should use the Noble Prophet Muhammad's (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) example when the people of Taif threw stones at him and he forgave them.

Tawhid or belief in the Oneness of Allah helps the Muslim character a lot. Anyone who believes in Tawhid, surrenders himself/herself completely to the Will of Allah and becomes a true servant of Allah. Tawhid gives a person a lot of respect and confidence because he/she knows that Allah has Power over everything and he/she is in His loving care. It also makes a person humble and modest. The Noble Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) has said "Modesty is part of faith" (Bukhari and Muslim). The person is never arrogant or rude because he/she knows that everything on earth belongs to Allah and he/she knows that everything one has is from Allah, so there's no reason to be proud and boastful.

Allah says in the Glorious  Qur'an that Nabi Musa ('alayhissalam) advised his people: "...Seek help from Allah and be patient, the earth belongs to Allah. Anyone He wishes from among His servants shall inherit it..." (7:128). The most important effect on the Muslim's character from Tawhid is that it makes a person  to obey and observe Allah's Commands. The person knows that Allah is always watching him/her and one can't escape Allah's watchful eye even for a single moment. Tawhid produces strong determination, patience and perseverance.

Believing in Allah makes a person brave and courageous. He/she will not be afraid of death because the person knows that it is no one but Allah who will cause death at the appointed time. So, unless the person disobeyed Allah's Commands he/she has nothing to worry about and can go on doing his or her duty without any fear.

You can think of this as a boat. A boat has a rudder, which guides the boat's movement. When the rudder is under control, the boat moves forward proudly over the waves, but if the rudder does not control the boat, it is tossed by every wave in the sea. It is the same thing with a person. When one surrenders oneself to Allah, one can face the problems of life without any fear. But if one does not surrender to Allah alone, one has to obey false gods like the fear of danger or the fear of hunger. Allah has said in the Noble Qur'an: "If Allah helps you, then none can overcome you and if He forsakes you, then who is there to help you after Him? And the believers should rely only on Allah" (3:160)

Luqman Hakim has been mentioned in the Qur'an as an intelligent and wise man. He told his son: "O my son! Do not associate anyone with Allah. Truly, polytheism is a tremendous wrong" (31:13). He also said: "O my son! Establish Salah and command the right and forbid the evil and bear patiently whatever may befall you, for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs. Do not turn your face away in disgust from people, nor walk arrogantly in the land. Surely, Allah does not love any arrogant boaster. Be moderate in your pace and lower your voice. Truly the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass" (31:17, 18, 19).

Muslims should read the Glorious Qur'an and Hadiths about a Muslim's character and behaviour so that they could improve. Everyone makes mistakes but that does not mean that we can't improve ourselves. We should learn from our mistakes and improve. Muslims should help other Muslims by encouragement and not by exploiting their mistakes. A Muslim should think of himself as a mirror for his brother.

Hadrat Abu Hurairah (Rady Allahu Anhu) narrates that the Noble Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: "Let him who believes in Allah and the Last day, either speak good or keep silent, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbour, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest (Bukhari and Muslim). In another Hadith, Hadrat Abu Hurairah narrates that the Noble Prophet Muhammad ( Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: "Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices to one another; do not hate one another, do not turn away from one another; and do not undercut one another, but be brothers, O slaves of Allah. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim: he neither oppresses him nor disgraces him, he neither lies to him nor does he hold him in contempt. Piety and righteousness is here - and he pointed to his breast three times. It is evil enough for a man to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable; his blood, his property, and his honour (Muslim).

The more we help others, the better we will become as well because we mature through helping others. Islam shows how an ideal Muslim's character should be and we should act upon that so that we might save ourselves from Hell-fire and attain Paradise.


Muslim is one who is willing to give up pleasure for long-term gains (Aakhirah).

Muslim is one who has the ability to settle differences without resentment or anger

Muslim is one who perseveres despite setbacks.

Muslim is one who knows life is too short to waste in idle activities.

Muslim is one who has no prejudice, intolerance, hatred or revenge.

Muslim is one who has the capacity to face disappointments and adversity without becoming bitter.

Muslim is one who accepts his mistakes and who does not complain that the rose bush has thorns but rejoices that it bears roses.

Muslim is one whose needs conform to the Qur'anic commands and those of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Muslim is one who makes Jihad (struggle) to change things, which he can and who lives in peace with things that he cannot change.

Muslim is one who gently and constantly questions himself/herself "AM I A MUSLIM?"


A Muslim meets his brother with a smiling face (he restrains from anger and is forgiving). The Prophet said: "Do not think little of any good deed even if it is just greeting your brother with a cheerful countenance [face] {MUSLIM}. The Prophet said: "Your smiling at your brother is an act of charity {Sadaqah}" {al-TIRMIDHI who said it is Hasan gharib}.

The Muslim should always be pure of heart and should have a cheerful and friendly face. He should meet his brother with warmth and smiles. There's no excuse--Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always had a warm smile on his face even though he went through hardships, torture, and suffering in this life.

"... [those] who restrain anger and pardon {all} men- for Allah loves
those who do good."  [Translation of the Qur'an-Al-Imran 3:134]

The true Muslim restrains his anger and is forgiving. He does not see any shame in doing so, rather he sees it as a good deed which will bring him closer to Allah (SWT).

He has a good attitude towards others and treats them well. Anas (RA) said: "I served the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) for ten years, and he never said to me 'UFF!'. If I did something, he never said, "Why did you do that?" And if I did not do something, he never
said, "Why did you not do such-and-such? [Agreed Upon]

The Prophet said: "
Among the best of you are those who have the best attitude (towards others)". [Agreed upon]

He (SAWS) also said: "
Nothing will weigh more heavily in the balance of the believing servant on the Day of Resurrection than a good attitude (towards others). Verily Allah hates those who utter vile words and obscene speech." [Al-Tirmidhi, Hasan Sahih hadith]

The true Muslim has a good attitude. He is humble and soft and gentle in his speech. He does not use bad language or insult others. He is patient, gentle, forgiving, tolerant, cheerful, and sincere towards others.


1. Ahmed Syed online at

2. Ibrahim B. Syed, Intellectual Achievements of Muslims, published by Islamic Circle, Mauritius, 2002.


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