The word aqeeda comes from the Arabic word aqd [عقد], which means knot, or something to bind around. The word also means contract; as mentioned in the verse: “O you who have believed, fulfill [all] contracts [عقود]. The derivative word aqeeda [عقيدة], does not appear in the Quran, nor was it mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ. The terminological meaning of aqeeda in the religion of Islam is creed, or belief system. The word aqeeda is also sometimes used synonymously as tawheed, sharia, even Islam. The discipline and knowledge of aqeeda is a critical and important part of Islamic knowledge and of the sharia [Islamic law]. Aqeeda has to do with your belief system as a Muslim. Aqeeda in the classical sense constitutes the boundaries of faith and heresy. If you are a Muslim, then you should know what you believe. You do not have to be an aqeeda scholar to have proper aqeeda. If a person believes that there is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they agree wholesale with everything that is in the Quran, and everything that is authenticated in the words of the Prophet ﷺ, [the Sunnah], then that person has the correct aqeeda, even though they do not know all the details. This is based upon the hadith, “Whoever witnesses that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, Allah forbids the Fire from touching him“.
The central foundation of what we know to be aqeeda is la ilaaha illa Allah [there is no god except Allah], and to worship Him alone without partners. This was the message of all the Prophets starting with the Prophet Adam; وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ [Verily We have raised from amongst every nation, Messengers (proclaiming) to worship Allah and to avoid the taaghoot], [16:36]. During the time of the Prophet (SAWS) the companions did not argue with each other about the issue of Allah and His oneness. If there was ever a disagreement or misunderstanding, on a point of faith, they referred it the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and it was settled.
After the era of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ heretical and idolatrous beliefs and practices started to creep into Muslim society after the Prophet ﷺ had rid idolatry from the Arabian Peninsula. These false beliefs and heretical notions started to return to Muslims lands either by Arabs who went back to their pre-islamic practices or influences from foreign and conquered lands. Hence the need for more specificity about aqeeda and what constitutes kufr and eemaan. The first books about aqeeda were written during the time of the taabi’een starting with Imam Ibn Shihaab az-Zuh’ri. The written discipline of aqeeda further evolved in writing further during the first part of the second century of the Hijra when Imam Malik wrote the Muwattaa. He organized hadith into chapters dealing with aqeeda such as the chapter on emaan, and the chapter on tawheed, and the chapter on knowledge. Imam Malik’s work was the budding of the independent discipline of aqeeda.
What prompted the scholars to delve into specialization on the topic of aqeeda were the ideological splits that started to appear during the latter period of the companions of the Prophet. One of the major clashes in aqeeda was in the appearance of the khawaarij [kharajites] and the practice of declaring a person to be an unbeliever because of a sin he committed. The scholars of the Sunna saw the need to elucidate just what is the creed of ahlus Sunna in detail. One of the first books devoted to belief clarification was the book al-Fiqh al-Ak’bar by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Imam Shaafi’ee wrote a book with the same title [al-Fiqh al-Akbar] where he addressed specific issues of aqeeda point by point. Over the years scholars of the sunna developed variant views on issues of aqeeda but agreed with the foundation. These were the scholars of Ahlul Sunna.
Amongst the Ahlul Sunna are the aqeeda of the Ash’aris, the aqeeda of the Maatureedis, the aqeeda of the Salafis, and the aqeeda of the Sufis. Within these groups are points of agreement which are the foundational points of faith, and then are there are points of divergence. Sometimes the differences are scholarly, civil in nature, other times differences lead to name-calling, anger, killing and bloodshed. In many Muslim countries, people have blown up masaajid, killed innocent men and women and children while they celebrated the Prophet’s birthday or murdered people in cold blood simply over differences in aqeeda. There has been a lot of that in our ummah, and even until this very day, it continues.
Aqeeda wars are nothing new except that in the past they were waged by scholars, jurists, politicians, people who had knowledge, and many who didn’t. Now it’s largely an internet, free-for-all where anyone, regardless of knowledge or training, can participate. Al-humdu lillaah we haven’t had any violent aqeeda clashes in the United States yet. Were it not for the rule of law and the mercy of Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala, we would see it here. The undercurrent for it is pretty strong. Aqeeda wrangling keeps african American Muslims very busy. Busy enough to have split masaajid and communities, severed long standing relationships, and causes crippling stagnation within the converts and African American Muslim community. People are very quick to pronounce takfeer on others because they regard their aqeeda heretical. In my opinion, it’s gotten completely out of hand. Throughout history, aqeeda was used primarily as a topic of learning, but also as a political hatchet and an avenue for extreme discord.
Some of the greatest scholars of Islam were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed on the charge that their aqeeda was amiss. When scholars had issues with other scholars, the easiest way to shut them down was to accuse them of an aqeeda breach. Imam Shaafi’ee was once accused of supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen and was arrested and taken to Baghdad in chains. The Turkish scholar of Islam and intellectual, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was once arrested for violating secularist laws; in other words, thinking as a Muslim and teaching Islam. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was persecuted by the Caliph Ma’moon and imprisoned and tortured for 28 months under the Caliph al-Mu’tasim because he refused to accept the notion that the Quran was created. Ibn Taymiyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, whom people today regard as amongst the greatest scholars of Islam, were both prosecuted and jailed on the charge of having heretical aqeeda. Ibn Taymiyah died in prison on those accusations. If we didn’t have the rule of law in the United States people would probably be pulled off the pulpit amid trumped up charges of violating aqeeda. Aqeeda is a scholarly discipline but it is also a political tool to sow discord and to silence dissent.
The word aqeeda did not find it’s way into American Muslim dialogue until the mid to late ‘70s, and it didn’t gain traction in the America Muslim community until the early ‘80s. It started with simple education about Tawheed and helping people in the United States, mainly new converts to Islam, understand Muslim orthodox theology. It quickly escalated into a war of words. Since the ‘80s we have seen the incessant aqeeda wars rage on amongst Muslims in America, primarily African American Muslims, continuing until this very day. Other than a long trail of character assassination, split communities, torn apart friends, and a nation of young Muslims who argue with each other over their sheikhs and who is or is not an not an infidel, tell me, where is the net benefit?
Aqeeda is an in-depth and highly specialized topic. Anyone with advanced knowledge of Islamic theology and creed and can look into another Muslim’s belief detail and find where he or she has technically stepped outside of standard Islamic orthodoxy. People who engage in candlelight vigils have gone against our aqeeda. Individuals who declare that everyone who has a criticism of Islam or who does not like Muslims or Islam is an Islamophobe have diverted from our aqeeda. Anyone who thinks that their race is superior to others has gone outside of our aqeeda. Anyone who thinks that a person declaring the shahaadah performing the five prayers, paying zakat, fasting the month of Ramadan and making Hajj has not done enough to be regarded as a Muslim, has stepped outside of our aqeeda. There are dozens of examples where one person can declare another person to be outside of our aqeeda if you dig deep enough. That’s why we have aqeeda wars.
One of the casualties of the aqeeda wars is that people become obsessed with it to the point that they don’t choose their battles wisely. I am not a member of the Nation of Islam and was raised as a Sunni Muslim all my life. However, I recognize the contributions of the N.O.I. in the African American community, and I acknowledge that some of their held beliefs, at least on the surface, seem heretical. They are evolving as a group and that many, if not millions of them have taken the shahaadah, begun to pray the five prayers, fast Ramadan and make hajj. Many have moved beyond the N.O.I., and in recent years, many have started to practice Islam and the five pillars while maintaining their N.O.I. identity.
Still, there is a strong push to not work with nor associate with them, and to declare them as enemies to Islam and to other Muslims. This is in my view is a mistake, and I suspect that the impetus for this comes from outside our communities. The N.O.I. have evolved just like all Muslim groups in America have. They establish the prayer in many of their masaajid, they hold Friday prayers, they give zakat, fast Ramadan and make Hajj. They openly declare the two shahaadas. The prospect of the N.O.I. and traditional Sunni communities working together to confront inner city problems is too positive of a potential to go unnoticed by those who would like to see the African American Muslim communities stagnate in marginalization.
The best way to see that there is no cooperation between these two groups is to hammer the aqeeda issue. The claim being that the aqeeda of the N.O.I. is faulty, all of them are mushriks, and therefore Sunni Muslims must oppose them, not work with them, and disavow them is skewed. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen American Muslims march side by side, hold candlelight vigils, endorse political campaigns, rebuild churches and houses of worship, take money from and give money to, virtually every type of religion, class, lifestyle, and political ideology in the United States. We promote interfaith work to learn how to cooperate with people of other faiths, and people have even (perhaps unknowingly) committed shirk, to get good press. The moment people talk about traditional Sunni Muslims finding common ground and cooperating with the Nation of Islam, people go into a tizzy. All of a sudden there is an uproar.
Declaring people to be kuffaar after they take shahaadah, pray the five prayers, pay the zakat, fast the month of Ramadan, and make the hajj is closer to kufr than giving them the benefit of the doubt. After they do all of the above, we should leave their hisaab to Allah. The Prophet ﷺ said: “I have been commanded to fight against people until they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, perform the Salah ‘Prayer’, and pay Zakah ‘obligatory charity’. If they do that, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by Islamic law, and their affairs rest with Allah.”. Sheikh Bin Baaz (RA) said, in explaining this hadith: “All Muslims have thus, to fear Allah, worship Him Alone, and believe in His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) as being sent to all Jinn (creatures created from fire) and mankind and as being the final Prophet. All Muslims have to perform the Obligations of Allah, abandon His Prohibitions, help one another in righteousness and piety, enjoin one another to truth and patience, and renounce all Deens (religions) of Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship). Whoever dies in the state mentioned above will enter Jannah without being reckoned or punished”.
Bonding in aqeeda versus bonding in Islam
The bond of aqeeda advanced by the Prophet ﷺ was the bond of laa ilaaha illa Allah. When people talk about the bond of aqeeda, they have to be clear what they are talking about. Do they mean the bond of laa ilaaha illa Allah? Or do they mean bonding based upon the specific, individual points of Islamic theological doctrine? If they mean the latter then it is very difficult for Muslims to unite and we will always be in a state of internal conflict. If they mean the former then this is the sunna, that we come together on the basis of laa ilaaha illa Allah, Muhammad Rasoolullaah. The different points of Islamic creed number in the hundreds. It is impossible to sit down with someone and go over point by point to see if you agree on every detail. It is highly improbable that Muslims in America will bond on every point of aqeeda. This is why there is no such thing as the ‘bond of Islamic creed’. The Prophet ﷺ never spoke of any bond of Islamic creed, nor is it mentioned in the Quran. This is a modern-day terminology that gives people the license to dig into everyone’s detail of what they believe to call this or that one a kaafir or a mushrik. What the Prophet ﷺ did say was: “Whoever prays our prayer, faces our Qibla, eats our thabeeha, then that is the Muslim. He is under the protection of Allah and His Messenger, so let not any of you betray Allah in His protection (of people)”.
You cannot be brothers in creed since faith is internal, point specific and people’s individual creed varies from person to person. You can, however, be brothers and sisters in Islam. The Prophet ﷺ did not advocate the examination of every individual’s personal creed outside of them declaring the shahaadah and establishing the prayer. This is the bond of Islam. In the hadith of Abu Hurraira the Prophet ﷺ said: “I was commanded to fight the people until they say that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and that they establish the prayer, and pay the zakat, and If they say that their blood and their wealth are safe from me except in the right of Islam and their reckoning is with Allah”. Sheikh bin Baaz (RA) said that this hadith on the surface means that if a person does these things, they are to be considered Muslims unless they come with something (specifically) that will nullify their Islam. He further stated that: “Anyone who comes with Tawheed and belief in the message then he has entered Islam. Then after he is requested to fulfill the rights of Islam such as the salat, the zakat, the fast, the Hajj and things like it then performs what which Allah had made incumbent on him, then he is entirely a Muslim”.
I have not met any member of the N.O.I. claiming to be Muslim, who has rejected any of the above. Nor have I met any N.O.I. in recent years who openly rejects the five pillars of Islam. Now as far as picking apart people’s aqeeda, you could do that with just about anyone and find glitches and inconsistencies in their belief system. Even the notion that a person can perform the five pillars, and openly declare the shahaadah, yet still, be considered an unbeliever such as some Muslims apply wholesale to some groups, this itself is an issue that contradicts the aqeeda of Islam.
The concept that after taking their shahaadah, a person has to openly denounce every belief, and every principle they previously held, is not something established or practiced by the Prophet ﷺ. That added requirement contradicts the aqeeda of Islam. The aqeeda of Islam is that whoever comes with the two testimonies, establishes the prayer, pays the zakat, fasts the month of Ramadan and accepts and performs the hajj, they are a Muslim, and their reckoning is with Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. This is the Islam of the Prophet ﷺ. Anything outside of that, then a person needs to produce daleel.
We as Muslims living in the United States should stop letting people tell us who we can work with and who we can’t can’t; which firemen we can have help us put out the fire and which one’s we can’t. People dial 911 and accept anyone to come and help settle their dispute or help with their problem without asking about their aqeeda. But when it comes to getting help fixing up the neighborhood, stemming crime, and making the streets and the people safer, you have to worry about their aqeeda?
There is no greater word on the scale, nor stronger bond between believers than the bond of لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله [There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah], Hostilities were ended because of this word, blood was spared because of this word, protection was given by our Prophet to the inhabitants of Mecca because of this word. People enter Islam with this word. Sins are forgiven because of this word. If this word is not a strong enough bond for Muslims, then let whoever wishes, seek their bond. Let them seek their own word.
The modern-day politics of aqeeda in Muslim America is that aqeeda can become a built-in incendiary device, detonated anytime someone wants to cause discord between African-American Muslims in the United States. Anytime anyone wants, they can only (and selectively), inject the aqeeda card and all of a sudden, African American Muslims are stuck. We’ve been stuck for the last forty years.
Islam and our practice of it in this modern pre-Dajjaal age are mired in politics, power, public relations and scheming. We have to get back to the basics of our religion which is the five pillars, the seven beliefs, and the simple religion as practiced by our beloved Prophet ﷺ who said: “The religion is easy, and the religion is never made harsh to anyone except that it will overpower him.”
If the shahaadatain [the two testimonies] the establishment of prayer, the paying of zakat, the fasting of Ramadan and the agreement to the hajj as an obligation, is not enough to consider a person a Muslim, then those who disagree should take their argument to Allah. These are his rules, not mine.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
American born Luqman Ahmad is a life long Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and until recently, has been the Imam of a Northern California mosque for twenty years. Recently he headed up a new organization (Islamic Center of Del Paso Heights)to address the needs of Muslims, specifically new Muslim converts in the City of Sacramento CA. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at salafiyyism the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS. He has written blog posts challenging ISIS, Anwar Awlaki, and BOKO Haram on his blog, imamluqman.wordpress.com. The sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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