The Islamic tradition holds that the revelation granted to Muhammad had three principle elements: islam or submission to God, ihsan or moral and spiritual duties to the rest of humanity, and iman or faith. This word, faith, is a fairly poor rendering of
This conviction, however, is not the same thing as our
sense of "belief" or "faith." In the Christian tradition, from which
all European languages draw the meanings of words such as "belief" or
"faith," faith is a process that is above reason. In fact, in
foundational and early Christianity, human reason is considered suspect
and a faculty far inferior to that of faith. Christian faith or belief,
then, is anti-rational or, better yet, supra-rational. In
contradistinction to this, Islamic iman is deeply implicated in
the rational capacity of humanity. Unlike foundational and early
Christianity, the Islamic tradition holds that human rationality is the
highest capacity given to humans. It is only through the use of human
reason that anyone can be said to have faith at all.
Iman involves a process in which the individual comes face to face with revelation and examines that revelation with his or her powers of reason. The individual weighs the claims of revelation against other alternatives and it is really only after that process of examining revelation and weighing the alternatives that the decision to believe revelation can be called
It is for this reason that one of the most common statements about faith (
The nature of iman as "faith from reason" has also contributed to Islam's long tradition of rationality. While Christian Europe largely threw away the philosophy and science of the classical world—considering the wisdom of fools—the classical rational sciences continued in the Islamic world from which the Europeans reinherited it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.