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Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge >
The Six Pillars of Faith

The Five Pillars of Islam are followed in the Hadith of Gabriel by another group of creedal principles known as the Six Pillars of Faith (arkan al-iman). Despite the Quranic link between knowledge and faith, these pillars of faith are not associated with the highest levels of knowledge that were discussed earlier. Like the Pillars of Islam, they instead comprise a practice-oriented approach to religion because they are meant to be ritually affirmed at the time of conversion or whenever one's doctrinal orientation is called into question by the religious authorities of the Islamic state. Like the pillars of Islam, the pillars of faith are thus associated only with the most primary level of knowledge mentioned in the Quran—ilm al-yaqin (the rational or doctrinal knowledge of the truth)—and do not involve the most advanced states of knowledge (ayn al-yaqin and haqq al-yaqin). The Six Pillars of Faith in Islam are as follows:

1. To believe in God (Allah).

2. To believe in Allah's angels.

3. To believe in Allah's revealed books, which include the Quran, the New Testament, also known as the Evangel (al-Injil), the Psalms of David (al-Zabur), the Torah (al-Tawrat), and the Pages of Abraham (Suhuf Ibrahim).

4. To believe in Allah's messengers, which include many of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible as well as Jesus (Isa), John the Baptist (Yahya), and such previous Arab prophets as Hud and Salih.

5. To believe in the Last Day (al-Yawm al-Akhir, also known as Yawm al-Qiyama). Islamic eschatology is close to that of Christianity and even includes an intercessory role for Jesus. Many Muslims also believe in a quasi-prophetic figure called the Mahdi (Guided One), who will come after Jesus and usher in a period of peace and justice that will last until the Day of Judgment. This figure does not appear in the Quran but is a later addition from the hadith. Significantly, the Mahdi's first appearance in the hadith is to be found, like the Hadith of Gabriel, in Sahih Muslim.

6. To believe in Allah's determination of affairs, whether good or bad. This is a reaffirmation of the concepts of divine fore-knowledge (qada) and fate (qadar) discussed earlier.

Were it not for the details added to the Six Pillars of Faith in the hadith, it would be theoretically possible for most Christians or Jews to affirm the Islamic pillars of faith and still remain within their own religions. This is why the public affirmation of the pillars of faith is not accepted by most Muslim jurists as a sufficient proof of Islam without also being accompanied by the Five Pillars of Islam. The first of the five pillars, the witnessing or Shahadah, unequivocally requires the believer to accept the prophet Muhammad as the messenger of Allah. In doing so, the prospective believer must also acknowledge the truth of the Quranic revelation as well as the normative nature of the Sunna. Whenever the teachings of the Quran or the Sunna differ from those of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, Muslims are required to favor the later Islamic interpretation over the earlier doctrines of Judaism or Christianity.

The primacy of practice over faith that is reflected in such traditions as the Hadith of Gabriel is so widely accepted in the Muslim world that some Western scholars have erroneously asserted that Islam has no orthodoxy. In their view, there is no single creed or body of doctrine—apart from the Shahadah—that all Muslims regard as normative. In the absence of such a doctrine, these scholars posit an orthopraxy, a form of Islam that is defined almost entirely in terms of ritual observance.

From a comparative perspective, however, this stance is difficult to justify. First, all Muslims do not pray in exactly the same way. The schools of Islamic jurisprudence differ on minor points of what is to be said or done in the canonical prayer. Second, no orthodoxy is static; all orthodoxies are “orthodoxies in the making.” Official interpretations of doctrine tend to fluctuate over time and may be transformed in response to changing social conditions or relations of power. This can even happen in a highly centralized institution such as the Catholic Church. It is no coincidence, for example, that the doctrine of papal infallibility was promulgated in the mid-nineteenth century, at the very time when the ideals of nationalism and participatory democracy were undermining the papacy's influence. Likewise, it is no coincidence that the official doctrine of the Virgin Mary is currently undergoing a review process in the Catholic Church, at a time when feminism has revolutionized the status and role of women in Western society.

Islamic orthodoxies are no different. Doctrines have changed repeatedly in the fourteen hundred years of Islamic history. For example, the theological rationalism of the Mutazilite school of theology—a dogma that was officially imposed on Muslims by the caliph and enforced by an inquisition—was replaced as “orthodox” doctrine after less than a century by its antithesis, the tradition-based fideism of the Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaa (the people of the Sunna and the majority). One may also recall how the mystical interpretations of Sufism, once widely accepted as an alternative approach to Islamic theology, have recently been replaced and even anathematized by the hadith-driven scripturalism of Wahhabism (a practice-oriented sect from Saudi Arabia that advocates a literal interpretation of the Quran and hadith) and other movements of Islamic reform. Today, the more innovative aspects of Sufism have been driven so far off the historical stage that even many Sufis themselves now differ little from their reformist opponents in adhering to a hadith-based approach to theology and Quranic exegesis.

Yet to give the advocates of orthopraxy their due, it must be admitted that the outcome of both of these doctrinal disputes depended to a large extent on the belief, implied in the Hadith of Gabriel, that practice is the criterion of faith and not the other way around. Despite the Quran's emphasis on the primacy of knowledge, the Sunna's emphasis on the primacy of practice has clearly prevailed among most Muslims. Today, “orthodox” Islam is more than anything else a “nomocentric” or law-centered religion. As the Hadith of Gabriel illustrates, this trend began quite early in Islamic history. Another early example can be found in the thousand-year-old creed of the Tunisian jurist Abu Muhammad ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (922–96). This creed, which appears in the introductory section of ibn Abi Zayd's Risalah, or treatise on Islamic law, is now regarded as dogma by the adherents of the Maliki school of jurisprudence in North and West Africa. If a Maliki Muslim from this region is asked to discuss the subject of faith and practice in Islam, he or she is likely to respond by reciting one or more passages from the Risalah. In the passage reproduced below, a strong echo of the Hadith of Gabriel can be found in ibn Abi Zayd's contention that faith is subject to increase and decrease according to the level of a person's practice:

Faith consists of a declaration by the tongue, sincerity in the heart, and practice through the limbs. It increases through an increase in practice and decreases through its decrease. Thus, both decrease and increase pertain to it. The declaration of faith is not completed except through practice. Also, neither the declaration [of faith] nor practice [is sufficient] except through the mediation of intention, and neither declaration, practice, nor intention [is sufficient] unless it is in agreement with the Sunna.

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