The Stages of Religion

Sufis consider religion beyond mere conviction and belief of doctrine. Religion is related to the experience of absolute truth or certainty (Arabic: yaqin). However, there are different ways to approach this certainty. In Arabic, these ways or stages of religion are called Islam, Iman and Ihsan.


Islam (stemming from the Arabic root slm for "peace") means devotion or loyalty to God. The stage of Islam consists of the conviction which is expressed by the commitment to the belief: There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger. This conviction brings a person to obey the commandments of the religion and to adhere to its basic rules (in addition to the avowal of belief): to do the five prayers daily, to pay tax for the poor, to fast in the month of Ramadan and to pilgrimage to Mekka. The religious life of persons in the stage of Islam may have different occurrences depending on the believer's devotion and committment and how seriously he/she takes the commandments. Islam may also be explained as the visible or external road of religion (sharia).


Iman literally means "belief" and stems from the Arabic root amn ("reliable, to be secure"). The christian word "amen" has also its origin in this root. In this stage man seeks to approach the fire, the knowledge through the eyes of the certainty. He walks on the inner path (tariqa) in addition to the visible performance of the religious customs. The tariqa is the path of the heart and of the internal reversal, which is achieved through purification of the ego, through preferably permanent rememberance of God and heart-dhikr (invocation of God through the heart).


Ihsan derives from the Arabic root hsn ("beautiful, to be good"), it also translates to "virtue" or "to do good". In the stage of Ihsan the believer is fulfilled with absolute certainty. Ihsan is the most secret religious knowledge of which there exist only a very little predication since it cannot be tought. The practice of Ihsan is the remberance of God by the beautiful names of Allah on the level of the soul through which the the human attributes are replaced by devine attributes. Ihsan is the door to the everlasting ascension to Allah, a journey with no end.