Bismillah wa-salaatu wa-salaamu 'ala Rasulullah
All praise is for Allah. As such we praise Him, seek His Help and Forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from the evil within ourselves and from the consequences of our deeds. I bare witness that nothing is worthy of our worship, our repentance, our supplications and complete submission except Allah and I bare witness that the last and final Messenger of Allah sent to receive and relay the method in which to properly acknowledge and submit to Allah is Muhammad ibn Abdullah salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam. We ask that the peace and blessings of Allah eternally be upon Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad and all the prophets of Allah and those who follow them in righteousness until the Last Day. Wa ba'ad (as to what follows)..
And so my big brother (of the same mother) was curious after reading my previous post, "Types of Kufr", what then, and I quote: "does a believer look like in these lands?" I doubt he's aware as to how good the question was, especially in following the aforementioned post, when he raised it. For all I know it may have been rhetorical, none-the-less a very appropriate, relevant and deep question deserving of review. So with the aim to satisfy this question for the benefit of myself and all sincere seekers of knowledge and truth, we'll discuss the fundamental characteristics and distinctions of the mu'min (believer), in'sha'Allah.
Generally speaking the believer has no special appearance with which they differ from others. There is no specific dress the believer is required to wear. The requirement is not so much what is worn, but what is covered. So long as what the believing man wears covers what is required of him to cover and so long as what the mu'minah (believing woman) wears covers what is required of her to cover (refer to Full Hijab). Clothing must as well be loose and not form-fitting (this includes skinny jeans, brothers) or contain any insignia or wording that denotes shirk, kufr or anything that is an affront to the Deen of Allah.
No different than any other human being, it is beyond the realm of the believer to be ma'sum (sinless or protected from error) -after reaching the age of maturity. It is understood that some or most knowledge of the Shari'ah will be unknown to most believers, just as it is possible for the believer to be confused on some issues or aspects in Islam. Shortcomings and mistakes are one of the manifestations of Allah's name, al-Ghaffur (The All Forgiving); they are unavoidable and do not expel one from the fold of Islam. As Allah says what means:
"There is no burden upon you for that in which you were mistaken, rather that which you have done with the full determination of the heart." -Surah al-Ahzab ayah 5
And our beloved Prophet salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam said: "“If a mujtahid (judge) exerts himself to give a verdict according to the best of his knowledge and his verdict is correct (i.e. complies with the verdict of Allah and His Messenger) he will receive two rewards (for the effort and the sound conclusion), and if he gives a verdict according to the best of his knowledge and his verdict is wrong (i.e. against the verdict of Allah and His Messenger), then he will get but one reward .”
Due to the fact all believers are capable of mistakes, it is neither obligatory or expected to believe in everything any one of them says, for that is only the right upon us to the words of al-Anbiya and ar-Rusul (the prophets and messengers of Allah). With Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam being the last of the Messengers, it is obligatory upon the believer to accept and follow everything he, 'alayhi wa-salaatu wa-salaam, has commanded and advised until the Last Day.
Until then it is binding upon the believer to measure all that is taught to them concerning the Deen to the criterion which the Prophet salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam has brought. So long as it is in agreement therewith the believer must accept, but they must reject anything that falls in disagreement. In the case that the believer is unsure as to whether it's in accordance to the Prophet's message, salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam, or at variance than they must refrain from believing or applying it until knowledge reaches them. Bottom line is the believers are obligated to hold tight to the criterion, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (methodology, way or example of the Prophet salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam).
The believer is one who has entered Islam completely and accepts everything Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam was sent with. Those who believe in only part of what he salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam sent, those who believe and practice Islam selectively or accept a part of Islam and reject another are in reality disbelievers (kafir'un). No matter how devoted, ascetic or knowledgable they appear. Allah says about them:
"Those who disbelieve in Allah and His Prophets and seek to differentiate between Allah and His prophets, and they say: 'We believe in some and we reject some' Such are true disbelievers, and We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment. As for those who believe in Allah and His prophets, and sought not to differentiate between any of them. We shall give them their rewards. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful." -Surah an-Nisa ayat 150-52
So after knowing generally what not to look for in identifying the believer (i.e. type of clothing, outward appearance or flawlessness). We should understand that the elements of the believer are ultimately what is contained in the heart and manifested in their character and actions. One of the goals of the believer is to perfect good manners. As Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam said: "I have not been sent except to perfect good manners."
Allah said of His Messenger what means: "And indeed, you are upon a noble conduct, an exemplary manner." -Surah al-Qalam ayah 4 and He subhanahu wa ta'ala obligated every believer to follow his example (Sunnah):
"O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey His Messenger and make not vain your deeds." -Surah Muhammad ayah 33. And He azza wa jall spoke of the Prophet's akhlaq (manners) in this way:
"You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day, and who engages much in the remembrance (praise) of Allah." -Surah al-Ahzab ayah 21
When Allah describes ibaadul ar-Rahman (servants of the Most Merciful), the mumin'un (believers), he says they are those who walk with humility and humbleness. They are not arrogant. Allah in hundreds of ayat reveals His hatred for arrogance and kibr (pride) in all its forms and His curse that is upon these characteristics. One of the ways Allah summarizes the expected and proper akhlaq of the believer is:
"Worship Allah and associate no partners with Him; be good to your parents, and to your relatives, to the orphans and to the poor. Neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the traveler you meet and what your right possess. For Allah loves not the proud and arrogant!" -Surah an-Nisa ayah 36
Worship of Allah alone is foremost when it applies to good manners. To acknowledge, serve and obey the One who created you and everything into being and comparing nothing unto Him is the best of good manners. This principle is summed up in one word in Arabic, "tawheed". Tawheed is good manners. And it is with tawheed that all the good manners less than that become consequential.
One of the great scholars of al-Islam, a Tabi (Muslim of the generation that succeeded Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam and his companions) by the name al-Hasan al-Barsi rahimullah, construed one of my favorite quotes with regards to iman (faith) in saying: "Iman is not by wishful thinking or outward trappings, rather it is a conviction in the heart verified by conduct." And Allah says what means:
"O mankind! We have created you from a single pair, a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another (not despise one another). Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are those who are best in taqwa (piety and conduct)." -Surah al-Hujraat ayah 13
And when Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam was asked: "Which people are the best?" He salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam replied: "Those best in taqwa."
So the first condition of the believer is that they possess taqwa. Taqwa, sometimes interpreted as "piety" or "God-consciousness", can be described as a shield which guards against Allah's anger and punishment. And that shield is obedience to what Allah has commanded and abstinence from what Allah has forbidden. As another Tabi, Talq ibn Habeed, explained of taqwa: "Taqwa is that you act in obedience to Allah, and hope in His Mercy, upon a light from Him; and taqwa is leaving acts of disobedience to Allah out of fear of Him, upon a light from Him."
Moreoever, the believer is commanded by Allah to posses taqwa:
"O you who believe! Have taqwa of Allah as you should have of Him and do not die except in a state of Islam (as Muslims)." -Surah Ali-Imran ayah 102
And it is here, in'sha'Allah, we've aggregated the contents or makings of a true mu'min (believer). And nothing to me explains the levels of the different believers and their blessings than Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa salaam in a Hadith Qudsi (meaning it is from Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala, but in the wording of Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam) found in Sahih Bukhari. Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam told us, as reported by Abu Huraira radiallahu anhu:
"Allah, the Exalted said: "Whoever takes a Wali (loyal slave, servant, ally, friend, etc.) of Mine as an enemy, I will wage war on him; and My slave will not perform any act with which he draws closer to Me, more beloved to Me then when he fulfills what I have commanded of him; and My salve will keep drawing closer to Me by performing the nawafil (voluntary acts of worship) until I love him, and when I love him, I will be his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hands with which he strikes, and his legs with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him; and if he seeks refuge with Me, I will grant him refuge."
What is to be highlighted here are the different levels of the mu'min. The different levels of taqwa and ahklaq they possess. The least level are those (most of us, myself included) who fulfill what is obligatory upon them as believers; the bare minimum. They do what is ordered of them by Allah and abstain from what is forbidden of them by Allah and do not demand themselves the doing of the nawafil or commendable acts. They avoid also most of the makrooh or unrecommended or disliked but allowed actions. As for the forerunners, those with higher taqwa, the level upon which most of us are striving towards. They are those who seek to come even closer to Allah with extra efforts after the fard (obligatory). They fulfill the obligatory and the commendable; and avoid the forbidden (haram) and unrecommended (makrooh). They seek to come closer to Allah azza wa jall with everything within their ability. And this is the completion of iman (faith). As Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam told us:
"The most dependable handhold on iman is love for the sake of Allah and hatred for the sake of Allah." And in another hadith our beloved Rasul salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam said: "Whoever loves for Allah, hates for Allah, gives for Allah and withholds for Allah has sought the completion of his faith."
May Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala count and keep us among al-Mumin'oon, true believers. May He accept our efforts in pleasing Him and remind us to remember Him in our times of vulnerability and weakness. Ameen. May He grant us the sabr (patience) to resist our nafs (lowly desires) at the expense of His Pleasure and to always turn to Him and follow up our bad deeds with a good one when we don't. As His beloved Messenger and most perfect worshipper told us: "Fear Allah wherever you are and follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will blot it out. And deal with people in a good manner." May Allah guide and accept from us and in His everlasting Mercy, pardon us, so that we may be successful in this life and be granted salvation in the Hereafter. Allahumma ameen!