Muslims (Submitters) and Mu’mins (Believers) Are Not the Same Thing

Many Muslims believe that the term “Muslim” and “Mu’min” are interchangeable and have the same meaning. However, according to the Quran, many people are Muslims (including some Jews and Christians) but not all Muslims are Mu’mins.

A “Muslim” (Submitter) by definition is anyone who submits or surrenders their will to the one true God. This is irrespective of whether or not they believe in the Quran or prophet Muhammad.

A “Mu’min” (Believer), in the context of the Quran, is one who believes in

  1. The one true God
  2. All of God’s angels
  3. All of God’s scriptures including the Torah, Injeel, and Quran
  4. All of God’s messengers including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad

One may be a Muslim (Submitter) but not yet be a Mu’min (believer) as true faith has not yet entered their hearts. This is proven in verse 49:14.

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
The desert Arabs say, “We believe!” Say, “Do not say you believe; but only say, ‘We have submitted our wills to God (as Submitters / Muslims),’ as belief has not yet entered your hearts. But if you obey God and His Messenger, He will not deprive you anything of your deeds: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (49:14)

Therefore, being a Muslim (Submitter) first is a pre-requisite for acquiring belief to become a Mu’min (believer). Verse 7:143 shows the example of prophet Moses when he became a Mu’min (believer). Verse 2:260 shows the example of prophet Abraham who asked to have his heart strengthened so that he could become a Mu’min (believer).

There are many proofs in the Quran of people who lived before prophet Muhammad and were Muslim.

  • Prophet Noah (10:72)
  • Prophet Solomon (27:31, 27:42)
  • Prophet Lot (51:36)
  • Prophet Abraham (3:67)
  • Disciples of Prophet Jesus (3:52)
  • Prophet Joseph (12:101)
  • Prophet Jacob’s children (2:133)
  • Pharaoh’s magicians (7:126)

None of these people could have known of the Quran or the coming of prophet Muhammad, yet they are described as Muslims (Submitters). Therefore, being a Muslim (Submitter), according to the Quran, does not require belief in the Quran or prophet Muhammad. It just requires submitting one’s will to the one true God.

As a matter of fact, during the time of prophet Muhammad some people amongst the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) did believe in Muhammad and they, therefore, were Mu’mins (believers) even though they were still Jews and Christians.

وَإِذَا سَمِعُوا مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ تَرَىٰ أَعْيُنَهُمْ تَفِيضُ مِنَ الدَّمْعِ مِمَّا عَرَفُوا مِنَ الْحَقِّ ۖ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاكْتُبْنَا مَعَ الشَّاهِدِينَ
And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so register us among the witnesses. (5:83)
وَإِنَّ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَمَن يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِمْ خَاشِعِينَ …
And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you (Muhammad), and in the revelation to them (Torah, Injil), bowing in humility to God …. (3:199)

People who believed in the previous scriptures, including Jews and Christians, were already Muslims.

الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِهِ هُم بِهِ يُؤْمِنُونَ وَإِذَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ قَالُوا آمَنَّا بِهِ إِنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا مِن قَبْلِهِ مُسْلِمِينَ
Those to whom We gave the Scripture before it – they are believers in it. And when it is recited to them, they say, “We have believed in it; indeed, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed we were, [even] before it, Submitters (Muslims).” (28:52-53)
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