What is the difference between a Muslim and Mu`min?
In the name of Allah, We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allah guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is no one (no idol, no person, no grave, no prophet, no imam, no dai, nobody!) worthy of worship but Allah Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad(saws) is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.
First and foremost, lets figure out the meaning of the word "muslim". What does the word "Muslim", which we all use so often, really mean? A muslim is one who surrenders his will to the Will of Allah. Now the question is, who is a muslim and or a mu’min? Can a person be a Muslim by virtue of his birth? Is a person a muslim simply because he is the son or grandson of a muslim? Is a muslim born a muslim, just as a Hindu`s son is born a Hindu, or Englishman`s son is born an Englishman? Are muslims a race, a nationality or a caste? Do Muslims belong to the muslim ummah like the Aryans belong to the Aryan race? And, just as a Japanese is a Japanese because he is born in Japan, is a Muslim similarly a Muslim by being born in a Muslim country or a Muslim household? Your answer to these questions will surely be: NO. A muslim does not become truly a muslim simply because he is born a muslim. A muslim is not a muslim because he belongs to any particular race; he is a muslim because he follows Islam. If he renounces Islam, he ceases to be a Muslim. Any person, whether a Brahman or a Rajput, an Englishman or a Japanese, a white or a black, will, on accepting Islam, become a full member of the Muslim community; while a person born in a Muslim home may be expelled from the muslim ummah if he gives up following Islam, even though he may be a descendant of the Prophet (saws) himself, an Arab or a Pathan!
This establishes that the greatest gift of Allah which we enjoy, that of being a muslim is not something automatically inherited from our parents, which remains ours for life by right, irrespective of our attitude and behavior. It is a gift which we must continually strive to deserve if we want to retain it.
We all agree that we become Muslims only by accepting Islam. But what does acceptance of Islam mean? Does it mean that whoever makes a verbal profession -- "I am a muslim" or "I have accepted Islam" -- becomes a true Muslim? Or does it mean that just as a Hindu worshipper may recite a few words in Sanskrit without understanding them, a man who utters some Arabic phrases without knowing their meanings becomes a Muslim? What reply will you give to this question? We cannot but answer that accepting Islam means that Muslims should consciously and deliberately accept what has been sent down in the Quran and act accordingly. People who do not so behave are not muslims in the true sense.
Islam, therefore, consists, firstly, of knowledge, and secondly, of putting that knowledge into practice. A man can be white and have no knowledge, because he is born white he will remain so. Similarly a Japanese will remain a Japanese though he may have no knowledge, because he has been born a Japanese. But no man becomes truly a muslim without knowing the meaning of Islam, because he becomes a muslim, not through birth, but through knowledge. Clearly, it is impossible to become a muslim and remain a muslim in a state of ignorance. Being born in muslim homes, bearing muslim names, dressing like muslims and calling ourselves muslims is not enough to make us muslims.
The real difference between a Kafir (an unbeliever) and a muslim is not that of a name, that one is called Smith or Ram Lal and the other Abdullah. No one is a Kafir or a muslim simply because of his name. Nor does the real difference lie in the fact that one wears a suit and a necktie and the other a turban. The real difference is that of knowledge. An unbeliever does not understand God`s relationship to him, and his relationship to God. As he does not know the will of God, he cannot know the right path to follow in his life. If a muslim, too, grows up ignorant of God`s will, what ground can there be to continue calling him a muslim rather than a kafir?
There is a huge difference in the rewards and punishment in the eyes of God for a legal muslim and a true muslim (mu’min) ... a person can still legally be a muslim in this world, bearing a muslim name and being born into a muslim family, but in the eyes of God, a true muslim (mu’min) will only be the one who has knowledge of Islam and acts according to the Quran and Sunnah. These are the ones whom Allah has termed “mu’mins” in the Quran and it is for these mumins that Allah has promised a good reward in the hereafter.
May Allah make us of those who constantly beg Allah to forgive us our sins and take us into His infinite Mercy and Protection. Ameen.
Whatever written of Truth and benefit is only due to Allah’s Assistance and Guidance, and whatever of error is of me. Allah Alone Knows Best and He is the Only Source of Strength
Your Brother and well wisher in Islam,