While Islam has historically eschewed authoritative bodies for issuing creeds with the authority of an ecclesiastical order, several statements of orthodox belief have, over time, come to be recognized as defining Sunni faith (iman). From these creeds six central beliefs have been distilled that have come to define orthodox faith. Belief in God and his attributes, prophets, angels, sacred books, the Last Day, and predestination has, by Sunni consensus, come to define normative Islam.
Belief in God and his attributes refers to the concepts of tawhid (divine unity) and sifat Allah (the attributive characteristics of God). Tawhid means that God is omnipotent, that he needs no helpers, and has no partners. Associating partners with God is referred to as shirk, and is considered a serious sin. This concept has been extended by some Muslim thinkers to mean that submission to God's unity means the absolute adherence to God's rules, as described in the Qur˒an and hadith. Failing to adhere to God's rules indicates that the individual places his or her own judgment equal to God's, and thus becomes God's associate. The attributes of God refer to God's abilities and characteristics as they are defined in the Qur˒an. There are generally held to be ninety-nine characteristics that are reflected in the ninety-nine names of God.
Belief in prophets, angels, and sacred books is based on Surah 2:285. This verse equates faith with the belief that God has sent many prophets prior to Muhammad. It also indicates the larger concept that Muhammad was the end of a chain of prophetic succession beginning with Adam and continuing through the twenty-five prophets mentioned in the Qur˒an.
Belief in angels is central to both the belief in prophets and in sacred books. The angel Jibril, according to Muslim tradition, conveyed the revelation from God to Muhammad and other prophets. Angels also figure prominently in a variety of beliefs, including those surrounding Munkar and Nakir, angels who interrogate the dead in their graves, and Michael, who was commissioned by God to oversee the natural world.
Muslims believe that many prophets have received sacred textual revelations similar to the Qur˒an but that these revelations became corrupt over time. Thus while Christians and Jews are considered "people of the book" due to their reception of textual revelations, their religions fell into error, thus necessitating Muhammad's mission.
The Last Day refers to the belief that the world will be destroyed by God and will be followed by a Day of Resurrection on which all people will be required to account for their deeds. Those who obeyed the commands of God will go to paradise, while those who did not will go to hell. Many Muslim theologians have held that everyone will eventually be released from hell after they have suffered sufficient punishment. Some Sufis have gone so far as to include Iblis (leader of jinn, who rebeled against God after the creation of Adam) in this category.
Predestination means that God has total power over all of creation and therefore determines the course of all events. Paradoxically, humans have the ability to obey or disobey the commands of God. This ambiguity has never been settled fully and reached a compromise position with the concept of kasb, which asserts that God creates acts that humans then acquire or own, thus involving their culpability for action or inaction.
Denny, Frederick Mathewson. An Introduction to Islam. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994.
Watt, William Montgomery. Islamic Creeds: A Selection. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.
Wensinck, A. J. The Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical Development. London: Frank Cass, 1965.
R. Kevin Jaques