Three domains of faith
The Hadith of Gabriel talks about iman or “faith” in terms of its
objects, and these specify points of reference that are needed to
understand the nature of things.
In another hadith, the Prophet spoke about the meaning of the word iman itself. “Faith,” he said, “is to acknowledge with the heart, to voice with the tongue, and to act with the limbs.”
This saying of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) suggests that human beings are compounded of three domains ranked in a clear hierarchy – heart or inmost awareness, tongue or articulation of understanding, and limbs or bodily parts. These three domains are distinct, yet thoroughly intertwined. Inasmuch as they are distinct, they came to be studied by different disciplines and judged by different standards.
“Acting with the limbs,” or putting faith into practice, is the domain of jurisprudence. It is here that people “submit” to God’s will by obeying the commands set down in the Sharia.
“Voicing with the tongue” is the realm of expressing faith through articulated self-awareness, or rational speech. Human beings are differentiated from other animals precisely by their power of speech, which expresses and conveys the awareness hidden in the depths of the heart. As a domain of learning, voicing faith belonged to those Muslim scholars who investigated the best ways to understand God, the universe, and the human soul.
Finally, “acknowledging with the heart” is to recognize the truth and reality of faith’s objects in the deepest realm of human awareness.
The “heart” in Koranic terms is the center of life, consciousness, intelligence, and intentionality.
The heart is aware and conscious before the mind articulates thought, just as it is alive before the body acts. Faith’s inmost core is found only in the heart. The Prophet seems to be referring to this core when he says, “Faith is a light that God casts into the heart of whomsoever He will.”
The Sufi Path