Believing in God and Prophet Muhammad without practicing the faith
Am I still considered a Muslim if I believe in God and Prophet Muhammad without practicing the faith?
The ‘mu`min’ (believer) is one who consciously believes in the Oneness of God, associates no partners with Him in any sense or form, and believes that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the Prophet whom God chose to convey His final message to mankind.
However, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) defines having faith as "having your beliefs firmly entrenched in your heart and giving practical credence to them through your actions." A Muslim, on the other hand, is a person who admits to belonging to the Islamic faith. The term Islam signifies "submission," and this means that a Muslim submits himself to God in all matters and situations. It is difficult to imagine that a person does that without being a firm believer.
In the Quran, we read the following verse which draws a clear line separating the two, "The Arabs of the desert declare: 'We are true believers.' Say, 'you are not. Rather say, 'We profess Islam,' for faith has not yet found its way into your hearts. If you obey God and His Messenger, He will not deny you the reward of your labors. God is Forgiving and Merciful."
A person may therefore declare that he is a Muslim, but that remains a statement which requires substantiation through actions and attitudes. He may attend to his Islamic duties and abstain from what God has made forbidden, but remains only at the stage of being a practicing Muslim. We cannot judge whether he actually submits himself to God in all situations. This is a matter, which is known only to God. Therefore, we consider him to be a Muslim, because we are ordered to judge people on the basis of what they profess and do. You will realize that a person may claim to be a Muslim and actually appear to attend to all Islamic practices while he is totally devoid of faith.
He may simply be a hypocrite or one who wants to penetrate the ranks of Muslims for some purpose of his own. As we cannot judge his intentions, we have to take his word and refrain from judging his intentions and leave them to God Almighty Who knows what is in everyone's hearts. It is possible, therefore, that a person appears to be a Muslim without actually being one. However, if he is truly a Muslim, he matches his declared belief with submission to God in all his life affairs. In such a case, he is a true believer, or a mu`min.
When a person who professes to be a Muslim neglects his Islamic duties and indulges in what God has forbidden, there are two possibilities. Either his attitude is the result of lack of faith or a matter of simple negligence and carelessness. It may be that such a person was raised in a Muslim family and is used to saying that he is a Muslim when asked about his faith. Deep inside, however, he does not truly believe. He may find the whole idea of religion to be tiresome but he does not wish to be known as a non-believer. Such a person does not belong to Islam at all.
On the other hand, a person may know that as a Muslim he has some well-defined duties and that he must attend to them, and yet remains negligent. When the occasion presents itself, as when he is with a group of people and they begin a congregational prayer, he will join them because on such occasions he finds encouragement or does not wish to be thought of as a non-believer. Such a person is guilty of negligence, which is sinful. He is liable to punishment for disobedience to God, but he may also be forgiven his sins.
These two persons very different. The first is a non-believer while the other is only a negligent believer. How can we tell if a person we know belongs to the first or the second category? There is simply no way of knowing that. God commands us to accept what people profess and leave judgment on their intentions to God Who is the All-Knowing.
Needless to say that in the light of the foregoing, anyone who claims to be a Muslim should be buried with Muslims when he dies. We prepare his funeral in the proper manner of Islamic burial, we pray God to forgive him and leave matters at that.
And God Almighty knows best.