Which one comes first, the chicken or the egg? Should we label ourselves as submitters, believers, or both? Which one comes first, belief or submission? and which one lasts longer? Which one ranks us lower or higher? We can reach some conclusions based on the Quran, our ultimate source of all answers.
One of the verses that might have contributed to some of the confusion about belief and submission and which one comes first is this one:
Muslim vs Mu'men [49:14] The Arabs said, "We are Mu'mens (believers)." Say, "You have not believed; what you should say is, `We are Muslims (submitters),' until belief is established in your hearts." If you obey GOD and His messenger, He will not put any of your works to waste. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
A glimpse at the above verse might lead us to the thinking that submission is a separate stage that comes before our belief. The verse, however, doesn't acknowledge this specific order or that distinction at all. Logically speaking, there must be an initial, or introductory level of belief in our hearts which makes us decide to submit. We must first know, recognize, and develop a certain level of trust in the entity that we decide to submit to. 49:14 suggests that after we decide to submit to God, this might motivate us to act upon this submission and actively work for the advancement on the straight path of God. This is when the establishment of our belief starts and we only begin to achieve specific and/or higher levels of that belief. 49:14 doesn't emphasize that belief exclusively comes after submission as a submitter cannot be a submitter without first attaining a preliminary level of belief in the entity he/she decides to submit to.
Thus, there must be belief in order to decide to submit, and when we submit we might end up working hard to establish the higher levels of belief. Achieving different stages of belief affects in return the level of our submission to God. In other words, both submission and belief intertwine and actually race together throughout our journey on God's path. An initial belief ignites our submission, then we might get that urge to strive and worship to establish our belief, which in return maximizes our submission and that new scale of submission gets us engaged with more challenges and qualifies us to march steadily towards higher levels of belief and so on. The process continues only for the favor of our souls. This double effect of both belief and submission and how we must have a level of belief and trust before we submit, then we worship and validate our submission, all this is clearly expressed in the following verses:
[6:162] Say, "My Contact Prayers (Salat), my worship practices, my life and my death, are all devoted absolutely to GOD alone, the Lord of the universe.
[6:163] "He has no partner. This is what I am commanded to believe, and I am the first to submit."
[42:10] If you dispute any part of this message, the judgment for doing this rests with GOD. Such is GOD my Lord. In Him I trust, and to Him I submit.
Abraham: An Example [60:4] ... "Our Lord, we trust in You, and submit to You; to You is the final destiny.
And this one verse that states what queen of Sheeba had said after she recognized her true Lord, and repented to Him ; I now submit :
[27:44] She was told, "Go inside the palace." When she saw its interior, she thought it was a pool of water, and she (pulled up her dress,) exposing her legs. He said, "This interior is now paved with crystal." She said, "My Lord, I have wronged my soul. I now submit with Solomon to GOD, Lord of the universe."
49:14 (Muslim vs Mu'men) addresses a very limited group of people, the Arabs, at a specific time. It seems that they made the decision to submit after believing in God, but yet they never pursued the righteous works that will prove their convictions, build up their belief, and consume the energy of their submission. One can stay still in that stage for long, and at the end reach for nothing as the soul stays shrunk with no progress. Others will just keep igniting their souls with their submission to act and become better believers everyday. This is why, in the Quran, leading a righteous life is always linked with believing in God and with submitting to Him alone in order to attain salvation. No where in the Quran God grants salvation to those who believe in Him, or submit to Him without validating this belief, and submitting to His commands by leading a righteous life:
[4:124] As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.
Now and Forever [16:97] Anyone who works righteousness, male or female, while believing, we will surely grant them a happy life in this world, and we will surely pay them their full recompense (on the Day of Judgment) for their righteous works.
Submission: The Only Religion [2:112] Indeed, those who submit themselves absolutely to GOD alone, while leading a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
The Strongest Bond [31:22] Those who submit completely to GOD, while leading a righteous life, have gotten hold of the strongest bond. For GOD is in full control of all things.
Minimum Requirements For Salvation [5:69] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the converts, and the Christians; any of them who (1) believe in GOD and (2) believe in the Last Day, and (3) lead a righteous life, have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
Quran indicates how submission and belief are intricate and closely related to each other. When God says that "the believers" say "we hear and we obey" when it comes to God and His commands delivered through His messengers, He is highlighting their high level of submission to God alone. Once the believers decide to act, worship, and obey, they are truly submitters:
Believers Unhesitatingly Obey
God and His Messenger [24:51] The only utterance of the believers, whenever invited to GOD and His messenger to judge in their affairs, is to say, "We hear and we obey." These are the winners.
[4:172] The Messiah would never disdain from being a servant of GOD, nor would the closest angels. Those who disdain from worshiping Him, and are too arrogant to submit, He will summon them all before Him.
And when God invites us to do righteous works, He calls upon us as believers ; Oh you who believe. We must prove our convictions by overcoming our weaknesses and choosing to do the righteous works we are invited to. This is a manifestation of our true submission and our initial belief. This is what "we hear and obey" is all about and this is how both submission and belief interact with each other. Thus, any time we work righteousness, we validate our submission, establish our belief, and become energized by a higher voltage of submission.
On the other hand, when God mentions some sins and how when we commit them we slide back, turns into wicked people after attaining "Iman" or faith, this only indicates that we are believers who failed to uphold His commands. This takes away from the level of our Iman/belief/faith and from the level of our submission as well because we are failing to act:
Believers Set the Example [49:11] O you who believe, no people shall ridicule other people, for they may be better than they. Nor shall any women ridicule other women, for they may be better than they. Nor shall you mock one another, or make fun of your names. Evil indeed is the reversion to wickedness after attaining faith. Anyone who does not repent after this, these are the transgressors.
[33:70] O you who believe, reverence GOD and utter only the correct utterances.
[8:27] O you who believe, do not betray GOD and the messenger, and do not betray those who trust you, now that you know.
Then, God asks the believers to repent when they regress and commit sins. This is only because believers are apt to make mistakes, and again this takes away from their level of submission and belief, but when they repent they get back on track. In fact it is a sign of true belief to repent for our sins.
The Believers Repent [66:8] O you who believe, you shall repent to GOD a firm repentance. Your Lord will then remit your sins and admit you into gardens with flowing streams. On that day, GOD will not disappoint the prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will radiate in front of them and to their right. They will say, "Our Lord, perfect our light for us, and forgive us; You are Omnipotent."
The Believers [9:112] They are the repenters, the worshipers, the praisers, the meditators, the bowing and prostrating, the advocators of righteousness and forbidders of evil, and the keepers of GOD's laws. Give good news to such believers.
Based on the above Quranic verses, we are believers. Yes. We can call ourselves believers. We are also submitters. Yes. We call ourselves submitters as well. What truly matters is at what level or scale are we as far as our submission and belief are concerned? Certainty is the ultimate goal. This is when we are absolutely certain about our path, and our destiny, and therefore we do what it takes to please our Creator in a total, unwavering, and unconditional submission to Him alone.
So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? At certain point we must have had a pair of chicken that were initially placed on earth just like Adam and his wife to lay an egg and start the species of chicken, and there must be a certain level of recognition, belief, and trust to give birth to true submission, after that, our submission either moves us up and gets upgraded itself, or stays still and take us no where. The choice is always ours. Our Submission might ignite us to move up to different levels of belief through our actions and worship. These levels of belief only enhance our submission and this upscale energy of submission makes us steadfastly persevere in dealing with harder challenges, and observing more commands, and thus be better and stronger believers. It is a continuous spiral that goes only in an upward direction by two major intricate, and twisted components : belief and submission.
Muslim vs Mu'men
[49:14] The Arabs said, "We are Mu'mens (believers)." Say, "You have not believed; what you should say is, `We are Muslims (submitters),' until belief is established in your hearts." If you obey GOD and His messenger, He will not put any of your works to waste. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
[49:15] Mu'mens (believers) are those who believe in GOD and His messenger,THEN attain the status of having no doubt whatsoever, and strive with their money and their lives in the cause of GOD. These are the truthful ones.
Attaining the status of having no doubt whatsoever, certainty, is the highest level of both belief and submission. Until we reach it, and per 49:15, we are still labeled by God almighty as Mu'mens, believers, but at different stages, or levels. 49:15 doesn't set a time limit for attaining that ultimate goal of absolute certainty. It is our daily Jihad/struggle on this earth that moves us up from stage to another. The process goes on, and the spiral is moving us up as long as we choose to move up with it.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.