Our next hadiths to consider are hadith #3 and #4 together. It’s probably important to note at this point that I’m not attempting any level of comprehensive treatment of these ahadith. Rather, my objective is to highlight how these texts help us understand Islam holistically. Hadith #3 is known as “hadith Jibril”, because the Archangel Jibril is the Prophet peace be upon him’s interlocutor. Because of the hadith’s broad sweep of essential concepts, books have been written on the meaning of the hadith. But from my perspective, in terms of the goal of understanding Islam holistically, it’s the shorter hadith #3 that is potentially more important.

Hadith #2 tells us that Islam, holistically considered is part ritual, part conviction and part sincerity and that each of those are inter-related. The highest form of Islam is one in which the sincerity is built on a deep and authentic belief that is, in turn, supported by ritual. Effort – ritual for example, is rewarded by God by greater strength of faith –

“…Just as for those who are [willing to be] guided, He increases their [ability to follow His] guidance and causes them to grow in God-consciousness.” (47:17)

Hadith #3 is read by many as simply as an iteration of the first part of Hadith #2. But, looking closely, that is not the case. Al-Nawawi seems to have selected these two texts in close juxtaposition to highlight the difference in the language describing Islam. Hadith #2 states that “Islam is that you bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet; that you establish the ritual prayers, pay the alms, make pilgrimage to the House of God [in Makka] and fast the month of Ramadan.”

Hadith #3 uses different language. Islam “is” not those aspects, rather Islam is “built” on these aspects.

In other words, Islam is ritual, belief and sincerity; but those are the foundation, not the edifice. The edifice of Islam is what comes later in the collection. No building is secure or robust without a solid foundation, and that is the importance of ritual, of authentic belief and of sincerity, but no building is worth the name if it never rises above its foundation.