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In the Quran, two terms are used to refer to those on the straight path (suratal mustakeem): muslim and mumin.

What are some similarities and differences between "muslim" and "mumin"?

In the Quran, it is said that Mumins are the ones who will be salvaged. But I don't remember such a promise for Muslims. Also, I know that the Mumin is coming from the Arabic root "١من" which means "safety". But safety from exactly what?

Are Mumins a subset of Muslims, or are they superset? It is no doubt that these two sets have intersection, but does one of them completely encapsulate the other, or do they have different elements (people)?

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6 Answers

There are two narrations of Hadith Jibreel, when angel Jibreel comes to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in human form and asks him some questions.

These questions include:

  • What is Islam (who are Muslims?)
  • What is Eman (who are Mu'mins?)
  • What is Ihsaan?

The two narrations switch up the order of Islam vs. eman. Therefore, some scholars have said that Islam (basic Islam) is the lower level, and eman (becoming a mu'min) is a higher level of faith. Others say the opposite.

The first opinion is supported by the language. Allah mentions "the ones who believe" in a verb form in many ayaat of Qur'an. In contrast, "mumin" is a noun, a person who believes; someone for whom belief is a strong aspect of their personality.

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These words have difference but related meanings. The same word may not have the same literal meaning in all places also. Let me give an example.

In verse 49:14, Quran states that:

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

The [desert] Arabs said: "We believe."
Say: "Ye haven't believed [yet], but ye [should] say: 'We have submitted', for the belief hasn't entered your hearts [yet]. And if ye obey God and his messenger, he will belittle anything from your deeds, for God is oft-forgiving [and] most merciful."

On the other hand, in verse 2:131, Quran states:

إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ أَسْلِمْ ۖ قَالَ أَسْلَمْتُ لِرَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

When his Lord said to him [Ibrahim]: "Submit [thy will to me]". He said: "I submit [my will] to [Ye] the Lord of the universe."

The words are similar but the context of the verses show that they have difference meanings. In the first case it tells those who were claim they are "believers" that they are not yet, they are only "submitted" to Islamic rule politically (e.g. those who are meant by Muslims these days, and Quran typically refers to the followers of the scared laws given to our prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as "الذین آمنوا" and not as "Muslims"). In the second case, it is clear that Ibrahim (PBUH) is a believer, but God asks him to submit to God's will.

When Quran calls a particular person "مسلم" it means that person has submitted to God's will completely like Ibrahim. A "مومن" is a lower level compared to this where one's heart believes in God and other things, it doesn't mean the person has reached the the level of "مسلم" as Ibrahim (PBUH) did yet. In this sense the word is not related to following the rules of Islam as a religion but to the higher level concept of submission to the will of God. The word is used for followers of other religions, e.g. in verse 3:52 it is used about Jesus's (PBUH) apostles and in verse 2:136 the sons of Issac (PBUH) say that they are Muslims.

In other contexts, particularly to followers of our prophet Muhammad (PBUH) it sometimes has the first meaning not the second one i.e. the person is submitted to following orders of the prophet and Islamic rules, the person might not be a real believer at all.

One should look at the context to see if the intended meaning is the first one that is it is about Muslims as followers of the religion brought by our prophet or it is about a internal characteristic of a person.

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I quote from The Teachings of Hajj by Shaykh 'Abdur-Razzaaq ibn ‘Abdil-Muhsin al-Badr:

Al-Imaam Ahmad reported in his Musnad that Fadaalah ibn ‘Ubayd narrated that the Messenger of Allaah (Salallahu alayhi wassalam) said during the Farewell Hajj,

“Shall I not inform you about the Mu’min? He is the one whom people trust with their wealth and lives. The Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand the people are safe. The Mujaahid is he who struggles with his own soul to obey Allaah. The Muhaajir is he who abandons misdeeds and sins.” Musnad Ahmad (6/21); graded saheeh by al-Albaanee in as-Saheehah (549).

This Hadeeth, which is part of the Prophet’s (Salallahu alayhi wassalam) bequest and teachings to his Ummah imparted during the Farewell Hajj, explains the perfection of these concepts: Eemaan, Islaam, Jihaad, and Hijrah. It also explains who rightfully deserves to be described by these traits, upon which rests happiness in this world and the Hereafter. Additionally, it gives comprehensive definitions of them.

  1. The Mu’min is he whom people trust with their lives and property. Once Eemaan settles firmly and fills the heart, it demands of a person to fulfill the duties of Eemaan, among the most important of which are: taking care of trusts, dealing with others honestly, and making sure to not oppress others with respect to their lives and property. When someone consistently does these things, people know him to be that way, and they place confidence in him and trust him with their lives and wealth because they know that he protects what he is entrusted with.

    This is one of the foremost things dictated by Eemaan as the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wassalam) said:

    “There is no Eemaan for one who cannot be trusted.” Musnad Ahmad (3/135), Ibn Hibbaan (194); from Anas ibn Maalik (radiallahu anhu). Graded saheeh li-ghayrihi by al-Albaanee in Saheeh Mawaarid ath-Tham’aan (42).

  2. The Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe. That is because true Islaam is submission to Allaah, complete servitude devoted to Him, and giving the Muslims their rights. One’s Islaam cannot be complete until he loves for the Muslims what he loves for himself. This can only come about when they are safe from any harm emanating from his tongue and hand, and this is the very root of this obligation. If others are subject to harm from his tongue and hand, how can he be fulfilling his obligation to his Muslim brothers? How could someone who extends his hand and tongue with harm and enmity against the Muslims possibly be truly practicing Islaam? Thus, their being safe from his verbal or physical harm forms the very essence of completing his Islaam.

This also implies that the Mu’min is a level higher than the Muslim because if someone is trusted with the lives and wealth of others, then the Muslims would obviously be protected from his tongue and hand. Had they not been safe from him to begin with, they would not have trusted him. However, just because they feel safe from him does not mean that they necessarily trust him. He may not harm them, yet they do not place full confidence in him, fearing that he may have withheld his harm due to some ulterior motive or fear, and not due to having Eemaan in his heart.

Thus, the Prophet (Salallahu alayhi wassalam) defined the Muslim with an outward quality, namely, others being safe from him, whereas he defined the Mu’min with an inner quality, namely, that others trust him with their lives and wealth, and the latter trait is superior to the former.

The Shaykh also similarly explains Mujaahid and Muhaajir but it is not relevant to question. But if you are interested you can read this book - Teachings of Hajj by Shaykh 'Abdur-Razzaaq ibn ‘Abdil-Muhsin al-Badr.

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There are many differences between the two. I will be highlighting the major ones.

A Mumin is a higher degree Muslim who:

  1. Repents after every sin (s)he commits.
  2. Feels sorry for every Islamic obligation (s)he either did not perform or has missed.
  3. Does believe in the message of Allah without the need of concrete evidence (such as supplementary scientific knowledge).
  4. Puts Allah above everything in his/her daily life.
  5. Is and known for being trustworthy.
  6. Is sure of Allah's promise at heart.
  7. Takes into account what Allah prefers.
  8. and so on...

Mystical Approach: A Muslim is a Maqan of Salam (derived from m-slm), and thus carries and spreads Salam, while a Mumin is named directly with God's name. So a standard Muslim is where Salam is observed, while the heart of a Mumin fits Him.

There is lot more to the subject and you may only distinguish between the two clearly if you start taking account the difference between the words when studying the Quran. Most think they are interchangeable, but obviously they are wrong.

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You may also like to look at here which says:

Muslim has a general meaning (submission to Allah) and a specific meaning (commonly used now by people around the globe).

The specific meaning still has a large scope as it starts from apparent submission to Allah with minimal state of confession in uniquness of Allah and that the holiness Muhammad --peace be upon him-- in His prophet, to the maximal state of being completely and thoroughly submitted to Allah like the holy prophet was:

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Say: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds [6:162]

But being Mu'min is having faith in heart, it's a good state of being Muslim, both in its general and specific meaning of Muslim, so we both have a believer Christian and a believer Muslim. This attribute further measures the degree someone is Muslim (submitted to Allah, in general or in Islam the last version of the heavenly religion):

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

The desert Arabs say, "We believe." Say, "Ye have no faith; but ye (only) say, 'We have submitted our wills to Allah,' For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [49:14]

although it rather seems that the Christians and other people of book hardly can be considered as Mu'min, most of them can at most be Muslims and at the beginning of being submitted to God, although doing hard worships as well. That's because what they believe in God and His prophet is close to Kufr and Shirk. And if they remedy such ideas then they will commonly convert to Islaam and if they don't live much after remedying their beliefs to convert and die they might be still considered as Mu'min (even although not converted according to the rules of Islam). I rather prefer to skip this issue as I have very small evidences on this issue, and Allah knows best. But let bring these verses that may help:

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ انتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. [4:171]

وَإِنَّ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَمَن يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِمْ خَاشِعِينَ لِلَّهِ لَا يَشْتَرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account. [3:199]

لَيْسُوا سَوَاءً مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَائِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ

Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. [3:113]

وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مَنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِقِنطَارٍ يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِدِينَارٍ لَّا يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ إِلَّا مَا دُمْتَ عَلَيْهِ قَائِمًا ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ سَبِيلٌ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

Among the People of the Book are some who, if entrusted with a hoard of gold, will (readily) pay it back; others, who, if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless thou constantly stoodest demanding, because, they say, "there is no call on us (to keep faith) with these ignorant (Pagans)." but they tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it. [3:75] [and honesty, truthfulness and trusteeship are among the most important measures of Iman according to Ahadeeth, even more important measures than prayer and fast and etc.]

And at a last point, Iman itself has several ranks and it will be measured by Taqwa if I'm not wrong:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ مِن قَبْلُ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا

O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and the scripture which He hath sent to His Messenger and the scripture which He sent to those before (him). Any who denieth Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Day of Judgment, hath gone far, far astray. [4:136]

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

O ye that believe! Fear Allah, and believe in His Messenger, and He will bestow on you a double portion of His Mercy: He will provide for you a Light by which ye shall walk (straight in your path), and He will forgive you (your past): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

There are many verses that Allah tells the believers to believe, to fear Allah, and warn them, but there is no where that Allah warns a Mutaqqi who fears Allah as this fear is itself a mean to save the Mu'min.

PS. there may exists gaps in this answer, so feel free to fill them. Also bear in mind that the writer of the answer is not a scholar/expert and can easily make mistakes, although tries to prevent errors.

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Asalamu wa alaikum,

Muslims must be both , they Must have Iman. There is no Practical differences unless you are a Mu'min form Christianity for instance. A Mu'min is basically one who believes in Allah. But in Hadith Jibreel The Prophet mentions six Pillars of Iman and they are:

  1. Belief in Allah

  2. His Books

  3. His Angels

  4. His Prophets

  5. His Books

  6. The last day and destiny its good and bad.

Now if someone believes in all of the above than he will be considered a Mu'min according to the Hadith. If a Muslim follows all of the above and the Five Pillars than he will be considered a Muslim. In The Quran Mu'min and Muslim are sometimes the same. Iman and Islam go together, Mu'mins are neither a subset or a superset of Muslims.

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ps: I think this answer is not correct. There is a difference between the terms, Quran doesn't use terms arbitrarily, if it is using different terms that has a reason. I will try to explain the difference between the two in an answer later. –  Kaveh Jun 26 '12 at 18:17
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