The first and most important element of Muslim identity is faith, which is the intimate sign that one believes in the Creator without associating anything with Him. This is the meaning of the central concept of tawhid, faith in the oneness of God, to which the shahada affirms and testifies. In this sense, the shahada is the purest expression of the essence of Muslim identity beyond time and space. It is naturally embodied in religious practice (prayer, zakat, fasting). Closely connected with these two realities, and the immediate consequence of them in the life of the believer, is the fundamental dimension of spirituality. Spirituality, from an Islamic point of view, is the way in which the believer keeps his faith alive and intensifies and reinforces it. Spirituality is remembrance—recollection and the intimate energy involved in the struggle against the natural human tendency to forget God, the meaning of life and the other world. All the practices prescribed by Islam, especially prayer, are in fact a means of recollection (dhikr): “Truly I am God; there is no god but I. So worship Me and perform the prayer in order to remember Me.”
Excellence, defined as the ideal behavior of the Muslim, would be to attain a state where there was no forgetfulness. Excellence (al-ihsan), the Prophet said, is “to worship God as if you could see Him, for even if you cannot see Him, He sees you,” that is, to try to be with God in every situation.
In the many debates involving sociologists and political scientists, this dimension is often forgotten, as if faith and spirituality cannot be considered as scientific data with an objective “identity.” But the word islam itself means “submission” to God, expressing, strictly speaking, an act of worship, with its spiritual horizon. Consequently, recognition of the Muslim identity entails recognition of this first and fundamental dimension of faith, and, by extension, allowing Muslims to carry out all the religious practices that give shape to their spiritual life. Faith and spirituality underpin these practices, which express the presence of an essential conviction that gives meaning to life: to cut Muslims off from them is to cut them off from their very being. Muslim identity, at its central pivot, is therefore a faith, a practice, and a spirituality. It is essentially the dimension of intimacy and the heart.