What does ISLAM mean?

The word “Islam” bears, within its meaning, the following two definitions:

1. Linguistic Meaning: This is the general meaning in Arabic usage, implying absolute submission, surrender and obedience that is obeying the injunctions of the ruler without objection. Before Islam came as a formal religion . The word was used to denote the above meaning, without attaching to it any ideological or conventional context.

2. Idiomatic Meaning: The Holy Qur’an defines Islam as the Message of Prophet Mohammed (saw). Although Islam was the theme of all preceding divine messages, the word was chosen as a particular title denoting the Almighty’s final revelation to mankind. In fact the Qur’an transformed the word “Islam” from its linguistic meaning to the idiomatic meaning. Still there remains the common implication in both usages- the linguistic and the idiomatic – that is submission and obedience, since Islam is the religion of voluntary submission to Allah’s Will, the obeying of His commands and surrendering to His Will without the least objection .

Thus, the religion which Mohammed (saw) brought to humanity was called “Islam”. It has since been used as a proper title for the Message preached by the Seal of Messengers and the word acquired has particular religious, legislative and devotional implications. Formerly the world did not enjoy these dimensions being void of any religious context except that denoting mere submission, obedience and surrender in the hitherto obscure language, spoken by an insignificant desert people.


Whoever utters the two testimonies Shahadatayn that is to say: “Ashhadu an la ilaha il-lallah wa ashhadu an-an Muhammadan Rasulullah” which means “I bear witness that there is no god save Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah”, is Muslim.

Those who are born to Muslim parents are regarded Muslims by birth, disregarding whether or not he/she is a faithful believer, is Muslim.

Starting from this general definition of the Muslim, we may divide the belief of a Muslim with respect to one’s connection with Islam, as follows :

A – The Faith : This is the belief which is based on complete rational and intuitive understanding and conviction, embodied in adherence to, and application of, the decisions and the teaching of the religion in daily life. This degree of belief and adherence is called “faith”, and the Muslim who attains to this high degree of connection with Allah and of adherence to His laws is called “faithful” .

Thus, faith is a degree higher than mere “submission”, because it is true belief accompanied by complete adherence to, and application of, all the decisions of Islam, including devotions, rites, laws, systems, morals, concepts, commandments, teachings, etc.

The Qur’an distinguishes between these two different degrees of belief – that of being a Muslim and that of being a called Mu’min the faithful. It denounces those who pretend by proclamation to be Muslims, claiming to be of the believers.

Allah the exalted says :

The Bedouin Arabs said: We believe. Say ( unto them, O Mohammed ) you believe not, but rather say : `We submit‘, for the faith has not yet entered your hearts. Yet, if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not withhold from you aught (of the reward) your deeds. Surely Allah is All-forgiving All-merciful. The (true) believers are those who believe in Allah and His messenger and afterward doubt not, and who strive with their wealth and their selves for the cause of Allah. These are the truthful ones.

Holy Qur’an (49:14-15 )

Ultimately, one’s Islam, will not be true unless it reaches the stage of faith and complete responsiveness to the Will of Allah , the stage which has been pointed out by the verse describing Abraham’s Islam towards Allah, the Exalted :

“When his Lord said to him: ‘submit’! he said: I have submitted to the Lord of the worlds’. And Abraham enjoined on faith to his sons, and (so did ) Jacob, (saying) : My children, Allah has chosen for you the faith : so die not unless you are Muslims’”.

Holy Qur’an ( 2: 131-132 )

This is the true Islam as described by the Glorious Qur’an. It represents the highest degree of faith and commitment, detailing the believer’s intellectual and psychological maturity, and describing the response of his conduct and will. This is the Islam which brings about for humanity the good of both this world and the hereafter, and personifies the aims of the message of the Messenger, who said : “… I have brought you the good of the world and the hereafter”.

B – The Ostensible : This is weak and formal submission which has no firm basis in the human soul. It does not have any effect on daily conduct, is not integrated with practical life and does not govern man’s social relations and activities. It is a purely superficial attachment to Islam, rebellious undertaking which has no roots.

This false pretence is dangerous to the society and to the Islamic religion. It is a danger sign foretelling destruction and deviation, because it is the first step on the road to a relapse into the abyss of ignorance.

Pretended submission does not make its adherent fit for, or worthy of, being a true follower of faith. It does not enable him to attain to the true degree of Islam, called for by the religion of the Master of Messengers, Mohammed (saw) which formulates the real nature of man and his goals in life, according to the laws of Allah and the path of the right religion.

If a man does not attain to this stage of Islam, there arises a gap between his ideology and practical conduct, and subsequently a great divide rises between him and Islam as a belief and religion, and as a cultural way of life. Such a man remains far from being Muslim, except in outward appearance. He is, however, regarded as subject to the Islamic rules, and is treated as Muslim .

In studying this group of Muslims, we must distinguish between two sorts which, though they come under one general heading of “Muslim”, yet they cannot be described as “believers”.

These are :
1. The Hypocrites : is the outwardly manifests Islam, which inwardly he is a disbeliever. A hypocrite is professing Muslim on whom the rules of Islam are applicable, and who is treated as a Muslim, disregarding the belief which he cherishes in himself.

2. The Corrupt : This is the one who believes in Islam in his heart, but does not apply it to his life and does not observe its obligations.

The difference between the two is vast. As regarding the hypocrite, the difference is ideological, which is in fact, is equal to plain disbelief, as the Qur’an says : “Have you not seen those who are hypocrites (who) say to their brothers who disbelieve among the followers of the Scripture : If you are driven out, we surely will go out with you, and we will never obey anyone against you, and if you are attacked we surely will help you. And Allah bears witness that they verily are liars.” Holy Qur’an (59:11)

As to the corrupt, the Qur’an does not treat him in this way, as the difference, in this case, is that which concerns conduct. This corruption does not stand on an equal footing with hypocrisy in its quality and effect, if we take into consideration the inward and the heartfelt conviction.

C – The Scheme of the Study : Islam, in its entirety, is a complete unity of thought, legislation and guidance. By understanding it you gain a general intellectual clarity, and by comprehending it you are encouraged to make real advances in the area of human culture.

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