What is Islam?

What is Islam?


What is Islam? Why is it so called?
Mohamed Helal 215

What is Islam? Why is it so called?

What is Islam? Why is it so called? [1]

     Islam signifies submission to Allah and devoting one's matters to Him. In other words, the man-Allah relationship shall rest on obedience and submission. One may feel that no one has an authority over her/him on earth or in heavens, and thus behaves carelessly without receiving guidance anyway. Such feeling may be acceptable in man-to-man relationship. However, Allah created man with His Great Omnipotence, conferred blessings on him and specified a straight path for him/her to walk on. Hence, there is no place for such disobedience or pride in such a supreme relationship. Keeping this in mind, human beings should surrender to the divine commands and behave like servants with their Lord. Allah says, “Whoever directs himself wholly to Allah and does good work has grasped the surest handhold, for the outcome of everything is with Allah” (Qur’ān, 31:22). How would the relationship be between the Creator and the creature living on earth temporarily before coming back to his Creator? Should it be a heedless relationship or one that is mindful?

     It is naturally acceptable that humans would like to know about such a great Lord, submitting to His commands, abstaining from prohibitions and following His guidance. Such is the right meaning of Islam that Messengers conveyed. Allah says, “True Religion, in Allah's eyes, is Islam [submission to Him alone].” (Qur’ān, 3:19) As one declares his submission to Allah, and his respect and surrender to the Divine commandments and guidance, he becomes in tune with the entire prostrating universe in celebration of Allah's Majesty: “Do they seek anything other than the religion of Allah? Everyone in the heavens and the earth submits to Him, willingly or unwillingly; to Him they will all be returned.” (Qur’ān, 3:83). Islam is not only the religion of Prophet Muḩammad that appeared about fifteen centuries ago as some may mistakenly think; as a concept, Islam has been the message that guided humanity from the beginning of the creation until now.

     In fact, the true essence of Islam was perfected in the message of Prophet Muḩammad (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him). The Qur’ān attributes such a name to the messages of other prophets without exception. Israel is an honoring nickname for Jacob, who was not but a prophet who called for Islam, strongly adhered to it, and died as Muslim. He even ordered his children to follow Islam after his death, “Were you [Jews] there to see when death came upon Jacob? When he said to his sons, ‘What will you worship after I am gone?’ they replied, ‘We shall worship your Allah and the Allah of your fathers Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, one single Allah: we submit ourselves to Him.” (Qur’ān, 2:133) The so-called state of Israel is a meaningless name and a big delusion. Simply, it does not submit to Allah. Prophet Jesus taught his disciples to submit fully to Allah and worship Him sincerely. Contemplate this verse, “How I inspired the disciples to believe in Me and My messengers, they said, ‘We believe and bear witness that we submit ourselves [to Allah].” (Qur’ān, 5:111)

     Islam refers to the messages of all the Prophets who practiced the divine judgments from the time of Torah until today. Allah says, “We revealed the Torah with guidance and light, and the Prophets who submitted to Allah judge according to it for the Jews. So did the rabbis and the scholars in accordance with that part of Allah's Scripture which they were entrusted to preserve, and to which they were witnesses” (Qur’ān, 5: 44).

Islam is only perfect when two facts are realized:

First: One should know Allah well and recognize the Glories of Lordship. A person who is a polytheist, attributes a son to the Lord, or believes in pantheism is not a Muslim. Full submission to Allah needs sound knowledge of Him. The Qur’ān is rich with verses celebrating Allah's glorifications and praises. It gives a special comprehensive mention of Allah's Holy Names and Supreme Attributes, depicting perfectly the characteristics of His Great Lordship in a way which has no match in other books, old or new, heavenly or earthly. Reading the Qur’ān, one feels the divine absolute observation and dominion over everything: “His is the knowledge of all that is hidden in the heavens and the earth. How well He sees! How well He hears! They have no one to protect them, other than Him; He does not allow anyone to share His rule.” (Qur’ān, 18:26; 7:201) Will people not submit to the One who created everything and control every matter? The One who has power over hearing and sight, causes day and night to follow one another, sends fertilizing winds, alleviates hardship, and guides people form darkness to light. The Qur’ān strongly denounces those who attribute a son to Allah or consider Him similar to creatures, “They say, ‘Allah has children!’ May He be exalted! He is the Self-Sufficient One. Everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him. You have no authority to say this. How dare you say things about Allah without knowledge? Say [O Prophet], ‘Those who invent lies about Allah will not prosper.’” (Qur’ān, 10:68-69)

Second: One should submit to and obey Allah. After proving this fact—sound knowledge of Allah--the second fact follows. It is one's full submission and obedience to Allah. Disobedience and obedience are not concomitant and so are submission to commands and opposition to them. Does this mean that man cannot indulge into disobedience? The truth is that a believer's disobedience is accidentally or heedlessly committed. Then, sincere repentance and abashment soon follow to relieve the believers from its evils. Disobedience may be accidently committed due to different souls and environments, like a driver who inadvertently and shortly snoozes to find herself/himself or others badly hurt in an accident caused by her/him. When one disobeys, he loses the light of reason and the power of determination, “Those who are aware of Allah think of Him when Satan prompts them to do something, then immediately they can see [straight].” (Qur’ān, 7: 201) That is why Prophet Muḩammad (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) refused to invoke curse upon alcohol-drinkers, because addiction failed then to have a true sense of manhood and determination.

     Such a disobedient drinker represents a state of disobedience or disorder that is completely different from the one permeating disobedient societies, constructing factories for alcohol, licensing bars, imposing taxes on it, and spreading evils. There is much difference between those legalizing sins, heedless of Allah's commands and rights and the one accidently or inadvertently falling in it. The former represents stark criminals and non-submissive beings, whereas the others are weak in submission, who need cure.

     The Prophet of Islam managed to build a strong Muslim community, who worshipped Allah, performed the daily prayers in congregation and frequented mosques from dawn to night at the due times of prayers. This community sincerely committed itself to Allah's commands in pursuit of His pleasure at all civilian, military, cultural, or political levels. They only aimed to achieve the Divine goals in sincere submission and keen determination. Allah says, “Say: ‘Surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Lord of the worlds; No associate has He; with this am I am commanded, and I am the first to submit.” (Qur’ān, 6: 162-163).

     Likewise, Muslims fully perceived the Qur’ānic oath, “But no! By your Lord, they do not believe until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them; then they do not find resistance within themselves against what you have decided and submit with entire submission”. (Qur’ān, 4:65) Human submission to the Creator is a sign of human truthfulness and honor. This is simply what Islam means.


[1] Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 1.



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