What is Islam? What does it mean and what does it stand for? More specifically, who is a Muslim and when a Muslim says he/she has submitted to Allah, what are the obligations and duties to the Creator, to fellow human beings, and to the rest of the creation? How can a Muslim transform his or her faith into action and contribute to making this world a better place? These are some of the important questions we, as Muslims, are supposed to think about and answer for ourselves in order to practice our religion the best possible way. In so doing, we are better equipped to provide proper understanding of Islam to others who are confused or misguided by the wrongdoing of deviant Muslims or by the propaganda of Islamophobes. The theme of this year’s ICNA convention is “Islam: Faith, Submission, and Service.” We are pleased to address this topic in some detail in this current issue of the Message.
If Islam is understood and implemented properly, the fruits of faith not only benefit individuals…but the society as a whole
The call of Islam brings forth our curiosity about life and inspires us to observe, think about, and analyze human existence on this earth. At the same time, it provides answers to all of humanity’s perennial questions: Where did we come from? Where are we heading? What is the purpose of life? With the guidance of Islam, we are infused with motivation to search for ultimate truth; and the answers Islam provides have clarity and a compelling, elegant quality that motivate us to try harder, reach farther, and act in a manner that is pleasing to those around us and, most importantly, pleasing to our Creator.
Etymologically, the term Islam is derived from two meanings. The first is salaam which simply means peace; and the other is submission which is a conscious willing surrender to the Will of God. When put together, these two meanings indicate that Islam is the attainment of peace through voluntary submission to the Will of God.
As to who is a Muslim, we can answer this from three perspectives. First, from the jurisprudential point of view, a Muslim is a person who believes in Tawhid (oneness of God), all the prophets and messengers that were sent by God throughout history including the last one, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and accepts the last revealed scripture, the Qur’an, as the singular and ultimate guide of life. Second, in Islam, faith is not merely lip service—it must translate into action. In this sense, a Muslim is a person who submits himself or herself unreservedly to God’s Will and obeys His precepts as set forth in the Quran and transmitted to mankind by Muhammad (pbuh), His last Messenger. It is important to mention that when a person submits to God, it is taken into account that each of us is imperfect and will fall short in some ways. However, the willingness and the intention to implement what the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet require of us —that is what is necessary. In Qur’an, Allah SWT says: “It is not fitting for the believing man or for the believing woman that whenever Allah and His Messenger have decided any matter, they should have any other opinion” (Holy Quran 33:36).
From an Islamic point of view, when any individual in any place or time in history has to the best of his or her ability searched for the truth and then submitted his or her will to the Will of God, he or she is regarded as a Muslim. In the Qur’an, Prophet Joseph is quoted as saying, “Creator of the heavens and the earth, You are my protector in this world and in the hereafter. Take my soul as a Muslim [i.e. one submitting to Your Will) and unite me with the righteous” (112:101). In 10:84, Moses is quoted as saying, “O my people, if you do really believe in God then in Him put your trust if you are Muslims.”And finally, Allah SWT says, “And behold! I [God] inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and My apostle [Jesus]. They said, ‘We have faith. Bear witness that we bow to God as Muslims’” (Qur’an, 5:111).
The third perspective to consider as to who is a Muslim is to realize that one who submits strives to please Allah through serving humanity. Allah SWT is kind to those who are kind to those who inhabit the earth. Thus, if someone stretches his hand out to you to seek help and it returns empty, you then have refused, in a manner of speaking, to help Allah. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The most beloved people to Allah SWT are those who help and benefit others the most, and the most beloved actions to Allah SWT is pleasure and happiness that you cause to enter the heart of a Muslim, or to solve one of his problems, or to pay off his debt, or to prevent him from being hungry.”
The above discussion can be summed up by saying that faith, if sincere, produces righteous conduct, and whenever these two confirm each other, God’s grace transforms human life. Instead of being troubled and worried, people then gain peace and contentment; and instead of being self-centered, greedy, and uncaring, they become kind-hearted, empathic, and generous in helping others. If Islam is understood and implemented properly, the fruits of faith not only benefit the individual who practices Islam, but also those in his or her family, circle of friends, community, and society as a whole. May Allah SWT help us all to practice our religion properly.