THE MEANING OF ISLAM
Every religion of the world has been named either after the name of its founder or after the community and nation in which that religion took its birth. For instance, Christianity takes its appellation from the name of its prophet Jesus Christ; Zoroastrians from its founder Zoroaster; and Judaism, the religion of the Jews, from the name of the tribe Judah (of the country of Judea) wherein it took its birth. Similar is the case with other religions. But not so with Islam. This religion enjoys the unique distinction of having no such association with any particular person or people. The word ‘Islam’ does not confer any such relationship-for it does not belong to any particular person, people, or country. It is neither the product of any human mind nor is it confined to any particular community. It is a universal religion and its objective is to create and cultivate in man the quality and attitude of Islam.
Islam, as a matter of fact, is an attributive title. Whosoever possesses this attribute, may he belong to any race, community, country, or clan, is a Muslim. According to the Quran (the Holy Book of the Muslims), among every people and in all ages there have been good and righteous people who possessed this attribute of them were and are Muslims.
This automatically brings us to the question: What does Islam mean? And who is a Muslim?
‘Islam’ is an Arabic word and connotes submission, surrender, and obedience As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah and that is why it is called ‘ISLAM’1. Everyone can see that the universe we live in is an orderly universe. There is law and order among all the units that comprise this universe. Everything is assigned a place in a grand scheme, which is working in a magnificent and superb way. The sun, the moon, the stars and in fact all the heavenly bodies are knit together in a splendid system. They follow an unalterable law and do not make even the slightest deviation from their ordained course.
The earth rotates on its own axis and in its revolution round the sun scrupulously follows the path laid down for it. Similarly, everything in the world, from the little whirling electron to the mighty nebulae, invariably follows its own laws. Matter energy, and life-all obey their laws and grow and change and live and die in accordance with those laws. EVEN in the human world the laws of nature are quite manifest. Man’s birth, growth, and life are all regulated by a set of biological laws. He derives sustenance from nature in
Accordance with an unalterable law. All the organs of his body from the small tissues to the heart and the brain are governed by the laws prescribed for them. In Short, ours is a law-governed universe and everything in it is following the course that has been ordained for it. This powerful, all-pervasive law, which governs all that comprises the universe, from the tiniest specks of dust to the magnificent galaxies in high heavens, is the law of God, the creator and ruler of the universe. As the entire creation obeys the law of God, the whole universe, therefore, literally follows the religion of Islam-for Islam signifies nothing but obedience and submission to Allah, the Lord of the universe. The sun, the moon, the earth, and all other heavenly bodies are thus ‘Muslim’. So is the case with air, water, and heat, stones, trees, and animals. Everything in the universe is ‘Muslim’ for it obeys God by submission to his laws. Even a man who refuses to believe in God, or offers his worship to someone other than Allah has perforce to be a ‘Muslim’ as far as his bodily existence is concerned.
For his entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body’s dissolution into dust after death, every tissue of his muscles and every limb of his body follows the course prescribed for each by God’s law. His very tongue which, on account of his ignorance, advocates the denial of God or professes multiple deities, is in its very nature a ‘Muslim’. His head which he wantonly bows to others besides Allah is a born Muslim. His heart wherein, through his lack of true knowledge, he cherishes love and reverence for others, is ‘Muslim’ by intuition. These are all obedient to the divine Law, and their functions and movements are governed by the injunctions of that law alone. This, in short, is the real position of man and the universe. Let us now examine the problem in a different light. Man is so constituted that there are two aspects of his life: two distinct spheres of his activity. One is the sphere in which he finds himself totally regulated by the Divine Law. He cannot budge an inch or move a step away from it. Nor can he evade it in any way or form.
In fact, like other creatures, he is completely caught in the grip of the law of nature and is bound to follow it. But there is another sphere of his activity as well. He has been endowed with reason and intellect. He has the power to think and form judgments, to choose and reject, and to adopt and spurn. He is free to adopt whatever course of life chooses. He can embrace any faith, adopt any way of life and formulate his living according to whatever ideologies he likes. He may prepare his own code of conduct or accept one formulated by others. He has been bestowed with free will and can chalk out his own course of behaviour. In this latter aspect, he, unlike the other creatures, has been given freedom of thought, choice, and action.
Both these aspects distinctly co-exist in man’s life.
In the first he, like all other creatures, is a born Muslim, invariably obeys the injunctions of God, and is bound to remain so. As far as the second aspect is concerned, he is free to become or not to become a Muslim. Here he has been given the freedom of choice and it is the way a person exercises this freedom, which divides mankind into two groups: believers and non-believers. An individual who chooses to acknowledge his creator accepts Him as his real Master, honestly and scrupulously submits to His laws and injunctions and follows the code He has revealed unto man for his individual and social life, thereby becoming a perfect Muslim. He has, so to say, achieved completeness in his Islam by consciously deciding to obey God in the domain in which he was endowed with freedom and choice. Now his entire life has become one of submission to God and there is no conflict in his personality. He is a perfect Muslim and his Islam is complete-for this submission of his entire self to the will of Allah is Islam and nothing but Islam.
He has now consciously submitted to Him whom he had already been unconsciously obeying. He has now willingly offered obedience to the Master whom he already owed obedience unintentionally. His knowledge is now real for he has acknowledged the Being who endowed him with the power to learn and to know. Now his reason and judgment are set on an even keel-for he has rightly decided to obey the Being who bestowed upon him the faculty of thinking and judging. His tongue also is truthful for it expresses with conviction its confession of the Lord who gave it the faculty speech. New the whole of this existence is an embodiment of, in all spheres of life, he voluntarily as well as involuntarily obeys the laws of the same One God with the whole universe for he worships Him whom the whole world is for him and he is for God.
Culled from the Book titled Towards Understanding Islam by Syed Abul A’la Mawdudi