The Definition of Islam & Eman

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 17, 2020

The Definition of al-Islam

Let us read again the words of the Book: ((The believers, the Jews, the Christians and Sabi’ans—whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is good, shall receive their reward from their Lord.  They shall have nothing to fear and they shall not grieve.)) ( Al-Baqara 2:62) Who is fairer in speech [ahsana qaulan] than one who calls unto Allah and performs the righteous deed [amila salihan] and says: “I am one of those who submit [min al-muslimin]”. (Fussilat 41:33). So 41:33 tells us that al-Islam is based on the axiomatic truth of Allah’s existence and belief in the Hereafter. It is linked to ‘doing what is righteous’ (al-amal al-salih) and, because al-Islam is the generic term that includes the particular, to ‘doing what is fair and just’ (al-ihsan), the pillar of Eman.

If someone ‘does what is righteous’ he is one of the muslimun (‘those who assent to God),and it does not matter whether he is a follower of Muhammad (‘the believers’), a follower of Moses (‘the Jews’), a follower of Jesus (‘the Christians’), or whether he follows any other religious creed or religious community of whatever name (‘the Sab’ians’). The existence of Allah and the Hereafter and that includes the resurrection of the dead is an axiomatic truth that is indisputable for every Muslim. If we accept this premise it will be clear what is meant by the phrase ‘the religion before Allah is Islam’ and ‘if anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of Him’.

It means that the only religion God can accept is the one inherently linked to belief in Him, which is Islam. Islam, in this context, means the opposite of disbelief, and it is disbelief that is, a religiously held form of disbelief which Allah cannot accept. It is only logical that Allah cannot accept from His creation a religion that refuses to believe in God altogether.

So now we will explain what Dissent from God means. In order to better understand the terms Islam and al-muslimun in the Book, we hence also need to study the term opposite to Islam, which is al-ijram (connoting a dissent from God) and the opposite term to al-muslimun, which is al-mujrimun (those who dissent from God). The Book says: ‘Shall we treat those who are [al-muslimun] in the same way as those who are [al-mujrimun]? What has come upon you that you judge in such a wise?’ (Al-Qalam sura 68 verses 35 to 36). The root of the word al-mujrim is j-r-m whose basic meaning is ‘to cut off’. In modern Arabic we call a thief or a murderer a mujrim (i.e. culprit or criminal) because a mujrim has cut off his ties with law and order and has given free reign to his instincts and desires.

This is exactly how the Book uses the term, because a ‘culprit’ in this context is someone who has cut off his ties with God, who denies His existence, who does not believe in the Hereafter, the resurrection of the dead, and the Day of Judgement.

Unlike a Muslim, who freely assents to God, a mujrim is someone who (freely) dissents from Him. In modern parlance, a mujrim would be called an ‘atheist’, a dissenter from God. In the Book ‘those who cut off their ties with God’ are defined as those who reject the possibility of a resurrection after death, who deny the existence of God, and who tell lies about the Hereafter.

They are also described as those who, with their own eyes, suddenly will come to see what they have always denied: they will come out of their graves and be dumbstruck, while their astonishment will increase even more when they realize that they are, without being interrogated by Allah, being sent straight to Hell whose existence they had always denied. Why are they not interrogated by Allah? It is because a mujrim, a dissenting atheist, does not believe in the existence of God. This alone sends him straight to Hell. He will not even be asked by God about his acts in this world. The reason is that he has no account with God. But in my personal experience most of people who call themselves atheists, are just so in public or just means they are searching but haven’t made a connection, or it’s a man-made process they must go through and not by natural inclination. Yet a true atheist does not expect a judgement so therefore he’s not getting one… The omission of prayer, the breaking of the fast, the tampering with weights and scales (corruption in trade and commerce) and such, which are all sins that Allah might forgive an assenter (muslim), will not even be mentioned in the case of a dissenter, because a mujrim has cut off his ties with God. A person cannot be made accountable for things whose consequences for the Afterlife have never been acknowledged by him in the first place. The Book says:

Except the companions of the right hand. (They will be) in gardens (of delight): they will question each other, and ask of the sinners: “What led you into Fire?” They will say: “We were not of those [are connected to God] [musalleen], nor were we of those who fed the indigent; but we used to talk vanities with vain talkers, and we used to deny the Day of Judgement.” (Al-Muddaththir 74:39–46) Some misguided exegetes interpreted the words ‘those who are connected to God’ as ‘those who prayed the ritual salah prayer’. However, the Arabic term al-musalleen in 74:43 does not refer to the ritual prayer. Otherwise it would mean that those who omit the ritual prayer or a fasting day also deny the existence of God, which is simply not the case.

It would be a gross injustice to call them ‘those who cut off their ties with God’ (al-mujrimun) only because they missed a prayer. In verses we notice that those who deny the Day of Judgement and those who deny the existence of God are regarded as those who have left the realm of islam and have instead entered the realm of ijram. We therefore do not interpret the expression ‘those who are al-musalleen’ as literally ‘those who perform the ritual prayer’, in the sense of a prostration of the body, but more figuratively as ‘those who connect themselves to God’ (sila). Surely, one does not need rituals if one wants to strengthen one’s ties with God. One may perhaps say ‘Oh Lord, help me!’ or ‘Praise and Glory be to God’, but no specific bodily gesture is needed to enhance one’s spiritual attachment to Allah. There is clearly a difference between a person’s individual attachment to God and a ritualized way to express it. This distinction is evident in the way the Book uses words derived from the triliteral root s-l-w. If it wants to refer to the connection between the believer and God by way of rituals, it uses salawa, with the letter waw (as in Al-Nur 24:37), but if it refers to the personal, spiritual link with God which does not need to be outwardly expressed by any conventional ritual, it uses salah. We must never ignore these subtle differences, and if the text employs two derivatives of the same lexeme, when it could have used an identical expression, it indicates a difference. It indicates that we are meant to clearly distinguish between ‘prayer’ in the sense of a ritual, and ‘prayer’ in the sense of a spiritual connection between God and the believer, giving praise to Allah, mentally or verbally, but not by a movement of the body. In sum, the term Islam expresses a connection to God, a belief in Allah and the Hereafter; those who establish that spiritual connection (al-musallun) are ‘those who assent to God’ (almuslimun), While those who perform the ritual prayer of kneel & prostrate (rak’a and sujud), that is, salah, are ‘those who believe’ (al-mu”minun).

the pillars of islam is next.