Many a Muslim in the Western world, will claim Muslims are a peaceful people. This is based upon their translation of the Arabic word ‘Islam’ as ‘peace’. Others (Muslims and non Muslims alike) may find this idea of Islam as a religion of peace paradoxical. They see the contradiction in the wars and battles mentioned in Islamic history.
Understandably, this causes people to progressively lose trust in what Muslims are saying.
I wanted to take a closer look at the definition of the term ‘Islam’. As usual, I looked to the Quran first.
The Quran does call the path/religion to be followed ‘Islam’.
For example, in 5:3,
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الأِسْلاَمَ دِيناً
This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion
So, on to what ‘Islam’ actually means according to divine scripture. A little knowledge of the Arabic language and one sees that the word ‘Islam’ is a noun derived from the verb ‘aslama’ which means ‘to submit’. I found a number of verses containing ‘aslama’. I have given you three here.
إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ أَسْلِمْ قَالَ أَسْلَمْتُ لِرَبِّ الْعَـلَمِينَ
When his Lord said to him, “Submit!” He said, “I have submitted myself to the Lord of the `Alamin (mankind, Jinn and all that exists).”)
Al Baqarah, verse 131.
أَفَغَيْرَ دِينِ اللَّهِ يَبْغُونَ وَلَهُ أَسْلَمَ مَن فِى السَّمَـوَتِ وَالاٌّرْضِ طَوْعًا وَكَرْهًا وَإِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ
Do they seek other than the religion of Allah, while to Him submitted all creatures in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly. And to Him shall they all be returned.
Al Imran, verse 83
وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ جَعَلْنَا مَنسَكًا لِّيَذْكُرُواْ اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَى مَا رَزَقَهُمْ مِّن بَهِيمَةِ الاٌّنْعَـمِ فَإِلَـهُكُمْ إِلَـهٌ وَحِدٌ فَلَهُ أَسْلِمُواْ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُخْبِتِينَ
And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies, that they may mention the Name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He has given them for food. And your God is One God, so you must submit to Him Alone. And give glad tidings to the Mukhbitin.
Surah al Hajj, 34
Subsequently, ‘Islam’ means ‘submission to God’. Not ‘peace’.
أَسلَمَ to submit (verb)
إسلامً Submission (noun)
The reason it is often defined as ‘peace’ is due to its root being confused with ‘salaam’ like in the Muslim greeting ‘assalamu alaikum’ which loosely translates as ‘peace be upon you’. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Arabic is a very rich language with similar words sometimes conveying completely different meanings. Anyhow, the evidence that ‘Islam’ is NOT synonymous with ‘peace’ is there, as clear as day.
Furthermore, there is this clear hadith in the collection of Bukhari.
On the authority of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: One day while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet (pbuh). Resting his knees against his (the Prophet’s) and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said:
O Muhammed, tell me about Islam.
The Messenger of Allah (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the Zakah, to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so.
(The hadith goes on but this is the part relevant here).
In the Prophet’s definition of Islam, there is absolutely no mention of ‘peace’.
Perhaps, some Muslims want to propagate a softer religion to appease the critics. I can understand that especially when we have seen acts of terror committed using the banner of religion. Yet, that doesn’t make things better.
Propagating Islam as ‘peace’, is first and foremost, not true and I believe religion must always be based upon truth. Secondly, we lose the focal point of the religion. Instead of paying attention to self improvement, the spotlight is turned away to social impact and global harmony. A top down approach, if you like. Making the religion easier because we can spend our lives looking outwards instead of looking in which would force us to work to improve our spiritual shortcomings.
Furthermore, trying to fit in by changing ourselves will never work. The parameters are constantly changing. How can you fit into something which is not concrete? In fact, it is being true Muslims and sticking to the evidence which is the best advert for the religion. A religion based upon submission to God in all that you do, demanding good from yourself and pushing away evil, displaying the best of manners and adding gentleness to your dealings with people, when a simple smile is charity, facing the world with the best version of you. Because a better you means a better world for all of us.