In the name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

What is Islām and What is a Muslim

بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ

Islām is a strictly monotheistic religion. This monotheism is called tawḥīd. Islām is not a new religion but the same religion which God Almighty, Allāh (), revealed through all His prophets from the very first prophet Adam () to the very last prophet, Muḥammad (). So Islām has been around as long as man himself. A follower of Islām is called a Muslim. Islām is not named or associated with any one individual man, a tribe, a race, a region or a time period, it is universal in terms of time, space and mankind. Over one billion people across the globe, of all nationalities, races and cultures follow the teachings of Islām. 

Islām is more than just a religion, it is a complete way of life, providing its adherents, who are called Muslims, guidance on how to conduct their lives on Earth. Muslims believe that there is only one God, one Creator, and in Islām He is called Allāh (). So any human being who believes in only one God, worships only one God then that God is Allāh (). Muslims have existed since the beginning of mankind, the first Muslim was Adam   (), all the Prophets of Allāh () were Muslims, all those who followed the teachings of the Prophet of their time were Muslims. The people of the Prophet Noah () who followed his true teachings were Muslims, the people of the Prophet Abraham () who followed his true teachings were Muslims, the people of the Prophet Moses () who followed his true teachings were Muslims, when the Prophet Jesus () came it became necessary to follow his teachings and those who followed the true teachings of Jesus () were Muslims. So Islām is a universal religion, it is the religion chosen by God Almighty for mankind. Since the advent of the Prophet Muḥammad () all teachings of the previous Prophets are superseded by the teachings of the Prophet Muḥammad (), so it is obligatory for a Muslim to accept the Prophet Muḥammad () and follow his teachings. Prophet Muḥammad () was the final prophet and messenger of Allāh () in every sense of the word; with the passing away of the Prophet Muḥammad () Islām has been completed. The final Sharīʿa is the Sharīʿa of the Prophet Muḥammad (), and this is the Sharīʿa for the Muslims to follow until the day of Judgement. 

Does Islām mean peace? The actual word Islām, which is a noun, is derived from the same root letters as the word “salām” meaning peace and it is derived from the verb aslama which means to submit. So, in the religious context, Islām does not mean peace but it means submission to the Will of the Almighty God, Allāh    (). A Muslim is someone who submits, surrenders, devotes whole heartedly to his Lord, Allāh (). Submission to the Almighty Allāh () leads to inner peace. Not only must the heart submit to the Will of Allāh   () but also the intellect, which means believing in the Unseen, matters which can never be proven by science or human logic.  Submission to Allāh () is based on what has been revealed to mankind through revelation and on what has been commanded and demanded by Allāh () from man.  

For a person to become a Muslim requires the person to say, “Ašhadu an lā ilāha illā llāhu wa-ašhadu anna Muḥammadan rasūlu-llāh,” which translates as, “I testify that there is no God but Allāh, and Muḥammad is the messenger of Allāh.” This is called the “shahāda”, it is the first pillar (rukn) of Islām. It it uttered by Muslims under oath and during their daily prayers. The other four pillars (arkān) of Islām are: (2) the five daily obligatory prayers (salawāt), (3) almsgiving (zakāh), (4) fasting during the month of Ramaḍān and (5) the pilgrimage to Makkah (Ḥajj) at least once in a lifetime if one is able to do so. These pillars, external acts of obedience to the Almighty, provide evidence of being a Muslim. 

A Muslim who has actual belief in the Almighty and other articles of Faith in his heart and lives his life accordingly is called a Mu'min (believer), i.e. someone who has imān (in his heart). There is no one word in the English language which gives the true meaning of the word imān, it is often translated as Faith. However, imān is not blind faith, a belief which makes no sense to the intellect, neither is imān mere belief in the heart.  

Since a Mu'min has imān in that sense his/ her status is higher than that of a Muslim, so every Mu'min must be a Muslim. When the word Muslim is used without qualification it implies that the Muslim is also a Mu'min. A Muslim who is outwardly a Muslim but not a Muslim at heart, i.e. not a real Muslim is called a munāfiq. Of course, there is no way for anyone of us to know for sure who is a real Muslim or who is a munāfiq , although certain characteristics of a munāfiq have been related to us by the Prophet Muḥammad () . Traditionally, a non-Muslim is referred to as a kāfir (plural kuffār), literally someone who denies/ rejects the truth. A kāfir does not have imān. Strictly, speaking a munāfiq is also a kāfir. In the current environment the terms munāfiq and kāfir are both considered to be derogatory by some people and, therefore, their use is probably best avoided unless used in a specific context. 

The holy book of the Muslims is called the Qurʾān, this is the final revelation from Allāh (). Although Muslims believe in all previous revelations (such as the Psalms, Torah and Bible) as well as all the previous prophets, they believe that the only revelation which remains and will remain unadulterated is the Qurʾān, and the law of the previous prophets has been superseded by the law of the last prophet, Muḥammad ().