Islam means submission (to the will of God) and Muslim means submitter. The Qur’an considers Jews and Christians (as well as Pre-Muhammad Prophets) as Muslims, though not in the traditional sense Muslims are viewed today. Yes I have heard “how is it possible for them to be Muslims if they lived before Muhammad”. It depends on how we define “Muslims”.
And do not dispute with the people of the Book [typically a reference to Jews and Christians] except by the best manners, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit. The Qur’an 29:46
The Arabic word used is Muslaimoon for the bolded portion.There are many instances when prophets before the time of Prophet Muhammad are called ‘Muslims’ in the Qur’an. For example, when Jesus asked his disciples for helpers, they affirmed that they were ‘Muslims’.
When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: “Who will be My helpers to (the work of) God?” Said the disciples: “We are God’s helpers: We believe in God, and bear you witness that we are Muslim (submitters). The Qur’an 3:52
Similar language is used when Jacob gave final advice to his children and on many other similar occasions.
The concept of submission is at the core of Islamic beliefs. Islam is a way of life, rather than just a religion consisting of a set of beliefs and rituals. According to this doctrine, one belongs to God and everything one does is for the purpose of pleasing, serving, and getting near to God, so much so that at the height of this state, God’s will becomes your will.
Nay, whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. 2:112
We shall surely test your steadfastness with fear and famine, with loss of property, life, and produce. Give good news to those who endure with patience; who, when afflicted with calamity, say: ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.’ 2:155–156
Remember God Often
The Quran not only commands followers to submit to His will but emphasizes that God must be remembered often, and His remembrance must be part of our daily lives.
For sure, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and meditate on the creation of the heavens and the earth, then cry out: ‘Our Rabb [Lord]! You have not created this in vain. Glory to You.’ 3:190–191
Another verse is often cited about the remembrance of God:
“Therefore, remember Me, and, I will remember you, be grateful to Me and never deny Me.” 2:152
The Arabic word for remembrance of God is “Dhikr.” This can be in the form of repeating His name, keeping His name in the heart and mind, remembering His commands (doing good deeds and avoiding bad ones), as well as elevating and glorifying His name. Many consider this verse a bargain and sign of God’s mercy.
Submission to God in the Torah
The concept of submission is not unique to Muslims. It is similar to the concept of d’veykut, meaning “clinging” in Jewish tradition. D’veykut means one is clinging to God with such faith and devotion that his will and God’s will merge into one will. The following is a passage from the Torah (Moses is addressing his people):
Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good.” Deuteronomy 10:12–13
As I mentioned on my last post, this ‘fear’ is more ‘being in awe’ or being God conscious. The oldest prayer in Judaism, Shema proclaims:
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4–9
The similarity of Quran verses 3:190–191, quoted above, and Deuteronomy 6:4–9 is striking: Both command the followers to remember God in all phases: sitting, standing, and lying. In addition to submitting to Him, the constant remembrance throughout the day is meant to encourage one to do good deeds and eschew bad deeds as ordained by God.
In other words, be God-conscious.
Submission in the New Testament
The relationship with God is viewed as one between a master and servants. I often hear from my Christian friends all the time that they are ‘serving God’, a concept shared by Jews and Muslims. Even though the passage quoted below is being addressed to adulterers, it can be easily applied to everyone, adulterers or not.
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:7–8