What is Islam? A question that confuses most. Google tries to provide answers by supplying us with about 1,520,000,000 results in 0.51 seconds. Yet, the most searched question about the religion of 1.6 billion people is, what is it? There seems to be ambiguity around this question. How do we cut through the rhetorical and hyperbolic statements concerning Islam? How can we juxtapose many positions concerning the same word, ISLAM, newly introduced into modern American vocabulary?
Is Islam a peaceful religion of 1.6 billion? Does it mean peace? Who are the Muslims, and what is the difference between lower-case islam and upper-case Islam? Then there is the ultimate question, who speaks for Islam? Let’s dive in and build some bridges.
What is Islam?
Here we will get answers from everyone. Whether they are qualified to answer or not. Ted Cruz, Bill Maher, and Donald Trump are not Islamic scholars; their opinions on Islam are shortsighted and misguided. Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and some Middle Eastern governments fall into the same paradox of misguided zealots who weaponize opinion and text. The main issue is how you describe an ocean in a sentence. How do the nuanced realities of theology, jurisprudence, and spirituality communicate in the realm of sound bites and 24-hour news cycles?
There is a disturbing trend to simplify our theological and jurisprudential strengths. To settle for a one size fits all deen. We seem to be dismissing the mercy of iktalaf. We are creating institutions that are deprived of critical thinking and independent thought. Institutions that could (if we embraced the multiplicity of ideas) ultimately change the direction of society back to God-consciousness. The problem of modernity is we worship comfort, and we demand instant satisfaction, so if you’re still reading this, congratulations, you’re willing to sift through the noise concerning Islam and, God willing, will find its heart.
All Islamic scholars work from the technical definition of Islam. The definition of Islam is from the hadith of the Angel Gabriel as narrated in Sahih Muslim on the authority of Umar. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.” This working definition describes the basic requirements of entry to the religion of Islam or the Five (5) Pillars of Islam. To witness and testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah, alone and without partners and that Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul- Mutallab ibn Hashim is the final prophet given to all creations by the Creator and Sustainer of those creations. Every tongue longs for the ultimate reward in creating the articulations to bring about the sounds that form, “Ash-hadu An lā ʾilāha ʾillā-Allāh wa Ash-hadu An muḥammadun rasūlu-Allāh.” Every Muslim repeats this testimony with our tongues set ablaze with the love of Allah, praying that this love will kindle the flames in our hearts to perform the actions required after the witnessing.
Ilm wal Amal (Knowledge and Action)
Islam is a religion that requires ilm wal amal, knowledge, and action. We are first required to know something before we are required to take any action. We see this in the pillars of Islam that knowledge of Allah and His messenger come before any of the religiously required actions. After fully grasping tawhid’s reality and what prophethood is, we move to prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage. One can also conclude that we are not people of useless chatter and debate; once something has been intellectually established, action is required, whether it be prayer, zakat, or hajj.
So What is Islam?
Islam is a spiritual state of surrender to Allah that brings about emaan. This surrender and worship through obtaining knowledge and then implementing that knowledge into action bring certainty. Yaqeen in the heart, certainty in the heart builds peace and tranquility for the believer. The reality of Islam is found in the shahada or witnessing the fact of One God worthy of worship and of divinely selected prophethood.
The Reason Why So Many Ask What Islam Is
So many people Google “What is Islam?” because modern Muslims have reduced the spiritual state of surrender to an identity that needs defending. When you feel you need to defend an identity, the beauty of Islam is reduced to violent altercations by fringe lunatics who are simply draping themselves in the cloak of religiosity. Submission and spiritual surrender require a heart that has witnessed the realities of La Illaha illa Allah and the realities of Muhammad’s prophethood (SAW). Witnessing is far different from testifying. Many Muslims have proclaimed the shadda, but it remains like luggage parked on the tongue. The Prophet (SAW) alluded to this when he (SAW) said, ” ‘A people who recite the Qur’an beautifully will emerge from the progeny of this (man), but it will not go beyond their throats. They will leave the religion just as the arrow goes out of the game.” Allah said in the Quran, “The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”(Surah al Hujarat-14)
Islam is moving la illaha illa Allah from the tongue to the heart. It is living your life according to a set of moral standards that are divinely given. It is loving for your brother what you love for yourself.
Islam is the most beautiful reality that one could aspire to comprehend- to be a Muslim is an honor bestowed upon the grateful servant by the Lord of the Worlds.