Article by Bilal Qureshi
Bismillah ir Rahman nir Raheem
Unfortunately there is a difference between the way we use the word “Islam” and the actual meaning behind it. Closely translated, “Islam” is an Arabic word which means “peaceful submission.” In context, it refers to peaceful submission to the one God. A “Muslim,” therefore, is one who submits peacefully to the one God. Acknowledging the meaning and understanding the meaning are two separate constructs which make a world of difference in the way we see not only ourselves, but those around us of all walks of life.
Let’s examine two verses in Al Quran which highlight this issue by seemingly exposing a contradiction:
Surely those who believe; and those who are Jewish, and the Nazarenes, and the Sabians, whoever of them believes in God and the Last Day and does good works; they will have their recompense with their Lord, and there is no fear upon them, nor will they grieve (The Qur’an: A Monotheist Translation, p. 34).
Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allah, then indeed, Allah is swift in [taking] account.”Verily the only acceptable religion to Allah is Islam.” (Sahih International)
Notice that the translation of 3:19 preserves the Arabic word “Islam.” Most translations are guilty of this, and while it’s not necessarily wrong, it can pose problems in comprehension by reinforcing our nature of labeling systems. If we utilize a categorical approach to “religions,” then we have quite a dilemma reconciling the above two verses. Remember that Al Quran applies to all peoples, all places, and all time periods. Bearing this in mind, 2:62 uses the present tense to speak of believers including Jews, Nazarenes (Christians), and Sabians (monotheists). Therefore, it is illogical to assume that this verse is only referring to the people of the Book before the coming of Al Quran.
So is there a contradiction with 3:19? On one hand, Allah says whosoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good works will have his/her recompense with Him; on the other hand, the religion in the sight of Allah is “Islam.”
All we need to do is dissect the word “Islam” used in 3:19, and we will see something completely different.
The system with God is submission, and those who received the Book did not dispute except after the knowledge came to them out of jealousy between them. And whoever rejects the revelations of God, then God is swift in judgment (The Qur’an: A Monotheist Translation, p. 60).
Notice that the Monotheist Translation chooses to translate the word “Islam” as “submission.” If we understand that Islam simply refers to peaceful submission to the one God, then we will start to see our “Muslim” brothers and sisters in much greater amounts throughout the world. There are Muslims amongst the “Christians,” amongst the “Jews,” amongst the “Hindus,” amongst the “Sikhs,” etc. We need to escape the game of labels and embrace the content of our own Scripture. This is not to say that believers in the Holy Quran are equivalent to rejecters of the Holy Quran, as Allah is firm in warning against the rejecting of His signs. However, this is a bidirectional warning which applies to Muslims also: we must educate ourselves in the previous scriptures instead of quickly dismissing them due to our belief that the books have changed. It is generally accepted that the modern-day Bible does contain words other than those spoken by God, but this does not mean we should not read it. Open the mind, educate yourself, and embrace humanity as a whole. Simplicity is key. As Allah says, “Surely those who believe; and those who are Jewish, and the Nazarenes, and the Sabians, whoever of them believes in God and the Last Day and does good works; they will have their recompense with their Lord, and there is no fear upon them, nor will they grieve (The Qur’an: A Monotheist Translation, p. 34).”
Do not merely tolerate your fellow human beings, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Instead, embrace them with humility and with a warm heart. This is a very short life, there should be no room for animosity – this will lead no one anywhere. The Straight Path is clear, and instead of yelling it to the world, show it. The Straight Path is not spoken; the Straight Path is walked.
Bantley, Amutullah J., Assami, Aminah, and Kennedy, Mary M. The Holy Qur’an. Jeddah: Dar Abul Qasim
Publishing House, 1997.
The Monotheist Group. The Qur’an: A Monotheist Translation. Brainbow Press, 2013.