By Laurence B. Brown
What Is Islam?
As Margaret Nydell states in Understanding Arabs, “The God Muslims worship is the same God Jews and Christians worship (Allah is simply the Arabic word for God; Arab Christians pray to Allah).” (p. 83)
The word Islam is the infinitive of the Arabic verb aslama, and is translated, “to submit totally to God.”
Who Is a Muslim?
Furthermore, “The participle of this verb is muslim (i.e., the one who submits completely to God) by which the followers of Islam are called.”
The word Islam also connotes peace (being from the same root as the Arabic word salam), with the understanding that peace comes through submission to God.
Unlike the terms Judaism and Christianity, both of which aren’t mentioned in their own bibles, Islam and Muslim are mentioned numerous times throughout the Quran. Hence, those who consider the Quran the revealed word of God find divine authority for the terms Islam and Muslim within their own scripture.
The above is the literal definition of Muslim—a person who submits to the will of God. What, then, is the definition in accordance with Islamic ideology?
The Islamic understanding is that true believers, since the creation of humankind, have always accepted belief in God as one God and in the teachings of the messenger of their time.
For example, Muslims—meaning those who submitted to the will of God—during the time of Moses would have testified that there is no God but Allah, and Moses was the messenger of Allah.
Muslims during the time of Jesus would have testified that there is no God but Allah, and Jesus was the prophet of Allah. F
or the last 1,400 years, Muslims have acknowledged Muhammad ibn (son of) Abdullah to be the last and final messenger of God.
How to Embrace Islam?
To this day, a person enters Islam and becomes Muslim by stating, “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Islam acknowledges the testimony of faith to be valid only if made by sincere and willing adults who understand the full meaning and implications of what they are saying. Despite the erroneous assumption that Islam was spread by the sword, the religion forbids coercion, as per the commandment “Let there be no compulsion in religion . . .” (Al-Baqarah 2:256)
Furthermore, an entire chapter or the Quran (Chapter 109) teaches the following:
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Say: O you that reject faith! I worship not that which you worship, Nor will you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship, Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your way, and to me mine.
The seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke, though ranked in history as a Unitarian Christian, provided a most beautiful argument, which might serve the purpose of all (Muslims included) who seek to explain the futility of forced conversion:
No way whatsoever that I shall walk in against the dictates of my conscience, will ever bring me to the mansions of the blessed. I may grow rich by art that I take not delight in; I may be cured of some disease by remedies that I have not faith in; but I cannot be saved by a religion that I distrust, and by a worship that I abhor. . . . Faith only, and inward sincerity, are the things that procure acceptance with God. . . . In vain therefore do princes compel their subjects to come into their church-communion, under pretence of saving their souls. If they believe, they will come of their own accord; if they believe not, their coming will nothing avail them. (Parke, David B. 1957. The Epic of Unitarianism. Boston: Starr King Press. p. 35. )
Was Islam Spread by the Sword?
It is notable that the slander of Islam having been spread by the sword was largely perpetuated by religious institutions that are themselves notorious for nearly two millennia of forced conversion, often by the most sadistic means.
Clearly, testimony of faith cannot be coerced when a religion requires sincerity in the first place.
Nearly three hundred years ago, the following comment was offered by George Sale, one of the first to translate the Quran into English, a self-professed antagonist of the man, Muhammad, and a hater of the Islamic religion:
I shall not here enquire into the reasons why the law of Mohammed has met with so unexampled a reception in the world (for they are greatly deceived who imagine it to have been propagated by the sword alone), or by what means it came to be embraced by nations which never felt the force of the Mohammedan arms, and even by those which stripped the Arabians of their conquests, and put an end to the sovereignty and very being of their Khalifs: yet it seems as if there was something more than what is vulgarly imagined, in a religion which has made so surprising a progress. (Sale, George. 1734. The Koran. London: C. Ackers. Preface, A2. )
Cast Aside the Popularized Slander of Coercion
It is just such sentiments that have prompted modern scholars to cast aside the popularized slander of coercion. Hans Küng, believed by many Christian scholars to be, in the words of former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey, “our greatest living theologian,” (Lord George Carey’s cover endorsement of Hans Küng’s book, Islam, Past, Present and Future. One World Publications. 2007.) writes,
Were whole villages, cities, regions and provinces forcibly converted to Islam? Muslim historiography knows nothing of this and would have had no reason to keep quiet about it. Western historical research, too, has understandably not been able to shed any light here either. In reality, everything happened quite differently. (Küng, Hans. 2007. Islam, Past, Present and Future. One World Publications. p. 172.)
And truthfully, how can claims of forced conversion be seriously entertained when Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, “never felt the force of the Mohammedan arms,” (Guinness Book of Knowledge. 1997. Guinness Publishing. p. 194.) having assimilated the Islamic religion from nothing more than the teachings and example of a few merchants from Yemen?
Such forces of Islamic progress are witnessed to this day. Islam has grown within the borders of countries and cultures that were not the conquered, but rather the conquerors of many of the Muslim lands.
In addition, Islam continues to grow and prosper within populat ions that stand in expressed contempt of the religion. No difficulty should be encountered, then, in accepting the following comment:
No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. By the time of Muhammad’s death (632 AD) Islam controlled a great part of Arabia. Soon it triumphed in Syria, Persia, Egypt, the lower borders of present Russia and across North Africa to the gates of Spain. In the next century, its progress was even more spectacular. The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Koran is explicit in support of freedom of conscience. (Michener, James A. May, 1955. “Islam: The Misunderstood Religion,” in Reader’s Digest [American Edition]. p. 73)
It is worth noting that Islam does not differentiate between believers of different periods. The Islamic belief is that all messengers since Adam conveyed God’s revelation. The faithful submitted and followed, the unfaithful didn’t.
Therefore, ever since Cain and Abel, humankind has been divided between the pious and impious, between good and evil.
Islam professes a consistency in creed from the time of Adam, and asserts that the tenets of faith declared at each and every stage in the chain of revelation were the same—without evolution or alteration.
As the Creator has remained perfect and unchanged throughout time, so has His creed. The Christian claim that God changed from the wrathful God of the Old Testament to the benevolent God of the New Testament is not honored by the Islamic religion, for it implies that God was imperfect to begin with and required spiritual adjustment to a higher, faultless state.
Because Islam’s teachings have remained constant, there are no creedal inconsistencies. Is it true that early man lived by one creed and set of rules, the Jews by another, and the Christians a third?
That only Christians are saved by Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Islam answers “No” to both questions.
Who Is Abraham?
Islam teaches that from the creation of man until the end of time, salvation depends on acceptance of the same eternal creed, and adherence to the teachings of God’s prophets. Along this line of thought, a person might question how different religions view the fate of Abraham, as well as that of other early prophets.
Was Abraham subject to the laws of Judaism? Apparently not. If Judaism refers to the descendants of Judah, then Abraham, being the great-grandfather of Judah, was most certainly not a descendant.
Genesis 11:31 defines Abraham as being from an area in Lower Mesopotamia called Ur of Chaldees, in what is now present-day Iraq.
Geographically speaking, and applying the terminology of today, Abraham was an Arab. Genesis 12:4–5 describes his move to Canaan (i.e., Palestine) at the age of seventy-five, and Genesis 17:8 confirms he was a stranger in that land.
Genesis 14:13 identifies the man as “Abraham the Hebrew”—“Hebrew” meaning:
Any member of an ancient northern Semitic people that were the ancestors of the Jews.
Historians use the term Hebrews to designate the descendants of the patriarchs of the Old Testament (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and so on) from that period until their conquest of Canaan (Palestine) in the late 2nd millennium BC.
Thenceforth, these people are referred to as Israelites until their return from the Babylonian Exile in the late 6th-century BC, from which time on they became known as Jews. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, CD-ROM.)
So Abraham was a Hebrew, in a time when the term Jew did not even exist. The descendants of Jacob were the Twelve Tribes of the Israelites, and only Judah and his line came to be known as Jews.
Who Is Moses?
Even Moses, despite popular opinion, was not a Jew. Exodus 6:16–20 identifies Moses as a descendant of Levi and not of Judah, and therefore a Levite. He was a lawgiver to the Jews, certainly, but not a Jew by the definition of that time in history.
This is not to diminish who he was and what he did, certainly, but just to state the case for the record. So if Abraham was not a Jew—and most certainly he was not a Christian—what laws of salvation was he subject to? And what about the other prophets preceding Moses?
While the Jewish and Christian clergy struggle over this point, Islam teaches that “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah’s (which is Islam), and he did not join gods with Allah (God)” (Quran 3:67)
In addition to stating that the religion of Abraham was that of “submission to God” (i.e., Islam), this passage of the Holy Qur’an teaches that an individual’s faith and submission is more important than the label by which that person is known.
Source: The article is taken from the authors’ MisGod’ed: A Roadmap of Guidance and Misguidance Within the Abrahamic Religions