Our Beacon Forum

Definition of Islam and Muslim
By:Mubashir, Toronto
Date: Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 4:46 pm

There seems to be two definitions of the word Islam and Muslims depending on who you ask. Some say Islam means submission and Muslim means a submitter. However some say Islam means peace and Muslim means a peacemaker. What then is the lexical definition of Islam and Muslim? Thanks.

I recently read an article by Dr. Ayman Mohamed in which he, commenting on 22:78 says:

".....The word “al-muslimeen” is the plural of “muslim” with the definite article “al” preposed.
The word “muslim” is of the form muf‘il and comes from the Arabic three letter
root “slm”. In Arabic the word “salaam”/ م (form fa‘aal) means “peace”. The words
“muslim” and “salaam” have a straightforward relation like the relationship between
other words of the form muf‘il and fa‘aal. Words of the form muf‘il have the meaning of
“maker of fa‘aal”. For example, “salaah” means goodness and “muslih” is the maker of
goodness, “najaah” means success and “munjih” means the maker of success, “fasad”
means corruption and “mufsid” is the maker of corruption, and so on. By the same token,
“salaam” means peace and “muslim” means the maker of peace, in other words it means
“peacemaker”. It follows that like “islah” means “making good”, “injah” means “making
success” and “ifsad” means “making corruption”, “islam” means “peacemaking”. So in
22:78, the common noun “al-muslimeen” should be translated as “the peacemakers”..."

He continues:

"...Another word that is not translated by the majority of translators in 22:78 and elsewhere
in the Quran is the Arabic word “allah”. As we saw in the previous chapter, like the word
“al-muslimeen” (peacemakers), the word “allah” is a universal common noun and not the
proper name of an Arab deity. The word “allah” is essentially the contracted form of “alilah”,
which literally means “the god”. With this understanding, let's reexamine 22:78 and
provide a better translation.

22:78. And strive for the god his true striving. He has chosen
you and has made no hardship on you in the obligation, the
creed of your father Ibrahim. He (the god) named you the
peacemakers previously and in this, so that the messenger will
be a witness on you and you will be witnesses on humankind. ...
We are told that the reason for naming the followers of the god’s message "the
peacemakers" is two fold; the messenger will be a witness on them; and they will be
witnesses on humankind.

The definition of a witness can be summed up as one who testifies in the case of a
dispute. The messenger is by definition the deliverer of the message and therefore in this
capacity the message is the vehicle for communication. So what is the issue in dispute
and how does delivering the message accomplish the purpose of witnessing against its
own followers?

The issue in dispute is mentioned right at the beginning of the passage. By pointing to the
true striving for the god, it is implicit in that statement that there is false striving for the
god. The message of the passage is that its followers have been described as "the
peacemakers" by the god. This message will be a witness against its own followers in the
dispute of what constitutes true striving ("jihad") for the god as opposed to false striving
("jihad") for the god. Thus, by virtue of their god-given description, the followers of the
messenger cannot corrupt and cause destruction and shed blood and then turn around and
claim that they are doing it because they are striving for the god. By describing its
followers as the peacemakers, the god’s message will be a witness against them...."