Basic Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslim

Hi all readers! In this article I will explain the basic guide for understanding Islam and Muslim. Many people misunderstand these two things. That’s why I will explain it in this article.

In this article I will explain the following:

  • The origin of the words “Islam” and “Muslim”
  • The difference between “Islam” and “al-Jahiliyah”
  • “Islam” and “Muslim” in the Religious Context

A. The origin of the words “Islam” and “Muslim”

All readers, we must know, that the word “Islam” or “Al-Islam” if written in Arabic is “الإسلام”. The word is a noun that comes from three letters; sin (س), lam (ل), and mim (م). In Arabic, the three letters can be changed into several forms, among them “Salaam or as-Salaam (سلام أو السلام)” and “Musaalamah or al-Musaalamah (مسالمة أو المسالمة). All have the meaning of peace and safety. the word is the opposite of the word “Harb or al-Harbu (حرب أو الحرب) which means war” and the word “Khishaam or al-Khishaam (خصام أو الخصام) which means war”. There are many verses of Quran that use the word, are as follows;

وَعِبَادُ ٱلرَّحۡمَٰنِ ٱلَّذِينَ يَمۡشُونَ عَلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ هَوۡنٗا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ ٱلۡجَٰهِلُونَ قَالُواْ سَلَٰمٗا ٦٣

And the servants of the Beneficent Allah are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say: Peace. (Al-Furqaan [25]; 63).

The three letters can be transformed into several other words which certainly have different meanings with the previous words. For example, we can understand that in the word “Aslama (أسلم) which means to submit and obey”. The word is used in many verses of Quran as below;

وَأَنِيبُوٓاْ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمۡ وَأَسۡلِمُواْ لَهُۥ مِن قَبۡلِ أَن يَأۡتِيَكُمُ ٱلۡعَذَابُ ثُمَّ لَا تُنصَرُونَ ٥٤

And return to your Lord time after time and submit to Him before there comes to you the punishment, then you shall not be helped. (Az-Zumar [39]; 54).

فَإِنۡ حَآجُّوكَ فَقُلۡ أَسۡلَمۡتُ وَجۡهِيَ لِلَّهِ وَمَنِ ٱتَّبَعَنِۗ وَقُل لِّلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ وَٱلۡأُمِّيِّ‍ۧنَ ءَأَسۡلَمۡتُمۡۚ فَإِنۡ أَسۡلَمُواْ فَقَدِ ٱهۡتَدَواْۖ وَّإِن تَوَلَّوۡاْ فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيۡكَ ٱلۡبَلَٰغُۗ وَٱللَّهُ بَصِيرُۢ بِٱلۡعِبَادِ ٢٠

But if they dispute with you, say: I have submitted myself entirely to Allah and (so) every one who follows me; and say to those who have been given the Book and the unlearned people: Do you submit yourselves? So, if they submit then indeed, they follow the right way; and if they turn back, then upon you is only the delivery of the message and Allah sees the servants. (Ali ‘Imraan [3]; 20).

أَفَغَيۡرَ دِينِ ٱللَّهِ يَبۡغُونَ وَلَهُۥٓ أَسۡلَمَ مَن فِي ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ طَوۡعٗا وَكَرۡهٗا وَإِلَيۡهِ يُرۡجَعُونَ ٨٣

Is it then other than Allah´s religion that they seek (to follow), and to Him submits whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him shall they be returned? (Ali ‘Imraan [3]; 83).

These three letters can change again to the word “Muslim (مسلم) which means the person who is entitled and obedient”. The word is used in the Qur’an in various forms, such as a single word (مسلم) and plural words “Muslim or Muslim (مسلمين أو مسلمون);

قَالَتۡ يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلۡمَلَؤُاْ إِنِّيٓ أُلۡقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَٰبٞ كَرِيمٌ ٢٩ إِنَّهُۥ مِن سُلَيۡمَٰنَ وَإِنَّهُۥ ٣٠ أَلَّا تَعۡلُواْ عَلَيَّ وَأۡتُونِي مُسۡلِمِينَ ٣١

She said: O chief! surely an honorable letter has been delivered to me [29] Surely it is from Sulaiman, and surely it is in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful [30] Saying: exalt not yourselves against me and come to me in submission [31]. (An-Naml [27]; 29-31).

وَوَصَّىٰ بِهَآ إِبۡرَٰهِ‍ۧمُ بَنِيهِ وَيَعۡقُوبُ يَٰبَنِيَّ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ٱصۡطَفَىٰ لَكُمُ ٱلدِّينَ فَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسۡلِمُونَ ١٣٢

And the same did Ibrahim enjoin on his sons and (so did) Yaqoub. O my sons! surely Allah has chosen for you (this) faith, therefore die not unless you are Muslims. (Al-Baqarah [2]; 132).

۞فَلَمَّآ أَحَسَّ عِيسَىٰ مِنۡهُمُ ٱلۡكُفۡرَ قَالَ مَنۡ أَنصَارِيٓ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۖ قَالَ ٱلۡحَوَارِيُّونَ نَحۡنُ أَنصَارُ ٱللَّهِ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَٱشۡهَدۡ بِأَنَّا مُسۡلِمُونَ ٥٢

But when Isa perceived unbelief on their part, he said Who will be my helpers in Allah´s way? The disciples said: We are helpers (in the way) of Allah: We believe in Allah and bear witness that we are submitting ones. (Ali ‘Imraan [3]; 52).

I have another important thing to say, that in the grammar of Arabic, the word “Muslim (مسلم)” is the subject (actor) of the word “Aslama (أسلم)” which is a verb. From that change of word, the word “Muslim” appears and often we say. But “Muslim” in that context means people who submit to Allah and obey all the Prophets. Allah says;

فَأَقِمۡ وَجۡهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفٗاۚ فِطۡرَتَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّتِي فَطَرَ ٱلنَّاسَ عَلَيۡهَاۚ لَا تَبۡدِيلَ لِخَلۡقِ ٱللَّهِۚ ذَٰلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلۡقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكۡثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَ ٣٠

Then set your face upright for religion in the right state– the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know. (Ar-Rum [30]; 30).

B. The difference between “Islam” and “al-Jahiliyah”

Earlier I quoted one of the verses of the Quran in Surah Al-Furqan. Perhaps this verse is the key to understanding why the era before the Prophet Muhammad was called jahiliyah (جاهلية) and his era was called Islam (إسلام). I want to say here, that the word “jahiliyah (جاهلية)” does not mean ignorance which is the opposite of the word science or knowledge. I say this because in the days before the Prophet Muhammad it was precisely the Arab people who were clever people (in their context). It was proven, for example, from their intelligence they made poetry and memorized many verses.
The meaning of the word “jahiliyah (جاهلية)” is anger and pride. This is the difference between “Islam” and “ignorance”.

C. “Islam” and “Muslim” in the Religious Context

In its development, the word “Islam” was then devoted to mentioning the religion brought by the Prophet Muhammad. Allah said;

حُرِّمَتۡ عَلَيۡكُمُ ٱلۡمَيۡتَةُ وَٱلدَّمُ وَلَحۡمُ ٱلۡخِنزِيرِ وَمَآ أُهِلَّ لِغَيۡرِ ٱللَّهِ بِهِۦ وَٱلۡمُنۡخَنِقَةُ وَٱلۡمَوۡقُوذَةُ وَٱلۡمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَٱلنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَآ أَكَلَ ٱلسَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيۡتُمۡ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى ٱلنُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسۡتَقۡسِمُواْ بِٱلۡأَزۡلَٰمِۚ ذَٰلِكُمۡ فِسۡقٌۗ ٱلۡيَوۡمَ يَئِسَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِن دِينِكُمۡ فَلَا تَخۡشَوۡهُمۡ وَٱخۡشَوۡنِۚ ٱلۡيَوۡمَ أَكۡمَلۡتُ لَكُمۡ دِينَكُمۡ وَأَتۡمَمۡتُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ نِعۡمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمَ دِينٗاۚ فَمَنِ ٱضۡطُرَّ فِي مَخۡمَصَةٍ غَيۡرَ مُتَجَانِفٖ لِّإِثۡمٖ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٞ رَّحِيمٞ ٣

Forbidden to you is that which dies of itself, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that on which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked, and the strangled (animal) and that beaten to death, and that killed by a fall and that killed by being smitten with the horn, and that which wild beasts have eaten, except what you slaughter, and what is sacrificed on stones set up (for idols) and that you divide by the arrows; that is a transgression. This day have those who disbelieve despaired of your religion, so fear them not, and fear Me. This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion; but whoever is compelled by hunger, not inclining willfully to sin, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Al-Maa’idah [5]; 3).

وَمَن يَبۡتَغِ غَيۡرَ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمِ دِينٗا فَلَن يُقۡبَلَ مِنۡهُ وَهُوَ فِي ٱلۡأٓخِرَةِ مِنَ ٱلۡخَٰسِرِينَ ٨٥

And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter, he shall be one of the losers. (Ali ‘Imraan [3]; 85).

Specifically, Islam is uttering with words and justifying with heart, that everything that the Prophet Muhammad brought is true, while Muslim is the one who do that!

That is a brief explanation of the “Basic Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslim”. If you want to ask, please ask! May be useful!


Ahmad Amin, Fajr al-Islam, ad-Dar al-Masriah al-Lubnaniyah Publishing, Cairo, 2016. p. 115-117.

Syaikh Thahir bin Shalih al-Jazairi, al-Jawahiru al-Kalamiyah, al-Miftah Publishing, Surabaya, Indonesia, p. 2-3.


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