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Masters in Education from Nottingham University in the UK. Also studied Masters in Islamic Studies and Islamic Banking & Finance. Political activist with interests in Geopolitics, History and Phil ...
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In a Nutshell:
To say “Islam means submission to one God” says little about Islam as saying "secularism is the ideology that upholds separation of church and state". While true, it does not describe how such a separation is made possible, enacted, and reenacted.
Islam is a 'deen' which translates to a "way of life" or a "discursive tradition intimately fused with power" where Muslims are expected to socially and territorially embody Islam (dar al-Islam) - acknowledging, submitting, and serving Allah. In other words it is reified revelation, an objective reality. Islam thus comprises an environment derived from the fusion of revelation with power, where every individual chooses their way of life and freely lives by it.
The first concrete manifestation of Islam was the Prophet's Medinah followed by the domains of the early Khulafah after him, the Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Ottomans, with Islam being dismantled in 1924 by European powers resulting in the absence of Islam for a century.


Islam has become widely contested following the collision of the Muslim world with European colonialism, Islamic civilisations dismantled, and Islam reduced to a personal faith and religion in collective discourse. As we consider the effects of capitalism in our lives, we should consider how religiosity functions, how it has been secularised and are we trying to fit within a new social order rather than critiquing its logic to bring back Islam.

To illustrate this the Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb (rh) famously wrote:

"If a Muslim seeks to live in an unIslamic environment, his desire to live a Muslim life will be not be achieved. This is due to the fact that the laws he considers defective, the taxes he considers to be wrong, the actions he considers illegitimate, the culture he considers ridden with immorality, and the education system he considers evil will be imposed upon him and his family, and he will not find a way out.
Therefore, a person or a group who believes in a different value system is logically forced to seek its establishment in place of the opposing system. If he is not a part of the effort to change the situation, he will prove himself false in his beliefs." (Milestones)

Whilst more recently, the writer Sophia Arjana observed:

“Religious voices have provided some sound critiques of consumptive practices, urging followers to return to what they call tradition. However, many of these same people just push more products on the consumer in the name of religion. The halal-life-style-living in accordance with Islamic rules for behaviour, eating, praying properly, and so on - often requires consumption - of the prayer rug, the halal lamb, and the Proud To Be Muslim T-shirt.” (Buying Buddha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism and the Mystical Marketplace)

Western scholarship has been seeking how to conceptualize Islam to understand how to identify those who speak about Islam with authenticity, continuity, and legitimacy. Some have struggled with the project claiming there is no "Islam" (El-Zein in Beyond Ideology and Theology), others claim there is no "Islam" but "local Islams" (Gilsenan in Recognizing Islam), others have focused on ideational, sociological or political-economic approaches excluding "scriptural" dimensions of Islam from their analysis, Gellner's "Islam as a blueprint of social order" illustrates this.

There is once again a need to re-articulate what Islam is.


A common misconception is the Messenger (saw) defined Islam in his response to Jibreel's (as) question (hadith no 1 below). The hadith "Islam is built on 5 pillars" cites the same five points, albeit cast as pillars of Islam.

As definitions go, this is an extensional definition, one that lists examples contained in a term, that helps us understand Islam through citing prominent Islamic practices that are collective and institutional.

However, such a definition does not cite the common thread. That's where an "intensional" definition helps - this answer seeks to put forward such a definition.


The following evidences are commonly cited.


1. إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِندَ اللَّهِ الْإِسْلَامُ ۗ وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ
"The only deen acceptable to Allah is Islam..." (Qur'an 3:19)

2. وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
"Whoever desires other than Islam as deen never will it be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter will be among the losers." (Qur'an 3:85)

3. يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً
"O you who have believed, enter into Islam, all of you..." (Qur'an 2:208)

4. اَ لۡيَوۡمَ اَكۡمَلۡتُ لَـكُمۡ دِيۡنَكُمۡ وَاَ تۡمَمۡتُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ نِعۡمَتِىۡ وَرَضِيۡتُ لَـكُمُ الۡاِسۡلَامَ دِيۡنًا​

"This day I have perfected your deen, and completed my favor unto you, and I have approved Islam for your deen" (Qur'an 5:5)

5. بَلَىٰ مَنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ فَلَهُ أَجْرُهُ عِندَ رَبِّهِ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
"Whoever submits his face to Allah while doing good will have his reward with his Lord..." (Qur'an 2:112)

6. أَفَغَيْرَ دِينِ اللَّهِ يَبْغُونَ وَلَهُ أَسْلَمَ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ طَوْعًا وَكَرْهًا وَإِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ
"Is it other than the deen of Allah they desire, while to Him have submitted those within the heavens and earth, willingly or by compulsion..." (Qur'an 3:83)

7. فَإِنْ حَاجُّوكَ فَقُلْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّهِ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِ ۗ وَقُل لِّلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ وَالْأُمِّيِّينَ أَأَسْلَمْتُمْ ۚ فَإِنْ أَسْلَمُوا فَقَدِ اهْتَدَوا
Say, "I have submitted myself to Allah and those who follow me." And say to those given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, "Have you submitted yourselves?" And if they submit they are rightly guided. (Qur'an 3:20)

8. إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ أَسْلِمْ ۖ قَالَ أَسْلَمْتُ لِرَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ - وَوَصَّىٰ بِهَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بَنِيهِ وَيَعْقُوبُ يَا بَنِيَّ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَىٰ لَكُمُ الدِّينَ فَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
When his Lord said to him, "Submit", he said "I have submitted to the Lord of the worlds. And Abraham instructed his sons [to do the same] and [so did] Jacob, "O my sons, Allah has chosen for you this deen, so do not die unless you are Muslims." (Qur'an 2:130-132)

9. فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ - وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَن يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا
"And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead, We called to him, 'O Abraham, You have fulfilled the vision.'" (Qur'an 37:104-105)

See here for all instances of the word Islam and its variants in the Qur'an.


1. قَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ أَخْبِرْنِي عَنِ الإِسْلاَمِ قَالَ: ‏"أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلاَةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلاً"‏.‏ قَالَ صَدَقْتَ...
Jibreel said, "O Muhammed, tell me about Islam." He said: "It is to bear witness there is none worthy of servitude except Allah and Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, to establish Salah, to give Zakah, to fast Ramadan and to perform Hajj if you are able." (Muslim 47:6)

2. قَالَ مَا الإِسْلاَمُ قَالَ ‏"‏ الإِسْلاَمُ أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ وَلاَ تُشْرِكَ بِهِ، وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلاَةَ، وَتُؤَدِّيَ الزَّكَاةَ الْمَفْرُوضَةَ، وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ

Jibreel further asked, "What is Islam?" Allah's Messenger (saw) replied, "To serve Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the zakat and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan."

3. بني الإسلام على خمس: شهادة أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدا رسول الله، وإقام الصلاة، وإيتاء الزكاة، وحج البيت، وصوم رمضان". رواه البخاري و مسلم
The Prophet (saw) said, "Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying there is no deity worthy of servitude except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the salah, paying the zakat, undertaking hajj and fasting Ramadan." (Bukhari and Muslim)

4. وأنا آمركم بخمس الله أمرني بهن: السمع والطاعة والجهاد والهجرة والجماعة فإنه من فارق الجماعة قيد شبر فقد خلع ربقة الإسلام من عنقه إلا أن يرجع، ومن ادعى دعوى الجاهلية فإنه من جثا جهنم، فقال رجل: يا رسول الله وإن صلى وصام؟ قال: وإن صلى وصام، فادعوا بدعوى الله الذي سماكم المسلمين المؤمنين عباد الله
The Prophet (saw) said, "I order you with five things which Allah ordered me with: The Jama'ah (polity), hearing and obeying (the Imam), hijrah (migration) and jihad in the way of Allah. So whoever separates from the jama'ah by a handspan, throws the yoke of Islam from his neck, unless he repents. And whosoever calls with the call of jahiliyyah (the days of ignorance), then he is from the heap of Hellfire." It was said: Even if he fasts and prays? He said: "Even if he fasts and prays. So name Muslims with the names which Allah gave: Muslims (muslimoon), Believers (mouminoon), Servants (abidoon) of Allah." (Tirmidhi 2863, Tiyalasi 1161)

5. من خرج من الجماعة قيد شبر فقد خلع ربقة الإسلام من عنقه حتى يراجعه من مات و ليس عليه إمام جماعة فإن موتته موتة جاهلية
The Prophet (saw) said, "Whoever removes himself from the Jama’at (the ummah) by a handspan then he has taken Islam from his neck until he returns..." (Hakim)

6. عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ، رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَيُوشِكُ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ عَلَى النَّاسِ زَمَانٌ لَا يَبْقَى مِنَ الْإِسْلَامِ إِلَّا اسْمُهُ، وَلَا يَبْقَى مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ إِلَّا رَسْمُهُ، مَسَاجِدُهُمْ عَامِرَةٌ وَهِيَ خَرَابٌ مِنَ الْهُدَى، عُلَمَاؤُهُمْ شَرُّ مَنْ تَحْتَ أَدِيمِ السَّمَاءِ مَنْ عِنْدَهُمْ تَخْرُجُ الْفِتْنَةُ وَفِيهِمْ تَعُودُ
Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) reported the Messenger (saw) said, “There will come a time upon the people, when there will remain nothing of Islam except its name (ism) and nothing will remain of the Qur'an except its outward form (rasm). Their masjids will be full of people (well built) but will be empty of guidance. Their scholars will be the most evil under the heavens; from them turmoil (fitnah) will emanate and to them it will return.” (Bayhaqi no. 1763. First part of narration also reported by Bukhari in Khalq Af’al al-Ibad)

7. لَيُنْقَضَنَّ عُرَى الْإِسْلَامِ عُرْوَةً عُرْوَةً فَكُلَّمَا انْتَقَضَتْ عُرْوَةٌ تَشَبَّثَ النَّاسُ بِالَّتِي تَلِيهَا وَأَوَّلُهُنَّ نَقْضًا الْحُكْمُ وَآخِرُهُنَّ الصَّلَاةُ

The Prophet (saw) said, "The knots of Islam will be undone one by one, each time a knot is undone the next one will be grasped, the first to be undone will be the Rule [of Islam; The Caliphate] and the last will be the Prayer (Salah)." (Hakim/Ahmed)

8. Bani Shaban told the Messenger (saw) they could establish his rule, fighting all Arabs except the Persians. The Messenger (saw) replied “No one stands by the deen of Allah except the one who covers all its aspects.” (Nisa'i; Ibn Hisham)

9. When the Messenger (saw) called to Allah in his time of weakness and loneliness, he used to say: "Allah has sent me and promised me He will make my deen overcome all other deens. My authority will defeat the power of Rome and Persia. I will defeat all kings and my kingdom and that of my followers will spread all over the earth." (Qadi Abd al-Jabar, Tathbit Dala'il an-Nubuwwah, Vol. 2, p. 314)


1. لا إسلام إلا بجماعة، ولا جماعة إلا بإمارة، ولا إمارة إلا بطاعة
People were building high buildings during the time of Umar (ra) who said: "O Arab people, don't build such high buildings. There is no Islam except with jama'ah (body politic) and no jama'ah except with imarah (leadership), and no imarah except with ta'ah (obedience)." (Darimi, Narrated by Ibn Abd al-Birr Al-Qurtubi in Jami' Bayan al-Ilm wa Fadhluh)

2. Abu Bakr (ra) said in his sermon when the Messenger of Allah (saw) died, and he was appointed as the successor (khalifah) after him (saw): "Muhammad is dead, and this deen must have people to implement it."

3. Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) said to me, “Do you know what will demolish Islam?” I said, "No." Umar said, “Islam will be demolished by the faults of scholars, the arguments of hypocrites over the Book, and the judgment of misguided leaders.” (Darimi 214)

4. عَنْ طَارِقِ بْنِ شِهَابٍ قَالَ عُمَرُ بْنُ الْخَطَّابِ رضي الله عنه إِنَّا كُنَّا أَذَلَّ قَوْمٍ فَأَعَزَّنَا اللَّهُ بِالْإِسْلَامِ فَمَهْمَا نَطْلُبُ الْعِزَّةَ بِغَيْرِ مَا أَعَزَّنَا اللَّهُ بِهِ أَذَلَّنَا اللَّهُ

Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) said, “Verily, we were a disgraceful people and Allah honored us with Islam. If we seek honor from anything besides that with which Allah honored us, Allah will disgrace us.” (Mustadrak 214)

5. فأسلموا وإلا فأدوا الجزية وإلا فقد جئتكم بقوم يحبون الموت كما تحبون الحياة

Khalid Bin Walid wrote to the King of Persia: "Submit (accept Islam); if not, pay the jizyah; if not, verily, I'll bring to you a nation who love death just as you love life." (Tarikh Al-Tabari 2/582)

Juristic Definitions

Islam has been defined as total submission to Allah in accordance with his commands and prohibitions, thereby emphasising the linguistic dimension. The juristic discussions on dar al-Islam (the home of Islam) accentuate its role as a deen via collective submission through the creation of ruling institutions and security in accordance with revelation. Both usages despite varying in wording are describing a similar phenomenon - total submission to all of Allah's rules and laws that cannot be achieved without a polity.

Classical Islamic scholarship generally agree the definition of the term Islam is "Servitude of Allah and his rules with utmost sincerity" albeit with varying wording.

The term "Islam" in origin refers to submission or surrender (inqiyad). This is seen in scholarly works like that of the sixth-century exegete Baghawi who defined Islam as:

والإسلام هو الدخول في السِّلم ، وهو الانقياد والطاعة
Islam means surrender, it is submission and obedience. (Ma'alim al-Tanzil, Vol. 3, p.18)

This is then extended to the surrender or submission to Allah alone, generally agreed upon by the jurists, albeit in varying wording but with the same meaning:

الإسلام هو الخضوع والانقياد بمعنى قبول الأحكام والإذعان
Islam means submission and surrender, meaning accepting the rulings and showing obedience (Taftazani, Sharh al-Aqa'id al-Nasafiyyah, p.450)

الإسلام هو الخضوع والانقياد لما أخبر به الرسول (صلى الله عليه وسلم)، وما وطأ في القلب واللسان فهو إيمان: أقول هذا مذهب الشافعي، وأما مذهب أبي حنيفة فلا فرق بينهما
Islam means submission and surrender to what has been conveyed by the Messenger (saw). With regards to what lies at the heart and tongue, that is Imaan. This is the view of the Shafi'i madhab, whilst Abu Hanifah's madhab did not differentiate between them. (Jurjani, al-Ta'rifat, p.20)

هو الاستسلام لله لا لغيره، بأن تكون العبادة والطاعة له والذل، وهو حقيقة لا إله إلا الله
It is the surrender to Allah alone by dedicating servitude, obedience and submission for His sake. This the true meaning of "laa ilaha illa Allah". (Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu al-Fatawa, Vol. 5, p.239)

There are then peripheral discussions regarding the relationship of imaan to Islam, whether it was an inherent part of it or not, as seen in Abu Hanifah's work:

الإسلام هو: التسليم والانقياد لأوامر الله تعالى فمن طريق اللغة فرق بين الإسلام والإيمان ولكن لا يكون إيمان بلا اسلام ولا يوجد إسلام بلا إيمان وهما كالظهر مع البطن والدين اسم واقع على الإيمان والإسلام والشرائع كلها
Islam is to surrender and to submit to the commands of Allah Most High. Hence, there is a linguistic difference between Iman and Islam. However, Iman (faith) does not exist without Islam nor Islam without Iman: they are as the back with the stomach. Deen is a noun that encompasses Iman, Islam and all of the Sharia. (Al-Fiqh al-Akbar, p. 57)

While these definitions are no doubt true and comprehensive in nature, they do not describe how such a submission is made possible, enacted, and reenacted. They thus allow the smuggling of values from other ideologies such as liberalism and individualism, whilst marginalising socio-political community, norms, culture, and sensibilities inherent in such definitions.

Islam as a deen incorporates the linguistic definition of Islam by also demanding a specific type of submission (inqiyad), one that is collective in nature, ie the submission by a nation (qawm) through institutionalising and embodying revelation. The territorial notion of dar al-Islam (abode/home of Islam) articulated by jurists over the centuries illustrates this meaning quite clearly.

The Hanafi jurist al-Kasani for instance stated:

لا خلاف بين أصحابنا في أن دار الكفر تصير دار إسلام بظهور أحكام الإسلام فيها واختلفوا في دار الإسلام، إنها بماذا تصير دار الكفر؟
"There is no difference between our companions (the Hanafis) that Dar al-Kufr becomes Dar al-Islam due to the appearance (zuhur) of the rulings (ahkam) of Islam therein ... And when the laws of kufr appeared in the land it became the land of kufr thus this is the appropriate term... There is no disagreement among the ahnaaf Dar al-Kufr becomes Dar al-Islam when the rules of Islam becomes dominant. Our brothers only dispute on how Dar al-Islam transfers to become Dar al-Kufr..." (Badai al-Sanaai, Vol. 7, p.131)

The Shafi'i jurist Sulayman bin Mohammed al-Bujayrimi states:

هي كلّ أرض تظهر فيها أحكام الإسلام - ويراد بظهور أحكام الإسلام: كلّ حكم من أحكامه، أو يسكنها المسلمون وإن كان معهم فيها أهل ذمّة، أو فتحها المسلمون، وأقرّوها بيد الكفّار، أو كانوا يسكنونها، ثمّ أجلاهم الكفّار
"Dar al-Islam is the entire land where the Islamic laws appear and it is intended by the phrase "appearance of the Islamic laws" every law from its laws, or Muslims live there even if there were with them ahl al-dhimma (those protected by Muslim rulers), or it was opened up by Muslims, or it was given to govern by the hand of non-Muslims or they were living there and were expelled by the kuffar from it." (Nihaya al-Muhtaj)

The Hanbali jurist Qadi Abu Ya'la said:

كلُّ دار كانت الغلبة فيها لأحكام الكفر دون أحكام الإسلام فهي دار الكفر
"Any country where the law is kufr (disbelief) instead of Islam is Dar al-Kufr." (al-Mu'atamad fil Usul al-Deen, p.276)

The Hanbali jurist Ibn Qayyim noted:

قال الجمهور: دار الإسلام هي التي نزلها المسلمون وجرت عليها أحكام الإسلام ومالم تجر عليه أحكام الإسلام لم يكن دار إسلام وإن لاصقها فهذه الطائف قريبة إلى مكة جدًا ولم تصر دار إسلام بفتح مكة
"The jumhur of the ullama say Dar al-Islam is where the Muslims go and reside and the Islamic rules are dominant. If however, Islamic rules do not become dominant it is not Dar al-Islam even if it is in close proximity to the state. Taa'if was so close to Makkah (at the time when it was Dar al-Islam) but it did not become part of Dar al-Islam until it was conquered." (Kitab Ahkam ahl al-Dhimmah, Vol. 1, p.366)

The Shafi'i scholar al-Rafi'i argued:

دار الإسلام ثلاثة أقسام: قسم يسكنه المسلمون، وقسم فتحوه وأقروا أهله عليه بجزية ملكوه أو لا، وقسم كانوا يسكنونه، ثم غلب عليه الكفار قال الرافعي وعدهم القسم الثاني يبين أنه يكفي في كونها دار إسلام كونها تحت استيلاء الإمام وإن لم يكن فيها مسلم قال: وأما عدهم الثالث فقد يوجد في كلامهم ما يشعر بأن الاستيلاء القديم يكفي لاستمرار الحكم

"Dar al-Islam comprises three kinds: the first kind where the Muslims live, the second kind where the land was conquered and given to its people on payment of the jizya tribune and the third kind where Muslims used to live before it was conquered by non-Muslims. The second kind explains that it is sufficient for it to be Dar al-Islam based on it being under the conquest of the Imam even if there were no Muslims in it. Furthermore, it is found in the third kind it is felt the historic conquest of Islam is sufficient for the continuation of the rule..." (Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, Vol. 9, p.269)

Whilst ibn Taymiyyah says:

“And the deen of Islam (decrees) that the sword must follow the Book. So if knowledge of the Book and the Sunnah appears, and the sword follows that, the authority of Islam will be established. However, if the sword agrees with the Book sometimes and contradicts it at other times, then the religion of whoever behaves in this manner will be according to that.” Majmū al-Fatāwā (20/393)


The verbal form of Islam, aslama, has a pre-Islamic history. In jahiliyyah the word generally meant "giving over", especially something particularly precious, difficult or painful to abandon, to someone demanding it. This may be one's own self, (in which case it means total submission, self-surrendering); or it may be somebody else, a close friend or tribesmen (in which case it would mean betrayal).

A review of the uses of the term Islam in the sources suggests a multifaceted word that includes a wide range of meanings and senses as it may represent the purpose of our existence, Allah's eternal message to mankind to serve Him alone, revelation (i.e., Qur'an and Sunnah) or it may specifically refer to the deen sent by Allah to Muhammad (saw).

The Qur'an uses the term Islam and Muslim in two broad senses - universally and specifically:

  • From a Qur'anic universal perspective, Islam began with Adam (as) as the first Muslim (Qur'an 15:29; 38:72; 32:9) and Prophet, beginning a line of Prophets and Messengers, nations were successively asked to "submit/surrender to Allah". This broad definition can be applied to all those who submit, as the Arabic verbal noun al-Islam, in its most basic non-denominational sense refers to this (Qur'an 2:136). Even nature, created and commanded by Allah, submissive to Him alone, can be described as Muslim (Qur'an 3:83).
  • In a more circumscribed sense, "Islam" and "Muslim" commencing with the Messenger's (saw) mission in the seventh century refers to a specific communal way of life with its own shari'a, as a deen and millah (Qur'an 3:19, 3:66, 5:3).

The core meaning and use of the term revolves around it universally referring to whatever submits to Allah through time, or more specifically, the final deen revealed to the Messenger (saw), instantiated and brought to life in Medina.

The contemporary view that Islam the deen is a religious belief, a state of mind and not activity in the world, is seen as a modern Christian privatised one - not found in the Islamic tradition or even the medieval Christian one.

The contemporary Muslim anthropologist Talal Asad provides a valuable contribution, rejecting the labelling of Islam or even pre-modern Christianity as a "religion", a neatly separable aspect of social life being a modern Western construct, that distorts more than it informs. Instead, he defines Islam as a "discursive tradition" which emphasises not just religious dogma and worship but the social, historical, political and economic institutions in which the believer lives out his belief:

"... a historically evolving set of discourses, embodied in the practices and institutions of Islamic societies and hence deeply imbricated in the material life of those inhabiting them."

Whilst the linguistic scholar Toshihiku Izutsu poignantly observes:

"...when the pre-Islamic Arabs used the expression din al-nasara ("the religion of the Christians"), for example, they presumably meant thereby 'religion' as something reified, an objectively established thing, i.e. a whole system consisting of a certain number of creeds and ritual practices that are shared by a community.
The Qur'an uses the word obviously in the reified and non-reified senses. The best and the simplest example of non-reified type is supplied by the expression "making the din sincere", where the word din cannot but mean personal faith in God, whether it be just momentary or permanent. As an example of the reified use, we may cite 3:66, where the Jews are depicted saying among themselves: "Do not trust except those who follow your deen." (3:66)
In the verse already quoted above (verse 5 [3]) which runs: "This day I have perfected your deen and I have approved Islam for your deen", deen seems to mean almost an objective, reified 'religion'.
If we go still further in this direction i.e. the direction of reification, than the concept changes into millah, which is religion as an objective 'thing' in the full sense of the word, a formal system of creed and rituals which constitutes the principle of unity for a particular religious community and works as the basis of its social life." (God and Man in the Quran, pp. 249-249-250)

All of this suggests we see Islam initially in Medina, then during the Khulafah Rashida, the Umayyads, Abbasids and finally the Ottomans. A collective way of life lived by a community in full submission. In his doctrinal treatise, al-Iqtisad fil-I’tiqad the jurist Abu Hamid al-Ghazali observed:

“The security of the world, its inhabitants and properties cannot be achieved except with an obeyed ruler (Sultan Muta'). The times of extreme sedition and chaos [following] the deaths of the rulers and the leaders bear witness to this. If this [situation] continues without another just ruler being appointed, then chaos will continue, bloodshed and oppression will become widespread, and livestock will be destroyed and industry stopped. Whoever gains power over others will loot, and none will find time for worship (‘ibadah) or gaining knowledge (‘ilm), if they manage to remain alive.

This is why it is said that, ‘the Deen and the Sultan are twins’ and it is said that, ‘the deen is the foundation and the Sultan is the guardian. That which has no foundation is doomed, and that which has no guardian will perish’.

This is a sickness for which there is no remedy, except through a powerful and just ruler who will unify the disparate and differing views.

Hence, it is clear that the ruler is necessary for organisation of the world, and the organisation of the world is necessary for the organisation of the Deen. And the organisation of the Deen is necessary for the success and joy of the Hereafter, and this undoubtedly was the objective of the Prophets.

Therefore, the obligatory character of [appointing] the ruler (imam) is one of the essential matters from the Law (al-shar') which may not in any way be abandoned.”

Writing nearly two centuries after the Mongol conquest of Baghdad, the classical jurist al-Shirazi insisted on the centrality of the Cairo Abbasid caliph for contemporary affairs, in both legal and metaphysical terms. In his explanation, the honour of the caliphate originates with the first of men and prophets: Adam (as). Shirazi invokes Allah's words to the angels, "I am putting a trustee (khalifah) on earth" (Qur'an 2:30) to convey the honour of his designating Adam as the first of caliphs responsible for tending to his creation. In addition to selecting Adam for this high and noble station, Allah further distinguished him by placing this successive leadership in his progeny (khala'if in Qur'an 6:165). As he elaborates, the caliphate travelled from prophet to prophet until it reached the Muhammad (saw), the final seal of prophets and then from saint to saint after him. The caliph has been granted all the lands of Islam, he explained, as well as executive authority over them as the metaphorical shadow of God on earth in whom all the weak and powerless can seek refuge. His very presence provided stability and order in the world and yields immense blessings and benefit to all. In al-Shirazi's eyes, supporting the deen and the welfare of Muslims are synonymous with taking care of the caliphate and appreciating its worth and the cause of success, salvation, and every good

This has been widely understood by scholars, illustrated by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's book in 1920 called 'The Issue of Khilafat', where he stated:

'Without the Khilafah the existence of Islam is not possible, the Muslims of India with all their effort and power need to work for this.'

and Taqiudeen Nabhani, the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir, when he said:

“Islam cannot exist in a living fashion without a state” (Political Concepts)

Whilst Abdul Qadeem Zalloom wrote:

"Islam is a system for ruling and state, for society and life, and for the Ummah and the individuals […] the state has no authority for ruling unless it adheres to the Islamic system. Islam would have no existence unless it was alive, represented by a state that implements its rules. […] Islam would not exist without a state that implements it under all conditions” (The Ruling System of Islam)


Islam linguistically refers to submission, universally "submission to Allah's will/commands".

As the final deen, it refers to the collective instantiation or implementation of revelation by a polity, thereby allowing the nation to collectively submit to the will of Allah.


Abu Hanifah, Al-Fiqh al-Akbar
Abul Kalam Azad, The Issue of Khilafat
Abdul Hamid el-Zein, Beyond Ideology and Theology
Baghawi, Ma'lim al-Tanzil
Bujayrami, Nihaya al-Muhtaj
Dr Salim, Ahkam al-Ahwal al-Shaksiyyah lil-Muslimeen fi al-Gharb
El-Zein, Beyond Ideology and Theology
Gilsenan, Recognizing Islam
Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab
Ibn Qayyim, Kitab Ahkam ahl al-Dhimmah
Ibn Rajab, Jami al-Ulum wa al-Hikam
Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu al-Fatawa
Jurjani, Al-Ta'rifat
Kasani, Badai al-Sanaai
Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam?
Sophia Arjana, Buying Buddhha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism and the Mystical Marketplace
Syed Qutb, Milestones
Talal Asad, The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam
Taftazani, Sharh al-Aqa'id al-Nasafiyyah
Taqqiudeen Nabhani, The Ruling System of Islam
Taqqiudeen Nabhani, Political Concepts
Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Quran

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