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Masters in Education from Nottingham University, qualified teacher in the UK. Has studied Masters in Islamic Studies also Islamic Banking and Finance. Interests in Politics/History/Philosophy. (ANSWER READ ONLY)
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In a Nutshell:
Islam has been termed a deen by Allah - it translates approximately to a way of life or lifeway, a discursive tradition intimately tied to power where Muslims are expected to socially and territorially embody Islam (in dar al-Islam) - acknowledging, submitting and serving Allah.
Islam thus comprises an environment derived from revelation, where every individual chooses their way of life and freely lives by it.
The first manifestation of Islam was the Prophet's Medinah followed by the Khulafah Rashidah, Umayyads, Abbasids and the Ottomans, with Islam (the living deen) being dismantled and disappearing in 1924.

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, with the Islamic sources presented through a secular and personal lens.

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 Muhammad's (saw) mission in the seventh century refers to a specific communal way of life with its own shari'a.
Western scholarship has been seeking how to conceptualize Islam in order 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 so it not only makes sense, but is clearly understood as the final messenger intended.


A common misconception is that the Messenger (saw) defined Islam in his response to Jibreel's (as) question (see 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 on this topic.


1.    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)
2.    بَلَىٰ مَنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ فَلَهُ أَجْرُهُ عِندَ رَبِّهِ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
Whoever submits his face to Allah while being a doer of good will have his reward with his Lord...(Qur'an 2:112)
3.    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)
4.    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)
5.   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)
6.    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)
7.    وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
And whoever desires other than Islam as religion - never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers. (Qur'an 3:85)

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 Muhammad, tell me about Islam." He said: "It is to bear witness there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad 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. عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا قَالَ: سَمِعْت رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم يَقُولُ: " بُنِيَ الْإِسْلَامُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ: شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لَا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ، وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ، وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ، وَحَجِّ الْبَيْتِ، وَصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ". رَوَاهُ الْبُخَارِيُّ وَ مُسْلِمٌ
"Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the salah, paying the zakat, undertaking hajj and fasting Ramadan." (Bukhari and Muslim)

3. "There is no Islam without jama'a and there is no jama'a without leadership and there is not leadership without submission" (Darimi)

4. "Stick to the Jama'ah of the Muslims and their Imam." (Bukhari and Muslim)

5. "I order you with five things which Allah ordered me with: The Jama'ah (Islamic polity), hearing and obeying (the Imam), hijrah (migration) and jihad in the way of Allah. So whosoever separates from the Jama'ah by a hand span, 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 hoarded-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)

1. َ أَخْبَرَنَا يَزِيدُ بْنُ هَارُونَ، أَخْبَرَنَا بَقِيَّةُ، حَدَّثَنِي صَفْوَانُ بْنُ رُسْتُمَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ مَيْسَرَةَ، عَنْ تَمِيمٍ الدَّارِيِّ، رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ، قَالَ: تَطَاوَلَ النَّاسُ فِي الْبِنَاءِ فِي زَمَنِ عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ، فَقَالَ عُمَرُ: " يَا مَعْشَرَ الْعُرَيْبِ، الْأَرْضَ الْأَرْضَ، إِنَّهُ لَا إِسْلَامَ إِلَّا بِجَمَاعَةٍ، وَلَا جَمَاعَةَ إِلَّا بِإِمَارَةٍ، وَلَا إِمَارَةَ إِلَّا بِطَاعَةٍ، فَمَنْ سَوَّدَهُ قَوْمُهُ عَلَى الْفِقْهِ، كَانَ حَيَاةً لَهُ وَلَهُمْ، وَمَنْ سَوَّدَهُ قَوْمُهُ عَلَى غَيْرِ فِقْهٍ، كَانَ هَلَاكًا لَهُ وَلَهُمْ "

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)

Juristic Definitions

The term Islam has been defined
 as total submission to Allah in accordance with revelation, 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.

Classical Islamic scholarship
generally agree that 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 and submission. (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.

الإسلام هو الخضوع والانقياد بمعنى قبول الأحكام والإذعان – التفتازاني في شرح العقائد النسفية
Islam means submission and surrender. In other words, it means 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 – الجرجاني في التعريفات
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)
هُوَ الْاِسْتِسْلاَمُ لله لَا لِغَيْرِهِ، بِأَنْ تَكَوُّنَ الْعِبَادَةُ وَالطَّاعَةٌ لَهُ وَالذُّلٌ، وَهُوَ حَقِيقَةُ لَا إلَهٌ إلّا اللهَ – ابن تيمية في مجموع الفتاوى
It is the surrender to Allah alone by dedicating servitude, obedience and submission for His Sake. This the true meaning of "la ilaha ila 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:

الْإِسْلامُ هُوَ: التَّسْلِيمُ وَالْاِنْقِيادُ لِأوامِرِ اللهِ تَعَالَى فَمِنْ طَرِيقِ اللُّغَةِ فَرْقٌ بَيْنَ الْإِسْلامِ وَالْإيمَان وَلَكِنْ لَا يَكُونُ إيمَانُ بِلَا اسلامٍ وَلَا يُوجِدُ إِسْلامٌ بِلَا إيمَانٍ وَهُمَا كَالْظُّهْرِ مَعَ الْبَطْنِ وَالدِّينَ اِسْمُ وَاقِعٌ عَلَى الْإيمَانِ وَالْإِسْلامِ وَالشَّرَائِعِ كُلِهَا – أبو حنيفة في الفقه الأكبر 
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 sacred laws. (Al-Fiqh al-Akbar, p. 57)
The definition addressing Islam as a deen extends the linguistic definition by specifying a specific type of submission (inqiyad), one that is collective in nature, ie the submission by a nation 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.

The Hanafi jurist Al-Kasani stated:

"There is no difference between our companions (the Hanafi's) 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 that 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:

"Dar al-Islam is the entire land where the Islamic laws (ahkam al-Islam) 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:

"Any country where the law is Kufr (disbelief) instead of Islam is Dar al-Kufr."
The Hanbali jurist Ibn Qayyim noted:

"The jumhur  of the ullama say dar al-Islam is where the Muslims go and reside and the Islamic rules are dominant. If people (the Muslims) reside in one place and Islam becomes dominant that is dar al-Islam. If however, Islam does not become dominant it is not (considered) Dar al-Islam even if it is in close proximity to the state. Taa'if was so close to Makkah (at the time when Makkah 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:

"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 (seizure) of the Imam (Caliph) even if there were no Muslims in it. Furthermore, it is found in the third kind it is felt the historic (old) conquest of Islam is sufficient for the continuation of the rule..." (Musanafaat minha fath al-aziz fi sharh al-wajeez (cited by Dr Salim in his Ahkam al-ahwal al-shaksiyyah li al-muslimeen fi al-gharb, p.31))

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 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 Muhammed (saw), instantiated and brought to life in Medina.

The contemporary view that religious belief as 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. In this sense the anthropologist Talal Asad provides a valuable contribution in defining Islam. He rejects 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 puts forward a definition of 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."
This articulation suggests we can see Islam for the first time in Medina at the time of the Prophet (saw), and then during the era of the Khulafah Rashida, the Umayyads, Abbasids and finally Ottomans. A collective way of life lived by a community in submission to Allah.


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

As a deen, it refers to the collective instantiation or implementation of revelation by a polity, thereby submitting to the will of Allah.


Abu Hanifah, Al-Fiqh al-Akbar
Abdul Hamid el-Zein, Beyond Ideology and Theology: The Search for the Anthropology of Islam
Baghawi, Ma'lim al-Tanzil
Bujayrami, Nihaya al-Muhtaj
Dr Salim, Ahkam al-ahwal al-shaksiyyah li al-muslimeen fi al-gharb
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
Talal Asad, The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam
Taftazani, Sharh al-Aqa'id al-Nasafiyyah

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