Many people have heard that Islam, as a religion, means peace, but very few people have seen a parallel depiction in mainstream media — from TV to movies, newspapers to textbooks, etc. — but what does Islam really mean? What does Islam really teach? Is there a clear definition about the principals and concepts behind this religion? Or have we been presented the truth by the media that seems to govern our very ways of thinking?
Islam comes from the root Arabic word, salam, which means “peace.” It is also derived from the Arabic word slim, which means submission (to God). However, if we were looking for a textbook definition of Islam, it would be: “The peace acquired by submitting your will to God.” The dictionary today essentially defines “religion” as a set of practices backed by a set of beliefs — or just a belief in a supernatural being. It is important to distinguish between what society has today understood about what a “religion” is, and what Islam really is.
Islam does have a set of beliefs, which are backed by a set of practices, along with a belief in a supernatural being. However, Islam is much more than that. Islam is a way of life. It dictates how a human being’s life should be led, and the one who follows this way of life or adheres to it from his/her heart, is known as a Muslim. A Muslim, by definition, is “one who has submitted his will to God.” Thus, Islam regulates a comprehensive system of living from the most minute details of eating, drinking and sleeping, to the most complex system of governmental and political law making — all of which the Muslims call, in Arabic, the Shari’ah.
The purpose of Islam is clear: to spread peace within humanity. Suppose someone creates a machine. Who will write the instruction manual for that? Naturally, the creator of that machine will. Similarly, in Islam, Muslims believe that the one who will dictate how our lives should be lived will be our creator.
The instruction manual is the Glorious Qur’an — the holy book of the Muslims — which was revealed to the last and final prophet Muhammad, after whose name Muslims say “peace be upon him.” The Qur’an is not a book for the Arabs or the Muslims only but, as Muslims believe, the book (or instruction manual) has been revealed to instruct all of humanity. This is further reiterated by what the Muslims call in Arabic “the sunnah,” which means the sayings and practices of the “Prophet Muhammad” (peace be upon him).
Islam has received poor publicity from many mainstream sources — associating it with terrorism, lack of women rights and barbaric practices. However, very few of these mainstream sources have verified their propagation before their presentation or depiction. Islam’s aim is not to spread hatred among people, but rather peace in humanity. We cannot judge a car by its driver, and therefore we cannot judge Islam by what very few Muslims are doing. There are black sheep in every community. To smear a religion’s values and principals based on the actions of these black sheep is illogical and unethical.
Islam speaks clearly about the issues that are presented very boldly in the media. As written in the Qur’an, “If any human being [Muslim or non-Muslim], kills another human being [Muslim or non-Muslim . . . ] it is as if he has killed all of humanity; and if any human being [Muslim or non-Muslim], saves another human being [Muslim or non-Muslim], it is as if he has saved all of humanity.”
Islam believes in universal brotherhood — not only among Muslims, but among non-Muslims as well. As the Qur’an states, “We have created you from a single pair of male and female, and divided you among nations and tribes — so that you may recognize one another, not that you may despise on another.”
This concept of brotherhood for which we yearn so deeply today was reiterated several times by Prophet Muhammad over 1,400 years ago, who said: “If you show mercy to those who are in the Earth, he who is in heaven will show mercy to you.”
It’s clear that from the most authentic sources (The Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad) the vision of Islam is to spread peace, tolerance and brotherhood in humanity, not hatred and intolerance. Thus, it’s time we ignore the poor representation of Islam by not only the poorly-practicing “Muslims,” but also by the mainstream media, and separate the truth from falsehood.
Mumtaz Mirza is currently enrolled in the Masters program in the faculty of landscape architecture at the U of M. He has spent the last five years studying Islam and comparative religion on his own time with a hope to clarify Islamic viewpoints.