ON THE LITERAL MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM
MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM. The word Islam is derived from the root words Salima, yaslamu, salamanas well as other variations. God says:
‘O believers! Enter Islam (Ar. silm) perfectly and wholly’.
The famous philologist, Abu Amr al-Shaybani, interpreted the word silm as Islam.
The Prophet ﷺ said,
‘The Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe’
Embracing Islam, therefore, means to enter the door of peace and protection, until people become safe from his harm and evil. According to Abu Mansur Muhammad al-Azhar, Abu Ishaq al- Zujaj narrated from Muhammad b. Yazid in Tahdhib al-lugha who interpreted the Quranic verse,
‘Say, “Peace be upon you!” Your Lord has made Mercy incumbent upon Himself’.
In Arabic, the word Salam has four meanings. Firstly, Salam is the verbal noun of Salima (to be free of blemish). Secondly, it is the plural form of Salam (safety and security). Thirdly, it is one of the beautiful names of Almighty God (Al-Salam, the Flawless). And fourthly, it is a tree which is shady and evergreen. (MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM)
According to al-Zujaj, Salam comes from salama, which denotes supplication for man to remain safe and secure from hardships and troubles. It implies deliverance from miseries and disasters.
Paradise has also been named the Abode of Peace (Dar al-Salam) because it will be free from death and extinction. No one dwelling in it will be in danger or exposed to any malady. It will be a home exclusively permeated with calmness and tranquility, pleasure and protection, peace and security. No fear, grief, pain or remorse will touch any of its inhabitants.
‘For them is the home of peace and security with their Lord’.
God also says,
‘And God calls towards the Abode of Peace’.
Dar al-Salam means the abode of sallama (safety and protection), because true safety will be available only in Paradise. It is blessed with permanence that will not face extinction. It provides honour that will not see any humiliation and its health has no decay. According to Imam al-Asfahani, Salam and Salama denote freedom from all known and hidden troubles.(MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM)
But he alone [will enter Paradise] who appears before God with a sound [Salim] heart [protected from evils]’.
The sound heart is a heart free of tyranny and violence. Security, therefore, is related to the inner self. When God says regarding the heifer in the story of the Children of Israel,
‘Sound without any blemish’,
In other verses
The soundness implied is physical and external. In other verses, peace, security and protection have been mentioned:
‘But God saved [sallam]’; (Ibid, 8:43)
Enter them with peace [bi salam] and security’; (Ibid, 15:46)
‘Get down [from the Ark] with peace [bi salam] and blessings from Us’; (Ibid, 11:48)
‘By this God guides those who seek His pleasure to the paths of peace [subul al-salam]’; (Ibid, 5:16)
‘When the ignorant people say to them something [with bad words] they reply back with mild words and gentleness [salaman]’ (Ibid, 25:63)
‘“Peace [be upon you]!” This greeting will be conveyed [to them] from the Ever-Merciful Lord’; (Ibid, 36:58)
‘Peace be upon you as a reward for your patience’. (Ibid, 13:24)
These verses provide the proof for the first lexical meaning of Islam. They also illustrate that every noun or verb derived from Islam, and every derivative or word conjugated from it, essentially denotes peace, protection, security and safety.
God Most High has also mentioned al-Salam as one of His beautiful names, for He is flawless and free of any shortcoming. Due to its being one of God’s beautiful names, this word reflects all the shades of peace, beauty, betterment and goodness. It totally negates all forms of mischief and strife as well. For this reason, the salutation of peace is a distinctive greeting between Muslims, which identifies them as such. Whenever two Muslims meet, they invoke peace on each other, wish security and safety and deliver the message of calmness and tranquility. They also wish each other protection from every evil, mischief, violence and strife. The ritual prayer performed by Muslims is completed by turning the face right and left, invoking peace on all the Muslims.
Furthermore, a green tree is another meaning of the word Islam. The two famous Arabic lexicons, Lisan al-Arab and Tahdhib al- lugha, quote the saying of Imam Abu Hanifa:
‘Al-Salam is a magnificent evergreen tree’.
The Imams of the Arabic lexicons maintain that calling an evergreen tree al-salam is based on the linguistic meaning of the word. It is a tree safe from decay and the vicissitudes of autumn, so it is called al-salam. According to Ibn Barri, this tree is called salm and salam is its plural form. It is so named because it is evergreen and shady. This implies that everything providing shade, benefit, peace and security will be conceived as silm, salm and salam. Moreover, a ladder is called sullam in Arabic. According to al-Zujaj,
‘A ladder is called sullam, because it takes one safe and sound wherever one wants to climb’.
All other methods of climbing without a ladder or staircase, like jumping, would end up in some fall, injury or even loss of life. However, by taking a ladder to climb, one becomes safe and protected from threats and dangers. As it provides safety and protection, a ladder is called sullam in Arabic. There is a mention of a ladder in the Quran as well:
‘[They should seek] some ladder [climbing up] to heaven’. (Quran 6:35)
According to Ibn Manzur, the author of Lisan al-Arab,
Al-Sullam means a large bucket’.
A bucket is a means of fetching water from a well, and before the advent of machines, people would draw water from wells by means of buckets. But why is a bucket called al-Sullam? It is because people quench their thirst by drawing water with its help. The needy fetch water and take it home to store for use. In the old days, people used it for water required for ablution and bathing. Due to its usefulness and life-giving utility, it has been given the name al-Sullam. Water is the fountainhead of life, irrigation, coolness, calm, pleasantness, vegetation and greenery. The means of fetching it, therefore, is called al-Sullam because it is a means of peace and survival.
The lexical and literal meanings of the word Islam illustrate that it inherently means peace, security, protection, safety and safeguard. In other words, Islam implies safety from violence and killing and also means protection and security. There is no room in Islam for strife, mass murder, destruction, anarchy and chaos. That is why all its aspects negate extremism and terrorism. Consequently, it guarantees prosperity, betterment, positive progress, peace, security, protection and development. Therefore, a person exhibiting conduct contrary to the basic meaning of the word Islam has no link at all with din.
In addition to the Quranic verses, there are prophetic traditions that emphasize the lexical meaning of Islam. Abd Allah b. Amr b. al-As reported that the Messenger of God ﷺ said,
‘The Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe’.
Abu Musa al-Ash’ari also said, ‘I asked the Prophet ﷺ, “What kind of [person’s] Islam is best?” He ﷺ said,
“The one from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe!”.’
Through the reply of the Prophet a in this hadith, he has removed the objection of some people, who question, ‘Whose Islam should we accept and whose Islam should we reject?’ He ﷺ provided a crystal clear vision of Islam and said that the best Islam is of those from whose hands and tongues all humans are safe. They uphold the banner of peaceful coexistence, love, tolerance, moderation, forbearance and interfaith harmony. Conversely, if someone becomes an extremist and adopts hatred, prejudice, disunity, chaos and coercion, and kills peaceful citizens as a means to preach and enforce din, his claim to be a Muslim cannot be accepted—even if he appears outwardly as a devout worshipper— because the basic criterion given by the Prophet ﷺ to judge true Islam is peace and security.
Abdu Allah b. ‘Umar (RA) said, ‘A man asked the Messenger of God ﷺ, “What kind of Islam is best?” The Prophet ﷺ replied,
“That you serve food and give the salutation of peace to the one whom you know and the one whom you do not know”.’
According to Jabir (RA) the Messenger of God ﷺ said,
‘The most complete of the believers is he from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe’.
According to Ibn ‘Umar (RA) the Messenger of God ﷺ said,
‘The Muslim is the brother of his fellow Muslim. He does not wrong him or leave him helpless. Whoever attends to his brother’s need, God will attend to his need. If someone relieves a Muslim of a distress in the world, God will relieve him of one of the distresses of the Day of Resurrection. And if someone covers the fault of a Muslim, God will cover his faults on the Day of Resurrection’.
According to Abu Hurayra (RA) the Messenger of God ﷺ said,
‘The Muslim is the brother of a fellow Muslim; he does not wrong him, abandon him or look down upon him. Piety [taqwa] is right here [and the Prophet ﷺ pointed to his blessed chest thrice]. It is evil enough for a Muslim to look down upon his brother Muslim. The Muslim’s blood, property and honour are forbidden for the other Muslim’.
According to ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ud (RA) the Prophet ﷺ said,
‘Reviling a Muslim is immorality, and fighting him is disbelief’.
According to this hadith, using foul words and abusive language against someone is corruption, and fighting and killing amounts to disbelief; how worse it would be to take up arms and kill civilians?
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