The following is part of a talk by Abdur Rab given at the Woodlands Islamic Center, Houston on April 30, 2011.
Who is Really a Muslim?
Islam, of course, embraces many things. But what are the main things that would characterize a person as a Muslim? The very first thing we may note is that the words “Islam” and “Muslimun” or “Muslim” are derived from the same root letters Syn, Lam and Mim, which form the root word “Salama”, which means “peace and security.” “Salama” can also mean “surrender.” We surrender to God, Who in turn has an attribute or name “Salam.” Whichever way you look at it, a Muslim must be a peaceful person by definition. Another broader definition of a Muslim is implicit in a Quranic verse:
2:62 Surely, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians, or Sabians (some Middle East groups traditionally recognized as having a monotheistic orientation), whoever believeth in God and the Last Day (or ultimate outcome), and doeth right deeds – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (See also 5:69)
This verse, which is found in two places in the Quran captures well the gist of what makes a Muslim. It is also an inclusive definition – it includes people of other communities. Some orthodox Muslims reject this verse claiming that it has been abrogated by other verses. But this is a preposterous claim! The Quran cautions us against partial rejection or acceptance of its verses (2:85).
The key things required for one to be a Muslim are:
- Belief in God and the Last Day (iwwam-al-akheri); and
- The doing of righteous deeds (amela saalehan).
The Quran provides a detailed account of what constitute righteous deeds.
A Muslim is a good and peaceful person by definition. It is righteous deeds that make him or her a good and peaceful person. The Quran asserts that a Muslim is the most civilized creature on earth (98:7). Righteous deeds involve many things. It is not simply the performance of some rituals that makes one good or civilized. The outward appearance of what we do with rituals can in fact be deceptive.
Whatever rituals we do, they cannot be delinked from what other things we do in life. In fact God curses those worshipers who mistreat the orphans, do not encourage feeding or helping the poor and helpless and refuse aid or acts of kindness (107:2-7).
Being a Muslim means that he or she should be helpful to others no matter whoever they are. Our Prophet gave refuge or asylum to pagans who sought such asylum even during war time (9:6). He used to distribute charitable items even among the poor non-Muslims.
The Quran wants us to speak nicely to others (2:83; 31:19), argue decently with others (16:125; 29:46), greet others with an even better greeting, if possible (4:86), and to be duly polite and respectful to those who are worthy of respect (2:104; 4:46; 24;62-63; 33:56-57; 58:11; 49:1-5).
- It is wrong to suggest that we have no obligation for doing justice to non-Muslims. The Quran requires Muslims to do justice even to those whom they hate (5:8).
- The Quran requires Muslims to be staunch in doing justice – to testify truly even against themselves and their parents and relatives, whether rich or poor (4:58).
- Muslims provide shelter and help to others in need (8:74); when they spend on the needy and for good causes, they are neither stingy nor extravagant (25:67).
- They keep their word (2:177; 3:17; 13:20; 16:91; 23:8; 33:23; etc.); they restore things entrusted with them to owners (4:58).
- They are patient, and enjoin on one another truth and patience (25:75; 33:35; 103:3)
- They are humble (11:23; 23:2; 25:63; 33:35); they walk in the land with humility, and when the ignorant address them they say “Salam” or “Peace” (25:63); they turn away from the ignorant, or from their idle talks, saying “Peace” (28:55; 43:89).
- They are (are supposed to be) the most civilized people on the earth (98:7).