What the Word “Muslim” Means to Me
By Wael Abdelgawad for Zawaj.com
The word alone triggers such different reactions in different people.
The literal definition of the word Muslim is “one who submits,” meaning one who submits to Allah, believing in Him and obeying His commandments.
More specifically, the word Muslim is the participle of the same Arabic verb of which Islam is the infinitive. The feminine form is Muslimah, though a female Muslim is often referred to as simply a Muslim.
There are many false stereotypes about Muslims in the West, or one might say in the non-Muslim world in general, and also many misconceptions among Muslims themselves; but I will not go into those in this article.
Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings on hearing the word Muslim and contemplating its meaning. I am using the word in a gender-inclusive sense.
Faithful. Allah is his Master, and the Quran is the wellspring of his life. Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh) is his beloved Messenger, and all the Sahabah * (see glossary at bottom for explanations of many terms) are his guiding stars. Tawheed is his creed, taqwa his garment, imaan his cool summer rain, and ihsaan his aspiration.
Harmonized. She has chosen to live as Allah created us to live, in harmony with all around us, including nature, human beings, and the earth itself. She is plugged into the reality of the universe.
Peaceful. His manner is gentle. He is not angry or violent. He would never raise his hands except to defend himself, his family, or other innocents.
Generous. If I knock on his door, he will invite me in to his home and offer me honey tea and baklawa. He will ask about my family, and be a believer with me, remembering Allah so that his house remains a place of life. When the salat (prayer) time arrives he’ll spread the musallas and pray with me.
Kind. His eyes are soft and smiling. He shakes my hand firmly, with a brotherly openness. If I need help, offers it. He is charitable, ready to give his last coin to someone hungry or ill, knowing that it will return to him seven hundred fold, and that all deeds are recorded and nothing is lost.
My brothers and sisters. Arab, African, Indian, Thai, Filipino, Chinese, European, American, Latino, and anyone around the world who says, “Laa ilaaha il-Allahu, Muhammadan Rasul-ullah” (There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)… they are my family, my Ummah, my nation. If they are free, I breathe easier. If they are fed, I sleep better. If they are mentally and spiritually conscious, I am liberated.
Feeling each other’s pain. If she is suffering or oppressed, I feel it like the pain in my own limbs. If she is sad, lonely or confused, I do whatever I can to guide and help. I can never ignore her agony, any more than I could ignore a sliver in my own eye.
Friends, compatriots. When I see him, I feel comfortable and at ease, whether I know him or not. I greet him with “As-salamu alaykum” and I smile. I can engage him in conversation, even if I know nothing about him. I know his language no matter what it is. If he tells me something good I say ma-sha-Allah. If he mentions some blessing or favor in his life, I say Alhamdulillah. If he mentions something he hopes to do, I say Insha’Allah. We understand one another.
At home in Allah’s house. He can walk into a masjid anywhere in the world and feel at home. He can perform wudu’, prostrate himself to Allah, take a copy of the Quran off the shelf and read it, stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer with strangers, and feel a sense of rightness and belonging.
An Islamic worldview. She shares my world view and cultural understanding, no matter her nationality or race. She knows that this life is only a test, a moment of frenzy between a sleep and a sleep, like a desert flower blooming and wilting in a single afternoon. She knows that the aakhirah is the home that calls; her heart is filled with hope and fear of Judgment.
She steps out of her door each day and does the right thing, because that is her covenant with Allah, and because she loves to do good. She sees the signs of Allah in the miracle of a hummingbird or the majesty of Mt. Kilimanjaro; in the swirls of her fingertips, and in the knowledge of Allah that lives in her heart.
Pursuing excellence. Doctor, teacher, farmer, engineer, human rights worker, taxi driver, tour guide, seamstress, Olympic athlete. Striving for excellence in all things as a matter of worship and a way of life. Truth-telling, fair, sincere in business and in love.
Family. Mother, father, giddo (grandpa), nena (grandma), niece, nephew, cousin, wife, daughter, son. Respecting their elders, kind to their youth. Full of love like the sunrise. Embracing like the warm Mediterranean. Laughing like light on the water. Supporting like the granite of the earth.
Seeker and guide. Da’iyy, Imam, Quran reciter, submitting in prayer, fasting in Ramadan, performing the Hajj. A voice calling in the darkness. Footsteps to follow in the sand. A bringer of truth. Promoting good and forbidden evil, with the hand, the tongue or the heart.
Patient and grateful. Striving her utmost but never trying to force the outcome because the end belongs to Allah. Never giving up; patient; strong.
If she has suffered, if she has been beaten or abandoned, if she has been hungry or confused or lost, she comes through it stronger, knowing that Allah is on her side.
If she has been blessed to live in wealth and ease, to have a loving family, rich food, tailored clothing and a beautiful home, then she thanks Allah, knowing that everything she has is a blessing and a trust from Him, and knowing that the way to show thanks is to give and share.
No matter what, she is humble before Allah, never arrogant, never looking down on others.
Standing up. He is concerned that the image of his religion has been hijacked by a few extremists, and by those who practice ignorant cultural traditions. He stands up for human rights, freedom, and the dignity of all human beings. He stands against terrorism in all forms, against oppression of those who follow other religions, and against “honor killings”, racism, female genital mutilation, intolerance, and destruction of churches or monuments of other religions.
Suffering. Battered by war. Torn by sectarian strife. Oppressed by tyrants and dictators. Invaded by foreign powers. Massacred. His land stolen, his homes and farms bulldozed, his holy places demolished, his leaders arrested, his people driven from their ancestral homes.
Starving. Politically imprisoned. Tortured by his own nation’s police, tortured by foreign invaders.
Crying out for freedom, struggling valiantly, never giving up, never accepting subjugation, never submitting to anyone but Allah.
Submitting to Allah.
What does the word “Muslim” mean to you?
Glossary of Terms:
- Aakhirah – the eternal life herafter, the life after our worldy death.
- Alhamdulillah – “Praise be to Allah.” Something Muslims say to thank Allah for any good thing, large or small. Also, what a Muslim says when he sneezes.
- As-salamu alaykum – “Peace be upon you.” The greeting of Muslims.
- Baqlawa – a Middle Eastern sweet with honey and nuts.
- Da’iyy – a caller to Allah. One who works to propagate Islam by preaching and setting a good example.
- Ihsaan – perfection or excellence. Showing one’s inner faith in action.
- Imam – a Muslim prayer leader, community leader or scholar. Not to be confused with Iman.
- Imaan or Iman – faith or belief, a state of being made up of more than 70 parts which consist of all kinds of virtuous behavior.
- Insha’Allah – “If Allah wills.” Something Muslims say when discussing future actions.
- Ma-sha-Allah – “What Allah has willed.” Something Muslims say when praising something good, or sometimes just as a way of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”
- Masjid – a mosque, a Muslim house of worship.
- Musalla – place of prayer. Also used for small prayer rugs that many Muslims use.
- Sahabah – the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
- Taqwa – consciousness of Allah in all one’s actions.
- Tawheed – the Oneness of Allah, and belief in that principle.
- Wudu’ – the ritual ablutions or washing up that a Muslim performs before prayer.