Islam; Submission, or peace? By Shaykh Luqman Ahmad

5654757_keep_calm_and_islam_means_submission_not_peaceThe great, 14th century Muslim scholar, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani once said, “you can’t take something that is a component of something and make it the whole of it”.  Just because peace is a component of the religion of Islam does not give us the license to reinterpret the meaning of Islam to mean peace, or to say that the whole of Islam can be summarized as peace. Islam is no more or less peaceful than any other religion except maybe Christian Quakers who traditionally have been very dedicated to peace and non-violence.

Reinterpreting the meaning of the word ‘Islam’, which for over 1400 years had been understood by Muslim scholars, lexicologist, laypeople and the Prophet himself (صلي الله عليه و سلم)as submission, to all of a sudden mean peace, was a very risky although perhaps well-intended public relations gamble that did not turn out the quite the way that it was intended. This is because language in Islam and in the Quran has actionable legalities connected to it. There are distinct sharia (legal) ramifications), attached to the words and concepts found in the Quran. When you change the meaning of the word, you change the legal principle or creedal foundation that is attached to that word.  When you change the meaning of Islam from submission to peace, the actionable verbal imperative of submitting is replaced by the passive, intransitive non-imperative of being peaceful.

Being a Muslim who submits to Allah requires action. Being peaceful requires no action at all. You can be peaceful simply by remaining in your bed in the morning instead of getting up for the Fajr prayer. You can be peaceful by taking a warm bath, by watching a good movie, or taking a hike through the woods. You can be peaceful by popping a prescription muscle relaxer or a taking a dose of nighttime cough and cold medicine. In fact, you don’t even have to be a Muslim to be peaceful or to find peace and if a person can find peace without being Muslim, as many people do, then why should they bother with Islam in order to achieve what they already have?

In reality, Islam is not always peaceful and practicing Islam is not always peaceful. If we were so much at peace, we wouldn’t complain so much about how bad we’re treated, or try to make every incident of islamophobia go viral, and we wouldn’t have such high rates of depression. Think about that.

Islam is a “deen” (way of life) as Allah calls it, and if you say that Islam means peace, you’re saying that your deen is peace. Peace is not a deen unless you are a peacenik or pacifist who rejects self-defense, capital punishment, hunting, thabeeha slaughter during Eid al-Adhaa, or stoning Shaitaan (the devil) during hajj pilgrimage which are all without question, parts of Islam.  However, none of the aforementioned constitute the totality of Islam.

Nowhere in the entire corpus of Islamic law and theology has the word Islam been used or considered synonymous with peace. If it did, then it would affect about twenty issues of fiqh. Some people say that Islam is, “peaceful submission”. However,  you can’t take an adjective and apply it to a verbal noun and supplant the meaning of the noun. That’s pretty far-fetched. But then again, we live in crazy times. This is why instead of practicing Islam, many Muslims are just content on being peaceful , which for most folks, requires very little effort.

American Muslims, especially amongst many of our leaders, have a acquired a notorious reputation for not wanting to admit we were wrong, of hardly ever issuing a retraction, and for being reluctant to take responsibility for any of our failed public relations strategies. The end result being that although the lexical or sharia meaning of the word Islam will never mean peace, many of us insist on doubling down and sticking to the innovated meaning that we conjured up. So you have people trying to find round-about ways to make the meaning of peace work. Like; You can get peace when you submit, or the only peace is when you submit to Allah, or Islam is peaceful submission, or Muslims say peace be upon you , therefore Islam must mean peace, or Muslims are about peace, therefore Islam must mean peace. Or my favorite; Islam and peace share the same root, therefore Islam means peace.

Of course these are desperate, and intellectually dishonest lines of reasoning, but since we bought it, many of us are prepared to go down with it.  We could’ve simply said; Muslims are generally peaceful people, or Muslims like peace, or all Muslims aren’t violent, or something to that effect but no, we have to go all the way down the Rabbit hole and throw a monkey wrench into our aqeedah (creed) and say; Islam means peace. Period.  Funny thing though, when Muslims are in power, we proudly proclaim that Islam is submission to Allah. However, since we’ve been on the ideological defensive, we caved in an started to say that Islam means peace. We should not be so desperate for acceptance, that we unilaterally change the meaning of Islam from submission, to peace without any divine authority. Islam does not belong to us, it is the religion of Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala and we do not have the authority to change it’s meaning.  Not for Da’wah, not for the press, not for our detractors, not for anybody.

So when we say Islam means peace and then people look it up in a dictionary or a lexicon, (because people can read) and see that it means submission,  or look at the world and see that Muslims also believe in war, and participate in fighting and killing,  it catapults our credibility out the window. People don’t even bother to argue the point with us.

So if you’ve run plum out of ideas and you are looking for a way to explain Islam to non-Muslims and you feel the need to ease it on them or feel you need to keep the peace thing in the forefront , then you can simply say that peace, is one of the many components within the religion if Islam. But if you insist on saying that Islam means peace or that the entire religion of Islam can be summarized as peace, then you’re dead wrong and you’re basically misrepresenting our faith.

Islam is what it is. People who know that and understand, accept Islam for what it is, and in the way it was revealed. Such people know that Islam is certainly bigger than peace. However, people who need Islam to be something else so they won’t have to take a moral position on contemporary issues or so they won’t have to offend anyone or because they want to hold on to a failed, morally bankrupt, public relations strategy, will find a lot of utility and maybe even some comfort in the Islam is peace thing.

Look we live in a time of ignorance, so a lot of Muslims just get caught up following slogans instead of having an actual aqeeda. Obviously, neither statement; “Islam means peace”, or, “Islam is peace” are scriptural truths, or prophetic axioms. They are more like political slogans or psychological pacifiers for Muslims,  in order to deflect criticism and so we don’t have to address the real, deep-rooted problems of sectarian violence within our Ummah. Interestingly enough, non-Muslims in general, never fell for the Islam means peace line. You literally have to pay politicians and non-Muslims to say that Islam is the religion of peace or to publicly state that Islam means peace.

The late American soul singer James Brown made a song where he said, “talking loud, but sayin nuthin”. People who make these ridiculous triangular arguments to try to rove that the word Islam means peace, do just that. Saying that Islam is about peace does not mean that the word Islam means peace and mentioning that one of the names and attributes of Allah is peace (السلام) as many people do, does not mean that the meaning of the word Islam is peace either. While it is true that Islam is about peace when appropriate, Islam is also about war. In fact, Islam is about worship, about forgiveness, about punishment, about repentance, about fasting during the month of Ramadan, about charity, about feeding the hungry and about many other things in addition to peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand our dilemma.  As Muslims, we have lots of violence in our history. Since 9/11 that violence has been highlighted, targeted and attacked repeatedly. So, in an attempt to sway public opinion, and being the image conscious people that we are, we changed the meaning of Islam from submission, to peace.

One of the unintended consequences of reinterpreting the meaning of Islam from submission to Allah, to peace, is that now a whole generation of Muslim children grew up believing that the meaning of Islam is peace. So, when you present the idea of submission to them, they look at you sideways and say; “look, I’m peaceful. What more do you want?” Muslim youth, as well as many adults have abandoned the traditional practice of Islam and now strive to be peaceful and not make any waves.  Many of our youth are starting to look at peace as mandatory and prayer for example, as optional. Our kids don’t even raise their voices in public. So as we come to realize that by engineering this meaning makeover we may have embarked upon a path of moral bankruptcy, some of us might still find comfort some in the fact that we now have  some of the most peaceful, docile, malleable and agreeable kids in the country.

The meaning of Islam, is and always will be submission. Practicing Islam requires belief, knowledge, action, and in some things requires intentions (niyya). Practicing peace does not require knowledge, does not require belief, nor action, and does not require intention since it is not considered an act of worship, nor an Amal saalih (righteous deed) unless for example, you make peace between two people.
If Islam meant peace, then our religion would be something that requires no knowledge, no action, no belief, and no intention. To be peaceful you do nothing, to be a Muslim, you submit to Allah.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

These are difficult conversation for sure, and we are making huge strides in bringing these types of conversation to the forefront.

Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher, Defender if the Faith and advocate for the oppressed, the marginalized , and those without a voice. He is also and the author of the book, “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a critical look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

A White American Muslim Conference? By Imam Luqman Ahmad

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Use your zakat or sadaqa to help this homeless Muslim woman not be homeless

On the heels of the recent Black American Muslim conference held in California, a White Muslim brother recently bought up the idea of a White American Muslim conference. Wow!

At first I thought it was tongue in cheek, and for the record, I’m not for or against but come to think of it, a White American Muslim conference is an interesting idea that would certainly draw attention to a very important topic. Additionally, It would give Black Muslims and other Muslims something to talk about, and probably something to whine about,  and occupy their thoughts with. A lot of Immigrant Muslims would be in suspense waiting to hear what whitey had to say. Some of them might be appalled, others delighted maybe, and of course there are people who wouldn’t care a bit. Still, I suspect that people wanna know what the White man thinketh. Especially the White American Muslim. All the rest of us have gotten the opportunity to get our grievances out. Immigrants, Blacks, Women, Black women, immigrant women, Arabs, refugees, even detainees. Just about everyone in the ummah had an opportunity to highlight their story. White American Muslims are like the last people in our ummah to tell their tale.

Bear in mind though that when white Muslims get to telling their story, it might come with some high expectations and the pressure might be on white Muslims to come up with something that is phenomenally enlightening. Something that will catapult Islam. People still have complex emotions regarding white people and many folks still believe that the Whiteman knows best . Only Allah knows, the whole thing could be a game changer on multiple levels.

White Muslims do not feel the need to prove their Islam. At least the ones that I know don’t. They are more disappointed, frustrated, and sometimes simply flabbergasted at what many of them and not just them, regard as sheer ignorance, arrogance, and stupidity coming from the immigrant community. Of course you probably couldn’t say such a thing at a conference if you are a scholar or a high profile white Muslim. However, you get an average White American Muslim who is known but not too known and who does not have to think about future speaking opportunities and you could get some really raw sentiments. Of course the gift of Islam is immeasurable for any Muslim who understands but, there has been pain, and there has been damage and there has been disappointment as well as a few other surprises for many white people who converted to Islam.

The many anecdotal accounts of how some white Muslims have been treated and how they fared as a minority within a minority within another minority, while being a part of the majority (white), are similar and follow the same patterns so there probably are only so many story variations about white Muslim suffering and disappointment that you could tell. But the stories of White American Muslins are real nevertheless and part of our sojourn. Interestingly enough, white Muslims tend not to be racist towards Blacks at all. By the time they come into Islam, they’ve morally outgrown most if not all of the standard varieties of white bigotry that we’ve all grown accustomed to in this country.

The perspective of white American Muslims especially with respect to where how they were treated had a lot to do with their being white American Muslims, is important in ways that a lot of people may not even realize at the moment. Many stories have been told but because the issue of the White American Muslim has only recently come out in the open, there are at least a half a dozen ways you could direct this conversation. Correspondingly you would in turn, get quite an assortment of responses across the board, if you’re talking about a conference. It could be anything from, a’oothu billaah! to astaghfirullah! to ho-hum…, to ma sha Allah, to subhaana Allah! , to yeeee-haaaa! Al-humdu lillaah!

I’m a Muslim but I’m not white, I haven’t internalized the stories of White American converts to Islam, and I’m not in a position to say whether I agree or not with the idea of a White American Muslim conference here in the United States, nor does my opinion matter. It was just too intriguing of a notion for me not to write about it.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Important Note:

Race is a difficult conversation for sure, and we are making huge strides in bringing this conversation to the forefront. If you believe that topics like these need to be addressed in our community, then please make a donation to our organization, Mosque Without Borders  Your donation of $5, $10, $100, or more will afford us the added resources to reach more people, expand our platform, and start the Mosque Without Borders radio program by the month of Ramadan.

Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the book, “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a critical look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

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