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In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Definition of the Word Deen & the Word Islam

(Friday speech was delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of
Raleigh, N. C., on December 27,1996)

Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Imran, (Verse 19), what can be translated as, "T
he deen before Allah (accepted by Allah) is Islam". He also says in surat Al-Maed
ah, (Verse 3), what can be translated as, "Today, I have completed your deen, an
d have completed my bliss upon you and accepted for you Islam as a deen." He als
o says in surat Al-Imran, (Verse 85), what can be translated as, "Whosoever seek
s, other than Islam, a deen, it will not be accepted from him and he, in the Her
eafter, is among the losers."
The word deen and the word Islam were mentioned in these verses and in many othe
rs in the Quran. These two words are two of the most important words in the life
of the Muslims, because the guidance, success in this life and in the Hereafter
depends on two things: Understanding the meaning of these two words (deen and Is
lam), and applying this meaning in life.
Our understanding for these two words got weak because of our weakness in the Ar
abic language with which Quran was revealed. As a result, we repeat these two wor
ds (deen and Islam) with the tongues without understanding them except for a few
people who could understand them as they should be understood. So, it is imposs
ible to apply their meanings in our lives, despite our insistence on belonging t
o the deen and specifically to Islam.
What is the meaning of the word deen and the word Islam?
To answer this question, it is a must that we refer to the Arabic language dicti
onaries which still keep the meaning of how the Arabs used to understand the wor
d deen and the word Islam when Quran was being revealed. In that period of time,
there was no problem with understanding these two words by the Arabs from whom t
he companions of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) came. That generation that transf
ormed the understanding for these two words into reality in their individual and
collective lives. As a result, this understanding led them to the guidance, the
guidance of Islam. This change was the greatest change in the long history of m
The concept of deen: The word deen is used in the Arabic language to give differ
ent meanings, most importantly are:
1. Subjugation, Authority, Ruling and Having Charge
A. He subjugated people to obey. Subjugated here is a literal translation of the
verb of the word deen.
B. He has authority over him. Has authority here is a literal translation of the
verb of the word deen. In this context, the saying of the prophet (S.A.W.) reve
als this meaning, "The intelligent person is the one who has authority over hims
elf and works for the Hereafter" This means that the intelligent person is the o
ne who has subjugated himself and made himself obedient to Allah. In this contex
t, also, the past participle would be subjugated, ruled and submitted. For examp
le, Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Waqeah, (Verse 86 & 87), what can be translat
ed as, "If you are not subjugated, then return it if you are truthful". This mea
ns, if you are not forced by the will of Allah in the issues of death and life,
then return the soul to the body after it has left it due to death.
2. Obedience and Submission due to Subjugation:
3. The Method and the Habit:
4. Punishment, Reward and Judgment: The Arabs had a saying, which implies t
he following: you are treated the same way you treat others.
These four linguistic meanings constitute the concept of the word deen in the Qu
ran where it implies a comprehensive system of life that is composed of four part
1. The rulership and the authority belong to Allah (S.W.T.).
2. The obedience and submission to this rulership and authority by those wh
o embraced this deen.
3. The comprehensive system (intellectual and practical) established by thi
s authority (Allah).
4. The reward given by this authority (Allah) to those that followed the sy
stem and submitted to it and the punishment inflicted upon those who rebel again
st it and disobey it.
Based on this definition of deen, we can summarize that deen is a submission, fo
llowing and worship by man for the creator, the ruler, the subjugator in a compr
ehensive system of life with all its belief, intellectual, moral and practical a
After understanding this definition of the Arabic word deen, we realize that it
is wrong to translate it to the English with the word "religion". Furthermore we
do not need anyone to come up with a definition for the word deen for us- like
many of the enemies of Islam do today- But, we should take precaution and warn M
uslims against these conspiracies that are plotted against Muslims to keep them
away from the reality of their deen and distort the concept of deen or restrict
it to one aspect of life-like they (None Muslim) did with there religion and chu
rch after the French Revolution.
It is obligatory for us to clarify to the people the reality of deen in the Isla
mic perspective, also obligatory for us to implant this reality in our youths min
d so that they will not confuse the concept of deen with all these wrongful and
distorting definitions.
This is about the definition of the word deen, what about the meaning of the wor
d Islam?
Islam in the Arabic language and in Quran means total submission and obedience. A
llah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Imran, (Verse 83), what can be translated as, "Do
they seek a deenother than the deen of Allah and to Him all what is in the skie
s and in the earth have submitted willingly or forcefully and to Him they shall
This word Islam had been used in the Quran as a symbol for the deen that was reve
aled to Muhammad (S.A.W.) and Allah clarified that He will not accept from man o
ther deen even if it was from the previous divine deens. Allah (S.W.T.) says in
surat Al-Imran, (Verse 85), what can be translated as, "He who chooses other tha
n Islam a deen, it will not be accepted from him and he, in the Hereafter, is am
ong the losers." This meaning is emphasized by the saying of the prophet (S.A.W.
) when he said, "By whom my soul is in His hand, if one, Jew or Christian, heard
of me, then died and he/she did not believe in that which I was sent with, then
they are from the dwellers of Hell fire." (Reported by Imam Muslim)
Islam is a divine system, with it Allah (S.W.T.) sealed all other deens, and mad
e it a comprehensive system that deals with all aspects of human life (Belief, i
ntellectual, moral and practical) and this system is based on total submission t
o Allah (S.W.T.) alone and no one else and purifying worship to Him, and adoptin
g all that is authentic from the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.).