What Is Islam?


Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017

Islam was revealed 1,437 years ago, and is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion adherents. Unfortunately, the religion of Islam continues to be linked to terrorism, due to the politically motivated acts of violence committed in its name, leaving many to wonder, “What is Islam?”

It is difficult to understand and appreciate the heart of any religion in times of prolonged conflict and senseless violence. The trauma caused by endless bloodshed, whether it be through “shock and awe” bombings or suicide attacks, distorts psyches and mangles souls. The Qur’an explains that when there is chronic anger, fear, suspicion, and hopelessness, “Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind” (22:46). In these blinded times, religion becomes politicized and many of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, lapse into serving truth based on convenience. We misuse religion, individually and collectively, to serve our agenda of self-interest. Ultimately, what we are able to glean from any religion depends on our state of consciousness and our intention. The thirteenth-century sage Rumi illustrates this insight through a metaphor: a bee and wasp drink from the same flower; one produces nectar and the other, a sting.Islam is a spiritual path that is defined by the root of its name, Salaam. Like its Hebrew cousin, Shalom, Salaam means “peace” in the sense of psychological and emotional wellbeing—the well-being that comes from surrendering the ego to a higher, divine power; following the precepts of the prophets and the Qur’an; and doing our best to be God’s agents for good upon the earth.

According to a celebrated prophetic saying (Hadith), a stranger dressed in white appeared to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and posed this exact question. After an intense conversation, the visitor disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. To his astonished companions who witnessed the event, the Prophet confided that the visitor was the angel Gabriel in the shape of a human. The angel validated the Prophet’s understanding of the core teachings of Islam contained in three principles and five pillars.

Basic Principles


Surrender in Peace

Islam means “surrender in peace. Surrender is the inner journey of releasing attach-ment to the ego and making space for God at the center of one’s being in order to become a more complete and authentic human being. If we do not do this work of self-surrender (Islam), explains the Qur’an, “we shall be in the ranks of those who have lost” (3:85). Sadly, this verse is often misinterpreted to mean that Islam is the only val-id religion. But religion per se doesn’t matter to God; it is the whole hearted attempt to live in a state of surrender to Divine Will that is paramount.In the verse above, the Qur’an clearly embraces the critical concept of surrender as it has been revealed in other religions:


“We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: we make no distinction between one and another among them, and to God do we bow our will” (3:84).



Iman means faith—primarily belief in the oneness of God; the existence of angels; the revelations of the prophets and messengers who came before Muhammad (including Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus); the scriptures of the three Abrahamic traditions (Torah, Psalms, Gospels, and Qur’an); and the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an makes it amply clear that faith must be informed, not merely blind. Certainty borrowed from our scriptures and teachers is not enough (102:5); from that base we must progress to personal witnessing (102:7) and from there, to a deep inner conviction (69:51).


“The Desert-Arabs say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey God and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful” (49:14).



Ihsan means to be righteous or beautiful. “Render your innermost heart pure of all dross,” says the Qur’an (3:154), and “Bring to God a sound heart” (26:89). The Prophet cautions Muslims to especially guard against three negative traits that are at the root of all wrongdoing: pride, greed, and envy. Self-purification is not an end in itself. We work at it so that we may develop our capacity to do God’s work in the world: practicing the Golden Rule, pursuing social justice, and caring for the earth. The Qur’an emphasizes repeatedly the importance of “righteous deeds.” Whether you are male or female, says the Holy Book, whether you are Jew, Christian, Sabian, or Muslim, what assures heavenly rewards is having faith in God and engaging in righteous deeds (2:62).


“And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer—those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed” (4:124).