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Who is a Muslim?

By Shad Rizvi

The Holy Quran says,

It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation);
. (Surah 22- Al-Hajj, Verse-78).
Thus, the word Muslim has been coined by none other than Allah (SWT) and
He has named some people as Muslims.
The common perception among the people of all religion, including a
considerable number of muslims, is that the muslims are those who follow
the religion of prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hf). In Holy Quran, Prophet Joseph
(Yusuf) (pbuh) says,
O my Lord! Thou hast indeed bestowed on me some power, and taught me
something of the interpretation of dreams and events, - O Thou Creator of
the heavens and the earth! Thou art my Protector in this world and in the
Hereafter. Take Thou my soul (at death) as one submitting to Thy will (as a
Muslim), and unite me with the righteous." (Surah 12- Al Yusuf, Verse-101).
Yet again, Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) (pbuh) & Prophet Ismail (pbuh) pray to
Allah (SWT),
"Our Lord! make of us Muslims, bowing to Thy (Will), and of our progeny a
people Muslim, bowing to Thy (will); and show us our place for the
celebration of (due) rites; and turn unto us (in Mercy); for Thou art the OftReturning, Most Merciful. (Surah 2- Al-Baqarah, Verse-128)
Holy Quran says again,
But We found not there any just (Muslim) persons except in one house:
(Surah 51-Al Dzariat, Verse-36).

Here, the Holy Quran narrates the incidence in Sodom and the house
mentioned is the house of Prophet Lot (Lut) (pbuh) and Allah (SWT) found
just one muslim there which obviously must be Prophet Lot (Lut) (pbuh).
When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be My helpers to
(the work Of) Allah?" Said the Disciples: "We are Allah's helpers: We believe
in Allah, And do thou bear witness That we are Muslims." (Surah 3- Al-iImran, Verse-52).
Here, the disciples of Prophet Jesus (Isa) (pbuh) call themselves muslims.
"But thou dost wreak thy vengeance on us simply because we believed in
the Signs of our Lord when they reached us! Our Lord! pour out on us
patience and constancy, and take our souls unto thee as Muslims (who bow
to thy will)! (Surah 7- Al-Araf, Verse-126).
Here, the magicians of the Pharaoh (Firaun) who were overwhelmed by the
Prophet Moses (Musa) (pbuh) and Prophet Aaron (Harun) (pbuh) pray to Allah
And when it is recited to them, they say: "We believe therein, for it is the
Truth from our Lord: indeed we have been Muslims (bowing to Allah's Will)
from before this. (Surah 28- Al-Qasas, Verse-53).
Here the people of the book, i.e., the Jews and the Christians claim that they
had been muslims before the revelation of the Holy Quran.
She was asked to enter the lofty Palace: but when she saw it, she thought it
was a lake of water, and she (tucked up her skirts), uncovering her legs. He
said: "This is but a palace paved smooth with slabs of glass." She said: "O
my Lord! I have indeed wronged my soul: I do (now) submit (in Islam), with
Solomon, to the Lord of the Worlds." (Surah 27- An-Naml, Verse-44).
Queen Bilqis of Sheba calls herself muslim along with the Prophet Solomon
(Suleiman) (pbuh).
'Amongst us are some that submit their wills (to Allah), and some that
swerve from justice. Now those who submit their wills(muslim) - they have
sought out (the path) of right conduct: (Surah 72- Al-Jinn, Verse-14).
In this verse of Holy Quran, Jinns call some of themselves as muslims.
Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the
heavens and on earth,- the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the

animals; and a great number among mankind? But a great number are (also)
such as are fit for Punishment: and such as Allah shall disgrace,- None can
raise to honour: for Allah carries out all that He wills. (Surah- 22 Al-Hajj,
Verse- 18)
Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate
themselves to Allah (Acknowledging subjection), - with good-will or in spite
of themselves: so do their shadows in the morning and evenings. (Surah 13Ar-Raad, Verse-15).
Here, the Holy Quran mentions that everything in the heavens and earth
prostrate to Allah (SWT) and are muslims.
We find that from Prophet Adam (pbuh) till Prophet Jesus (pbuh), all prophets
mentioned in Holy Quran call themselves muslims. The Jinns are muslims and
so are everything in Heavens and on Earth.
Islam is an Arabic word based on transliteral root S-L-M (Seen- LaamMeem), meaning thereby, whole, safe, intact or safe, secure, peace. 1
And, the word Islam means voluntary submission to God. And a Muslim is
one who submits or surrenders to Allah (SWT).
What does submission or surrender means? Whoever submits oneself or
surrenders oneself to anyone, loses his will and choice and does whatever
the one whom one has surrendered or submitted to, wills. The submission
has to be unconditional without any ifs and buts.
For example, a criminal is committing crimes and moving around at his will
doing whatever he wants without obeying to law and creating terror among
people. The law issues an arrest warrant but he evades the arrest. Once the
police apply pressure his life becomes miserable and he decides to
surrender. However, once he surrenders to the law, the law decides where he
will live, what he will eat, whom he will meet, so on and so forth. In fact, once
he surrenders to the law, he loses his choice and goes by the choice of the
law. The lifestyle that he chose for himself was neither good for him nor for
the society. But the lifestyle that the law decided for him was better for him
as well as for the society.
Thus, Muslim is one who surrenders to the will of Allah (SWT) - The Creator.
And a Muslim does only what his Lord wants him to do.
Dictionary listing for Siin roots derived from Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon via www.studyquran.co.uk

And, what does the Lord wants from his creation or what is His will?
Before replying to this question, let us first see where does the Man stands
vis--vis all other creations of the Lord.
Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is
between! (Surah 21- Al-Anbiya, Verse-16)
We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, merely in
(idle) sport: We created them not except for just ends: but most of them do
not understand. (Surah 44- Ad-Dukhaan, Verse-38, 39)
Allah (SWT) created this world and everything therein for some purpose and
nothing, not even an atom or a cell is out of place or useless. Its a different
story that we call our own body organs vestigial (without function) like
appendix whose functions we do not know. Or, we feel cockroaches,
termites, mosquitoes, rats, flea, bacteria etc. that we do not like or we do not
understand their roles, are all purposeless. No! They all have a specific
purpose and a very critical one at that. For example termites are one of the
few living being that can recycle cellulose, the solid part in the wood, with
the help of termite gut microbiota, found only in the gut of the termites. 2
As part of their useful role, the larvae of mosquitoes live in water and provide
food for fish and other wildlife, including larger larvae of other species such
as dragonflies. The larvae themselves eat microscopic organic matter in the
water, helping to recycle it. Adult mosquitoes make up part of the diet of
some insect-eating animals, such as birds, bats, adult dragonflies and
spiders. They also help pollinate some flowers, when they consume nectar. 3
The microbes in the bellies of forest cockroaches break down leaf litter and
other plant materials that are indigestible to many mammals. They are
pollinators in the tropics. Desert lizards feed on cockroaches. In the southeastern US, Schal notes, cockroaches constitute more than 50% of the diet of
the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, a small, black-and-white bird with
a red spot behind the eye of males. If these roaches disappeared, the birds



and lizards that feed on them would suffer, and some might plummet
dangerously close to extinction.4
Most cockroaches feed on decaying organic matter, which traps a lot of
nitrogen. Cockroach feeding has the effect of releasing that nitrogen (in their
feces) which then gets into the soil and is used by plants. In other words,
extinction of cockroaches would have a big impact on forest health and
therefore indirectly on all the species that live there.
Besides, the importance and need of the bacteria is too exhaustive to
mention here which may require a whole book of hundreds of pages. Bacteria
are useful right from within our body to the mouth of a volcano to the sulfuric
acid springs.
So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned
to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven
with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the
Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge. (Surah 41- Fussilaat, Verse- 12)
Not only did the Lord created everything for a purpose, He assigned
commands and duties to one and all. Thus, the only relation between Allah
(SWT) and His creation, including the man, is The Creator and the created;
The Lord and the slave.
The duty of a creator is to create the best creation all the times and duty of
the created is to serve the best purpose for which it has been created all the
time. No doubt, Allah (SWT) is the best Originator of the Creation, Designer
and the Creator. No matter how hard we look into His Creation, we cannot
find a fault, and, even if we do, we would indeed be limited by our limited
understanding. At times we do find few things out of place in nature. But that
is our problem, not a problem of The Lord. The Lord and His Laws are Perfect,
Absolute and unchangeable, whereas, our science and laws are always
changing based on newly acquired knowledge, new inventions and
discoveries. At one point of time our science believed earth was in the centre
and the sun revolves round it which proved wrong later on. Yet another
theory was that eyes emanate light which enable us to see. Yet again, this
proved wrong. Science has always been changing and will continue to
change. Therefore, the wise ones will always test a scientific theory by

comparing it against the Laws of the Lord. If it goes with it, this science is
correct; if it goes against it, reject this science which is going to change
We create a machine, say a mixer-grinder. We spend time, energy, money
and our limited knowledge to create it. Once created, we plug it to an
electrical socket and switch it on to see it immediately grind the coriander to
a paste. Every moment, we pray it works since we do not know whether we
have done everything right. It works, we feel elevated at our achievement.
However, if it fails to work, we try everything to set it right. But, finally, when
we are exhausted of all options, we dump it in the waste bin cursing it all the
Though, we have not created anything. What we have done is transformed
few creations of the nature within the framework and facilities of the nature
into something which we call mixer-grinder.
Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, "be", and it is! (Surah-36
Ya Sin, Verse-82)
But The Lord needs only to say Be and it is created. And look at the
perfection, billions and trillions and many more than that, and nothing, not
even an atom out of place or needing any change.
Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot
We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed
the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So
blessed be Allah, the best to create! (Surah 23- Al-Muminun, Verse- 14)
We have indeed created man in the best of moulds, (Surah 95- At-Tiin,
Verse- 14)
Allah (SWT) says He is the Best Creator and that He created man as the best
of all His creation. No doubt, The Lord is the best to create and His every
creation is the perfect creation. And even if there are any imperfections,
these imperfections are needed for the perfection of the systems, as Stephen
Hawking- the atheist British Physicist and Cosmologist, says, there is
perfection in imperfection. He rightly says that if there were no
imperfections, the universe would not have been created.5

The Lord created and assigned laws to each and every individual creation. All
these creations have no will to exercise but just to follow what has been the
purpose. Thus, the sun does what it has been doing ever since it was created
billions of years ago and shall continue to do so till it is destroyed by the will
of the Lord, every day without fail. The same goes with the plant kingdom,
animal kingdom, microbes, algae, fungi, wind, clouds, water, air, mountains,
oceans, planets, etc. For billions of years, His creation, except the man, has
been religiously doing for what purpose it had been created. They have
rightfully submitted to the Will of their Creator. They are the true muslims!
However, the Lord gave the man a will to-do-or-not-to-do. The choice rests
with man- whether he accepts his Creator as his Creator, his Sustainer as his
Sustainer, his Lord as his Lord; abide by the laws of his lord or reject them,
accept the guidance of his Lord or reject it, and so on.
Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts
wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and
having ears wherewith they hear not. These are as the cattle - nay, but they are
worse! These are the neglectful. (Surah 7- al-Araf, Verse-179)

Obviously, man would have gone berserk if completely left to its will, wilder
than the wildest. He would have long been wiped out from the face of the
earth if there would not have been guides to teach him the best way of life
for him to live a peaceful and happy life and attain the best for it he has
been created.
According to Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (pbuh), a grandson of the Messenger of
Allah, Muhammad (pbuh&f)- a divine authority over all the mankind and a
guide to mankind, if there were only two people left on the earth, one of
them certainly will be a guide from The Lord.
Thus, God created man as the best creation but gave him choice of
conducting his affairs the way he wanted. Yet at the same time, the Lord did
not let the man go unguided. He arranged for his guidance so that he is
taught what is wrong and what is right and why wrong is wrong and why
right is right. And still further, The Lord promised reward for being right and
punishment for the wrong.
Accordingly, The Lord sent teachers from time to time to teach man what is
best for them and what is worst for them, ever since man was created, and
that what their Creator wanted from them. They also taught man what is the
reward for submitting to the Will of Lord as well as the punishment for going
against the Will of Lord.

While all others of the creations of The Lord are static in nature, i.e., once
formed, they remain like that till they exist. A Lion lives in the jungle, hunts
for food, fights for supremacy with other lions using teeth and claws, and
copulates for the multiplication. And it has remained like that ever since the
man knows about it. It hasnt developed food factories, skills to produce
nuclear armaments for supremacy, razed the mountains to produce cement
and construct air-conditioned and multilevel dens for living. The same goes
for all other animals and plants.
Similarly, the sun still comes out at the appointed time and hasnt developed
skills to send a WhatsApp message that it isnt keeping well and needs a day
off or that it is stuck up in the middle of a satellite traffic jam and will be
late by a couple of hours.
It is the man that started like an animal and gradually developed mentally
(and degenerated physically) over the period of thousands of years to reach
to the level that we are today. Unimaginable would be a man who could not
read and write, could not communicate except with a few of its close group,
lived in jungle like an animal, didnt had knowledge to make clothes and
homes, hunted for food and ate raw food, traveled on foot and was totally
dependent on the nature. Thats how the man made the beginning.
Gradually, man learnt about agriculture, about the wheel, about the house,
about the metals, about the fire, tools and techniques. With the passage of
time, man developed his intellect.
According to the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (pbuh&f) Allah has
promised that knowledge will never be buried with the dead but be passed
on as a legacy. No doubt why knowledge of wheel did not get buried with the
inventor of wheel but the generations to follow picked up from where he left
and put carts, cars, buses, trucks and aircrafts upon the wheels and
benefited from his invention all the mankind.
Imagine, we grew up with a robust landline telephone which most of us used
to be hesitant of using. However, a one year old toddler can now swipe the
smartphone and use it as if he was taught its usage in the womb. Thats how
the knowledge is passed as a legacy and thats how the man has been
developing over the centuries.
The man started thinking from the level of the family to a group, then the
village, then the city, then the country, the planet and the universe. Imagine,
you are talking about 3G and 4G mobile communication to someone straight

out of the primal state of man when he did not know anything. Maybe, half a
century later when we talk to someone about 3G and 4G communication, he
would feel that we are a character straight out of the Flintstone story.
That is the reason why the Will of Lord has been changing with the passage
of time and based upon the relative mental and social development of man.
When a kid of 4 years goes to kindergarten, he is taught the basics- how to
recognize alphabets, sounds, objects, etc. If I give such a child to read
Einsteins Principles, obviously, everyone will call me a fool. Gradually, as the
child grows, he learns to recognize the alphabets, starts making words, then
sentences, then paragraphs and then the stories by the age of 8-9 years.
From kindergarten to graduation, he gets a change in his class, syllabus and
teacher based on his mental and physical development and, finally, when he
graduates, his education is complete and he is handed over the degree. He is
now fit to live a successful life. To keep pace with the world, he has to
regularly upgrade his knowledge but he remains educated.
Similarly, the Lord, Most Gracious, started the education of man in his early
days of total naivety by sending a teacher by the name prophet Adam (pbuh)
and continued with 123,998 more teachers like prophet Ebrahim (pbuh),
prophet Moses (pbuh) and prophet Jesus (pbuh) with several books of
teaching like Torah, Psalms, Bible etc.
Of some apostles We have already told thee the story; of others We have
not; (Surah-004 an-Nisa, Verse-164)
Some of the names of teachers and books we know while most of them we
do not know. Who knows Sri Krishna, Mahatma Buddha and their likes were
the teachers from God and books like Veda, Purans, Gita were the books of
teachings from God.
To every people (was sent) an apostle: when their apostle comes (before
them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not
be wronged. (Surah-10 Yunus, Verse-47)
For We assuredly sent amongst every People an apostle, (with the
Command), "Serve Allah, and eschew Evil": of the People were some whom
Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably (established). So
travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the
Truth). Surah-16 An-Nahl, Verse-36)

As already declared in Holy Quran, teachers were sent to each and every
nation (community) so that they cannot give a plea for their ignorance
The teacher who taught someone in his kindergarten will always remain his
teacher even (if) he becomes more knowledgeable than his kindergarten
teacher and his books of kindergarten he will always revere because they
gave him knowledge when he needed it. So happens with every teacher who
taught him and every book that he studied to attain his education.
Say: "We believe In Allah, 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 Allah do we
Bow our will (in Islam)." (Surah- 3 Ali Imran, Verse-84)
No reason why our Lord asks us to revere every prophet sent and every Book
revealed and make no distinction among them.
Finally, Almighty sent the last teacher, Muhammad (SAW) and Quran, the
final book and declared that your education is complete.
This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon
you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. (Surah-5 Al-Maidah,
Prior to advent of Muhammad (SAW), al-Quran or Islam, the teachers and
books were for a small community or a small nation with a limited knowledge
or message for a limited number of people. They were assigned to remove
local abominations and wrong practices or ills. For example, prophet Lut
(pbuh) was sent to Sodom to remove the practice of sodomy (as one can
make out why it is called so), predominantly, apart from providing the
general education from the God. Similarly, prophet Shuaib (pbuh) was sent
to Madyan people asking them not to give short measure and weight, and,
not to rob the travellers, besides other teachings, since they were located on
a main highway of traders from far-off places that they used to cheat and rob
In case of every teacher (prophet), Lord said that we sent them to such and
such people like prophet Moses (pbuh) was sent to Children of Israel, Prophet
Lut (pbuh) was sent to people of Sodom and Gomorrah, prophet Hud (pbuh)
was sent to Ad people, prophet Salih (pbuh) was sent to Thamud people, etc.

However, for the first time in the history of mankind, the teacher (prophet)
and the Book was sent not to any race, community or nation but to all
O Mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah. Believe in
him: It is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the
heavens and on earth: And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. (Surah-4 An-Nisa,
And to take it further, Muhammad (SAW) was not only for the mankind, but
here was a teacher who was for man, jinn, angels, plants, animals and even
inanimate objects- his (SAW) class included every creation of God.
We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all worlds. (Surah-21 Al-Anbiya, Verse107)
And, thus, God declared the completion of education of mankind and now
this (SAW) teacher was to remove all ills (illiteracy) of mankind and make
them perfect.
But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the
(Revelation) sent down to Muhammad - for it is the Truth from their Lord, He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition. (Surah-47 AlMuhammad, Verse-2)
Coming back to our education system, a 4 year old who has cleared
kindergarten, is educated at his age and the one who hasnt is uneducated.
Similarly, a 14 year old who has cleared 10 th standard is educated for his
age; 12th standard at age 16 and degree holder at age 20. However, if
someone has not cleared 10th standard even by the age 20, he is not
educated for his age and is lagging behind and, if he has stopped studies, he
is a drop-out. Just the same way, people who followed their prophets during
their period were educated for their time. And, in such terms educated
means- who have true religion of God.
Now what do we expect from a student of kindergarten? We expect that he
should be able to fully follow what he has been taught, i.e., identify the
alphabets, sounds, objects, etc. Similarly, we expect from a 1 st grader that he
should be able to make words, so on and so forth.
Similarly, our Lord willed differently from different communities and different
people at different times. What prophet Adam (pbuh) taught and brought to
his people, his people were expected to follow that completely. And, if they

followed that completely, they submitted to the Will of God. Thus, they were
Muslims of their time. Likewise, the people of prophet Lut (pbuh), prophet
Ebrahim (pbuh), prophet Moses (pbuh), prophet Jesus (pbuh), etc. who
followed their prophets during their time all submitted to the Will of God and
were, thus, Muslims of their time.
However, the moment another prophet came to the same people, they were
supposed to graduate to the next class, which everyone did not do. For
example, prophet Jesus (pbuh) was sent to the Jews with a higher education
and more advanced book. Now, every one of the Jews was supposed to
graduate to this higher education. Those who did, submitted to the Will of
God and became Muslims. But, those who remained Jews, were school dropouts and were no more Muslims now.
However, with the arrival of prophet Muhammad (SAW) and Quran came
the final and the perfect education and the syllabus. Now, every human
being was to graduate to this final class. Those who did, submitted to the
ultimate Will of God and became muslims. Rests are either un-educated or
school drop-outs.