“The religion before Allah is Islam (submission to his will): nor did the People of the Book dissent there from except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them. But whoever disbelieves the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account.” the Qur’an, The Family of Imran (Aal-i Imran); 19 (3: 19)
Religion means “the return in the form of a reward or a punishment” and it expresses the relation between the obedient and the leader who possesses power. As a term, several definitions of religion has been made. There are some basic differences between the definitions of the Western (European) scientists and Muslim scholars. Still, there are serious differences between the opinions of both regions about the source of the religion and its primary way of occurrence.
According to the Islamic opinion, religion means the whole of the rules that guides man so that he will live in accordance with the purpose he was created for and so that he will realize that purpose in a certain discipline. Religion is a foundation regulating the relationship based on the holy commandment and domination of one side and the obedience and adherence of the other side, but it is comprehended from that verse that according to the Qur’an, the value of religion and devoutness is conditioned to be based on a voluntary submission. In other words, according to the Islamic comprehension, religion is a foundation that directs the men of understanding to good (deeds) and happiness with their own desire and will, and a Divine law regulating the acts of men based on their own choice.
That verse is the first place the word Islam was mentioned in the Noble Qur’an. The dictionary meaning of Islam is “to be devoted to, to obey, to submit and to be in soundness and peace”. As a term, Islam means “accepting with all one’s existence all of the things Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) declares in behalf of the religion and being in a submission manifesting it”. The name of the true religion the Prophet set forth is Islam. Still, in Arabic, Islam is an infinitive that expresses submission to that religion. A person attached to the religion of Islam is expressed as Muslim in Arabic and as musalman in Persian language. In Turkish, the words Islamiyet and Muslumanlik are used for that religion and the word musluman is used for the person attached to that religion.
There is a strong relation between the dictionary meaning and term meaning of the word Islam. According to the Islamic comprehension, religion is a law supplying agreement by preventing disagreements and contentions among the creatures possessing will and intelligence. Religion expresses the agreement not only among the people but also between the people and Allah. In this way, conformity between the will of the Creator and the wills of the creatures is supplied.
Since all heavenly religions are based on the oneness of Allah, the religion of Islam that the Prophet Muhammad notifies and the other religions declared by other prophets are basically the same. Nevertheless, according to some Muslim scholars, the expressions such as the religion of Islam and Islamic community can only be used for the religion the Prophet Muhammad set forth and for its members. Even though Islam agrees with the previous true religions fundamentally, that religion has some specific attributes and some specific decrees peculiar to the community attached to it. According to another group of scholars, it is also possible for the previous heavenly religions to be called as Islam. According to them, in the Noble Qur’an there are several verses supporting that opinion: the declaration of the answer of the apostles of Jesus as “Testify that we are Muslims”, the statement about Abraham as “He was a hanif Muslim” and again giving place to a general qualification such as “He dubbed you the name ‘Muslims’ before and also now” are the examples of that. According to the persons having opposing opinions, those kinds of descriptions are related to the prophets.
In our opinion, in the heavenly books except the Noble Qur’an, a religion name was not mentioned for the followers of those books and if we consider that the names such as Judaism and Christianity arose later and they were the names assigned to their followers afterwards, the meaning of the expression “Verily, the religion before Allah is Islam” can be understood easily. Although the religion declared by Prophet Muhammad has specific rules, insistently mentioning of the Qur’an’s feature of approval of the declaration of the previous prophets shows that what they proclaim is fundamentally within the sphere of Islam; however, in accordance with the Divine wisdom, the most perfect way of those doctrines can only be reached through the sending of Prophet Muhammad.
In that case, the only way to achieve the consent of Almighty Allah is to believe in all things He proclaims. According to that, starting out from the facts, although other religion names can be mentioned in order to express the certain parties, the truth seekers’ agreement within the limits Almighty Allah approves is the ultimate aim and it is unavoidable for the period desired for the Divine declarations to reflect to the mind and the conscience of humanity. The Islamic scholars expressed that comprehension as “the complying community” and “the invited community”; the first one expresses the people who present the will of submission to what Prophet Muhammad declared actually and clearly; and the second expresses the potential group who are not at that level but in the reflection period mentioned above. Therefore, by comparing with the names such as “Jewishness” and “Christianity”, some Western authors’ calling Islam with a restricting name as “Muhammadism” is not appropriate because it is far away from reflecting the fact and it also has a feature of preventing the communication and the coalescing mentioned above.
Comprehending the verse in that way in point of the ultimate aim does not conflict with the idea that everyone who has lived in any time or place and has been able to keep himself away from attributing partners to Allah and has been able to direct his attributes in accordance with that belief can be named as a “Muslim” according to the Qur’an’s comprehension. Indeed, in several verses, it can be seen that that criteria has been taken basically in point of the salvation of people in the hereafter.
With a broad meaning, Islam (being a Muslim) expresses submission with heart, tongue and behaviors. The most important and the most valuable submission among those is the one made with heart. In the Qur’an, it is seen that the word Islam is also used for the submission which has not reached the level of belief.
The expression “The ones who were given books” has been generally comprehended with respect to the content of the expression “People of the Book”. The word knowledge is explained as “revelation and explicit proofs”. In the verse, declaration of the People of the Book’s falling into dissent just after the knowledge had come is for indicating that they were informed of the Divine declaration enough and although they have no excuse from that point, they fell into disagreement and quarreled with each other just because of their own faults and for thinking their benefits and mortal passions. Starting from the reason “Because of injustice among them”, some explanations were made that the persons implied here were the Jewish people or the Christians or the both. In the light of the historical knowledge, here, it can be said that instead of progressing in the way of peace and civilization by using the enlightenment the revelation has provided, the communities, who were addressed by the Divine revelation, excluding the common sense because of their personal desires and especially separating into religious groups based on their complicating of interests were criticized. Despite that warning, repeating the same mistake by the ones believing in the Qur’an has caused an important obstacle in fulfilling the mission of communicating the Divine message to humanity in the most favorable way and taking the place they deserve in the competition of civilization.