"Islam means entering into salm, and salm and salim both signify peace. Both these words are used in the sense of peace in the Koran (2:208 and 8:61). The Koran says: "And Lord, make us submissive to Thee" (2:128). The word Islam does not only signify submission, it also signifies entering into peace, and the Muslim is one who makes his peace with God and man. Peace with God implies complete submission to His will in the sense in which it is used in the phrase aslama wajha hu li'Allahi, i.e., He has submitted his face to God. Islam is derived from aslama, occurring 22 times in the Koran, which means submitting oneself, thus Islam signifies the religion of entire submission to God. The word Islam is used eight times in the Koran, while the word Muslim occurs 42 times, means one who submits. Among the eight Koranic verses, three of them (6:125, 61:7 and 38:22) stress the Islamic quality of interiority, three (5:3, 3:19 and 3:85) stress the connection of Islam with din, and two (9:74 and 39:17) condemns the unbelief of those who had made a profession of faith.
In defining the lexical meaning, Ibn al-Anbari (d. 328/939) said, “Islam means making one’s religion and faith God’s alone” (cf. Tafsir al-Kabir, 1:432). This definition agrees with that given of Islam by the Prophet. He was once asked, “What is Islam?” and he replied, “It consists in giving your heart solely to God and in making Muslim safe from your tongue and hand.” On another occasion, the Prophet said, “Islam is external faith belongs to the heart” (Masnad, 3:134).
Islam is the last of the great religions. Not only the last, it is an all-inclusive religion which contains within itself all past religions. The Koran says of Abraham: “When his Lord said to him, ‘submit’ (aslim), he said: I have submitted (aslamtu) to the Lord of the worlds”
And in this way, too, God said: “The true religion with God is Islam (submission to God),” and in this way also Joseph prayed: “O make me to die in true submission (musliman), that is to say, “Make me one of those who submit themselves to what pleases Thee.” Moreover, God says to the Prophet: “You will not make anyone listen to you except those who believe in Our signs and thus are submissive (muslimun), that is to say, they who yield to truth and submit to it. And finally, “By which (Torah) the Prophets who had submitted themselves (aslamu) to the Lord gave judgment.” Noah said to his people: “If you turn from me, I have not asked you for any reward. No wages are due to me except from God, and I have been commanded to be of the muslimun (those who submit)” (10:72).
The Koran says of Abraham: “Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian, but he was a man of pure faith, musliman (submitting to God): certainly he was no idolater” (111:67). While Abraham and Ismael were raising up the foundation of the Kaba, they prayed: “Accept this from us Lord, for You are indeed the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. Our Lord, make us muslimaini (submissive) to You, and of our offspring a nation muslimah (submissive) to You, and show us our holy rites and turn to us. You are indeed the Oft-Turning, the Merciful” (2:128). Abraham and Jacob did not omit to enjoin their sons to be submissive: “Abraham charged his sons with this, and Jacob likewise: My sons, God has chosen for you the religion – see that you die not except as muslimun (submitting to Him) (2:132). And when death came to Jacob he was anxious to depart to his Lord feeling reassured about his sons, so he asked them: “What will you serve when I am gone? They replied: We will serve your God and the God of your forefathers, Abraham, Ismael and Isaac – the One God - to Him we are muslimun (submissive) (2:132-3). Moses said to his people: “If you believe in God, my people, put your trust in Him if you are truly muslimun (submissive to Him) (10:84). Joseph turned to God in gratitude and prayed: “Lord, You have given me to rule, and You have taught me the interpretation of dream. Originator of the heavens and earth, You are my Protector in this world and in the next! Make me die musliman (in submission) and join me with the righteous” (12:101). And God inspired Jesus’ apostles: “Believe in Me and My messenger. They said: We believe – witness that we are muslimun (submissive) (5:3). And when Jesus perceived his people’s unbelief, he asked them: “Who are my helper in the cause of God? The apostles replied: We are the helpers of God – we believe in Him: witness that we are muslimun (submissive)” (3:52).
In sum, it clearly indicates that the naming of followers of Islam in the present era as Muslims is seen to have taken place long before their time. Here is another Koranic verse which, referring to Abraham, specifies certain aspects of the mission which God has laid upon the shoulders of the Muslim nation, in which there is a Divine directive which should be the motto of every Muslim: “And struggle for God as is His due, for He has chosen you, and has laid on you no impediment in your religion, being the creed of your father, Abraham. He named you Muslims in former times, and in this the Messenger may testify against you, and you may testify against your fellow-men. So keep up the prayer, pay the alms-tax and hold fast to God: He is your Protector, and Excellent Protector, and an Excellent Helper.” (22:78)
God addressed the Prophet: “Say: It is revealed unto me that your God is One God – will you submit to Him?” (21:108). He is also commanded when addressing the ahl al-kitab to say to them: “Oh People of Book! Come now to a word that is common to both of us, that we serve none and we associate none with Him and do not take any from among us as lords apart from God. And if they turn away say: Bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3:64)
In another verse God delineates the true believers and true Messenger, indicating in passing the difference between belief and unbelief: “No mortal to whom God has given the Scriptures and whom He has endowed with judgment and prophethood would say to men, ‘Worship me instead of God’ but rather, ‘Be God-orientated, for you have studied and taught the scriptures.’ Nor would he order you to serve the angels and the prophets as your gods: what, would he order you to disbelieve after you have submitted” (3:79-80). Thus in a general, all-embracing way, God explains the nature of religious beliefs, in the form of a rhetorical question: “Who is there that has a better religion than he who surrenders himself entirely to God, doing good” (4:125).
From all these verses we come to realize that the essence of Islam in the sphere of belief is surrendering oneself to God, which means, in the first instance, believing in the Unity of God and then that the Unity of God demands that we worship none but Him. It implies that we equate nothing with Him. It demands further that we must be entirely God-orientated, turning to Him alone, and putting our sole hope and trust in Him.
It follows, therefore, that Islam or self-surrender, is the path of guidance. The Koran says: “Whomsoever God desires to guide, He expands his breast to Islam” (6:125) and “And he whose breast has been expanded to Islam receives light from his Lord” (39:22).
Submission to God is explained by Him through the examples of the Prophet, whom he addressed in the Koran: “Say: My prayer, my ritual sacrifice, my living, my dying – all belong to God, the Lord of all being. No peer has He. Thus I have been commanded, and I am the first of those who submit” (6:162).
It follows, therefore, that the word “Islam” is the perfect definition of “Religion” and it also follows that the proposition: “Verily the true religion with God is Islam” (3:19) is equally exact. The next proposition, which is based on this, is again undoubtedly exact: “Whosoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers” (3:85).
Whoever rejects “submission to God” rejects “religion” itself. The Koran speaks of a group of sincere followers from among the People of Book who, as soon as the Koran was read to them, declared that they were indeed Muslims and that they had in fact been Muslims before the Koran had come to their attention: “We have sent Our word to them, so that they may be reminded. Those to whom We gave the Scriptures before this believed in it, and when it is recited to them, they say, ‘We believe in it; surely it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before it was revealed we had surrendered.’ Those shall be given their recompense twice over” (28:51).
The logical conclusion from this, therefore, is declared by the Koran itself: “He has ordained for you as religion that with which He charged Noah and that which We have revealed to you, and that with which We charged Abraham, Moses and Jesus, saying: Observe this faith, and be not divided regarding it; but that to which you call them is unacceptable to the idolaters. God chooses for Himself whom He will; and guides to Himself those who repent” (42:13).
Similarly, the Prophet is addressed in the Koran: “Say: We believe in God and that which has been sent down to us, and sent down to Abraham and Ismael, Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and the prophets of their Lord; we make no distinction between them, and to Him we surrender” (3:84).