Misconception: Islam is a religion

Background: This is perhaps the most common misconception amongst all people, including Muslims.

There are many misunderstandings about religion in general, their beliefs and practices, but especially with regard to "islam". The first key thing to appreciate is the word "islam" and what it represents. It is an Arabic word and it existed before The Quran was written and was used to describe an attribute, an action, a state of being: self-surrender or to make peace. It comes from the verb "aslama" meaning 'to give over'. A "muslim" is simply one who is in "islam" (i.e. one who surrenders or makes peace).
It should be noted that this word had no religious connotation and was not a title of something, even though it has come to be used as a title these days. According to The Quran itself, everything in the universe, willingly or unwillingly has ultimately surrendered to God, thus the basic concept of islam is as old as the universe itself:

Do they seek other than the system of God, when all things in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly have surrendered / given over to Him, and to Him they will be returned. [Quran, 3:83]

This is an important point to reflect upon, because many people do not realise that "islam" first and foremost is a state of being, not a title of a religion. For example, there is a difference between saying "the pillow is soft" and "the pillow is Soft". The latter could mean anything, due to the capitalised "S" in "Soft", and we would have to find out what "Soft" refers to before we understood the statement, whereas the word "soft" is self-explanatory, it is describing an attribute the pillow has. Similarly, there is a difference between saying "the person is in islam" and "the person is in Islam". The latter refers to the title of a group, whilst the former describes an attribute the person has. This attribute is present in everything around us, in the very fabric of the universe itself... it may even be present within you.

Now that we understand islam as an attribute, it becomes clear that an attribute is not exclusive to any group. For example, no product has the monopoly on being soft, many items can be soft. This is where the system described in The Quran differs significantly from religions. Many people do not realise that it is an inclusive system which promotes beliefs and actions that are not exclusive to any group, and repeatedly points this out. It is simply a continuation and completion of the same message that has been given since the dawn of mankind.

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Nazarenes*, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve. [Quran, 2:62]
*commonly translated as "Christians" but more likely refers to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, hence Nazarenes.

Say: "We believe in God and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and what was given to Moses and Jesus
and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit".
[Quran, 3:84]

The core theme throughout The Quran is monotheism: belief in the oneness and uniqueness of God, the source from which all of creation originates and the source we will all return to. This concept is closely related to a recognition of unity and oneness amongst all things with regard to purpose and direction, and when we become in harmony with our true state of being, like how every component in the universe serves the whole, i.e. God, we can be said to be in the state of islam: we self-surrender or make peace.

The system in The Quran promotes unity, and a system of governance that is just and beneficial for all of society, even if one is of no particular faith. It details an environment that allows humans to live and grow to their full potential. Shortly after The Quran came into existence, it is well documented that the Arabs excelled in all areas of science for example and spread their knowledge and governance to many countries, producing the most advanced and productive societies of the time, e.g. Cordoba of Al-Andalus.
So, how can we acheive this?

The Quran contains the same truth that was revealed in previous scriptures (e.g. the same message that was given to Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others) and considers itself as the final divine revelation to mankind. It urges people of other monotheistic faiths to return to their original teachings, and discard all the additions added by man-made laws, tradition, culture, various sects and scholars etc. Its objective and its method of explanation is that of educating the minds and changing human attitude towards life. Its aim is to strip away the inessentials, reveal our true form and bring about a revolution inside the man himself, for after all, the external material civilization is the expression of the internal spiritual condition of man himself. Interestingly, it refers to itself many times as a reminder, implying it is teaching us universal truths already present within us and around us.

We will show them Our signs in the horizons, and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is witness over all things? [Quran, 41:53]

Quite simply, it is a book all about us, discussing: our creation, purpose, history, spirituality, psyche, life's big questions, justice, governance etc. It is a guide on how to realise our potential, individually and collectively, if one chooses to seek this path. It should be read like any other book: do not read to contradict and refute, nor to believe and take it for granted but simply to weigh and consider.

We have sent down to you a book in which is your remembrance/mentioning. Will you not, then, use reason? [Quran, 21:10]

Thus, unlike religions which commonly have an exclusive nature or promote beliefs without the use of reason, The Quran repeatedly emphasises unity and promotes the use of our hearts as well as our minds. If you have read the many misconceptions about islam discussed on this site, then you will know there is a big difference between what you think islam is or what you think The Quran says and what islam actually is and what The Quran actually says.

Luckily, The Quran has been translated into many languages, and is often available to read in your local library. Even though a translation can never fully represent the original, it may be a good starting point. The following website contains links to many translations, and other resources (e.g. search Quran by word, browse by topic, listen to mp3 audio) and you can even order a free copy if you wish: www.StudyQuran.org

Or alternatively, buy it from most book stores, e.g. here. There are also many online articles and videos about islam, muslims and The Quran, but rather than relying on second-hand information, it is best to study it from the source, to the best of your ability. This would be the sincere and sensible approach.

Islam: A challenge to religion

READ - click to look up verse references