What does it mean to be Muslim? Put differently, what does make one worthy of being Muslim? What role does the Qur’an play in your life and identity as Muslim?
Two most important things every Muslim must know to do justice to the Book of God, the Qur’an: who is truly a Muslim and what the word ‘Muslim’ means, what defines our identity as Muslims.
Human beings who do not know what humanity is and what the difference is between man and animal will inevitably indulge in behavior unworthy of the human race and attach no value to being human.
Similarly, people who do not know the true meaning of being Muslims and how a Muslim is different from a non-Muslim will behave like non-Muslims and will not be worthy of being Muslims.
Identity of Muslim
Every Muslim, adult or child, should therefore know what it means to be a Muslim, what difference being a Muslim must make to his life, what responsibilities devolve on him, and what limits are set by Islam within which a man remains a Muslim and by transgressing which he ceases to be a Muslim.
Islam means submission and obedience to God. To entrust yourselves completely to God is Islam. To relinquish all claims to absolute freedom and independence and to follow God’s will is Islam.
To surrender yourselves before the sovereignty of God is Islam. If you bring all the affairs of your lives under God you are Muslims and if you keep any of the affairs in your own hands or entrust them to someone other than God you are not Muslims.
To bring your affairs under God means to accept unreservedly the guidance sent by God through His Book, and His Messengers.
It therefore becomes necessary to follow only the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah. Muslims follow no authority other than that of God, whether it be their reason or customs.
In every matter they seek guidance from God’s Book, the Qur’an, and His Messenger (peace be upon him) to find what they should do and what they should not do. They accept without hesitation whatever guidance they get from there and reject whatever they find opposed to it.
Such total surrender to God is what makes one a Muslim.
Source of Guidance
By contrast, people are certainly not Muslims who, instead of following the Qur’an and the Sunnah, obey the dictates of their own reason and desires, follow the practices of their forefathers, accept what is happening in society, and never bother to ascertain from the Qur’an and Sunnah how to run their affairs, or refuse to accept the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah by saying: ‘They do not appeal to my reason’, or ‘They are against the ways of my forefathers’ or ‘The world is moving in an opposite direction’. Such people are liars if they call themselves Muslims.
The moment you recite the word: ‘La ilaha illa Allah and Muhammad rasulu Allah’ (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger) ) you accept that the only law you recognize is the law of God, only God is your sovereign, only God is your ruler, only God you will obey, and only the things given in God’s Book and by His Messengers are true and right.
It means that as soon as you become Muslims you must renounce your authority in favour of God’s authority.
Consequently, you have no right to say, ‘My opinion is this, the prevalent custom is this, the family tradition is this, that scholar and that holy person say this.’
In the face of Allah’s word and His Messenger’s Sunnah, you cannot argue in this manner. You should judge everything in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah; accept what is in conformity with them and reject what runs counter to them, irrespective of the people who may be behind them.
It is a contradiction in terms to call yourselves Muslims on the one hand, and, on the other, follow your own opinions or the customs of society or some person’s words or actions as against the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Just as a blind person cannot claim to have eyes, nor a deaf person to have ears, so a person who refuses to subordinate the affairs of his life to the dictates of the Qur’an and the Sunnah cannot call himself a Muslim.
Once Being Muslim…
No one who does not want to be a Muslim can be compelled to be one against his will. You are free to adopt any religion you like and call yourselves by any names you like.
But, once having called yourselves Muslims, you must fully understand that you can remain Muslims only as long as you stay within the bounds of Islam. These bounds are: to accept the word of God and His Messenger’s Sunnah as the ultimate criteria of truth and justice and to consider everything opposed to them as wrong.
If you remain within these bounds you are Muslims, but if you overstep them you cease to be part of Islam. To continue, in such circumstances, to consider yourselves and call yourselves Muslims is tantamount to both self-deception and deception of others.
Whoever so judges not according to what God has sent down, they are the unbelievers. (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)
The article is an excerpt from Abul A`la Al-Mawdudi’s Let Us Be Muslims.