Islam and Islamic

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The word islam is a verbal noun (Ar., masdar) in Arabic for the action of submission or total commitment, usually referring to acceptance of and submission to the will of God. It is the name identifying the faith tradition and community of those who believe that there is one God and that the prophet Muhammad was God's messenger, and the person who submits is a "Muslim." In the Qur˒an, islam appears eight times. It is associated with the concept of din, which is translated in modern times as "religion" but has a broader sense of including creed, normative standards, and the whole range of standard behavior. The Qur˒an affirms that "With God, the din is al-islam" (3:19), which can be translated more generally as stating "With God, the true way is submission" or more specifically, "With God, true religion is Islam."

In the historical development of the faith tradition and community of Muslims, the term "Islam" is important in at least two different frameworks. In religious thought, one important issue was defining the relationship between Islam, identified as submission to God expressed in observance of ritual requirements and social behavior, and iman or the inner faith of the believer. In this issue, the concept of islam was a component part of the broader structure and vocabulary of theology.

A second significant framework is that "Islam" was used as the term denoting the whole body of the faith tradition and the peoples and regions where Islam was practiced. Within this context, the identification of someone as a "Muslim" gave emphasis to being a member of the community of those who recognize the Qur˒an as the record of God's revelation and Muhammad as the messenger of God, with less emphasis on the particular practices and behavior of the individual Muslim.

This usage facilitated the transition to modern usage in which "Islam" is identified in the scholarly study of this religion as one of the major religions of the world. This reification of "Islam" was similar to the processes of Western scholarly classification of other "world religions," as in what came to be called "Hinduism" or "Confucianism." Initially, other objectionable and historically inaccurate terms like "Mohammedanism" were used but they have gradually been displaced in common usage by "Islam."

By the late twentieth century, in the context of the Islamic resurgence, some made a distinction between "Muslim" used as an adjective and "Islamic." The term Muslim is increasingly identified with the existing community and the practices of people self-identified as Muslim. The term "Islamic" has sometimes been reserved for those instances where there is a conscious effort to reflect the fundamental principles and ideals of Islam interpreted in a relatively restrictive way. In this usage, for example, a "Muslim state" is a state where the majority of the people are Muslim, while an "Islamic state" would be one in which there is a formal program of implementation of the regulations and ideals of Islam. "Islam" remains the identification of the religion underlying both usages.

See alsoIslamicate Society .


Arkoun, Mohammed. Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers. Translated by Robert D. Lee. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1994.

Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion. New York: Macmillan Company, 1963.

John O. Voll