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In the UK, there is debate about what what the word Islam means. Maajid Nawaz claims it means peace, Anjum Choudary claims it means submission.

What does the word Islam mean?

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As a side note, neither of these men is a true representative of any meaningful community of Muslims. They are from two rejected extremes. – Ansari Aug 19 '12 at 3:33
Linguistic meaning doesn't really carry much weight. I could say cardboard and cards are philosophically similar because they're linguistically similar, but not really. – Muz Aug 20 '12 at 8:36
@Muz the way words are initially constructed by people shows their intended purpose. – Larry Harson Jan 24 '13 at 19:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

To understand these different meanings of "Islam" a very small Arabic lesson below:

In Arabic (or Hebrew) you will see that words are very inter connected and most verbs are derived from a combination of 3 Arabic alphabets called as roots letters; hence:

Peace in arabic is called "salaam" (root S-L-M)

Submit in arabic is called "islam" (root S-L-M)

So both words come from the same roots.

Analogy in English

In English we do not have the concepts of roots but,

just for the purpose of an analogy is the word "orange" which can mean the fruit orange or the color orange.

But when we talk about the fruit "orange", it also happens to define its own color i.e. "orange".


So those on either side of the debate wouldn't be technically wrong. But if you refer to the Quran, it does use the word "submit" for islam إِسْلَامُ i.e. submit to Allah. It is however sometimes confused with the greeting that muslims say which is "Salaam".

"So whoever Allah wants to guide - He expands his breast to [contain] Islam;.." (Quran 6:125)

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They both come from the same root, but what does the root mean? – Larry Harson Aug 19 '12 at 10:23
As mentioned, root is a combination of 3 alphabets. In this case S-L-M . – islam101 Aug 19 '12 at 10:32
1 – Monkieboy Oct 26 '12 at 21:17

Islam comes from the trilateral root "SLM". Like all trilateral roots in Arabic, it denotes not a single word but a family of concepts. In this case the concepts are all related to "peace" and "submission". The life of a human on earth in Islam is viewed as a test of faith against evil - the struggle between good and bad. To end a struggle, there must be submission - a giving up of evil - complete surrender to love and freedom. Without submission to what is true and good, there can only be chaos and destruction - which is the opposite of peace.

"Islam" comes from a higher-level conjugation derived from "salama".

A comprehensive meaning of "Islam" cannot fit in one word in English. A better approximation of "Islam" is:

Peace - which is achieved through the willful submission/surrender of one's soul to the will of Allah.

So whether you say it means peace or submission, both are correct.

People who are pro-Islam often say it means "peace". Many who are anti-Islam especially for political reasons - they mostly opt for using the word "submission", in a negative sense.


Just adding on from the popular Abbas Nadwi dictionary:

Islam is synonymous with the word "silm", which means peace, reconciliation, self-resignation, submission, as it is used in this verse of the Quran:

"Oh you who believe! Enter into al-Silm wholly." (2:208)

Where the word al-Silm is used to represent "Islam". I've added more detail at the end of the answer in the follow-up question here: What do the words "Muslim" and "Kafir" mean?

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