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
    Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 3:33
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    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
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 8:36
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    @Muz the way words are initially constructed by people shows their intended purpose. Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 19:04

4 Answers 4


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? Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 10:23
  • As mentioned, root is a combination of 3 alphabets. In this case S-L-M .
    – islam101
    Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 10:32
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    – Mr. Mr.
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 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?


The above is the proper English rendering with support of Quran 2:208 that defines what the word Islam means and implies in the "Arabic text". In Arabic we would say "al-islamu assilmu or al-islamussilmu which means Islam is Silm

Edward William Lane - Arabic Lexicon, the world's leading lexicon on classical Arabic defines the arabic word "silm" as follows http://www.tyndalearchive.com/tabs/lane/ Lexical Meaning of the Arabic word Silm

In the Arabic language there are about 6 words that mean submission, however each of them have different implications defined by their derived root words and only one of them implies "peace". The root SLM or salima/salama has been already mentioned above. The English word "submission" has a negative implication in the English language and western culture. It's the same with the word "slave" translated from the Arabic "'abd" rather than "servant" in the context of Islamic teachings.

The problem is that many translators whose native tongue is not English that are not experienced or familiar with western English culture can unintentionally misrepresent words that have opposite implications from what is implied in the Arabic language that they are not familiar with.

To conclude the Arabic word "islam" with proper implication to the original Arabic means "to reconcile in peace with God" or "to have reconciliation in peace with God". There is no one word in English to properly and fully convey this Arabic word without having additional commentary on it.


The following is the same lexicon entry of the Arabic root SLM or salima/salama in which the word islam, silm, salam, muslim are derived from. As you can see there is no implication of submit or submission defined in the root

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  • Please don't post two answers unless they're actually two different answers; if you just want to add information to your existing answer, use the "Edit" link on that post to do so.
    – goldPseudo
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 2:08
  • It would not allow me to add two links for the picture reference, however if you can merge them it would be appreciated.
    – Dimitri
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 3:26

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