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a. Terminology of Millah

From the language perspective, etymologically, the term “millah” derived from Aramaic. Aram was one of the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula (Yudie R. Haryono, 2002: 244). Fu'ad Mohammed Abdu al-Baqi (1981: 676) states that the word “millah” is mentioned in fifteen verses in the Qur’an, nine times in the Makkiyah verses and six times in the Madaniyah verses, and also in various contexts of discussion, which is generally associated with the Prophets, especially Abraham.

According to Al-Raghib al-Ashfahāni (d. 502 H), the word “millah”-as well as the word “din” – is a term for something that has been determined by God to mankind through His Prophets and Messengers so that people can relate to Him. In Turkish, “millet” is a term used by the Ottoman Turks for all religions that developed in the region. Even in Turkish and Persian, the word “millet” is often used in the sense of “people or nation” (Cyril Glasse, 1999: 269).

In the Qur’an, the application of the term millah generally depends upon the Prophet who carried out the teaching, for example millah Ibrahim, millah of the Prophets (Shoaib, Ishmael, and Isaac descendants), and millah Muhammad. The word millah is used in the Makkiyah verses of nine times, three of which are directly idhāfah to Abraham (Ibrahim) and the remaining six on idhāfah toward dhamīr (pronoun).

In relation to the word “millah” that associated directly to Abraham, there are at least four main reasons on why Abraham has a special place in the sight of God:

Firstly, Abraham was awarded a privilege as the God’s love, he was selected as a Prophet and leader. Moreover, many of his descendants became the chosen people of God as well (Prophets and Messengers), especially from the lineage of Isaac and Ishmael.

Secondly, Abraham is a Prophet who received ulu al-‘azmi or a special title of the Prophets who have extraordinary fortitude to spread the teachings of monotheism. (Allama Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei al, 1992: 69).

Thirdly, Abraham is the best example, a role model who was able to prove his love only to God. He was willing to leave his parents and society. In fact, he even sacrificed his beloved children for God.

Fourthly, Abraham is the taproot or main root of a vine of God. Therefore, all the celestial religions cannot be isolated from Millah Abraham. Prophet Moses (Musa), Jesus (Isa) and Prophet Muhammad are the successor generations of millah Prophet Abraham that is the din of God, the Lord of the Universe as the true path, the right living system, and a natural way of life for humans.

b. Terminology of Din

Another term to describe “millah” that often used in the Qur’an is the word “din”. This word is also commonly coupled with the word Islam. The Qur’an mentioned the word “din” in various forms, 95 times in 40 Surah; repeated in 49 times in Makkiyah surah and 46 times in Madaniyah surah. It also cites for 65 times as verbs and 26 times in possesive pronouns (ie. din-ku and din-mu ), and only three times as verbs (Muhammad Fu’ād ‘Abdu al-Bāqi, 1981: 267-269).

Moreover, in Semitic languages the word “din” means constitutions or law (Suparman Usman, 2001: 11). While in Arabic, this word is derived from the sentence ‘dāna-yadīnu-dīnan ; which means “when he accompanies, to surrender to and obey (someone)”, it also means reward and compensation, obedience, submission, power and coercion (Ibn Manzhur, Vol. 13: 170-171). Muhammad Rasyīd Ridhā (2005: 213) interprets the word “din ” linguistically as reward (al-jazā’), and also means obedience and submission that lead in obtaining the reward. Furthermore, the word “din” also means shari’a, which is a set of burden that is responsibility of a servant of God.

Imām al-Syahrastanī (w. 1153 M), states that beside obedience, submission, retaliation, judgement, the word “din” also represents millah and shari’a. Similar interpretation had also been done by several interpreters during the classical era such as al-Tabary (w. 923 M), al-Rāzy (w. 1210 M) and al- Qurthuby (w. 1273 M). Furthermore, a slightly different understanding to the rest of the mussafir (commentators) was given by Muhammad Arkoun (w. 2010 M). He interpreted it as judgement, reward, ‘urf and custom (Muhammad Arkoun, 1990: 46).

Meanwhile, according to Abū al-A'la Mawdudi (1997: 94), the word “din” has three meanings; firstly, “the honor of the government, state and power”; secondly, “submission, obedience, servitude, and submission”; and thirdly, “taking into account, prosecuting, punishing the acts”. If it is said, yaum al-din, it means “the day of reckoning” or “the day of retribution beyond”, and when it is said qaum din, it means the submissive and obedient community.

To complete the meaning of the word “din” over what we already mentioned above, it helps us to analyze the commentary of Al-Darraz (1970: 30- 31), which is according to him, based on its form and functions, the word “din” include three basic meanings, they are:
1.    Dāna–dīnan; derived from a transitive verb. This word means to have, set, anticipate, organize, force, calculate, case, reward, and punishment. In this meaning, din more connotes to the meaning of power and control, namely the right and the authority of the King as the political authorities, including the power to punish, coerce and reward.
2.    Dāna lahū; intransitive verb that is assembled with the letter lām. Here, the word “di” means humble, obey, devote, and wara'. By him, the word al-din li Allāh refers to the meaning of the above, namely that the law of God or the attitude of submissive and humble themselves to Him. In fact, this second meaning of the word “din” is no different from the first one.
3.    Dāna bi al-Syay’; transitive verb that is assembled with the letter ba', which means taking and making it as din dan madzhab, which is used as a way of theory and practice.
While etymologically, Al-Darraz confirms that din is a divine ordinance that drove sensible people, on their own accord, to the happiness of the world and Hereafter. The same interpretation was also expressed by Yusuf al -Qaradawi (1997: 16). This understanding is consistent with the notion of din is shari’a as proposed by Rasyīd Ridhā and al-Syahrastāni above.

Furthermore, similarities and relations between the meaning of din and millah can be seen from several verses of the Qur’an as follows:

a.              Surah al-An’ām (6) verse 161:

قُلۡ إِنَّنِي هَدَىٰنِي رَبِّيٓ إِلَىٰ صِرَٰطٖ مُّسۡتَقِيمٖ دِينٗا قِيَمٗا مِّلَّةَ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَ حَنِيفٗاۚ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِينَ  ١٦١

 Say, “My Lord has guided me to a straight path, the right din (religion), the millah (path) of Abraham the true believer, who was not a musyrik.”

The verse above describes firmly that what is meant by God with the term shirāth 

al-mustaqīm (the straight path; the way of truth) it is din al-qayyim; the right living system, namely millah Abraham . It also confirms that the meaning of the word “din” is qual to “millah”. This Millah Abraham, which was then also taught by God to Prophet 

b.              Surah al-An’ām (4) verse 125 :

وَمَنۡ أَحۡسَنُ دِينٗا مِّمَّنۡ أَسۡلَمَ وَجۡهَهُۥ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحۡسِنٞ وَٱتَّبَعَ مِلَّةَ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَ حَنِيفٗاۗ وَٱتَّخَذَ ٱللَّهُ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَ خَلِيلٗا  ١٢٥

And who is better in din (religion) than he who submits himself wholly (aslama) to God, and is a doer of good, and follows millah Abraham the truth? God has chosen Abraham for His favourite.

c.               Surah al-An’ām (22) verse 78 :

وَجَٰهِدُواْ فِي ٱللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِۦۚ هُوَ ٱجۡتَبَىٰكُمۡ وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ فِي ٱلدِّينِ مِنۡ حَرَجٖۚ مِّلَّةَ أَبِيكُمۡ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَۚ هُوَ سَمَّىٰكُمُ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِينَ مِن قَبۡلُ وَفِي هَٰذَا لِيَكُونَ ٱلرَّسُولُ شَهِيدًا عَلَيۡكُمۡ وَتَكُونُواْ شُهَدَآءَ عَلَى ٱلنَّاسِۚ فَأَقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُواْ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَٱعۡتَصِمُواْ بِٱللَّهِ هُوَ مَوۡلَىٰكُمۡۖ فَنِعۡمَ ٱلۡمَوۡلَىٰ وَنِعۡمَ ٱلنَّصِيرُ  ٧٨

And strive for God, with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you, and has not burdened you in din (religion)—( follow) the millah (path) of your father Abraham. It is He (God) who named you “Muslims” before, and in this (the Qur’an). So that, the Prophet may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So shalat regularly, and give regular zakat, and hold on to God’s rope. He is your Protector. An excellent Protector, and an excellent Helper.

d.   The statement of Prophet Joseph who left his nation’s religion and followed Millah Abraham as Stated in Surah Yusuf (12) verse 38 :

قَالُواْ يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلۡعَزِيزُ إِنَّ لَهُۥٓ أَبٗا شَيۡخٗا كَبِيرٗا فَخُذۡ أَحَدَنَا مَكَانَهُۥٓۖ إِنَّا نَرَىٰكَ مِنَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ  ٧٨
“And I have followed the millah ( din; religion/faith) of my forefathers, Abraham , and Isaac , and Jacob. It is not for us to associate anything with God. This is by virtue of God’s grace upon us and upon the people, but most people are not grateful.”

The above verses are firmly associating and equating the meaning of the word “din” and “millah”. In fact, those verses also strengthen the position of millah Abraham as spiritual generation for the next apostolate, which includes Prophet Joseph, Prophet Muhammad and his followers. In other words, all the Prophets of God brought the same teaching, in the Qur’an it is known as the “millah Ibrahim” or “millah Abraham”. All descendants of Prophet Abraham (especially Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad) followed and brought the same religious ideology that is Millah Abraham. Indeed, this understanding is different from mainstream religious ideology, which assumes that each of the Prophets and Messengers of God brought religious teachings that differ from one another.

The application of the term millah does not refer to God (millah Allāh). However, it often associated to Abraham instead. According to Al-Maraghi, this is due to the fact that Abraham is the Prophet, where his eminency and true “din” had been approved, even by the idolaters and clerics in the Mecca. In fact, the Quraysh and other Arabs tribes had called themselves as the followers of millata Ibrahim or millah Abraham. On the other hand, the word “din” often relies upon God (din Allāh). Din refers to God, as He is the owner of the ‘din ’ and also the source of the “din” itself. For this reason, God is also called as the al-Dayyān (the source and whom commands law). For the word “din” that associates with the adherents, such as in the word dīnīy (my religion) or dīnukum (your religion), it is referring to the obedience and submission of the followers (Rauf Syalabi, 2003: 47).

The name of Madinah City or known as Medina is also taken from the word din, which means a place of obedience; a place of God's laws is enforced (Hasan al-Musthafawi, 2006: 38). The city of Yathrib was called Madinah because it was the place where the obedience to God's law implemented. Through the political power under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad as the Caliph of God (the Heir Power of God) on the earth, the city turned into the central lighthouse of the world (al-Madinah al-munawwarah; the city of God’s light). Furthermore, the people of Prophet Muhammad eventually transformed into a great nation above other nations in the world, just as Jerusalem became the city of God’s light at the time of Prophet Moses and Jesus.

c. Terminology of Shari’a

In addition to the word din , another word that is also associated with “millah” is “shari’a” (law). This term derived from the basic syara'a, which means: come; the source of water (Said Al-Ashmawi, 2004: 20); the road to the springs (Al-Qurtubi, 1967: 211) to obtain happiness and safety (Hashim Kamali, 2008: 2).

According to Muhammad Ismai’l Ibrahim, the word “shari’a”, al-syar'u or al-syir'ah means something that was chosen and described by God that taken from the din to His servants. Meanwhile, according to Al-Maraghi, these words are used in the sense of divine methods or the laws of God. Al-Ashmawi reminds that the word “shari’a” has been used in Arabic long before the revelation of the Qur’an. In fact, another word that conveys the same meaning already existed in the Torah and Bible.

The word “shari’a” has the same meaning as “din” as both resemble the spring, the source of life (Isma'il Ibrahim: 266). In addition to Al-Maraghi, Imam Mujahid (d. 722 AD) also interpreted the word al-Sharia and al-syir'ah as din (millah). Meanwhile, several other experts distinguish the meaning of shari’a and din, such as Qatada (d. 736 AD) and Abu Hanifa (d. 820 CE), who argued that shari’a is a religious obligation that must be undertaken, while din is the main points of faith, for example believe in God and end of the day (Ahmad Hassan, 1994: 7).

Al-Syatibi (1341 H: 153) mentions the meaning of shari’a in a broader sense, which is the overall religious provision that governs human behaviour, speech and beliefs. In other words, shari’a is a legal provision set by God, which explained by His Prophets in regard to the rules for life and human life, to achieve happiness of life in this world and Hereafter. However, in its development, the word shari’a was sometimes used to refer and mention some aspects of Islamic law.

In practice, the shari’a is a set of divine laws that regulate relationships between human and God, human and human within their society, humans and other objects in nature that are surroundings them. These divine laws are referring to specific contexts of a true devotion; a set of rules of human devotion and rituals to God, and Mu'amalah that governs relationships between humans or other objects in social life (Mohammad Daud Ali 2004: 34-35). Since then, it further developed into a study of fiqh, which has been simplified into two parts, fiqh ibadah and fiqh mu'amalah.

The relationship between the meaning of din (millah) and shari’a can be seen from several verses of the Qur’an, one of them in surah al-Ma'idah (5), verse 48:

وَأَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ بِٱلۡحَقِّ مُصَدِّقٗا لِّمَا بَيۡنَ يَدَيۡهِ مِنَ ٱلۡكِتَٰبِ وَمُهَيۡمِنًا عَلَيۡهِۖ فَٱحۡكُم بَيۡنَهُم بِمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعۡ أَهۡوَآءَهُمۡ عَمَّا جَآءَكَ مِنَ ٱلۡحَقِّۚ لِكُلّٖ جَعَلۡنَا مِنكُمۡ شِرۡعَةٗ وَمِنۡهَاجٗاۚ وَلَوۡ شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمۡ أُمَّةٗ وَٰحِدَةٗ وَلَٰكِن لِّيَبۡلُوَكُمۡ فِي مَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمۡۖ فَٱسۡتَبِقُواْ ٱلۡخَيۡرَٰتِۚ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ مَرۡجِعُكُمۡ جَمِيعٗا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمۡ فِيهِ تَخۡتَلِفُونَ  ٤٨
And We revealed to you the Qur’an, with the truth, justifying the Holy Books that preceded 
it, and as a touchstone for those Holy Books. So judge between them according to what God revealed, and do not follow their desires if they differ from the truth that has come to you. For each of you We have assigned a law and a method. Had God willed, He could have made you a single nation, but He tests you through what He has given you. So compete in righteousness. To God is your return, all of you; then He will inform you of what you had disputed.

: 18  Furthermore, in the surah al-Jatsiyah (45) verse

ثُمَّ جَعَلۡنَٰكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٖ مِّنَ ٱلۡأَمۡرِ فَٱتَّبِعۡهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعۡ أَهۡوَآءَ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَ  ١٨

Then We set you upon a shari’ah (law) of that faith, so follow it, and do not follow the desires of those who do not know.

Furthermore, God the Lord of the Universe has similarly affirmed it in surah ash-Shura (42) verse 13 below:
۞شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ ٱلدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِۦ نُوحٗا وَٱلَّذِيٓ أَوۡحَيۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ وَمَا وَصَّيۡنَا بِهِۦٓ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰٓۖ أَنۡ أَقِيمُواْ ٱلدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُواْ فِيهِۚ كَبُرَ عَلَى ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِينَ مَا تَدۡعُوهُمۡ إِلَيۡهِۚ ٱللَّهُ يَجۡتَبِيٓ إِلَيۡهِ مَن يَشَآءُ وَيَهۡدِيٓ إِلَيۡهِ مَن يُنِيبُ  ١٣

He “prescribed” for you (Muhammad) the same din (religion) He has given upon Noah, and what We have revealed to you , and what We have revealed upon Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus: “You shall uphold din (religion), and be not divided therein.” As for the idolaters, what you call them to be outrageous to them. God chooses to Himself whom He wills, and He guides to Himself whoever repents.

If these three verses are connected, it will show that the law is actually fixed (constant ) at all times, or in the language of Ibnu Qayyim (d . 1350 CE), shari’a generally unchanged with the changing times and continues to be the law for the people until the end of time (Jamal al- Ghāzīy, 1977: 25-27). Similarly, it also applies to the universal basic values (basic principles) of God, for example, the values of truth and justice or values of sleaze and mayhem.

Ash-Shura (42) verse 13 above reaffirmed that din (shari’a; the legal system) that inherited (revealed; taught) by God to Prophet Muhammad is the din (millah; shari’a) that had been prescribed to Prophet Noah, Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, and Prophet Jesus. The basic command given to them is esentially the same, which is to uphold the din (the legal system). The realization of the God’s din establishment is the enactment of God’s law in the human life.

From several opinions about the meaning of the words din and shari’a as mentioned above, it can be concluded that the principle meaning of these words boils down to the obedience of the law, that is the rules of God that must be obeyed, where humans are only submit and surrender only to Him. In other words, there is a reciprocal relationship between two parties, namely God as the party who gives order or legal authority, and the humans, the servants as a party with surrender, submissive and obedient attitudes. An element factor that connects these two parties is known as constitutions or laws (Amin Suma, 2001: 10-11).

Strictly speaking, the meaning of the words millah, din and shari’a are in fact the same and interrelated. In other words, the essence of the legal system of God (din Allah) that was prescribed by the Lord unto every Prophet is essentially the same and is part of human nature. Is not that human nature remains the same from time to time?

Similarly to Islam, it is neither a sect nor a particular ethnic religion. Islam is a way of life for being submissive (aslama) to the system (din). Din al-Islam is a system of laws that applies universally to all creatures, which taught by God to His Prophets as a manifestation of the path of truth revealed to them. In essence, din al-Islam is a system that based on an awareness of God's will and plan, as well as the attitude of submission, either voluntarily or compulsory to His legal system.

God as Lord or King of the Universe has never taught, let alone ordered a different legal system to each of His Prophets. Although those Prophets were sent to differrent eras, nations and languages, that does not mean He taught or ordered different laws. In other words, millah or din or shari’a of all Prophets and Messengers are essentially the same and just one, namely din al-Islam: millah Ibrahim/Abraham that is hanif.

Questions arise, why do the majority of experts still discriminate against the shari’a of God’s Prophets? Why does God the All -Knowing of everything about humans has to work repeatedly to revise and amend His own laws through a new Prophet at different times? What happens with humans who live in the future, who will be more advanced and developed in technologies than 14 centuries ago? Indeed, these understandings are inappropriate for God, He knows everything of what will happen today, tomorrow and the future.

In our opinion, this perception is due to, firstly, the interpretation of hatred and absolute claims from each religion and ethnicity that are still behind their understanding. Secondly, it was influenced by the theory of religious evolution Edward Burnett Tylor’s (2011), which asserts that religion develops along with human evolution, as in Charles Robert Darwin’s Theory (d. 1882 CE). Thirdly; the textual interpretation on the surah al-Maidah (5) of verse 48, “ ... For every nation among you, We have a signed a law (shari’a) and a bright path...”

In term of manifestations of (partial) religious laws, particularly for divine religions, there are indeed many differences (points of dispute). Even in internal of Islam religion itself also has various different law manifestations that are different to one another. This is nothing else because of the different interpretations or mazhab among them. However, the main focus of this defence is the fact that the basis and essence of God’s law is universal, which never changes due to changing times and places. That is why, whenever the Lord of the Universe sent His Messenger, the commandment is basically to rebuild the "Kingdom of God" on earth as a means to establish the din (legal system) in all aspects of living and the life of mankind, so that every human being remains in their fitrah as a servant of God the Creator, the Lord of the Universe.

In conclusion, Millah Abraham (Millah Ibrahim) is the true pathway of the One Almighty God, the Lord of the Universe, which is a concept and way for a just legal system, to realize a peaceful and prosperous life on earth. Millah Abraham is in fact what is known as the Din al-Qayyim, din al-Islam Hanif (the pure Islamic system).

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