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The Meaning of the Word Prophet

Jerald F. Dirks explains that, in English, the word "Prophet" and its derivatives such as “prophecy” and “prophezise” are derived from the Greek word "Prophetes". It was taken from the Hebrew and Arabic translation “nabi” (of which it rooted from the Akkadian language “nabu’), which means “to call”, “to announce”, and “to speak”. Hence, the definition of “Prophet” is a person who announces or conveys the Lord’s revelations or messages, in other words, a person who speaks on behalf of the Lord of the Universe.

A Prophet is someone that delivers news from “Heaven” to mankind, which can be news from the past, present and future. All “Heaven news” conveyed by a Prophet is regarded as Prophetic (nubuah ); prophesying about something that will happen in the future, regardless he may not be witness, experience or fulfil it himself. Such as prophecies (nubuah) can be found in the Scriptures (Torah-Bible) as well as in the Qur’an.

The Meaning of the Word Muslim

In Arabic grammar, the term “Muslim” is a form of isim fa'il (the subject) of the verb “aslama-yuslimu-islāman”, which means to submit and surrender. Therefore, in this context, the subject is addressed to any being that aslama (submissive; obedient) to His legal system. Therefore, “Muslim” is a title given for any being that submits and surrenders to the legal system of the Lord of the Universe. While the word "Islam" refers to the name of the din of God, which contains a set of systems and rules that serve as the basic devotion of every creature to God. In essence, din al-Islam is a legal system that regulates the obedience of all beings (particularly humans) towards God the Lord of the Universe,

One Almighty. This is the true meaning of “Muslim”, where it is not a word to identify someone who embraces the religion of Prophet Muhammad’s generation, because the terms “Islam” and “Muslim” have been existed long before the Prophetic days of Prophet Muhammad.

Rashīd Riḍā in his commentary book states that the true “Muslim” is the one who does not associate God and sincere in charity, which it disregards the person’s religions, place or time of they live. Therefore, those who declare themselves to embrace Islam as their religion but do not obey God’s laws, they will not be considered Muslims.
Please read the following verses where the Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham and his descendants as "muslimūn" (plural of Muslim), which means; people submit; surrender
Please read the following verses where the Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham and his descendants as "muslimūn" (plural of Muslim), which means; people submit; surrender :
a.                   Surah Al Baqarah (2) verse 128 and verses 131-133 :

رَبَّنَا وَٱجۡعَلۡنَا مُسۡلِمَيۡنِ لَكَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِنَآ أُمَّةٗ مُّسۡلِمَةٗ لَّكَ وَأَرِنَا مَنَاسِكَنَا وَتُبۡ عَلَيۡنَآۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ ٱلتَّوَّابُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ 

O Our Lord, and please make us submissive to You, and from our descendants a community submissive to You and show us the ways and places of our Hajj, and accept our repentance. You are the Acceptor of Repentance, the Merciful.

إِذۡ قَالَ لَهُۥ رَبُّهُۥٓ أَسۡلِمۡۖ قَالَ أَسۡلَمۡتُ لِرَبِّ ٱلۡعَٰلَمِينَ  ١٣١ وَوَصَّىٰ بِهَآ إِبۡرَٰهِۧمُ بَنِيهِ وَيَعۡقُوبُ يَٰبَنِيَّ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ٱصۡطَفَىٰ لَكُمُ ٱلدِّينَ فَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسۡلِمُونَ  ١٣٢ أَمۡ كُنتُمۡ شُهَدَآءَ إِذۡ حَضَرَ يَعۡقُوبَ ٱلۡمَوۡتُ إِذۡ قَالَ لِبَنِيهِ مَا تَعۡبُدُونَ مِنۢ بَعۡدِيۖ قَالُواْ نَعۡبُدُ إِلَٰهَكَ وَإِلَٰهَ ءَابَآئِكَ إِبۡرَٰهِۧمَ وَإِسۡمَٰعِيلَ وَإِسۡحَٰقَ إِلَٰهٗا وَٰحِدٗا وَنَحۡنُ لَهُۥ مُسۡلِمُونَ  ١٣٣

When his Lord said to him, “Submit!” Abraham said, “I have submitted to the Lord of the Universe.” And Abraham exhorted his sons, and Jacob, “O my sons, God has chosen this “din” for you, so do not die unless you have submitted.” Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, and he said to his sons, “What will you devote after Me?” They said, “We will devote to your God, and the God of your fathers, Abraham , Ishmael, and Isaac; One God; and to Him we submit.

b.                  Naming of “Muslim” has already been existed long time before the era of Muhammad. God affirms this in Surah al-Hajj (22) verses 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 made for you in “din” a narrowness— (follow) din of your father Abraham. It is he who named you Muslims before, and in this.

c.                   The confession of Prophet Joseph / Yusuf (the son of Prophet Ya’qub) in his prayer to be a Muslim for the rest of his life started in the Qur’an surah Yusuf (12) verse 101, as follows :
۞رَبِّ قَدۡ ءَاتَيۡتَنِي مِنَ ٱلۡمُلۡكِ وَعَلَّمۡتَنِي مِن تَأۡوِيلِ ٱلۡأَحَادِيثِۚ فَاطِرَ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ أَنتَ وَلِيِّۦ فِي ٱلدُّنۡيَا وَٱلۡأٓخِرَةِۖ تَوَفَّنِي مُسۡلِمٗا وَأَلۡحِقۡنِي بِٱلصَّٰلِحِينَ  ١٠١
“O my Lord, you have given me a portion of the kingdom and taught me a part of the takbir 
dream. (Oh, my God) the Creator of Heaven and earth. You are my protector in the world and Hereafter, Receive my soul in submission, and unite me with the righteous.”

d.                    The word "Muslim" can also be read in the surah Jonah/Yunus (10) verse 84, when Prophet Moses gave an order to his people :
وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ يَٰقَوۡمِ إِن كُنتُمۡ ءَامَنتُم بِٱللَّهِ فَعَلَيۡهِ تَوَكَّلُوٓاْ إِن كُنتُم مُّسۡلِمِينَ  ٨٤  
Moses said: "O my people, if you believe in God, then trust only Him, if you are truly Muslims (who surrender)."

e.                    The Qur’an mentioned the people of Prophet Lot (Luth) as “Muslim” in the surah al-Dzariyat (51) verses 35-36 as follows :
فَأَخۡرَجۡنَا مَن كَانَ فِيهَا مِنَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ  ٣٥ فَمَا وَجَدۡنَا فِيهَا غَيۡرَ بَيۡتٖ مِّنَ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِينَ  ٣٦  

“We evacuated all the believers who were in the country but found none only one house of the Muslims (who surrendered)
f.                    The story of Prophet Solomon (Sulaiman) and the Queen of Sheba (Balqis) in Surah an-Naml (27) verse 42 :
فَلَمَّا جَآءَتۡ قِيلَ أَهَٰكَذَا عَرۡشُكِۖ قَالَتۡ كَأَنَّهُۥ هُوَۚ وَأُوتِينَا ٱلۡعِلۡمَ مِن قَبۡلِهَا وَكُنَّا مُسۡلِمِينَ  ٤٢
“And when Balqis came, he asked, "Is this your throne?" He replied: "As if this throne is my throne, we have been given prior knowledge and we are Muslims (who surrender)”.

g.                   Similarly, the word “Muslim” is also anchored in the disciples and followers of Jesus, as stated in surah Ali Imran (3) verse 52 and al-Ma’idah (5) verse 111 :
۞فَلَمَّآ أَحَسَّ عِيسَىٰ مِنۡهُمُ ٱلۡكُفۡرَ قَالَ مَنۡ أَنصَارِيٓ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۖ قَالَ ٱلۡحَوَارِيُّونَ نَحۡنُ أَنصَارُ ٱللَّهِ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَٱشۡهَدۡ بِأَنَّا مُسۡلِمُونَ  ٥٢

So when Jesus found out about their denial (the Children of Israel), he said, “Who will be my helpers to (establish) God?” The hawariyyun ( loyal friends) answer: “We are the helpers of God. We believe in God, and witness that we are truly Muslims (submitting to Him)

وَإِذۡ أَوۡحَيۡتُ إِلَى ٱلۡحَوَارِيِّۧنَ أَنۡ ءَامِنُواْ بِي وَبِرَسُولِي قَالُوٓاْ ءَامَنَّا وَٱشۡهَدۡ بِأَنَّنَا مُسۡلِمُونَ  ١١١.

And [remember] when I inspired to the disciples, "Believe in Me and in My Messenger Jesus." They said, "We have believed, so bear witness that indeed we are Muslims [in submission to God]."

And (remember), when I inspired the faithful followers of Isa: “Believe in Me and My Messenger”. They replied: “We have believed and witness ( O Messenger) that we are truly Muslims (to your call)”.

It is obvious that the word “Muslim” is not a term to refer the generation of Prophet

Muhammad exclusively. However, it also applies to all Prophets and Messengers of God previously. Thus, every mu’min (believer) must not discriminate their faith to all of His Prophets and the Holy Books as he affirms in the Qur’an surah Al-Baqarah (2) verse 136 as follow :
قُولُوٓاْ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡنَا وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَىٰٓ إِبۡرَٰهِۧمَ وَإِسۡمَٰعِيلَ وَإِسۡحَٰقَ وَيَعۡقُوبَ وَٱلۡأَسۡبَاطِ وَمَآ أُوتِيَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَمَآ أُوتِيَ ٱلنَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمۡ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيۡنَ أَحَدٖ مِّنۡهُمۡ وَنَحۡنُ لَهُۥ مُسۡلِمُونَ  ١٣٦

Say, ( O believers), "We have believed in God and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the Prophets from their Lord. We do not discriminate between them, and we are Muslims (in submission) to Him."

He further affirms it in the Qur’an surah Ali- Imran verses 84-85:

قُلۡ ءَامَنَّا بِٱللَّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ عَلَيۡنَا وَمَآ أُنزِلَ عَلَىٰٓ إِبۡرَٰهِيمَ وَإِسۡمَٰعِيلَ وَإِسۡحَٰقَ وَيَعۡقُوبَ وَٱلۡأَسۡبَاطِ وَمَآ أُوتِيَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَٱلنَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمۡ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيۡنَ أَحَدٖ مِّنۡهُمۡ وَنَحۡنُ لَهُۥ مُسۡلِمُونَ  ٨٤ وَمَن يَبۡتَغِ غَيۡرَ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمِ دِينٗا فَلَن يُقۡبَلَ مِنۡهُ وَهُوَ فِي ٱلۡأٓخِرَةِ مِنَ ٱلۡخَٰسِرِينَ  ٨٥
Say, "We have believed in God and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the Prophets from their Lord. We do not discriminate them, and we are Muslims (submitting) to Him." And whoever desires other than Islam as “din” - it will not be accepted from it, and He, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.

Moreover, the term “Muslim” is not merely anchored for humans, but also for everything else in this universe, the living creatures and inanimate, which always being submissive (aslama) either willingly or compulsory to His system. This is confirmed in the Qur’an surah Ali Imran (3) verse 83:
أَفَغَيۡرَ دِينِ ٱللَّهِ يَبۡغُونَ وَلَهُۥٓ أَسۡلَمَ مَن فِي ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ طَوۡعٗا وَكَرۡهٗا وَإِلَيۡهِ يُرۡجَعُونَ  ٨٣
So, is it other than the religion (din) of God they desire, while to Him have submitted (aslama) all those within the sky and earth, willingly or by compulsion, and to Him they will be returned?

In this verse, the Lord asserts that among human beings, most of them prefer to seek the living system of jahiliyah (falsehood), which is outside the system of life that has been given by Him, namely the Islamic (aslama) system; the obedience system. Furthermore, He wishes to invite humans to think and observe in their environment, where all His creatures, both in Heaven and on earth have been aslama (submissive; surrender; Muslim) to the His righteous system.

It clearly shows that the terms “Islam” or “Muslim” are words that can be applied universally. References from the verses above prove that there is a din of God or a natural legal system that must be subject to and obeyed by all beings. In fact, being obedient to this system (aslama), either willingly or compulsory creates the whole life in nature runs in a balanced and orderly manner as desired by the Creator. This obedience to God's legal system is known as the “al-Islam ” and it exists in the universe and written in the Holy Books. Meanwhile the subjects that are submissive to this system are known as “Muslim” and this term can be used for human and other subjects in nature.

All beings (other than humans) are already Muslim. We will not find any animals and plants that live on earth, or objects in the sky, such as the sun and the stars that kufr (disobeyed) to God. In fact, the only potentially disobedient creature is human. For these reasons, Islam as the din of God shall not be described as religion. It cannot be limited or narrowed down to only as a ritual -laden religion. However, din al-Islam is a life system of the truth that applies universally for all beings. Narrowing the meaning of the din al-Islam is the same as changing the function of din of God. This understanding leads to the way of thinking of secularism, where God only has power in the life of the universe (He is only the King in Heaven) and in contrast, He is powerless in the life of mankind. As a result, those who are obeyed by humans are human beings, who position themselves as kings or lords in their life (musyrik system).

This is similar to the term “Islam”, where it is always associated with a religion oriented to Prophet Muhammad, a Prophet that was born in Arabia during the seventh century A.D and believed as the last bearer of the most perfect and complete religion by his followers.

There are several arguments emerged to revise the definition of “Islam”. Firstly, in Arabic, the essence of the word “Islām” is submission or surrender. This meaning is obtained in order to recognize the sovereignity of God and enter His sense of peace (salām). Secondly, the hadith of Prophet Muhammad to show that Islam is a natural religion for all mankind (kullu maulūdin yūladu ‘alā al-fiṭrah …). Thirdly, a number of verses in the Qur’an confirm that the previous Prophets before Muhammad were Muslim as previously explained. From here, Neal Robinson, in his book “a Concise Introduction of Islam” (2001: 22-24) concludes that the core beliefs and religious practices of all Prophets are identical to what was being carried out by Prophet Muhammad.

In the Gospel, Prophet Jesus also taught about the attitude of “submission” or “surrender”. This means that Prophet Jesus was also teaching the same system obedience toward the will and command of God, the Lord one Almighty (din al-Islām). This matter can be viewed in then following verses:
Not everyone who calls me the Lord will get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. (Matthew 7: 21)

I cannot do anything on my own. The Father sent me, and he is the one who told me how to judge. I judge with fairness, because I obey him, and I don't just try to please myself. (John 5:30)

From the explanation given above, it can be concluded that “muslim” is not a term to describe the followers of Prophet Muhammmad exclusively or those who embrace religion of Islam. However, it is used to represent anything that is submissive (aslama) to the legal system of God (din al-Islām) from the time of Prophet Adam to this day. From here, it must be understood why the Lord of the Universe repeatedly stated that the only din (legal system) that He asked is only din al-Islām (the system of submission and surrender to the law of God ). Please note the Qur’an surah Ali Imran (3) verses 19 and 85 as follows:
إِنَّ ٱلدِّينَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمُۗ وَمَا ٱخۡتَلَفَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ إِلَّا مِنۢ بَعۡدِ مَا جَآءَهُمُ ٱلۡعِلۡمُ بَغۡيَۢا بَيۡنَهُمۡۗ وَمَن يَكۡفُرۡ بَِٔايَٰتِ ٱللَّهِ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ سَرِيعُ ٱلۡحِسَابِ  ١٩
Indeed, the din (system) in the sight of God is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them - out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of God, then indeed, God is swift to take account.
وَمَن يَبۡتَغِ غَيۡرَ ٱلۡإِسۡلَٰمِ دِينٗا فَلَن يُقۡبَلَ مِنۡهُ وَهُوَ فِي ٱلۡأٓخِرَةِ مِنَ ٱلۡخَٰسِرِينَ  ٨٥
Whoever seeks other than Islam as the din (system), it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.

In conclusion, the true meaning of “din al-Islam” is a system of obedience of beings particularly in humans) to God’s law as taught by all Prophets and Messengers from various nations, throughout human civilization in the past, present, and future, which has never changed either in term of aqidah (faith) or shari’a (law).

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