MEANING OF AL-DĪN

MEANING OF AL-DĪN

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MADINA – WORLDVIEW OF ISLAM SERIES #2

1. The Worldview of Islam Series with this first 4-hour introductory course on religion is meant to give an overveiw on the conception of religion of Islam and some challenges of the contemporary Muslim Ummah today. My framework of discussion will be based mainly from Prof. Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas works namely on Islam: The Concept of Religion and Foundation of Ethics and Morality and also Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam. For the Malay-speaking, you can also read Md.Asham Ahmad’s work on “Kenapa Islam”. I would be very happy if you can get hold of these books and read them before joining this class so that you can have a better understanding and a clearer picture of what I am talking about.

2. We have to mention from the outset that this is not a comparative religion course or as such. We also do not intend to argue with people from other faiths or religious beliefs. What we are trying to do here is to strengthen our own faith and understanding of Islam and to show how embracing Islam can be proven rationally and from the perspective of logic too.

3. We also intend to clear up any confusion among the Muslims themselves who might regard Islam is just one of the many religions in the world. According to Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, the problem with Muslim Ummah today is due to the corruption of knowledge. This corruption came from the influence of Western Civilization that has led our Muslims to get confused about their own, religion thinking that Islam is just like any other religion in this world or one of the religions. Some Muslims think that Islam and other religions are of the equal footing and of the same truth just because, perhaps,  we all Abrahamic traditions. In some sense, it is true that these three religions are originally from God, but even having that in mind, how Islam was revealed and the position of our Prophet SAW within the Muslim community for 23 years, explaining the teachings of Islam is far more superior and incomparable to other religions.

4. When we draw a comparison with other faiths, we are trying to show that Islam is the true religion and the only true. I have to make this remark because some might construe as offensive, or insensitive to religious harmony. We never intended to attack other religions but when we speak about the truth then we cannot avoid making a statement claiming that your religion is the only true religion. We are not talking like a politician who tries to please people of other faiths in order to secure their votes for elections. Nonetheless, it does not prevent us from living together in peace and harmony. with people of other faiths.  The truth of religion is an individual’s conviction.

5. As a Muslim, we do not subscribe to religious pluralism where all religions are the same, equal, and true religion. We believe only one religion is the true religion and that is Islam. This attitude is the same to believers of other faiths too for they would believe theirs is the true religion as well. We don’t have to be apologetic about this. We have to maintain or claim that our religion is the true religion and others are not, however, at the same we may find some common grounds for co-operation with people of other faiths. We will come to this religious pluralism in the next class, insya Allah.

6. Let us briefly recap what we have studied before.

7. We mentioned  Big Questions facing mankind, or what some scholars term as “Human Condition” such as why am I here? Who created me? Where do I go after I die? Who created this world, this universe? Is there a god? What is good and what is evil so on and so forth.

8. We believe to answer these questions, it cannot come from fellow human beings because they are as ignorant as we are, whether they are scientists, sociologists, or philosophers no matter how exceptionally intelligent or genius they are, the minds are incapable of grasping the truth of all these issues of metaphysical questions. They are in the dark as much as we are.

9. So, rationally we believe the answers can only come from the creator of the Universe, our creator which is known as “God” or Allah for the Muslims. Even the ancient philosophers of the past believed that there must be a force that moves everything in the Universe which they called it “Prime Mover” or that cause everything, which they termed is as “First Cause” and so on in what is known as the cosmological argument. Although they do not term it as a “God”, they indirectly implied it to the existence of such a Supreme Being or a Creator.

10. But how can we communicate with the Creator or God and asked Him for the answers to all these questions? This is where communications between God and human beings are called “revelation” and true Revelation is only revealed to His chosen mankind among His Prophets and Messengers.

11. So there a few crucial parts here that need to be established:

  • There must be a Creator / God
  • How to communicate with God
  • Chosen people to communicate with God i.e. Messengers & Prophets
  • True Messengers & Prophets – miracles
  • True Revelation – a challenge to come up with a similar.

Religion of Islam

12.  Islam is NOT:

  • A product of human mind
  • A cultural evolution of history
  • Myth or fiction whose origin is uncertain

13. Islam is:

(a) A Religion from God Revealed to Mankind (tanzil)
Tanzil means something that is brought down through wahy. Wahy is not ru’yat or inspiration, or intuition that is said to come to a poet or an artist as misunderstood by the West. Tanzil is a speech by God the Most High about Himself and on the importance of religious matters, including answering the Big Questions on Human Condition. The concept of Wahy is alien to the West and they often equate it with some kind of inspiration not the same as Wahy as understood by the Muslims.

(b) A Religion with Reliability, Originality, and Absoluteness
Al-Qur’an is reliable in the sense that it has been proven it did come from God The Almighty as the original source. It is absolutely from God. The proofs come in the form of a protected chain of transmission from generation to generation. During the time of the Prophet SAW alone, there were 124,000 companions at the time of his death, and they all narrate the same al-Qur’an. It would be impossible for such a mass people to collaborate on a lie. The second proof is God challenges the Quraish Meccans those days to come up with a Surah like al-Qur’an if they did not believe that it was from Him, which they failed.

And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful.

[Surah al-Baqarah 2:23]

Thirdly, Al-Qur’an itself claims that it is from God. 

Indeed, We (Allah) sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree

(Surah al-Qadr 97:1)

We do not intend to go on and on the proof of al-Qur’an, its miracles, you can read yourselves. But for any objective and rational person to doubt the authenticity al-Qu’ran is quite hard, but ultimately it all due to Hidayah.

14. In the West, they do not have is  Tanzil (Wahy) or revelation. Even if they might do,  their conception of “revelation” differs from  Muslim’s concept of revelation. Their so-called “revelation” is some kind of inspiration normally given to ascetics, monks or priests, and sometimes to poets or artists too!

Semantic Meanings of al-Dīn

15. Al-Qur’an uses the word “al-Dīn” to refer to what we understand as “religion”. If we look at Arabic Dictionaries, the word “al-Dīn” has many primary significations seemingly contrary but conceptually interconnected and related. Al-Attas gives the following meanings:-

  • Indebtedness (al-dayn)
  • Submissiveness (adhalla wa ista’bada)
  • Judicious Power (al-hukm wa al-sultan)
  • Natural inclination / tendency (al-‘adah wa al-sha’n)

16. Al-Dayn – in the state of debt, in the sense that it refers to the condition where man came into this world in a state where his own self – his intellect, his body, his volition, his will everything is given by Allah SWT, not from his own creation. He is in the state of utter loss and indebtedness to Allah for his own existence.


17. Submissiveness – because man is indebted to Allah for his existence, in order to repay for the debt he has to submit himself to Allah with utmost sincere submission and servitude towards him. They should recall and return themselves to the state where they first bear witness before Allah during the spiritual world (Alam Arwah) on the day of Alastu. This is what we called as Primordial Covenant (mithāq), or agreement between our Soul with Allah:

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I, not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” (Surah al-Araf 7:172)

18. Judicious Power: in his pursuit to repay his debt, he has to submit himself fully to Allah SWT who is the creditor, and therefore he is subjected to the creditor’s terms and conditions, i.e. God’s laws.


19. Natural inclination (fitrah): The absolute submission towards Allah is in actuality man’s natural inclination, his original predisposition, his fitrah as he already was before being sent to this world. Kullu mauludin yuladu alal fitrah.


20. Fitrah, according to Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is a design that reflected the natural disposition of all creation. It is also called “sunnatullah”. Everything is created with perfect qualities that fit into the design for which it is created and that they are all put in their respective proper places. Sometimes it is also called “ṭabi’ah”.

21. Mithāq is the basis of religion and our submission. The primordial covenant between man and Allah SWT existed even before man was sent in its physical form but rather from the spiritual form. Man following the mithāq is following his true natural inclination (fitrah).

[Some talking points given during an online course with Madina Institute Malaysia on September 9, 2020 via Zoom. It is still a draft and at development stage]

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