Islam means submission to God. A Muslim is “one who submits.” When I started learning about Islam, the word “submission” was hard for me to deal with. Submission is such a dirty word in American culture. It refers to the historical coercion of minorities and women in white supremacist, patriarchal society. It has kinky sexual connotations. It stinks of tyranny and fascism. But all of these associations deal with humans in relation to other humans.
There is dignity in submission to God. While it is repulsive to submit to another human who has no real power over you, submitting to the One God who sustains you and invests you with rights and choice and responsibility is liberating. It sets you free from the illusions imposed by social norms and your own self-concept. You understand yourself as you truly are, in your true relation to the world.
In Syria, Muslims have been gunned down while yelling, “La ilaha illallah”—there is no God but God. They are proclaiming that Bashar al Assad has no power over them. They submit only to God. They accept God’s sovereignty alone; the oppressive Assad regime has no legitimacy and it cannot control them. That’s dignity. That’s reality. God is in control and God knows best.
When I say la ilaha illallah, there is no God but God, I admit that I am not in control of my life. That’s something I had to come to terms with gradually. Even after learning about the guiding forces of DNA and social class and the social construction of everything and the philosophical problem of free will, I wanted to believe that I was the master of my destiny. It’s the American doctrine, right? But control is an illusion. Certainly, I have choice, but that’s not the same thing.
I’m not the best Muslim. I don’t always pray five times a day. I’m chronically arrogant. I’m a blunderer. But somehow, I choose to be a Muslim. Alhamdulillah.
Imam Islam Mossaad at North Austin Muslim Community Center explains the words “Islam” and “Muslim” more completely. This is part 2 of 7 in this Islam 101 session. You can find the whole playlist here. Click “play all” to watch the whole class.
Trees are my favorite Muslims. This song has trees in it.