Part XIX: Islam is a Civilization, not a religion
by Abu Daoud
The word religion is spectacularly Western. It comes from the Latin meaning “to re-connect” or to form a link that has been severed. It is popular in the USA, and perhaps in the UK, to say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Neither is entirely correct though: Christianity is indeed a religion, but it is relational as well. Christianity does indeed seek to re-connect (or reconcile, to use a more biblical word) two warring parties: God and man. And it does this through the cross of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God incarnate.
But what of Islam? Is it a religion? Does it seek to reconnect two estranged parties?
The word normally used in Arabic to translate the English-Latin word religion is “diin.” But if we look at that word we find a very different understanding of the relation between humanity and God/Allah than we would via the other word, religion.
The Arabic word diin is a gerund, and it is based on the verb daan, which means, in its root form, (he) judged. In fact we find this confirmed in no less a prayer than the opening chapter of the Quran (al fatiha—the opening), wherein we read that “your is the day of diin” or “yours is the day of judgment.” So in Arabic Islam (which, make no mistake, is the true Islam) diin is nothing less than judgment.
This moves us towards the true understand that the English word ‘religion’ quite simply has no translation in Arabic. If wish to translate the word ‘reconciliation’ we may use the fairly accurate word tasalluh, which does indeed mean to reconcile two inimical parties. But for the word ‘religion’ we would have to resort to fairly exotic contrivances like ‘ta3alluq’ or something along those lines.
I mention this all simply because I have noticed the very pernicious effect of mistranslations. Words have a great deal of power. I bring up the topic because one hears often among Western politicians the idea of “secularism” among Arab or Persian Muslim peoples, wherein one separates religion from civil rule. When we understand that the truly Islamic-Arabic understanding does not, and can not, separate religious rule from civil rule, we have moved a step towards being able to intelligently grapple in a realistic way with the sundry challenges faced by people in the diverse countries of Southwest Asia and North Africa. Religion involves judgment (diin). Civil rule involves judgment (diin) as well. There is no separation, and within an Islamic civilization separation of the two is neither desirable nor possible.