I. Deen (1)
1 Also spelled as “Din”; wrongly translated as “religion”.
Literally, the word “deen” means: law, authority; judgment, decision; revenge, recompense; as well as submission and obedience to the law and authority.
Thus, deen is:
- the system of justice, settling accounts fairly and recompensing people properly with reward and punishment;
- an authoritative system of law and justice to run the affairs of people; and
- submission or humble obedience to the pronouncements of the ruling authority, and being judged and recompensed accordingly.
II. Deen – as an Islamic concept
A. Deen – the ultimate justice
From the perspective of ultimate justice, ad-deen or “the deen” refers to the system of justice, settling accounts and recompensing people with reward and punishment that Allaah SWT will execute on the Day of Judgment. For this reason, the Day of Judgment is called Yawmud-deen, the Day of Just Recompense.
B. The Deen – the Islamic way of living
From the perspective of the life in this world, “the Deen”, refers to Islam – Allaah’s system of justice and peace for people to live by. Thus, the Deen of Islam is the complete set of the Islamic beliefs, paradigms, principles, values and core commands that form the basis of the Islamic system of life, whereby one’s individual and society’s collective decisions in every matter are made, priorities set and affairs run routinely in humble submission and unconditional obedience to Allaah SWT.
Islam as a Deen governs the whole life, including all matters whether people consider them public or private; carnal or spiritual or secular or religious. It does not allow or tolerate division of life into these kinds of classifications or segmentations; rather, it encompasses all matters of one’s life without exception. Therefore, it is a complete system or way of living the life of this world.
Simply put, the Deen of Islam is a lifestyle whereby all decisions are made and all priorities are set in complete submission to Allaah SWT, in accordance with the beliefs, paradigms, values, principles and stipulations commanded by Him.
However, it does not imply that no other decision-making criteria is used; rather, it implies that the first and foremost consideration in making any decision is “What are Allaah’s commands and teachings in this respect”; once Allaah’s commands and teachings have been duly considered, then all other decision-making criteria, considerations and pros and cons should be used for assessment and arriving at the right decision.
The key components of the Deen are:
- A conscious belief in all articles of the Islamic faith. Faith in these realities serves as the foundations of the Deen.
- Abiding by the pillars of Islam – the pillars provide the structure on which the edifice of Islam is built.
- Living by the guiding values, principles and key stipulations of Deen – a life governed by these is the Islamic life built around the pillars, on the foundations of faith.
- Making a personal commitment of exclusive, complete submission and unconditional obedience without any reservations to Allaah and His messenger (Qur’aan and Sunnah) in all matters throughout one’s life – according to the first three components.
- Striving hard and making one’s best efforts for Allaah’s sake to practice, establish and maintain Deen as a system of life.
III. A deen – another way of living
Some people may not follow Allaah’s Deen, Islam. For them, a deen refers to a way of living one’s life in submission to an authoritative or influential entity so that the beliefs, paradigms, principles, values and biddings ensuing from that entity form the basis on which, whether consciously or by default, a person makes decisions, sets priorities and runs one’s affairs in any part, aspect or matter of one’s life. The entity dictating the beliefs, paradigms, principles, values or biddings may be a mythical god, a physical or mythical person, an institution, a boss, an ideology or one’s own desires.
Simply, the set of considerations underlying a person’s decisions and priorities is that person’s deen.
Some examples of other deens are paradigms and ideologies like secularism, communism or socialism; adherence to the un-Islamic heritage and ways of forefathers; loyalty to the un-Islamic customs, traditions or fashions of the society; submitting to the un-Islamic orders of a boss as a matter of policy; routinely giving preference to one’s lusts and likes over the Islamic teachings.
IV. Dedicating the Deen purely to Allaah
“Dedicating the deen (the way of living or lifestyle) purely and unconditionally to Allaah” or “Making the Deen exclusively for Allaah” means “Unconditionally accepting Allaah SWT as one’s Sovereign Lord so as to live a life of complete submission to Him, routinely making all decisions of one’s life complying with the principles, paradigms and core commands given by Him, without giving the same status to any other entity whatsoever and without making un-Islamic decisions under the influence of any human philosophies and paradigms.”
Deen becoming exclusively Allaah’s implies that Islam becomes the governing system for both the society as a whole and for individuals within the society, so that all affairs in that society are conducted in complete submission and unconditional obedience to Allaah SWT as the Sovereign Lord and so that all decisions are routinely made complying with the values, principles, paradigms, laws and teachings sent down by Him. In this way, Allaah is accepted as the sole God of whatever goes on in the life of an individual or society -- every aspect or segment of life; nothing remains out of the purview of Allaah’s laws, commands and teachings. For any matter of one’s life, other considerations become relevant only after the matter has been found to be duly approved by Allaah’s commands.Dedicating the deen purely to Allaah or making the deen exclusively for Allaah in this manner is Allaah's right on people and is the essence of Tawheed. (2)
2 This has been stated in the Qur’aan in verses such as 39:1-15; 98:5; 4:145-146. Refer to the text and explanations of these verses in the Tafseer section of the website at altafseer.ca.
V. Breaking Deen into pieces
A person may submit to different entities for different parts, aspects or matters of life. In that case, the person abides by multiple deens; which is called “breaking deen into pieces” by the Qur’aan.
Thus, Deen is broken into pieces when a person or a society follows different deens (different paradigms or philosophies) for different segments of life, instead of making Deen exclusively for Allaah. In some aspects of life, they may follow Islam, while in other aspects, they may follow their own desires, some other philosophies or ideologies, customs and traditions of society that are not aligned with Islamic teachings, an ideology such as secularism, a non-Islamic institution, a leader giving un-Islamic commands, etc. By obeying the entities other than Allaah in this way, the person and/or the society takes them as gods, instead of Allaah. In other words, they obey different gods in different matters of their life.
Adopting any deen (the foremost paradigm of making decisions) other than Islam in any matter of one’s life or making decisions routinely on the basis of any deen other than Islam is blatant Shirk.
For example, see the following verse:
So, steadily dedicate yourself exclusively for Allaah’s Deen – fully congruent with the nature on which Allaah created human beings; there can be no altering of Allaah's creation – that is the right, straightforward Deen; but most people do not know. Adhere to it, turning to Him sincerely and repentantly, live by His Taqwa, establish Ŝalaah, and do not be of those who join gods with Allaah – of those who split their Deen into pieces and become factions, every faction rejoicing in what they have. (Ar-Rum 30:30-32)
Religion is: Belief in some kind of god and the devotional rituals performed to appease that god. Oxford dictionary defines it as “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” and “a particular system of faith and worship.”
People and societies have many aspects of life; whereby religion is only one small aspect of them. In the western civilization, a person’s life is divided into two major segments: public and private. The private life is further segmented into carnal and spiritual. In their view, religion governs only the spiritual aspect of one’s private life – limited to worship or devotional rituals.
Difference between the Deen of Islam and a Religion
In comparison to a religion, the Deen of Islam governs the whole life, including all matters whether people consider them individual or collective, public or private, carnal or spiritual, or secular or religious. There is no division of life in Islam; hence, Islam does not have a concept of a “religion” that applies only to the “spiritual” segment of life. Life is one indivisible unit, the “whole” of which is governed by one God, Allaah SWT.
As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they follow one or more deens and one religion; and mostly, their deen and religion are totally different philosophies. A person’s religion may be Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, etc. They also have one or more deens (ideologies, philosophies and paradigms) by which they make their non-religious or non-spiritual decisions. The deens commonly followed nowadays are Western ideology, secularism, capitalism, communism, etc.
Unfortunately, many Muslims have also lost the concept of Deen and they follow only “religious” rituals of Islam while making all other decisions of their lives according to other paradigms and philosophies. In other words, they have broken deen into pieces, limiting Allaah’s obedience to ritual practices, while running their affairs of life in submission to gods other than Allaah, and are thus committing Shirk.
Allaah SWT commands them:
O believers enter into Islam in entirety, and do not follow the footsteps of Shayŧaan; indeed, he is your obvious enemy. (Al-Baqarah 2:208) (3)
3 For explanation of this verse and the concept of following the footsteps of Satan, refer to the Tafseer section, (if not already on the Teachings of the Qur’aan website, go to altafseer.ca).
VII. Islam - The Only Approved Deen
The Qur’aan calls Islam the “true Deen” and the “right and straightforward Deen”. It is the only Deen that Allaah has prescribed for human beings, and has approved of or accepted from them. He does not accept the practice of any other deen from people. A person who adopts the Deen of Islam is called a Muslim.
Indeed, with Allaah, the Deen is only Islam. Those who had been given the Book differed from it only after the knowledge had already come to them, in transgression against one another; and whoever rejects the revelations of Allaah, then surely Allaah is swift at reckoning. (Al-Imran 3:19) (4)
Is it then other than Allaah's Deen that they seek while everything else in the universe submits to Him in obedience (as a Muslim), willingly or unwillingly; and to Him shall they be returned? Let them know, “We believe in Allaah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibraheem, Isma‘eel, Isĥaaq and Ya‘qoob and his descendants as well as in what was given to Moosa and ‘Eesa and to the other prophets from their Lord; we do not discriminate among any of them; and to Him do we submit as Muslims.” The fact is that whoever follows a deen other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. (Al-Imran 3:83-85) (4)
4 For explanation of these verses, refer to the Tafseer section, (if not already on the Teachings of the Qur’aan website, go to altafseer.ca)
These verses remind the Believers of the Book (Ahlul-kitaab) that Allaah’s Deen was always Islam, the other religions came into being only when people deviated by making changes to Islam with their own transgressions, heresies and innovations. (6) Their religions are not acceptable to Allaah SWT at all. Allaah accepts only pure Islam. The following verses also indicate that every messenger of Allaah preached Islam and was a Muslim.
5 To understand this point in detail, refer to the article “How Islam Becomes non-Islam”.
He named you Muslims before and in this (Qur’aan). (Al-Hajj 22:14) (6)
6 For explanation, refer to the Tafseer of this verse in Tafseer section.
He has ordained for you the same Deen that He enjoined upon Nooĥ, which We have revealed to you (O Muĥammad), and that We enjoined upon Ibraheem, Moosa and ‘Eesa: Establish Deen and do not be divided therein. Difficult for the mushriks is that to which you invite them. Allaah chooses for Himself whom He wants and guides to Himself whoever turns to Him penitently. And they became divided due to jealous aggression among themselves after knowledge had reached them; and had there not been a decision made earlier by your Lord for a specified term, the matter would have been settled between them. (Ash-Shuraa 42:13-14)
This verse makes three important points: firstly, the Deen was always Islam and secondly, no difference of opinion is allowed in matters of deen, every matter of Deen must be accepted and adopted exactly as given, without any variation whatsoever; and thirdly, the religions arose only due to human changes to the original matters of Deen. These assertions sometimes raise some questions in people’s minds, if they do not understand some basics about Sharee‘ah and its relationship with Deen.
VIII. Sharee‘ah (7)
7 Also spelled as shariah, shari’ah, shariat, shari’at and sharia.
Sharee‘ah implies the aggregate of the rules and regulations regarding the matters of Deen that have been given by Allaah and/or his Messenger or have been derived by scholars from the Qur’aan and Sunnah, to be followed while practicing the Deen of Islam and living by it.
It can be simply stated as: Sharee‘ah comprises the details of Fiqh (rules and regulations) compiled by scholars from the Qur’aan and Sunnah.
IX. Deen vs. Sharee‘ah
While Deen consists of beliefs, values, principles and major stipulations, as explained earlier, Sharee‘ah is the body of the rules and regulations that enable the practice of the Deen of Islam. The relationship of Deen and Sharee‘ah is like the constitution of a country and the different statutes and regulations stipulated by a community within the parameters of the constitution. This relationship can be viewed as follows:
The Deen of Islam is the constitution given by Allaah SWT for human beings to govern their lifestyles accordingly while living on this earth. This constitution was promulgated at the time of the creation of the universe and will remain in force until the end of this world. Every component of Deen must be accepted exactly as described by Allaah’s revelation and demonstrated by the Sunnah of His messenger, without any change, variation or deviation whatsoever at any time during the human history. However, for the changing needs of the humanity through its evolution, Allaah SWT also gave human beings some rules and regulations that changed with the evolving needs of people. Those rules and regulations are called Sharee‘ah. Thus, while the Deen of Allaah SWT, as explained in the forgoing paragraphs, has always been the same from Prophet Adam to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon all of them), some of the rules of Sharee’ah had been different for different messengers according to the needs of their time. Allaah SWT proclaimed:
For each (Ummah) (8), of you, We prescribed a code of law (Sharee‘ah) and a methodology (Minhaaj). Had Allaah willed He could have made you a single people, but He planned to test you in what He has given you; therefore, outdo each other in pursuing virtues. (Al-Ma'idah 5:48)
8 The community of believers in a messenger.
There has been an evolution in the Sharee‘ah of various messengers in keeping with the evolution of human society. For example, at the time of Adam, there was a need to allow marrying brothers and sisters. When the human society was grown big enough and the exceptional need was not there, Allaah SWT disallowed it through a subsequent messenger. Similarly, some strict rules were imposed on Banee Isra’eel to punish them for their intransigence and to check their ongoing transgression. Those burdens were removed through ‘Eesa ‘alayhissalaam and Muĥammad ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Although Salaah, Sawm and Zakaah were always obligatory as a part of the Deen, the details about numbers/amount and timings were different. This process of reform and update continued until the human society was mature enough that a final edition of Sharee‘ah could be given. The Sharee‘ah given to the Prophet Muĥammad ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is the final and most complete Sharee‘ah representing the perfect model for humanity until the end of the world.
Even for the followers of the Prophet ŜA‘WS, while there can be no difference of opinion in the matters of Deen, different people may have honest, genuine differences of opinion in the matters of Sharee‘ah. The differences in the matters of Deen take a person out of Islam. The examples of those who become disbelievers due to their differing opinions in the matters of Deen are people who:
- Do not accept, as a matter of principle, the rule of Allaah on every aspect of their life;
- Do not witness the truth of the faith as prescribed by the Qur’aan; for example, practise Shirk, regard any of the Qur’aanic injunctions as outdated or inappropriate for our times;
- Do not accept Prophet Muhammad (ŜA‘WS) as the last prophet; deny Sunnah as a source of the Islamic law;
- Doubt the existence of Jahannam and Jannah;
- Deny the existence of angels or interpret their mention as if they are not living beings; etc.
The examples given above are those that violate the first pillar of Islam – Shahaadah (witnessing) the truth of the articles of the Islamic faith. Some examples of other deviations are:
- Denying any of the pillars of Islam (such as Salaah or Zakaah) as an obligation;
- Propagating an opinion or theory that is clearly in contrast with the fundamentals of Deen or Islamic injunctions given in the Qur’aan.
These types of disbeliefs, if left unchecked, destroy the very fabric of the Deen. Entertaining the bearer of such ideas or cooperating with those “Muslims” who entertain such ideas is like demolishing our own foundations. That is what corrupted the Deen after the death of each of the previous prophets and messengers, and their Islamic teachings morphed into new religions gradually over hundreds of generations. It is because of such deviations that there are differences in the matters of Deen among Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Those who claim to follow Moses and Jesus changed the original teachings of Islam by corrupting beliefs, abandoning some core practices and inventing others. Let us just take, as an example, some practices that have been abandoned. There are enough indications in the Bible that Moses and Jesus used to perform ritual washing, worship and fasting as Muslims currently do; but the Jews and Christians have abandoned these practices. (9)
9 For detailed references, please read “Muslims at Prayer” by Ahmed Deedat and “The Basis of Muslim Beliefs” by Gary Miller.
The above-noted differences in the matters of Deen are totally illegitimate and are distinct from the differences that may arise in extrapolating detailed rules from a certain set of verses of the Qur’aan and/or Sunnah of the Prophet. Or, when it comes to the matters of detail, the difference may have arisen because the Prophet demonstrated flexibility by doing some things differently at different times. These are differences of Sharee‘ah. They are not only allowed but also respected. In the first situation, they serve as the corrective mechanism in the situations where a wrong or improper interpretation has become common, a difference of opinion will force people to think and correct the misinterpretation. In the second situation, they preserve the flexibility allowed in the Sharee‘ah. The differences mostly found among various schools of Fiqh are these differences of Sharee‘ah.
For example, Salaah, Zakaah, Sawm and Hajj are obligations and pillars of Deen; but their Fiqh is a matter of Sharee‘ah. Differences in Fiqh (Sharee‘ah) are acceptable; but to deny the obligation in any context is Kufr (disbelief).
Why is the Distinction between Deen and Sharee‘ah Important?
Although Sharee‘ah is the natural corollary and the day-to-day practical side of the Deen, the distinction is necessary to adopt a moderate, balanced and correct attitude and understanding towards matters of Deen and Sharee‘ah. It explains clearly that while Deen was always Islam, why some rules were different for the previous Ummahs.
Properly understanding this distinction also helps us avoid extremist, unbalanced tendencies towards differences of opinion in Islamic matters. For example, one kind of extremists are those who create sects on the basis of minor differences in matters of Sharee‘ah. They are intolerant of even a slightly different opinion or practice. They are responsible for the majority of infighting, discord and friction among Muslims. Then, there are the extremists who do not even care about the violations of the essence of Deen. They harbour, support, applaud and honour even those who attack the very basic tenets of Islam. In essence, they aid in the demolition of the Deen.
The moderate, balanced approach is that we must not compromise on the matters of Deen or tolerate any variation or deviation in those matters, while we must respect and happily accept the differences of opinion and practices in Sharee‘ah. We must never insist on a specific opinion of Sharee‘ah or argue against an opinion different from what we ourselves follow. We must accept and respect a variant opinion in matters of Sharee‘ah, as long as the person holding that opinion has based it on the Qur’aan and Sunnah.
The matters of Deen must be accepted, adopted, believed in and abided by exactly as prescribed by the Qur’aan and demonstrated by the Prophet ŜA‘WS; any variation is disallowed, inimical to one’s faith, dangerous to the integrity of Deen, cannot be condoned or tolerated; and must be resisted and opposed.If the right methodology is used to derive practical rules and regulations from the Qur’aan and Sunnah, people may have difference of opinion in how a certain command is best practised. Such differences in the matters of Sharee‘ah are allowed and respected. We may express our difference of opinion based on our evidence from the Qur’aan and Sunnah in the academic discussions and settings, but we must ignore them completely in our day-to-day dealings with holder of different views, should never impose our interpretation on anyone, object against their Fiqh practices, nor argue with them ever.