Let me begin with a definition of Islam.
I’ll give you a second to complete that sentence in your head.
If you said peace, then you’re likely getting your knowledge of Islam from main stream media and/or well-intentioned Muslims who likely have Peace Train on loop (love that song). And that’s all very cool. The only problem with it is that it waters down the discourse of Islam as a religion followed by an individual for his/her individual salvation.
From an Islam 101 standpoint, Islam does not mean peace. Islam can include a rich discussion of peace. Morphologically, it is very closely linked to the Arabic word for peace. That word is Salaam. In fact, it is so closely linked to Salaam that some say it may as well just mean Peace.
But the fact remains: Islam does not mean peace.
Let me pause again while you battle with that idea, revel in it, or shrug it off, as may be your case.
The word, Islam, is classified as a masdar in Arabic grammar. That is the equivalent of a gerund in English, i.e. a verbal noun. For instance, the verbal noun of “to sleep” is “sleeping”, as used in the sentence: “Sleeping is my favorite pastime.” Islam comes from a four letter verb: As-la-ma (the four letters being Alif Seen Laam Meem).
Aslama means to submit. The gerund of Aslama is Islam. Hence Islam means submitting.
This works better than submission because submission has a quality of being discrete. But submitting is a perpetual state of mind and soul. A Muslim (one who does the action of aslama) is always submitting.
Now let’s be honest here. To be in a state of perpetual submission is a rank attained by the prophets and the saints. That being said, perpetual submission is the gold standard.
It is the state in which the Muslim is striving to be.
It is the rope which the Muslim holds on to. When he or she loses grip (and that is expected), the Muslim struggles with regaining a hold. To a Muslim, Islam means submitting your everything to God. This includes the physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual facets of submission.
As a Muslim, if you are afflicted with an illness in body or mind (or your spouse or child is), you submit to God’s will.
You do not resent your state.
You certainly do not argue with God.
If anything, you recognize that difficulty and ease both come from One indivisible God. That is why the Muslim draws close to the One who ultimately caused the affliction.
You submit your body and your mind.
In the same way, as a Muslim, if you apply your intellect and arrive at a conclusion that is in direct conflict with a tenet of the faith, or that is irreconcilable with a conclusive precept, you submit to God’s will. For instance, adopting intellectual recourse to “prove” that pork is acceptable for consumption by a Muslim would reflect a total lack of submission. This level of submission weighs hardest on scholars and thinkers. To submit your intellect is even harder.
The Muslim is always submitting to Divine will and command. Sometimes, the word submitting tends to have a passive connotation, often times in the English language. It is worth noting that Islam is a state of active, deliberate and conscious submitting. It takes strength and, oddly, will to put one’s own will second to that of an unseen God.
My favorite story is that of the great wali (saint) Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani who once had a vision wherein he sensed a presence that claimed to be divine. It informed him that he had attained greatness and purity, and that he was absolved from having to perform his obligatory prayers any more. The Shaykh cursed the presence and sought refuge from the devil before he proceeded to make ablution and say his prayers.
What is permitted by God (halaal) is permitted. What is forbidden by God (haraam) is forbidden. And that is where submitting comes into the picture. If nothing were forbidden and everything were permitted, then there is nothing left to submit to begin with. And that is fine if it’s what you’re looking for, but it would be a different religion than Islam.
Regarding suicide bombing
It is ludicrous in the most unfunny way that given the above primer on Islam, an act that involves careful and deliberate planning to take one’s own life and with it the life of innocents, can in any way be associated with a religion that by its most intrinsic definition and self-defining name means submitting.
The act of planning and executing the destruction of one’s own life is in effect one saying to God:
You are Al-Mumit (The One Who Takes Life) but I will stand between you and your Divine attribute, and I will end my own life of my own free will. I will not submit my body and my mind to you.
To take the life of others along with your own life is in effect saying to God: You forbid the taking of innocent lives, but I have thought about this and after due deliberation, I have concluded that killing innocents is actually quite justifiable. And just to be more unsubmitting, I will take the life of others even as I take my own life of my own free will. I will not submit my intellect and my spirit to you.
Suicide bombing is the most glaring manifestation of everything that is the opposite of Islam. It comes from a flat-out unwillingness to submit to God’s will. The fact that the ideology driving and extolling this heinous act claims to be Islamic in any form is a great trial and tribulation. It is a trial for those who truly strive to submit their everything to God, actively and consciously. It is a tribulation for us all.