Most names of religions are derived from the name of the founder of that religion, or something related: Christianity is obviously derived from Christ. Judaism from the tribe of Judah and the region of Judea. Buddhism from the teacher, Buddha. Hinduism from the region in which it was founded, Hind. Confucianism was named after Confucius, Zoroastrianism after Zoroaster, and the list goes on.
Islam is one of the only world religions not named for someone or somewhere. The word Islam, in fact, is an Arabic word that means simply “submission” [to God]. It comes from the root Salema, which means “peace, submission and obedience."
The main foundational action in Islam is submission to God: being in a state of purposeful surrender to God’s laws and directives. And one of the things Islam emphasizes is the choice; embracing Islam means to embrace submission. Islam IS submission! It means to make a choice to submit to God.
Take the prayer, for instance, which is performed five times daily. They not only say the words of prayer, but they prostrate themselves in a physical posture of submission before their God.
Submission has not always been a pleasant word for me. I was told growing up that submission was required of me, that lack of submission constituted rebellion, and that God would turn his back on me if I was in rebellion. In my marriage, my then husband told me that I wasn't being submissive when I simply disagreed with him or questioned him. My “lack of submission” would cause God to withdraw his blessing from our family and our children and was sufficient reason for him to send me away back to my parents’ house. Submission did not feel like a choice to me, it felt like an obligation.
One of my favorite quotes is by Anais Nin and addresses the question of submission within marriage: "I do not want to be the leader. I refuse to be the leader. I want to live darkly and richly in my femaleness. I want a man lying always over me. His will, his pleasure, his desire, his life, his work the touchstone, the command, my pivot... I am going to be pursued, possessed by the will of a male at his time, his bidding."
Yesterday, as I was reading this quote again, I thought about submission within Islam and in my own life. Submission itself was not what I despised. I don’t mind following: allowing domination and leadership in my relationship with Mark. In fact, I love choosing submission. What I don’t like is being forced to choose it.
I choose submission to Mark because I love him, I respect him, I trust him, and he has EARNED that love, respect and trust. I don't submit to him because he tells me I must or because religion tells me I must. That is the difference: it is a chosen submission.
Perhaps in the same way as marriage, our submission to God should be a chosen submission. We are submitting to him, we are serving him and worshiping him out of respect, honor, reverence, trust and love. I do things for Mark because he has earned my love and my trust, my respect and my honor. I submit to him, not out of compulsion or fear, but out of devotion and love: because I CHOOSE to.
How appropriate that the word Islam reminds Muslims of their purpose, and the reason they chose this path to begin with. My friend Adrianne said of submission: “Submission is laying your desire down for the desires of another. Doing it willingly makes submission a place of strength not weakness.” Willingness to submit to God and purposefully surrendering to Him, is not just required of Muslims, it defines them. And the fact that it is done willingly is testament to the strength of their conviction.
We submit to gravity because we don't have a choice. But I believe when religion becomes obligatory, we lose the relationship; and without the relationship, we lose the humanity.
God never wanted us to lose our choice, because our choice is what makes us human and makes the relationship authentic. It is the choice that makes it real. It is the choice that makes it love.