Important though such correspondences undoubtedly are for historical purposes, and there are many of them, there is a deeper level of definition, the linguistic one, where the analysis of concepts brings a flavour of the Muslim feeling for Islam and surrender and the possibility of the contemporary Christian understanding what this meant to the Muslim, so that he could compare it with his own conceptions.It is, of course, widely known that the name of the religion of the Muslims is Islam, or al-Islam, ‘al’ being the definite article in Arabic. Islam literally means ‘submission, yielding, surrender’ – to the will of God. ‘Muslim’ means one who is so surrendered. This etymology is important, because it is not just a name, it is a meaning. If you ask many an Arab, ‘Are you a Muslim?’ he will often reply, ‘If God wills’, which is roughly equivalent in colloquial speech to ‘I hope so’. His attitude is that submission to the will of God is a matter of constant endeavour. Now we must also remember that there is a whole group of words derived from the radical SLM, which is the Arabic concept of ‘surrender’, any and all of which, almost, are associated with, regarded as inherently bound up with, each other and hence with Islam. By observing these words, we gain an idea as to the sense in which Islam has been understood by the people among whom it appeared, in their holy tongue, Arabic.Surrender, then, is ‘Islam’. Associated with this is the word Salama(t), which means ‘safety’, ‘security’. This fact is inextricably bound up in thinking with the direct relationship between submission to God and ‘safety’, that is, salvation. And Salama also stands for ‘wholeness, soundness, faultlessness’, to be made whole, safe, through submission. ‘Heaven’ is rendered by the term ‘Dar as-Salam’, the Abode of Peace, safety for man. To ‘Salaam’ a person is to wish him peace and wholeness. Salim, having been made whole, or sound, is another word from this root, like all the others an integral part of the vocabulary and daily speech of Arabic.Now that Islam is regarded as a means, a method, of arriving at peace and heaven is not in doubt either in the exegesis or in the occurrence of the word Sullam, again from the same root, which stands for an instrument or means, and including such things as a ladder or a stairway, and a tool. Finally, though this by no means exhausts our vocabulary of associated terms, there is Istilaam, which means receiving, and musaalim, one who is peaceful, lenient, clement.It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of this constellation of terms and meanings: for the Arab-speaker they constitute the constant reminder of the diverse aspects of the religion and its meanings, and a permanent facility for confirming these concepts without having to rely only upon interpretation by later ideologists.It has even been said by Muslim theoreticians that ‘Islam is a word which denotes submission to the will of God; therefore it is not a noun like the name of a thing, but a conception which is the name of a thing as well.’It is for this reason that, in the Quran, in the passage from Chapter 2, verse 136 which I quoted earlier, the sequence ends with the words which can be translated either as ‘and to God we are resigned’, or ‘we are Muslims’. Islam, as is well known, speaks of the true religious leaders, submitted to the will of God before the time of the Prophet Muhammad, as ‘Muslims’. This is not only found in the Quran; I have heard my Afghan coreligionists say, often: ‘Chi khub adam ast in Nasrani – Muslim ast.’ This means, ‘What a good man this Christian is – he is a Muslim.’ Even though these words are in Persian and not in Arabic, the sense is preserved absolutely, having been transferred successfully to an Aryan language from a Semitic one, each having very little similarity one to the other.The Quran itself cannot be translated, for this very reason: a part of the meaning will be rendered into the other language, but of course unless that language has (and this seems most unlikely) a constellation of concepts which exactly coincides with those of Arabic, the inbuilt pattern of concepts will inevitably be disturbed. I remember my own father using this very same illustration, employing the example of the radical SLM and its associations, to explain to me when I had just celebrated my eighth birthday in June, 1932. He was verifying passages from the rendition of the Quran by Muhammad Ali, and informing me why he was at that moment calling his selection ‘from the Quran’.
The Elephant in the Dark