Many Muslims believe that Islam always existed, and that all the prophets, including Jesus, were Muslims who practiced Islam. This belief stems from their definition of ‘Islam’ as it is connected to the words ‘Salam’ and ‘Muslim’.
All three words have three letters in common: s, l, m, in that order. Salam is an Arabic Semitic word meaning ‘peace.’ It is part of the Arabic greeting A-salam aleikum (peace be upon you). The Hebrew Semitic equivalent of Salam is Shalom, which also means ‘peace’. The word ‘Islam’ means both ‘peace’ and ‘surrender to God (Allah)’. The word ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who surrenders his will to the will of God’.
With these definitions in mind, it is clear why many Muslims believe that Islam existed throughout the history of man, and that all the prophets were Muslims. They believe that all the prophets surrendered their will to the will of God (Muslim) as demanded by the religion of Islam (surrender to God) and worshiped Him as a way to make peace (Salam) with Him.
But are the meanings of these words enough to paint an accurate picture of Islam and the lives of the prophets? Is it possible that Islam existed since the beginning of mankind and that all the holy people of God, including the prophets and Jesus himself, were Muslims?
In order to answer this question it is important to first lay down a few axioms—key premises that are true in themselves:.
1. A thought exists only in the mind.
2. A belief is a series of thoughts (1) organized into a point of view that is held to be true.
3. Since a belief is a series of organized thoughts (2), it exists only in the mind of a human being (1).
4. A religion is a belief system (a set of organized beliefs (2)) centered on a deity—a set of beliefs (3) held to be true (2) in the minds of one or more humans (1).
5. If one or more people hold a set of beliefs (of a religion (4)) then that religion exists.
6. If no people hold a set of beliefs (of a religion (4)) then that religion does not exist.
7. Islam is a religion (4) that requires 2 fundamental beliefs (3):
a. That there is only One God.
b. That Muhammad was God’s (last) Prophet.
Premise 1 is a simple statement that is observed by everyone every day. A living human being, even one with the lowest intelligence, has a functioning mind that produces thought. Man is said to be a thinking animal, and a being of rational or irrational thought. A dead person has a brain that has ceased to function and a mind that has ceased to exist, therefore it has no thought. All thoughts exist in the mind. Likewise, it could be stated that a man who has never existed has never had a mind, and therefore has never held any thoughts which could be organized into a set of beliefs centered on a deity.
Premise 2 states that a belief is composed of many thoughts, and that it is something held to be true. After all, humans believe what they perceive as true and disbelieve what they perceive as false.
Premise 3 expands a bit on the first two premises. Since a belief is a set of organized thoughts, and since thoughts exist only in the mind, then a belief can exist nowhere else but in the mind.
Premise 4 expands on the first three premises. Since beliefs are thoughts that exist only in the mind and since religion is a set of organized beliefs centered on a deity, then religion can only exist in the mind and nowhere else.
Premise 5 expands on the previous four premises. If one person holds a set of beliefs centered on a deity (a religion), then that religion exists (in the mind of that person). If multiple people hold the same organized set of beliefs (a religion) then that religion exists (in the minds) and it becomes a more pronounced religion.
Premise 6 is the negation of Premise 5. If nobody holds a set of beliefs centered on a deity (a religion) then that religion is not in the thoughts of anyone, and that religion does not exist.
Different belief systems have different identifying names, and the adherents of those belief systems are named after their respective belief systems. Those who believe in, identify with, and adhere to Judaism are called Jews. Those who believe in, identify with, and adhere to Christianity are called Christians. Those who believe in, identify with, and adhere to Islam are called Muslims. These religions exist because their respective set of beliefs are held and shared by their respective groups of adherents.
Premise 7 states the two fundamental requirements needed to hold the organized set of beliefs (the religion) known as Islam. This premise also suggests that different religions are based on different organized sets of beliefs. This premise reflects the words of the Shahadah, the Arabic name of the Islamic creed of the faith stated by both Muslims and those converting to Islam.
Premise 5 shows that Christianity exists because Christians exist. The set of organized beliefs known as Christianity is held in the minds of all those who call themselves Christians. They call themselves Christians because they hold those beliefs to be true. Likewise, Judaism exists because Jews exist. Islam exists because Muslims exist.
Premise 6 shows the converse to be true. If all the Christians in the world suddenly stopped believing in Christianity, then Christianity would cease to exist. If, as an example, only ten Christians existed in a non-Christian country, Christianity would be said to exist in that country (albeit as a tiny minority). If these ten Christians rode the same bus to church one Sunday morning and the bus drove over a cliff, killing all ten Christians, then there would be no one left who would hold the set of organized beliefs in their minds, called Christianity, and Christianity would cease to exist in that country. The same would be true if all ten Christians converted to another religion. They would no longer hold that set of organized beliefs (the Christian religion) to be true. It would cease to exist. If there are no adherents of a religion, does that religion really exist?
A simple thought experiment would clarify Premises 5 and 6. Would Christianity exist if there were no Christians? Would Christians exist if there were no Christianity? After all, if someone did not create the set of organized beliefs called Christianity in the first place, would there be such a religion for one to follow? Likewise, would Jews exist if there were no Judaism? Would Muslims exist if there were no Islam? If a religion does not exist, what beliefs would its adherents adhere to?
“Who are the Muslims? Muslims are those 1.9 billion people (per CIA World’s Facts Book in year 2000), from all races, colors, nationalities and cultures who believe in One God (Allah) and accept Muhammad, peace be upon him, as the last Prophet.” (Institute of Islamic Knowledge, 2008)
The Institute of Islamic Knowledge states that “Muslims are those…who believe in One God (Allah) and accept Muhammad…as the last Prophet.” (ibid) These are the requirements to being a Muslim. One must believe in One God (Premise 7a). One must accept Muhammad as the last Prophet of God (Premise 7b). If one accepts the two above premises, then one is a Muslim. It then follows that one will then study Islam’s holy book called the Qu’ran, and the secondary holy books called the Hadiths, and will reject all other holy books of other religions, as Islam teaches.
These are two premises in one. Can one be a Muslim and only believe in the first premise (7a)? Let’s see. Muslims believe in One God, but so do Jews and Christians. This is easily verifiable. Both Jews and Christians accept the Bible’s Scripture of Deuteronomy 5:2-3, “I am the LORD thy God….Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Christians also state this first and foremost in their Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” Muslims are neither Jews nor Christians. Likewise, Jews and Christians are not Muslims. Therefore, believing in the first premise alone (Premise 7a) does not make one a Muslim. To be a Muslim, one must also believe in the second premise (Premise 7b), to accept Muhammad as the last Prophet of God. Jews and Christians both reject Muhammad as a Prophet; therefore they can not be Muslims. To be a Muslim, one must adhere to both requirements of Premise 7.
The Institute, in its pamphlet, continues its description of Muslims as follows: “A Muslim is a person who freely and willingly accepts the supreme power of God and strives to organize his or her life in accordance with His commandments. Hence a Muslim is any person anywhere in the world whose obedience, allegiance, and loyalty are to the One and Only God (Allah), the Creator of the Universe, and as such submits to the Divine Laws following the Sunnah (traditions) of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.” (ibid)
Once again a Muslim is described by the two premises explained above. “A person who accepts…the supreme power of God….and submits to the Divine Laws following the…traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.” To accept the supreme power of God means to believe in One God (Premise 7a). To follow the traditions of Muhammad means to accept Muhammad as the last Prophet (Premise 7b).
In fact, one can become a Muslim simply by reciting the Shahadah, an Arabic phrase, “La Ilaha Illallahu Muhammad-ur-Rasoollallah” which is translated, “There is no deity (god) except Allah (the One and Only True God) and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” (ibid) The Shahadah also includes both premises (7a and 7b) stated above as the two requirements of becoming, and being a Muslim.
The conclusion of the two premises above is that one cannot be a Muslim unless both parts of Premise 7 are true. One cannot be a Muslim if he only believes in Premise 7a (belief in One God) because Jews and Christians also believe in Premise 7a but they are not Muslims. He or she must also accept Premise 7b (accepting Muhammad as the last Prophet).
“What is Islam?....Islam is a total system of living in peace. Islam is the same message and guidance which God revealed through all His Prophets to every people throughout the history of mankind. One who follows Islam is called a Muslim (an Arabic word which means, the one who submits to the will of God)” (ibid)
One who follows Islam is called a Muslim. And, as has been explained above, a Muslim is one who adheres to Premise 7 and its two parts—one who believes in One God (7a) and accepts Muhammad as the last Prophet (7b). Therefore, in order for one to follow Islam, he or she must believe in One God and accept Muhammad as the last Prophet. Likewise, one who does not adhere to the two above premises is not a Muslim and does not follow Islam.
This begs the question: When was the beginning of Islam? The Institute states that Islam was revealed by God through all His prophets throughout the history of mankind. In other words, all the prophets since the beginning of history believed in, and followed Islam. Since, as the Institute states, one who follows Islam is a Muslim, then all the prophets were Muslims. This begs another three questions: Didn’t Islam begin with Muhammad, and didn’t Muhammad live in the 7th century A.D.? Wasn’t Muhammad the first Muslim? If the prophets mentioned by the Institute lived centuries before Muhammad, then how could they have been Muslims?
The definition of a Muslim (Premise 7) is one who believes in One God (7a) and that Muhammad is God’s last prophet (7b). So how does the Institute’s belief that all the prophets were Muslim apply to the definition of a Muslim? Let’s see. In order for all the prophets to have been Muslims, they would have all had to believe in One God (7a) and to believe that Muhammad is God’s last prophet (7b). By a reading of both the Qu’ran and the Bible’s Old Testament, all the prophets of God believed in One God (7a). Did the prophets also believe that Muhammad is God’s last prophet (7b)? Let’s ask the following question: Did anyone accept Muhammad as the last Prophet before Muhammad was born? A simpler question would be: Could any person be known before they come into existence? It would seem logical that no one accepted Muhammad as a Prophet when they knew no such Muhammad. So, if no one knew of Muhammad then no one could accept him as a Prophet. How does this affect the definition of a Muslim, as described by the Institute of Islamic Knowledge? As has been shown above, if one does not believe that Muhammad was God’s last prophet (7b) then, even if he believes in One God (7a), he is not a Muslim. To be a Muslim, one must fulfill both Premise 7a and Premise 7b. The prophets failed to fulfill Premise 7b, therefore they could not have been Muslims. Also, if they were not Muslims, then Islam did not exist in their time (Premise 6).
If Muslims did not exist before the birth of Muhammad, then Islam also did not exist. For Islam is the religion of the Muslims, and without Muslims there could be no religion of Islam (Premise 6).
What does the Institute of Islamic Knowledge believe about Islam? Does it believe that Islam began with Muhammad, and that it is the newest of the monotheistic religions?
“Is Islam a new Religion? No! It is the same religion which was preached by all the prophets and is further elaborated through the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him….The religion of Islam is as old as humanity itself. It was in fact the religion of every prophet of God, who appeared in any part of the world.” (ibid)
The above quote is a bit misleading. It states that all the prophets preached Islam. Yet, since none of the prophets believed in a yet-unborn Muhammad (Premise 7b), this presumes that Islam is simply the religion of all people who believe in One God (Premise 7a). Yet this assumption alone would have to include Jews and Christians and, indirectly, calls Jews and Christians followers of Islam. Are Jews and Christians really followers of Islam? Would any Christian claim to be a Muslim? Would any Jew claim to be a Muslim? Would any Muslim believe that Jews and Christians are followers of Islam? Any Muslim would reject this idea because Jews and Christians reject Muhammad as a prophet (7b). Therefore, the above quote is misleading because it does not include the necessity of Premise 7b—the belief that Muhammad is the last prophet.
The pamphlet states that Islam was the religion of every prophet of God who appeared in any part of the world. Is this belief logical? It has already been established that before Muhammad founded Islam, the religion did not exist, for there were no Muslims in the world until Muhammad named his followers as such. The Institute of Islamic Knowledge claims that the Prophets of old were all Muslims. But who does the Qu’ran say was the very first Muslim?
‘“Say, surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds, He has no partners; thus I am commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.” A-Qur’an 6:162-163’ (Ibid).
How is it determined that this verse pertains to Muhammad? Before this verse, the pamphlet describes worship in Islam as follows: “Therefore, doing a job, raising a family, interaction with community are all acts of worship if done in accordance with God’s commandments as acted upon and directed by the Prophet Muhammad….” (Ibid)
Muhammad, by his own admission, was therefore the first Muslim, and there could not have been any Muslims before him. Without adherents to Islam there could not have existed a religion known as Islam. This means that none of the prophets were Muslims and no one followed Islam (Premise 6).
Now, one may say that although there was no official religion called Islam, Islam was still preached by the prophets because they believed in One God only (7a), and worshiped in the ways of Islam. However, Jews and Christians believe in One God and they are not Muslims, so this explanation is lacking and therefore invalid.
By definition, Islam is not only the worship of One God (7a), but it is also the belief that Muhammad was the last prophet (7b). After all, one cannot be a Muslim if one does not accept both premises as true. Since Islam is the religion of the Muslims and Muslims believe in One God and that Muhammad is God’s last prophet, then Islam could not have been preached by the prophets who had no knowledge of Muhammad.
In answer to the title question, it is a logical and reasonable conclusion that Islam began with Muhammad, the first Muslim, and the prophets and Jesus who came before him were not Muslims.