By Luqman Sadiq
The word “deen” (Arabic: دين) is a multifaceted term that has a range of meanings and connotations depending on the context in which it is used. The Arabic term is often translated as “religion” or “faith.” However the concept of deen encompasses much more than just a belief system or set of practices.
Arabic lexicon also defines deen as “judgement” or “law.” Another primary meaning of the word deen is “way.” It refers to the way that a person lives their life according to the teachings of their religion or belief system. This includes not only their spiritual practices, but also their relationships with others, their moral values, and their actions in the world. Deen is often used to describe the way that Muslims live their lives according to the teachings of Islam.
Religion vs. Deen
The word religion, with its Latin origin, literally means faith, belief, and mannerisms. On the other hand, deen is a complete system accepting absolute sovereignty of Allah and encompasses a complete code of life with applicable social, economic, political, and religious values. Collectively, deen is a combination of political and economic institutions, social law and order, and beliefs.
Deen in Arabic Literature
The famous classical Arabic dictionaries Al-Qamus al-Muheet and Lisan al-Arab state that there are four potential meanings of the term deen دين which derives from the root word ‘dana’ دَانَ ( submit to). These meanings include subjugation, obedience (submission), ruling, and judgement (justice and accountability).
Deen in the Quran
The word deen دين appears in as many as 79 verses of the Quran. Some scholars have translated deen in several places as faith. Others have used meanings referring to deen as a system and other times is translated with a sense of obedience, submission and allegiance. It is important to note that the Quran also uses the word deen in the form of ad-deen and not deen only. The difference in meaning translates to “the way” rather than “a way.”
In the first chapter of the Quran, deen carries the meaning of judgement:
مَـٰلِكِ يَوْمِ ٱلدِّينِ
Master of the Day of Judgement. (1:4)
What is the Day of Judgement? The Day of Judgement also refers to the Day of Requital or the Day of Resurrection (according to Ibn Kathir). It is the Day appointed by Allah to recompense good or evil deeds.
أَءِذَا مِتْنَا وَكُنَّا تُرَابًۭا وَعِظَـٰمًا أَءِنَّا لَمَدِينُونَ
When we are dead and reduced to dust and bones, will we really be brought to judgment? (37:53)
Ibn `Abbas said, Yawm Ad-Din – يَوْمِ ٱلدِّينِ is the Day of Recompense for the creatures. On that Day, Allah will reckon the creation for their deeds, evil for evil, good for good, except for those whom He pardons. (Ibn Kathir)
ذَٰلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلْقَيِّمُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
That is the upright faith, but most people do not know. (12:40)
لَآ إِكْرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ ۖ
Let there be no compulsion in religion. (2:256)
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِىَ دِينِ
To you be your religion, and to me my religion. (109:6) (Pickthall’s Translation)
For you is your faith, and for me, my faith. (Shafi’s Translation)
There is no dualism of religious and secular affairs in interpreting the word ad-deen. Therefore, neither its meaning is that of the only religious thoughts nor behaviors of human individuals. But rather it refers to the faith to which the Ultimate Authority belongs to Allah alone; He ordained that one should submit everything to Him alone.
As The Way
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِىَ دِينِ
To you be your Way, and to me mine. (Yusuf Ali’s Translation)
The word ‘way’ here refers to the “way of life” according to Shariah law. In fact, ad-deen itself is not merely a theoretical ideology, which just needs to be preached. It is a complete WAY of life and a system of governance comprising social, economical and political laws that needs to be established with power and authority. However, other translators are in favor of translating this word deen in this ayah as the religion.
مَا كَانَ لِيَأْخُذَ أَخَاهُ فِى دِينِ ٱلْمَلِكِ
He could not have taken his brother under the King’s law. (12:76)
جَلْدَةٍۢ ۖ وَلَا تَأْخُذْكُم بِهِمَا رَأْفَةٌۭ فِى دِينِ ٱللَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْـَٔاخِرِ ۖ
and do not let pity for them make you lenient in ˹enforcing˺ the law of Allah. (24:2)
هُوَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُۥ بِٱلْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ ٱلْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُۥ عَلَى ٱلدِّينِ كُلِّهِۦ ۚ
He is the One Who has sent His Messenger with ˹right˺ guidance and the law of truth, making it prevail over all others. (48:28)
Here, in the first and second ayah, the word deen is used in the sense of law, meaning a ruling prescribed by Allah. In a broader term, Islamic law or Shariah is the basis of Islamic society, so this translation also revolves around the idea of interpreting ad-deen as the “complete way of living.”
Deen, in a comprehensive sense, refers to what Allah has prescribed upon his servants as a kind of servitude and worship to him via revelation to his Prophet as a complete way to live; an embodied spiritual, social, political and economical guidance. By way of living, it never means that it is for a particular aspect or sphere of life but it is the way of the whole life. Nor the meaning of deen is the rituals or rites of worship and beliefs in the supernatural world and life after death, or the collection of these beliefs. Rather it was meant to be a comprehensive system of thought and action that guides the people of all ages and times in every walk and sphere of their lives.
- Lugh’at-ul-Quran, Ghulam Ahmed Parwez, Tolu-e-Islam Trust, 1941
- Translations of the Holy Quran by Marmaduke Pickthall, Shakir, and others
- Quran.com, available at https://quran.com
- Nasr, S.H., Dagli, C.K., Dakake, M.M., Lumbard, J.E. and Rustom, M., 2015. The Study Quran. A new translation and commentary, 19.
- Ibn Kathir., 2000. Tafsir ibn Khatir. Dar-us-Salam Publications.
- Muslim, Sahih Al-Muslime. S.I:s.n.
- Shafi M., 2017. Maarif ul Quran. Binoria publications.
What does the word ‘deen’ mean to you? Share your reflection in the comments below!