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Dīn

By:
Anis Ahmad
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Dīn

Although it is one of the key concepts in the Qurʿān, it is difficult to translate the term dīn into a single word. The term appears ninety-eight times in the Qurʿān, in both Meccan and Medinan sūrahs (chapters), with a range of connotations.

The term dīn appears for the first time in the first chapter of the Qurʿān, al-Fātiḥah. Here the term is used in the sense of final judgment or reckoning, where God is referred to as the Owner or Lord of the Day of Judgment, yawm al-dīn (1:3). In several other Meccan verses, the same combination (yawm al-dīn) appears (for example, in 83:11; 82:9, 15, 17, 18; 74:46; 70:26; and 56:56). In these instances, the inevitability of the day of reckoning and final judgment is presented as a logical necessity of the meaning or purpose of life. Thus, denial of the Day of Judgment is directly related to disregard for social responsibility. “Have you thought of the one who denies the judgment (dīn) then such is the (one) who repulses the orphan (with harshness) and encourages not the feeding of the indigent” (107:1–3).

A second important aspect of the meaning of the term emerges in Meccan revelations concerning the practice of the Prophet Abraham. Here it stands for the straight path (al-dīn al-ḥanīf) toward which Abraham and other messengers called the people (10:104–105; see also 30:30 and 12:40). The Qurʿān asserts that this was the path or practice followed by Abraham: “Say, as for me, my Lord has guided me on to a straight way, right dīn, the way of Abraham…” (6:161). This correct path or way of acting is also described as God's way, with legal connotations: “Those who fornicate whether female or male, flog each one of them with hundred lashes. And let not tenderness for either deter you from what pertains to Allāh's dīn, if you truly believe in Allāh and the Last Day” (24:2; see also 8:39, 9:29).

In some passages the term appears to have legal and political connotations, for example, in Sūrah “Yūsuf,” where reference is made to “the Sovereignty of Allāh (dīn al-mālikī,” (12:76; see also 40:26).

The comprehensiveness and totality of the term is expressed in Medinan verses such as, “The true dīn with Allāh is Islam” (3:19), where dīn seems to refer to “way of life,” and “This day I have perfected for you your dīn and have bestowed upon you My Bounty in full measure and have been pleased to assign for you Islam as your dīn” (5:3). The term also refers to the uncorrupted way of Nature, dīn al-fitrah (64:2).

In the final analysis, dīn encompasses social and spiritual, as well the legal and political behavior of the believers as a comprehensive way of life, a connotation wider than the word “religion.” There is no dichotomy in the Qurʿānic concept of dīn, between law or state and religion.

See also JUDGMENT, FINAL.

Bibliography

  • Bravmann, M.The Spiritual Background of Early Islam: Studies in Ancient Arab Concepts. Leiden, 1972.
  • Brodeur, Patrice C.“Religion.” In the Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, 2004.
  • Gardet, L.Encyclopedia of Islam. New ed., vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 1991.
  • Haddad, Y. Y.“The Conception of the Term Dīn in the Qurʿān.”Muslim World64 (1974): 114–123.
  • Macdonald, D. B.“Dīn.” In The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam. New York: Cornell University Press, 1953.
  • Mawdūdī, Abū Aʿlā. Four Key Concepts of the Qurʿān. Translated by Tarek Jan. Leicester, U.K.: Islamic Foundation, 2006.
  • Mawdūdī, Abū Aʿlā. Tafhīm al-Qurʿān. Translated by Z. I. Ansari as Towards Understanding the Qurʿān. Leicester, U.K., 2001.
  • Shafi, Mufti M.Maʿarif al-Qurʿān. Translated by M. Shamim. Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul ʿUloom, 2001.
  • Smith, W. C.The Meaning and End of Religion. New York, 1963.
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