Quran – Foundational Concepts: Deen (Religion) Pt 1

This series is a study of concepts that feature prominently in The Quran. The words representing these concepts appear tens, if not hundreds, of times and form the backbone of its philosophy. This study is based on my own personal method of study called ‘Qira’ah Wujudiyyah’ (QiWu) or ‘An Existential Reading’. It does not necessarily represent any other Quranist although our methods may overlap. The point of QiWu is to transcend any religious or historical connotation but rather to find a meaning that fits our experience of life

In this and the few forthcoming essays, we will be analysing the word ‘deen’. Deen is a foundational concept in The Quran. Not only that, it is commonly used in Islamic circles as well. However, the connotations which it acquires in those circles may not be what is implied by Quran. As this is a central concept, it is important that we explore fully its meaning.

We have chosen to translate ‘deen’ as ‘religion’. This may come as a surprise to some in Quranist circles who favour translations such as ‘system’ or ‘way of life’. We chose ‘religion’ as Traditionalists do but not for the same reasons.

In English, ‘religion’ has a wide variety of meanings such as:

  1. A belief system such as the major religions of the world
  2. A set of cultural practices which may not even originate from the above religions.
  3. A devotion to any particular phenomenon or culture (like football!)
  4. A whole system of life even if its origin is mythical
  5. A particular cultural history

Of course, we do not subscribe exactly to all these meanings above because they do not all originate from Quran. Let us now see the semantics of the word ‘deen’ so we may first build a foundational idea on which to build our meaning.

‘Deen’ comes the root ‘dal ya noon’ and bears the meanings of obedience/submissiveness, servility, religion, high/elevated/noble/glorious rank/condition/state, took/receive a loan or borrowed upon credit, become indebted, in debt, under the obligation of a debt, contract a debt, repay/reimburse a loan, rule/govern/manage it, possess/own it, become habituated/accustomed to something, confirmation, death (because it is a debt everyone must pay), a particular law/statute, system, custom/habit/business, a way/course/manner of conduct/acting, repayment/compensation.

However, we do not believe that any of these are completely what is implied by Quran. In order to approach the true meaning, we must first look at the other manifestations of the name root such as:

a. Dayn – this is a transaction. The longest verse in the Quran, 2/282, gives favour to this meaning where the Author tells us of its protocols of any official transactions.

b. Madeenun – this is to be equitable. Quran 58/86 shows this meaning for people who think they are not accountable.

c. Yadeenuna – this shows behaviour which is observable. Quran 9/29 shows this meaning for people who go against a particular system.

Deen also has cousins from the weak radical ‘ya’ which can manifest as ‘alif’(dal-alif-noon) and ‘waw’ (dal-alif-noon). Examples are:

1. Adnaa – the closer or closest. Quran 30/2 uses it to mean ‘the closest land’

2. Dunya – the immediate existence. The first occurrence of this is 2/85 and it is a fairly common word.

3. Dooni – to be other than something as opposed to be besides something. Quran 10/104 uses it to mean to worship something other than Allah.

From the above, we can summarise deen as follows:
a. transaction involving some exchange
b. to be requitable for this transaction
c. to adopt a policy which affects behaviour
d. something which is immediate, not abstract
e. to transact with something other than the transactor.

Next: an analysis of ‘deen’ as per the earliest usages in The Quran.

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