Notes on deen in the Qur’an


This article is from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation.

dīn – doctrine

My treatment of this word is not radically different to how the Traditionalist treats it beyond the fact that I can provide a rational explanation for what it means which is consistent with the Qur’anic usage, and thereafter render it thus throughout.

The Arabic root of dīn is d-y-n. The common meanings arising from this root relate to duty, loans, debt, and obligation. Traditionalist translations commonly duck and weave with regard to dīn depending on their requirements. At times they understand it to mean religion (under which rubric they assume the Islamic religion replete with its precepts and dogmas); at other times something different.

In a very specific sense the meaning of dīn is that of religion – but only  in the sense of that which a man truly believes, that from which his actions follow.

Islam is a dīn as is fundamentalist Christianity a dīn. But equally, so is Communism a dīn, Earth-worshipping environmentalism a dīn, and scientific materialism a dīn. Belief that if you buy enough, own enough or gain enough fame you will be happy is a dīn. A dīn is the totality of the precepts upon which you base your life. Every sentient person has a dīn. Claiming one has no dīn or that no such thing exists is itself a dīn. A man’s dīn is that narrative which informs his decisions.

The point that the Qur’an is making with regard to dīn is not that the dīn of the Islamic religion is superior to other dīns, but that the moral law found in the Qur’an (and previously in other scriptures) is superior to other dīns.

Every sentient being adheres to one dīn or another and all else follows from that. Foolish people have been trained to parrot the view that it does not matter what you believe. It matters very much what you believe and, as G.K. Chesterton observed, it is perhaps the only thing that matters. Beliefs are the DNA of the soul.

While the Islamic dīn claims an origin in the Qur’an, even a cursory acquaintance with it will disabuse the enquirer of any genuine relationship between it and the Qur’an, and the honest investigator will be unable to ignore the conclusion that any small areas of correspondence between the two are either vestigial or coincidental.

In conclusion, the sense behind dīn is not that there exists one dīn and God chose this unique thing and gave it to ‘Muslims’ and it constitutes the Islamic religion. Rather, there are many dīns and God chose that dīn – that code of ethics or moral law or doctrine – he wanted for Ibrāhīm, Yaʿqūb and their line. The righteous of all times have had it. ʿĪsā, son of Maryam adhered to it. His early disciples adhered to it. His true disciples today – those who follow him rather than worship him – certainly have it. And by following the Qur’an one can participate in it also. It is a life transaction, a moral law based on taqwā (prudent fear of God) and good works. It is not an ism and it certainly does not correspond with sectarian membership of any kind.

I translate dīn as a free-standing concept across the entire text as doctrine.

In addition, there is the use of dīn as part of the collocation yawm al dīn. This could be rendered Day of Doctrine (in the sense that God’s power will uncover the true doctrine by which each man lived on the Final Day), but that would sound too odd in English, and I have kept to the commonly accepted Day of Judgment which carries the same sentiment but by a different route.

All instances in the text are footnoted.


1:4, 2:132, 2:193, 2:217, 2:217, 2:256, 3:19, 3:24, 3:73, 3:83, 3:85, 4:46, 4:125, 4:146, 4:171, 5:3, 5:3, 5:3, 5:54, 5:57, 5:77, 6:70, 6:137, 6:159, 6:161, 7:29, 7:51, 8:39, 8:49, 8:72, 9:11, 9:12, 9:29, 9:33, 9:33, 9:36, 9:122, 10:22, 10:104, 10:105, 12:40, 12:76, 15:35, 16:52, 22:78, 24:2, 24:25, 24:55, 26:82, 29:65, 30:30, 30:30, 30:32, 30:43, 31:32, 33:5, 37:20, 38:78, 39:2, 39:3, 39:11, 39:14, 40:14, 40:26, 40:65, 42:13, 42:13, 42:21, 48:28, 48:28, 49:16, 51:6, 51:12, 56:56, 60:8, 60:9, 61:9, 61:9, 70:26, 74:46, 82:9, 82:15, 82:17, 82:18, 83:11, 95:7, 98:5, 98:5, 107:1, 109:6, 109:6, 110:2.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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