There is a common misconception about converting to Islam (submission). People think they can adopt a name of a religion, change their own name and appearance, recite a one line declaration of faith called the "shahada" (which is usually incorrect because it mentions the name of Muhammad next to God) and......poof.........they are magically changed into another person. Once they become Muslim by name, they believe they are automatically saved - just like the Christians who claim that by accepting Jesus you are guaranteed a ticket to paradise. We read about this "chosen one" mentality in the Quran:
[2:111] Some have said, "No one will enter Paradise except Jews or
Christians!" Such is their wishful thinking. Say, "Show us your proof,
if you are right."
[2:112] Indeed, those who submit themselves absolutely to GOD alone, while leading a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
Islam is not a name. Islam means Submission to God alone. Muslim is an Arabic word that refers to the person who Submits to God alone. Submission involves an active daily process of remembering and worshiping God. It is a way of life, a way of perceiving and prioritizing God in your life. As mentioned in the verse about, the only universal religion is one in which you submit yourself absolutely to God alone while leading a righteous life. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, young or old, rich or poor, Christian or Buddhist. What matters is your decision to submit to God, making God a priority in your daily life and working hard to appreciate, worship and please your Creator every day. True Submission (no matter what your religious name is) is a constant effort of internal and external striving to come closer to God. It involves dealing with challenges, temptations, struggles and triumphs. As we read in the Quran:
[29:2] Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe," without being put to the test?
Thus, you can be a Christian Submitter, a Jewish Submitter or Muslim Submitter. The Quran speaks about this unity of Submitters:
[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
It is very interesting that God gives only one criterion in the Quran for distinguishing among the people. This criterion is not the name of a religion, but rather, righteousness which is the core of Submission.
[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.
The practices of Submission (Islam) which are encouraged in the Quran are simply tools we can use to help us remember and appreciate God during our hectic lives. Practices such as daily contact prayer and frequent charity are ways in which we can show through active worship that we truly submit to God. Otherwise, the words, "I believe in God," are lost in a sea of preoccupation.
[22:32] Indeed, those who reverence the rites decreed by GOD demonstrate the righteousness of their hearts.
Interestingly, Submission (Islam) is the one and same religion encouraged by God throughout time and has been the common religion advocated by all prophets and messengers. Unfortunately, the majority of Muslims themselves don't understand the meaning of Islam and have distorted the religion beyond recognition. We know that Submission is timeless and the practices are as old as the time of Abraham. Thus, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and all messengers in between were Muslim only in the sense that they submitted themselves totally in the service of God alone. They were not Muslims in the way that the distorted Islam is being practiced today.
[2:135] They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham - monotheism - he never was an idol worshiper."
[3:67] Abraham was neither Jewish, nor Christian; he was a monotheist submitter. He never was an idol worshiper.