What is the definition of religion? What is the scope of religion?
Dīn, which is an Arabic word, refers to various meanings such as “custom and tradition, punishment and reciprocity, reward, obedience, reckoning, submission, dominance and superiority, sultanate and property, decree and edict, nation, sharīʿah”. The origin of the word “religion”, which is used as the equivalent of the word dīn in western languages today, is Latin, and it has the meaning of “the bond that binds man to God”, as well as the meaning of “taking something like a task, doing it again and again and reading”. It can be said that the common point of the terms chosen by every religious culture to express the concept of religion is that it refers to “a path, belief, custom, and servitude”.
If the word “dayn”, which comes from the same root as the word “dīn” and means “debt”, and its derivatives are left aside, the word dīn and its derivatives are mentioned in ninety-five places in the Qur’an. The main connotations of the word dīn as used in the Qur’an are as follows: Absolute obedience, submission, worship, the day of judgment and punishment, God’s religion, Islam, tawḥīd, law, decree, and sharīʿah.
In the verses revealed in Mecca, the word dīn is mostly used in the meanings of gathering people around the belief of the Unity of Allah, such as the judgment day, the straight religion, and the religion of Abraham. In the verses that were revealed in the Medinan period, it transformed into a word leading the believers to become an Islamic society, and with the expression “true religion”, heralded that it was going to be superior to altered and false religions. This superiority is clearly emphasized in the following verses: “Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of Allah is Islam (man’s self-surrender unto Him)” and “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).”
Even though the word dīn is used in the Qur’an to express the beliefs of not only Muslims but also others, it is stated that Islam and dīn are two synonymous words in a particular sense and that this religion is brought by all prophets is Islam.
It is observed that the words derived from the root of “dīn” are mainly used in hadiths with the following meanings: 1. To bow down, obey, and worship; “The wise person is the one who subdues his nafs and makes him worship (Allah).” In this hadith, the verb “dāna” means “one who subdues, one who holds into account”. 2. To believe and worship; “The Quraysh and those who believed and worshiped like them (dāna, dīnahum) would stay for ritual standing at Muzdalifah.” 3. To perceive the reward for both good or evil acts; “How you act, so you will receive in return.” 4. To force and to compel. Allah’s name “Dayyān” means the sovereign and the dominating.
There are also words used synonymously with the word dīn in the Qur’an and sunnah. Such are the words millah and sharīʿah. The word millah was also used in the meaning of sharīʿah, as the prophets dictated the religion they brought to their ʿummah and always followed the same path. As in the statement “disbelief is one nation,” it is also used about “false beliefs”. Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī said the following on this subject: “The term millah is similar to dīn in meaning, the difference between them is this: ‘The word millah is generally used together with the names of the prophets as in the following verse: “And I follow the ways (millah) of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” For example, one does not say “the millah of Allah, the millah of Zayd.” Millah is the name of the sharīʿah that Allah sent through His prophets.”
Based on this general information, it is possible to define the true religion as follows: Dīn refers to the commands and decrees that Allah revealed through His Prophets in order to guide people to goodness and to prevent them from evil. It has also been defined as the following: Dīn is a divine law that leads rational people by their own choices to things that are beneficial personally. In this sense, dīn consists of both belief and practice. Just as it regulates the relations between the human being and his Supreme Lord, it also regulates the relations among people, as well as between a human being and things. By using his mind, every human being can comprehend that there is a Creator of this universe. The human being has been given this ability. His nature is pure and he has the power to find his Creator. As a matter of fact, when Abraham was a child, he observed the moon, the sun, and the stars and thought that they might be his Lord, but when he saw that they disappeared, he realized the truth by sensing that the Almighty Allah was behind them.
When the human mind contemplates about natural events, it accepts that they cannot come into existence haphazardly and that the delicate balance between the forces of nature cannot be established by themselves. Thus, the mind can grasp the hidden creative power existing behind the universe. It doesn’t require any prior knowledge either. Anyone who knows the concept of magnitude logically knows that the number two is greater than one, even if he has never talked about it before. Because this is in his nature, and his nature affirms and accepts it. It is in human nature to be aware of and know Allah.
The Qur’an refers to this logic as follows: “If you ask them, who it is that created the heavens and the earth. They will certainly say, “Allah”. In another verse, it is stated that; “And so, set your face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which Allah has instilled into the human being.” One can see the same power of persuasion in the following verse that answers the question of ʿĀs ibn Waʾil, one of the polytheists of Quraysh, who asked the Messenger of Allah, “Who could give life to bones that have crumbled to dust?” “Say: “He who brought them into being in the first instance will give them life [once again], seeing that He has full knowledge of every act of creation.” The difficult act is the first creation. Whoever creates something for the first time has the power to create it for a second time. Why shouldn’t the power that brought the human into being, resurrect him on the Day of Judgment?
The purity existing in human beings’ nature deteriorates as a result of the influence of a certain environment and Satan’s indoctrination of evil. While the human heart is like a clean mirror open to divine images at the beginning, it transforms into a dirty and rusty one, where worldly greed, unrestrained lust, and sins prevail. The following is stated in one of the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh): “Every child is born with a true faith (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism or to Christianity or to Magainism.”
On the other hand, it is not enough for a person through his mind to contemplate and approve of the existence of his Lord. He must know Him in His truth and qualities. This requires self-knowledge. That is why it is said, “He who knows his soul and his own truth knows his Lord”. Allah Almighty says on this subject: “In time We shall make them fully understand Our messages [through what they perceive] in the utmost horizons [of the universe] and within themselves so that it will become clear unto them that this [revelation] is indeed the truth. [Still,] is it not enough [for them to know] that your Lord is witness unto everything?”
The things that a person, who is devoid of religious feelings, knows about himself are limited to the knowledge about the things that he can see and that he has learned from the senses concerning even his internal organs. What he knows about his spiritual life is nothing more than the fact that he eats when he is hungry, attacks when he is angry, and approaches his spouse when his sexual desire increases. Such emotions also exist in other animals. That is why the human being has to search for his own truth. “What is the human being? Where did he come from? Where will he go? Why did he come to this world? Why was he created? What is the way to reach happiness in this world and beyond?” The human being, who is looking for answers to all these questions, can no longer find the answer to these within his own logic. “Religion” gives an answer to these. The owner and source of true religion is Allah Almighty Himself. However, since the human being does not have the ability to directly contact and speak with Allah, he cannot know what Allah has commanded and prohibited. Allah Almighty sent His prophets to act as ambassadors between people and Himself. The divine commands and decrees sent to people through the prophets are called “dīn”.
 See Muḥammad Fuad ʿAbd al-Baqi, Muʿjam al-Mufahras li Alfāẓ al-Qur’an al-Karīm, “Dyn”; Beşir Eryaysoy, “Din”, Şamil İslâm Ansiklopedisi. Al-Fatiha, 1: 14; al-Dhariyat, 51: 6; al-Anʿām, 6: 161. See al-Ḥajj, 22: 78. Al-Tawba, 9: 29, 33; al-Fatḥ, 48: 28; al-Saff, 61: 9. Āl ʿImrān, 3: 19; al-Baqara, 2: 193. Āl ʿImrān, 3: 85. See Āl ʿImrān, 3: 85, 99; al-Nisā, 4: 125; al-Mā’ida, 5: 3; al-Shūrā, 42: 13. Al-Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 25; Ibn Maja, Zuhd, 31. Al-Bukhari, Tafsir, chapter 3, bab, 35; Muslim, Ḥajj, 151. Al-Bukhari, Tafsir, chapter, 1, bab, 1. Ibn al-Athīr, al-Nihaya fī Gharīb al-Ḥadīth, Beirut 1399/1979, II, 148, 149. Yusuf, 12: 38. Al-Isfahani, Mufraḍāt, Cairo 1381/1961, p. 471, 472; Abu al-Baqa, Kulliyāt, Amira, 1287, p. 327, 328. See al-Anʿām, 6: 75-78 Luqman, 31: 25 Al-Rūm, 30: 30 Ya Sin, 36: 78, 79 Al-Bukhari, Janaiz, 30, 80. Fussilat, 41: 53