What is “Convert to Islam” in Arabic?

You often hear a discussion about “convert” vs “revert.” But what is the Arabic word for someone who accepted Islam?

The Discussion

The discussion about the word “revert” goes back to verses of the Qur’an and accompanying hadith:

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ – 30:30

So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah . That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.

Quran 30:30

Ibn Kathir says: Allah created His creation to recognize Him and know His Tawhid, and that there is no God except Him.

Ibn Kathir also cites Bukhari’s chapter heading on Qur’anic commentary and says:

وَقَالَ الْبُخَارِيُّ: قَوْلُهُ: ﴿لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ﴾ : لِدِينِ اللَّهِ، خَلْقُ الْأَوَّلِينَ: [دِينُ الْأَوَّلِينَ] ،(٤) وَالدِّينُ وَالْفِطْرَةُ: الْإِسْلَامُ.
“And Bukhari said: Allah’s speech (no change should there be in the creation of Allah): means in the deen of Allah… And ‘deen’ and ‘fitrah’: mean Islam.”

Another commonly cited hadith:

حَدَّثَنَا حَاجِبُ بْنُ الْوَلِيدِ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، عَنِ الزُّبَيْدِيِّ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، أَخْبَرَنِي سَعِيدُ بْنُ الْمُسَيَّبِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ مَا مِنْ مَوْلُودٍ إِلاَّ يُولَدُ عَلَى الْفِطْرَةِ فَأَبَوَاهُ يُهَوِّدَانِهِ وَيُنَصِّرَانِهِ وَيُمَجِّسَانِهِ كَمَا تُنْتَجُ الْبَهِيمَةُ بَهِيمَةً جَمْعَاءَ هَلْ تُحِسُّونَ فِيهَا مِنْ جَدْعَاءَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ وَاقْرَءُوا إِنْ شِئْتُمْ ‏{‏ فِطْرَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا لاَ تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ‏}‏ الآيَةَ ‏.‏

There is none born but they were born on the fitrah. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian quite as beasts produce their young with their limbs perfect. Do you see anything deficient in them? Then he quoted the Qur’an.., ‘The fitrah made by Allah in which He has created men there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion.'” (ar-Rum: 30)

Sahih Muslim 2658 b

Also these two verses which mention mankind’s testimony as souls before coming to Earth:

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَنِي آدَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ ۛ شَهِدْنَا ۛ أَن تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَٰذَا غَافِلِينَ – 7:172

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.”

أَوْ تَقُولُوا إِنَّمَا أَشْرَكَ آبَاؤُنَا مِن قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا ذُرِّيَّةً مِّن بَعْدِهِمْ ۖ أَفَتُهْلِكُنَا بِمَا فَعَلَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ – 7:173

Or [lest] you say, “It was only that our fathers associated [others in worship] with Allah before, and we were but descendants after them. Then would You destroy us for what the falsifiers have done?”

Quran 7:172-3

The question arises: since Islam is the fitrah, and people are born on the fitrah, does that mean every child is born Muslim? This accompanies the additional claim that if a child were left alone, they would worship Allah ﷻ in their own way, if their parents and environment hadn’t intervened and made them a certain unIslamic religion.

I still have yet to see a hadith which explicitly states that everyone is born upon Islam–it is the interpretation of certain scholars (like ibn Kathir) who interpret words like fitrah to mean Islam, or at least an inclination to Islam. But we have hadith that explicitly state that Allah ﷻ created His servants as hunafaa’, monotheists, such as this hadith in musnad Ahmad and sahih Muslim, cited by ibn Kathir:

وَفِي الْحَدِيثِ: “إني خلقت عِبَادِي حُنَفاء، فَاجْتَالَتْهُمُ الشَّيَاطِينُ عَنْ دِينِهِمْ”. وَسَنَذْكُرُ فِي الْأَحَادِيثِ أَنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى فَطَرَ خَلْقَهُ عَلَى الْإِسْلَامِ، ثُمَّ طَرَأَ عَلَى بَعْضِهِمُ الْأَدْيَانُ الْفَاسِدَةُ كَالْيَهُودِيَّةِ أَوِ النَّصْرَانِيَّةِ أَوِ الْمَجُوسِيَّةِ

“And [Allah said] in the hadith: ‘indeed I created My servants hunafaa‘ (monotheists), then then shayatin misled them from their deen.’ And we will mention in the hadith that Allah Most High created His creation upon Islam, then corrupt religions befell some of them like the Jews or Christians or Zoroastrians.”

Ibn Kathir then cites a number of hadith stating that every child is born on the fitrah as well as the full account of the cited hadith that Allah created His servants as hunafaa‘. Now not all of the hunafaa‘ in Arabia of the jahiliyyah accepted Islam when they learned of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, so you couldn’t argue that this only means Muslims. The idea that everyone is born a Muslim is like a qiyas, a logical deduction, but there is no explicit mention of this that I am aware of.

In the Shari’a, the child of a non-Muslim is not a Muslim, and in terms of our أمور الدنيا matters of the dunya, they are treated like a non-Muslim (IE in regards to the janazah and where they are buried), unless of course they take the shahada and enter Islam. But they were still created with an inclination for Islam, the natural fitrah, or primordial nature. And they were created monotheists, or hunafaa‘.

So conclusively, we can say that whether or not someone is born a Muslim is a matter of ikhtilaf, or disagreement. Ibn Kathir seems to believe so. What seems most likely the case, to me, is that everyone is born with a primordial nature that inclines to Islam. When someone accepts Islam, they are “reverting” to their primordial nature, rather than resisting it–they’ve submitted to what they were created for.

People who accepted Islam will testify to an inclination to search for and find the Truth, and to the pristine clarity and natural feel of Islam. Dreams may also be involved. Conversion stories are quite telling.

Another English alternative: Some folks call somebody who recently accepted Islam a “new shahada,” encouraging people to support them and be understanding of the challenges they are facing.

Tangent: Souls Before Birth

Another point of discussion: is there a difference between our created souls and our births? Our souls were perhaps created in a state of submission, or Islam, and then on Earth we only have our fitrah until we find and accept Islam. If we were created as hunafaa’, then that would mean both our souls as well as our bodies. In the hadith it says then the shayatin misled mankind from their deen, their religion and way of life. But it would seem you are not exposed to such tribulations until birth. So perhaps you are upon Islam as a soul and even as a fetus until birth, when Satan touches you and makes you cry–your first experience. This can become a long discussion, so I’ll leave my digression here.

Arabic Word

The word “revert” was never used in the Arabic language to describe someone who accepted Islam.

The verb used was form IV of س ل م, which is أَسَلَمَ. This I covered in the “What Does Islam Mean?” article.

The noun used was مُهْتَدٍ muhtadin, the form VIII ism fa’il اسم فاعل of ه د ي.

Form VIII verb meanings of ه د ي in Hans Wehr

And here we have the ism fa’il:

Form VIII ism fa’il

The connotations seem to indicate somebody who followed their natural fitrah and found the right way–Islam–as well as someone who was guided by Allah ﷻ.

The hadith I’ve searched seem to use the term in a general sense of being guided, or even as someone who guides others. This website of course is merely a small collection of hadith, however–there are many thousands more to search for usages.

We also have phrasal usages from Almaany citing two modern dictionaries:

Dictionary Al-Ghaniyy:

  1. Muhtad: A guided man: All of those in the path of good sense and that which is right/proper/correct. Surat an-Najm 30: (Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who strays from His way, and He is most knowing of who is guided.)
    [Note: He wrote بالمهتدين here yet the actual verse says بمَن اهتدى, which uses the form 8 verb.]
  2. “He was among those who were muhtadeen to Islam:” [meaning]: Allah guided him to Islam.

Dictionary Al-Lughat al-Arabiyah al-Mua’asirah (The Contemporary Arabic Language):

  1. Ism fa’il from form 8 ihtada’, also with the prepositions إلى and بِ.
  2. Whoever Allah guided to Islam. Many in number is called muhtadeen in Africa.

Qur’anic Usage

The term muhtad is used 21 times in the Qur’an. It is generally used to describe the believers as being guided and in contrast to misguidance, error, and being astray (ضلالة). However this verse is informative:

مَن یَهۡدِ ٱللَّهُ فَهُوَ ٱلۡمُهۡتَدِیۖ
وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَأُوْلَـيِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

Whoever Allah guides, then he is al-muhtadi (rightly guided).
And whoever He sends astray, then those are the losers.

Quran 7:178

This is basically giving you the definition of someone who is guided, and perhaps the strongest proof from primary sources.

Also interesting that Maariful Qur’an states:
Here we note that the above verse has mentioned the people of guidance in singular person while the people who are wrong and misguided have been mentioned in plural. This indicates that the path of guidance is the one true faith which was followed by all the prophets right from Adam (علیہ السلام) to the last of all Prophets (صلی اللہ علیہ وآلہ وسلم) . The basic message of all the prophets has been one and the same. That is to say, the fundamentals preached by all the prophets were all same in every age. Therefore, people of any age and denomination who believed in their prophets and followed the teachings preached by them are considered by Allah belonging to one and the same category – that is, the guided. On the contrary, the ways of misguidance have been thousands in number, hence mentioned in plural in this verse.

Conclusion

Conclusively, perhaps the closest description to the Arabic is “guided to Islam.” Then again, saying someone converted or reverted is the clearest way of describing what is intended to be said, since every Muslim was guided to Islam. Even Hans Wehr himself used the phrase “a convert to Islam” in his dictionary to get the point across.

Further Reading

What does “Islam” mean?

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