By nature, the human being is ignorant, unjust and lazy. We have to really struggle and actively strive not to be unjust to people. If we are constantly on guard and are prepared to correct ourselves, we may be able to transcend our natural state, but it is hard. Part of this is checking the information we have. Always start with a question, for a good question is half of knowledge. Even angels ask, as the saying goes.
Our individual definition of words such as salam, islam and muslim are all derived from our individual programming. You must have courage to look beyond what is apparent and seek out the subtle meanings other might prefer us to ignore.
Islam is an active path towards being healthy and safe. If you are not moving towards a state of safety and health, it is not Islam. It is something else entirely.
You must struggle throughout your life to be safe and healthy. Peace is the result of safety and being healthy. If a country does not care for the health and safety of its people, there will be no peace as a result. To intentionally enter a state of safety and health, and make an effort to achieve it: the name of this thing is Islam.
When we speak of a Muslim, we mean the addition of the human element to the abstract idea of Islam: that is, someone trying to walk the path of promoting safety and health. He or she could be true, or they could be the complete opposite, or they could sway between the two states. If a Muslim works for a project that destroys safety and health, they are not truly Muslim.
As a human, you have to individually work to promote and create a state of safety and health. You should avoid those things that harm your physical side: so you shun alcohol, drugs and unhealthy foods. Some things are obvious, some are subtle. You also have to avoid those things that harm your spiritual side. The biggest disease most of us face is pride. Pride is very common amongst Muslims, but it is necessary to remove it in order to make progress, for it is the origin of all other spiritual pitfalls.
But striving for safety and health must extend beyond yourself, first to your community and then to your land. Of course, the more it broadens out, the more complicated it becomes. Public health is the agenda of Islam.
Our Prophet, peace be upon him, never initiated war against anyone who did not wage war on him. However, Muslims did wage wars offensively, ignoring the command of the Qur’an not to transgress boundaries. Sometimes a Muslim war is legitimate, sometimes it is not. A war should always be the last resort; always go for peace when it is offered, for when there is a war, the opportunity to pursue safety and health is gone.
Do not take anything for granted. You need to make an effort to find things out, to sit down to reflect and learn. To perceive things as they truly are takes a lot of work. An opinion may be Islam, but it may not be. No one has hold of the whole truth. A good Muslim is one who makes a good effort in the path of safety and health. Amongst all the Muslims, you need to find Islam. Once you realise things for what they are, you then have to practice it. This is not easy; it is very hard.
Islam starts from the outside and goes inward. First you become a Muslim, then you must struggle to become a Mumin. The first sign of a Mumin is that when you see something harmful, you remove it.
All of the above comes from the advice of my teacher, friend and mentor, who writes at Salihun.info, with whose company I have been blessed the past fifteen years. I cannot take credit for these insights.