The Arabic word “muslim” literally means “someone who is in a state of Islam (submission to the will and law of God)”. The message of Islam is meant for the entire world, and anyone who accepts this message becomes a muslim. Some people mistakenly believe that Islam is just a religion for Arabs, but nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, over 80% of the world’s muslims are not Arabs! Even though most Arabs are muslims, there are Arabs who are Christians, Jews and atheists. If one just takes a look at the various peoples who live in the muslim World – from Nigeria to Bosnia and from Morocco to Indonesia – it is easy enough to see that muslims come from all different races, ethnic groups, cultures and nationalities.
Islam has always been a universal message for all people. This can be seen in the fact that some of the early companions of the Prophet Muhammad were not only Arabs, but also Persians, Africans and Byzantine Romans. Being a muslim entails complete acceptance and active obedience to the revealed teachings and laws of God the Exalted. A muslim is a person who freely accepts basing his beliefs, values and faith on the will of Almighty God. In the past, even though you do not see it as much today, the word “Mohammedans” was often used as a label for muslims. This label is a misnomer, and is the result of either willful distortion or sheer ignorance.
One of the reasons for the misconception is that Europeans were taught for centuries that muslims worshipped the Prophet Muhammad in the same way that Christians worship Jesus. This is absolutely not true, since one is not considered a muslim if he worships anyone or anything besides God the Exalted. Read What did they say about Islam?