The answer is as varied and different as the one giving that answer, but I found this particular answer one that should be considered in the mix along with all the others
Islam is commonly translated into English, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, as simply “submission” (or “surrender”).
This is a simplistic translation that fails to convey the full meaning of the Arabic word.
There are namely two problems here.
First, “submission” and “surrender” in English contextualized usage imply a sense of coercion, a usurpation of one’s free will. When we say “surrender!” for example, it’s usually at gun point.
This contradicts a foundational criterion of Islam: freedom of will.
In Arabic, “Istislam,” not “Islam”, means “surrender” (noun). Like its English counterpart, “Istislam” implies coercion, and like its English counterpart it can be used to describe the act of one man vis-a-vis another. Conversely, “Islam” is used ONLY in the context of God, and ONLY in a state of free will (there is no single word in the English language that conveys this).
In other words, for a Muslim to be a Muslim, he or she must accept Islam free of force or coercion. God wishes for us to choose him because we want him, and for no other reason but that. This is a key point that is often misunderstood. Since faith is a matter of the heart, it can never be forced. It is technically impossible that Islam could ever be spread by the sword or by coercion, as some suggest, since even if at gun point (or at the sword blade), one could just as well proclaim to be a Muslim to avoid death, but reject Islam in their heart.
……Islam does not mean “submission,” Islam means “to freely submit one’s will to God’s, in pursuit of divine peace.” A simpler version that carries the same meaning is “to enter into God’s peace,” as Professor Tariq Ramadan proposes. It is ironic that two important characteristics of being a Muslim, in fact the two most basic criteria (freedom and peace), are two of the most misrepresented and conflated when it comes to the West’s conception of Islam.
I agree with Rehab’s conclusion above. In today’s discourse on Islam, current political prejudices are too often injected in the meaning of words and Rehab wants to avoid this by returning to the meaning of WORDS and not images and concepts that surround the word “Islam”. I applaud him, however language is so very broad and sweeping that even Rehab has been caught up in its trap, its deceptiveness. Denotative meanings of the word “Islam” do give the sense of a freedom of will as Rehab suggests, with one of the more widely available Arabic-English dictionaries including to ‘commit one’s self’ to Something or SomeOne or ‘declare’ one’s self committed to the will of God which seem to be absent the coercion implicit in the definitions Rehab cites. Inevitably, the understanding of “Islam” depends on the climate and the personalities involved in rendering and hearing it. In today’s America how that winds up is left to anyone’s imagination, but Rehab makes a very good attempt at making the focal point of the word the reality that Muslims have of it and how many of them try to live it.
Hat tip to Loonwatch.com