Given that Westerners prize their individual freedom, is it not to be expected that they'd fear a religion whose very name means "submission"?
And I responded:
If this is truly the case, then it's for lack of understanding of what "submission" in Islam truly means. Not that that's anything new, misunderstanding Islam, that is.
George's question gave me a lot of thought for a couple days as I thought about how to respond to it more fully. The simple fact of the matter is that to become a Muslim, to submit to the will of Allah (swt), is not only completely compatible with individual freedom, but the decision to submit can only be done with complete freedom by the individual to make such a decision. Muslims point out time and time again,
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (2:256)
One cannot sincerely choose to join any religion unless one has complete freedom to make their own personal choice.
Be that as it may, once one becomes a Muslim, there are certain rules, duties and obligations one is expected to follow. Many of these are "non-negotiable." Muslims are expected to follow the five pillars of Islam as best they can. We are expected to obey the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as best we can. What makes these obligations so frightening for many people is that they touch upon fundamental lifestyle issues: what we eat, what clothes we wear, how we live their lives. These people are not comfortable with making wholesale changes to their lives. And even Muslims tell new reverts to Islam: "Go slow. Take your time." We know that we ask a lot from people when they return to Islam. But, likewise, a Muslim whose faith continues to grow will want to make those changes in his or her life. He or she will want to obey those rules and fulfill those duties as best he or she can. As Yusuf Ali often pointed out in his commentary, when the Qur'an says that we should "fear Allah" (swt), this is not out of any fear from punishment (such as hell fire), but from a fear of doing anything that might be displeasing to Allah (swt). To "fear" Allah (swt) really means to love Him. We want Allah (swt) to be pleased with our faith and conduct in our daily lives. Muhammad's (pbuh) proudest title was that of "Slave of Allah" (swt) - Abdullah - and this title can only be obtained from the voluntary, conscious decision to submit to the will of Allah (swt), and not to be compelled or coerced into such a "belief."
In that regard, yes, non-Muslims often don't have a clue when they hear that Islam means "submission." This is not the submission of a human slave to a human master. That connotation is completely false with respect to Islam. Muslims submit to Allah (swt) because of their love for Him. As the above ayah points out, he who "believes in Allah (swt) has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks." Who would not want to cling to such a handhold?