By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with AshfaqueUllah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.)
September 28, 2015.
This article is inspired by a deeply though latently God-conscious contact of mine, unaware of his divine heritage. The object of this article is to expound the brotherhood of humanity which is the essence of all religions as much as the Qur’anic message and the dream vision of the intellectual of this era. The article is not the brainchild of the author as he is just an ordinary person and not founder or proponent of any social or religious doctrine. As a Muslim, he is backing his arguments on the Qur’an which as it claims is meant for all humanity, gives equal recognition to all Prophets and puts all humanity on a level playing field.
To begin with we must see the role and uniqueness of humans in divine scheme as spelled out in the Qur’an – albeit in bits and pieces.
At the concluding stage of his creative process, man (humankind) is graced with a touch of divine breath (15:29, 32:9, and 38:72). This invests him with a divine heritage, regardless of the religion in which he is born. He is also described as the noblest of creatures (95:4) – God’s deputy (Khalifah) on earth'(2:30, 6:165, 27:62, 35:39), who is granted cognitive ability (use of reason) (96:4), the power to learn new things (96:5), coherent speech (55:3/4) and is favoured above much of the Creation (17:70). Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth is made subservient to him and God has lavished His bounties on him (both) seen and unseen…” (31:20) [See also 14:32, 16:12, 45:13, and 67:15]. None of these qualities is religion specific. That means the religion of a person does not make him superior to fellow humans belonging to another religion in any way. In other words, the Qur’an does not espouse any religion based superiority.
The next important point to bear in mind is that the Qur’an does not represent the religious views of the Prophet Muhammad. In the words of Bishop Kenneth Cragg, it is “the culminatory truth from all that past, enfolding God’s education of humanity through the prophets” . It reminds the Prophet to lead by following the example of the Prophet Abraham, whom it regards as the model of pure monotheism, and a Friend of God (3:95, 4:125) and acknowledges the truth of other faiths (5:48):
“And who can be better in faith (din) than the one who surrenders (Assalama) his whole being to God (divine imperatives), and does good deeds, and follows the way of Abraham, the pure in faith (Hanif), and God took Abraham as a friend” (4:125).
“Say (O Messenger): ‘God speaks the truth.’ Therefore follow the creed of Abraham, who was pure in faith and never of those who associate partners with God” (3:95)
“We have revealed to you this divine Writ (Kitab) setting forth the truth, confirming (whatever) remains of the divine writ (sent earlier), and determining what is true in it. Therefore, judge between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their whims after what has come to you of truth. For each of you We have made a (different) code (Shir’ah), and an open way (of action) (Minhaj). If God so pleased, He would have made you (all) into one community. Therefore vie (with each other) in goodness (so that) He may test you by what He has given you. (Remember, you) all will (eventually) return to God, and He will tell you in what you differed” (5:48).
The underlined phrase above clearly indicates God’s divine plan to test all human beings on the Day of Judgment regardless of colour, race and nationality and doctrinal differences by ‘what He gave them’ implying how humans used the faculties and bounties God lavished on them – their deeds in one word. Accordingly, the Qur’an repeatedly declares that He will judge all people regardless of religion based on their deeds:
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. There will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians - (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (5:69).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians and Magians, and those who associate (others with God) - God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment. Indeed, God is Witness to all things” (22:17). [See also 4:124, 64:9, 65:11]
In other words, the Qur’an treats people of all religions on an equal footing with regard to their accountability to God. Thus, at a very early stage of the revelation it declares:
“On that day, humans will be sorted out and shown their deeds: whoever does an iota of good will see it; and whoever doe an iota of evil will see it” (99:5-8).
“Indeed man is ungrateful to his Lord and he bears witness to that (by his ingratitude) for he is intense in his love for wealth (that he wants to horde up)” (100:6-8).
“Indeed man is bound to be a loser - except those who believe and do good deeds and enjoin truth and enjoin patience” (103:2-3).
“Woe to all slanderers and fault-finders, (And woe to) those who amass wealth and multiply it thinking his wealth would make him last. But he will be given over to an agonizing punishment (at the Resurrection)” (104:1-4).
“Do you see the one who gives a lie to the din (moral laws)? It is he who rebuffs the orphan and has no urge (lit., ‘does not urge each other’) to feed the poor. So, woe to those prayerful - those who are heedless of their prayer, those who aim to be seen (in public) but hold back from helping (others)” (107:1-7)
It is clear from these verses that the Qur’an pits humans face to face against God and repeatedly reminds him that He will judge them based on their deeds and not on religion.
Some Muslim scholars, however, advocate that the non-Muslims (in its present day sense), who do not believe in the Prophet Muhammad, will not qualify for God’s mercy. They interpret the generic word Islam (submitting/ orienting oneself to God) in the verse 3:85 (underlined below), in its popular restrictive sense as the religion of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. This is misleading as the preceding verses (3:83-84), demonstrate the generic character of the word Islam appearing in 3:85.
“Do they seek any (religion) other than the din (religion) of God, to whom all in the heavens and on earth have submitted, willingly or unwillingly, and to whom they will all be returned (3:83)? Say: ‘We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and to Jesus and Moses and (other) prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them; and surely to Him do we all submit (84). If anyone seeks other than Islam (self-surrender to God) as a din (religion), it will not be accepted of him, and in the hereafter he will be among the losers” (3:85).
The foregoing argument also holds for the identically worded verses 9:33 and 61:9, some scholars quote to claim exclusivity of Islamic faith:
“He is the One who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam - submission to God), that he may distinguish it from all religions, however the pagans detested this” (9:33/61:9). [48:28 is identically worded except for the underlined remarks.]
To leave no doubts about the universality of its message, the Qur’an warns those who take a restrictive view of their faith that their desires will not prevail and that whoever does evil will be requited accordingly.
“Neither your desires, nor the desires of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever does evil will be requited accordingly, and he will not find any protector or helper besides God” (4:123).
Others citetheverse9:113 that was specific to the context of the revelation that forbade the Prophet and his followers to seek forgiveness for the dead among the pagans (Mushrikin), “after it has become clear to them that they (died as polytheists and therefore) are condemned to the Blazing Flame” (9:113).
The express mention of the Prophet in this verse lends it an existential dimension and puts to question the eternal validity of its pronouncement. Besides, the Mushrikin of the Qur’an were its immediate pagan audience and cannot be conflated with the polytheists of this era as expounded in the article referenced below . No doubt, the Qur’an barred the father of the Prophet Abraham, the son of the Prophet Noah and the wife of the Prophet Lot from divine forgiveness but these were the next of kin of the Prophets and thus direct recipient of the divine message. The present day atheists and polytheists cannot be paralleled with them as they had no remote connection with any prophet. Besides, many of them could have been foremost in good deeds and Taqwa and having no means of guidance, can earn divine forgiveness and blessing (4:98/99).Besides, all Muslims including the offspring of a non-Muslim are commanded to pray for the forgiveness of their deceased parents. This militates against the notion of excluding the non-Muslims from the prayers. Finally, there could be a grave problem in taking the referenced verse of Surah Tawbah on its face value.
The same Surah has verses that forbid the Prophet to pray over any of them (hypocrites) who had died, nor to stand by his grave (9:84).As the Prophet may still have prayed for all his followers, including the hypocrites, the revelation warns him that even if he sought forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them (9:80). This obviously indicates the existential dimension of these verses (9:80, 84, 113). If we give eternal validity to one of these verses (9:113), we must do the same to the other two verses and exempt the 'likely hypocrites among the Muslims of this era from our prayers. But we never do it. We claim that all hypocrite Muslims of the Prophet’s era gave up hypocrisy and became devout Muslims – without any basis whatsoever.
Finally, let us address the biggest doctrinal challenge against bringing religions on a level playing field.
The Qur’an singles out Shirk (associating partners with God) as the most abominable crime (Zulmun Azim, 31:13) and unpardonable sin (4:48, 4:116) that bars entry into paradise (5:72). But these verses were addressed to the Qur’an’s immediate audience and it is debatable if they remain binding for those of the polytheists and unbelievers who fell outside the revelation corridor (the Prophet’s time and space). Moreover, God may pardon those who had no means of guidance or were otherwise helpless on earth (4:97-99):
It is conceivable that Allah will not judge the pagans of other parts of the world of the Prophet’s era in the same fashion as the pagan Arabs to whom the Qur’an was introduced as a miracle – a divine speech that cast a spell on them and filled them with awe and admiration and spiritually overwhelmed them into submission. The Qur’an did not interact with people outside of Arabia and in fact there is hardly any chance of any single non-Arab witnessing the majestic unfolding of the Qur’anic revelation that caused it audience to run away from it in dread like frightened donkeys fleeing a lion (74:49-51). So it will untenable to suggest that all the non-Arab polytheists and atheists of the Prophet’s era or even of a later era will be condemned to hell for denying the Qur’an which they were not even aware of.
It is true that the Qur’an barred the fathers of the Prophet Abraham, the son of the Prophet Noah and the wife of the Prophet Lot from any prospect of divine forgiveness as they persistently denied God, but we must not forget that they were the next of kin of the Prophets of God and therefore the common pagans and atheists who never came in contact with any prophet cannot be paralleled with them. The Qur’an cites the example of the followers of Jesus who took him and his mother as deities besides God (5:116). Jesus pleaded for them that if God punished them, they were His servants, but if He forgave them, He was mighty and Wise (5:118).
From all the above illustrations it is clear that the divine judgment for all humanity, according to the Qur’an will be deed specific and not religion specific. That means no religion will be accorded any preference before God as He is the fountain-head of all religions which He evolved over time, each specific to an era and culminated his scheme of guiding humanity in the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad which merely acknowledges all past scriptures, recaptures what was lost of them over time and preserves the eternal message of God, Thus, the Muslims may argue that this amounts to Islam commanding a higher position over other scriptures. But the Qur’an corrects such misconception and asks humanity to believe in all the prophets and previously revealed scriptures, and to make no distinction between any of the Prophets (4:152), 3
“As for those who believe in God and His messengers, and do not make a distinction between any of them – it is they who will be given their rewards, for God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (4:152).
Thus, the Qur’an does not rank the Prophet or His scriptures. In fact such rankings would have militated against the Qur’anic pluralism and based on common divine code to all humanity:
“O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and communities* for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (Atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13).
Hence, as expounded in a recently authenticated exegetic work, the Qur’an espouses “a universal brotherhood of humanity that will allow people of diverse faith, culture, colour and language to live together, to know each other and assist each other, to make life easy and peaceful for all human beings” . To put it in the wake of rising claims of religious supremacy among the sibling religions, it is time to recognize and declare that “Human beings are equal, have the same Rights, the human race is one, we are all brothers.” At the same time, by a UN resolution all hatred inspiring theological materials, must be regarded as era specific or human machination and must not be used to promote religious supremacism, rivalry, hatred or bigotry.
1. Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Qur’an, One world Publication, England 1994, The Sense of History, p. 177]
2. The Hindus are not ‘the Mushrikin’ mentioned in the Qur’an
3. Essential Message of Islam, posted on this website, Chap. 9.7.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.