By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
July 26, 2012.
In the Qur’anic vocabulary, the din al-Islam or the moral law (religion in popular vocabulary) of Islam has a specific (exclusive) as well as universal (inclusive) connotation. In its specific sense, it is the religion of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. This is defined by one of the concluding revelations of the Qur’an:
“…This day, those who reject (this Qur'an) despair of (ever harming) your religion. Therefore, do not fear them; fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour on you, and have chosen Islam for your religion…” (5:3).
In its generic sense, it is the universal din (moral law) that all the prophets who came before Muhammad (pbuh), whether or not mentioned in the Qur’an, preached to their followers. The Qur’an defines the essence of this common religion as follows:
“Indeed! Whoever commits (asslama) his whole being [lit., face] to God, and is compassionate (muhsin) - will get his reward from his Lord. There will be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve.” (2:112).
“And who can be better in faith* (din) than the one who orients (asslama) his whole being to God, and does good deeds (ya‘mal min al sualihat), and follows the way of Abraham, the upright one, and God took Abraham as a friend” (4:125).*[In Qur’anic vocabulary, din is the embodiment of moral laws]
“And who is finer in speech than the one who invites to God, does good deeds (‘amila sualihan) and says: ‘I am of those who orients himself to God (muslimun)’” (41:33).
Accordingly the Qur’an describes ‘din al-Islam’, as the universal faith that was enjoined on earlier prophets, who were all true Muslims (2:131-133), and conveyed the same essential message.
“When his Lord said to him (Abraham), ‘Submit (aslim)’, he said, ‘I submit (aslamtu) to the Lord of the worlds’ (2:131). Abraham enjoined his sons to do so, as did Jacob: ‘O my sons, God has chosen the religion (din) for you; so you should not die unless you have oriented yourself to God (muslimun)’ (132). Were you witnesses when death came to Jacob? He said to his sons, ‘What will you serve after I am gone?’ They said, ‘We will serve your God; the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac - the One God; and to Him we have truly oriented ourselves (muslimun)’” (2:133).[See also verse, 3:52, 28:52/53]
These verses employ different grammatical forms of the word Islam – asslama, Muslim (pl. muslimun) to define Islam as a universal religion that is based on two fundamental criteria – orienting oneself to the divine will and doing of good deeds. The Qur’an’s repeated reference to good deeds  as distinct from purely religious obligations, such as salah, Zakah, hajj and fasting indicate that the Qur’an treats all those deeds or actions as good, which bring about good to human beings or serve humanity. Accordingly, the Qur’an sets good deeds as the common criteria for divine approval for all humanity (2:62, 4:124, 5:69, 64:9, and 65:11)
The Qur’an, however, complements the notion of good deeds with moral uprightness (taqwa). At an early stage of the revelation the Qur’an conflates taqwa with the obverse of moral depravity (91:8). Connoted divergently as fearing God, heeding God/His guidance, being conscious of God (God consciousness), preserving or guarding against evil, self-restraint and piety, in Qur’anic usage, it is emblematic of human awareness to one’s social, moral and ethical responsibilities and his preservation against all that is gross, immoral and unjust. Thus, in the Qur’anic worldview, a good Muslim is a believer in God who is active in good deeds, is conscious of his social, moral and ethical responsibilities and preserves against all that is gross, immoral and unjust.
The Qur’an privileges taqwa over the symbolism associated with some of its spiritual rituals, such as taking provisions and slaughtering cattle for hajj (2:197, 22:37), describes fasting as a gateway to taqwa (2:183, 2:187), and extols taqwa as the best dress (7:26). It also declares that in God’s sight, those imbued with taqwa will stand above those who obsessively acquire the good things of life (2:212, 47:36). Thus, like good deeds, taqwa is not the prerogative of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad alone. Accordingly two of its keynote verses (5:93, 49:13) revealed in its conclusive phase declares:
“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 active in taqwa (atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13).
“Those who believe and do good deeds shall not be blamed for what they may eat (or drink) so long as they practice taqwa (attaqu), and believe, and do good deeds; so long as they practice taqwa (attaqu), and believe; so long as they practice taqwa (attaqu), and do good (Remember,) God loves the compassionate” (5:93).
Conclusion: An introspective probe into the Qur’an as advocated by the Qur’an (38:29, 47:24) and tabled in this discourse, shows that in the Qur’anic worldview, a good Muslim is a believer in God - regardless of religion, race, cast, creed or affiliation with a spiritual fraternity, who is active in good deeds, is conscious of his social, moral and ethical responsibilities and preserves against all that is gross, immoral and unjust. Since God alone can judge human’s faith (Iman), deeds (‘aml) and moral uprightness (taqwa), a non-Muslim in the divisive human language can be a better Muslim in divine record than a Muslim (follower of Prophet Muhammad). Hence the Muslims have absolutely no basis to call the non-Muslims as kafirs (denier of truth), individually or collectively.
1. The Ulama may attempt to refute the foregoing conclusion (in bold) by citing the statement of the verse 3:85: “If anyone seeks other than Islam as a din (religion), it will not be accepted of him, and in the hereafter he will be among the losers.” Traditional scholarship disconnects the verse from its immediately preceding verses 3:83-84, which categorically declare that “all in the heavens and on earth have submitted (asslama) (to God), willingly or unwillingly” (3:83) and expounds Qur’anic universalism quite unambiguously:
“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 orient ourselves (muslimun)’ (3:84).
2. The Ulama may charge that the foregoing conclusion exempts a Muslim from observing the pillars of faith or even reciting the Qur’an, or wearing strictly Islamic dress. This is not tenable because i) the Qur’an is a perfected divine writ of guidance (5:3) – a book of Wisdom that guides to the upright path (sirat al mustaqim)– the path to taqwa (36:1-3), the salah incorporates the devotee’s singular plea to God to guide him/her to the upright path (sirat al mustaqim) (1:6) and fasting and hajj are both spiritual and physical avenues for cultivating taqwa (2:183, 2:187, 2:197, 22:37).
3. How can people who do not have their original scriptures with them be good Muslims (in the generic sense)? Answer: From the Qur’anic perspective each human being regardless of religion or even if he or she is irreligious is recipient of a portion of God’s breadth (15:29, 32:7-9, 38:72) and is imbued with a polarity of ego (nafs) – the nafs al lawwama (75:2) and the nafs al ammara (12:53) - the former representing his conscience or ingrained taqwa and the latter his base or animal instinct (12:53). It is for individual humans, regardless of his religious affiliations to hone his taqwa or succumb to his animal instincts. Thus a non-Muslim can be superior to many Muslims in taqwa and stand ahead of them on the Day of Judgment (2:212).
4. What about the divine warning to the ‘Mushrikun’ (idol worshippers) and ‘Kafirun’ (those bent on denying truth), at times in most dire terms? Answer: The Qur’an intrinsically bears out their existential dimension, having been addressed to an idol worshipping and recalcitrant audience. Furthermore, as noted in a recent exegetic publication  “the deterrent of punishment is essential to establishing justice and morality. So the Qur’anic references to punishment awaiting the sinners – no matter how they are described, were essential to its discourse that primarily aimed at establishing justice in the society and protecting the weak and the historically oppressed classes.”
1. 2:25, 3:57, 4:57, 4:122, 4:173, 5:9, 7:42, 10:4, 10:9, 10:26, 11:23, 13:29, 14:23, 17:9, 18:2, 18:30, 18:107/110, 19:59/60, 19:76, 19:96, 20:75, 20:112, 21:94, 22:23, 22:50, 22:14, 22:56, 22:77, 24:55, 28:67, 28:80, 29:7, 29:9, 29:58, 30:14/15, 30:44/45, 31:8, 32:19, 34:4, 34:37, 35:7, 38:28, 39:10, 39:33/34, 40:58, 41:8, 41:33, 41:46, 42:26, 44:22, 45:15, 45:21, 45:30, 47:2, 47:12, 67:2, 77:41-44, 84:25, 85:11, 95:3-6, 98:7, 99:7/8, 103:2/3.
2. Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009. p. 80/81.
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. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.