By Muhammad Yunus, NewAgeIslam.com
(Joint Author), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.
The caption may shock many Muslims who believe that as the followers of the last Prophet, and believers in the final revelation, they are spiritually superior to other faith communities. Muslim scholars sacralize this notion by interpreting the verse 3:85 in isolation. The verse declares: “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.”
However, the preceding two verses (3:83/84) that qualify the statement of 3:85 read:
“Do they seek any (religion) other than the din (religion) of God, to whom all in the heavens and on earth have submitted (asslama), 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 (muslimun)’ (3:84).
Thus, read together, the passage 3:83-85 refers to the universal faith of Islam to which all ‘in the heaven and earth’ and ‘all faith communities’ have submitted.”
This raises a question; what is the universal faith of Islam that encompasses all faith communities?
The Qur’an answers this in the following clear verses that employ the common noun ‘Islam’ (root SLM) in verb and other derivative forms with the connotation of orienting, submitting, surrendering, or committing oneself to God or to be at peace with God:
“Indeed! Whoever commits (asslama) his whole being to God, and does good deeds - 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, and follows the way of Abraham, the upright one, and God took Abraham as a friend” (4:125).
“And who is finer in speech than the one who invites to God, does good deeds and says: ‘I am of those who submit to God (muslimun)’” (41:33).
Thus, in the Qur'anic diction, all people regardless of religion who orient or submit themselves to God and do good deeds are ‘Muslims.’ The Qur’an further illustrates its pluralistic concept of Islam in the following verses:
“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 submitted to God (muslimun)’ (2:132). Were you (among) 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 submitted (muslimun)’” (2:133).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and does good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they regret” (2:62).
“Indeed! Anyone who submits his whole self to God and is a doer of good - will get his reward from his Lord. They have nothing to fear nor will they regret” (2:112).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, Sabians and Christians - (in fact) anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and does good deeds - they have nothing to fear, nor will they regret” (5:69). [See also verses 64:9, 65:11)]
Given the pluralistic dimension of God’s din (Islam), the Qur’an also chooses this universal religion for the Muslims - the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
“…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 favor on you, and have chosen Islam for your religion…” (5:3).
Conclusion: From the Qur’anic perspective all faith communities – Christians, Jews, and others – regardless of their mention in the Qur’an (4:164, 40:78) - belong to the universal religion of Islam (Submission to God and doing of good deeds), and so do the followers of the Prophet – the Muslim community. Each member of the universal faith of Islam, whether he or she is a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew or has any other faith not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an because of its historic context, will be judged solely on the basis of his/her deeds and none can claim any spiritual supremacy over the others:
“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. Anyone - be it a man or a woman, who does good deeds, and is a believer in God – it is these that shall enter the Garden and will not be wronged at all” (4:123/124).
Oct. 23, 2011
A regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com, 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.