By Mahmood Jawaid
For the last 30 years, religion has taken a dominant role in world politics. Technically, we may be in the Information Age, but politically we are passing through the Era of Fundamentalism. Anyone who has read Karen Armstrong's "the Battle for God" would say that the world has become a battleground for God.
Religion is an efficient tool to maintain law and order. It provides moral code to fashion our lives. Whereas governmental laws require a huge apparatus for their implementation, religion provides a moral compass to achieve the same. Religion also serves as a glue to keep a society together. According to evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar, religious rituals trigger the release of endorphins. Because most of these rituals are performed in a group, the endorphin rush makes participants feel good about their group members and promotes a sense of camaraderie.
The strength of religion is also its weakness. The same ritual that promotes camaraderie in the group creates a sense of exclusiveness with respect to others. Additionally, the religious beliefs are based on the certainty in the unseen, but the same certainty prevents its believers from accepting the beliefs of others. Adherents of every religion feel their view is the absolute view. It allows no room for other faiths and has sometimes resulted in mayhem.
Muslims are not immune to this phenomenon, but a look at the Quran gives a different impression. Yes, there are verses that reflect the conflict that existed between the Muslim community of Medina and the polytheists of Mecca and the Jewish community of Medina during the reign of Prophet Muhammad, but the Quran in no way suggests that salvation is the absolute prerogative of Muslims. it states: "Those who believe in the Qur'an, those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, the Christians, and the Sabians – anyone who believes in God and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve" (2:62, 5:69). In other words, not only Muslims, but anyone who believes in God and the Day of Judgment and does good is guaranteed salvation.
The Quran also proclaims salvation is not based on labels, gender, race, or heritage. It is based on true submission to God and righteous actions: "O mankind! God created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things" (49:13).
The Quran recognizes that God is not only glorified in Mosques, but also in monasteries, churches, and synagogues and He (God) wants us all to preserve their sanctity: "Did not God check one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure, would assuredly have been pulled down" (22:40).
From the Quranic perspective, not only the Quran is the light and guidance, but also Torah and Gospel (basically the teachings of Moses and Jesus, respectively): "Lo! we (God) did reveal the Torah, wherein is guidance and a light, by which the prophets who surrendered unto God judged the Jews, and the rabbis and the priests judged by such of God's Scripture, as they were bidden to observe. — And we caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was revealed before him in the Torah, and we bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was revealed before it in the Torah – a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off evil" (5:44, 46). "we gave Moses the Book, and made it a Guide to the Children of Israel (Jews), commanding: "Take not other than Me as Disposer of your affairs" (17:2).
The Quran points out that diversity is a part of God's plan: "to every People have God appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow. — God will judge between you on the Day of Judgment concerning the matters in which you differ" (22:67, 69). "to each among you have we (God) prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people. but His plan is to test you in what He has given you. so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute" (5:48).
Of course, the Quran would have preferred everyone to follow its message, but instead of imposing its writ, the Quran asks Jews and Christians to adhere to their scriptures: "Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God hath revealed therein" (5:47). "O People of the Book (Jews and Christians)! you have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Torah, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord" (5:68). "If they had observed the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto them from their Lord, they would surely have been nourished from above them and from beneath their feet" (5:66). "why do they [Jews] come to you [Muhammad] for decision when they have their own laws before them? Therein is the (plain) command of God" (5:43).
While the Quran was critical of the attitude of the Jewish community in Medina towards Prophet Muhammad, it commended the pious Jews: "not all of them [Jews] are alike: Of the People of the Book [Jews] are a portion that stand for the right: They rehearse the Signs of God all night long and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten in emulation in all good works. They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knows well those that do right" (3:113-115). "Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth" (7:159).
While the Quran is critical of the concept of Trinity, it admires the compassionate nature of Christians: "God sent after them Jesus the son of Mary and bestowed on him the Gospel; and God ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy" (57:27). "Nearest among them in love to the believers [Muslims] will you [Muslims] find those who say, "we are Christians": because amongst them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (5:82).
Even though Quran considers polytheism an unforgivable sin, still it demands that the Muslims should not badmouth their deities: "Revile not you those whom they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance" (6:108). it again emphasizes: "Those who believe [in the Qur'an], those who follow the Jewish [scriptures], and the Sabians, Christians, Magians (Zoroastrians), and Polytheists, God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment, for God is witness of all things" (22:17).
The picture we get is that the Quranic message is pluralistic and guarantees salvation to all those who believe in God and the Day of Judgment and do good. it recognizes that people are different and will take different approach to attain this goal, but as long as the goal is the same, it will be acceptable to God. it respects Torah and Gospel and urges Jews and Christians to adhere to its teachings. it recognizes that God is not only glorified in Mosques, but also in monasteries, churches, and synagogues. it admires compassionate nature of Christians and praises righteous Jews and Christians. Even when it does not approve of Polytheism, it teaches Muslims to agree to disagree with them and does not approve of badmouthing their deities. It recognizes that some differences in faiths cannot be resolved in this life and have to wait until the Day of Judgment.
Jawaid, of Charleston, has also written books, including "Secrets of Angels, Demons, Satan, and Jinns — Decoding their Nature through Quran and Science," and "Atom to Adam — how, When and where in the Light of Quran, Bible and Science (A Study of Human Origin)," both published by InstantPublishers.com (http://instantpublisher.com/ ) and "Lessons from the Qur'an," published by Ta-Ha Publishers (www.taha.co.uk/). These books are available from Amazon.com (www.amazon.com/) and Ta-Ha Publishers (www.taha.co.uk/), respectively.