BELIEF IN THE
Let us now turn to the third article of faith,
which is the belief in the books. Muslims are required to believe
not only in the divine scripture revealed to the Holy Founder
of Islam, which is called the Quran, but it is essential for
every Muslim to believe in all such divine revelations as were
vouchsafed to other prophets, from wherever and whichever age.
It is an essential part of a Muslim's belief that if anyone professes
belief only in the divine origin of the Quran, and refuses to
acknowledge the divine origin of other books, such as the Old
Testament and the New Testament etc., his profession of Islam
would be invalidated.
This belief resolves some problems but creates
others, and needs to be studied at greater length. It provides
the only foundation upon which the unity of man can be built
on earth, in accordance with his belief in the Unity of God.
It removes the root cause responsible for inter-religious disharmony
and mistrust. But this belief in the divine origin of all books
raises some very difficult questions to answer.
As we study the books that claim to be of divine
origin, we find contradictions not only in the peripheral areas
of their teachings, but also in the areas of basic and fundamental
beliefs. This could not be so had they originated from the same
eternal source of light. The case in point can well be illustrated
by the fact that many such books contain passages which are understood
and interpreted by their followers to lead to the belief in lesser
deities sharing divinity with the one Supreme Being. In some
books, God is presented as the head of a family of gods, having
spouses, sons and daughters. In some other books, saintly human
figures are attributed with such superhuman powers as are only
befitting to be possessed by God. There are other books in which
the Unity of God is stressed so strongly and uncompromisingly
as to leave no room for anyone to share God's attributes in whatsoever
capacity. The Quran stands out in this respect among all the
scriptures of the major world religions.
How does the Quran resolve this dilemma -- that
is the question. According to the Quran, it is a universal trend
of man to gradually interpolate the divine teachings which were
vouchsafed to the founders of their religion. To change the concept
of Unity to that of polytheism is a manifestation of the same
trend. We can definitely discover evidence of the truth of this
claim by tracing the history of changes in the text, or the interpretation
of the text, from the time of its first revelation. This is why
the Holy Quran pointedly draws our attention to the fact that
all divine books concurred in their fundamental teachings only
at the time of their inception. It is not necessary to go through
the laborious exercise of pursuing the history of change, because
logically there can be no other conclusion than the one made
by the Quran. If there is no God other than the one Supreme Being,
and if the claims of all religions -- that their divine books
originated from God -- are to be accepted, then there has to
be unanimity among all such books, at least in the fundamentals.
Having said that, one faces another important
question regarding the manner in which one can ascertain the
original doctrinal teachings common to all religions. One must
find a logically acceptable methodology to sift the right from
The fundamental beliefs from the point of view
of the Holy Quran are so attuned to human nature that they simply
sink into the human hearts by the sheer force of their truth.
They are as follows:
And they were not commanded
but to serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience, and
being upright, and to observe prayer, and pay the Zakat.
And that is the religion of the people of the right path. Surah
Al-Bayyinah (Ch. 98: V.6)
This means that all the founders of the religions
of the world were categorically told that they must worship the
one and only God with all sincerity, dedicating themselves purely
and completely to Him alone. They were also told to perform regular
prayers (as institutionalised in their religion), and to spend
(in the cause of God) for the needy and the destitute, and for
other similar philanthropic purposes. It is hard to find disagreement
with this, whichever religion one may belong to.
In this preliminary discourse we do not wish
to involve ourselves in a lengthy discussion on the various different
modes of worship as prescribed by God and the reasons for their
being different. Presently we are focusing our attention on the
reasons as to why religions appear to be different both in fundamentals
and in the detailed teachings.
In short we can say that the hand of time is
relentless, and the concept of decay is inseparable from the
concept of time. Everything new must begin to grow old and change.
One may look at the ruins of great castles and palaces with wonder,
but even the buildings built by the same monarchs and designed
by the same architects are no exception to this law. Sometimes
they are added upon by later generations and are changed in design
so drastically as to lose all resemblance to their original shape.
Sometimes they are abandoned and become ruins. According to the
Quran, the areas of uncompromisable differences in all religions
are the handiworks of men belonging to later ages. In the light
of this universally acceptable teaching of the Holy Quran, Islam
seems to have paved the way for the unification of all religions,
at least in fundamentals principles. Thus it does away with man-made
obstacles and barriers created to keep the religions apart as
distinctly separate entities.
The reason mentioned above is not the only one
responsible for the divergence in teachings observed in various
books. Some differences were certainly not man-made, but were
required by the dictates of time. As man gradually advanced in
various areas of civilisation and culture, science and economy,
at different stages of his history he required specific teachings
related to that period of time, and a divine book would be revealed
for his instruction. These time-related teachings were not universal,
but related to specific situations and requirements. In certain
ages, man lived a life not very far away from that of the sub-human
species of life. His intellectual advancements were limited,
his knowledge of the universe narrow. He was not even fully aware
of the world that he was inhabiting. The modes of communication
at his disposal were totally inadequate to help him understand
the nature and vastness of the earth and the universality of
man. Very often his awareness of existence was confined only
to small areas of land or the country to which he belonged.
In many divine books revealed at that time,
we do not find mention of the existence of the world beyond the
limited domain of the people to whom these books were addressed.
It does not necessarily mean, as some secular philosophers would
have us believe, that this fact offers enough proof that the
books in question were man-made rather than of divine origin.
All divine teachings were related to not only
the requirements but also the information possessed by the people
of the age, otherwise people of the age could have raised objections
against the messengers of the time, accusing them of contradicting
commonly established facts. This could have presented an insoluble
dilemma for the prophets, as they themselves shared the same
knowledge as the people. Many interesting examples of the same
can be quoted from the Quran, where the understanding of nature
as known to the people of the time was to be proved false by
the men of learning of later ages. Whichever position the Quran
adopted, it would still remain vulnerable to objections, either
by contemporary people or by people of a later age. It is amazing
how the Quran solves this problem, and in no way can it be criticised
by present day philosophers and scientists either.
The following illustration would be of particular
interest. A man of this age does not need to be highly educated
to know that the earth rotates on its own axis; but if someone
had made this statement fourteen hundred years ago and dared
to attribute it to God, either he would have been rejected out
of hand as being absolutely ignorant, or God would be ridiculed
as having no knowledge of things which he has professed to have
created. The Holy Quran being a universal book for all ages could
not have avoided the mention of this subject altogether, or the
people of later ages, such as ours, would have rightfully blamed
it for possessing no knowledge of the universe. Meeting this
challenge squarely, the Holy Quran speaks of the mountains in
the following verse, presenting them as floating or coasting
like clouds, while people perceive them to be stationary:
You see the mountains and
imagine them to be stationary whereas they are moving like
the moving of clouds. Surah Al-Naml (Ch. 27: V.89)
Obviously the mountains would not be floating
without the earth moving along with them. But the tense used
is that of future -- 'Muzaria' -- which is common to both
the continuous present and future. So the verse may be translated
as: 'The mountains are moving constantly in a coasting motion
without making the least effort on their part.' It can also be
translated as: 'The mountains will move as if they were sailing.'
People of that age might have taken refuge in this second option,
but they forgot to take notice of another part of the same verse
which says: 'While you think they are stationary.' How could
the man of any age think the mountains to be stationary if they
suddenly started moving? The description of their movement leaves
no room anywhere for anyone to be alive on earth and watch quietly
the amazing phenomenon mentioned in the verse.
Logically therefore, the only valid translation
would be: 'While you consider the mountains to be stationary,
in fact they are constantly in motion.' There are many other
similar examples which can be quoted from the Quran, but I have
already illustrated them in another address of mine entitled
'Rationality and Revelation in Relation to Knowledge and Truth'.
Any reader interested in further study could refer to the same.
We know for certain that during the remote past
when the Vedas were revealed for the benefit of the people of
India, the Indians had little knowledge of the worlds lying beyond
the seas. Hence there is no mention of any country or people
outside India, across the natural boundaries of the Himalayas
on the one side and the seas on the other. The silence of the
Vedas on the subject may be an appropriate and well understood
silence on the part of God. It must be made clear that the facts
mentioned in the divine books are of two categories. The first
category comprises this worldly facts, which can be understood
and verified by all human beings regardless of which religion
they belong to. These are the facts that we are referring to
in the above discussion. As far as facts belonging to the otherworldly
things are concerned, any man can make any claim about them,
because they lie beyond the human reach of verification.
Despite differences however, the fundamental
points of similarities are always traceable if one digs deeply
into a study of original books. As an archaeologist can reconstruct
the design of the original plan from a study of the ruins, so
also it should not be difficult for a keen observer to read the
message of Unity even through the veils of fog and mist created
by the followers of the religions as they move away from the
time of the founding prophets.
We briefly mentioned some differences which
were intentionally designed as against those which resulted from
the interpolation of man. To illustrate the former, we can refer
to a teaching of the Torah which seems to deprive the Jewish
people of the option of forgiveness. To a casual observer, from
the vantage point of the modern age, it would appear to be a
rather ungodly teaching, unbalanced in the favour of vengeance.
Yet a closer examination of the requirements of that age would
present the teaching in a completely different light. We know
that the Children of Israel, under the oppressive and despotic
rules of Pharaohs, were deprived of all their fundamental human
rights. They were forced to live a life of abasement and slavery,
which did not recognise their right to defend themselves and
hit back at the oppressor.
Some two centuries of such an abject way of
life had virtually robbed them of their upright noble human qualities.
They would much rather give up their right to avenge in the name
of forgiveness -- just another name for utter cowardice. Had
they been given the clear option to either take revenge or forgive,
few there would be among them who would dare take the former
option. As such the teaching of the Torah, though seemingly harsh
and over-much one sided, is the most perfect teaching in relation
to the requirements of that time. It was a diseased state which
was meant to be cured with the bitter pill of this injunction.
About thirteen centuries of practising merciless
vengeance had indeed hardened the hearts of the Israelites into
those of stone. It was at this juncture of time that the Messiah
came, who was himself forgiveness, love and modesty personified.
Had God granted the Jews of his time both the options of forgiveness
and revenge, they would certainly have opted for revenge without
even dreaming of forgiveness. The question arises as to what
should be the perfect teaching relevant to the time of Jesus?
Forgiveness of course, but without the option of revenge. This
is exactly what happened. This illustration makes it amply clear
that certain teachings, though apparently contradictory, in fact
serve the same purpose and work in unison as far as the designs
of God are concerned. The purpose is the healing of the sick
which may need different medicines at different times.