The Review of Religions, April 1993
Apart from the pagan cults that profess association with the Devil, all traditional religions, in one form or another claim their origin from some Supreme Being. These religions assert their autonomy and independence from each other to the extent of extreme antagonism, yet they all proffer the Ultimate Wisdom, Guidance and Salvation for the whole of the world for all times. The religions claim, that guidance and wisdom infuse into their faiths from the Supreme Being or their Creator, which they respect and revere as their sacred scripture. This extreme antagonism has caused intense hatred, unjustifiable bloodshed and many a violent, vicious and protracted war between contending peoples.
The scriptures available today can be grouped under five headings:
- Hindu scriptures, i.e., Vedas, Ramayana and Bhagwat Gita. The history of their origin is quite obscure. They are in Sanskrit, which is essentially a dead language. Although they appeared much earlier, their written records may be about 2500 years old. These books are third person narratives in the epic style and do not claim to be the Divine Words of God. This does not mean that these are devoid of all good or truth but on the contrary there are lots of good words and teachings in them. In the Gita, the great Prophet Krishna, peace be upon him, asked his good disciple Arjuna a rhetorical question as to what would he do, if next to the old village pond from which he used water for his daily needs, he found a new spring gushing out fresh clear and sweet water in abundance?The books have been translated into other languages, but there is no mechanism for validation and certification of the text. These books provide general guidance about good and bad; but offer no viable solution for the ills of the societies of the present times. These books are essentially novelty reading.
- Buddhist scriptures, i.e., Tripitika and others came on the scene nearly two thousand four hundred years ago. These books are narration of the life and sayings of Prophet Buddha, peace be upon him. They are in Pali language which is a mutation of Sanskrit. These books have also been translated into other languages. Again there is no mechanism for validation and certification. These books also provide a general guidance about good and bad but offer no viable solutions for the present day man.
- Jewish and Christian scriptures i.e. the Torah, the Old Testament and the New Testament are discussed in detail later.
- Islamic scriptures, i.e. The Holy Quran, and the Hadith. These are also discussed in detail latter.
- There are a few other books that are also given the reverential status by the devotees, such as:
(a) Guru Grunth Sahib: The scripture of the Sikh religion. It is a record of the teachings and traditions of the founder of the Sikh religion i.e. Hazrat Guru Baba Nanak Sahib. This was collected and compiled by his fifth successor, Guru Arjan Dave. It is also a third person narrative and is in Punjabi language. It is recited in the Sikh worship, but does neither claim to be the word of God nor to be free of corruptions. It does not have any world-wide programs. It has been translated into other languages, but has the status of only novelty reading.
(b) Al-Aqdas: is a Bahai scripture. It is unique in the sense that it is still incomplete, confidential and waiting to be revealed, and it has been thus for more than the past one hundred years. The Bahai religion professes some world wide program, but has nothing much to show for it since its origin.
(c) The Book of Mormons: about one hundred and seventy years ago a Christian by the name Joseph Smith claimed to have discovered some golden plates that had Christian teachings inscribed upon them, but in an American Indian language. Joseph Smith translated the plates into English but the original golden plates have inexplicably disappeared.
All these scriptures form the basis of the teachings of their respective religions. The Jewish, the Christians, and the Islamic scriptures i.e. Torah, Bible, and the Quran have been translated very extensively and in numerous languages. These are very readily available and are easy and popular reading.
The followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in their earnest and extreme reverence for their particular scriptures believe them to be the only and the original, uncorrupted word of God regardless of whether any corroborative evidence is available or not. Their traditional dialects are full of complimentary expressions such as The Gospel Truth or the Word of God etc.
It is paradoxical that all these scriptures should be labelled the true words of the same One Most Loving Being, yet should breed such intense hatred and contempt for fellow humans who do not accept the particular Book. The situation has evoked such a reaction that the very utterance of the word Religion breeds skepticism and contempt. It has produced such derogatory expressions as Fundamentalism, Orthodoxical behaviour, Bible Bashers, Mullaism and many others.
It is interesting that none of the followers, whether laity or scholars care to, or may be, even dare to investigate the authenticity and the validity of these Books and the attributes they have lavished upon them. The Holy Quran which is the latest of the revealed scriptures, is the only Book that itself claims to be the original, uncorrupted Word of God. It throws down an open challenge to all the religions and their followers to prove the validity of their Books and the attributes they bestow upon them. To test this the Holy Quran has laid down seven cardinal rules which are:
- It should be written and preserved in its original form since its revelation.
- The Book should itself claim to be the Word of God revealed directly to man.
- It should be in a living language and easily understood by its addressees.
- It should be a first person address and not a third person narration.
- It should not contain any contradictions or ambiguities related to its own text or the universe around.
- It should confirm the past and prophesy about the future.
- It should have a built in mechanism for the preservation of the purity of its text.
With the exception of the Bible and the Holy Quran, very little is known about the manner of origin and the history of most of these sacred Books. The earliest written records of these scriptures came on the scene nearly 3000 years ago. In the Holy Quran, God the Almighty indicates that He gave Prophets Abraham and Moses, peace be upon them, Sohof and Kitaab or written commandments. Their existence is also affirmed by third person narrations in the Old Testament and the Torah. This would date their original revelations almost 4000 years ago, but there is no historical evidence to prove that.
(d) Torah: The Jewish scripture forms the first five books of the Old Testament. The Book itself does not make any claim to being the Divine Word. It is essentially a third person narration. It is in Hebrew, a language with very limited usage. Its earliest written manuscripts may be about 2500 years old but their authenticity and freedom from corruption cannot be verified let alone certified.
The Old Testament: That is the Torah plus the remaining thirty-four books of the Testament up to the Book of Malachi, constitute the Christian scriptures. In the times of Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, these scriptures were essentially in Hebrew but as the usage of the language was dying out they were already being translated into Aramaic and Greek.
One of the translations was called the Septuagint, because seventy scholars contributed to the work. Since then, many different versions of the book have appeared under the pattern of radically different religious orders. Some examples are versions, the Vulgate, Douay, Lutheran, King James and many other.
The Bible has been translated from existing translations into many other languages and translations are presented to the readers without any original text. As a matter of fact there are no originals of the Old Testament, only old editions. The text differs considerably from edition to edition.
Like the Torah, the Old Testament also scores very low on the above outlined seven criteria. It does not claim to be the Divine Word, it is a third person narration, there are innumerable contradictions and ambiguities in it. There are no originals and for one reason or another the text of every new edition differs to a greater or lesser extent. For this one reason alone the Old Testament fails the test to be graded as the Word of God because only God Almighty has the right to change His Word no matter how small the change.
The New Testament: It contains the four Gospels that are evidently a narration about the life and times of Jesus Christ. Then there are letters and accounts by the disciples of activities of the Christians of the period.
Like the Torah and the Old Testament, the New Testament also scores very low on the above criteria. There is not a single verse that claims for the Gospels to be the Divine Word. The various Gospels contradicts each other in many places. The words of the same One God should not vary no matter how often they are repeated. There is a considerable controversy about the actual authors. It is debatable whether the disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the actual authors or whether the Books written by other devotees and dedicated to the names of the famous disciples.
The Council of Nicea played a very significant role in the development of the present day New Testament and the Christian creed. When in 308 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity, and found that in his realms alone there were more than seven hundred different manuscripts all claiming to be the only true Gospel by Matthew.
The Emperor also realised that all these books presented a very different portrait of Jesus Christ and his teachings, peace be upon him. The followers of these individual manuscripts were so devoted to their particular books, that already contentions, riots and disturbances due to rivalry were happening between the different Christian groups in the Roman Empire.
This was rather disconcerning for the Emperor so in 325 A.D. he appointed a Council of Nicea consisting of fifty scholars. He collected all the manuscripts that were scattered in his Empire, and handed them to the council and commissioned them to formulate an official New Testament that presented a very consistent portrait of Jesus Christ and his teachings, peace be upon him. The copies of this New Testament were placed in various centres of his Empire.
The most foul act that the Emperor and his Council did was that they destroyed all the old manuscripts that were given to them. They wanted to eliminate for good all the possible bones of contention from amongst the people, thus, attempting to secure peace within the Empire. Some manuscripts of the Gospels existed in other countries but the Council of Nicea and the subsequent Roman hierarchy branded these as Apocrypha or unacceptable.
Even in the present times each new edition of the New or the Old Testament differs from the previous editions and because there are no originals the text only convey the interpretations of the translators coloured and biased with their own beliefs, sentiments and emotions.
The Holy Quran: It is the latest of the revealed scriptures and forms the bases of the Islamic religious philosophies and practices. Following are some of the facts about the origin, the accuracy and how the Holy Quran fares on the criteria it has laid out for the assessment of the scriptures:
The Holy Quran was revealed fourteen hundred years ago. As has been indicated earlier, it is a first person address in the style of a very assertive autobiography from God Almighty to man. The text has thirty parts and one hundred and fourteen chapters.
The entire text is comprised of revelations that the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, received over a period of twenty-three years. The revelations started on the very day the Holy Prophet was commissioned to his office as a Messenger for all peoples of the world, and continued until almost his last day on earth.
The revelations were the actual words of God Almighty conveyed to the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, by the Archangel Gabriel. The Archangel would appear to the Holy Prophet in person, repeat the words of God to him a few times, until he memorised them. The appearance of the angel was generally preceded by some sort of manifestation that differed on different occasions. There was no fixed time for the revelations, but generally it was very early in the morning so that the Holy Prophet repeated the words of the revelations with his companions in the first daily morning prayers. The companions also memorised the words.
At the first opportunity the exact words of the text were dictated to a scribe. The revelations continued for twenty-three years and during this period fifteen of the Prophet’s most respected companions acted as scribes. The written revelations were kept in the custody of one of the wives of the Holy Prophet (Hazrat Hafsa, God be pleased with her). She too had memorised the entire text by heart.
God Almighty has made a very unique promise in the Holy Quran. He says We took it upon Ourselves to reveal this scripture and We have made it Our responsibility to preserve the purity and piety of its text. God Almighty has fulfilled this promise in so many ways:
(1) Throughout twenty-three years, the period of revelation of the Holy Quran, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Holy Prophet very frequently, particularly during the months of Ramazan and revised with him so far revealed in the very original sequential order. Similarly, his companions also memorised, recited and listened to the recitations regularly.
(2) The most important instrument for the preservation of purity of the text of the Holy Quran was the Arabs’ faculty to memorise things. The following is a true story that happened in the early years of Islam in Medina:
A desert tribe requested the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, for some teachers. The Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, deputed seventy Huffaz to accompany the delegation. Huffaz are scholars who memorise the text of the Holy Quran by heart. Enroute to their destination the group was waylaid and all of them were murdered. This brought the art of memorisation into a better focus so that at the time of the demise of the Holy Prophet, God bless him, there were more than seventy thousand Huffaz in the very young Muslim world.
This art is practised with the same devotion and zeal even until this day, and there are innumerable Hafiz Muslim men, women and children in various countries of the world. The emphasis is upon the accuracy of memorisation and recitation. It is considered a sin to corrupt the original words of the text or to mispronounce them in any way.
(3) Within twelve years of the demise of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, certified written copies of the entire text were sent to Egypt and other countries. The certified original copy of the text belonging to Hazrat Usman, the third successor to the Holy Prophet, God be pleased with him, who was also one of the original scribes of the text, is still preserved in a Turkish museum.
(4) It is traditional that the original text of the Holy Quran is presented alongside any translations or commentaries. Although there are seventy-three different sects of Muslims, they all follow the same original text without any difference or variation whatsoever.
Islam and Ahmadiyyat present a very unique philosophy. According to the Holy Quran, Almighty God is the Designer, the Creator and the Sustainer of all and everything in this universe. Again according to the Holy Quran, there is a definite purpose behind the entire creation, and who is better to advise and guide the human race on how to achieve this purpose and benefit from the creation than the Designer, Creator and the Sustainer Himself?
So according to Islam, God Almighty created man, nurtured him, and when he was ready, put in him the seeds of wisdom. He further nurtured him, (in the words of the Holy Quran) With water from the sky as food and as guidance. The Holy Quran acknowledges Divine communication and revelations upon Adam, Noah, and all prophets of God Almighty including Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Prophet Ahmad, peace and blessings of God be upon them all.
Islam defines religion as a code of living prescribed by God for man to live on this earth. Man is the product of a progressive guided evolution. He has evolved physically, socially as well as spiritually. He has achieved all this through receiving guidance from His Designer, Creator and Sustainer. This Divine guidance is the Religion, it has evolved according to the needs of man during the different phases of his evolution required. It has, so to speak, kept man on track during his through evolution.
According to the Islamic traditions, the human race has gone through many phases of some sort of civilisation before this current phase. The Holy Quran indicates that Adam was not the first human on this earth but was the first vicegerent or the first Prophet or Messenger for the human race (his family) for the current phase of homosapien civilisation. His teachings constituted the first revelation for the human race. He received the teachings from God through revelation or the Word of God.
This initial or the first religion was very simple. Man needed to interact with others of his species. Guided by his God, he developed the ability to relate to the phenomenon of cause and effect and use it to his advantage.
Initially, it was a very simple equation resulting in a very simple and primitive society with simple rules and regulations. This constituted the religion or the way to peace and harmony or Islam in its infancy. The People were asked to live together in harmony, help each other, and benefit from each other and acknowledge the blessings of their Creator. As the population of this society increased there was a greater human interaction. This resulted in much greater and unprecedented demands upon the social code. So the first religion or code of living or the infantile Islam became inadequate to provide the required guidance.
It is evident from the Islamic traditions and also from the Old Testament that the religion preached by Adam became obsolete in about eight hundred years. It appears that whenever a teaching became inadequate, society started injecting into it its own amendments and solutions. These amendments became corruptions because they were injected by individuals to solve their individual problems and did not regard the interests of society as a whole. The interests of society at large could be served only by the guidance of the religion provided by the Creator of the society through His Prophets.
This seems to be a recurring pattern that has appeared time and time again over thousands of years of history. When Adam’s religion became corrupted and obsolete, it was replaced by a new set of teachings through Noah. Noah’s religion was not radically different from the previous religion, only it had been cleansed of all man-made corruptions and it had been adjusted to suit the need of social, intellectual and spiritual evolution of man.
In the course of time, the teachings of Noah also became corrupted and redundant and were replaced by the teachings of Abraham. These teachings again were not very different from the previous religion. They had all the essential features of the original religion but were a little more elaborate and detailed. The Holy Quran calls Abraham a Muslim or the follower of the code of peace.
All through this period the population of the society increased enormously. This initiated migration in all and every direction. So God Almighty provided Divine guidance for the migrants wherever they went and therefore a large number of religions. According to Islamic traditions, until now God Almighty has appointed more than 120,000 prophets in various parts of the world. In the words of Almighty God, the Holy Quran records There is not a people on this earth for whom a Warner has not been appointed.
One of the most evident and consistent human failings is that man resents change. It is very difficult for a man to accept new directives and equally difficult for him to discard what he earlier accepted. Adam had to go through a lot before his people accepted his teachings. Once they adopted the teachings, new vistas for progress opened up for them, and they started heading in new directions. Ultimately, they outgrew the bounds of those teachings just as a child outgrows his shirts, pants and shoes during his normal growth.
It can also be compared to the progress of a school boy. He cannot be started straight away on books of medicine and technology. He has to start from the beginning and learn alphabets and numbers, then he has to understand the basic and advanced knowledge about the subject of his career.
If he continues only on those primary grade books and syllabus indefinitely his progress comes to a dead end. He looks around in different directions and picks up whatever comes his way. He may not be very fortunate in his choice of pickings and head in directions that may prove disastrous, unless he is once again channelled on to a new syllabus in a higher class by a competent authority and a new teacher. He has some difficulty in adopting to the new syllabus but once he accepts it, he gets a new look and understanding of life and living, and new opportunities and successes come his way.
This very aptly stimulates religious evolution. There were the pre-school religions followed by the Junior-school religions, that were followed by the High-school religions and then University religions and graduation.
Another very consistent feature of religious evolution is that when at any point in time the religious society becomes corrupted due to extraneous interjections by man, Almighty God appoints a new Teacher with a revised set of teachings. Society resents this change and opposes the Teacher tooth and nail. They even strive to kill him, but God Almighty supports His Teacher and his teachings and asserts his authority to implement the changes, both by logical as well as emotional persuasion until ultimately society accepts the changes. Throughout the entire history of this present phase of civilisation, there has not been even a single instance where the designs of God Almighty and His Prophets have ever been frustrated in any way whatsoever.
This scenario has been repeated again and again in different corners and parts of the world. According to the Islamic Traditions, whenever a people outgrow their religion and corrupt it with their own interpretations and innovations, God Almighty appoints for them a new Teacher who with guidance from his God and in His name, cleanses the previous code of living and presents it to the people. Initially, the people resent it and oppose it most vehemently, but ultimately the designs of God Almighty prevail. The Holy Quran declares that there is not a single people on this earth for whose guidance God Almighty has not deputed a warner, and never have any of His warners ever failed.
Interestingly, the circle of address of each of the new religion is always wider than its predecessor. Adam’s religion was for his family. They had become a nation by the time of Noah’s religion gained acceptance. By the time of Abraham, the human race had multiplied enormously. Some remained in the Middle East, but some migrated in different directions, and wherever they went, they had their own Prophets and religions to guide them.
It so happens that the Holy Quran provides adequate knowledge and records of Abraham and his people. The Bible also confirms the Islamic view. The progeny of Abraham has been referred to as the Children of Israel and Jesus specifically stated that he was for the lost sheep of the House of Israel and very strongly stopped his followers from preaching to other nations. Similarly, Prophets Rama and Krishna addressed the people of India, and Prophet Buddha extended his teachings to Northern and Eastern parts of Asia. On the other end, the Holy Quran describes Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as God Almighty’s Benevolence personified for all the universe.
Very little is known about the other children of Adam who migrated beyond the horizon. It is only in the past few hundred years that we have acquired some knowledge of the extreme Eastern and extreme Western centres of human progression and evolution. We find that in these centres too the patterns of religious evolution were very similar to those in the Middle East. These religions also started from small groups, possibly migrants from the Middle East, and developed as the groups of migrants grew into societies. Ultimately, depending upon how we count them, there developed four or five major religions spaced geographically and also chronologically in various parts of the world.
Essentially, with the exception of the Holy Quran, which is the latest of the revealed scriptures, all other books have been interfered with to a greater or a lesser extent. Religious teachings have always been addressed to masses. Initially these were just words, sayings and songs that were transmitted by word of mouth from gathering to gathering and people to people. Writing and reading were not the conventional and popular means of communication. These developed much later and were primarily intended as records for the benefit of posterity. That is why all scriptures before the revelation of the Holy Quran are third person accounts or narrations.
Again with the exception of the Holy Quran, all other scriptures including the New Testament were written down a long time after the demise of the particular prophets or teachers. This delay in the recording of the word of mouth attracted many exaggerations either due to lapse of memory or sentimental feelings. Hinduism and Buddhism are more than three thousand years old. Similarly, Buddhist Chinese scriptures appeared about two thousand years ago, and there is nothing that can be described as the original manuscripts.
For a final summary, it can be said with absolute certainty that the Holy Quran is the only scripture that is that true uncorrupted Word of God Almighty. It has all the guidance that mankind needs for his present state of evolution and it is as prescribed by his Creator. All other books are third person narratives. They were good and useful for their time. They have a lot of general truth and good in them but also a lot of corruptions. The religions advocated by these books have programs that have become redundant. Their followers try to cover the inadequacies by devising band-aid moral, social and economic solutions due to pressure from society, but whatever efforts they make provide only limited, symptomatic patch-ups but no far reaching universal solutions. They try to mend one tear and produce even wider splits elsewhere.
In whatever direction man looks, all he finds is deceit, degradation, demoralisation, disillusionment, destruction and spiritual death. Even when he looks towards His Creator, he looks at Him with reservations and instead of surrendering his ego, he starts dictating terms and conditions.
May God Almighty help him to wake up and choose the right path and submit himself to the will and designs of his Creator. Amen.