The plurality of different religions is undoubtedly one of the most important issues that concern people who are interested in religious studies today. Some of the questions they may ask include:
- Which religion is right?
- What do they have in common?
- How should the followers of different faiths behave when faced with the followers of other religions?
- Will all religions lead to eternal salvation?
In this article, we will see how Islam regards other religions and more specifically how it deals with the questions above.
According to the Islamic viewpoint, all Divine religions have been sent to connect human beings to their Gracious Creator, the only one God. Quran says:
“O People of the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we will worship no one but Allah, that we will not ascribe any partner to Him, and that some of us will not take some others as lords besides Allah…” (3:64)
As per this verse, Islam holds that all the other Divine religions root in Monotheism. The idea of God is actually so clear in these monotheistic faiths that some religious studies scholars regard it as an essential requirement for them to be included in the category of religions; in other words, those faiths that have no belief in God or practices of worship cannot be called religion at all.
Moreover, though the followers of some other faiths may worship different gods, all the Abrahamic religions assert the unity of God, and that He is the only Creator. This has been mentioned in the holy Quran many times:
“We did not send any apostle before you but that We revealed to him that ‘There is no god except Me; so worship Me.’” (21:25)
The belief in One God is somehow evident in the other religions as well; lots of them admit the fact that they feel there is some being which created the world and life and influences it to some extent. Quran says:
“If you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth, and who has disposed the sun and the moon?’ They will surely say, ‘Allah.’” (29:61)
This has also been asserted in the verses of Bible and Torah:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before Me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.…” (Exodus 20:3) .
Contrary to popular belief, the religion of Islam does not deny the truth of the previous monotheistic religions, rather the religion of God was perfected in Islam through the revelation that was sent to the last messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
“We have sent down to you the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it of the Book and as a guardian over it…” (5:48)
In fact, Islam has been revealed to purify the previous faiths from distortions and to complete their teachings:
“Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion…” (5:3)
The advent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) with his true religion was also predicted in the Bible:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come” (John, 16:13) .
Also, Islamic teachings and the holy Quran always emphasize the significance of respecting the freedom and other rights of the followers of the previous religions; Muslims, accordingly, hold the followers of those religions in high regard:
“Do not argue with the People of the Book [the followers of the previous monotheistic faiths] except in a manner which is best, except such of them as are wrongdoers, and say, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and in what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is one [and the same], and to Him do we submit.’” (29:46)
In Islam “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256), and even if one chooses to follow another monotheistic faith other than Islam, he/she has every right to live in peace among Muslims as an honored citizen with all rights and privileges .
“So set your heart as a person of pure faith on this religion, the original nature endowed by Allah according to which He originated mankind…” (30:30)
Muslims believe that the innate religion is something both Muslims and non-Muslims possess by birth; this original religion is what Muslims define as Islam. They also hold that the differences between various religions are due to particular requirements and potentials of societies during the various periods of prophecy:
“We did not send any apostle except with the language of his people so that he might make [Our messages] clear to them.” (14:4)
Consequently, the calls of the prophets were alike since all their invitations originated from a single source and followed a unified line of faith with a single aim, i.e., submission to the Lord of the worlds, which is the real meaning of Islam:
“Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam” (3:19)
In fact, Islam, i.e., submission to Allah is the cornerstone of all religions.
So, Muslims testify to the truth of all God’s Messengers and that they have all agreed with each other, each of them testifying to the truth of the words of the preceding Prophets (AS) and giving the tidings of the Divine appointment of the next Messenger:
“Say, ‘We have faith in Allah and what has been sent down to us, and what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus were given, and that which the prophets were given by their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them and to Him do we submit’” (2:136).
Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam 
Islam is a religion for all human beings of all time:
“We did not send you [Muhammad] but as a mercy to all the nations” (21:107)
This verse clearly indicates the universality of the message brought by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP).
Although the holy Quran regards belief in the prophets a major basis of a Muslim’s ideology, it maintains that what was revealed to the last Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH&HP), was the most advanced program and the perfect law of the divine religion:
“It is He who has sent His Apostle with guidance and the true religion that He may make it prevail over all religions though the polytheists should be averse” (61:9).
Accordingly, it will not be accepted by Allah to remain on the previous incomplete paths after the revelation of the Holy Quran:
“Should anyone follow a religion other than Islam, it shall never be accepted from him, and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter” (3:85).
The verse above does not, however, mean that the followers of other faiths will be all losers. Quite the opposite! There are believers who have not had a chance to reach the completed and updated truth, or those who are exposed to intense propaganda against Islam and think it is impossible that such a religion (distorted image of Islam) might be the right way to salvation, or even those Christians, Jews or any other believers who have searched enough and have been convinced, based on reasons, that their beliefs are right (even if their reasons seem invalid and wrong in the eyes of Muslims); what do you think Quran says about them?
“Indeed, the faithful, the Jews, the Christians and the Sabaeans—those of them who have faith in Allah and the Last Day and act righteously—they shall have their reward from their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve” (2:62).
Finally, going through the Quranic verses about religions and their messages, we may conclude that Islam encompasses all the other divine revelations; the ones that have been distorted throughout history, or simply do not sufficiently meet people’s needs any longer; Islam is, in fact, the final, authentic, complete, and updated message of God that draws a perfect picture of man and the base for his reformation that will ultimately lead to his salvation.
The foundation of the holy religion of Islam is built upon the belief in monotheism, to the extent that without its acceptance, one cannot be called Muslim at all. This fundamental axiom is basically defined as the fact that God exists and that He is the only one; in other words, one must not only testify to the existence of a creator, a divine source, and a higher power, but also to His absolute uniqueness and singularity.
We might wonder if we are able to understand or imagine God’s existence, the answer is yes but in quite a different way than other things. The concept of a divine source is philosophical and abstract; therefore we cannot feel or imagine it tangibly and vividly, however, our mind can understand such concepts by a kind of rational investigation and scrutiny in a general way.
There are some specific ways to understand the existence of God based on Islamic doctrine, including “innate disposition”, “scientific or pseudo-philosophical reasoning” and “philosophical reasoning”.
Perhaps the easiest form of realizing God’s existence is with the use of “innate idea” which is present in every human being. According to Islamic teaching, all of us have some desires and characteristics with which we were born and that we unconsciously seek in our lives.
One of the most important inborn desires in human beings is the yearning for a God and creator; in other words, every person with his/her special creation and distinctive spiritual characteristics knows his/her God without needing any exterior knowledge. Many psychologists have claimed the existence of a hidden self, called the unconscious, which contains the innate and unknown desires of human beings; the desires that control their actions and influence their decisions. The force in the search of God, also, can be traced in this part of the human mind.
The reasons that are mentioned under this division include the “Teleological Argument”, “Causal Argument”, “Occurrence Argument” and “Guidance Argument”.
According to “Teleological Argument”, a comprehensive and efficient system is the one whose components are in balance and harmony and are ordered in a way to achieve a certain goal. If we consider the universe as an enormous system with complex functions and a web of relations, we could easily notice its sophisticated order and discipline.
Every element in this world is built with a kind of inner structure that enables it to do its job on a regular basis. For sure, this regularity has not happened accidentally. For this huge system to work properly, a wise and powerful creator is required, one who is aware of every incident that takes place in the universe and has control over them.
Based on this argument, this world and all other creatures had not existed before and came to be at a specific point in time. Consequently, since they have occurred and started to exist, they need a creator for their occurrence.
When we look around, we find ourselves surrounded by things whose existence is depended on something else, they go through changes – for better or worse-, and they are described concerning other things – i.e., their attributes are relative. We may first try to justify each incident by another one; however, ultimately we will realize that the summit of this chain must be a higher force who is unique and untainted by any flaw and inconsistency.
Furthermore, everything in this universe –including the universe itself- has initiated and will be terminated at a specific time; in other words, nothing in this world is infinite, and everything is born from its own kind – e.g., A human from a human, a horse from a horse, etc.
Thus the universe cannot be created spontaneously and out of itself or from a pile of dust, an animal or a tree, since the origin of every living creature is always another living creature. If we suppose that every kind of creature gains its existence from single or multiple origins, or consider the initial origin of them an ameba, then again we are faced with this question that how this ameba has been created. Here we arrive at this conclusion that there is a single, omnipotent, divine source who has caused the life on earth [i].
While “Teleological Argument” tries to prove Monotheism with regard to the complex inner structure of the creatures in the world that makes them capable of being in line with their role and objective in the universe, “Guidance argument” focuses on what these creatures actually do and how they do it.
Based on this argument, the creatures in this world, after being perfectly created, are guided by a mysterious insight and intelligent force through their course of actions. However, the path that they follow in their deeds is the result of an external cause, rather than their own built-in features. This sophisticated outer force is no one other than God, the one and only.
The “Causal Argument”, also known as the principle of causality, is one of the primary propositions known to people in their ordinary lives. This principle states that there is a cause for everything. In other words, every single thing that happens and every single effect, or existence, has a cause. But there must be a start to this series of events. It is believed that the beginning of this chain is a power, which is beyond all other powers and can cause everything to exist.
This kind of reasoning, which is totally rational and philosophical, is based on the study of the existence and the existent. Briefly, philosophers claim that the existence of a “Necessary Being” [ii] is essential; meaning that if the “Necessary Being” did not exist, nothing would have started to exist and since there are things here, then a “Necessary Being” must certainly exist.
First of all, as we said before, the creator of this world should be infinite and eternal. Accordingly, we cannot consider a like for an infinite being, since He is dominant over everything and no time or place is empty of Him. Furthermore, plurality necessitates a difference; that is two beings are separate if one has something that the other lacks, so they cannot be considered perfect.
Secondly, since God is an absolute and pure being, then we cannot find any incongruity in Him, and thus there is no need for another being to make amends for His inconsistencies.
Moreover, if there were two “Necessary Beings”, they must have had a gap or lapse among themselves. Consequently, the existence of a third being becomes crucial, and this process goes on endlessly.
Finally, the unity of the universe and its oneness and the fact that there exists no inconsistency and malfunction in the elements of this world, lead us to look for a single and unique being as its creator.
To conclude, monotheism (Tawhid) as the main entry to the religion of Islam which needs to be understood rationally and then fully accepted, rejects any dualistic, Trinitarian or polytheistic beliefs. This axiom is not only the cornerstone of the other Islamic axioms but also a necessity for practicing the practical principles of the religion. Even though individual investigation and understanding will bring faith in monotheism, this belief will not be complete without total acceptance of prophethood (Nubuwwah), and this takes us to the next axiom.
[i]. Charles Darwin, the well-known English naturalist, and geologist, on this matter explicitly states that “life had been occurred through a divine breath.”
[ii]. There are two sorts of existent entities: those that exist but could have failed to exist, and those that could not have failed to exist. Entities of the first sort are contingent beings; entities of the second sort are necessary beings .
Allah Almighty is the all-knowing all-wise creator. He has considered a unique way of perfection for every creature and then guided it to reach its excellence (20:50). Human beings, as autonomous creatures, are in real need of divine guidance to know how to live a perfect and purposeful life. According to Islamic beliefs, the Quran is the divine revelation to Prophet Muhammad PBUH&HP that contains necessary guidelines for human beings: "As We sent to you an Apostle from among yourselves, who recites to you Our signs, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know." (2:151). The question is that, is the Quran Allah's words? Let's see why the answer is: Yes.
If the Quran was Prophet Muhammad's PBUH&HP words, his PBUH&HP narrations should have been of the same eloquence and beauty of the Quran. But that's not the case. The Quran is unique in style, expression system, and arrangement. And that's why no one has been able to bring even a chapter (Surah) similar to that of the Quran. As the Quran says: "And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a Surah like it, and invoke your helpers besides Allah, should you be truthful." (2:23). Although the prophetic narrations are articulate and eloquent, some of them have been imitated and distorted, unlike the Quran .
If the Quran were Prophet Muhammad's PBUH & HP words, it would have been logical for him to claim that these eloquent words were his. Consequently, he could have promoted his position, fascinated his opposers, and gathered more followers. But, he never intended to be considered and praised as a superior power. On the contrary, in one instance, someone came to him and was uneasy because of his magnificence and grandeur, he said: "Calm down! I am not a king" .
In some of the Quranic verses, the objections and disagreements of Prophet's PBUH&HP opposers are answered. If the Quran was Prophet Muhammad's PBUH&HP words, all these verses should have been quickly revealed right after an objection was raised, or when he was insulted or oppressed. But, this was not always the case .
For example, the Qiblah at the time of Prophet Muhammad PBUH&HP was originally the Noble Sanctuary (Al-Aqsa Compound), similar to Judaism. That was a reason for Jews to mock Muslims and say that Muslims follow them; hence, they are superior. Prophet PBUH&HP waited 16 months for the divine revelation to let him change the Qiblah while he was disturbed by Jew's words. It was after such a long delay that he received a response: "turn your face towards the Holy Mosque, and wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it!" (2:144). If the Quran was Prophet Muhammad's PBUH&HP words, he could have changed the Qiblah much sooner and suffer less.
In some of the verses of the Quran, Prophet Muhammad PBUH&HP is warned. In Surah Tawbah, he is told that: "May Allah excuse you! Why did you grant them to leave [to stay behind] before those who told the truth were evident to you, and you had ascertained the liars?" (9:43), or in another Ayat: "A prophet may not take captives until he has thoroughly decimated [the enemy] in the land." (8:67). Is it logical at all that someone blames himself and makes it public?
Prophet Muhammad PBUH&HP was not literate, and this is stated in the Quran and historical records. "You did not use to recite any scripture before it, nor did you write it with your right hand, for then the impugners would have been skeptical." (29:48). So, how can someone illiterate bring such eloquent words?
This holy book was revealed for 23 years. And something astonishing about the Quran is that there is no contradiction among the verses of it. If it was a human's words, there surely existed contradictions and errors in the Quran because human beings are forgetful, and for example, they forget what they told two years ago. But, this is not true about the Quran.
- Allah's words
- M. H. Hakimi, et al. "Al-Hayat," vol. 2, Translation: A. Aram, Iran, 1986.