Divine Guidance

Q154 :Since all divine books have been available for the last three thousand years, it has been easy to answer any question with reference to these books. But what about the period preceding Judaism when there was no actual source of divine book to provide the truth for millions of people over countless generations. Is it possible that people were left to act freely for such a long period without any guidance? Moreover, all four divine books seem to have been revealed in the Arabian land. What about the rest of the world? Does any other book require people to become Muslims? May I also ask whether it is possible through Ijtihad [or the use of scholarly discretion] to introduce improvements in Islamic law for the benefit of the Muslim community? This can always be considered well justified. It will be based on all previous beneficial experience and will suit the needs of the age. Please comment.

A154 : It is not true to say that all human history that predates Judaism lacked divine guidance. Indeed, divine guidance was provided for mankind ever since Adam was placed on earth as vicegerent. Adam himself was a prophet who received the faith of monotheism to his children who conducted their lives in accordance with the divine guidance. Thereafter, God has sent prophets and messengers to all communities. He states in the Qur'an that "there has been no community without having a Warner". That Warner must have been a prophet or a messenger or a person endowed with the knowledge of the guidance provided by earlier prophets. Besides, the Qur'an mentions the names of several prophets sent to different communities long before the appearance of the Prophet Moses. These include Prophets Noah, Hood, Saleh and Idris. God tells Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the Qur'an that there were many other messengers about whom He has chosen not to tell him. "We have certainly sent messengers before your time: Some of these We have mentioned to you, and some We have not mentioned." (40;78) So, God has not left people without guidance. It is they who have chosen to turn their backs on His guidance. They went even further than that and distorted messages conveyed to them by their prophets. God also tells us in the Qur'an that He made a covenant with all prophets that should His final messenger appear during their lifetimes, they would certainly follow him and give him all the support they can. All prophets and messengers conveyed that same message to their peoples. They told them that they should follow Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) whenever he begins to convey his message. Indeed, there are references in all divine scriptures to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), indicating how he may be recognized and where he will appear. The Jewish tribes that settled in Madinah in pre-Islamic days went there only because they recognized Madinah as the place to which the last messenger would emigrate. They wanted to follow him to ensure their salvation. However, when the grandchildren of those Jews realized that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not an Israelite, and his appearance signified the transfer of the line of prophet-hood from them to the Ishmaelite branch of Ibrahim's seed, they rebelled and put a stiff opposition to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his message. That opposition continues today with a most determined fight against Islam led by the Zionists everywhere. Moreover, all prophets and messengers conveyed basically the same message of submission to God and associating no partners with Him. Since this principle takes its fullness and its most perfect form in the message of the Qur'an, it is imperative that followers of previous guidance should embrace Islam because it endorses what they have and improves on it. In your question you refer to religions as though they were philosophical creeds put forward by philosophers and men of knowledge. You may expect a philosopher or an economist to come up with a new doctrine that takes into account the results of human experience with previous creeds and doctrines. You may say, for example, that socialism was devised in order to overcome the social disadvantages of capitalism, in the same way as the latter was an improvement on feudalism. But that does not apply to religions revealed by God, the Almighty. When you consider God's attributes, you will find among them His perfect knowledge. What you have to understand is that God's knowledge is not liable to increase as a result of events that may take place at present or in the future. God knows these events long before they take place. Indeed, the notion of time adding to knowledge does not apply to God whose knowledge is absolute and perfect. Therefore, it cannot be said that a later religion is an improvement on a previous one, benefiting by the human experience with the earlier religion. God does not need that experience in order to reveal a perfect religion. Indeed, Islam is a faith that remains applicable to all human generations until the day of judgment. Moreover, Islam, in its broadest sense which signifies of all divine faith, has been applicable right from the moment when Adam and Eve were created and placed first in heaven, before they fell to earth. Nor can there be any "unsuccessful" parts in the divine faith. People's application of certain parts may be improper, but that is their own failure, not the failure of the faith itself. Improvements may be achieved in their approach to religion, but not in the teachings of religion themselves. Human maturity will not add to the truth of religion, but it can draw better advantages from the implementation of the divine faith. Ijtihad, or the use of scholarly discretion, has certainly a wide area in the context of implementing the divine faith. But Ijtihad cannot be extended to the area of changing what God has revealed or what He requires of His servants. There are people who call for such amendment to religion, particularly among some politicians in some Muslim countries. Such politicians do not have any strong faith. They want to follow their own line of action, but they try to appear in a guise that satisfies the Muslim masses. Therefore, they speak of "modernized" or "liberalized" or "enlightened" Islam. Some want socialism to be Islamic and others want Western democracy to be given an Islamic color, etc. Let us be clear about one thing: Islam is a faith and a code of living revealed by God. It does not need to borrow any guise or appearance. People either take Islam as it is or leave it. Let them not try to give it a guise other than God has imparted to it. If they want to follow a line which is different from Islam, let them go and do what they want. But they must not try to give their practices or philosophies an Islamic appearance, when they have none. Islam will never be Socialist or Western Capitalist. It will always be Islamic.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )