Islam: A term which covers various religions

Q298 :May I refer to verse 85 of the third surah, which states that anyone who wishes to follow any religion other than Islam will not have it accepted and that he will be a loser in the hereafter. Nevertheless, it is stated in several surahs that those who believe and do good deeds will be highly rewarded by Allah whether they are believers, Jews, Christians, Sabians, etc. It appears that the first verse limits salvation to Muslims only while the others ensure salvation for anyone who fulfills certain criteria. Please comment.

A298 : The term "Islam" is used in the Qur'an most of the time to indicate the religion preached by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as he conveyed the message Allah entrusted him. In this sense, Islam means the declaration by a person that he believes there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was His last messenger to mankind. He commits himself to the fulfillment of his duties as outlined by this message and taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The other sense is the more general one which indicates "submission or self-surrender to Allah." This is indeed the essence of all divine messages preached by all prophets and messengers, ever since Adam and continuing with the line of Prophet-hood until Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last Prophet and messenger. In reference to Prophet Abraham, the Qur'an says: "His Lord said to him: Submit: I submit myself to Allah, the Lord of all worlds." The Arabic equivalent to the word submit in this Qur'anic verse is the verb "aslama" from which the term "Islam" is derived. We are told in the Qur'an that it was Prophet Abraham who named the believers "Muslims", meaning "those who submit to Allah." The two senses of the word are closely related since this religion of Islam has the principle of total submission to Allah as its cornerstone. When a person betrays any doubt about submitting totally to Allah, he is considered not to be a Muslim, because he does not fulfill the most basic criterion of Islam. There is more than one reference in the Qur'an to the type of religion which is acceptable to Allah. In all these references, the term Islam occurs. One clear example is found in verse 19 of surah 3, entitled: "The House of Imran" where Allah says: "Indeed, the only true religion in the sight of Allah is Islam." Many scholars are of the opinion that this verse and similar verses refer to Islam in its final form taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as he conveyed his message. Equally numerous are the scholars who take such verses as referring to Islam in its general sense, namely, self-surrender or total submission to Allah. To them, the aforementioned verse should be translated into English as: "Indeed the only true religion in the sight of Allah is (man's) self-surrender to Him." The two views are not contradictory since the final version of the divine religion, i.e. Islam, emphasizes the principal verses in their general sense of the term Islam, we give them a broader scope as to include the followers of earlier prophets who responded to divine messages and submitted themselves to Allah. As it is well known, all prophets preached essentially the same message, calling on their nations to surrender themselves to Allah. The foregoing applies to verse 85 of surah 3, to which you have referred. If we translate in the stricter sense, we may say that it means: "If anyone seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him, etc." I personally tend to prefer this latter rendering. It must be clear to us, however, that since Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has conveyed to mankind the religion of Islam as the last and complete version of divine faith, this is the only acceptable form of self-surrender to Allah. The other verses which you have referred to speak of different communities who shall have nothing to fear in the life to come. Let us take one example from verse 62 of surah 3 which may be translated as follows: "The believers, as well as those who follow the Jewish faith and Christians and Sabians - - all who believe in Allah and the last day and do righteous deeds - - shall have their reward with their Lord; and no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve." These verses should be taken in a historical sense. We know for certain that the message of Islam as preached by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) abrogates previous messages. Thus, it is the only form of religious acceptance to Allah. However, those people of old who followed Judaism, Christianity or other faiths preached by earlier prophets and have submitted themselves to Allah alone will certainly have their reward with Allah and they will have nothing to fear on the day of judgment. After Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), mankind does not have any choice other than to believe in his message or to deny it. If he denies it, he is among the losers, no matter what creed he follows. However, it is the responsibility of Muslims to convey the message of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to mankind. Those who do not come to know of it, or who learn about it in a distorted way, cannot be condemned by us. Allah will judge them as He knows of their situation.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )