Throughout this article I am referring to the universality of the Qur’an and in doing so I have invented two terms to refer to two different concepts. These are as follows:
“General Universality of the Qur’an” refers to the following understanding:
The Qur’an was sent for the Arabs (ummiyyin) in Arabia and whoever has joined them, or may join them in future, to become part of their religious community (Muslims). While primarily aimed for this particular purpose, the Book also naturally contains a message that is universal and relevant to every human being. This is the message of Monotheism (tawhid), being mindful about the hereafter and doing righteous things. This is a message that is in common between almost all religions that exist on the face of earth.
“Specific Universality of the Qur’an” refers to the following understanding:
The Qur’an was sent for entire mankind and every human being is bound to follow it by becoming a Muslim and following the shari’ah of Islam.
In this article the General Universality of the Qur’an is not the subject of study, although it is referred to. In my understanding there is no doubt or question about the General Universality of the Qur’an. This article studies the Specific Universality of the Qur’an and argues, with the use of the Qur’an, that the concept of Specific Universality of the Qur’an is in conflict with the Qur’an.
Finally, a point on writing: To make the writing and reading smoother, in this article I refer to the Arabian Peninsula as “Arabia,” and to Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula as “the Arabs.”
1. Reasoning on the Basis of the Qur’an
Evidence and reasoning on the basis of the Qur’an to verify and revise the traditional scenario based on Specific Universality of the Qur’an can be broadly categorised into two groups:
1.1. Evidence related to the style of the Qur’an and its content
1.2. Verses of the Qur’an that determine which scenario is correct
1.1. Evidence related to the style of the Qur’an and its content
This can be briefly listed as follows:
– The complex language and style of the Qur’an
– Overall, very specific addressees of the Qur’an.
– Addressing mostly local issues and local people, with no or very little reference to any global issues at the time or in the future, and no guiding reference to people or nations other than its primary addressees.
– The shari’ah being very much based on the socio cultural norms of the time and the location, with absolutely no attention to the conditions elsewhere.
– No mention of what to do beyond Arabia or any instructions about this
– Very specific and local theme, that is, warning to do itmam al-hujjah (completing the reasoning) for the Quraysh, polytheists and the people of the book in Arabia, and the consequences to those groups ignoring the warning
The above characteristics do not seem to be suitable for the scenario that is based on the Specific Universality of the Qur’an.
1.2. Verses of the Qur’an that determine which scenario is correct
There are four groups of verses that together and even separately determine whether the Specific Universality of the Qur’an is a Qur’anic concept or if it is in fact against the very premise of the Qur’an. As far as I can see, none of these verses need much analysis to understand what they actually mean. These groups of verses are presented in turn:
1.2.1. Verses that limit the scope of the prophetic mission by explaining the reason that the Qur’an was revealed
If one asks, according to the Qur’an, for what function the Qur’an was revealed, the answer can easily be taken from the Qur’an:
وَ کَذٰلِکَ اَوۡحَیۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ قُرۡاٰنًا عَرَبِیًّا لِّتُنۡذِرَ اُمَّ الۡقُرٰی وَ مَنۡ حَوۡلَہَا وَ تُنۡذِرَ یَوۡمَ الۡجَمۡعِ لَا رَیۡبَ فِیۡہِ ؕ فَرِیۡقٌ فِی الۡجَنَّۃِ وَ فَرِیۡقٌ فِی السَّعِیۡرِ.(7:42)
And thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Quran, so that you warn the Mother City [Mecca] and those around it, and that you may give warning of the day of gathering together wherein is no doubt. A party shall be in the garden and a party in the Burning Fire (42:7)
وَ ہٰذَا کِتٰبٌ اَنۡزَلۡنٰہُ مُبٰرَکٌ مُّصَدِّقُ الَّذِیۡ بَیۡنَ یَدَیۡہِ وَ لِتُنۡذِرَ اُمَّ الۡقُرٰی وَ مَنۡ حَوۡلَہَا ؕ وَ الَّذِیۡنَ یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِالۡاٰخِرَۃِ یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِہٖ وَ ہُمۡ عَلٰی صَلَاتِہِمۡ یُحَافِظُوۡنَ.(92:6)
And thisis a Book We have revealed, with blessings,confirming what came before itand so that you warn those who live in the mother city and around it. Those who believe in the Hereafter, it is they who will believe in it and it is they who protect their prayers. (6:92)
Based on the above two verses the scope of the mission of the Prophet (sws) was not an unlimited one. It was in fact limited and the limit was Arabia (Mecca and surrounding). Based on the above verses the purpose of revealing the Qur’an was to warn people within the limits of Arabia. In the light of the above verses, the meaning of verses like the following also becomes clear:
وَ اِنَّہٗ لَذِکۡرٌ لَّکَ وَ لِقَوۡمِکَ ۚ وَ سَوۡفَ تُسۡـَٔلُوۡنَ.(44:43)
And this is a reminder for you and your people and soon you will be questioned.(43:44)
The Qur’an has even answered the question as to why its mission was limited to Arabia and the Arabs in that location in particular:
……لِتُنۡذِرَ قَوۡمًا مَّاۤ اَتٰىہُمۡ مِّنۡ نَّذِیۡرٍ مِّنۡ قَبۡلِکَ.(46:28)
… [This is] to warn people who did not have a warner before you. (28:46)
لِتُنۡذِرَ قَوۡمًا مَّاۤ اُنۡذِرَ اٰبَآؤُہُمۡ فَہُمۡ غٰفِلُوۡنَ. (6:36)
(this revelation from the Mighty and Merciful) is for people whose forefathers were not warned and were ignorant (36:6)
اَمۡ یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ افۡتَرٰىہُ ۚ بَلۡ ہُوَ الۡحَقُّ مِنۡ رَّبِّکَ لِتُنۡذِرَ قَوۡمًا مَّاۤ اَتٰہُمۡ مِّنۡ نَّذِیۡرٍ مِّنۡ قَبۡلِکَ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَہۡتَدُوۡن. (3:32)
Or do they say: He has forged it? Rather it is the truth from your Lord so that you warn a people to whom no warner has come before you, that they may be guided. (32:3)
وَ ہٰذَا کِتٰبٌ اَنۡزَلۡنٰہُ مُبٰرَکٌ فَاتَّبِعُوۡہُ وَ اتَّقُوۡا لَعَلَّکُمۡ تُرۡحَمُوۡنَ.اَنۡ تَقُوۡلُوۡۤا اِنَّمَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ الۡکِتٰبُ عَلٰی طَآئِفَتَیۡنِ مِنۡ قَبۡلِنَا ۪ وَ اِنۡ کُنَّا عَنۡ دِرَاسَتِہِمۡ لَغٰفِلِیۡنَ.اَوۡ تَقُوۡلُوۡا لَوۡ اَنَّاۤ اُنۡزِلَ عَلَیۡنَا الۡکِتٰبُ لَکُنَّاۤ اَہۡدٰی مِنۡہُمۡ ۚ فَقَدۡ جَآءَکُمۡ بَیِّنَۃٌ مِّنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ وَ ہُدًی وَّ رَحۡمَۃٌ ۚ(6:155۔157)
And this is a Book We have revealed, blessed; therefore follow it and guard [against evil] that mercy may be shown to you. Lest you say that the Book was only revealed to two parties before us and We were truly unaware of what they read. Or lest you should say: If the Book had been revealed to us, we would certainly have been better guided than they So indeed there has come to you clear proof from your Lord, and guidance and mercy. (6:155-157)
Based on the above the answer is very straightforward: Because the Arabs did not have a warner before and could argue why there was revelation for the two communities of Jews and Christians in the past but not for them. At this point, a curious rational mind will ask another question: but why did God not send the Prophet (sws) for all human beings? The answer to this question is given in the next section.
1.2.2. Verses that associate diversity of nations with the need to have separate guides for each nation
The Almighty has made it clear in the following verses that in between the two choices of “sending a guide for all nations” and “sending a guide for each nation,” He has gone for the second:
اِنَّمَاۤ اَنۡتَ مُنۡذِرٌ وَّ لِکُلِّ قَوۡمٍ ہَادٍ. (7:13)
You are only a warner and for every people (nations) there is a guide. (13:7)
اِنَّاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنٰکَ بِالۡحَقِّ بَشِیۡرًا وَّ نَذِیۡرًا ؕ وَاِنۡ مِّنۡ اُمَّۃٍ اِلَّا خَلَا فِیۡہَا نَذِیۡرٌ.(24:35)
We have sent you truthfully as a bearer of good news and a warner and there is no community to whom a warner was not sent. (35:24)
وَلِکُلِّ اُمَّۃٍرَّسُوۡلٌۚفَاِذَا جَآءَرَسُوۡلُہُمۡ قُضِیَبَیۡنَہُمۡبِالۡقِسۡطِ وَہُمۡ لَا یُظۡلَمُوۡنَ.(47:10)
And for every community there is a messenger, so when their messenger comes they will be judged with fairness and they will not be wronged. (10:47)
وَ لَقَدۡ بَعَثۡنَا فِیۡ کُلِّ اُمَّۃٍ رَّسُوۡلًا.(36:16)
And verily we raised a messenger for every community. (16:36)
Still, a question may be asked, as to why God did not send one guide for all nations and sent local guides for each nation. The following verses provide a very in-depth and enlightening answer to the above question that paves the way for the rest of this article:
اِنَّاۤ اَنۡزَلۡنٰہُ قُرۡءٰنًا عَرَبِیًّا لَّعَلَّکُمۡ تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ.(2:12)
We have sent the Qur’an in Arabic so that you may show understanding. (12:2)
فَاِنَّمَا یَسَّرۡنٰہُ بِلِسَانِکَ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَتَذَکَّرُوۡنَ.(58:44)
We have facilitated [its understanding] by [sending it in] your language so that they may be reminded. (44:58)
فَاِنَّمَا یَسَّرۡنٰہُ بِلِسَانِکَ لِتُبَشِّرَ بِہِ الۡمُتَّقِیۡنَ وَ تُنۡذِرَ بِہٖ قَوۡمًا لُّدًّا.(97:19)
So we have facilitated [its understanding] by [sending it in] your language to give good news with it to the pious and warn with it stubborn people. (19:97)
وَ مَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَا مِنۡ رَّسُوۡلٍ اِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوۡمِہٖ لِیُبَیِّنَ لَہُمۡ.(4:14)
And we have not sent a messenger but in the language of his people so that he may deliver to them [the message] clearly. (14:4)
وَ لَوۡ جَعَلۡنٰہُ قُرۡاٰنًا اَعۡجَمِیًّا لَّقَالُوۡا لَوۡ لَا فُصِّلَتۡ اٰیٰتُہٗ ؕ ءَؔاَعۡجَمِیٌّ وَّ عَرَبِیٌّ.(44:41)
And if we had made this Qur’an in non-Arabic language (they) would say why its verses are not clear, a non-Arabic (book) and Arab (addressees?) (41:44)
وَ لَوۡ نَزَّلۡنٰہُ عَلٰی بَعۡضِ الۡاَعۡجَمِیۡنَ.فَقَرَاَہٗ عَلَیۡہِمۡ مَّا کَانُوۡا بِہٖ مُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ.(26:198۔199)
And if we had revealed this to some non-Arabs and it was read [in non-Arabic language] to them [ie. Arabs], they would not believe in it. (26:198-9)
The above verses have made the logic of local guidance of the Almighty clear. The logic is “language.” God sends guidance with the language that is known and clear for those who are supposed to be guided. The word “language” here in fact refers to much deeper issues, that is, the element of cultural and social familiarity. In other words, even a non-Arab who could speak perfect classical Arabic at the time would have not fulfilled the requirements to be a chosen prophet for the Arabs. This is clear from the following verses:
کَمَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَا فِیۡکُمۡ رَسُوۡلًا مِّنۡکُمۡ یَتۡلُوۡا عَلَیۡکُمۡ اٰیٰتِنَا وَ یُزَکِّیۡکُمۡ وَ یُعَلِّمُکُمُ الۡکِتٰبَ وَ الۡحِکۡمَۃَ وَ یُعَلِّمُکُمۡ مَّا لَمۡ تَکُوۡنُوۡا تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ.(151:2)
Just as we sent a messenger from among yourselves to read Our verses to you and (in this way) purify you by teaching you the book and the wisdom and teaching you what you did not know. (2:151, also repeated with very similar wording in 3:164)
لَقَدۡ جَآءَکُمۡ رَسُوۡلٌ مِّنۡ اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ عَزِیۡزٌ عَلَیۡہِ مَا عَنِتُّمۡ حَرِیۡصٌ عَلَیۡکُمۡ بِالۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ رَءُوۡفٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ.(128:9)
Certainly a Messenger has come to you from among yourselves; grievous to him is your distress, extremely caring about you; to the believers compassionate, merciful. (9:128)
A curious mind may now develop a question. Such diversity surely results in differences of the paths in a God aware life. Is this going to be a problem or has the Qur’an already appreciated and approved such differences? The next section provides an answer to the above question:
1.2.3. Verses that inform about accepting the diversity of paths towards God
In response to the arrogant critics of some of the religious rituals and laws that were brought by the prophet (pbuh) the following verse was revealed:
لِکُلِّ اُمَّۃٍ جَعَلۡنَا مَنۡسَکًا ہُمۡ نَاسِکُوۡہُفَلَا یُنَازِعُنَّکَ فِی الۡاَمۡرِ وَ ادۡعُ اِلٰی رَبِّکَ ؕ اِنَّکَ لَعَلٰی ہُدًی مُّسۡتَقِیۡمٍ.(67:22)
For every community We established a path [ritual] that they followso they should not argue with you about this matter and invite to your Lord you are verily on the straight path. (22:67)
The verse points out that every community of God has its own ritual. A similar verse was revealed among the directives to change the qiblah:
وَ لِکُلٍّ وِّجۡہَۃٌ ہُوَ مُوَلِّیۡہَا فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ ؕ اَیۡنَ مَا تَکُوۡنُوۡا یَاۡتِ بِکُمُ اللّٰہُ جَمِیۡعًا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ قَدِیۡرٌ.(148:2)
And for every direction (of worship) there are people [associated with it] so compete with each other in goodness, wherever you are, God will gather you all, God has power over everything. (2:148)
The religious path that was brought by the Prophet (sws) therefore is one of the possible religious paths that suited the Arabs. Other nations with a shari’ahneeded to follow their own rules:
وَ کَیۡفَ یُحَکِّمُوۡنَکَ وَ عِنۡدَہُمُ التَّوۡرٰىۃُفِیۡہَا حُکۡمُ اللّٰہِ ثُمَّ یَتَوَلَّوۡنَ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ ذٰلِکَ ؕ وَ مَاۤ اُولٰٓئِکَ بِالۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ.(43:5)
And how do they ask for you to make a ruling among them while they have Torah in which there is God’s ruling, then they turned back after this and they are not [really] believers. (5:43)
وَ لۡیَحۡکُمۡ اَہۡلُ الۡاِنۡجِیۡلِ بِمَاۤ اَنۡزَلَ اللّٰہُ فِیۡہِؕ وَ مَنۡ لَّمۡ یَحۡکُمۡ بِمَاۤ اَنۡزَلَ اللّٰہُ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ ہُمُ الۡفٰسِقُوۡنَ.(47:5)
And the followers of Injil should rule based on what God has sent in It and whoever does not rule based on what God has sent (to them) then verily they are transgressors. (5:47)
The ultimate message of the Qur’an in appreciation and in fact informing about the diversity of paths towards God is in the following verse:
…لِکُلٍّ جَعَلۡنَا مِنۡکُمۡ شِرۡعَۃً وَّ مِنۡہَاجًا ؕ وَ لَوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰہُ لَجَعَلَکُمۡ اُمَّۃً وَّاحِدَۃً وَّ لٰکِنۡ لِّیَبۡلُوَکُمۡ فِیۡ مَاۤ اٰتٰىکُمۡ فَاسۡتَبِقُوا الۡخَیۡرٰتِ ؕ اِلَی اللّٰہِ مَرۡجِعُکُمۡ جَمِیۡعًا فَیُنَبِّئُکُمۡ بِمَا کُنۡتُمۡ فِیۡہِ تَخۡتَلِفُوۡنَ .(48:5)
… For each from among you [communities chosen by God] we established a law and a path and if God wanted He would surely made you all as one community however He wanted to put you in challenge with regard to what He gave you [separately] so compete with each other in goodness, your return, all, is to God so He will inform you of that in which you differed. (5:48)
It should be noted that the above verse comes after the earlier two quoted verses in the same chapter, and in the last or one of the last revealed chapters of the Qur’an (Ma’idah). The above verse is very clear about the co-existence of different forms of shari’ahas a legitimate concept for the Almighty.
It is due to this subjective, conditional shari’ah(as compared to the objective, unconditional core concepts of religion) that the Qur’an does not include it when it comes to giving a universally applicable criteria for success in the hereafter:
اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَ الَّذِیۡنَ ہَادُوۡا وَ الصّٰبِـُٔوۡنَ وَ النَّصٰرٰی مَنۡ اٰمَنَ بِاللّٰہِ وَ الۡیَوۡمِ الۡاٰخِرِ وَ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَیۡہِمۡ وَ لَا ہُمۡ یَحۡزَنُوۡنَ. (69:5)
Those who believe [in Muhammad] and the Jews and the Sabians and Christians, any of them who (truly) believe in God and the hereafter and does righteous deeds then there will not be any fear or any grief for them. (5:69, also repeated with very similar words in 2:62)
It is then in the light of the above verses on diversity of paths towards the Almighty that verses like the following start to show their depth of meaning:
وَ یَوۡمَ نَبۡعَثُ فِیۡ کُلِّ اُمَّۃٍ شَہِیۡدًا عَلَیۡہِمۡ مِّنۡ اَنۡفُسِہِمۡ وَ جِئۡنَا بِکَ شَہِیۡدًا عَلٰی ہٰۤؤُلَآءِ.(89:16)
And the day when we raise from every community a witness on them from their own and will bring you as a witness to these. (16:89)
A curious mind may ask at this point that if the issue was not to technically convert to Islam by leaving their own shari’ah, then what was the expectation of the Qur’an and the Prophet (sws) from the people of the book in Arabia at the time. The answer is discussed in the next section.
1.2.4. Verses that gave glad tidings to the righteous among the people of the book despite them not being Muslims
The Qur’an has criticized the people of the Book in Arabia at a number of places. The Book, however, also contains praise and the promise of heaven for those people of the book in Arabia at the time who were among the righteous. The interesting point is, when the Qur’an praises these groups, It still refers to them as people of the book and in no verse there is even an implicit indication that they have or they will convert to become Muslims or that this is expected from them or at least preferred.
لَیۡسُوۡا سَوَآءً ؕ مِنۡ اَہۡلِ الۡکِتٰبِاُمَّۃٌقَآئِمَۃٌیَّتۡلُوۡنَ اٰیٰتِ اللّٰہِ اٰنَآءَالَّیۡلِ وَ ہُمۡ یَسۡجُدُوۡنَ.یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِ وَ الۡیَوۡمِ الۡاٰخِرِ وَ یَاۡمُرُوۡنَ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ یَنۡہَوۡنَ عَنِ الۡمُنۡکَرِ وَ یُسَارِعُوۡنَ فِی الۡخَیۡرٰتِؕوَ اُولٰٓئِکَ مِنَ الصّٰلِحِیۡنَ.(3: 113۔114)
They are not the same, from among the People of the Book there are people who are upright (in in the path of God), stand up [for worship] read verses of God during the night while in prostration, [they] believe in God and the hereafter and advise to rightness and warn against evil and hasten in goodness and they are from among the righteous. (3:113, 114)
وَ اِنَّ مِنۡ اَہۡلِ الۡکِتٰبِ لَمَنۡ یُّؤۡمِنُ بِاللّٰہِ وَ مَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَیۡکُمۡ وَ مَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَیۡہِمۡ خٰشِعِیۡنَ لِلّٰہِ ۙ لَا یَشۡتَرُوۡنَ بِاٰیٰتِ اللّٰہِ ثَمَنًا قَلِیۡلًا ؕ اُولٰٓئِکَ لَہُمۡ اَجۡرُہُمۡ عِنۡدَ رَبِّہِمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ سَرِیۡعُ الۡحِسَابِ.(199:3)
And from among the People of the Book there are those who believe in God and what is sent to you and what is sent to them, being humble for God, [they] do not sell God’s verses for cheap price. They have their reward with their Lord. God is quick in reckoning. (3:199)
کُنۡتُمۡ خَیۡرَ اُمَّۃٍ اُخۡرِجَتۡ لِلنَّاسِ تَاۡمُرُوۡنَ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ تَنۡہَوۡنَ عَنِ الۡمُنۡکَرِ وَ تُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِؕوَ لَوۡ اٰمَنَ اَہۡلُ الۡکِتٰبِ لَکَانَ خَیۡرًا لَّہُمۡ ؕ مِنۡہُمُ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَوَ اَکۡثَرُہُمُ الۡفٰسِقُوۡنَ. (110:3)
You are the best community that is rising for people, [you] advise to rightness and warn against evil and believe in God, and if the People of the Book believe this will be better for them, from among them there are believers but most of them are transgressors. (3:110)
Paying close attention to verse 5:82 makes this even clearer:
لَتَجِدَنَّ اَشَدَّ النَّاسِ عَدَاوَۃً لِّلَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوا الۡیَہُوۡدَ وَ الَّذِیۡنَ اَشۡرَکُوۡا ۚ وَ لَتَجِدَنَّ اَقۡرَبَہُمۡ مَّوَدَّۃً لِّلَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوا الَّذِیۡنَ قَالُوۡۤا اِنَّا نَصٰرٰی ؕ ذٰلِکَ بِاَنَّ مِنۡہُمۡ قِسِّیۡسِیۡنَ وَ رُہۡبَانًا وَّ اَنَّہُمۡ لَا یَسۡتَکۡبِرُوۡنَ.وَ اِذَا سَمِعُوۡا مَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَی الرَّسُوۡلِ تَرٰۤی اَعۡیُنَہُمۡ تَفِیۡضُ مِنَ الدَّمۡعِ مِمَّا عَرَفُوۡا مِنَ الۡحَقِّ ۚ یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ رَبَّنَاۤ اٰمَنَّا فَاکۡتُبۡنَا مَعَ الشّٰہِدِیۡنَ.وَمَا لَنَا لَا نُؤۡمِنُ بِاللّٰہِ وَمَا جَآءَنَا مِنَ الۡحَقِّ ۙ وَنَطۡمَعُ اَنۡ یُّدۡخِلَنَا رَبُّنَا مَعَ الۡقَوۡمِ الصّٰلِحِیۡنَ.فَاَثَابَہُمُ اللّٰہُ بِمَا قَالُوۡا جَنّٰتٍ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا ؕ وَ ذٰلِکَ جَزَآءُ الۡمُحۡسِنِیۡنَ.(5:82۔85)
You will surely find that, of all people, the most hostile to those who believe are the Jews [in Arabia] and those who ascribe partners to God [in Arabia], and you will surely find that, of all people,those who say, “We are Nasara”are nearest in having affection towards believers. This is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant. And when they hear what has been sent to the messenger you see their eyes overflow with tears, due to what they recognize of the truth (in what they hear). They say: “O our Lord, we believe so write us from among the witnesses. And how could we fail to believe in God and in what from the truth that has come unto us, and we desire that our Lord enter us among the righteous?” And for what they say God will reward them with gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide and such is the reward of the righteous. (5:82-85)
If it is possible for a group of Christians at the time of the Prophet (sws) to remain Christians while knowing the truth about the Prophet (sws) and then go to heaven in the hereafter, then why may this not be the case for righteous Christians and in fact the righteous among any religious groups at our time?
It is important to understand what the Qur’an actually meant when the Book invited people of the book in Arabia to believe in the Prophet (sws). All that they were asked to do was to support the Prophet (sws) or to at least stop all the enmity and also to take the opportunity to correct their wrong beliefs and practices accordingly.
It is appropriate to end this section with a quote from Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi who seems to express the same or a very similar view as above in his book Tafsir Niẓam al-Qur’an:
So fighting became obligatory not for defence but 1. to free the Ka’bah, then 2. to bring the Abrahamic religion [hanifiyyah] of Abraham to the generation of Ishmael, as for other than the generation of Ishmael 3. for establishing justice and removing anarchy (mischief) from the land. So there is no compulsion in religion for the People of the Book, and for anyone who is not from among the generation of Ishmael, and they should pay tax (jizyah). As for the generation of Ishmael, they are convinced by clear reasoning by a man from among them, andis from their own heart and language and they do not see the respected Prophet as a stranger that God has sent for preaching. (Tafsir Niẓam al-Qur’an, 54-55)
2. The Generally Universal guidance of the Qur’an
This again needs a separate writing but here different dimensions of the general guidance of the Qur’an is summarized as follows:
– The Qur’an, as the most authentic revealed divine guide, remains as the criteria for truth and falsehood not only for Muslims but also any other person who appreciates the truth of the Qur’an.
– In particular the Qur’an provides an opportunity for the followers of the other Abrahamic religions to correct some of their false beliefs or practices and to understand their own divine books better. Whether this opportunity will be taken and by whom and in what way can be different in every case and is beyond this article.
– Behind every specific directive of the Qur’an, whether it is a religious rule or addressing of a local issue, there is the faultless, indefinite wisdom of the Almighty. This wisdom should be used as a torch for Muslims and can be used similarly by any seeker of the truth.
– The Qur’an is very powerful in reminding its reader about God and the hereafter. Even the verses that address the most specific local issues in the Qur’an have this feature. The Book therefore continues to be a reminder of the Almighty and the hereafter for any Muslim and anyone who appreciates it.
In fact the appreciation of the specific, local dimension of the Qur’an makes its general, universal dimension even more accessible and relevant to people. With the assumption that all human beings are bound to convert to Islam and follow the shari’ah of Islam we are making the Qur’an a sectarian book that is only good for followers of a certain religious path. However once we appreciate that the shari’ah is only for Muslims and that the Qur’an has a generic message behind its specific local agenda, then we are opening the door of the Qur’an to every human being who believes in God.
3. Verses Used in the Traditional Understanding
So far I have presented and discussed more than 30 explicit verses of the Qur’an that individually and together make the basis and the direct evidence for the scenario that I illustrated above (General Universality of the Qur’an) and against the traditionally held scenario of the Specific Universality of the Qur’an. Throughout my discussions and studies of this particular subject I have seen three verses that are often brought up to justify traditional understanding. These are 25:1, 6:19 and 2:143 (and 22:78 that is very similar to 2:143). Since this is the abridged version of the original article, here I only write my interpretation of these three verses with no more than one brief statement to explain. A more detailed discussion of these verses can be found in the original article:
تَبٰرَکَ الَّذِیۡ نَزَّلَ الۡفُرۡقَانَ عَلٰی عَبۡدِہٖ لِیَکُوۡنَ لِلۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ نَذِیۡرَا.(1:25)
Blessed I the One who sent the differentiator (furqan) to his servant so that he become warner for all (in Arabia) (25:1)
The word ‘alamin while literally means the whole world, can also mean a limited number of people or a specific group (as pointed out by creditable scholars of the Qur’an like Imam Razi, Ṭabari and Zamakhshari).
…وَ اُوۡحِیَ اِلَیَّ ہٰذَا الۡقُرۡاٰنُ لِاُنۡذِرَکُمۡ بِہٖ وَمَنۡۢ بَلَغَ ؕ اَئِنَّکُمۡ لَتَشۡہَدُوۡنَ اَنَّ مَعَ اللّٰہِ اٰلِہَۃً اُخۡرٰی…(19:6)
… And the Qur’an was revealed to me so that I warn you [Quraysh] and whoever [in Arabia] to whom it may reach. (6:19)
As the experts of the Arabic have written, iblagh means “reaching in its ultimate and complete level“(Al-Tahqiq fi Kalimat al-Qur’an al-Karim, vol. 1, 360)
وَ کَذٰلِکَ جَعَلۡنٰکُمۡ اُمَّۃً وَّسَطًا لِّتَکُوۡنُوۡا شُہَدَآءَ عَلَی النَّاسِ وَ یَکُوۡنَ الرَّسُوۡلُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ شَہِیۡدًا.(143:2)
And in this way we have made you [the companions of the prophet] an intermediate community so that you may be witnesses [to the truth] upon [the rest of] people [in Arabia] and the Messenger be witness upon you. (2:143)
Verse 16:89 makes it clear that a witness is only from the same community.
I would like to also point out that even if, for the sake of discussion, I agree that these three verses are referring to a universal scope for the Qur’an, this still does not prove that Islam is supposed to be the religion for every human being and that everyone is expected to convert to Islam and follow the shari’ah.
4. Summary and Conclusion
There is only one truth and all true religions adhere to the same truth. They all promote a life submitted to the truth that is God. This is the islam (with lower case) that in most places the Qur’an refers to. This truth however has different illustrations to suit different nations and cultures. Therefore every nation has its own version of islam. The version that was given to the people in Arabia and all who joined them later is conventionally called Islam (with capital case).
Based on the above understanding, to a Muslim, followers of other Godly religions and ideologies are also followers of the path of islam and there is no need for them to convert to Islam. However the Qur’an remains the criteria for right and wrong for anyone who believes in it (Muslim or non-Muslim). The preaching responsibility of a Muslim therefore is only limited to trying to correct any such ungodly beliefs and practices among Muslims or non-Muslims where the opportunity comes and in a peaceful manner.
In this way, the Qur’an becomes even more relevant and universal. The obsession with converting people to Islam, which basically means them following the shari’ah of Islam, can cloud one’s mind against realizing the real universal function of the Qur’an. Once it is appreciated that God’s religion is not bound by any particular shari’ah, suddenly the real message of the Qur’an becomes available to any human being, Muslim or non-Muslim. That message is none but the message of monotheism (tawhid) and its practical implication, that is, being aware of the effect of this life on the hereafter and doing righteous deeds.
We are all like mountain climbers who start from the bottom of the mountain. At the start we do not see any other path to the top but the one that we have taken. However our viewpoint becomes wider as we get higher up in the mountain. We then gradually start to see and appreciate many other paths that people, as convinced as us, are taking towards the top of the mountain. I am proud to follow a Book that tells me from the very start, while I am still at the very bottom of the mountain, that there are indeed many paths to the top.
In this version of the article I have tried to share this understanding with the readers in a very brief way and without going into much detail. I invite those interested in more detailed discussion to download and read the original article.