Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: I have been told since childhood that the only religion that is accepted is Islam and I did some research online and I saw the verse “And whoever seeks religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers. (3:85).”
So I would like to understand the below verse properly and not be confused. Could you please help me understand this matter the right way.
Verily, those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians (Sabi’in), whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. [Baqarah]
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
I pray you are well.
The basis when it comes to understanding such verses is to do so in a reconcilable manner and not a contradictory one.
There are numerous verses and prophetic narrations that clearly establish that the only religion acceptable with Allah is Islam. One such verse is the one mentioned in the question, namely, “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam will never have it accepted from him, and shall be of those who have truly failed in the next life.” (3:85) Another verse states, “Indeed the true religion with Allah is Islam.” (3:19)
This meaning is reaffirmed by the statement of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), “By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, any person of this Community, any Jew, or any Christian who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have been sent with will be an inhabitant of hell.” [Muslim]
Based on the above and similar proof-texts, the consensus of Islamic scholarship is that the concept of the universal validity of religions is a heterodox belief that has little proof in the primary texts of this tradition.
The Verse of Surah Baqarah
The verse cited in the question regarding Jews, Christians, and Sabians who believe in Allah, the last day, and perform righteous deeds being rewarded in the next life does not contradict the above consensus. Nor was this verse ever seen by the scholars of the Islamic religion as entertaining the possibility that these other religions shared the validity and acceptance assigned by Allah to the Islamic faith.
Rather, this verse refers to:
a. Those Jews, Christians, and Sabians who followed their religion in their pure, unadulterated forms before the advent of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
b. Those Jews, Christians, and Sabians who enter into Islam and correct belief as the verse can be +understood as having a conditional clause in the phrase “those who believe (man amana)…” for which the subsequent statement of “shall have their reward” is conditioned upon. In other words, “if and when they believe… they shall have their reward.”
Both these meanings are also supported by the context of the verse, which comes after a lengthy narrating of the misdeeds of certain of the Children of Israel (banu israil). After enumerating some of these misdeeds, Allah reassures the reader through the verse in question that those among the previous faiths who had faith will not go unrewarded, and such people should have hope that they will be saved if they accept the true religion.
[`Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani; Ibn Ashur, tahrir al-Tanwir]
Other Religions & Salvation
While we deem Islam to be the only true religion, it needs to be kept in mind that divine amnesty may apply to even those who were not on the Islamic faith. This is not because such faiths are valid, but because of Allah’s mercy encompasses those who were ignorant of the Islamic message.
This is conveyed in the statement of the Qur’an, “We do not punish until We send a Messenger.” (17:15) For more details on this, you should refer to Shaykh Nuh Kellers article on the issues, which can be found here:
On the validity of all religions in the thought of ibn Al-‘Arabi and Emir ‘Abd al-Qadir: a letter to `Abd al-Matin
Lastly, as Muslims, it is our duty to look at non-Muslims with mercy, kindness, and desiring for them the best of both this world and the next in terms of salvation and the attainment of God’s pleasure. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “None of you truly believe until he loves for his brother what he loves himself.” [Bukhari, Muslim] This was interpreted by Imam Nawawi and others as referring to the brotherhood all humans share on account of being the progeny of Adam.
People of other faiths are part and parcel of the societies we live in. They are neighbors, work colleagues, and relatives. We do not look down on them and nor do we make the belief that Islam is the true path an excuse to shun them. Rather, we aspire to implement the prophetic statement that religion is nothing but sincere counsel and seeking to spread the good.