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The Universalism of Islam


By Dr Riffat Hassan

Friday, 17 Jul, 2009 | 12:58 AM PST


THE cardinal principle of Islam is belief in the absolute oneness of God, or tauhid. In the opening chapter of the Quran, God is described as Rabb al-‘alamin. As pointed out by Dr Fathi Osman, in the Quran, God is not related to any particular place or people but to all creation.

Whilst the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Quran does not refer to God as the God of a particular prophet. God is the one and only creator of everything that exists and from God’s unity comes the unity of creation. The Quran points out that God not only creates and sustains all creatures but also gives moral guidance to humanity which has been made “in the best of moulds” (Surah 95:4).

The Quran affirms that God “cares for all creatures” (Surah 2:268), and testifies that the message it contains is universal as may be seen from the following verses: “Hallowed is He who from on high, step by step, has bestowed upon His servant the standard by which to discern the true from the false, so that to all the world it may be a warning” (Surah 25:1).

“[The Quran] is but a reminder and a divine discourse, clear in itself and clearly showing the truth, to the end that it may warn everyone who is alive (of heart)” (Surah 36:69-70). “This (divine writ) behold, is no less than a reminder to all the worlds” (Surah 38:87). “This (message) is no less than a reminder to all humankind — to every one of you who wills to walk a straight way (Surah 81: 27-28).

The Quran also affirms the universal mission of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) as, for instance, in Surah 34:28, it states: “Now (as for you, Mohammad) We have not sent you otherwise than to mankind at large, to be a herald of glad tidings and a warner.”

Islam’s non-exclusive spirit is embodied in many Quranic verses, such as the following: “Verily, those who have attained to faith (in this divine writ) as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve” (Surah 2:62; this verse is repeated in an almost identical form in Surah 5:69).

“And they claim, ‘None shall ever enter paradise unless he be a Jew’ — or ‘a Christian’. Such are their wishful beliefs! Say: ‘Produce an evidence for what you are claiming, if what you say is true!’ Yea, indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good withal, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve” (Surah 2:111-112).

“And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged” (Surah 2:281).

Since God is the universal creator who sends guidance to all humanity, Muslims are commanded by the Quran to affirm the divine message given to all the previous prophets. It is stated in Surah 40:78: “And, indeed, (O Mohammad,) We sent forth apostles before your time; some of them We have mentioned to you, and some of them We have not mentioned to you.” While only 25 prophets are mentioned in the Quran, the above-cited verse indicates the passage of other prophets as well. Indeed, Surah 16:84 tells us that God “shall raise up a witness out of every community”.

The Quran enjoins Muslims to affirm the continuity of Islam with previous revelations and prophets and not to make a distinction amongst them, as can be seen from verses such as the following: “Say, We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the (other) prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves” (Surah 2:136).

The injunction is repeated in the third surah in identical words: “Say, We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the (other) prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves” (Surah 3:84).

The writer is a scholar of Islam and Iqbal, teaching at the University of Louisville, US.

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