Salvation for Non-Muslims
Ansar Al 'Adl
The allegation is as follows:
Will Non-Muslims enter paradise and not Hell? Sura 2:62 and 5:69 say "Yes", Sura 3:85 says "No".
Verses in Question:
2:62 Verily! Those who believed and the Jews and Christians, and Sabians - whoever believed in Allâh and the Last Day and performed righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve .
5:69 Surely, those who believed and the Jews and Sabians and Christians - whosoever believed in Allâh and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. 5:72 Indeed, they have disbelieved who say, "Behold, God is the Christ, son of Mary" - seeing that the Christ [himself] said, "O children of Israel! Worship God [alone], who is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer."" Behold, whoever ascribes divinity to any being beside God, unto him will God deny paradise, and his abode shall be the fire: and such evildoers will have none to aid them.
3:85 And whoever seeks a religion other than Islâm, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
The confusion arises from a misunderstanding of verses 2:62 and 5:69, hence the focus of this article will be to present the correct understanding of these verses.
Reference to Righteous Followers from Previous Nations
The common interpretation of these verses is that they refer to righteous followers of Prophets before the coming of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. This can be understood through the following points.
1. The Historical Context
The historical background will allow us to better understand the groups described in these verses. Imaam Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqi (d. 1372CE) describes the historical context in his renowned Tafsir Al-Qur'an Al-Azim as follows:
[The saying of the Exalted, "verily! Those who believe and the Jews and the Christians, and the Sabians, whosoever believes in Allaah and the Last Day and does righteous deeds shall have their reward with their Lord": as-Suddi said,
'the verse was revealed with regards to companions of Salmaan al-Faarisee about whom he informed the Prophet (SAW) that 'they prayed, fasted, believed in you and bore witness that you had been sent as a Prophet.' So when Salmaan had finished extolling them the Prophet (SAW) said, "O Salmaan they are from the People of the Fire." This weighed down heavily on Salmaan and then Allaah revealed this verse. So the Imaan of the Jews referred to those Jews who held fast to the Tawrah and the sunnah of Moses until Jesus was sent. When Jesus (AS) came then whosoever held fast to the Tawrah and the sunnah of Moses (and did not follow Jesus) was destroyed. The Imaan of the Christians referred to those who held fast to the Injeel and the laws of Jesus - these people were the believers who accepted him. This held true until Muhammad (SAW) came, so whosoever did not follow Muhammad (SAW) and did not leave what he had been following was destroyed.'
This does not negate what Alee bin Abee Talha reports from ibn Abbaas that after this verse was revealed Allaah revealed the verse, "whosoever desires a religion other than Islaam then it shall not be accepted from him and in the Hereafter he shall be of the losers." (3: 85) Here ibn Abbaas is informing that the only thing accepted from someone will be that which is in conformity to the Sharee`ah of Muhammad (SAW) after he had been sent. As for those who came before him, then whosoever followed the Messenger of his time then he was upon guidance and the victorious way. So the Jews referred to are the followers of Moses who used to judge by the Tawrah in their time.](Tafseer ibn Katheer' 1/182)
Salman Al-Faarisee was a Persian Zoroastrian who left his home in search of God's true religion. He became a Christian in Syria and encountered many righteous Christian scholars who foretold of the coming of a Prophet in Arabia. Later, Salman came to Madinah and accepted Islam at the hands of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Naturally, he enquired about the status of those devout followers of previous Prophets whom he had encountered in his journey. Verses 2:62 and verses 5:69 clarify and explain the status of such people. They are not speaking about Christians and Jews who lived after the comming of the prophet Muhammad pbuh but did not accept him as a messenger, for one must accept the message of the Prophet sent to them in order to be guided. Contemporary Muslim writer, Dr. Jamal Badawi summarizes this explanation concisely:
This verse must be understood in the light of other verses in the Qur'an dealing with the same topic. It is clear in the Qur'an that rejecting beliefs in any prophet is tantamount to rejecting belief in all of them. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to Muslims is the last, final and universal messenger to all humankind. As such rejecting belief in him and in the divine revelations or word of God given to him is tantamount to rejecting all of the prophets. Therefore, this verse may be referring to those who followed their prophet prior to the mission of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). In fact, these people who followed the unadulterated message of their prophet are in effect "fellow Muslims", literally those who sought peace through submission to God. (SOURCE)
In light of this explanation, it becomes quite clear that verses 2:62 and 5:69 are not at all stating that Christians and Jews who reject the message of Prophet Muhammad pbuh enter paradise, as the critic claims. The verse is referring to the original followers of previous Prophets before the coming of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. In other words, those who faithfully followed the teachings of the prophet sent to them will be rewarded.
2. Every Prophet brought the same Message
These verses make it very clear that the original and true followers of each Prophet will be rewarded, as all the Prophets brought the same message of submission to the One Creator and following His commandments. As the Qur'an mentions:
42:13 The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - the which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him).
Likewise, the Prophet Muhammad pbuh said: "The Prophets are brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is the same." (Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and Abu Dawood. Saheeh al-Jaami' 2/14). Thus, verses 2:62 and 5:69 clarify that people from the past who followed their Prophet are on the same footing as those who now follow Prophet Muhammad pbuh. But once a Prophet has been sent, the people must accept that Prophet. Shaykh Umar Sulayman Al-Ashqar, Professor at the Shari'ah College of the University of Jordan, writes on this subject:
When examining the call of the Messengers which is referred to in the Qur'an, we find that the religion to which all the Messengers called people is one and the same, namely Islam:
Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam... (Qur'an 3:19)
Islam in the language of the Qur'an, is not the name of a particular religion, rather it is the name of the common religion which was preached by all the Prophets. Prophet Nooh (Noah) pbuh said to his people:
...And I have been commanded to be of the Muslims [i.e. those who submit to Allah's will]. (Qur'an 10:72)
Islam is the religion which Allah enjoined upon the father of the Prophets, Prophet Ibraheem (Abraham) pbuh:
When his Lord said to him, 'Submit [i.e. be a Muslim]!' He said, 'I have submitted myself [ as a Muslim] to the Lord of the 'Alameen [mankind, jinn and all that exists].' (Qur'an 2:131)
Both Prophet Ibraheem and Ya'qoob [Jacob] advised their children, saying,
Then die not except in the Faith of Islam [as Muslims - Islamic monotheism]. (Qur'an 2:132)
The sons of Ya'qoob pbuh responded to their father:
...We shall worship your God, the God of your fathers, Ibraheem [Abraham], Ismaa'eel [Ishmael], Ishaaq [Isaac], One God, and to Him we submit [in Islam]. (Qur'an 2:133)
Prophet Moosa (Moses) pbuh said to his people:
...O' my people! If you have believed in Allah, then put your trust in Him if you are Muslims [those who submit to Allah's Will]. (Qur'an 10:84)
The Disciples said to Prophet 'Eesa (Jesus) pbuh:
...We believe in Allah, and bear witness that we are Muslims [i.e. we submit to Allah]. (Qur'an 3:52)
When a group of the People of the Book heard the Qur'an,
..They say: 'We believe in it. Veruly, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before it we have been from those who submit themselves to Allah in Islam as Muslims.' (Qur'an 28:53)
Islam was the common word which was spoken by all the Prophets and their followers from the most ancient of times until the time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh.
How to determine Islam
Islam means obedience, surrender and submission to Allah, by doing that which He commands and abstaining from that which He forbids. Hence, Islam at the time of Prophet Nooh (Noah) meant following that which Nooh brought, Islam at the time of Prophet Moosa (Moses) meant following the Law of Moosa. Islam at the time of Prophet 'Eesa (Jesus) meant following the Injeel. And Islam at the time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh meant following the Noble Messenger pbuh. (Al-Ashqar, The Messengers and the Messages: In the Light of the Qur'an and Sunnah (Islamic Creed Series Volume 4), International Islamic Publishing House 2003, pp. 310-312, emphasis added)
This quote from Shaykh Al-Ashqar explains that since the religion of every Prophet was Islam, then anyone who followed the message of the Prophet sent to them will be rewarded. In other words, the Jews at the time of Prophet Moses who followed his message will be rewarded. The Christians at the time of Prophet Jesus who followed his message will be rewarded. Now in the time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh, one must follow his message in order to attain that reward, the message being the same as that which was brought before. Shaykh Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, a Professor of Islamic studies and author of many Islamic books, repeats the same idea when he writes:
UNIVERSALITY OF GOD'S RELIGION
Since the consequences of following a false religion are so grave, the true religion of God must have been universally understandable and universally attainable in the past and it must continue eternally to be understandable and attainable throughout the entire world. In other words, the true religion of God cannot be confined to any one people, place, or period of time. Nor is it logical that such a religion should impose conditions that have nothing to do with the relationship of man with God, such as baptism, or belief in man as a savior, or an intermediary. Within the central principle of Islam and its definition (the surrender of one's will to God) lie the roots of Islam's universality. Whenever man comes to the realization that God is one and distinct from His creation, and submits himself to God, he becomes a Muslim in body and spirit and is eligible for paradise.
Consequently, anyone at any time in the most remote regions of the world can become Muslim, a follower of God's religion, Islam, by merely rejecting the worship of creation and turning to God alone. It should be noted, however, that in order to actually submit to God's will, one must continually choose between right and wrong. Indeed, man is endowed by God with the power not only to distinguish right from wrong but also to choose between them. These God-given powers carry with them an important responsibility, namely, that man is answerable to God for the choices he makes. It follows, then, that man should try his utmost to do good and avoid evil. These concepts are expressed in the final revelation as follows:
"Verily, those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians (angel-and-star-worshippers) -- any of these who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord. They will not be overcome by fear or grief."
If, for whatever reason, they fail to accept the final message after it has been clearly explained to them, they will be in grave danger. The last Prophet said:
"Whoever among the Christians and Jews hears of me but does not affirm his belief in what I brought and dies in this state will be among the inhabitants of hell."
(Sahih Muslim [English Translation], Vol.1 P.91 No, 284) (SOURCE, emphasis added)
In other words, verse 2:69 means that so long as an individual believed and submitted themselves to God by following the messenger of their time, they will receive their reward. Imaam Ibn Jarir At-Tabari (d. 923CE) also mentions that the Jews, Christians and Sabians being referred to in verses 2:62 and 5:69 are those who were true in following the original message of their Prophets; these were people who lived before the time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. He writes:
And it was even said that the people who are meant here are those who believed from the people of the book in accordance to the belief of Issa (Jesus), and what he was sent with, until they caught up with Mohammed, salah allahu 'alayhi wa salam, and so they believed in him and said he was truthful. So, it was said to those who believed in Issa (Jesus) and what he was sent with after having witnessed Mohammed, salah allahu 'alayi wa salam: believe in Mohammed and what he was sent with. The meaning of 'Iman Al Mumin' (the faith of a believer) is his steadfast with his faith and his refusal to change it. But with the 'iman' (faith) of the Jews, Christians, and Sabians, it is their belief in Mohammed, salah allahu 'alayhi wa salam, and what he was sent with, and so whoever from them believes in Mohammed, and the Last day, does good deeds, and doesn't change or replace his religion until he dies upon that, he then gets the reward of his deed with his Lord as Allah has described." (Tabari, Jami' al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, ARABIC SOURCE, emphasis added)
Imaam At-Tabari makes it clear that the verses describe followers of previous Prophets who followed that message before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Once he came, then they had to accept his message. Imaam At-Tabari also points out that the verse is not referring to everyone who calls themselves a Jew or Christian, but specifically to the true followers of Moses and Jesus amongst them:
How about if someone said to us: What about the complete meaning of the verse, "and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians" The reply would be in Allah's verse which completes [the earlier] meaning "whoever believed in Allah and the Last day" because it means: whomever from amongst them [the Jews, Christians, and Sabians] truly believed in Allah and the Last day, although Allah did not mention [the word] 'minhum' (from amongst them)... (Tabari, Jami' al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, ARABIC SOURCE, emphasis added)
It becomes evident that the most prevalent understanding of these verses is that they referred to the previous nations, the true followers of Prophet Moses pbuh and Prophet Jesus pbuh. This answers the question concerning the fate of those people who came before Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Anyone who accepted the message brought by the Prophet of their time will be rewarded. However, there is absolutely no doubt that after someone receives the message of Prophet Muhammad pbuh, it is incumbent upon them to follow that path, as it is the final step in the chain of revelation. A true follower of any of the previous Prophets would be able to recognize that the message of Islam is a continuation of that which was taught by the previous Prophets. The Qur'an describes these people as follows:
28:51-55. And indeed now We have conveyed the Word (Qur'an), in order that they may receive admonition. Those to whom We gave the previous Scriptures, - they believe in it (the Qur'ân). And when it is recited to them, they say: "We have believed in it; Verily, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before it we have been from those who submit themselves to Allah in Islam as Muslims. They will be given their reward twice over, because they are patient, and repel evil with good, and spend (in charity) out of what We have provided them. And when they hear vain talk, they withdraw from it and say: "To us our deeds, and to you your deeds. Peace be to you. We seek not the ignorant."
Notice that the followers of the previous prophets/scriptures are recorded to have said, in the above passage, that they considered themselves to have been practicing the same message from before. They considered themselves already 'Muslims'. Consequently, when the Qur'anic verses were presented to them they accepted them without hesitation as they recognized that the message had the same origin and in fact had been prophesized by the Prophets whom they followed. For further information concerning the original true message of the three Abrahamic faiths, one may refer to The First and Final Commandment by Dr. Laurence Brown MD, a truly fascinating work.
3. The Textual Context
Examining the context in which these verses appear will enable us to better appreciate the intended meaning of the verses. Verse 5:69 appears in the following context:
5:65-74. If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, We should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to gardens of bliss. If only they had stood fast by the Tawraat, the Injeel, and what has [now] been sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil. O Messenger, proclaim the (message) which has been revealed to you from your Lord. And if you do not, then you have not conveyed His Message. And Allah will protect you from mankind. For Allah guides not those who reject Faith. Say: "O People of the Book! You have no ground to stand upon unless you establish the Tawraat, the Injeel, and that which has now been sent down to you from your Lord." Verily, that which has been sent down to you (Muhammad) from your Lord increases in many of them their obstinate rebellion and disbelief. So be not sorrowful over the people who disbelieve. Surely, those who believed and the Jews and Sabians and Christians - whosoever believed in Allâh and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. We took the covenant of the Children of Israel and sent them apostles, every time, there came to them an apostle with what they themselves desired not - some (of these) they called impostors, and some they (go so far as to) slay. They thought there would be no trial (or punishment); so they became blind and deaf; yet Allah (in mercy) turned to them; yet again many of them became blind and deaf. But Allah sees well all that they do. They do blaspheme who say: "God is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah,- Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to Allah, and seek His forgiveness? For Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful.
These verses begin by mentioning that the majority of the people of previous scriptures deviated from the truth while some still held fast to their scriptures. Then it mentions that Allah, in His infinite mercy, has sent to the people of the scripture another messenger to guide them back to the truth after they had deviated. They need only believe in Allah and the Last Day and accept the messages that were sent to them in order to attain salvation. Immediately after mentioning that anyone who has faith in Allah and does righteous deeds will be rewarded (verse 5:69), the Qur'an goes on to clarify that the Christians and Jews being referred to here are not those who killed the prophets or blasphemed by ascribing divinity to Prophet Jesus. Rather, verse 5:69 refers to those who follow the true message brought to them by their messengers. It clarifies that the Jews and Christians have now gone astray and conseuqently they do not qualify for the reward given to those who have truly believed and performed righteous deeds. This reward is for those who follow the messages of the Prophets, to worship one God alone and to keep the commandments. If one rejects the prophethood of Muhammad pbuh, they have not followed the message of God. But if one accepts the prophethood of Muhammad pbuh, then they are amongst those referred to in the verse who will be rewarded, and they are considered Muslims.
Similarly, verse 2:62 comes after the Qur'an describes the deviation of the people of Prophet Moses while some were true in following his message. So, the verse is understood to mean that anyone from the people of Moses, who truly accepted him and his message, will receive the reward promised to them. The same is true for Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad pbuh. As Mufti Muhammad Shafi, the late Grand Mufti of Pakistan, writes concerning the context of verse 2:62:
The previous verse spoke of how the Israelites drew upon themselves the wrath of Allah through their habitual insolence and disobedience. Now, this account may lead listeners, or the Jews themselves, to suppose that, in view of such transgression, their Taubah (repentance), if they agree to offer it, would not be acceptable to Allah. In order to dispel such a misgiving, the present verse lays down a general principle: no matter how a man has been behaving ealier, so long as he submits himself fully to the commandments of Allah in his belief and in his deeds both, he is acceptable to Allah, and will get his reward. It is obvious enough that after the revelation of the Holy Qur'an, which is the last message of Allah, perfect obedience to Allah can only mean accepting Islam and following the Last Prophet Muhammad pbuh. (fn. Contrary to the flaccid fancies of some "modernizers" who are very happy with themselves over their "liberalism" and "tolerance", the present verse does not open the way of salvation for each and every "man of good will" irrespective of the creed he follows. If one reads the verse in its proper context and along with other relevant verses of the Holy Qur'an, one will easily see that the verse, in fact, promises salvation in the other world only to those who accept Islam. It is an invitation extended to the Jews, the Christians, the Sabeans and, as a matter of fact, to the followers of all possible religions, and even to non-believers - specific names only serve as examples.) The verse, in effect, assures everyone that once a man has accepted Islam, all his former transgressions, whether in the matter of beliefs or in that of deeds, will be forgiven, and he will become worthy of receiving the rewards of the other world. (Shafi, Ma'ariful Qur'an, Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, Karachi, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 227-228, emphasis added)
And Verse 3:85 appears in the following context:
3:84-85. Say (O Muhammad): "We believe in Allâh and in what has been sent down to us, and what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Al-Asbât [the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel] and what was given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one another among them and to Him (Allâh) we have submitted (in Islâm)." And whoever seeks a religion other than Islâm, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
Thus, this verse mentions that since the way of life preached by all the Prophets was Islam, this is the only religion acceptable from the people. Any human being who truly strived to submit themselves to the will of their Lord and followed whichever message had come to them from their Lord would be rewarded.
4. Objections answered
One may object to the above interpretation by pointing out that many english translations of the verse render the word 'believed' (Amana) in the present tense as 'believe', whereas this interpretation suggest that verse refers to believers of previous times. In fact, the word 'amana' is actually in the past tense (see Lisan Al-'Arab p. 165), and it is used many times in the Qur'an in such a manner. For instance:
10:83 But none believed (amana) in Moses except some children of his people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds.
11:36 It was revealed to Noah: "None of thy people will believe except those who have believed (amana) already! So grieve no longer over their (evil) deeds.
40:30 Then said the man [from the family of Pharoah] who believed (amana): "O my people! Truly I do fear for you something like the Day (of disaster) of the Confederates (in sin)!
Evidently, the Qur'an does indeed use the word to refer to people of past times and as such, the interpretation given by the Muslim commentators is valid.
One may also object by pointing out that the verse mentions believers before mentioning Jews, Christians and Sabians. If these verses refer to previous nations, why are believers mentioned? Many scholars pointed out that 'those who believed' was the general term given at the beginning of the verse, which continues on to mention specific groups that believed like Jews, Christians and Sabians. It is as though the verse is stating, "Those who believed - whether they were from the Jews, Christians, Sabians, etc. - any of them who truly believed in Allah and the Last Day will have their reward...". Other scholars explained that these verses were an invitation to all these groups to come to the truth, or remain firm on the truth if they were already upon it.
As Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes:
One might also ask why the verse mentions the Muslims, for if it is an invitation to Islam, there is no need to extend the invitation to those who have already accepted Islam. But if we keep in mind the richly concentrated style of the Holy Qur'an, and try to look beyond the literal sense of the words into the implications and suggestions contained in the verse, we would find that the inclusion of the Muslim factor has added a new dimension to the meaning. It is as if a king should, in a similar situation, say that his laws are impartially applicable to all his subjects, and that whosoever obeys them shall receive his reward for obedience irrespective of whether he has earlier been a friend or a foe. Obviously, the friend has always been loyal and obedient, and the warning and the promise have really been addressed to the foe. But the suggestion contained in such a formulation is that the favours of the king do not proceed from any personal attachment to the friends, but depend on the quality of obedience and loyalty, and hence the foes too will become worthy of his favours if they acquire the necessary quality. This is the raison d'etre of mentioning the Muslims along with the non-Muslims in this verse, which should never be taken to imply that salvation can be attained without accepting Islam. (Shafi, Ma'ariful Qur'an, Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, Karachi, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 228-229)
In other words, the invitation to have true faith in Allah is extended to all people, and it is understood that this entails accepting the messages and messengers sent by Allah. Other scholars understood 'those who believed' (Allatheena amanu) to refer to those who outwardly believed, i.e. the hypocrites. Imam Muhammad bin Ali Ash-Shawkani (d. 1834 CE), a renowned Islamic scholars from Yemen, comments on this view as follows:
It was said: what is meant by "Al-latheena Amanu" (those who believe) are the munafiqoon, because they've been mentioned with the Jews, Christians and Sabians, meaning, their outwardly belief (in Allah). However, what is more correct is: what is meant by (Al-latheena Amanu) are the ones who believed in Prophet Mohammed, salah allahu 'alayhi wa salaam, and became part of his followers, and it as if Allah wanted to show how the affair of the believers and the ones who came before them in creed all came down to one thing: Whoever believed in Allah from among them, the day of Judgement, and did good deeds deserved the reward which Allah refers to. And whoever passes it by then has passed by all good and all reward. (Shawkani, Fath Al-Qadeer: Mu'asasat Ar-rayan (Part 1), p. 122, emphasis added)
These explanations given by the scholars support the interpretation of the verses given earlier; they state that no matter what era one lived in or which nation they came from, so long as they submitted themselves to the will of Allah and followed the message of the Prophet sent to them, they would receive their reward and would be considered true Muslims.
Following Prophet Muhammad pbuh is implicitly understood from the verse
One can arrive at the same conclusion given above, by analyzing the verses from a different angle. There are a number of points which demonstrate that following the Prophet Muhammad pbuh is implicitly understood from these verses.
1. 'Righteous deeds' are determined according to the message of the current Prophet
Both verse 2:62 and 5:69 point out that anyone who has faith in Allah and the Last Day, and performs righteous deeds will have their reward. 'Righteous deeds' refer to those that are in-line with the code of conduct that God has revealed to His Messengers. Thus, at the time of Prophet Moses pbuh, righteous deeds were those that were in-line with the law and teachings of Moses. At the time of Prophet Jesus pbuh, it was that which was in-line with the teachings of Jesus. And now, after the coming of Prophet Muhammad pbuh, righteous deeds are those that are in-line with the code of law (Shari'ah) brought by Prophet Muhammad pbuh. The popular exegete on the Qur'an, Syed Qutb (d. 1966CE), who was well-known for his skill in the Arabic language, mentions the following in his tafseer of 5:69:
The Truth Versus People's Fancies
This first part of the present passage concludes with a clear statement of the faith which God accepts from people, regardless of what they were called before the message of the last Prophet. It was the faith which united people of all creeds and doctrines in ancient hsitory. "Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians - anyone who believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Verse 69)
The passage names four groups: "those who believe" refers to Muslims, and the Jews are the followers of the Prophet Moses. The term Sabians refers, most probably, to those who abandoned the worship of idols before the Prophet Muhammad's message, worshipping God alone, following no particular creed. There were a handful of Arabs among them. The Christians are those who followed the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him).
This verse states that whatever their creed was, those who believe in God and the Last Day and do what is right - and it is implicitly understood here and explicitly elsewhere in the Qur'an that they have done that in accordance with the final Prophet's message - will attain salvation: "shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Verse 69) They need not worry about what they used to do or under what title they were classified. The most important title is the last one.
What we have been describing is implicity understood from this Qur'anic verse. It comes under that part of our faith which is essentially known to all people. It is a primary concept of this faith that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last of all prophets and a Messenger of God sent to all mankind. All people, regardless of their religion, creed, belief, race, and nationality, are called upon to believe in his message as he preached it in essence and detail. Anyone who does not believe in him as a Messenger and does not believe in the totality and the details of his message remains in error. God does not accept from him the religion he followed prior to the revelation of Islam. Nor is he included among those described by God as people who "shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve." (Verse 69)
It is this primary concept of faith which a Muslim may not compromise on under the great pressure of the jahiliyyah or darkness in which humanity lives today. Indeed, a Muslim cannot overlook this concept when he establishes his relations with other people of different creeds and religions. He cannot try to reduce the pressure of ignorance by coming to terms with the followers of other creeds or doctrines, giving them the privilege of having "a faith" acceptable to God and constituting grounds for mutual support.
It is God alone who is the patron of believers: "Those who ally themselves with God and His Messenger and the believers (will find that) the party of God will be victorious." (Verse 56) This is certainly true even though appearances may give a different impression. Moreover, those who believe in God and the Last Day and do what is right, on the basis of the religion of Islam, which is the religion acceptable to God, shall have nothing to fear and shall not grieve. They need have no fear of the forces of evil and darkness and they need have no fear of their own goodly, believing souls. Grief will remain unknown to them. (Qutb, In The Shade of the Qur'an, The Islamic Foundation 2001, vol. IV pp. 196-197, emphasis added)
This lenghty quote clarifies that the deeds which are acceptable and deemed righteous by Allah are those that are in accordance with the message which He has sent. Therefore, we arrive at the same conclusion - that one must accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh when it reaches them. Likewise, the people at the time of Moses pbuh had to act in accordance with his message, as did the people at the time of Jesus. Acceptance of the Prophets is implicitly included and the verse and consequently, if one does not accept and act in accordance with the code of law brought by Prophet Muhammad pbuh, then they have not acted righteously.
2. The Definition of Imaan
The scholars who interpreted these passages as an invitation to accept Islam pointed out that the verses require that one have imaan in Allah. While this has been simply translated as 'belief' or 'faith', its meaning goes deeper than that. The Qur'an itself clarified this:
4:65 But no, by the Lord, they can have no real Faith (imaan), until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against Thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction.
Likewise, Imaam Ash-Shawkaani writes in his commentary on verse 2:62:
What is meant here by Imaan is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Imaan is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof", while no one is described as a believer except when he has entered the fold of Islam, therefore, whoever doesn't believe in Muhammad (peace be upon him) and doesn't believe in the Qur'an is not a believer, and whosoever of them believes in it, has become a Muslim/believer and he is no longer Christian, Jewish, or Sabian. (Shawkani, Fath Al-Qadeer: Mu'asasat Ar-rayan (Part 1), p. 122)
And Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes:
a closer look at this verse itself will show a distinct hint towards belief in prophethood because, in the terminology of the Qur'ân, only that 'Îman bil-lâh (belief in Allah) is valid, in which there is belief in everything told by Allah. The Qur'ân has made its terminology very clear in the following words:
So, if they (the Companions) believe in the like of what you (the Prophet saws) believe in, they have certainly found the right path - 2:137
It means that the kind of 'Îman the noble Sahâbah [companions] had is the only 'Îman which deserves to be called 'Îman bil-lâh. And it is obvious that 'Îman bir-rasûl [belief in the Messenger] was a great pillar of the edifice of their 'Îman. Therefore, the words: (whoever believes in Allah) are inclusive of the belief in the Messenger of Allah. (Shafi, Ma'ariful Qur'an, Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, Karachi, 2003, vol. 3, p. 224)
It is quite clear that if we take these verses of the Qur'an in context and understand them in light of other Qur'anic verses and Ahadith, as oppose to taking them in isolation, then there remains no confusion that the one true path in life is submitting to the will of the Creator and acting in accordance with His final message, which is Islam.
Aside from the above explanations given, some other scholars assert that this verse has been abrogated (in a very general sense of the word). While this may seem to be in conflict with the understanding presented above, in reality it is complimentary to the previous explanations. According to this explanation, when Islam was in its early stages and was not yet known to many people, these verses (2:62 & 5:69) were revealed to clarify that anyone who sought their Lord, using whatever guidance they found left by previous Prophets, would be rewarded. Later, when Islam spread and became known to the people, it was clarified that from that point onwards, people would have to accept the message of Islam when it reached them. Thus, it could be said that the previous verse was 'abrogated' in a general sense (more on abrogation is found here). The support for this view is found in various Tafsir, such as that of Imaam Abu Abdullah Al-Qurtubi (d. 1272 CE) who writes:
It is reported from Ibn Abbas that this ayat is abrogated by "If anyone desires anything other than Islam as a din [way of life], it will not be accepted from him." (3:85) Others said that it is not abrogated and that it is about those who believe in the Prophet, peace be upon him, and who are firm in their belief. (Al-Qurtubi, Tafsir Al-Qurtubi, Dar Al-Taqwa Ltd. 2003, vol. 1, p. 267)
This quote indicates that the interpretation attributed to Ibn Abbas and supported by some scholars, holds that verse 3:85 comes after verse 2:69 and abrogates it.
It should also be noted that Islam asserts that God will judge everyone according to their circumstances. Consequently, it is not for Muslims to say whether someone, either living or deceased, will enter hell unless with explicit proof from the Qur'an or Ahadith. The renowned scholar, Imaam Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah (d. 1350CE), said concerning non-muslims who did not receive the clear message of Islam:
We cannot rule whether such people are believers or unbelievers, because disbelieving means to deny something, while in their case, they did not know about the message from the first instance. As they were neither believers nor unbelievers, they should have a different ruling on the Day of Judgment.
Even if we were to say that they are unbelievers, then we would still have to say that the precondition for unbelievers to be punished in the Hereafter has not been realized in their case. They have to be warned first. Allah will not punish people without a previous warning. This warning should be in the language that the person understands. (Tarîq al-Hijratayn and Ahkâm ahl al-Dhimmah)
Similarly, the IslamToday.com fatwa service writes:
Non-Muslims who never heard the message of Islam are known as ahl al-fatrah. God says: 'Nor would We punish until We had sent a messenger (to give warning).' [Sûrah al-Isrâ: 15]
Many scholars, including Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Kathîr and Ibn Bâz, have adopted the saying that the people who have never had an opportunity to come to know about Islam will be tested by God on the Day of Judgment. Those who pass the test and obey the commands will go to Paradise and those who are disobedient will go to Hell.
God knows best who has heard His message properly and rejected it and who has not done so. The most we can say that it is obligatory for all people to accept Islam and that anyone who knowingly rejects the truth of Islam is condemned in the Hereafter. However, it is not our place to state exactly what God is going to do with each and every individual on the Day of Judgment. God is the only one who knows the hearts of people and their circumstances, and He is the only one who will sit in judgment. We must trust in Him.
Hopefully, this article will clarify any confusion surrounding the Islamic concept of salvation and the meaning of these Qur'anic verses.
And Allah knows best.
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