Islam: a universal religion from Adam to Muhammad
Many people around the world, including many Muslims, tend to think that Islam originated in Arabia in the seventh century; they consider Muhammad as its “founder” and the Koran as its holy book. Was Islam the result of Jewish and Christian influence on the Prophet Muhammad? Did it start as an independent religion and did it borrow certain concepts from the other two monotheistic religions prevalent in Arabia at the time? Or is it the last chain in the long chain of messages sent to various nations by the same One True God?
Islam in its broader perspective means submission (to one true God). A muslim is a submitter. A review of the Quran would reveal a broader perspective on Islam and Muslims.
And We gave the Book to Moses, that they could be guided. And We made the Son of Mary and his mother a Sign: We gave them both shelter on high ground, offering rest and security and provided with springs. 23: 49-50
After these verses, the message is put into perspective in the next set of verses:
messengers! [Note the plural used.] Eat pure things and do good deeds, I certainly have knowledge of all your deeds. In reality, your religion is a religion, and I am your Lord: so fear Me Alone. Yet the people have split into factions and each faction rejoices in its own doctrines, well! Leave them in their recklessness for a determined time. 23: 51-53
The universality of Islam is also discussed in other places of the Quran:
The same religion has he established for you [meaning Muhammad] like what He commanded Noah – what We sent you by inspiration –and what We commanded Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Namely, that you must stand firm in religion, and make no division there: to those who worship other things than God, hard on unbelievers is what you call them to. God chooses for himself those who please him, and guides to himself those who turn (to him). 42:13
In truth! This, your religion, is a religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me. 21:92
The Arabic word used above for religion, Ummah, has been variously translated as “group”, “fraternity” and “nation”.
Every nation has received a messenger
According to the teachings of the Quran, God sent messengers / prophets to every nation, giving a basic message: to serve One, True God only.
And certainly We have raised up in every nation a messenger saying: Serve God and avoid false gods [or Satan]. 16:36
One could argue that the “one religion” is not named, or perhaps “my religion “is this a religion. In the following verses of the Quran, this universal religion is stated:
Today, I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor over you and chosen Islam as your religion for you. 5: 3
Religion before God is Islam (submission to His Will). 3:19
Religions have generally been named by their followers after their prophet left this world. For example, Jesus did not speak about Christianity. Moses did not claim that he brought Judaism to the Israelites. However, as stated above, Islam was named religion by God in the Quran. After the Quran proclaimed that the prophets brought a religion, and named it Islam, the Quran states what this religion is:
Are they looking for anything other than the religion of Allah? While all creatures in the heavens and on earth have, willingly or not, bowed to His Will (Islam accepted), and to Him they will all be returned. Say (O Muhammad): We believe in God and in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, to Ishmael and to Isaac and to Jacob and to the tribes, and in what was given to Moses. and to Jesus and the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit. 3: 83-84
After this broad definition, the Qur’an urges people not to accept any other religion:
And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him. 3:85
Chain of Prophets and Islam
In a very long sequence of chapter 21 of the Quran, many prophets are mentioned, one after another, and at the end, the Quran declares that they all belong to the same nation (Ummah). Each section talks about a particular prophet or a group of prophets:
Certainly We have granted Moses and Aaron the criterion of good and evil, a light and a reminder for those righteous who fear their Lord although they have not seen him, and dread the Day of Judgment. And now, We have revealed this blessed Reminder (the Quran). Will you deny it then? 21: 48-50
Even before that, We blessed Abraham with righteousness, for We knew him well. Remember that occasion when Abraham asked his father and his people: “What are these images to which you are so devoted? They replied, “We found our ancestors worshiping them. He said, ‘Then certainly you and your forefathers were in obvious error.’ They asked, “Have you brought us the truth or are you one of the insignificant?” He replied: ‘No! Your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. It is He who created them; and I am one of those who testify to it. 21: 51-56
The passage from verses 57 to 71 then tells the story of Abraham breaking down idols and idolaters setting him on fire and cooling the fire under divine command. Next, attention shifts to other prophets:
We gave him a son Ishaq [Isaac] and then a Ya’qoob grandson [Jacob]; and We made each of them a righteous man. We made them leaders (Imams) who guided other people by Our command and We sent them revelations to do good deeds, establish Salah [prayer] and pay Zakah [regular charity]. We alone have served. in Lüt [Lot] We gave wisdom and knowledge, and We delivered him from the city that practiced abominations — surely its inhabitants were very wicked transgressors — and We admitted him to Our mercy, for he was of the righteous people. 21: 72-75
Before them Nüh [Noah] We prayed, We accepted his prayer and delivered him and his family from the great calamity. We helped him against those people who had denied Our revelations; surely they were a mean people, so we drowned them all in the Great Flood. 21: 76-77
And remember David and Solomon, when they pronounced judgment on the matter of the field, in which the sheep of certain persons had strayed by night: We have been witnesses of their judgment. To Solomon We inspired the (correct) understanding of the question: to each (of them) We gave Judgment and Knowledge; It is Our power which made celebrate Our praises to the hills and to the birds, with David: it is We who made (all these things). It is We Who taught him to make chain mail for your benefit, to protect you from each other’s violence: will you be grateful then? (It was Our power that made) the violent (unruly) (domestic) wind for Solomon, at his command, to the land We had blessed: for We know all things. And among the wicked there were some who dived for him and did other work; and it was We Who kept them. 21: 78-82
And (remember) Job, when he cried out to his Lord: “Truly distress has seized me, but you are the most merciful of those who are merciful.” So We listened to him: We have taken away the distress that was on him, and We have taken him away. have made his people, and have doubled their number, as a Grace of Ourselves, and a thing for remembrance, for all who serve Us. 21: 83-84
And (remember) Ishmael, Idris and Zul-kifl, all (men) of constancy and patience; We admitted them to Our mercy, for they were righteous. And remember Zun-nun [Jonah], when he left in anger: He imagined that We had no power over him! But he cried out through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but you: glory to you: I was really wrong!” So we listened to him, and we delivered him out of trouble, and so we deliver those who have faith. And (remember) Zechariah, when he cried out to his Lord: “O my Lord! do not leave me without descendants, although you are the best of heirs. So We listened to him: and We granted him Yahya [John]: We cured his wife’s infertility for him. These (three) were always quick to imitate good works; they invoked us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before us. And (remember) her [meaning Mary] who kept her chastity: We breathed into her Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples. 21: 85-91
After the long series of passages on many prophets, the Qur’an puts all this into perspective:
In truth this Islam is your religion, is a religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me and I am your only Lord, so worship Me Alone. And they broke their religion (in sects) among themselves: towards Us all will return. Therefore, whoever will do good deeds and he is a believer, he will not be able to deny his effort, and certainly We will write it (It) for him. 21: 92-94
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This article is largely derived from chapter 19 of my book The Koran: with or against the Bible?