This is the second in a series of essays on Islam and reglion in general, which the author wrote to his daughter many years ago, while she was a teenager studying in the UK. There are six essays in total written roughly a week apart over a period of about two months. Surkhyian is pleased to publish them exclusively.
Two: The eternal message
In order to answer the questions you pose in your last email some thorny ground has to be cleared. So bear with me and I’ll get to what you want to know.
One really has to start before Islam; in fact one has to start where we – humanity – start. The Quran tells us that no human community has ever been left without divine guidance. God’s messengers have brought His message to humanity from the beginning of time. The Quran mentions their number to be in the tens of thousands. A few are mentioned by name. Most remain anonymous.
Their messages, allowing for local differences and the timing of their descent, have always, in essence, been the same. The message Moses brought to his people is the same as what Jesus brought to his, and Mohammad to his.
Two questions come to mind: First, why was it necessary to send so many messengers? And, second, what about religions that are not mentioned in the Quran – Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism…? Will not their followers attain to salvation?
It is interesting to note that all the revealed religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have one very prominent feature in common. This is what is called ‘tauheed’ in Arabic. It does not have a sufficiently precise equivalent in English. So I’ll explain what it means whileretaining the Arabic term to refer to it. Tauheedis the verbal noun, or the infinitive of the verb – ‘wahhada’ which means: to make one, to unify, to render unique. Simply put it means God is one. But the meaning extends well beyond this: It means that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He is Reality that recognizes no other reality. The universe exists because of Him. He holds, as it were, the electrons in their orbits. And were it not for Him all matter would self annihilate.
All the revealed religions are, not surprisingly, characterized by ‘tauheed’. (Modern Christianity is an exception) But what is more surprising is that many other world religions have ‘tauheed’ at their core.
Hinduism, despite its outward polytheistic manifestation, is in fact at its core the quintessential religion of ‘tauheed’. Zoroastrianism – the religion of the ancient Persians – with its elegantfire temples seems a long way from the creed of ‘tauheed’. But in fact the Muslims recognized Zoroaster as a Prophet of God. When Persia was conquered by the Arabs the Caliph Omar ordered his Governor to treat the Persians as ‘people of the book’.
Muslim scholars who have studied the religion of the Native Americans (the Red Indians) have been amazed to discover that tauheed is at the heart of what they believed.
Stepping awayfrom religion, read the metaphysical works of the ancient Greeks and you will see ‘tauheed’ stare you in the face.
Is not this too much of a coincidence: These diverse religions varying widely inchronology and geographical origin and yet, so similar in essence?
And now back to the other question I posed earlier: Why so many messengers? Chronology and geography could be an explanation. But the Quran mentions another reason: It is the human trait of forgetfulness and our tendency to take Truth and bend it to suit our convenience. The crystal clear stream, as it were, is muddied as it makes its way down the mountain. And so the need to renew it. This is what God’s messengers have been doing from time immemorial.
But something very interesting happens when we get to Islam. We are told that there will be no more messengers sent to humanity after Mohammad. And that the message he brings – the Quran – is the last divine message that will be delivered to us.
The natural question is: Why? Why should the stream of messengers have to end? The Quran does not oblige with a direct answer. But those who read it will not help noticing in its words a sense of finality, an allusion that the cycle of time is reaching its shadowed end. God’s messengers have completed their task. The time of warning has finished. The Reckoning approaches.
To summarize then: Islam does not claim to be unique. It is simply arenewal of an eternal message that God’s messengers have delivered to humanity from the beginning of time. Islam, however, does claim to be final. There will be no more messages to struggling humanity from their Creator. And hence the need to preserve this final message and protect it from corruption.
Some more ground needs to be cleared before I can get to the specific questions you posed in your email. I will do this, God willing, in my next message.
To be continued…
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