What is Islam?

by James William Lovegrove (Habeeb-Ullah)

Islam the Religion of Humanity

“Surely the right religion with Allah is Islam” (The Holy Quran, 3:19).

“Respect my commandments and show kindness to God’s creatures,”

was the definition of Islam given by the Prophet Muhammad.

This being so, the religion could not be confined to any time or place. This should be the cornerstone of every religion revealed to humanity. So we have been told by Muhammad and the Quran.

The religion of Islam therefore dawned upon humanity from the very beginning; it was the religion of Adam and of all the prophets following him. For this reason, we Muslims do not look upon other religions as things of human growth.

We give them Divine origin and deem all religions in their original purity as binding on us as the religion taught by Muhammad [pbuh]. All the prophets command equal respect from us, and we make no distinction in our allegiance to them. The Quran itself enjoins this upon us, in the following verse:

“Say: We believe in Allah, and (in) that which has been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit” (The Holy Quran, 2:136).

I wonder if there is anything equal to it in the teachings of any other religion of the world. The logic is obvious. We are not worshippers of prophets. We respect them as messengers of the Lord, and mouthpieces of God, and in this capacity not one of the blessed race can legitimately be given a preference to another; especially when we are taught by the Quran to believe that all of them brought the same religion to us. Could there be any cause of discord and dissension between a Muslim and a follower of any other religion? The moment you attach your faith to some personality to the discount of the teachers of other persuasions, you create seeds of divergence and diversity. For this very reason, the Quran gives us the name Muslim.

“He (God) named you Muslims before and in this” (The Holy Quran, 22:78)

and not Muhammadan, as sometimes we are wrongly styled.

Undoubtedly, we received the last revelation of the old religion, Islam, through the teachings of Muham­mad, and we love him and respect him from the core of our heart for the same; but he himself, like all of us, was a follower of the same religion and therefore a “Muslim.”

“I am the first of those who submit (Muslim)” (The Holy Quran, 6:163).

If Muslim means one who submits to Divine Law and subordinates his will to the will of the Most High, I wonder if there is any gentleman who would not care to call himself a Muslim. There could be no other religion but Islam. Those who label themselves under the name of this or that personality do thereby disregard the claims of other prophets on their allegiance, and thus cause a split in the different units of humanity.

We receive all our inspiration and guidance from the Quran and the Sayings from the Prophet. With the advent of the Holy Prophet Muham­mad (peace and the blessings of God be upon him) we cannot accept other teachings unless they are in agreement with the spirit of the Quran, and no other sacred book has remained free from human alloy and has reached us in its original purity—a fact admitted by all—while the Quran comes to us admittedly uncorrupted and incorruptible. Are we not justified?

We accept Moses and Jesus as our own teachers, but can we rely on the Torah and the Bible as the true records of their teachings? If not, and modern research has established the unauthenticity of the Bible, we have been left no choice but to accept the Quran as the sole book of religious truth. The Book in fact recapitulates all the old truths revealed to all other inspired teachers of humanity,

“Pure pages, wherein are all the right books” (The Holy Quran, 98:2–3),

with additional truths to meet all human requirements.

“We have not neglected anything in the book” (The Holy Quran, 6:38).

Thus in accepting the Quran we accept the Bible and all other sacred books of the world in their original form. The Quran says (in 16:63–65):

“By Allah, most certainly We sent (Apostles) to nations before you, but the devil made their deeds fair-seeming to them, so he is their guardian today, and they shall have a painful chastisement. And We have not revealed to you the Book except that you may make clear to them that about which they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe. And Allah has sent down water from the cloud and therewith given life to the earth after its death: most surely there is a sign in this for a people who would listen.”

In the last verse the Book uses a very beautiful and apposite simile. It compares Divine revelation to rain. Water germinates life and acts as a vivifying factor. If the rain could remain uncontaminated from earthly mixture, there would be no need for fresh rain. There is a large mass of water all over the earth in the form of oceans, but it does not possess enough vitality, and hence our need of fresh rain. The words of God are like drops of rain that came from time to time and rained on the hearts of the prophets, when­ever the water of the last spiritual rain (i.e., revelation) had become contaminated.

No other sacred Book had remained in its original entirety, and at the advent of the Prophet the world needed a new revelation. But why is the Quran the last of the Books and Muhammad the last of the prophets?

What I have said before furnishes the reply. The revelation from God came for the enlightenment of humanity on its road to perfection. It gave certain precepts which were acted upon by the prophets themselves, who were the first recipients of the Divine Message.

The Divine precepts were translated through their actions. If these precepts and examples could have been handed on intact to the coming generations, there would have been no need of any subsequent revelation or prophet. The first prophet would have been the last. Unfortunately, the record of every other prophet became enveloped in myth and mystery: his teaching and his life are now only an unreliable story. Even the historical reality of some of them is doubtful. But in the case of Muhammad (may peace be upon him and all the prophets) history strikes quite a different note. His precepts and example come to us uncorrupted and unalloyed. They are before us in their original colours, and if the institution of prophethood came into requisition for supplying humanity with Divine precepts and Divinely example, we have what is needful in Muhammad: hence he is the last of the prophets.

“This day I have perfected for you your religion and com­pleted my favour on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion” (The Holy Quran, 5:3).

This finality of the prophethood revelation should not be confused with the continuity of Divine communication with mankind. Islam opens the door of revelation to every evolved soul, and gives guidance to qualify us to receive Divine revelation. This was one of the many teachings of Islam that attracted me to it.

“Those who strive in our way,”

says the Quran,

“we will show them the way.” [The Holy Quran, 29:69]

It is the privi­lege of a Muslim to receive a direct message from God.

Again the Quran says:

“He (God) sends down the angels with the inspiration by His commandment on whom He pleases of His servants” (The Holy Quran, 16:2).

“As for those who say, Our Lord is Allah, then continue in the right way, the angels descend upon them, saying: Fear not, nor be grieved, and receive good news of the garden which you were promised. We are your guardians in this world’s life and in the here­after, and you shall have therein what your souls desire and you shall have therein what you ask for” (The Holy Quran, 41:30–31).

To continue in “the right way” is needed to qualify a person to receive the Divine message. The Quran came to mark out that “right way,” and prescribes codes wherewith to achieve it. In short, the whole teaching of the Book leads to it, and in this it claims to be the finality of revelation. There may be one hundred and one ways to our destination, but “the right way” is, and must be, the only way. And if the revelation in the Quran has succeeded in marking out the way, then there is no need for anything more to be done; and in this lies the finality of the message.