by Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
The first thing that one should know and clearly understand about Islam is what the word "Islam" itself means. The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of Christianity which was named after Jesus Christ, Buddhism after Gotama Buddha, Confucianism after Confucius, and Marxism after Karl Marx. Nor was it named after a tribe like Judaism after the tribe of Judah and Hinduism after the Hindus. Islam is the true religion of Almighty God (Arabic: Allah), and as such, its name represents the central principle of God's religion; the total submission to the will of God. The Arabic word "Islam" means the submission or surrender of one's will to the only true God worthy of worship and anyone who does so is termed a "Muslim". The word also implies "peace" which is the natural consequence of total submission to the will of Almighty God. Hence, it was not a new religion brought by Prophet Muhammad r in Arabia in the Seventh Century, but only the true religion of God re-expressed in its final form.
Islam is the religion which was given to Adam, the first man and the first prophet of God, and it was the religion of all the prophets sent by God to mankind. The name of God's religion --- Islam --- was not decided upon by later generations of man. It was chosen by God Himself and clearly mentioned in His final revelation to man. In the final book of divine revelation, the Qur'aan, Almighty God states the following:
"This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion".
(Qur’aan, Chapter 5 - "The Table Spread", Verse 3)
"If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (i.e. submission to God) never will it be accepted of Him"
(Qur’aan, Chapter 3 --- "The Family of ‘Imraan", Verse 85)
"Abraham was not a Jew nor Christian; but an upright Muslim (i.e. one who submitted to God)."
(Qur’aan, Chapter 3 --- "The Family of ‘Imraan", Verse 67)
Nowhere in the Bible will you find God saying to Prophet Moses' people or their descendants that their religion is Judaism, nor to the followers of Christ that their religion is Christianity. In fact, Christ was not even his name, nor was it Jesus! The name "Christ" comes from the Greek word Christos which means "the anointed". That is, Christ is a Greek translation of the Hebrew title "Messiah". The name "Jesus" on the other hand, is a Latinized version of the Hebrew name Esau. For simplicity's sake, I will however continue to refer to Prophet Esau as Jesus. As for his religion, it was what he called his followers to. Like the prophets before him, he called the people to surrender their will to the will of Almighty God; (which is Islam) and he warned them to stay away from the false gods of the human imagination. According to the New Testament, he taught his followers to pray as follows: "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven".
Since the total submission of one's will to God represents the essence of worship, the basic message of God's divine religion, Islam is the worship of God alone and the avoidance of worship directed to any person, place or thing other than God. Since everything other than God, the Creator of all things, is God's creation; it may be said that Islam, in essence calls man away from the worship of creation and invites him to worship only its Creator. He is the only one deserving man's worship as it is only by His will that prayers are answered. If man prays to a tree and his prayers are answered, it was not the tree which answered his prayers but Almighty God who allowed the circumstances prayed for to take place. One might say: "That is obvious", however, to tree-worshippers it might not be. Similarly, prayers to Jesus, Buddha, or Krishna, to Saint Christopher, or Saint Jude or even to Muhammad, are not answered by them but are answered by God. Jesus did not tell his followers to worship him, but to worship God. As the Qur'aan states:
"And behold God will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary, did you say to men: 'Take me and my mother as two objects of worship along with God'? He will say: "Glory to you I could never say what I had no right (to say')"
(Qur’aan, Chapter 5 --- "The Table Spread", Verse 116)
Nor did he worship himself when he worshipped but rather he worshipped God. This basic principle is enshrined in the opening chapter of the Qur'aan, known as Soorah Al-Faatihah, verse 4:
"You alone do we worship and from you alone do we seek help."
Elsewhere, in the final book of revelation, the Qur'aan, God also said:
"And your Lord says: "Call on Me and I will answer your (prayer)."
(Qur’aan, Chapter 40 --- "The Believer", Verse 60)
It is worth noting that the basic message of Islam is that God and His creation are distinctly different entities. Neither is Almighty God His creation or a part of it, nor is His creation Him or a part of Him. This might seem obvious, but, man's worship of creation instead of the Creator is to a large degree based on ignorance of this concept. It is the belief that the essence of God is everywhere in His creation or that His divine being is or was present in some aspects of His creation, which has provided justification for the worship of creation though such worship may be called the worship of God through his creation. How ever, the message of Islam as brought by the prophets of God is to worship only God and to avoid the worship of his creation either directly or indirectly. In the Qur'aan, Almighty God clearly states:
"For We assuredly sent amongst every people a prophet,(with the command)worship me and avoid false gods"
(Qur’aan, Chapter 16 --- "The Bee", Verse 36)
When the idol worshipper is questioned as to why he or she bows down to idols created by men, the invariable reply is that they are not actually worshipping the stone image, but God who is present within it. They claim that the stone idol is only a focal point for God's essence and is not in itself God! One who has accepted the concept of the presence of God's being within His creation in any way will be obliged to accept this argument of idolatry. Whereas, one who understands the basic message of Islam and its implications would never concede to idolatry no matter how it is rationalized.
Those who have claimed divinity for themselves down through the ages have often based their claims on the mistaken belief that God is present in man. They merely had to assert that although God according to their false beliefs, is in all of us, He is more present in them than in the rest of us. Hence, they claim, we should submit our will to them and worship them as they are either God in person or God concentrated within the person. Similarly, those who have asserted the God-hood of others after their passing have found fertile ground among those who accept the false belief of God's presence in man. One who has grasped the basic message of Islam and its implications could never agree to worship another human being under any circumstances. God's religion in essence is a clear call to the worship of the Creator and the rejection of creation-worship in any form. This is the meaning of the motto of Islam: "Laa ilaaha Illallaah" (There is no god but God). Its repetition automatically brings one within the fold of Islam and sincere belief in it guarantees one Paradise. Thus, the final Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: "Any one who says: There is no god but God and dies holding that (belief) will enter paradise". (Reported by Abu Dharr and collected by Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim). It consists in the submission to the One True God, yielding to Him by obeying His commandments, and the denial of polytheism and polytheists.
There are so many sects, cults, religions, philosophies, and movements in the world, all of which claim to be the right way or the only true path to God. How can one determine which one is correct or if, in fact, all are correct? The method by which the answer can be found is to clear away the superficial differences in the teachings of the various claimants to the ultimate truth, and identify the central object of worship to which they call, directly or indirectly. False religions all have in common one basic concept with regards to God. They either claim that all men are gods; or that specific men were God; or that nature is God; or that God is a figment of man's imagination. Thus, it may be stated that the basic message of false religion is that God may be worshipped in the form of His creation. False religion invites man to the worship of creation by calling the creation or some aspect of it God. For example, prophet Jesus invited his followers to worship God but those who claim to be his followers today call people to worship Jesus, claiming that he was God! Buddha was a reformer who introduced a number of humanistic principles to the religion of India. He did not claim to be God nor did he suggest to his followers that he be an object of worship. Yet, today most Buddhists who are to be found outside of India have taken him to be God and prostrate to idols made in their perception of his likeness. By using the principle of identifying the object of worship, false religion becomes very obvious and the contrived nature of their origin clear. As God said in the Qur’aan:
"That which you worship besides Him are only names you and your forefathers have invented for which God has sent down no authority: The command belongs only to God: He has commanded that you only worship Him; that is the right religion, but most men do not understand".
(Qur’aan, Chapter 12 --- "Joseph", Verse 40)
It may be argued that all religions teach good things so why should it matter which one we follow. The reply is that all false religions teach the greatest evil, the worship of creation. Creation-worship is the greatest sin that man can commit because it contradicts the very purpose of his creation. Man was created to worship God alone as God has explicitly stated in the Qur’aan:
"I have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship me"
(Qur’aan, Chapter 51 --- "The Winds that Scatter", Verse 56)
Consequently, the worship of creation, which is the essence of idolatry, is the only unforgivable sin. One who dies in this state of idolatry has sealed his fate in the next life. This is not an opinion, but a revealed fact stated by God in his final revelation to man:
"Verily God will not forgive the joining of partners with Him, but He may forgive (sins) less than that for whomsoever He wishes"
(Qur’aan, Chapter 4 --- "The Women", Verses 48 and 116)
Since the consequences of false religion are so grave, the true religion of God must be universally understandable and attainable, not confined to any people, place or time. There can not be conditions like baptism, belief in a man, as a saviour etc., for a believer to enter paradise. Within the central principle of Islam and in its definition, (the surrender of one's will to God) lies the roots of lslam'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. Thus, anyone at anytime in the most remote region of the world can become a Muslim, a follower of God's religion, Islam, by merely rejecting the worship of creation and by turning to Almighty God alone. It should be noted however, that the recognition of and submission to Almighty God requires that one chooses between right and wrong and such a choice implies accountability. Man will be held responsible for his choices, and, as such, he should try his utmost to do good and avoid evil. The ultimate good being the worship of God alone and the ultimate evil being the worship of His creation along with or instead of God. This fact is expressed in the final revelation as follows:
"Verily those who believe, those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), the Christians and the Sabians any who believe In God and the last day, and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; They will not be overcome by fear nor grief."
(Qur’aan, Chapter 2 --- "The Cow", Verses 62)
"If only they had stood by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was 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."
(Qur’aan, Chapter 5 --- "The Table Spread", Verse 66)
The question which arises here is: "How can all people be expected to believe in God given their varying- backgrounds, societies and cultures?" For people to be responsible for worshipping God they all have to have access to knowledge of God. The final revelation teaches that all mankind have the recognition of God imprinted on their souls, a part of their very nature with which they are created. In Soorah Al-A'raaf (Qur’aan, Chapter 7), Verses 172-173; God explained that when He created Adam, He caused all of Adam's descendants to come into existence and took a pledge from them saying: "Am I not your Lord?" To which they all replied: "Yes, we testify to It." Almighty God then explained why He had all of mankind bear witness that He is their creator and only true God worthy of worship. He said: "That was In case you (mankind) should say on the day of Resurrection, ‘Verily we were unaware of all this’". That is to say, we had no idea that You God, were our God. No one told us that we were only supposed to worship You alone. God went on to explain that it was also in case you should say: "Certainly It was our ancestors who made partners (with God) and we are only their descendants; will You then destroy us for what those liars did?" Thus, every child is born with a natural belief in God and an inborn inclination to worship Him alone called in Arabic the "Fitrah".
If the child were left alone, he would worship God in his own way, but all children are affected by those things around them, seen or unseen. The Prophet, peace be upon him, reported that Almighty God said: "I created my servants in the right religion but devils made them go astray". The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, also said: "Each child is born in a state of "Fitrah", then his parents make him a Jew, Christian or a Zoroastrian, the way an animal gives birth to a normal offspring. Have you noticed any that were born mutilated?" (Collected by Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim). So, just as the child submits to the physical laws which God has put in nature, his soul also submits naturally to the fact that God is his Lord and Creator. But, his parents try to make him follow their own way and the child is not strong enough in the early stages of his life to resist or oppose the will of his parents. The religion which the child follows at this stage is one of custom and upbringing and God Almighty does not hold him to account or punish him for this religion. Throughout people's lives from childhood until the time they die, signs are shown to them in all regions of the earth and in their own souls, until it becomes clear that there is only one true God. If the people are honest with themselves, reject their false gods and seek God, the way will be made easy for them but if they continually reject God's signs and continue to worship creation, the more difficult it will be for them to escape. For example, in the South Eastern region of the Amazon jungle in Brazil, South America, a primitive tribe erected a new hut to house their main idol Skwatch, representing the supreme God of all creation. The following day a young man entered the hut to pay homage to the God, and while he was in prostration to what he had been taught was his Creator and Sustainer, a mangy old flea-ridden dog walked into the hut, The young man looked up in time to seethe dog lift its hind leg and pass urine on the idol. Outraged, the youth chased the dog out of the temple, but when his rage died down he realized that the idol could not be the Lord of the universe. God must be elsewhere. he now had a choice to act on his knowledge and seek God, or to dishonestly go along with the false beliefs of this tribe. As strange as it may seem, that was a sign from God for that young man. It contained within it divine guidance that what he was worshipping was false.
Prophets were sent, as was earlier mentioned, to every nation and tribe to support man's natural belief in God and man's inborn inclination to worship Him as well as to reinforce the divine truth in the daily signs revealed by God. Although, in most cases, much of the prophets' teachings became distorted, portions remained which point out right and wrong. For example, the ten commandments of the Torah, their confirmation in the Gospels and the existence of laws against murder, stealing and adultery in most societies. Consequently, every soul will be held to account for its belief in God and its acceptance of the religion of Islam; the total submission to the will of Almighty God.
We pray to Almighty God, the Exalted, to keep us on the right path to which He has guided us, and to bestow on us a blessing from Him, He is indeed the Most Merciful. Praise and gratitude be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace and blessings be on Prophet Muhammad, his Family, his companions, and those who rightly follow them.