Evolution of religion
MANY western Orientalists considered Islam to be a syncretic religion and that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had tried to reconcile some points from older religions with some of his own, to form a new configuration.
But Muslims believe that only one religion was revealed — in instalments — through a long chain of 124,000 prophets from Prophet Adam to the Holy Prophet.
With the advent of every prophet, some new information was added for that prophet’s ummah and that particular time and place, continually moving towards perfection. Finally, the Prophet and the Quran completed all messages and gave the new concept of a common vision of one Creator, one humanity, one cosmos, and a universal consciousness for all times and places.
Muslims need to remember that Islam is an anti-racial, non-hierarchical, all-embracing universal religion which confirms and unites all revealed religions. The Quran is addressed not only to the believers but innumerable times to humanity at large with the words, “O people!” (35:3).
All other scriptures were meant for a particular time, place and people. But the Quran transcends time and place, even though it has historical narratives and teachings from the time of many prophets.
In the Quran, many prophets are reported to have said that they are Muslim: one who believes in and is obedient to the one God and the last Prophet of his time. In Surah Baqarah the Prophet is told that the pious are, “…those who believe in that which was revealed to you and that which was revealed to those before you….” (2:4). The Prophet made it incumbent on every Muslim to believe in and respect previous revealed religions, their books and their prophets.
The Prophet was instructed, “Say, ‘We have come to believe in God and whatever has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqub and their descendants, and what was given to Musa and Isa and what was given to other prophets from their Lord. We do not discriminate between any of them. And we are Muslims, surrendering to Him’ ” (2:136).
In Surah Aal Imran it is said, “Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright Muslim, who surrendered completely to God” (3:67). Surah Hajj says, “…(It is) the path of your father Ibrahim. He (God) gave you the name Muslim earlier and even in this (Quran)” (22:78). Prophet Nuh said to his people, “…My reward is with none but God, and I have been asked to be one of the Muslims, surrendering to Him” (10:72).
Hazrat Musa said, “O my people, if you have come to believe in God, then trust in Him alone, if you are Muslims” (10:84). Surah Aal Imran says, “When Isa sensed disbelief among them, he said, ‘Who will help me in God’s way?’ His disciples answered, ‘We are helpers (in the way) of God. We believe in God, and you are our witness that we are Muslims, surrendering to Him’.” (3:52).
In this process of evolution Prophet Isa said that he had come to make lawful part of what was forbidden (3:50), to lighten their burden. He made the meat of camels, the fat of beef and mutton and hunting and fishing on the Sabbath lawful.
This process continued. Surah A’raf says about the Prophet, “… He lightens from them their burden….” (7:157). The Prophet said that he had been given preference over other prophets in five things: He was made victorious by awe, the whole earth was made a mosque and a source of ablution for him, the spoils of war were made permissible for him, he was given the right of intercession and was sent as a prophet to all creation (Bukhari). He also did away with monasticism, restricted the Sabbath to the time of Friday prayer and gave women legal rights and an equal spiritual status.
The coming of Prophet Muhammad, the final prophet, was foretold in the previous revealed scriptures of the world and according to some scholars some of it can still be found in the Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist texts as well as Jewish and Christian scriptures extant today. The Quran says about those who believed in the Torah (Old Testament) and the Injeel (New Testament): “They recognise him the way they recognise their sons” (2:146, 6:20), because the Prophet was described clearly in their books.
The Old Testament states, “And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, ‘Read this, I pray thee’: and he saith, ‘I am not learned’ ” (Isaiah, 29:12). These are the words that the archangel Jibrail and Prophet Muhammad exchanged at the time of the first revelation (96:1). The New Testament says, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another comforter, (so) that he may abide with you for ever” (John, 14:16). According to Muslim belief, the Prophet will continue as the appointed prophet till the end of time.
On the occasion of Haj in 10AH, it was revealed: “…Today, I have perfected your religion for you and have completed upon you My blessing, and have chosen for you Islam as your faith….” (5:3). With the Prophet the process of the evolution of the monotheistic, revealed religion was completed and reached perfection.
Hence, Muslims believe that Islam will continue to fulfil the spiritual as well as worldly needs of people, transcending space and time.
The writer is an Islamic scholar.