The common principles of the revealed religions

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 11 November 2022

“The fools among the people will say: What has turned them from their qiblah which they had? Say: The East and the West belong to Allah; He guides whom He pleases to the right path.” — ch. 2: Al-Baqarah, v. 142

سَیَقُوۡلُ السُّفَہَآءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلّٰىہُمۡ عَنۡ قِبۡلَتِہِمُ الَّتِیۡ کَانُوۡا عَلَیۡہَا ؕ قُلۡ لِّلّٰہِ الۡمَشۡرِقُ وَ الۡمَغۡرِبُ ؕ یَہۡدِیۡ مَنۡ یَّشَآءُ اِلٰی صِرَاطٍ مُّسۡتَقِیۡمٍ ﴿۱۴۲

“And Allah’s is the East and the West, so whichever way you turn, there is Allah’s purpose. Surely Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.” — ch. 2, Al-Baqarah, v. 115

 وَ لِلّٰہِ الۡمَشۡرِقُ وَ الۡمَغۡرِبُ ٭ فَاَیۡنَمَا تُوَلُّوۡا فَثَمَّ وَجۡہُ اللّٰہِ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِیۡمٌ ﴿۱۱۵

In last week’s khutba I read a verse from a group of verses in Surah Al-Baqarah which instructed Muslims to say their prayers facing the Ka‘bah at Makkah, whereas previously they prayed facing Jerusalem, the centre of the prophets of the Israelites. The first verse which I have read just now is the first in that group. The making of this change was raised as an objection by the opponents of the Muslims to ridicule them. Regarding their objection, “What has turned them from their qiblah (i.e., direction of prayer) which they had?” some hold the opinion that they meant: How can Muslims turn away from facing a place which they themselves were facing previously? Another opinion is that the words “their qiblah which they had” is the Ka‘bah at Makkah, and the opponents are saying:  “Why have you come to Madinah leaving your Qiblah behind in Makkah?” The answer to this objection given here is that “The East and the West belong to Allah”. There is no place on earth which is not Allah’s, whether it is Makkah, Madinah, Jerusalem and anywhere else in the world. The Holy Quran tells Muslims: یٰعِبَادِیَ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِنَّ اَرۡضِیۡ وَاسِعَۃٌ فَاِیَّایَ فَاعۡبُدُوۡنِ    — “O My servants who believe, surely My earth is vast, so serve Me only” (ch. 29, v. 56). The One God can be served from anywhere on earth. There is also a hadith that the Holy Prophet said: “The whole earth has been made a mosque for me” (Sahih Muslim, hadith 522a). So any place can be as holy as any other for saying prayers.

The sacredness of a place of prayer comes from the sincerity and devotion in the people’s hearts who are there. And those feelings may be intensified in certain places if those places are associated with devoted people gathering there, in the present or in the past.

Moreover, any place on earth can also qualify as the direction of prayer, as stated in the second verse which I recited: “And Allah’s is the East and the West, so whichever way you turn, there is (meaning in that direction) Allah’s purpose”. This verse occurs a few verses earlier than the group of verses dealing with the change in the direction of prayer, and is therefore like an introduction to this subject. The word translated as “purpose” here is wajh. This word means ‘face’ as well as a ‘course’ or ‘purpose’ that you are following or a ‘direction’ in which you are going or looking. So in whichever direction a person turns, he or she can come face to face with Allah. Not only in any physical direction, but whichever path of life a person takes in this world, along that path he can fulfil the purpose for which Allah created him.

Facing of a direction in prayer physically is just a way of indicating the teachings that you are following. If, while at Makkah before the Hijra, Muslims faced towards Jerusalem it may have been because they did not want to be condoning idol-worship of the idols kept in the Ka‘bah. Jerusalem represented the prophets who taught the oneness of God. At Madinah, the command of Allah for Muslims to turn towards Makkah in prayer may have been because they were now far from the idols in the Ka‘bah and would conquer Makkah within eight years and restore it to what Abraham had originally built it for, i.e., the worship of One God.

Last week I also commented on a verse in which God addresses all humanity and people of all religions, the last part of which is:

“So vie with one another in good works. To Allah you will all return, so He will inform you of that in which you differed” (ch. 5, Al-Ma’idah, v. 48).

The meaning is generally taken to be that all humanity will be gathered before Allah on the Day of Judgment and they will then find out, after leaving this world, about their differences in belief as to which beliefs were right and which were wrong. But this returning and gathering before Allah need not only be after death on the Day of Judgment. This verse may be indicating that a time will come, in this world, when all humans will be brought together by Allah and they will know on what matters they differed; that is to say, they will know which beliefs were right and which were wrong. This is a prophecy that humanity will become united in following the religion of Islam, and it will happen through various sections of humanity vying with one another to do good and charitable works, and finding that it is Islamic teachings which lead people to do the most good. Of course, it does not look like that now, because it is mainly non-Muslims who are at the forefront of doing good and chari­table works. But if Muslims deploy all the zeal and fervour they show for conducting jihad and for defending the honour of Islam by violence and protests, towards acts of goodness for humanity, the world may see that they excel all others in this work.

Another verse in the Quran which states that all religions have similar principles and goals is as follows:

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians (the Sabians represented a religion between Judaism and Christianity), whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve” (ch.  2, v. 62).

In connection with this verse, the question has been asked that if followers of earlier religions, before Islam, can receive salvation (which is expressed in the words “there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve”) then what was the necessity of Islam coming into the world and why does Islam call upon people to accept it? What this verse means is that if a person is to reach the state of “having no fear nor grieving”, or salvation, it is necessary for him or her to follow certain principles. If anyone wants to rise to the stage of being accepted by God, this stage cannot be reached by merely calling oneself Muslim, Jew or Christian, as is claimed by followers of each religion for themselves. Those principles are belief in God, belief in the ultimate account­ability for one’s actions, and the doing of good. These principles are accepted by Jews and Christians as well, and therefore it is their duty to try to see where they can find these principles in their most perfect form and how they can act on them in the best possible way. To whatever degree people follow these principles, whoever those people might be, to that extent they reach the state of salvation.

If you believe in God but the concept of God in your religion is of one who has chosen your race or tribe as its exclusive favourite then your capacity to deal justly with people of other nations and do good towards them may be diminished as you regard them as inferior. If you believe in the Last Day but your religion also teaches that your sins have already been forgiven for belonging to that religion, then your belief in the Judgment may be undermined and cease to act as a deterrent to wrong­doing and incentive to doing good to others. Thus the above verse teaches that it is only the principles which various religions have in common that lead to salvation, but to follow and act upon them with full effect requires having the right concepts about those principles.

This meaning of this verse is supported by the following verse:

“And they say: None shall enter the Garden (jannah) except he who is a Jew, or the Christians. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful. Rather, whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others), he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for such nor shall they grieve” (ch. 2, v. 111–112).

The claims of the followers of earlier religions about their respective faiths are mentioned here. Each one claims that only followers of their particular religion will find salva­tion and enter the garden of the next life. Their assertions are rejected as “vain desires”, based only on wishful thinking and selfish desires, without any proof. But the counter-claim of the Quran is not: no it will not be you Jews and Christians, but we Muslims who will enter the garden!

Again the Quran mentions the principles that anyone must act upon: “whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others)”. The original words for “whoever submits himself entirely” do not use the name “Muslim” but rather they use an action (“submits”) to refer to what a true Muslim ought to be doing, that is, submitting to God, and not only submitting, but submitting entirely. The word for “entirely” here is again that Arabic word wajh which I discussed earlier. Although this word means ‘face’ but from that meaning it is used to mean your whole self, the entirety of you. These principles were also taught to the Jews and the Christians in their scriptures, and can be found there. It is stated in the Gospels that Jesus was asked the question by someone:

“Which is the first commandment of all?” He replied: “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.” (Gospel of Mark, ch. 12, v. 29­–31.)

To love God with all your heart, etc., mentioned above in the Bible, is the same as what the Quran describes as “submitting entirely” to Allah. And the love of neighbour is the same as what the Quran puts as doing good to others or being their benefactor (muhsan). As Jesus indicates, he is only repeating the command­ments which had been taught to the Jews by the prophets before him.

May Allah enable all of us to act on these commandments and to exhort our fellow-Muslims, and also our fellow human beings in general, to do the same. — ameen.