Righteous followers of previous religions recognise the truth of Islam

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 10 May 2024

“And certainly We have made the Word to have many connections for their sake, so that they may be mindful. Those to whom We gave the Book before it, they are believers in it. And when it is recited to them they say: We believe in it; surely it is the Truth from our Lord; we were indeed, before this, submitting ones. These will be granted their reward twice, because they are patient, and they repel evil with good and spend (on good works) out of what We have given them. And when they hear idle talk, they turn aside from it and say: For us are our deeds and for you your deeds. Peace be on you! We do not desire the ignorant.” — ch. 28, Al-Qaṣaṣ, v. 51–55

وَ لَقَدۡ وَصَّلۡنَا لَہُمُ الۡقَوۡلَ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَتَذَکَّرُوۡنَ ﴿ؕ۵۱  اَلَّذِیۡنَ اٰتَیۡنٰہُمُ الۡکِتٰبَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِہٖ ہُمۡ بِہٖ یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ ﴿۵۲  وَ اِذَا یُتۡلٰی عَلَیۡہِمۡ قَالُوۡۤا اٰمَنَّا بِہٖۤ اِنَّہُ الۡحَقُّ مِنۡ رَّبِّنَاۤ اِنَّا کُنَّا مِنۡ قَبۡلِہٖ مُسۡلِمِیۡنَ ﴿۵۳ اُولٰٓئِکَ یُؤۡتَوۡنَ اَجۡرَہُمۡ مَّرَّتَیۡنِ بِمَا صَبَرُوۡا وَ یَدۡرَءُوۡنَ بِالۡحَسَنَۃِ السَّیِّئَۃَ وَ مِمَّا رَزَقۡنٰہُمۡ یُنۡفِقُوۡنَ ﴿۵۴  وَ اِذَا سَمِعُوا اللَّغۡوَ اَعۡرَضُوۡا عَنۡہُ وَ قَالُوۡا لَنَاۤ اَعۡمَالُنَا وَ لَکُمۡ اَعۡمَالُکُمۡ ۫ سَلٰمٌ عَلَیۡکُمۡ ۫ لَا نَبۡتَغِی الۡجٰہِلِیۡنَ ﴿۵۵

In these verses the Holy Quran mentions the members of previous religions who were following their own revealed books when Islam came into the world. Primarily, these would be Jews and Christians. The Jews followed the Torah as their scripture, which is included in the first part of the Bible. That part is called the Old Testament by Christians. It ends with the last prophets of the Jews, before Jesus arose. The Christians followed the second part of the Bible, which they call the New Testament. It begins with the four Gospels, which tell of the life and teachings of Jesus.

The first verse of the Quran that I read above says that there are many points of connection between the Word of God as found in the scriptures of different religions. So when the Quran was revealed, the followers of previous scriptures could recognise the teachings of their own scriptures in it. This is an aid to them in accepting that the Quran was revealed by the same God Whom they already believed in. Even for those who do not accept any previous scripture at all, this is an evidence, because the broad points of likeness in the principles taught by different prophets, who appeared in so many different times from each other, and among entirely different nations, under totally different circumstances, provides a strong argument on the truth of them all.

The second verse says: “Those to whom We gave the Book before it, they are believers in it.” The meaning is not that everyone who was following the previous scriptures now immediately believed in the Quran when it was revealed. The words “they are believers in it” means that they all acknowledge these points of connection. The first and main point of connection between the Quran and previous revelations is belief in God. And those previous revelations are not only the Bible but books of other previous religions as well. Then there is the belief that there is a human soul. We are not just bodies. Moreover, there is the shared belief that the soul outlasts the body and goes somewhere after death. Also, all revelations say that certain individuals who had a very close connection with God, closer than other humans, arose as guides for various nations with missions for their reform. They all felt great pain at the fallen moral condition of their people and they struggled hard for their reform.

Then as regards practical actions, the teachings of all revelations from God are connected by the fundamental requirement of prayer to God. Even those who apparently take the names of other beings in their prayer, or pray before images or idols, they are actually praying to the One God, although they believe that these other beings and things are acting as intermediaries between the worshipper and God. Along with prayer, the other main requirement connecting previously revealed religions with the Quran is that of doing good to others who are around you and performing acts of charity. There are also the practices of fasting and of going to a place of pilgrimage which are connections between previous revelation and the Quran.

Then the above verses go on to say about those who had been given the Book, or revelation, before Islam came into the world: “And when it is recited to them they say: We believe in it; surely it is the Truth from our Lord; we were indeed, before this, submitting ones” (28:53). Here the Quran says that when its revelation is recited to them they recognise its truth. This is because they are able to connect it with the revelation they already believe in, and they can see that it presents more perfect and clearer concepts of all the beliefs they already hold, such as belief in God and the Hereafter, and the practices such as prayer and charity which they already perform. This verse tells us that they say: “we were indeed, before this (i.e. while we were following our existing religion), submitting ones”. Even when they were Jews or Chris­tians, or followers of some other religion, they in their hearts were already submitting to God. Their beliefs and prac­tices might not have been fully correct, and had suffered from distortion and were tainted with wrong ideas, but they were adhering to them because of their belief that these teachings came from God. They now recognise the truth of the revelation which is in the Quran and submit to that.

The next verse says: “These will be granted their reward twice, because they are patient, and they repel evil with good and spend (on good works) out of what We have given them” (28:54). Their reward is granted twice because first they believed in their own scriptures and acted on them, with sincerity and devotion to God. That was the only word of God available to them in their religions. So even though it was not entirely in its true original form, it was the only word of God that they could submit to. For this they have one reward from God. In addition to this, they recognised the truth of the Quran, so God rewarded them for that as well.

For accepting the word of God they faced opposition and even persecution from their own communities. They bore that opposition with patience, and did not let it discourage them from sticking to the truth. The facing of opposition from their own community not only happened in the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, but in our modern times too the Jews and Christians who accepted Islam have faced disapproval from their own communities. Many men and women who wanted to accept Islam did not declare it openly, but believed in it inwardly. When Lord Headley, after he met Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, declared his conver­sion to Islam in 1913, he wrote in the Observer  newspaper of London:

“I am quite aware that many friends and relations now look upon me as a lost soul and past praying for”.

Speaking in a gathering, he expressed the hope that:

“fear of ridicule or the adverse opinions of friends or enemies would not prevent sensible persons from adopting a religion (meaning Islam) which strongly appeals to the reason as well as the spiritual side of their nature” (The Islamic Review, December 1913, p. 417 and p. 430).

The verse goes on to say that they repel evil with good, meaning that they respond to their oppressors by doing good towards them, rather than retaliating against them, and they perform good deeds of all kinds. There was a Lord Stanley of Alderley, in Cheshire, England, who died in December 1903. He became a Muslim in his youth but never declared this openly. He knew many languages and was very knowledgeable in Islamic law. His father held ministerial positions in the British government. His parents and other relatives spoke of him with contempt and ridicule for becoming a Muslim. After he died, announcements of his death were published in newspapers, and these stated that while being a Muslim he financially supported the Christian church organisations by paying for the re-building of derelict churches in Wales and providing assistance to impoverished church vicars. A vicar wrote to The Times of London to give some details of Lord Stanley’s generosity towards churches and their priests, and added:

“He would never allow me to make any public acknowledgement of his liberality during his lifetime” (The Times, 19 December 1903, p. 13).

So the description in this verse, applying particularly to Jews and Christians who accepted Islam, that they show patience, respond to evil with good, and spend in charity out of what God has given them, applies to Lord Stanley.

The last of the verses I read is this:

“And when they hear idle talk, they turn aside from it and say: For us are our deeds and for you your deeds. Peace be on you! We do not desire the ignorant” (28:55).

Those members of their communities who tried to make them return to their original religions could not put forward any sound arguments. The objections they raised, as to why these converts should not have accepted Islam, are all trivial and no more than what this verse calls as “idle talk” or laghw. This word laghw means things that are not based on reason and knowledge, but instead are nonsensical, time-wasting and based on bigotry or the speaker’s own egotistic desires. Such an objector will not benefit from any reply which is based on reason and knowledge. To give them such replies is a waste of time. Instead, God instructs that you should ignore their ridiculous objections, and to say to them: we will continue doing what we believe to be right, and you can carry on doing what you believe to be right, and eventually the results of the deeds of both of us will be seen. Then it will become clear who was right and who was wrong. Further, you should say to them:

“Peace be on you! (salām-un ‘alaikum). We do not desire the ignorant (the jāhil ones)”.

We do this to indicate to them that we do not want to insult them, but we just wish them well, and we take our leave from them, saying that we don’t want to engage with ignorant people.

In the end we pray that Allah enables us to stick to these wise teachings which He revealed in the Quran — ameen.