Eid al-Adha, the occassion to reflect on the universal ideas in the Quran
Eid al-Adha is the commemoration and celebration of the glorious moral achievement of a man, Prophet Abraham [peace be upon him], in his complete submission to carry out God’s command: to sacrifice his son. He indeed passed the most difficult test of faith in life. The rituals of this Eid and the annual Hajj, the most celebrated event in Islam, are not in reference to Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him] but a Prophet that came long before his time. Therefore, alluded in this tradition is the idea that Islam is not a new religion.
The Quran repeatedly proclaims that Prophet Muhammad confirms the same religion that was sent to people across the length and breadth of humanity down through time through countless Messengers. Only few are mentioned and known, others are not known. “Nothing is said to thee [Prophet Muhammad] that was not said to the Messengers before thee .” [Quran 41:43].
The essence of Islam is that there is One God, one Moral law, and one religion for mankind. The Book defines that one ever-true religion [al-Dean al-Hanif] for mankind in the most universal term:
“And so, set your face steadfastly towards the one ever-true faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition [“fitratulla” or God’s nature] which God has instilled into human: not to allow any change to corrupt what God has thus created – this is the one ever true faith; but most people know it not.” [30:30]
The Quran gives validity to the truth that remains intact in all scriptures that others – Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. — follow because all scriptures came from God. The reason we see different religions, and different sects and divisions even within a religion is because man has changed the ‘Word of God’. God’s Moral laws never change. Only the ways these laws are applied and their ramifications in terms of rituals, life-styles, etc. change as time changes and a society grow more complex.
The scripture proclaims that it contains the Messages for mankind from God. There are well over 6,000 verses in Arabic in the Quran revealed over a period of 23 years, many of these verses address issues of a context, such as a war or tribal conflicts, or individual or family or social matters. therefore many of these are time bound. Principles and values need to be extracted – applying analytical reasoning [ijtihad], social consensus [ijma], etc. – from these detail injunctions to apply to the present time and its complexities.
Then there are verses that are fundamental and timeless. These are revealed without any context. For example, that ‘there is no compulsion or coercion in the matters of religion’ [2:256], guarantying the right to ‘freedom of faith’, or in laying down the definition of One ever-true religion [al-Din al-Hanif] for mankind [30:30], so on. These verses carry ideas and ideals that need to be complied with irrespective of time, place or culture in order to lead a life to achieve salvation and to establish just and peaceful societies.
Differentiating these two categories of verses is essential to grasp the spirit of Islam, the essence of the Quran and its universal messages. The Book gives repeated warnings that misinterpretations, distortions, or even violations of the Quranic principles would occur if these contexts are not understood and people interpret as they please to suit their interests and likings. The Quran proclaims that there is absolutely no contradition or inconsistency in the Book if understood right. Therefore the critical test of a translation is that the meaning of a verse is consistent with the essence of the Quran. It is alluded that peace cannot be acheived without establishing justice and fairness. And justice can only be upheld by truth. Prejudices, hatred, power-hunger, greed, and all other vices that distort truth also obstruct justice and hinder peace and violate Islam.
The essence of Islam is to ‘submit’ to the Will and moral Laws of God that enables people to achieve ‘peace’ both individually and collectively in a society. There is absolutely no passivity in the concept of ‘submission’ to God. It requires the utmost vigilance against one’s own wrong propensities as well as against the onslaught of immoral and unjust forces a life is often subjected to. In order to ‘submit’ one needs to remain conscious of God [muttaqin], believe in the Day of Judgment and his/her accountability before God and remain steadfast on righteous path. According to Islam this is the recipe of salvation for all irrespective of race, creed, so on.
“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. [Quran 2:62, and 5:69].
A contemporary famous scholar, Mohammad Asad, who translated the Quran says in his note to these and similar verses: “The above passage – which recurs in the Quran several times – lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam. With a breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of “salvation” is here make conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life. ……..”
Asad emphasizes the universal meaning of the terms ‘muslim’ and ‘islam’ the Quran uses which are different from the meanings that are in currency in the Muslim world. He writes in his note to verse [68:35] “Throughout this work, I have translated the terms ‘muslim’ and ‘islam’ in accordance with their original connotations, namely “ one who surrenders [ or “has surrendered”] himself to God” and “man’s self-surrender to God”: the same holds good of all forms of the verb ‘aslama’ occurring in the Quran. It should be borne in mind that the “institutionalized” use of these terms – that is, their exclusive application to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad – represents a definitely post-Quranic development and, hence, must be avoided in a translation of the Quran.”
How anyone is supposed to know what is right and what are God’s Laws? The Quran proclaims that God has given humans an enormous capacity to sense Truth and to make the right choices. This endowment is that nature, ‘fitratulla’, capable of discerning right from wrong. This nature may include the faculty of reason, the spiritual and intuitive abilities to sense Truth, etc. and all can be combined in the idea of human ‘conscience’. Because of this enormous empowerment a human remains accountable before the Creator on the Day of Judgment.
The scripture explains that diversity is the Will of God, if God so Willed entire humanity would be one nation following one creed but He did not Will that. Even though the essence of a religion remains same, the Quran asserts, that there are differnt ways [‘sirat’ and ‘minhaj’] assigned to different people to approach the ultimate goal of success [yuflihun] or salvation. Believers, dealing with others, should remain focused on the commonalities of fundamentals rather than differences of surface elements. The outcome of this mindset is humility, tolerance, cooperation and pluralism.
“Unto every one of you have We appoint a [different] law and way of life. And if God has so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.” [Quran 5:48]
A Muslim offers peace “salam” and God’s blessings to others at the conclusion of each prayer in a day by facing right and left, meant to cover the entire humanity and the creation of God. There is no limit as to whom the ‘salam’ is meant for. A true ‘muslim’ should offer peace or ‘salam’ from heart. This oft-repeated action, if done with the true understanding, is geared towards transforming one to become compassionate and generous to all human beings and God’s creation.
The Quran repeatedly addresses mankind as the children of Adam establishing a greater bonding of brotherhood in humanity. Addressing mankind the Quran exhorts (23:52): “And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me!”
[The writer is the Editor of the website www.consultquran.com that contains about 8,000 files on the Quran. Contact: Rubyamatulla@yahoo.com]