Are the Quran and Islam only for Muslims? If God is the Lord of the worlds (Quran 1:2) and the Prophet is described as the messenger for the worlds (Quran 21:107) and the Quran is introduced as a reminder to the worlds, (Quran 68:52) then what is the relevance of the Quranic message to the world? How can the world, Muslims and non-Muslims, alike, benefit from the universal message of a universal and compassionate God? Can non-Muslims practice divinely revealed values without acknowledging their original source and without adhering to the total divine call?
The Quran, Muslims believe is the final testament God revealed for human beings through Prophet Muhammad , in the seventh century. They believe that that the Quran affirms everything that was revealed to all the previous messengers in the past including Prophets Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus. The Quran recognizes the principle of inclusiveness when it says: “I have come to you, to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.” (Quran 3:50)
The Quran also acknowledges that divine message has been sent to all in all languages and the Quran affirms the continuity of the divine message. “O ye People of the Book! believe in what We have (now) revealed, confirming what was (already) with you, before We change the face and fame of some (of you) beyond all recognition, and turn them hindwards, or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers, for the decision of Allah Must be carried out.” (Quran 4:47)
The Quran acknowledges the common thread in all the divine messages when it says: “The same religion He has established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – the which We have sent by inspiration to thee – and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that you should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which you call them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him). (Quran 42:13)
The Muslims believe that the guidance in the Quran is for all time and all people. Even though many Muslim scholars have often differed on the issue of giving a copy of the Quran to non-Muslims, quoting the Quranic verse that says “none shall touch but those who are clean,” (Quran 56:79) yet more serious among them believe that the verse refers to the purity and sanctity of the divine message emphasizing the fact that it is revealed by the one who is absolutely authentic (Allah) and delivered by the one who is sacred and pure (Angel Gabriel) and delivered by the one (Prophet Muhammad ) who is innocent from committing any wrong in communicating the message.
In fact, the Quran addresses human beings as “Ya aiyuhal Nas” (O Humankind) directly 306 times and indirectly more than two thousand times in its over 6,000 verses. In contrast the Quran specifically addresses Muslim men and women (Ya aiyuhal Muslimun/Muslimat/Muslimatun/etc) by name only 49 times. How can anyone refuse to share a copy of the Quran with non-Muslims? In fact, the first revelation that the prophet received was first recited by the Prophet to non-Muslims.
Regardless, the Muslim scholarship, by and large, has inadvertently turned the Quran into a manifesto for Muslims only making the argument that Quran is a book of guidance for Muslims primarily. On top of this the use of the Quran has been limited to ceremonial recitation. Is there nothing for the non-Muslim creation of God in the book Muslims attribute to a Merciful and Compassionate God of all. Can a non-Muslim make use of the guidance of the Quran while still remaining outside the fold of Islam? Can Islam be practiced by non-Muslims in its normative sense without adhering to its form ritual structure?
Contrary to what some Muslims might believe the fact is that many human beings, regardless of their relationship with Islam, have on their own reached conclusions that the Quran introduced to the world through revelation. In a way, many non-Muslims have shown a better understanding of the message of the Quran even without fully identifying with Islam than shown by many Muslims.
For instance, the empiricism 1 in modern natural and social sciences is a known reality of our epistemology. The Quran announced this maxim clearly when it said: “And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be inquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (Quran 17:36) In other words one must use all methods of inquiry to come to a conclusion and decisions in all aspects of life must not be based on superstitions and hearsay.
There are five major divine ideas expounded in the Quran that human beings have now begun to realize as the essence of their humanity. They were there in other religious scriptures and they are defined in detail in the Quran, yet, humanity as a whole waited for almost 7,000 of its recorded human history to acknowledge their legitimacy and validity.
These ideas have constantly provided guidance to reformers and idealists regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds all over the world for centuries. What is ironic is that while acknowledging the supremacy of these ideas many Muslim groups and leaders in the Muslim world have often negated them through their writings or actions. Those five ideas are oneness or unity of humanity, the dignity of human beings, the universalization of natural resources, justice and peace. No human society can live in a state of stability and progression without accepting these ideas and making efforts to live by them.
Oneness of humanity
The Quran places emphasis on the oneness of human beings. It introduces the idea of common human origin and ancestry at four different places and says that humans have their origin in a single cell or soul.
“O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single soul, created, of like nature, the mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.” (Quran 4:1)
“It is He Who hath produced you from a single soul: here is a place of sojourn and a place of departure: We detail Our signs for people who understand.” (Quran 6:98)
“It is He Who created you from a single soul, and made the mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah their Lord, (saying): If Thou gives us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful.” (Quran 7:189)
“He created you (all) from a single person: then created, of like nature, his mate; and he sent down for you eight head of cattle in pairs: He makes you, in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness. such is Allah, your Lord and Cherisher: to Him belongs (all) dominion. There is no god but He: then how are ye turned away (from your true Centre)?” (Quran 39:6)
Thus the purpose is to ensure that the unity of humanity is never compromised and the differences that exist among people are resolved through a process of mutual understanding on the basis of ideas that are divinely revealed.
“Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. Allah by His Grace guided the believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guided whom He wills to a path that is straight.” (Quran 2:213)
The Quran acknowledges the diversity in humanity but described it as a functional aspect of existence and not structural.
“To you We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that has come to you. To each among you we have prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute; (Quran 5:48)
The Quranic assertion about the oneness of humanity is a powerful message for all those who still want to live in their own tribal, national and ethnic cocoons without any respect and regard for the other. The Quran does not want a person to cancel one’s identity by birth but wants that identity to enhance inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness.
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Quran 49:13)
The idea that despite differences in our DNAs and fingerprints, we all have a common origin and can relate with each other accepting every human as part of our extended family whether we are able to trace our bloodlines or not is in itself a powerful unifying idea, an idea whose time has finally come in a world that is shrinking every day.
The Dignity of Human Beings
The Quran places great emphasis on the dignity of human beings regardless of their gender or race or even status. It says: “We have bestowed dignity on the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of our creation.” (Quran 17:70) The dignity comprises rights and duties. It means that all human beings are created equal by the One Creator, and no one is superior to another on the basis of his or her birth or family or tribe. It is only the divine that alone is the judge to decide who lived up to his/her dignified status accepting the dignity of the other. The dignity also means that human beings have a right to life, right to freedom of religion, right to freedom of lifestyle, right to labor, right to security and right to the family are secured, even if that means that human beings do not accept divine guidance.
The Quran does not want people to deprive others of these rights because of their color, gender or even religion. The Quran does not give preference to one over the other. The Quran does not say that only Muslims or who have faith in God deserve dignity or rights that are associated with dignity. It talks in a broader term and declares that no one has a right to deny humans their dignity that is a God-given right.
Not very long ago, the world had difficulty in realizing the validity of this Quranic message. People were discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity or gender or status and religious scholars and political experts were providing justification for these discriminations. A classic case of this denial of dignity can be found in India where according to religious scripture a group of people was categorized as low castes or untouchables because of their birth in a particular social group.
Even though, India has banned that in its constitution and legally such a discrimination is punishable, yet it is still practiced widely in the country. In the United States, we had the “N” word for African-Americans in vogue for several centuries and is still uttered in several private sessions. But no one in the world today can argue for segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, religion,, gender etc. The world has begun to realize and implement the Quranic message of the dignity of humankind. This message is relevant in our time more than ever before, regardless whether Muslims practice it or not because it certainly can inspire people of all faith to stand with each other in defense of the human dignity of all.
Universalization of Natural Resources
The third Quranic message relevant for humanity at large is its emphasis on the universality of natural resources. Earth, oceans, skies water, and wind are for the benefit of all. No one can monopolize them for their exclusive use. No one can use their access to these resources to deny others the rights bestowed to them. Thus the Quran states, “It is He Who has created for you all things that are on earth; moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things, He has perfect knowledge.” (Quran 2:29)
The distribution of these human resources in a manner that would ensure the dignity and oneness of humanity is a major challenge for human beings. Wars have been fought for land and access to natural resources such as water, land or gas without realizing that none of these natural treasures were created by humans, yet human beings have always fought over their greed to control them.
The Quran explains that the purpose to provide these resources is to ensure that human beings are not deprived of their basic needs for survival. It asks human beings not to use them to exploit fellow human beings. Our world today has about 1.6 billion people who sleep hungry every night. Our world has over 60 percent of the population that earns less than a dollar a day. Malnutrition is common and so is homelessness. People are deprived of drinkable water even though there is plenty of freshwater resources. People are still forced to live on the streets and under open skies even though there is plenty of land to provide housing to everyone.
In religious circles, everyone talks about removing poverty or at least ensuring that people’s basic needs are addressed. The Quranic message certainly gives guidance in this matter and invites people to work together to ensure that no one sleeps hungry and no one is homeless. The Quran addresses the issue of basic human needs in great details in verses 12 to 18 of chapter 90 when it explains what is this steep uphill ascent? Who else can tell you better than the Almighty? So listen: The uphill ascent is that a human should not only look after himself. Wherever he sees a human neck caught in any kind of subjugation or bondage, he should free it. That is to say, the first and foremost thing to do is to establish a system where no one is subdued by or subjugated to another. Everyone walks with his chin up, with total physical and mental freedom. (He should not have to follow and obey any Law except that of Allah the Almighty.) And during the period when some people take over all primary sources of subsistence and create a state of general distress and hunger, this system should look after the needs of those who, despite living among other people, feel lonely and helpless; or of the needs of those who have to labor hard for a morsel. They are the auspicious and prosperous people on the right path, enjoying the pleasures of life.
Justice for all
Justice is the buzz word in our modern vocabulary. The Quran not only emphasizes justice but also recommends a step above justice, i.e., working for the good of others at the expense of one’s interest. On the other side are those who are also true to their faith. They always give preference to the needs of the newcomers, even if they themselves are indigent and living a life of hardship. (Quran 59:9) The Quran reminds that people who are likely to achieve prosperity are those who change their personalities and no longer push others aside to selfishly fulfill their own needs. Realizing that the other person’s need is more demanding they voluntarily allow them to fulfill it first.
The Quran recommends a simple maxim for justice “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do.” (Quran 4:135)
“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Quran 5:8)
Every human society accepts justice as its core value, yet we find that every human society violates its own declared values and promotes injustice on the basis of divisions that people have created among themselves. So much inequality, indignity and denial of basic human rights takes place in our world simply because people tend to view justice for others as not binding. However, without adhering to justice, it is impossible to think of dignity, unity or universality of humanity.
Peace is the goal
The ultimate goal of humans in this world is to secure a peaceful human society so that a peaceful family can protect the interests of a peaceful individual for achieving his or her true potential in deliberating on the purpose of this life and preparing for a life that is eternal in every sense of the term. The unity of humanity, the dignity, the justice and the universality of human resources pave the path for peace. They liberate humans from the mundane and profane and take them to the realm of sublime and sacred. They ensure that that human beings reconcile between their greed and their need.
Defining the purpose of his guidance the Quran says that “through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the paths leading to peace and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way. (Quran 5:16)
The Quran repeats the message several times that the purpose of human efforts is to enable humans to dwell in an abode of peace, “theirs shall be an abode of peace with their Sustainer; and He shall be near unto them in result of what they have been doing.” (Quran 6:127) and explains “And [know that] God invites [man] unto the abode of peace, and guides him that wills [to be guided] onto a straight way.” (Quran 10:25)
Thus, the message of the Quran is universal and eternal. The divine sets the standards through messages delivered to human beings. It was left to individuals to seek the path of unity, dignity, universality, justice and peace not the path to argue with each who is better than the other or who would qualify for the grace of God and who would not. Let the world not deprive itself of the benefits of the divine guidance because of the sectarian, myopic and often arrogant behavior on the part of some Muslim groups. Let the world make use of these values that are universal and would help everyone. Muslims should also not shy away from joining those who work for these values even if their proponents happen to be those who profess other faiths or no faith.