The Boat to Paradise
Those who do not study the Qur’an intellectually, not even studiously, but rather, cursorily, take out a wrong meaning of verses that speak of salvation of several communities that inhabit the earth. They think that the Qur’an considers Jews and Christians believers.
They are misled by verses of the following kind (2: 62):
Verily, those who believed, as also the Jews, Christians, and Sabians ‑ whosoever believed in Allah and the Hereafter, and worked righteousness ‑ for such is their reward with their Lord. They shall neither fear nor shall they grieve.
It is obvious that if someone reads the above verse disjointed from the rest of the Qur’an, he will arrive at the same conclusion. But the key is the word ‘disjointed.’
But if a person is a serious student of the Qur’an, he will come across several other statements within the Qur’an that challenge the meaning he derives and force him to paraphrase the above verse in the following manner:
Verily, those who believed (in Prophet Muhammad), as also the Jews, Christians, and the Sabians ‑ whosoever believed in Allah and the Hereafter (and in the Prophet of his time), and worked righteousness ‑ for such is their reward with their Lord. They shall neither fear nor shall they grieve.
Several texts that will demand an intelligent student to paraphrase as we have done above. Here are a few:
- Those have surely disbelieved who said ‘Allah is no other than Jesus Christ.’ (Ch. 5: 17).
As if to emphasize, the verse is repeated later in the same Chapter (no. 72) exactly in the same words. The following verse declares the concept of Trinity as kufr (disbelief):
- Those have surely disbelieved who said that God is third of the Three. (Ch. 5: 73)
- Those of the People of the Book who have disbelieved, nor the pagans, approve that anything good should be sent down upon you by your Lord. (2: 195)
[By ‘People of the Book’ the reference is to the Jews and Christians].
- O People of the Book, why do you disbelieve in the revelations of Allah, while you bear witness? (3: 70)
- Say, ‘O People of the Book, why do you disbelieve in the revelations of Allah, while Allah is witness to what you do?’ (3: 98)
- Had the People of the Book believed, it would have been better for them; but most of them are corrupt. (3: 110)
- It is He (Allah) who drove out (from Madinah) those who disbelieved of the People of the Book at the first instance. (59: 2)
- Have you observed those who have adopted hypocrisy, saying to their brothers from among the unbelievers of the People of the Book, ‘If you are exiled, we shall leave along with you? (59: 11)
- Those of the People of the Book who disbelieved, as well as the pagans were not such as to give up (disbelieving) until clear Signs came to them. (98: 1)
And the final word:
- Surely, those who have disbelieved from among the People of the Book as well as the pagans are in Hellfire. They are the worst of creatures. (98: 6)
It should be noted that the word for disbelief used in the above verses in the original Arabic is “kafara,” leaving no doubt about the status of Jews, Christians and others who did not believe in Prophet Muhammad.
The Qur’an also makes it clear that whoever believed in Allah, plus, in all the Prophets, but did not believe in just one, is a disbeliever. Accordingly, Jews became disbelievers when they refused to believe in Jesus Christ. Thus they were disbelievers even before the Qur’an was revealed.
We do not quote Prophetic traditions here which are also equally unequivocal. Muslims are generally aware of the emphatic statements therein about the status of Jews and Christians as Unbelievers.
What then leads the people to believe that Jews and Christians are promised salvation?
Some of these people are simply charitable, sort of kind upon people. They would like to accommodate as many as possible in their boat which they think is sailing towards Paradise. Why not take as many others as possible with you, especially if the boat is not yours and the ride is free?
Apart from other errors, they do themselves a wrong by imagining that their boat is sailing toward Paradise. Islam does not allow for any such wishful thinking. The Qur’an says, “(Affairs will not be settled in the Hereafter) following your wishes or wishes of the People of the Book” (4: 123). That is, neither Muslims nor the People of the Book will enter Paradise simply by desiring it. There are stern rules for entry.
But most Muslims feel quite comfortable that they will enter Paradise. They feel that at best they might face one or two skirmishes with the angels on the Day of Judgment, or a hiccup or two of other nature, but otherwise, things will be alright, and sooner or later they should be at the gates of Paradise, albeit, a little discomforted on the way. This is the wrong they commit to themselves. `Umar ibn al-Khattab is reported to have said, “If one of my feet is in Paradise, I wouldn’t be sure I’ll be able to place the other foot also into it.”
So, having taken for granted that the boat they are in is sailing to Paradise, it is easy for Muslims to ask a few others to hop in. “People of the Book, therefore, are not,” they’d say, “Unbelievers.”
A second reason is that these people find themselves living among the Christians. They want to make friends with them, live with them, and, in some cases be like them. When they read this verse (the first quote above), they immediately jump to the meaning that the People of the Book are believers.
The reader might notice that we have replaced “Jews and Christians” with the words “People of the Book.” This is because observing the character of the Israeli Jews, and of the Zionists outside, the generous people under discussion, do not have the courage to allow Jews into the Boat of Salvation. Even Christians are getting tired of waging wars for the sake of Israel. Therefore, when Muslims, who derive a wrong meaning of the Qur’anic verse above (2: 62) say ‘People of the Book,’ they actually mean Christians. Jews are not welcome on the Boat. (It is another thing that the Jews are too proud of themselves as a Chosen race, and would actually want the entire humanity in the Boat, because they believe the expected Messiah will sink it, leaving the Children of God on dry earth, with the remnants of humankind in the service of the Jews, to toil for them, and to make flow for them rivers of milk and honey. So, exclude them you may, it suits the Jews pretty well).
Another point of interest is that if you happen to discuss the issue with these misguided Muslims, they will not refer to the People of the Book as Mu’mins. No, not even as Muslims. They like to refer to them only as “believers.” It is because they know in their hearts that they are not Muslims. So that, when you ask one of them, “Are the People of the Book Muslims,” they will immediately answer, “Better than Muslims.” That is, they never say they are Muslims, but only to argue you out they say, “Better than Muslims.”
Therefore, if you meet with one of them, and you have trapped him into saying, “People of the Book are better than Muslims,” ask him, “Do you mean they are Mu’mins, since Mu’mins are better than Muslims?” If you were looking for a confused face, you would be looking at one.
This takes us to the next issue. Another reason why some people would like to treat the People of the Book as believers is that they find many Muslims deviated from Islam; and so, of bad behavior, bad morals, and less trustworthy than non-Muslims. At this point we shall not enter into the question of morals and patterns of behavior, but would like to point out that morals and patterns of behavior are not the issues involved. What then is the criterion? This we shall place at the end. At this point, another interesting issue may be discussed.
Those who declare that the People of the Book are believers by referring to the above verse, do not accept the whole verse. Having left out the Jews stealthily, since, if their understanding is right, the Jews must be included, they leave out, in particular, Hindus and Buddhists also. Does not the above verse use the words, “Whoever believed in God, in life after death, and did good deeds?” Now, does the word “whoever” includes anyone who believed in God, in life after death, and did good deeds – or does it not? Aren’t there many Hindus, Buddhists and others who believe in God, in the Hereafter (of their own definitions) and lead a right of righteousness (of their own definition)? In the least, are they not law-abiding citizens of their states? On what basis are they excluded?
The criterion of who exactly is an Unbeliever cannot be set by the Muslims. In the scheme of things, they do not matter. In fact, they themselves will be judged by the criterion that has been set. None ever – no Prophet, not even Muhammad – have any say in a matter involving the Lord of the worlds, and His creation. He has clearly stated in the Final Revelation (4: 150, 151):
“Surely, those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers, and wish to make a division between Allah and His Messengers and say, ‘We shall believe in some and deny others,’ and wish to take between this and that (another) path; such are the true Unbelievers.”
So, belief in Allah and in all His Messengers is the criterion. Accordingly, we see that when an Unbeliever from the People of the Book made an Account Statement skillfully during the time of `Umar, he asked the Governor who had prepared that statement. When the Governor said that it was one of the People of the Book, `Umar said straightaway, “Remove him.” When the Governor added that in addition the man was “honest,” `Umar the genius replied, “Remove him all the same.” And then he quoted a verse of the Qur’an (8: 71), “They have been dishonest with Allah.”
So, that’s the Master Key. Someone might be honest with Muslims; but that will not usher him into Paradise. For being honest with the Muslims, he may seek reward from the Muslims. To enter into Paradise, He has to be honest with the owner of Paradise. Is He one? Does He alone deserve worship, devotion, and obedience, or does He not? What does his inner voice say? What does his external attitude toward the One God, Lord of the universe, say?