According to the Judeo-Christian perspective, Islam did not exist until the ministry and preaching of Muhammad in the seventh century CE. Originally portrayed as the anti-Christ by many Christians, the image of Muhammad later began to be portrayed somewhat more favorably among certain elements of the Christian clergy and scholars. However, the Judeo-Christian perspective still perceives that Islam originated with Muhammad, and that Muhammad created Islam by borrowing heavily from both rabbinical Judaism and from Christianity. Concerning the alleged borrowing from Christianity, it is traditionally held that Muhammad most frequently took from the teachings of the Eastern churches and from a variety of apocryphal Christian writings. Thus, from the Judeo-Christian perspective, Islam originated in the seventh century CE as an amalgamation of Judaism and Christianity.
To summarize, the Judeo-Christian perspective posits the following step-wise evolution of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Primitive or proto-Judaism can be traced to the primitive covenant between Allah and Noah. However, Judaism really has its origin with the covenant between Allah and Abraham, a covenant, which was exclusively inherited by Isaac, then by Jacob, and then by the Israelites. The covenant was then reformulated with Moses, and Judaism as a full-blown religion began. Central to the maintenance of Judaism as a distinct religious practice was the temple cult, with its focus on the act of sacrifice at the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem. Thereafter, various Israelites strayed from observance of the covenant, resulting in Allah sending prophets, who reaffirmed the Mosaic covenant, but neither added to nor modified it. This state of affairs continued until the new covenant of Christ, from which Christianity emerged. Almost 600 years later, Muhammad, borrowing heavily from both rabbinical Judaism and from Christianity, created the religion of Islam.
The Islamic Perspective
Like the Judeo-Christian tradition, Islam traces the origin of mankind to Adam. However, unlike any conceptualization within the Judeo-Christian tradition, Islam posits its beginning with Adam. Islam means "submission", i.e. submission to Allah, and a Muslim is "one who submits" to Allah. Thus, the religion of Adam was Islam, as was the religion of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.
The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - that which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him).1
This is not, however, to say that the Islamic religion of Adam was the same in every detail as that of Noah, or of Abraham, or of Moses, or of Jesus, or of Muhammad. In fact, it was not. However, to understand that difference, one has to understand the Islamic concepts of covenant and of progressive revelation.
Covenant and Revelation
As noted above, the Judeo-Christian tradition perceives the concept of covenant to represent a fundamental re-ordering of the cosmos in which the relationship between and Allah is completely redefined, and in which an entirely new concept of religion is introduced. Covenants are thus seen as being few and far between, represented only by: 1) the primitive or proto-covenant with Noah; 2) the defining covenant with Abraham, which was exclusively inherited by Isaac, by Jacob, and then by the Israelites; 3) the revision and elaboration of the Abrahamic covenant with Moses, with inheritance of the covenant limited to Israelites and Jews; and 4) the new covenant with Jesus, which for the first time was open to participation by non-Jews.
In marked contrast, Islam affirms a multiplicity of covenants between Allah and mankind. Every prophet of Allah, most of whose names are not even known to contemporary man2, has had his own covenant, which was inherited by that prophet's people3. The following quotations from the Qur'an serve to illustrate this latter point.
Remember We made the the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).4
Behold! Allah took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give you a book and wisdom; then comes to you a messenger, confirming what is with you; do you believe in him and render him help." Allah said: "Do ye agree, and take this my covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses."5
And remember We took from the prophets their covenant: as (We did) from thee: From Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary: We took from them a solemn covenant.6
Further, a prophet of Allah was sent to every people, not just to the Israelites. There are many passages in the Qur'an referring to the fact that a prophet was sent to every people.7 The following represents a brief sample of those passages.
Before thee We sent (messengers) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility.8
To every people (was sent) a messenger: when their messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.9
For We assuredly sent amongst every people a messenger, (with the command), "Serve Allah, and eschew evil": of the people were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (truth).10
Verily We have sent thee in truth, as a bearer of glad tidings, and as a warner: and there never was a people, without a warner having lived among them (in the past).11
Thus, between the time of Adam and Muhammad, covenants were plentiful, and were non-exclusive. Every person, regardless of ethnic, national, or racial descent, had the potential opportunity to inherit a covenant with Allah, and to enter into a proper, worshipful relationship with Allah.
This concept of a multiplicity of covenants is linked with the Islamic concept of progressive revelation.12 Since each prophet received his own covenant with Allah, the revelation of Allah as to how best to worship Him was progressively revealed over an evolutionary period. Unlike the cosmic re-orderings followed by long periods of revelatory stagnation posited by the Judeo-Christian tradition, Islam affirms a gradual evolution in the relationship between man and Allah and in man's worship of Allah. Prior revelations could and were modified, elaborated, and abrogated.13 In fact, such evolution and progressive revelation occurred not only between prophets, but also within a given prophet's own message and revelation.14 With regard to this, one needs only look to the progressive revelation within the lifetime of Muhammad, which led from no prohibition against alcohol, to prohibition against alcoholic consumption interfering with the performance of mandatory prayers15, to total prohibition of alcohol.16 This concept of progressive revelation is summarized in the following passages from the Qur'an.
None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?17
We did send messengers before thee, and appointed for them wives and children: and it was never the part of a messenger to bring a sign except as Allah permitted (or commanded). For each period is a book (revealed). Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the mother of the book.18
This Qur'an is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the book - wherein there is no doubt - from the Lord of the worlds.19
When We substitute one revelation for another - and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages) - they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not.20
Given the above, it can be seen that Islam began with Adam, gradually evolved though the different covenants and progressive revelations given to the various prophets, and finally culminated in the final revelation given to Prophet Muhammad. In this regard, the contrasts between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic perspectives are dramatic. The Judeo-Christian perspective posits a few stages of religious evolution, each of which is markedly different than the one before it. Metaphorically, one can compare the Judeo-Christian perspective to the drastic revolutions involved in the developmental stages of the caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly. Each stage is fundamentally different in appearance than the stage before it. In contrast, the metaphor for the Islamic perspective would be that of the budding and opening of a flower, in which the message of Adam represents the first budding21, and in which the final message of Muhammad represents the flower in full bloom.22 However, even within that first bud of Adam's message, there were two fundamental truths, which have never been abrogated of modified, and which continued to be the centerpiece of the message of every later prophet: 1) there is no god but Allah, Who has no partners, and Allah is to be worshiped and served23; and 2) avoid evil and wickedness, for there will be a day of final judgement.24
Excerpted from "The Cross & The Crescent" by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks.
1. Qur'an 42:13
2. Qur'an 40:78
3. Qur'an 2:40,63,83,92-93,125; 3:81; 4:153-155; 5:12-14,70; 20:80-83,115; 33:7; 43:46-49.
4. Qur'an 2:125.
5. Qur'an 3:81.
6. Qur'an 33:7.
7. Qur'an 6:42,130-131;10:47,74; 16:36,63,84,89, 17:71; 35:24.
8. Qur'an 6:42.
9. Qur'an 10:47.
10. Qur'an 16:36.
11. Qur'an 35:24.
12. Qur'an 2:106; 3:2-3,23,50,93; 4:44,160; 5:3,15,6:145-146, 10:37; 13:38-39; 16:101; 17:106; 25:32; 26:5; 76:23.
13. Qur'an 2:106; 6:145-146; 13:38-39; 16:101.
14. Qur'an 17:106; 25:32; 76:23.
15. Qur'an 4:43.
16. Qur'an 5:90-91.
17. Qur'an 2:106.
18. Qur'an 13:38-39.
19. Qur'an 10:37.
20. Qur'an 16:101.
21. Qur'an 2:37.
22. Qur'an 5:3.
23. Qur'an 21:35
24. Qur'an 4:164-165; 16:36.
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