One Major problem with people subscribing to Abrahamic religion is that they tend to condemn the people from other religion to Hell. Sometimes such condemnation happens from within religion for people belonging to different sects, and in some rare cases, people may get condemned even for sharing different views.
In Islam, you have an entire science of Takfeer, where a “legitimate” scholar can declare another scholar or a layman an Apostate because his views are so different that he can no longer be called a Muslim.
There is a joke about this concept which actually is a rip off of a Christian Joke, the joke is as follows
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Muslim or a non-Muslim?” He said, “A Muslim.” I said, “Me, too! Sunni or Shia?” He said, “Sunni.” I said, “Me, too! Deobandi or Barelvi?” He said, “Barelvi.” I said, “Me, too! Tanzeehi or Takfeeri?” He said, “Tanzeehi” I said, “Me, too! Tanzeehi Azmati or Tanzeehi Farhati?”
He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati.” I said, “Me, too! Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Uloom Ajmer or Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat?” He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat.” I said, “Die, Kafir!” And I pushed him over.
I just find it amazing how one can simply replace the words like Sunni and Shia with Protestant and Catholic and Kafir with Heretic and the joke fits all the Abrahamic religion across.
This highlights a deeply ingrained mentality very common among the subscribers of Organized Religion. In Qur’anic language this can be called as sect worshipping, where one has such high inclination to the sect he comes from that he arrogantly thinks that only he is right, and everyone else is doomed. Most of the time, this thinking is simply based on prejudice and not on any extended intellectual speculation.
If you question Muslim Scholars they will come up with various excuses to defend this view. Such as
This is only a theological tenant and doesn’t have any impact in practical life. I think this isn’t necessarily true. A person who thinks that people who don’t belong to his sect or religion are doomed to hell will have a very arrogant outlook towards humanity, not just that he will develop an intellectual wall thinking that others are beneath him, and hence isolate himself from listening to alternate understanding. Quoting Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to my mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect.
Then there is a popular verse which is quoted to support such monopoly saying that the only religion acceptable to God is Islam, Chapter 3 Verse 19
Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam…
What is interesting about this verse is the understanding of Islam. Almost all the scholars–including those who are committed to this view–will agree that Muhammad was the BEST teacher of Islam. His basic job was to communicate the message of God. There is no way that he left any stone unturned in performing his basic responsibility. Extending this, they will also agree that we are not like Muhammad, as in we can’t communicate the message the same way, at the same level, with the same impact, he did. Not even close. Now with this in mind, think about our concept of plurality. Plurality is mandated by the society when there is no way to reach the absolute truth with 100% certainty. This is the very reason why our society won’t accept nor would need any plurality in basics of mathematics or physics or biology or any science. This is because we have a method of reaching absolute truth. Now, if someone comes up and say 2+2=5, we can’t accept it in the name of plurality. That will be insane.
The basic idea behind sending a messenger is the same. To prove the absolute truth with 100% certainty. Now, you may agree or disagree with the possibility of it, but that’s beside the point. The verse is simply stating the implication of this event. That is the message is proved, the job of the messenger is done, now, no other religion is acceptable. You will either accept the truth or if you have any doubts get it cleared and then accept it.
This luxury ends with the end of the messenger. Because as soon as He is gone, we have the same uncertainty. And, no one disagrees with this too, as Islam understood during the time of Muhammad, was drastically different than how it’s understood now. Sects like Shia, Sunni, Debonad, Salfi, Barelvi, Sufi didn’t exist then, and no one knew anything about it. Things which pass as Islam now so easily, many scholars will argue, didn’t even exist then.
So, to quote the above verse as free from the constraints of time and space would not just be nonsensical but also would be a complete downplay of a very critical verse of Qur’an, which declares the end of Prophecy with Muhammad, hence implying the emergence of Plurality, in Chapter 33 Verse 40
Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah , of all things, Knowing.
Apart from this, there is an understanding that Islam criticizes other religion’s beliefs and practices–mainly Judaism, Christianity, and Polytheism–hence implying that it supports Monopoly in Salvation. The words used by Qur’an to describe people of these religions is Kafir–meaning disbeliever–and hence they all are doomed to hell. Example, in Chapter 4 Verse 89
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies
This again is an improper understanding of the verse, which emerges because of a lack of in-depth study of Qur’an. If you see things which are being criticized in Qur’an in other religion they can be categorized into two
- Polytheism which has a negative impact on the society. The main thesis of Qur’an is that people use the garb of Polytheism to run away from being accountable for their bad deeds. That is, someone may cheat at his business but then offer 1 gallon of Milk to a mini-God of Business and hope that this mini-God will come to his aid on the Day of Judgement and will help him in Salvation. It’s this type of Polytheism which Qur’an is critiquing and calling unacceptable. This is also the reason why it insists so heavily on Tawheed–monotheism–implying the same point that there won’t be any aid on the Day of Accountability and everyone will be Judged purely on their merit.
- The next form of Criticism is against Organized Religion. This was because of the same reason which Muslim are falling into now. That they claimed a monopoly in Salvation. There are Multiple Verses where God is clearly stating that a particular association to religion is not going to guarantee salvation but true humility and empathy, example, Chapter 2 Verse 62. The two main Organized Religions during the time of Muhammad were Judaism and Christianity, hence Qur’an targets both.
Once we understand the above two points and give the required weight to the presence of a messenger then it’s very clear that the Kafir used for people from other religions is very very specific and doesn’t have a generalized time eternal stand.
Finally, there is this understanding that this is applicable to only those who truly understand Islam and knowingly reject it. This is by far the most idiotic point. What do people mean by True Islam? For some it’s bombarding people mercilessly, is that True Islam? Of course Not! and Who decides what True Islam is? The majority of Muslims don’t even speak the language of Qur’an, so they rely upon the interpretation of other Muslims, so how come one can be sure that his understanding is Ture? Let’s say we somehow figured what True Islam is, how are we even going to conclude that someone rejected it KNOWINGLY. Like how is it even possible? There is no way to convincingly find this out.
So, going back to our main question, is there a Monopoly in Salvation. ABSOLUTELY NOT. If a God exists, and He is Just, then this simply can’t be the case. How on earth can one call a God Just and then talk about a theory where God is basically sitting on a Throne, checking everyone’s passport to see their religion and then deciding if one ends up in Heaven of Hell. This is simply illogical, insane and unIslamic. The Salvation has to be decided based on one’s conduct and one’s honesty to his belief. This is very intuitive and also parallel with the teaching of Islam. As adequately summarized in the following verse, Chapter 2 Verse 62
Indeed, those who believed [now] and [before them] those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans – those [among them] who [truly] believed in Allah and the Last Day[honesty to his belief] and did righteousness [conduct] – will have their reward with their Lord..
Going back to our understanding of the Purpose of Religion. It’s very important to remember that if Religion is not helping us enhance our character and keep our intellecutual integrity pure then it’s being worthless. This entire perspective of deciding others eternal fate is a way of Playing God, something which we aren’t capable of and there is simply no point of trying. We have to understand that we live in the time that the only way forward is a plurality. One can disagree with the other view, one can voice their disagreement as well, but one shouldn’t make judgments. This is the golden rule we have to live with.