Characteristics of the true Religion
1. External characteristics : the Religion’s name
In identifying the one true religion meant for all humanity the world over, at all times, it would be required that its name not be affiliated with any particular person, group or location. Thus, Christianity named after Christ, Buddhism after Buddha, Judaism after the tribe of Judah, and Hinduism (from the Indus valley) are all related either to a person, a group or a specific location and therefore cannot be universal religions. It is impossible for Christianity to be the religion that was prescribed by God from the time of Adam, as it is based on Christ’s existence at the end of a line of Jewish prophets. Likewise, Buddhism, an offshoot of Hinduism, only came into existence with the person of Buddha who lived in India some time before Christ.
Islam, on the other hand, means “submission.” It is a principle addressing the essence of worship – complete submission to the will of God. It is appropriate as the foundation of God`s religion from the time of Adam until
the end of this world. Submission to God is the essence of the message brought by all of His prophets, and it was the name of their religion. It does not matter whether a person uses Hebrew or any other language to express the concept of submission. The name “Islam” is an Arabic term used by the final prophet, Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) because he delivered God’s final message to the people of Arabia. So the claim of Islam, first and foremost, is that its name is suitable as a name for the true religion of God. It is not personal, which is why Muslims reject being called “Mohammedans.” It is neither tribal, group related nor location specific.
Furthermore, the central teaching of Islam is reflected in the name itself. Its central principle is the essence of worship that has been consistent among all the prophets of God – complete submission and worship of the one and only true God.
This is why only Islam can logically claim to have been the religion of Adam and Eve and all the prophets of God.
2. Scriptural basis for its name
Logically, the name of the true religion of God should be found in the scripture of the religion itself. If one looks at the Christian scriptures, for example, one will not find Jesus stating to his followers, «You are Christians.» The only such reference is in Paul’s writings to the «followers of Christ» in Antioch. It was some time after Jesus’ departure that Christians adopted the name. Similarly, one will not find in the Jewish scriptures, neither the Torah nor the Psalms, any mention of God saying, «Your religion is Judaism.» Nor is there any proof that Buddha said to his followers that their religion is Buddhism. Since scriptures are supposed to be from God, it is reasonable to assume that the name of the religion would be contained in the scripture itself. When it is not, there is a strong implication that humans invented it.
In contrast, God clearly announces the name «Islam» in the Qur’an:
“This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.” (Quran 5:3)
Furthermore, God reiterates that point by proclaiming its validity to the exclusion of all others:
“And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted from him.” (Qur’an 3:85)
This verse clearly articulates the fact that Islam is the true religion. Since Islam is an Arabic term, another word with the same meaning of submission to God’s will should have been present in earlier scriptures. In the languages spoken at the times of each of the prophets from Adam on, equivalent terms for submission would most likely have been used as the name of the religion. The concept of submission can actually be found in the writings of the New and Old Testaments where the prophets, including Jesus, spoke about doing the “will of God.” For example, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus is quoted as saying:
“None of those who call me ‘Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
However, the name meaning «submission» or «Islam» in Hebrew and other languages of revelation was later replaced by tribal names like “Judaism” or personal names like “Christianity.”
3. Internal characteristics : the central message
Since there is only one true God, it is obvious that all of creation owe their existence to Him alone and that the needs of all creatures are ultimately fulfilled by Him alone. Therefore, seeking help from others besides Him is futile, as He is in control of everything that exists. The true religion of God must have as its central message and confirm that only He should be worshipped. The religion that claims to be the one true religion should instruct human beings to worship God alone and not to worship anything of His creation, as everything other than God is part and parcel of His creation. No other human being, animal, plant or object deserves to be worshipped, as none of them are able to help others on their own.
Ultimately, nothing can benefit the creation without the permission of God, its creator. So the essence of the relationship between human beings and God should be one based upon worship of Him alone. It is only Islam that commands people to worship God alone in both theory and practice. Only in Islam is the unique oneness of God preserved in both scripture and religious rites.
On the other hand, Christianity advocates the worship of God alone only in theory. For example, in the Gospel according to Luke 4:8, it is recorded that the Devil asked Jesus to worship him, promising him the authority and glory of all of the kingdoms of this world, “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Therefore, the essence of Jesus message is that God alone deserves to be worshipped and that the worship of anyone or anything besides Him or along with Him is false.
However, that simple, clear divine message became lost with the transformation of Jesus’ unitarian teachings into a trinitarian philosophy in Greece and Rome. Jesus was elevated to the status of “God, the Son” who shared the Godhead with “God, the Father” and “God, the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Jesus was declared “God Incarnate.”
Idols were made to symbolize his claimed crucifixion, and he became the most popular object of worship among the mass of Christians down through the ages.
Likewise in Hinduism, according to the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, there is only one formless God, Brahman, who is “without a second.” However, Brahman manifests itself as “Brahma” (generator), “Vishnu” (organizer) and “Shiva” (destroyer), and from Vishnu comes the “Avatars” (Brahman’s incarnations in every age), all of whom Hindus worship as God in anything and everything through countless idols.
4. Comprehensiveness of worship
In Islam the concept of worship entails doing all that God has commanded and not merely glorifying Him and calling on Him for human needs. The first priority consists of mandatory obligations, the second priority comprises voluntary acts done for God’s pleasure, and lastly, refraining from things that God has prohibited. So, for example, giving charity, fasting, making Hajj (pilgrimage), helping the less fortunate, and visiting the sick are all considered acts of worship. As pointed out previously, the central message of Islam is to worship God alone.
So all these acts of worship are directed toward God, seeking His acceptance.
5. Purity of teachings
Islam has retained its original message since the beginning of time. Islam teaches that the religion of all the one hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad (may God’s peace be upon them all), was one and the same, Islam: to worship only God, to reject any partners associated with Him and to submit oneself unconditionally to Him.
God says in the Quran:
“I have sent to every nation a messenger, [saying], ‘Worship God and avoid [the worship of] false gods.’” (Qur’an 16:36)
Islam further teaches that human beings who invite others to worship them, who claim that they are God, or that they have God within themselves have deceived their followers, misguided them and diverted them from the true religion of God. The essence of worship in Islam can be found in Verse 5 of the first chapter of the Qur’an, known as al-Faatihah, which means “the opening,”: “It is You [alone] we worship and You [alone] we ask for help.”
Complete submission and obedience to God is what the first human beings, Adam and Eve, were commanded.
They were put in a garden and instructed to eat from any tree they wished, except for one solitary tree. In all eras of human existence people have been directed by the prophets to do certain beneficial acts and to refrain from a few harmful ones. In all cases, for each and every forbidden thing there are many other permissible things similar in form. For example, pork is forbidden to consume and interest prohibited to give or receive, but there are countless other animals of the land, sea and air that are permissible to consume, and numerous other business transactions which may be conducted.
However, many people tend to become obsessed with prohibited things such as drinking alcohol and committing fornication, mistakenly claiming that abandoning these practices will make life very difficult. In reality, these prohibitions have been legislated in order to protect human beings. While there is good in all that God creates, the harm in some elements of creation outweighs the benefit, and for that reason they are forbidden by God.
6. Consistency of teachings
The true religion of God should be consistent in its teachings. Its fundamental tenets should not change it with time. For example, the early followers of Christ were indistinguishable from the Jews of their time in the way they married, prayed, dressed, ate and spoke. They were polygamous, they prayed prostrating on the ground, their women wore headcovers, they did not eat pork, they greeted each other saying, “Peace be upon you,” and homosexuality was considered a major sin punishable by death. Today, Christians abhor polygamy, they pray kneeling, they don’t wear headcovers (with the exception of nuns and at marriages or funerals), they eat pork and they greet each other by saying, “Hi.” Since the 1970s, the majority of Protestant Christians have accepted homosexuality to the point that gay priests are now commonplace. Likewise, Hindus of the past ate meat, had their women burned on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands (sati or suttee), and enjoyed temple prostitutes (devadasis). Now most devout Hindus are vegetarian, suttee was outlawed by the British Authority’s Hindu Reformers in the 19th century, and in the 20th century devadasis were abolished.
In contrast, the teachings and practices of Islam have remained unchanged from the time of its final revelation until today. Polygamy is still legitimate, Muslims continue to prostrate in prayer, their women cover themselves, pork is prohibited, they greet one other with “peace be upon you,” and homosexuality remains a major sin. More importantly, they continue to worship only one unique God, while Christians who from Christ’s time did the same became labeled as heretics. It was in the fourth century when a triune god replaced the unitarian God of Jesus and all the prophets before him. Similarly, though the early scriptures of Hinduism prohibited idolatry, Hindus today have millions of gods whom they worship in the form of idols.
7. Clear definition of the purpose of Life
The reason for the creation of human beings should be clearly defined within the true religion of God. It should be spelled out in no uncertain terms in the very scriptures of the religion. However, if Hindus are asked about the purpose of human existence as taught in their religion, most either admit ignorance or state a variety of philosophical explanations given by modern gurus with no clear scriptural references. The same can be said for Christians who have no unequivocal statements in the scriptures of the Old or New Testaments identifying the purpose of life. On the other hand, in the unchanged scripture of Islam, the purpose of creation is stated by God in no uncertain terms:
“I only created the jinn and humankind to worship Me.” (Qur’an, 51:56)
The purpose of life is to worship God, which should logically be the central tenet of any religion, and especially of the true religion. In actual fact, this is the case only in Islam.
8. Access to salvation
Another essential characteristic of the true religion is that it should contain in its teachings equality concerning access to salvation. Deliverance from sin should require no intermediaries because only God alone can ultimately forgive human sins. God knew before creating Adam and Eve that they would disobey Him and sin by eating from the forbidden tree, so He taught them how to repent from sin. Consequently, when they sinned, they repented and He forgave them. To not have taught them how to repent from sin would have been unfair, and to cause their sin to be inherited by all subsequent generations until the time of Jesus would have been even more unfair. It is thus logical to assume that God, who is absolutely fair, taught them how to repent. In fact, this historic event is described in the Qur’an. Furthermore, every human being is responsible only for his or her own sins and not for those of parents or children. No one can carry the sins of others, nor can others carry their sins. Such are the teachings found in the Qur’an:
“No bearer of sins can carry the burden of another.” (Qur’an 53:38)
Rather, every individual should turn in repentance directly to God, and He, in turn, has promised to forgive all sins.
God says in the Quran:
“Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of God. Indeed, God forgives all sins [of those who repent].’” (Qur’an 39:53)
Since the purpose of creation is to worship God, and this is the central pillar of the true religion, the greatest sin a human being can commit is neither murder nor theft (although both are major offenses against humanity).
The worst possible sin a person can commit is an offense against the Creator of the universe – association of equals with Him. If a person lives his life associating equals with God, whether directly or indirectly, and dies in that state, all of his or her good deeds will be invalidated by this blasphemy. God attests to this in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, Allah does not forgive the association [of others] with Him.” (Qur’an 4:48 and 4:116)
By uttering the testimony of faith and entering the fold of Islam, God will forgive all of one’s past sins, including even the sin of directing acts of worship to other than Him.
If this oath is taken sincerely with full knowledge of its meanings and implications and the commitment to live in accordance with it, then that person has accepted the key to Paradise.
9. Universal Religious access to salvation
For any religion to be considered the true religion, it must have in its teachings equal access to salvation for all human beings everywhere and from every era, regardless of whether or not they had heard its message. Humans have no say regarding the circumstances in which they were born and therefore cannot be held responsible for not having had access to the true religion.
Those who never heard the divine message from Moses or Jesus, nor from Buddha or Confucius,for example, have not had access to their teachings. Consequently, salvation has been restricted to their immediate followers.
On the other hand, Islam teaches that from the beginning of humankind until the end of time, those who have submitted sincerely and wholeheartedly to God without associating anything in worship with Him will be rewarded in the Hereafter. God says in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, those who believe [in Islam] and those who were among the Jews, Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] who believed in God and the Last Day and were righteous will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Qur’an 2:62)
According to Islam, those who sincerely followed Moses, those who followed Jesus and those who followed any of the prophets sent by God to various nations throughout human history are all considered Muslims because they surrendered themselves completely to the one and only true God and worshipped Him alone.
All prophets who conveyed the true message from God were sent to be believed and followed. Anyone who rejected their message, whether they rejected Moses, Jesus or any other of the true prophets who were sent to the world before them, – to Africa, India, South America, the Philippines or elsewhere, will have no salvation in the life to come. Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) mentioned that there were 124,000 prophets sent throughout the world at various times. Each and every one of them came with the same message: “No deity is worthy of worship except the one true God.”
According to the teachings of Islam, all human beings received this message before their physical existence in this world. When God first created humankind, He gathered together all the souls of Adam’s descendants and informed them of their obligation to worship Him, and all the souls bore witness to that obligation. This testimony is imprinted on the soul of every human and forms the basis of the natural inclination shared by all towards knowing and worshipping God. When faced with a calamity, even the atheist, who openly professes his disbelief in God, will usually call on God for help. As He confirms in the Qur’an:
“And [mention] when your Lord took from the loins of the children of Adam their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They replied, ‘Yes, we have testified.’ This was so you could not say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Indeed, we were unaware of this.’” (Quran 7:172)
This occurred in the spirit world prior to human existence in the physical world. Once a person enters adulthood, he or she becomes responsible for acknowledging the message of the true religion whenever exposed to it and responding to it by submitting himself or herself fully to God. However, there may be some people who have never heard and will never hear the true message of Islam during their lifetime. Perhaps it is because they are located in remote areas outside the range of the message; or perhaps they are unable to properly understand the message due to a mental condition or that the information they receive is so distorted that the truth is not recognizable.
According to statements of Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him), those people will be tested on the Day of Resurrection and Judgment. They will be resurrected at a mature age and with their faculties fully functioning. Then God will take a covenant from them that they would obey Him, and from a wall of fire before them, a messenger will emerge who will explain to them God’s message, His unique oneness and that He alone is to be worshipped. The messenger will instruct them all to enter the fire from which he came. Those who obey and enter it will find on the other side gardens of Paradise, and their destiny will be Paradise. But those who refuse to enter the fire will be led to the Hellfire.
They are the ones who would have refused to accept the message had it reached them during their worldly lives.
It is also an indication that those who would obey God at that time would obey His messenger in the present life as well. Thus, no one will pass out of this world and come before God for judgment without the message having been relayed to him or her. As God said in the Qur’an:
“I will never punish people until a messenger is sent to them.” (Qur’an 17:15)
All human beings were inspired with the message of Islam prior to conception so that they would have a natural inclination to worship God. Further, many people are exposed to and shown the truth in this life and given an opportunity to accept it. They are given a choice about the matter, so no and one can truly blame their parents or grandparents for their misguidance because freedom of choice is universal. Additionally, God gives humankind signs throughout their lives which will cause them to search for the true religion if they are honest. These signs are all around and inside each and every one of them, as God stated in the Qur’an:
“I will show them My signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth.” (Qur’an 41:53)
10. Preservation of scripture
For any religion to be a successful candidate for the true religion, it should have at its foundation a fully preserved unadulterated scripture that contains the true words of God. This scripture must have remained pure and unaltered since its initial revelation until the present time. It was not necessary to preserve the earlier divine scriptures because God continued to send other prophets with updated scriptures after the earlier ones. However,
when God chose to send His final messenger and last of the prophets, the scriptural message he brought had to be perfectly preserved because no other prophets were to come after him. Out of all the ancient world religions, Islam is the only religion whose scripture, the Qur’an, can be confirmed as unchanged. The scriptures of other religions have not been preserved in their original form. Leading scholars from among the various religions readily acknowledge the fact that their scriptures have been altered and distorted with the passage of time. They also admit that their scriptures were written long after the death of their founders and that the exact words of those founders are not known. In most cases, the scribes or authors of the existing scriptures are unidentified.
So it is only in the final message of Islam contained in the Qur’an that human beings have a scripture divinely preserved as was no other text before it. It is a text that will undoubtedly remain unchanged until the last day of this world, and this is stated within it. The Qur’an is preserved not only in a single written text but also has been memorized and stored in the minds and hearts of countless thousands of Muslims down through the ages.
Over a hundred thousand Muslims living around the world today have memorized the entire Qur’an from beginning to end. Since the time of Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him and upon all the true prophets of God), millions throughout the centuries have committed the whole Qur’an to memory.
11. The final proof: The qur’anic miracle
The final characteristic of the true religion is that the prophet who conveyed it would have to leave behind a miracle accessible to humankind until the end of this world. Only in Islam is that eternal miracle evident.
The scripture itself contains scientific knowledge from a future era. Modern scientists have identified within some of the Qur’an’s verses a number of recently discovered scientific facts which could not possibly have been known to Muhammad 1,400 years ago. For example, they were astonished to find in the Qur’an a precise description of the embryo in the womb at a stage when the embryo is virtually invisible to the naked eye. A microscope, first invented one thousand years after the revelation of the Qur’an, is required to see the embryo at the stages described. God says in the Qur’an:
“And certainly I created man from an extract of clay. Then I placed him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging [i.e., in the womb]. Then I made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and I made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and I made bones from the lump, and I covered the bones with flesh; then I developed him into another creation. So blessed is God, the best of creators.” (Qur’an, 23:12-14)
Dr. Keith Moore, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of anatomy and embryology, wrote the most commonly used embryology textbook in universities around the world. In it he stated that no one knew much about the development of the human embryo until the emergence of the microscope, at around the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Dr. Moore was asked to attend a conference and review the Qur’anic verses which pertained to embryology. After reading it, he affirmed, “It has been a great pleasure for me to help clarify statements in the Qur’an about human development. It is clear to me that these statements must have come to Muhammad from God because almost all of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later. This proves to me that Muhammad must have been a messenger of God.”
When asked whether he believed the Qur’an was the Word of God, he replied, “I find no difficulty in accepting this.”
The Qur’an contains many other scientific miracles pertaining to natural elements such as mountains, seas and clouds that could not have possibly been known centuries ago, except by Almighty God. Though it contains an abundance of scientific knowledge, the Qur’an is not primarily a book of science; its fundamental purpose is to convey God’s communication to humankind.
It addresses every human need and contains the cure for all spiritual and psychological ailments of the hearts and minds. Therefore, every human being owes it to himself to read this divinely revealed book of true guidance.
Dr. A. A. Bilal Philips