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October 7th, 2010

Divine reward for non-Muslims: Is there a contradiction in the Quran?

An objection has been raised that whereas in one or two places the Holy Quran says:

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” — 2:62

but in another verse it says:

“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” — 3:85.

The first verse says that people of other religions will get reward from their Lord, but the second one says that they will be losers in the hereafter.

What 3:85 means is clear from the verse preceding it. Let me first quote only a part of it:

“Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, … and to Him we submit.” — 3:84

If this was all that 3:84 had said, i.e. that belief in Allah and belief in the revelation that came to Muslims is what constitutes Islam, then indeed one could justifiably claim that 3:85 means that whoever is simply a non-Muslim, and does not believe in “that which is revealed to us”, will be a loser in the hereafter.

But 3:84 does not only say “We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us,”, even though these words are quite sufficient to describe and identify Islam. In full it says:

“Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit.”

The words which I omitted earlier, and which I have placed in italics above, point out a particular aspect of Islam. Islam, as such, is adequately covered by the words “We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us”. Therefore what 3:85 means by “whoever seeks a religion other than Islam” are those who go against the particular teaching mentioned here, i.e. they do not accept the teaching that revelation also came to other prophets besides their own prophets, nor the teaching that no distinction should be made between prophets.

Examples of making a distinction are: (1) To believe that Jesus was partly Divine but other prophets were mortals; (2) To regard only Jesus as sinless and other prophets as having committed sins; (3) To believe in the truth of Moses etc. by applying some criteria but to reject the Prophet Muhammad even though he fulfills the same criteria.

The teaching of Islam that revelation from God came to all nations through their prophets establishes the equality of all nations, and belief in all such prophets is the basis of peace and mutual respect between followers of different religions. The notion that revelation from God came only to one’s own nation, because it is the favourite and chosen one of God, leads to concepts of national superiority over others, and hatred and prejudice against people of other religions and nations. Such are the doctrines or religions that will not be accepted by God and lead to their adherents being losers in the end. “Not accepted by God” means they do not lead to human development but debasement.

According to 2:62, by believing in God and the Hereafter and doing good, any person gains. According to 3:85, by being narrow-minded and looking down on other nations as deprived of Divine revelation, while believing one’s own nation to be the chosen one of God, a person loses.

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