Juz 7 of the Qur'an contains the latter 38 verses of Surah al-Maidah and the first 110 verses of Surah al-An’am. In today’s episode, we discuss whether or not non-Muslims can attain salvation as we take a deeper look at verses 82-86 of Surah al- Maidah. It is narrated that these verses shed light upon the story of the Christian king, Najashi, who gave refuge to some of the early Muslims in Abyssinia. Through these verses and others like it, we see that Allah (swt) judges people with absolute justice and according to their circumstances and level of knowledge. This is why some non-Muslims may gain paradise if they have a justified excuse for their ignorance and will be judged based on how much they acted on what they knew. Allah (swt)’s justice compels Him to judge people based on their levels of taqwa and their levels of taqwa depends on what they were capable of.
Innaa Hadha Al Qur'ana Yahdee li-latee hiya aqwamu wo yo-bashir Al mu'mineen Al-lathi ya'malun al-salihat Anna lahum Ajran Kabira (17:9) [Indeed, this Qur'an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward (17:9)].
Juz 7. 'A'udhu billahi min al-shaytan al-rajim. Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. I begin in the name of Allah, Compassionate to all, Merciful to each. As-salamu alaykum, and welcome to the seventh episode in this podcast series titled, "Journeying Our Eyes Through the Qur'an: Exploring 30 Juz in 30 days". Today, InshAllah, we will continue our journey through the pages of the Qur'an as we take a brief look into the seventh Juz of the Qur'an, which contains the latter 38 verses of Surat al Ma'idah, and the first 110 verses of Surat al-An'am, "The Cattle".
In yesterday's episode, we began a discussion on Taqwa and ethical goodness, and that the quality and intention of an action is a part of the action itself, as mentioned in the hadith of Imam Sajjad alayhi assalam that we went through. In another famous tradition that we have all heard, which has been narrated through Sahih chains in both Sunni and Shi'i traditions, from Rasul Allah sallal-lahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, he says, "innama al-a'maalu bi an-niyaat" meaning, "Indeed, actions are according to their intentions."
As we enter the seventh Juz of the Qur'an today, keep this concept in mind as the question of what goodness and Taqwa is becomes a little more complicated. The seventh Juz opens up with a discussion of Christians and their salvation, in the verses 83 to 85 of Surat al-Ma'idah, which we will now read:
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Wa idhaa sami’oo maaa unzila ila ar-Rasooli tara a’yunahum tafeedu min ad-dam’i mimmaa ‘arafoo min al-haqq; yaqooloona Rabbana amanna fa ktubinaa ma’a ash-shaahideen(5:83). Wa ma lanaa laa nu’minu bi Illaahi wa maa ja’ana min al-haqqi wa natma’u aiyudkhilanaa Rabbunaa ma’a al-qawmi as-saaliheen(5:84). Fa athaabahum Allaahu bimaa qaaloo Jannnaatin tajree min tahtiha al-anhaaru khaalideena feehaa; wa dhaalika jazaaa’u ul-muhsineen(5:85).
"When they hear what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes filled with tears because of the truth that they recognize. They say, 'Our Lord, we believe; so write us down among the witnesses" (5:83). "Why should we not believe in Allah and the truth that has come to us, eager as we are that our Lord should admit us among the righteous people" (5:84). "So for what they said, Allah requited them with gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them forever, and that is the reward of the virtuous" (5:85).
These verses are said to have been revealed with regards to Najjashi, the Christian king of Abyssinia, who gave refuge to some of the early Muslimeen. They had migrated there at the behest of Rasul Allah sallal-lahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, in light of their fear for their lives and their property at the hands of the polytheists and Quraysh in Mecca. Some commentators and some hadith, as narrated in Tafsir al-Qummi, contend that after hearing the verses of the Qur'an from the Muslims that had migrated there, Najjashi converted to Islam and concealed his faith.
In fact, it says that he tried to meet Rasul Allah, but died along the way. Regardless of the veracity of this, the discussion today that is relevant for us is whether or not non-Muslims can also achieve salvation and Paradise, as seems to be indicated in the verses that we just read. This mention of their salvation or their rewards is not unique to this surah, or to the verses that we read, and it is something that we see throughout the Qur'an where Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala seemingly promises Heaven and rewards for non-Muslims.
At the same time, however, the Qur'an also establishes truth and the veracity of Rasul Allah and the Qur'an as the final one, true Message. How can both of these be true? To answer this question, we will explore a few angles of it.
First, there is the Aqaidi answer - that Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala has promised Paradise for those who used to live during the times of the previous Prophets, and followed them, as well as people who lived between these Prophets. This is on the condition that they believed in and followed the message of previous Prophets whose Shar'iah had not yet been abrogated. On the other hand, after the advent of Islam, there are also those who may have been oppressed where they lived, misguided, such that they were presented a distorted image of Islam, or maybe who did not know about Islam, and perhaps had an excusable type of ignorance that did not stem from their own deliberate negligence and rejection of the truth. For them, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala says that their affair is in His hands, and that it is very possible He may choose to forgive them. Note the following verses from Surat an-Nisa, verses 98 to 99:
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Illa al-mustad‘afeena min ar-rijaali wa an-nisa’i wa al-wildaani laa yastatee’oona heelatan wa laa yahtadoona sabeela (4:98). Fa ula’ika ‘asal Allahu an ya’fuwa ‘anhum; wa kaana Allaahu ‘Afuwwan Ghafooraa (4:99).
"Except the weak from among men, women, and children who have not in their power the means nor can they find a way to escape" (4:98). "Maybe Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala will excuse them, for Allah is all-excusing, all-forgiving" (4:99).
Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala judges these people according to their God-seeking intentions and good deeds, like giving charity, and really of how much they used to do good according to the proportion of the truth that they knew. This acceptance of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala is out of His Mercy and Compassion. It does not mean that these people reached the truth, but that even though they fell short of it, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala has chosen to reward them out of His Justice and His Mercy, since they acted on what they knew.
When we understand the explanation like this, we can see more easily how there is no contradiction between Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala promising some Truth-seeking non-Muslims Paradise, while at the same time emphasizing the absolute Truth and veracity of the Qur'an as the final message and book of guidance. It does not recognize multiple truths. This is also in accordance with the definition of Taqwa which is provided by Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli in his book "Kiramat dar Qur'an" or "Nobility in the Qur'an", which has been translated into English. Here, he designates Taqwa as having two main components: belief or knowledge, and action.
We can see how this is similar to what we discussed in the previous episode, where we denoted an action to be good when it has both the form as legislated, and the intention to please Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. But this definition that Ayatullah Jawadi gives is slightly more detailed. When somebody comes to know something of the Truth, through rational or experiential means, they now have the responsibility to act on it. When they act according to this knowledge and the truth that they have recognized, this is a certain grade of Taqwa. The more they know, and the more they act according to what they know, the higher levels of Taqwa they will achieve.
This is what it means to be truly God-conscious. When one knows and does not act on it, i.e., they sin or reject the message, this is the antonym of Taqwa, and the equivalent of Kufr, or rejection. In a hadith narrated from Imam Zayn al-Abidin alayhi assalam, who narrates from the Injil, it says, "Do not seek knowledge of what you do not know when you have not yet acted on what you do know, because if knowledge is not acted upon, its possessor will have only advanced in ingratitude (or kufr), and he will only have advanced in his distance from God."
The previous explanation that we gave today of the salvation of other non-Muslims probably makes more sense now, as we see that in Allah's all-encompassing Justice, He judges people based on their levels of Taqwa, and their level of Taqwa will wholly depend on what they know of the truth, and what they were capable of knowing of the truth, and whether or not they acted on this. If there is a Christian who knows something of the truth, and they act according to whatever they know - as is the case mentioned in these verses - they will attain a certain level of felicity and Taqwa out of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala Mercy, even though they have not yet discovered the whole truth, or the entirety of the truth.
This is because they were perceptive, and worked hard on whatever they knew of the truth. They had a level of Taqwa. As a person comes to recognize more and more of the truth, the level of Taqwa they achieve depends on how much they act on it. A few verses later, in Surat al-Ma'idah, more context is given to this concept. It seems that there were some Muslims who were concerned about the fact that they had committed certain sins in the past, like eating forbidden foods - like alcohol - extensively, when they did not know, and it had not been a legislative part of religion. Here Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala says:
Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Laisa ‘ala alladheena aamanoo wa ‘amilu as-salihati junaahun feemaa ta’imooo idhaa ma at-taqaw wa aamanoo wa ‘amilu as-salihati, thumma at-taqaw wa aamanoo, thumma at-taqaw wa ahsanoo; wa Allaahu yuhibbu ul-muhsineen (5:93).
"There will be no sin upon those who have faith and do righteous deeds in regards to what they have eaten in the past, so long as they are Godwary and faithful and do righteous deeds, and are further Godwary and faithful, and are further Godwary and virtuous, and Allah loves the virtuous" (5:93).
In this verse, Taqwa is mentioned several times in a row, and this has attracted the attention of different commentators like Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi in his tafsir, "Tafsire Nemune", where he explains that it is possibly referring to three types of Taqwa; each time the phrase "Taqwa" is repeated possibly denotes a different level of Taqwa. The first phrase mentioned in the verse, "idhaa ma at-taqaw wa aamanoo wa ‘amilu as-salihat" (5:93), which means that "those who are Godwary and believe and do righteous actions" (5:93) perhaps means a group of people who, faith has not necessarily entered their hearts, but they still believe rationally, and they act on what they know and they do good.
There are forms of guidance that Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala has granted to all of us, including our fitrat and aql, so there are some things that we are rationally capable of figuring out without scripture, and then responsible for acting on. This is a basic level of Taqwa which we are all responsible for, and is possibly being alluded to in this part of the verse. The second level mentioned after this, "thumma at-taqaw wa aamanoo" (5:93), he argues that it is possibly a Taqwa that is the result of our actions in the first part, where we rationally accepted something, we acted on it, but now, faith has increased and entered and permeated our hearts. This is when our faith is so strong that actions are almost natural to our heart. The phrase does not mention "‘‘amilu as-salihat"(5:93), as it did in the previous phrase, perhaps because the faith has entered us so much that our actions are a part of it, so it doesn't need to be mentioned separately. And lastly, the verse ends with "thumma at-taqaw wa ahsanoo"(5:93), that they are Godwary and they do good, they are virtuous, "wa Allaahu yuhibbu ul-muhsineen" (5:93), and that Allah loves the ones who do good.
Over here he mentions that these are the ones, the higher level of Taqwa, where they are doing good actions that are not even legislated upon them, like the Mustahabat. When we look at all of these explanations together, we are able to understand the beauty and wisdom of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, His incredible Mercy and Justice, and understand that He gives all humans what they deserve.
What he expects from us is to work and to try as much as we can. Throughout the Qur'an, one of the major messages is to embark on a process of Tahqiq and self-realization, to look at our creation, to reflect on our purpose, and to reflect on calls to guidance, and to act on them. We will end with verse 105 of Surat al-Ma'idah, with a beautiful reminder and call to the faithful:
Bismillah Al-Rahman al-Rahim. Yaaa aiyuha alladheena aamanoo ‘alaikum anfusakum la yadurrukum man dalla idhah tadaitum; ila Allaahi marji’ukum jamee’an fa yunabbi’ukum bimaa kuntum ta’maloon (5:105) [O you who have faith! Take care of your own souls. He who strays cannot hurt you if you are guided. To Allah will be the return of you all, whereat he will inform you concerning what you used to do (5:105)].
Wa Al-Hamdulillah Rabb Al-Alameen wa salla Allahu alaa nabiyyina Muhammadin wa alihi al-tayibeen al-tahireen. Wa assalamu alaykum, wa rahmatullahi, wa baraktu.
Rabbana La tuzigh Qulubana (3:8) [Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate (3:8)]