The Quran states that Allah accepts the righteous deeds of a believer:
And whosoever does deeds of righteousness, being a believer, no unthankfulness shall befall his endeavour; We Ourselves write it down for him. S. 21:94 Arberry
The Quran places Jews and Christians within this category:
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. S. 2:62
Surely, those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah, in His Messenger Muhammad SAW and all that was revealed to him from Allah), those who are the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, - whosoever believed in Allah and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. S. 5:69
These passages seem to be pretty clear-cut: Jews and Christians are not required to become Muslims in order to be saved. They simply must believe that God exists, that there is a Day in which he will resurrect and judge mankind (i.e. "the Last Day"), and do what is right.
Yet the foregoing expressly contradicts other statements that say that Islam is the only acceptable religion and that even speak out against embracing the Jewish and Christian faiths!
And they say, "None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian." These are their own desires. Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him), "Produce your proof if you are truthful." Yes, but whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah's Religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin (good-doer i.e. performs good deeds totally for Allah's sake only without any show off or to gain praise or fame, etc., and in accordance with the Sunnah of Allah's Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him) then his reward is with his Lord (Allah), on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. [See Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol.1, Page 154]. The Jews said that the Christians follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); and the Christians said that the Jews follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); though they both recite the Scripture. Like unto their word, said (the pagans) who know not. Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection about that wherein they have been differing. S. 2:111-113
Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam. Those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) did not differ except, out of mutual jealousy, after knowledge had come to them. And whoever disbelieves in the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah, then surely, Allah is Swift in calling to account. S. 3:19
Ibrahim (Abraham) was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a true Muslim Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism - to worship none but Allah Alone) and he was not of Al-Mushrikun (See V.2:105). S. 3:67
Do they seek other than the religion of Allah (the true Islamic Monotheism worshipping none but Allah Alone), while to Him submitted all creatures in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly. And to Him shall they all be returned. Say (O Muhammad SAW): "We believe in Allah and in what has been sent down to us, and what was sent down to Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma'il (Ishmael), Ishaque (Isaac), Ya'qub (Jacob) and Al-Asbat [the twelve sons of Ya'qub (Jacob)] and what was given to Musa (Moses), 'Iesa (Jesus) and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one another among them and to Him (Allah) we have submitted (in Islam)." And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers. S. 3:83-85
This day, those who disbelieved have given up all hope of your religion, so fear them not, but fear Me. This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion S. 5:3
Furthermore, the Quran says that Jews and Christians are condemned for believing in the Deity of Gods messengers such as Jesus and Ezra:
Surely, they have disbelieved who say: "Allah is the Messiah ['Iesa (Jesus)], son of Maryam (Mary)." But the Messiah ['Iesa (Jesus)] said: "O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers) there are no helpers. Surely, disbelievers are those who said: "Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity)." But there is no ilah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilah (God -Allah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them. S. 5:72-73
And the Jews say: 'Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouths. They imitate the saying of the disbelievers of old. Allah's Curse be on them, how they are deluded away from the truth! S. 9:30
In light of the foregoing, how can the Quran promise Jews and Christians a reward from their Lord for believing in him and doing good when they are not Muslims and hold to the divinity of specific prophets?
In order to avoid the problem some Muslims are inclined to understand the word Islam not as the religion itself but as a reference to submission, which is its the literal meaning. In this sense anyone submitting to God would be a Muslim whose path is essentially Islam even if they happen to label themselves as Jews or Christians.
The main problem with this assertion is that this is not how the Quran defines Islam, simply in a generic sense meaning submission, but as a distinct religion from both Judaism and Christianity as Q. 2:111 and 3:67 clearly show. It is even specifically identified as a religion in both Q. 3:19 and 83-85.
In fact, the Quran claims that the name Muslim was given to prophets long before Muhammad:
And strive hard in Allah's Cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity and with all your efforts that His Name should be superior). He has chosen you (to convey His Message of Islamic Monotheism to mankind by inviting them to His religion, Islam), and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship, it is the religion of your father Ibrahim (Abraham) (Islamic Monotheism). It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Qur'an), that the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind! So perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), give Zakat and hold fast to Allah [i.e. have confidence in Allah, and depend upon Him in all your affairs] He is your Maula (Patron, Lord, etc.), what an Excellent Maula (Patron, Lord, etc.) and what an Excellent Helper! S. 22:78
Here is how some of the classical Muslim commentators exegeted this text:
<(He has named you Muslims both before and in this (Qur'an),>
Imam `Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak said, narrating from Ibn Jurayj, from `Ata', from Ibn `Abbas: concerning Allah's saying,
<He has named you Muslims before>
"This refers to Allah, may He be glorified." This was also the view of Mujahid, `Ata', Ad-Dahhak, As-Suddi, Muqatil bin Hayyan and Qatadah. Mujahid said, "Allah named you Muslims before, in the PREVIOUS BOOKS and in Adh-Dhikr,
<and in this> means, the Qur'an." This was also the view of others, because Allah says
<He has chosen you, and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship>
Then He urged them to follow the Message which His Messenger brought, by reminding them that this was the religion of their father Ibrahim. Then He mentioned His blessings to this Ummah, whereby He mentioned them and praised them long ago in the Books of the Prophets which were recited to the rabbis and monks. Allah says:
<He has named you Muslims both before> meaning, before the Qur'an,
<and in this.> Under the explanation of this Ayah, An-Nasa'i recorded from Al-Harith Al-Ash`ari from the Messenger of Allah, who said
((Whoever adopts the call of Jahiliyyah, will be one of those who will crawl on their knees in Hell.))
A man said, "O Messenger of Allah, even if he fasts and performs Salah?" He said
((Yes, even if he fasts and performs Salah. So adopt the call of Allah whereby He called you Muslims and believers and servants of Allah.)) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) (Surat Al-Isra, Verse 39 To the end of Surat Al-Muminun), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Distributors & Publishers, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: July 2000], Volume 6, pp. 625-626; bold and capital emphasis mine)
(And strive for Allah with the endeavour which is His right) and fulfil for Allah that which is His right. (He hath chosen you) for His religion (and hath not laid upon you in religion) in the matter of religion (any hardship) He says: whoever cannot pray standing, let him pray sitting; and whoever cannot pray sitting, let him pray lying down, just by making gestures; (the faith of your father Abraham) follow the religion of your father Abraham. (He hath named you) Allah named you (Muslims of old time) before this Quran, in the Scriptures of past prophets (and in this (Scripture)) i.e. the Quran, (that the messenger) Muhammad (pbuh) (may be a witness against you) against the disbelievers and in favour of the believers, (and that ye may be witnesses against mankind) in favour of the prophets. (So establish worship) perform the five daily prayers, by perfecting their ablutions, bowing, prostration and that which is prescribed in their appointed times, (pay the poor-due) from your wealth, (and hold fast to Allah) and hold fast to Allahs religion and Scripture. (He is your Protecting Friend. A blessed Patron) Protector (and a blessed Helper) Who will defend you! (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn Abbâs; source; bold emphasis ours)
Thus, the Quran believes that even before Muhammads time the prophets and believers were identified with the label Muslim! In other words, their religion wasnt Jewish or Christian but Islam and that is why they were named Muslims. This also explains why Q. 3:67 identifies Abraham as a Muslim and shows that the Quran does not define the word Islam merely in a generic sense so that anyone submitting to God is in reality a Muslim irrespective of whether such a person happens to call him/herself a Jew, Christian, Hindu etc. For more on this point we recommend the following article: http://answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/muslims_before.htm
Some may also argue that the Quran is referring only to those Jews and Christians who affirm absolute monotheism, or the Islamic concept of Divine unity, not to those who embrace the divinity of prophets such as Jesus. The problem with this assertion is that these texts do not make such a qualification, i.e. that only those Jews and Christians who believe in Islamic Tauhid will receive a reward from their Lord. Besides, it is a matter of historical record that both Jews and orthodox Christians adhere to the unity of God, despite the fact of Muslims being unsatisfied with the monotheism of such groups and their criticisms against doctrines such as the Christian Trinity.
Additionally, the Quran warns against accepting only certain messengers and books of God, while rejecting some others:
After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes, assist (their enemies) against them, in sin and transgression. And if they come to you as captives, you ransom them, although their expulsion was forbidden to you. Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest? Then what is the recompense of those who do so among you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment. And Allah is not unaware of what you do. S. 2:85
Verily, those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers and wish to make distinction between Allah and His Messengers (by believing in Allah and disbelieving in His Messengers) saying, "We believe in some but reject others," and wish to adopt a way in between. S. 4:150
Historically, Judaism has always rejected John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and Muhammad as messengers from God, while Christianity rejects Muhammad as a true prophet/messenger. Furthermore, Jews do not accept the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ or the Quran with Christians rejecting the Quran as revelation. How, then, can people remain in these religions without violating the preceding Quranic statements? And how can Allah promise that such people will have no need to fear but will receive a reward from him?
Moreover, by rejecting certain messengers and books these individuals have become disbelievers. The Quran emphatically says that Allah will never accept the righteous deeds of the unbelievers:
It is not for the Mushrikun (polytheists, idolaters, pagans, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah), to maintain the Mosques of Allah (i.e. to pray and worship Allah therein, to look after their cleanliness and their building, etc.), while they witness against their ownselves of disbelief. The works of such are in vain and in Fire shall they abide. S. 9:17
Like those before you, they were mightier than you in power, and more abundant in wealth and children. They had enjoyed their portion awhile, so enjoy your portion awhile as those before you enjoyed their portion awhile; and you indulged in play and pastime (and in telling lies against Allah and His Messenger Muhammad SAW) as they indulged in play and pastime. Such are they whose deeds are in vain in this world and in the Hereafter. Such are they who are the losers. S. 9:69
They will say: "Did there not come to you, your Messengers with (clear) evidences and signs? They will say: "Yes." They will reply: "Then call (as you like)! And the invocation of the disbelievers is nothing but in error!" S. 40:50
Again, how can a person remain a Jew or Christian and have his righteous deeds accepted when s/he rejects some of the very messengers and scriptures that the Quran says must be fully embraced and believe in?
All citations taken from the Hilali-Khan version of the Quran.
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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