Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the messengers. He was an Ummi prophet sent to an Ummi people. The word Ummi means those without scriptures or from among the people to whom no messenger had come before, and was therefore without scriptures and guidance.
(62:2) It is He Who has sent amongst the Ummi a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom,- although they had been, before, in manifest error;-
(36:6) In order that thou mayest admonish a people, whose fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remain heedless (of the Signs of Allah).
(37:156) Or have ye an authority manifest?(157) Then bring ye your Book (of authority) if ye be truthful!
From the above verses, and from the fact that the Quran says that Prophets have been sent to many nations (6:42), and the fact that every other civilized people have their religion and scriptures, makes all such people, the “People of the Book”. The universalism of the religion of Islam, and its inclusiveness of all other people, is obvious from the following verses:
(2:112) Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, – He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(5:69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
The Momineen (faithful) and the Kafirin (faithless) are therefore terms that cannot be associated based on the religion professed, but based on behaviour alone. Else, Islam is not a universal and inclusive religion. Indeed, we do find the Quran judging people by what they do. The Mushrikin in an unjust battle against the Prophet, are referred to as the Kafaru, but the same Mushrikin, after they have been vanquished and are no longer at war, are referred to simply as Mushrikin in verse 9:5 and not as Kafirin. It is therefore the act that you are engaged in, which defines you in that context.
At one extreme are the Momineen, the people of unshakeable faith, who can never do wrong because they are always mindful of God, and at the other extreme are the Kafirin or “those who will never believe”, the likes of the Pharaoh, Qarun, Haman, Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab etc., who are evil incarnate, always opposed to what is just, right and good. In between fall the rest, who can be judged based on the act they are engaged in, and not based on the faith they profess, or their religious identity. We find the Quran doing exactly this.
(49:14) The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only) say, ´We have submitted our wills to Allah,´ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Faith is not simply a matter of saying “I believe”, but a state in which one is mindful of God, which helps resist the temptation to do wrong, or impels to do what is right and just, irrespective of the consequences to self. Allah guides those who are always mindful of God in their deeds, to attain complete faith in Him. See 8:23. Faith is not achieved by being born into a Muslim family nor by reciting the Kalima alone, or by affiliation to any religion, but by acts that bring one closer to God.
As it concerns the people in general, we can therefore talk only in terms of their deeds – whether their deed is worthy of a Momin, or whether it is the deed of a Kafir, or whether the deed is pleasing to God or one that God would be displeased with. Why then does it shock people, when I said that the Indian Army performed the deed worthy of the Momineen, in liberating the oppressed people of Bangladesh, from their oppressors? The oppressors were the army of Pakistan, raping and killing defenceless civilians and their deeds were certainly the deeds of the faithless or the Kafirin. People are shocked, because the Indian army is thought to be a Hindu army, and the Pakistan army a Muslim army, and in our bigoted theology, Kafir has come to mean a non-Muslim and Momin is always a Muslim. In our bigoted theology, a Muslim can never be a Kafir, even though the Quran uses the term Kafir, to describe Muslims who consume usury and those who do not give charity and the Munafiqin or the hypocrites. And if just about anyone who submits to Allah and is a doer of good will be rewarded with Heaven, why cannot such a person be called a Momin irrespective of his religious identity?
Let us consider the adjuration at the beginning of Surah 95:
(1) By the Fig and the Olive,
(2) And the Mount of Sinai,
(3) And this City of security,-
(4) We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
(5) Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low,-
(6) Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing.
(7) Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the judgment (to come)?
(8) Is not Allah the wisest of judges?
The City of Security is easily recognizable as Mecca since it is a sanctuary from the days of Abraham and is associated with Islam; the Mount of Sinai is associated with Moses or Judaism. What about the Fig and the Olive? Are these fruits that Allah is recommending? If that were so, it would be a horrible mixing up of unrelated metaphors! The Olive and the Fig must therefore necessarily refer to two other religions. The Mount of Olive is associated with Jesus or Christianity, and the Fig is referring to the Fig tree under which Buddha meditated and received enlightenment or with Buddhism. Why is God swearing by these four religions if these are not a few of the different paths to Him?
5:48 “…..To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;”
What is common to all the four religions? All the four religions have a clear deontological or rule based moral code. What is uncommon? Buddhism is relatively agnostic about belief in God but strong on its moral code. I repeat, faith is not attained by saying I believe, but by following the path that is steep, which is the path of living a moral life and described as follows:
(90:10) And shown him the two highways?
(11) But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep.
(12) And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?-
(13) (It is:) freeing the bondman;
(14) Or the giving of food in a day of privation
(15) To the orphan with claims of relationship,
(16) Or to the indigent (down) in the dust.
(17) Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion.
(18) Such are the Companions of the Right Hand.
What is emphasized above? Good deeds. Anyone who practices the deeds described above, will attain complete faith in God and those who do not, will not attain such faith. And all the deeds described above are emphasized in the four religions mentioned.
What Allah clearly wants from us humans, is that we follow His deen or Laws or Religion which is the moral way of living. It is through such practice, that one can attain faith, and not simply by saying “I believe”.
Just imagine what would happen if the Muslims were to follow what I say. All of them would then be on the path of trying to attain perfection in their deeds to get closer to God and urging others to do the same. This is exactly what Allah wants us to do in Surah 103 Al-Asr:
(103:1) By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),(2) Verily Man is in loss,(3) Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
They would also then openly hail the good deeds of others as the acts of a Momin irrespective of the person’s religious affiliation gaining their respect and admiration. This would attract others to Islam and its teachings. What do we have now? We call ourselves Momin although we have become among the worst people on this earth and call others Kafir although they are better than us in many ways. Who then wants to be such a Momin? Have we not become the worst enemies of Islam and distorted the religion beyond recognition with our bigoted vision?