By Dr. Bilal Philips
Characteristics of the true religion
Consistency of teachings
The true religion of God should be consistent in its teachings. Its fundamental tenets should not change 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 head-covers, 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 head-covers (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.
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. (Adh-Dhariyat 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.
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. (An-Najm 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].’ (Az-Zumar 39:53)
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. (Al-Baqarah 2:62)
According to Islam, those who sincerely followed Moses, those who followed Jesus and those who followed any of the prophets (peace be upon them) 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 (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”.
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 (peace be upon him and upon all the true prophets of God), millions throughout the centuries have committed the whole Qur’an to memory.
The final proof: The Qur’anic miracle
The final characteristic of the true religion is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) 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. (Al-Mu’minun 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.
Source: Taken from the author’s Is There a True Religion?