To what extent does Islam differ from older heavenly religions?
How far is Islam original, if compared with Judaism and Christianity in particular?
The Holy Quran emphasises that monotheism, the Islamic fundamental belief, is in essence the same one as in Judaism and Christianity. In the Quran, Allah Says (what means): “Not an apostle did we send before you without this inspiration sent by us to him: that there is no god but I; therefore worship and serve me” [Quran: 21:25]
He also Says (what means):"Say, 'O People of the Scripture! Do you resent us except [for the fact] that we have believe in Allah and what was revealed to us and what was revealed before and because most of you are defiantly disobedient?'” [Quran: 5:59].
Muslims, therefore, believe in the soundness of the belief of the older heavenly religions contained in the Old Testament and the Bible which were originally revealed to Moosaa (Moses) and to 'Eesaa (Jesus), may Allah exalt their mention, not the interpolations made by their followers through centuries. In the Holy Quran Allah Says (what means): "So woe to those who write the 'scripture' with their own hands, then say: 'This is from Allah,' in order to change it for a small price! Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn” [Quran: 2:79].
So severely does the Holy Quran condemn those forgers of lies against God that all Muslim scholars deny the existence of any sound, revealed books other than the Holy Quran, while the modern in the west have acknowledged all types of interpolation.
In addition, according to the Holy Quran there is among the Jews a section: "… who alter the Scripture with their tongues so you may think it is from the Scripture, but it is not from the Scripture. And they say, “This is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah. And they speak untruth about Allah while they know." [Quran: 3:78]. And: "Among the Jews are those who distort words from their (proper) places (i.e. usages) and say, 'We hear and disobey,' and 'Hear but be not heard,' and 'Raa’ina,' (i.e. 'give us time to hear you and listen to us') twisting their tongues and defaming the religion…” [Quran: 4:46]
So if Islamic belief is the same one as that of Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, it is not at all the belief which had been interpolated in the Old Testament.
Concerning Christianity, the situation is similar. The New Testment was written down a long time after Jesus had been raised to the heavens. His followers were being persecuted during this time. Also, many books were written as bibles besides the one which was officially selected and adopted near the beginning of the fourth century (A.D). The creed was, on subjective, converted into a trinity contrary to monotheism. The Christians had driven Christianity out of existence so that, when Prophet Muhammad (may Allah exalt his mention) was sent, he found nothing but shameful paganism in the hands of the Arab Christians.
Among the pagan Arabs, the religion of God was not luckier than among the Jews and Christians. Therefore, at the advent of Islam the laws of God they had heard were either alternated or abrogated; some of those were unknown, others were neglected.
What was the situation of Islam towards those legacies?
Islam refused all that was wrong, adopted all that was right, completed all that was defective and purified all that was diluted, whether in beliefs or in law, or in ethics:
(One) Islam rejected polytheism, incarnation, and assured pure monotheism (the oneness of God).
(Two) It also rejected the silly principle that was adopted by the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, which made animals responsible before courts of law. Islam based legal and moral responsibility on reason.
(Three) In legislation and ethics, Islam put an end to narrow-minded racism and adopted a legal system which prohibits all discrimination on racial, colour, or ethical grounds. Racism had been lawful at that time among the Arabs, Jews, and Christians at least in the first century (A.D). This Islamic moral and legal system caused a revolution in both ethics and law.
(Four) In the sphere of law, Islam confirmed the principle of wergild (blood money) for both injury and murder, which was applied by the Arabs before Islam, but was unknown in the Old Testament. In Mosaic law, there was only retribution of forgiveness.
(Five) In the sphere of law, too, Islam did not confirm slavery as a penalty upon theft, while it had been legal in the earlier systems of law. Thus, Islam closed a wide grate in the face of slavery and made man jump towards his liberation.
(Six) Islam set up the doctrine of individual responsibility to put an end to collective responsibility that was in effect among the Arabs. Thus, Islam inflamed a greater revolution than that caused by the rejection of racism and by establishing equality of all races, regardless of colour and ethnic differences.
To confirm the principle of individual responsibility, Islam rejected the doctrine of the original sin, in Christianity, and considered all people innocent till they attain the age of maturity and start to err. Islam also set up the principle: “That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another; And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives; And that his effort is going to be seen – Then he will be recompensed for it a full recompense” [Quran: 53:38-39].
This principle alone is sufficient for producing a chain of differences between the Islamic and Christian Ethics; the first and most original principle, therefore, is to reject the injustice of collective responsibility and original sin.
Thus, there have been several kinds of specific differences that characterise God’s sound religion from what was abrogated or alternated. With such original principles, Islam completed the legal and moral systems that had been known before its advent. This is why Muslim scholars have decided that the laws in previous heavenly religions are not ours, unless Islam prescribes them.
By Dr.Ahmed Abdurrahman
Professor of Ethics