How detailed is the truth?

November 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm (God, Unitarian)

There are many different religious beliefs, and practices, and communities, and “paths”. Yet I think everyone would agree there can only be one truth. Contradictory things cannot be true simultaneously.

The only way we differ is in how sharply we define that truth.

You could believe there are many paths to God and all are of equal value. Then you would have to take the contents of each religion with a big pinch of salt, because most religions claim only they are the right path. You would have to take a fairly detached, philosophical perspective on it all.

Or you could believe the details matter and therefore there is only one right path. You would have to be convinced on that religion being right on all points where it differs with other religions.

I am a bit schizophrenic about this. On one hand, I can’t bring myself to say only one belief system is right and the rest are doomed. But on the other, I am engrossed in picking over the details of religions to see whether they make sense and if they could be inspired by God. With the implication being that I don’t want to join a religion unless I think it is “of God”.

I suppose the split is caused by believing that we can all come to know the truth naturally (we are born muslim, we have fitrah, or in Christian terms, the law is written on our hearts) – but at the same time, believing that God sends explicit guidance. And of course I’d rather belong to a religion that consists of well-preserved guidance from God than one based on mere human intuition.

I met a woman at a Sufi workshop who had tried a number of different spiritual practices before she “found” Sufism. It just agreed with her personality, the dancing and everything, and she felt she had found her spiritual home. At the time I was gobsmacked that someone would make a decision like that based on a feeling. But now I realise that it is really a matter of confidence – confidence in oneself not to need any particular detailed guidance, and so not needing to seriously investigate religious beliefs. I’m putting words in her mouth, but I’d say she probably believes that there is no important information in any religion beyond those things that are common to all spiritual paths. So no need to worry.

I kind of wish I could be sure of that too. It would save me a lot of headaches.



  1. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    I can relate to that woman – my experience was also based on a “feeling”, which is difficult to describe to other people. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t seriously investigate religious beliefs – I did. However, once you have that “feeling”, it becomes easier to accept things and I became less obsessive about finding the slightest fault with Islam, which is what I used to do before the feeling.

  2. Wishing to remain anon said,

    Hmm yes.. :O I have also said, in the past, that there are many different paths and none can be said to be right…but then – I converted from the religion I was practising to the one I had come to see as right i.e. Islam. Lol.
    “The only way we differ is in how sharply we define that truth. You could believe there are many paths to God and all are of equal value. Then you would have to take the contents of each religion with a big pinch of salt” – so yes I suppose it could be how sharply we define…I think I’ll have to read and re-read this post because you my dear have a mind much ”sharper” than mine!! I have to say it – your ability to analyse goes way beyond what I can easily manage. That is a compliment btw as I’m not very intellectual 🙂

    I used to say they lead to the same place and I wonder if I did that to make people feel better, and to make myself more tolerant of others? That in itself is not necessarily a 100% bad thing. If I can talk for a moment about a different subject and really superficial. The way Muslim women dress. Now, I am reasonably strict (on a scale), yet there are many who dress much stricter than me. But there are also many, including ”most” of my friends who are less strict in what they wear.

    If I dress like this then aren’t I saying without words that this is the right way to dress? That they are wrong? Of course I don’t go around telling them. And in fact it’s not so black and white because to a degree I don’t believe my way is the only way – BUT I do feel many of my friends don’t cover properly. When is this just an opinion…and when is it more than that…something which becomes a problem?

    I don’t disregard my friends opinions on religious matters just because I don’t agree with them on certain things…I mean really – who agrees 100% with anyone on anything?? My feeling is that we should be careful about religion and religious issues coming between us and what are essentially good people. I don’t think that means that we have to believe that every religion or every way within a religion is fine or correct. Perhaps it’s about finding a balance between the two.

    There are things they don’t agree with me about too. I still listen to music for example (though I am trying to wean myself off it), while many of them chose not to. I keep a dog. It just goes to show that even within the same religion there are many paths. So we could apply it just within Islam. Maybe those things like music and dogs, and the clothes we wear, maybe they are minor compared to the differences we find when we compare different religions…who knows, but as I said: Yes I do think others are wrong to a degree and yes I do agree ”there can only be one truth”, but so long as there is some degree of similarity in views and so long as the other person doesn’t feel a need to push an issue then I don’t feel this creates a barrier most of the time.

    I’ve stayed friend with some non-Muslims btw, but I have let some go too. I think we grow and we change and it’s natural for some friendships to fade anyway. It makes room for new ones.

    Sorry if I got off track. I didn’t answer you question! Ok: pretty detailed I’d say,. but maybe not outlining every little point. 😛

    • Cornelius said,

      I have an issue with the thing which they call “song” and “music” these days. Many years ago, when songs were still songs, and music were still music, I used to love listening to them. Of course these days “songs” usually mean a hell lot of loud noises.

      But what is so wrong in listening to music?

      • Wishing to remain anon said,

        I don’t think I should be the one to attempt to answer that in full, but I read an interesting article called ”The Prohibition of Music”. It was quite in depth and to be honest, to this day I have not reached the stage where I’ve fully digested it, nor am I00% convinced. But prior to reading it I felt very much that music was ok, so long as the subject was ok. That wasn’t really based on anything other than me being new and not being reading to complete really whether music was or wasn’t a good thing. It was only when I read a couple of paragraphs, which I am copying below, that I could see ”maybe” there are reasons why music is not a good idea. Again, I’m not 100% convinced, but I do try to keep music to a minimum now and I hope to keep learning so that I can reach a proper decision on it in the future.

        “Ibn Taymiyyah said, discussing the state of the person who has gotten used to listening to singing: Hence you find that those who have gotten used to it and for whom it is like food and drink will never have the desire to listen to the Qur’an or feel joy when they hear it, and they never find in listening to its verses the same feeling that they find when listening to poetry. Indeed, if they hear the Qur’an, they hear it with an inattentive heart and talk whilst it is being recited, but if they hear whistling and clapping of hands, they lower their voices and keep still, and pay attention. (Majmoo’ al-Fataawa , 11/557 ff)

        Some say that music and musical instruments have the effect of softening people’s hearts and creating gentle feelings. This is not true, because it provokes physical desires and whims. If it really did what they say, it would have softened the hearts of the musicians and made their attitude and behavior better, but most of them, as we know, are astray and behave badly.”

        • Cornelius said,

          But if that is really the argument, then don’t you think it depends very much on the person who’s listening to the music? It takes all sorts to make the world. People come in many sizes, colours and creed. It is therefore quite safe to assume, I think, that music has many different effects on different people.

          “Hence you find that those who have gotten used to it and for whom it is like food and drink will never have the desire to listen to the Qur’an or feel joy when they hear it, and they never find in listening to its verses the same feeling that they find when listening to poetry.”

          Which is a possible outcome of frequent enjoyment of music. Only trouble is that this statement is rested on assumption. I think it is somewhat reckless to generalise this particular outcome for the entire population. Maybe the author was so affected by music, so he’s speaking from experience, I don’t know.

          Many, many people enjoy listening to the late Michael Jackson and watching all those weird jerky movements which they call dancing; many others also enjoy listening to that guy who raps all those obscene words. I myself tried listening and watching these people sing and dance, but I’m unimpressed. I don’t find it enjoyable at all. If I were a religious man (which unfortunately I’m not), I seriously doubt that music can affect me like what’s suggested by the above author.

          But I’m speaking for myself. I don’t know if the rest of the world would be affected by music to that extent.

          • Wishing to remain anon said,

            In Islam there are general rules though. We are asked to keep relations between the sexes business like for example. It’s not that every man and woman who come in contact are going to want to flirt with each other or fall in love, but the rule assumes it can happen and that there it’s beneficial to keep a safe distance when we can. You could look at many Islamic rulings in this light.

            A sister wrote on facebook recently and this was specifically aobut the male-female relationship but can be applied to other subjects I think (and I’m quoting here): “Just like when we tell our children, “Don’t play near the edge, you might fall off!”, Allah warns us of the imminent danger of getting too close to the side of the cliff.” I thought that was a good summary of a lot of advice in Islam.

            It’s not that everyone will behave badly if they intermix, or that everyone will be negatively affected by listening to music. It’s more like a blanket rule or blanket advice. So yes it does depend on the person listening to the music, but my concern is more in trying to establish whether music is really prohibited or not. If it is then how it affects who is irrelevant to me.

            In the meantime I am trying to cut down on the amount of music I listen to and also adjust the type of music I listen to because when I read those paragraphs about the effects of music and what it can do to the desire to read Quran and also the ”desires and whims” that music provokes it made sense to me. Being western, and with music really ingrained in me, it’s not easy though. It’s a gradual process I think.

            • Sarah said,

              Anon – I think playing it safe actually makes a lot of sense. When I first learnt about some of the rules in Islam, I was coming from a Christian community that believed drunkenness was wrong but that you should go to bars and socialise with non-Christians (to try and convert them), and that sex before marriage was wrong but you should date exactly like the rest of society. These things just set you up for failure. This is not a criticism of Christianity, but it did mean that when I learnt about Islam, the rules just made so much more sense to me. The Bible even says “flee temptation” – in other words, avoid it. Don’t just avoid sin but avoid temptation as well. Islam seems to put that in practice very well. Perhaps sometimes Muslims can go a little overboard with it though, imho!

              I come from a family where music is a big big thing, and that makes it hard to go against it, but then again, I can also see how music can become like a religion to some people, and not one that particularly leads to a good place. I think maybe it all depends on how it’s used. With someone like Amy Winehouse, perhaps the music is a part of her descent into drug addiction.

              • Wishing to remain anon said,

                There are a lot playing it safe rulings in Islam and when you come in (late, lol) it can seem like there are a lot of things to learn and change. I met someone who said she could not give up her male friends, yet there is no doubt that over the years some negative things had occurred because of having these male friends. So when I hear of a ruling which I don’t necessarily ”want” to abide by, and maybe I can’t see any reason why ”I” should, then I like to look beyond that. Sadly the world doesn’t revolve around me 🙂 and so I try to look at how the ruling could be useful for others as well.

                Ooo interesting that you mention Amy Winehouse. I actually LOVE her music (and would not admit that if I weren’t going anon :P). But, yeah I can see that music was not kind to that girl – fame, pouring her heart out, being bolstered and supported by the wrong people because of her fame and the industry she was in. Very sad. Even the songs – I may love them, and on some level I may relate to them – but they don’t do me any good.

                In my effort to break away from music, when I do feel like listening I try to make it nice Islamic music. On days when I really feel need something a bit more full on than that (well, its a hard habit to break) then I have a couple of artists I listen to who are Muslim but their music really isn’t Islamic as such. So, like I have said before it’s a gradual process.

                It may well be that music in the right form, i.e. nasheeds is fine and there is no need to stop listening, or even perhaps any music with a good and beneficial meaning. But if we open that door too much I think the danger is that we may flood the area.

                • Sarah said,

                  I love Amy Winehouse’s music too! At one stage in my life I could have really got into it. But I feel it is not coming from a good place. And maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, but I feel the darkness doesn’t have any answers for me.

                  In Malawi people deal with their pain by turning to God. Any music that comforts them is spiritual songs. When I was there, I was accustomed to dealing with my pain through rather less spiritual songs, e.g. Alanis Morissette. I gave a tape to a Malawian friend, who was horrified and found nothing to like about it.

                  I tried as a practising Christian to only like spiritual songs but at times I needed something more “full on” as you say. But then, I never really managed to transform myself much, other than outwardly.

                  I think “negative” music is symptomatic of a certain type of angst that more spiritual people seem not to suffer from. Or they have a better mechanism for dealing with it. Clearly it takes time for someone like me to get there. But in the meantime, wallowing in negative music does not help. At times it was impossible to resist. Thankfully not so much now. I think being married has helped.

            • Cornelius said,

              I don’t believe in any religion, so I hope I won’t be accused of promoting any religion over others.

              There are some disagreeable things in Christianity; and there are some in Islam too.

              This “playing safe” approach is one of them. I was just talking to a Muslim friend the other day. He told me that some Islamic scholars have recommended to make facebook haram. The reason is because many people have become “addicted” to facebook!

              In sara’s blog, we’re currently discussing female circumcision, and again it’s been suggested that one of the reasons for the circumcision is to prevent pre-marital sex. Women must cover up to prevent the men to have funny ideas. After a while, it becomes hard to decide where to draw the line. This “playing safe” thing can go quite a long way.

              • Wishing to remain anon said,

                That’s why I like to work out whether things were ”really” either in the Quran or in authentic hadith.

                Scholars CANNOT make something haram that isn’t haram. There is simply no way, at least not in my knowledge. So they can suggest all they like but they can’t say that facebook is haram.

                With regards to female circumcision, it is something that was not made haram outright.

                “Although female circumcision is not mandated, one tradition of disputed authenticity permits (but does not encourage) the removal of a minuscule segment of skin from the female prepuce, provided no harm is done:
                A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina [Madîna]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: ‘Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.’–Sunan Abu Dawûd, Book 41, #5251.”


                Note that it says that it’s ”not mandated” in Islam, the tradition is of “disputed authenticity” and also in the hadith itself it says “do not cut severely”. It doesn’t say ”do it”; it just doesn’t say you can’t do it. It wasn’t suggested or encouraged. It’s not an Islamic practice.

                Given that it’s not an Islamic practice, not suggested or encouraged in Islam, then if someone is saying that it’s beneficial for preventing pre-marital sex then their opinion is based on something other than Islamic teachings…or if it’s come from Islamic teachings then I don’t see how they could be correct.

  3. susanne430 said,

    Enjoyed this post. You are quite a thinker. I wish there were many paths to God. I really, really do. I will gladly be wrong about this. However, since I don’t think there are many paths to God, I choose to believe the way that I do. Or maybe God chose this for me, depending on how you look at it. The Bible teaches none of us seek Him on our own. In fact just this morning I was reading Psalms and this came to my attention again. (See Ps. 53:2,3). And I know the NT teaches that it is GOD who opens our eyes to the truth…we are all spiritually blind/dead in our sins until HE gives us sight/makes us alive.

    It’s all about Him. Not us.

    • Cornelius said,

      “It’s all about Him. Not us.”

      If it’s all about Him, and not us, then what’s the meaning and purpose of our existence?

      Do we come into existence so that we can worship a being and remind Him that He is great?

  4. Sarah said,

    Sara – this “feeling” thing still intrigues me. I wonder if it will ever come to me, lol. I wish it would.

    Anon – you ask some good questions here. How much of our desire for all paths to be equal is out of wanting to be respectful and tolerant of others? Perhaps sometimes I bend over backwards too much to not judge other practices, cultures etc. I think it’s my own response to belonging to a country that once colonised others, and having seen the lasting effects of that in Malawi and Algeria. I don’t want to say my way is right and others are wrong. But on the other hand, it makes no sense to assume all belief systems are equally true. There most likely are varying degrees of truth in different religions. It’s not black and white.
    The next question is then how much truth does a person need to know, or how much falsehood is tolerable? What are the minimum requirements of belief to be “on the right path”? (I’m not directing these questions at you btw, just thinking aloud!)

    Susanne – I have heard this a lot from Christians, that “God chose them” rather than the other way around. Does this mean that God has favourites out of the human race? Or is it just a way of saying that no-one has faith except by God’s leave, just like no-one does anything except by God’s leave?
    One problem I have with Christianity is that in order to be saved, you have to believe in Christ as your saviour, and this means you have to hear the gospel and accept it. Hearing and being able to accept the gospel is a lot easier when you are born into a Christian family, than if you are not. This doesn’t seem fair.
    Or do you think maybe a person who believes God saves them, who believes God forgives their sins when they repent, who believes only God can redeem them, would “count” as a believer even if they didn’t know about Jesus? Do you think maybe it’s all about having confidence to approach God, and it could come even without the gospel?

  5. Sarah said,

    It being Eid today and me taking the day off work, I decided to open my Quran where I left off many weeks ago and continue reading. And what did I happen to read?

    29:69 But as for those who strive hard in Our cause – We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: [Lit., “Our paths”. The plural used here is obviously meant to stress the fact – alluded to often in the Quran – that there are many paths, which lead to a cognizance (marifah) of God.] for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good.

    How beautiful. Doing good brings you to an awareness of God. Not just the other way round (awareness of God makes you do good).

    This seems to be saying that if I really make it my goal to be a good person, and don’t let other goals take over, then God will lead me towards Him. I find that really quite reassuring.

    • susanne430 said,

      So “Our cause” is simply doing good? And how is good defined? Keeping Jesus’ teachings of loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you or following all the laws of Muhammad (Qur’an + hadiths) or what?

      Yes, this seems a very lovely thought IF you can trust the Qur’an and IF you know what is meant by doing good. For some doing good is shunning all music, for some it’s wearing all kind of veils and coverings and for some it is not having pictures all over the place. Maybe those are the “extreme” good ones (legalistic ones?) and God really doesn’t require all that. I like how Jesus summed up all the law with two parts: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

      Just doing my own thinking out loud here. Nice verse you shared.

      Happy Eid to you and your husband! 🙂

  6. susanne430 said,

    In response to Sarah’s comment to me under #4.

    “I have heard this a lot from Christians, that ‘God chose them’ rather than the other way around.”

    Don’t Muslims also believe God is the One who leads them to the right path? So if I don’t become a Muslim then I wasn’t chosen by God for that. Am I understanding that correctly?

    “Does this mean that God has favourites out of the human race? Or is it just a way of saying that no-one has faith except by God’s leave, just like no-one does anything except by God’s leave?”

    Well, there are some who believe God does choose people and I have a hard time with thinking of God this way. However I am not God and I can’t set the rules He follows. Why did He choose ME for a nice life in America when some are put in war-torn areas where they face starvation, kidnapping, rape and some are put in polygamous marriages where they are treated like someone’s property. I’ve often pondered this: why did God bless me this way when so many others have things a lot worse?

    Back to your questions, yes, I agree with the “no one has faith except by God’s leave” thing you wrote. He is the One who enables us to seek after Him.

    “One problem I have with Christianity is that in order to be saved, you have to believe in Christ as your saviour, and this means you have to hear the gospel and accept it. Hearing and being able to accept the gospel is a lot easier when you are born into a Christian family, than if you are not. This doesn’t seem fair.”

    Yes, I agree, however, the Bible is full of examples of people outside “Christian families” coming to know Christ. This was Paul’s whole reason for living — he took the good news of Jesus to people in other areas of the then-known world. This is why Jesus commissioned us all to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” And there again, if God wants certain people to know (which we know He does since He told us to go and share), He will send people to share Jesus with them. I’ve even heard of people having dreams/visions about Jesus so God has ways of reaching people even if they are not born into “Christian families.” God is not limited by not enough people being born into “Christian families.” In fact I would daresay a lot of “Christian families” are just people who are nominal, cultural Christians which is not truly following Christ in the first place. Jesus never said, “Go join that local church and call yourself a ‘Christian.'” He said “follow me.” He told us to follow His example which we both know many “Christians” do not do.

    “Or do you think maybe a person who believes God saves them, who believes God forgives their sins when they repent, who believes only God can redeem them, would ‘count’ as a believer even if they didn’t know about Jesus? Do you think maybe it’s all about having confidence to approach God, and it could come even without the gospel?”

    Yes, that sounds like someone who is dependent on GOD for salvation which is the main thing! That’s the whole reason for Jesus coming to earth. God provided redemption for the world because we could never be good enough to redeem ourselves in God’s eyes.

    Cornelius, this is what I meant when I said it was all about Him. He created us, sustains us (try creating your own oxygen and turning your own food into needed energy and nutrients) and even redeemed us qualifying us for heaven.

    • Sarah said,

      Yes, I’ve heard things like that from Muslims, but I thought I wouldn’t ask you about that since you’re not Muslim ;P

      Maybe God isn’t fair. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. I mean, I know this life isn’t fair, but part of my reason for believing in the afterlife is that it is a chance for everything to be made fair, so I seem to instinctively feel that it should be fair. I think you do too, since you said you wished there were many paths to God. It’s a hard one to understand.

      That’s interesting that you think a person could be saved with having correct beliefs but not knowledge of Jesus. I didn’t know that.

      • susanne430 said,

        Well, since I believe Jesus is God then believing God’s redemption is needed for your salvation is pretty much believing in Jesus’ role in it. Maybe. Maybe not, but that’s how I see it.

        Yeah, I don’t think God is fair in the human understanding of that word. However, the Bible says God is just. Is being just and being fair the same?

  7. Sarah said,

    Slightly off topic, but:

    (You could believe there are many paths to God and all are of equal value).

    I actually like that theory, it’s appealing… but then again I think it’s more of an emoitional statment rather than ratoinal one.

    While I do 100% beilive that only one belief system is right, I don’t belive that the rest are nessearly “doomed”. Only God knows the destiny of the soul. We cannot really say one way or the other.

    Each soul is accountable for its beliefs and its deeds on an individual basis, and an individual is only responsible for that which they have knowledge of, and judged on their intentions not their successes. So it becomes difficult to know where any individual is headed.

    Generally speaking the belief is that believers receive paradise, and non-believers receive hell fire, but it’s not so black and white.

    In paradise it seems we receive reward for our specific deeds, attaining different levels. In the hell fire it seems our punishment is commensurate to our crimes, and for some the punishment is not eternal, but instead their sins are atoned and they still enter paradise. The only thing I can really say for certainty is that in God’s judgment there is justice met with mercy.

    Here’s is what I wrote about this issue in LK’s blog:

    It’s true that the Quran says Islam is the only true religion in the sight of God, but that deos NOT mean that all non-muslims are going to hell, or that all non-muslims will stay in hell forever.

    I wish more muslims would refrain from blanket statements like: “If you die as something other than a muslim, you are going to be in Hell forever”.

    Besides the statement being inaccurate, it is also somewhat presumptive. Non-Muslims cannot be grouped into one large group–they are a diverse amalgamation of people.

    Furthermore, I encourage everyone to be weary in issuing judgments on the fate of other humans. The issue is far more complex than being a Muslim or a non-Muslim.

    If it were as simple as “all non-Muslims go to Hell forever and all sinful Muslims go to Hell for a time and all perfect Muslims go to Heaven” then there would be no purpose for the Day of Judgment (what would God judge if it were that simple?) nor would there be a necessity for God Himself to preside as Judge over that day (because if it were that simple, couldn’t a man issue the sentences as many muslims now do?).

    As Muslims, we understand that God’s mercy outstrips His wrath, and that He is saving the greatest portion of His mercy for the Day of Judgment when we will all return to Him to be held accountable for all we have done in our life.

    And, out of his infiate mercy, God said that no one, absoulotly NO ONE, will enter the Hell fire..

    Except those who rejected the Paradies.

    Rejecting true faith is equivalent to rejecting Paradies.

    But who will go to Hell foever?

    This is an area that it’s not really our place to speculate. Judgment without Justice is like Peace without a cease fire. Hell exists because some souls choose it of their own free will. Believing that God is just means believing everyone who comes of age is sufficiently tested and had opportunity to knowingly make that decision.

    However, it’s NOT a bar that’s set the same for everyone.

    Souls are tested according to their capacity, and responsible according to their knowledge.

    So it will be different in every case, and only God know fully.

    However, The great Muslim scholar, Imam Ghazali, managed to handle this issue perfectly.

    The following is my limited understanding of his writings:

    In Islamic thought, people who are non-muslim are divided into three camps:

    1) those that have died as children before they made any conscious decisions about the existence of God,

    2) those that were never exposed to the message of Islam or the Qur’an, either by geographic isolation or the fact that they were not contemporary with any of the prophets of God (because the Qur’an maintains that all prophets that have been sent by God, including Jesus, delivered the same essential, unwavering message of the Oneness of God [pure monotheism]), and also those that were exposed to Islam but to a perverted and distorted version (such as many people living in the West, or people who are convinced to blow themselves up).

    3) those that have outrightly made a conscious decision to reject the unity of God, reject his messengers, or reject his word–these people in group (3) are called “Kafirs” in the Qur’an.

    In Yusuf Ali’s commentary we read: Kufr, Kafara, Kafir, and derivative forms of the word, imply a deliberate rejection of Faith as opposed to a mistaken idea of God or faith, which is not consistent with an ernest desire to see the truth.

    The word is generally translated as “non-belivers” though it should be mentioned that the word ‘kafir’ comes from the Arabic root “k-f-r” which expresses the concept of covering up. In the Qur’anic context of the word Kafir, it refers to those who have intentionally covered up their hearts from the peace of God.

    In any case, those from group (3) are clearly condemned to hell for purification in the Qur’an. Those from group (1) and (2) however, cannot be sent to hell, because the Qur’an also states that God does not punish until he has sent a messenger (or an unadulterated message).

    It should be noted that in Islamic thought no man has the power to judge who is a member of group (1), (2), or (3), or for that matter even who is a true muslim, because that power is reserved only to God, who is the ultimate judge. Anybody who does so does so in danger of operating contrary to the Qur’an.

    Also, simply abiding by the laws and guidelines of the Qur’an is not enough.

    Being raised Muslim is not enough.

    Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad writes that “there is little value in outward conformity to the rules unless this conformity is mirrored and engendered by an authentically righteous disposition of the heart.”

    He also adds that “it is theological nonsense to suggest that God’s final concern is with our ability to conform to a complex set of rules. His concern is rather that we should be restored, through our labours and His grace, to that state of purity and equilibrium with which we were born. The rules are a vital means to that end, and are facilitated by it. But they do not take its place.”

    So ultimately, if:

    (a) the message of Islam reached someone in a complete and clear manner;

    (b) they rejected it untill they died,

    then the Quranic verses and Authintic hadiths about being eternally in Hell would apply.

    At the level of individuals, it is a major question as to what “reaching” and “rejecting” entail.

    This is why we cannot really judge whether individual non-Muslims are in Hell (or, for that matter, in Heaven).

    A nice work on this very topic, perhaps the best treatment of it I’ve read, is contained in Shahid Mutahhari’s Divine Justice. The particular section on this topic is available separately here:

    Islam and Religious Pluralism

    I recommend it to you or others who are interested in this topic (goes into much more detail than I have above).

    • Sarah said,

      I should also mention that the book is written by a Shia scholar, so it won’t be 100% accurate with the Suni perspective.

      Nevertheless, it’s still a really great book.

    • Sarah said,

      Sarah, thanks for all this information. It was not off-topic at all. It helps to answer some of the questions I wrote in earlier comments. And I feel like I can agree with all of it. Thanks as well for the link – I’ve downloaded the book as pdf and hopefully will read it soon!

  8. Jasmine said,

    My opinion on truth is that it s basic and easy to reach. We complicate it with detailed questioning and detailed thinking – and get lost in the academic practice of “finding answers” – and end up more confused then we were in the beginning.

    I think this is caused by fearing getting the “wrong” answers, when really there is no set or standard right or wrong. The truth is the direction you point yourself in, and the intention in your heart. Sincerity should lead us there – but then again, sincerity isnt really something you refine through revision or academics. It comes from faith – so I guess at the end of it all – its not as much about the truth, but your faith in that truth that most matters.

    Jasmine x

    • Sarah said,

      The thing is, “fearing getting the wrong answers” is really fearing hell. Which is a reasonable thing to fear. Because the Christians say the Muslims are going to hell for following a false prophet and rejecting Jesus as their saviour, and the Muslims say at least some of the Christians are going to hell for deifying Jesus… so what am I supposed to do? Take a lucky dip?!
      I can’t see any way around the questioning. Unless I’m going to assume that none of them are 100% true and it doesn’t matter in detail what I believe.

      • Jasmine said,

        Sarah, you made me smile!
        Both religions state that you should worship one God and one God alone. Therefore, if you feel you have not reached a stage at which you are confident about one religion or the other – abadon all practices that are strictly associated with one or the other and pray to God to help you reach the right path.

        What I would say is that the first of the 10 commandments states: “I am the Lord your God, you will worship no other God besides me” – Jesus, according to the bible – prayed to God, and was baptised and did not say “worship me” – burt people do (Buddha didnt say “worship me” either- he was actually following the God NIrvana – but after he died people worshipped and continue to worship statues of him anyway), and the Quran does not say there was no Jesus – it says “One God and no one else” – so dont listen to Christians or Muslims – read the texts and go from there. Christains and Muslims are all really messy. God’s word is significantly easier to understand. Peace and blessings to you, Jasmine xx

        • Sarah said,

          Jasmine, I am glad you smiled. Sometimes I worry that in my frustration I have started to come off rather blunt.
          I agree with you. Worshipping created beings cannot be right.
          I will concentrate on reading the texts as you say.
          Peace and blessings to you too. Thanks for your advice.

  9. Achelois said,

    I can now officially say that I have read EVERY single post on your blog. This is my last on the archive. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you so much for being you.

    • Wrestling said,

      Wow, I feel like I should give you some sort of prize for that! 😀

      • Achelois said,

        I deserve it, don’t I? I have proven to be your most loyal reader 😀 My Dashboard is showing only comments I made on your blog. That is a milestone!

        • Wrestling said,

          You really do… I have never had anyone do that before!! At least, not to my knowledge. I really enjoyed your comments! 😀

          • Achelois said,

            If you enjoyed the comments then the four hour sleep that night was worth it 😀

            OCD is a mean thing!

            • Wrestling said,

              Only 4 hours sleep… now I feel bad for writing so much… you are crazy though!

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