A review of verses 2:62 and 3:85
The explanation below is an attempt to answer a question raised regarding any apparent contradiction between the above two verses.
Note: Before attempting an explanation of any verse of the Qur’an there are certain rules one must adhere to:
Firstly, the Qur’an must not be viewed as a compilation of individual injunctions and exhortations but as one integral whole: that is, as an exposition of an ethical doctrine in which every verse and sentence has an intimate bearing on other verses and sentences, all of them clarifying and amplifying one another. Consequently, its real meaning can be grasped only if we correlate every one of the statements with what has been stated elsewhere in its pages, and try to explain its ideas by means of frequent cross references, always subordinating the particular to the general and the incidental to the intrinsic. Whenever this rule is faithfully followed, we realise that the Qu’ran is – in the words of Muhammad Abduh – “its own best commentry”1. Keeping this in mind one can then attempt the explanation of the two verses, to see if there is any apparent contradiction between them.
2:62 (and also 5:69) VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians49 – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve50.
49 The Sabians seem to have been a monotheistic religious group intermediate between Judaism and Christianity. Their name (probably derived from the Aramaic verb tsebha, “he immersed himself [in water]”) would indicate that they were followers of John the Baptist – in which case they could be identified with the Mandaeans, a community which to this day is to be found in Iraq. They are not to be confused with the so called “Sabians of Harrain”, a gnostic sect which still existed in the early centuries of Islam, and which may have deliberately adopted the name of the true Sabians in order to obtain the advantages accorded by the Muslims to the followers of every monotheistic faith.
50 The above passage – which occurs in the Qur’an several times – lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam. With a breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of “salvation” is here made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgement, and righteous action in life. The statement of this doctrine at this juncture – that is, in the midst of an appeal to the children of Israel – is warranted by the false Jewish belief that their descent from Abraham entitles them to be regarded as “God’s chosen people”2.
Applying the rules discussed in the note at the beginning: Belief in God and the Day of Judgement also implies that one must believe in the angels, the previous revelations (Al-Kitab), and the prophets. Belief in the prophets also implies that we must not make any distinction between the prophets or we become the unbeliever. (see: 2:136, 285; 3:84; 4:150-152). Allah gave different responsibilities to different prophets but we cannot believe that our Prophet is the greatest, although he was sent as the last prophet for the whole of Mankind (34:28).
Righteous action in life involves the following of all the fundamental values as given in the Qur’an3 . See also verse: 2:177.
The translation of the second verse 3:85 as given by M. Asad is as follows:
3:85 For, if one goes in search of a religion (Deen), other than self-surrender (Al–Islam) unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost.
The first point to note regarding this verse is that Islam is not a religion in the conventional sense but a complete, and an universal, way of life for the whole of mankind. As such we cannot say that Islam is one of the many religions that exist today. It is a way of life as outlined in the Qur’an and fully beneficial to mankind. There is no compulsion on whether we believe in this way of life or not but if we believe in it then we must follow it, and it encompasses all the duties as specified in the Qur’an. Verse 2:177 clearly signifies this and the above explanation of verse 2: 62 also makes it clear.
Following from all these it can be said that there is no contradiction between verses 2:62 and 3:85 as all the prophets brought the same fundamental messages from Allah, which He specifies as “Islam” in the final Book (The Qur’an). In this sense whoever submits to the will of Allah and follows His guidance is following ‘Islam’. There are many Christians who do not believe Jesus to be the son of God and at the same time fulfil the requirements as given in verse 2:62. Similarly there are Jews who meet the same requirements, and no doubt there are people of other faiths who also do the same, i.e. following the same fundamental principles as the Qur’an commands. Regarding the diversity as followed by different people, the Qur’an includes some verses which are highly illuminating. For examples verses 3:64, 5:48, 22:40, 67-69, and 49:13. Note that 22:40 speaks about Allah’s protection of mosques and also the places of other religions in which the name of Allah is often mentioned.
Finally it is important to note that the rituals of five pillars that Muslims practice form only a small part of Islam. These help us to remember Allah but do not fulfil many other essential requirements of 2:62 and 2:177. When we look into the Qur’an we see that often-repeated verses are quite clear about our daily duties and activities. Therefore, unless we can serve Allah with our righteous actions, as required in the Qur’an, we cannot claim to be the Muttaqeen as defined in 2:177 or ‘Muslim’ in the true sense of the word. Islam is not limited to simply declaring the Sahadah or by simply believing (see 49:14). It is a code of life universally applicable – for the whole of Mankind. It seems possible therefore that one can be a ‘Muslim’ without the strict performance of all the rituals. Whereas a Muslim must adhere to the principles of justice, fairness, decency and morality in all parts of his/her life and in dealing with everyone.
Mohammed Abdul Malek & Sajeda Malek
- The Message of the Qur’an by M. Asad: page vii 3rd para.
- The Message of the Qur’an by M. Asad: Page 14 verse 2:62 and notes 49, 50.
- “A Study of the Qur’an” by M. A. Malek, chapter 6.