Islam considers itself the last major world religion in the current history of humanity and believes that there will be no other revelation after it until the end of human history and the coming of the ‘end-of-the-world’ events described so eloquently in the final chapters of the Quran, which is the verbatim Word of God in Islam. That is why the Prophet of Islam ﷺ is called the “Seal of Prophets.” Islam sees itself as the final link in a long chain of prophecy that goes back to Adam, who was not only the father of humanity, but also the first prophet. There is, in fact, but a single religion, that of belief in One God (Tawheed), which has constituted the heart of all messages from heaven and which Islam has come to assert in its final form. One asserts the unity of God and the other the reception of the message of unity through the person whom God chose as His final prophet. The Quran continuously emphasizes the doctrine of Unity and the Oneness of God (Tawheed).
As the chapter on Unity (Surah al-Ikhlaas) in the Quran asserts:
“Say He God is One; God the eternally Besought of all. He does not give birth nor was He born. And there is none like unto Him”
The term “Allah” used in this and other verses of the Quran refers not to a tribal or ethnic god, but to the Supreme Being in the Arabic language. Arab Christians and Jews in fact refer to God as Allah, as do Muslims. The Arabic word “Allah” is translated as “God.”
The primordial religion of God begins with an act of cosmic disobedience which results in the human race becoming a battleground for a titanic struggle between God and Shaitan (Satan). The Quran speaks of three kinds of being, each created from different elements: the angels from light, the jinn from smokeless fire and human beings from clay. All were created to worship God but both jinn and human beings possess the gift of free will and can choose to do so. When God created the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) out of clay he requested the angels to bow before them. Iblis, a powerful jinn, who the Quran informs us kept the company of the angels because of his piety and love of God, baulked at the idea of humbling himself before the newly created human pair. Addressing his Lord, he complained: ‘You created me from fire and you created him [Adam] from clay.’
Iblis was the first being to look at his self and make a comparison with another, in which he judged himself to be superior. In his pride, he refused to prostrate himself. The Quran states, ‘When We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam,” they prostrated except for Iblis. He refused and was arrogant and was one of the unbelievers.’
Defiance of God is an act of disobedience. Consequently, the Muslim struggle is to obey God. In Islamic belief, it is Iblis who scores the first victory in a titanic struggle for the allegiance of the human being. His motivation is twofold: first, he desired revenge for humanity’s part in his own downfall and second, he wished to justify his act of defiance by demonstrating to God that human beings were not worthy. Iblis determined that the best course of action is to guide all future human beings into disbelief and disobedience to God and thus deny them re-entry to Paradise and condemn them to the punishment of hellfire. Most significantly, Iblis decides to subvert human beings by leading them to neglect God’s worship and remembrance. But God permitted his new creation to continue to choose between the right path and the temptations laid in front of them by Iblis. Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise and settled on earth where Adam was asked to establish a place of worship, the Ka’ba in the city of Mecca. However, it was Iblis who again and again distracted the Arabs from the worship of God and the Ka’ba became a place of idol worship. It was restored again by Abraham and finally by the Prophet Muhammad.
To the present time, when Muslims gather in prayer throughout the world, facing towards the Ka’ba and circumambulating it on the great pilgrimage of the Hajj, they do so in defiance to Iblis and obedience to God
Thus a cosmic struggle ensued: a fight to save the human being. On one side, there is the ‘respited’ Iblis, allowed to retain his great power and ability until the battle is ended. On the other side, there is God, who in His mercy sends assistance to human beings through revelation; a clear reminder of the ‘straight path’ that leads back to Him. The messengers and the book used to convey revelation are also powerful allies against Iblis’s machinations. Also, all around there are clear signs in creation for the discerning, which will warn them of the right and the wrong way, bringing inspiration and wisdom. The Quran speaks of a succession of prophets, righteous and God-fearing men, who are chosen to remind human beings of God’s worship and to act as exemplars of surrender to the divine will. Some of the prophets are chosen to bring a book of revelation to guide human beings. Foremost among them are Moses (Torah), David (Psalms), Jesus (the Gospels) and finally Muhammad ﷺ (the Quran).
But the succession of prophets from Adam to Jesus was met by derision and disbelief by the majority. ‘Then We sent Our messengers in succession; every time there came to a people their messenger, they accused him of falsehood.’
It is Abraham who exemplifies for Muslims the ideal of Islam. Before the advent of Muhammad ﷺ and the Arabian revelation, Abraham’s model was most fully exemplified in the Jewish and Christian communities marked out as special by the Quran’s designation of Ahl ul Kitab (People of the Book).
However, these two religious communities fell into error. Their sacred texts of revelation were adulterated by human additions and they introduced doctrines and practices that endangered the Tawheed of Abaraham. A final revelation was needed to restore humankind to the path of surrender.
Islam Addresses the Soul
The Quran addressed the primordial nature hidden at the heart of all men and women. That is why, according to the Quran, even before the creation of the world, God asked human beings: “Am I not your Lord?” and not one person, but the whole of humanity, both male and female, answered: “Yes, verily we bear witness” (7:172). As the final religion of humanity, Islam is the last divinely orchestrated response of “yes” to the pre-eternal Divine question, the response that constitutes the very definition of being human.
By virtue of its insistence upon Tawheed and pre-eternal response of humanity to the lordship of the One, Islam also signifies the return to the primordial religion and names itself accordingly “deen al-fitrah,” the natural religion, or “deen al-haneef,” the primordial religion of Islam is not based on a particular event or an ethnic collectivity, but on a universal truth, which has always been and will always be.
The Quran, in fact, refers to Abraham, who lived long before the historic manifestation of Islam, as Muslim as well as “haneef,” that is, belonging to that original Tawheed that survived among a few, despite the fall of the majority of men and women of later Arab society, preceding the rise of Islam, into a crass form of idolatry and polytheism that Muslims identify with the age of ignorance (jahiliyyah). Islam is a return not only to the religion of Abraham, but even to that of Adam, restoring Tawheed without identifying it with a single people, as is seen in the case of Judaism, or a single event of human history, as one observes in the prevalent historical view of the incarnation in Christian theology.
The Prophet asserted that he brought nothing new but simply reaffirmed the truth that always was. This primordial character of the Islamic message is reflected not only in its essentiality, universality, and simplicity, but also in its inclusive attitude toward the religions and forms of wisdom that preceded it. Islam has always claimed the earlier prophets of the Abrahamic world and even the pre-Abrahamic world.
The First Muslim
Who was the first Muslim? The majority of Christians would certainly reply: Muhammad ﷺ, the Prophet. As a result, there are still many people today who wrongly call this religion ‘Mohammedanism’ and its adherents ‘Mohammedans’—and in so doing greatly offend Muslims. We can read in any elementary introduction to Islam what has already been laid down in the Quran: the first Muslim is Adam, the first human being, for he already ‘submitted’ to the one and only God, as did Noah and Abraham, Moses and all the prophets, indeed finally Jesus. They all, in their own way, already practiced ‘Islam’, ‘submission’, ‘surrender’ to the will of the one and only God. Although the developments of this teaching were always adapted to different peoples and times and thus differed in some respects, they were always about the same message: submission and surrender to God.
So Islam is the one, true, perfect, eternal religion of humankind and the religion of the very beginning. It is the teaching of the Quran, just as it is the teaching of the Bible, that the first human being believed in the one God.