As Muslims, we believe that knowledge of a supreme deity is a concept embedded in man by the Creator. If we examine the various cultures that have followed the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions, we can appreciate the importance of God throughout the history of such civilizations. Although the concepts of God in Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Bahaism, Native American spirituality, and the spirituality of various African and Australasian tribes (among several other religious traditions) have been in many ways distinct from the one propounded by the Abrahamic creeds, yet even these divergent concepts have played an important role in the civilizations to which such creeds belonged. Even some of today’s secularized nations, such as the United States, acknowledge the “Supreme Ruler of the universe” in their state constitutions and the “Creator” in their federal constitutions. Nevertheless, there have been other civilizations, particularly in eastern Asia (i.e. China, Korea, Japan), in which there has never been any concept of a supreme deity, either in their socio-religious traditions or in the documents that formed the basis of their respective polities (barring any external influences resulting from Muslim territorial conquest or Christian missionary work). For instance, Buddhism and Confucianism do not teach about any supreme deity, with whom mankind has a relationship. Too, ancestor worship has long been a part of Chinese spirituality. My questions are:
(Just to confirm,) are we to hold that all such ‘godless’ civilizations, in their nascent stages, made a significant departure from the inherent concept of a supreme deity, to the extent that any idea of God – except in the most degenerated, fragmented form (i.e. ancestor/spirit worship) that would be completely alien to Abrahamic monotheism – simply ceased to exist?
Are the members of these societies held accountable for responding in the appropriate manner to the Lord’s tests of prosperity and adversity, even if they have never been introduced to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God? In other words, do we Muslims believe that the concept is so deeply ingrained in all humans at birth, that any human being that does not make any response to God’s tests has caused himself/herself to deviate from the inherent concept of a supreme deity, and is, therefore, blameworthy for leading him/herself astray (regardless of external circumstances)?
OR is some kind of formal introduction to God a precondition for accountability in responding to God’s tests (in which case the majority of the members of such societies are exonerated and God’s normal standards of judgment do not apply)?
Thanks and God bless.
For a novice in the field like me, it is extremely difficult to trace the advent of any physical or ideological perversions in a particular society. Nevertheless, in the light of the information given in the Qur’an, I can safely say that in the beginning, the humankind was, indeed, clear of such perversions. It was only later, affected by the ideas of people considered influential in the respective societies that perversions and deviations started cropping up.
As for the accountability and the subsequent reward and/or punishment in the hereafter, it is quite clear from the stipulations of the Qur’an that every person shall only be punished for the ‘evil’ that he knowingly commits. Deviations of the nature of unintentional mistakes shall not meet the same fate.
From the foregoing explanation, it should be clear that, according to my understanding, each individual shall have to meet the consequences of only that part of his deeds, for which he would actually be responsible. All such external factors from which it was not humanly possible for the individual to save himself and which may have had their influence on that individual’s ascribing to a deviant behavior, shall be discounted from his records and he shall only be rewarded and punished for those actions, which he is actually responsible for.
I hope the foregoing clarification shall answer your questions, from a general perspective. I also hope that you appreciate the fact that in view of our extremely limited knowledge, we are not in any position to pass a specific judgment about someone’s position in the hereafter.
I hope this helps.
February 25, 2002