In Surah Al-Shooraa Allah says [42:13]:
He hath ordained for you that religion which He commended unto Noah, and that which We inspire in thee (Muhammad), and that which We commended unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: Establish the religion, and be not divided therein.
Dreadful for the idolaters is that unto which thou callest them. Allah chooseth for Himself whom He will, and guideth unto Himself him who turneth (toward Him).
And they were not divided until after the knowledge came unto them, through rivalry among themselves; and had it not been for a Word that had already gone forth from thy Lord for an appointed term, it surely had been judged between them. And those who were made to inherit the Scripture after them are verily in hopeless doubt concerning it.
The main point I would like you to address is in reference to the connotation of the word “deen” in Al-Shooraa ayah 13. To me it seems that the “deen” implies the principles of belief. I say this because Allah brings reference to the continuity of Islam throughout the ages. What then is the difference between “deen” and “Shari`ah“? Can you clarify the meaning of “deen“. We know “Shari`ahs” have varied from prophet to prophet.
Also, in the next ayah does “they” imply the various religious communities or members within each religious group, or both. I ask this in reference because it is a fundamental truth that human understanding differs, thus there will always be religious ‘opinions’. Is it right to assume that this ayah has nothing to do with religious differences based on understanding. This seems to be implied when it addresses the cause “through rivalry among themselves”.
I guess it concerns me in the sense that this ayah is quoted often with the idea of disallowing differences even based on different understandings.
Could you please clarify this verse?
“Al-Deen”, in the referred verses, connotes two things: Firstly, the belief system and secondly the basic principles or the value system on which laws are based. Shari`ah, on the other hand, includes the application of the belief system and the value system on practical life situations and the laws promulgated by this application.
According to the first referred verse of Al-Shooraa (i.e. 42:13), “Al-Deen” has always remained the same in God’s revelations1. Nevertheless, due to the evolution in human societies over time, the Shari`ah (i.e. the practical laws) have gone through some changes over time.
In Al-Shooraa 42:14, “they” refers to the nations who were given God’s revelation and yet due to their own prejudices became divided from the others. This verse, in effect, is an answer to a question that rises in one’s mind when he reads the previous verse. The previous verse declares that the “Al-Deen” in God’s revelation has always remained the same. When one reads this verse, one would naturally ask that if that is truly the case then what is the reason for the grave and the significant differences that exist between the followers of the various prophets of God. Al-Shooraa 42:14 answers this question. It informs us that the differences between the followers of the various prophets are not because of the differences in the teachings of these prophets but because of the prejudices of the followers themselves. It was not because of any differences in the teachings of Jesus (pbuh) that the Jews rejected him and nor was it any differences in the teachings of Mohammed (pbuh) that the Jews and the Christians rejected him, but their mutual enmity and prejudices that kept them away from the truth.
A simple translation of the two verses follows:
He has ordained for you people the [same] Deen, which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have revealed to you [O Prophet]; which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus, saying: ‘Fully adhere to this Deen and do not divide yourselves into factions (following a part of it and rejecting the rest)’. But [irrespective of the universality of God’s guidance,] hard for the polytheists, is that toward which you call them. [Indeed,] God chooses for [following] it [i.e. His Deen] whom He will and guides those to it, who repent. And [thus, the differences in the followers of these prophets are not due to any differences in God’s message to these prophets, on the contrary,] they divided themselves [into separate groups] only after true knowledge had come to them, due to their own mutual hatred. And had it not been for a decision from God that He had already given [to give people respite] for an appointed time, the matter would have been decided between them. And indeed those who inherited the Scriptures after them are in grave doubts about it.
The above explanation should adequately clarify the meaning and implication of the referred verse, as I understand it.
… this ayah is quoted often with the idea of disallowing differences even based on different understandings.
As should be clear from the preceding explanation, the comment in the referred verse does not relate to simple differences in opinions and understanding, but actually to dividing ourselves into factions, due to mutual hatred, rivalry and competition.
Disallowing differences based on differences in interpretation and understanding is not only unrelated with the verse under consideration, but is also unnatural. There is only one way of disallowing differences in understanding, and that is to disallow people from using their minds and understanding, while reading God’s revelation. This is obviously against the clear directives of the Qur’an itself.
29th June 2000
- That is the basic belief system and the principles or the value system on which God’s laws are based have always remained the same. [↩]