By John Wijngaards, Ind. Eal. Stud. 9 (1970) p247-250

The message of the Almighty was preached to Pharaoh by a man who is called a “believer” in Sura 40 (Qur 40/29.41). This believer explained his mission and his intention in some of the most beautiful words of the Qur’an:

“O my people! Follow me: into the right way I will guide you. O my people! This present life is only a passing joy, but the life to come is the mansion that abides ….

O my people! How is it that I bid you to salvation, but that you bid me to the fire?

You invite me to deny God and to join with Him gods of whom I know nothing; but I invite you to the Mighty, the Forgiving … ” 1

I think that the mission of religious leaders of all ages has aptly been characterized in these words. Prophets sent by God guide their people into the right path, call them to salvation and invite them to worship the Almighty, the Forgiving. This characterization of a prophet may rightly be applied to the prophet Muhammad too. Also Muhammad had the same intention. He too had this same mission always before his eyes.

On this occasion it is an opportune moment to declare that as a Christian, I respect and honour Muhammad because he was such a religious leader and such a prophet. He devoted his life to guiding people into the right path, to calling them to salvation and inviting them to worship the One God, who is Almighty and Forgiving.

It is important in this century during which the universal brotherhood of man is being newly discovered and appreciated, that Christians and Muslims should mutually acknowledge and respect that there is very much they have in common. Both Muslims and Christians strive to worship the One true and Infinite God. Both Christians and Muslims believe in God’s revelation to man. Both Muslims and Christians look forward in hope to the salvation which God holds out to those who believe.

Christians are convinced that sincere and pious Muslims will be rewarded by God and will receive eternal salvation even though they could not come to admit the fullness of revelation in which Christians believe. The Second Vatican Council, counting among its members more than two thousand bishops from all over the world, made this solemn declaration:

“Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His Will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

And in another document this world assembly states:

“Upon the Muslims too the Christian Church looks with esteem, because they adore One God, living and enduring, Merciful and All-Powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to man. ” 3

We Christians believe, therefore, that sincere and holy Muslims, if they follow the dictates of their conscience, will certainly receive eternal salvation.

It is a well-known fact that the Qur’an itself promises the certainty of salvation to sincere Christians too. Do we not read in Sura 2 :

“Verily, they who believe and they who follow the Jewish religion, and the Christians and the Sabeites, – whoever of these believe in God and the last day, and does that which is right, shall have their reward with the Lord; fear shall not come upon them, neither shall they be grieved. “ 4

This verse of the Qur’an demands as conditions for the salvation of Christians no more than faith in God and in the last day, and holiness of conduct.

It is true that quite a few Muslim commentators have stated as their opinion that this verse of the Qur’an was abrogated by other verses, such as Qur 9/5 and 9/29-32. But it is consoling to note that other outstanding Muslim theologians have accepted the meaning of Qur’an 2/61 in its full sense. Abu Hamid al-Ghozali, head of the Nizamiyya school of Bagdad, explained in his book “Faysal al-tafriqa bayn aI-Islam wa I-zandaqa”, that only those non-Muslims will be punished who willingly and knowingly refuse to accept revelation. God’s Mercy, he says, embraces all who follow their honest conviction.
He adds:

” I would say that the majority of Turks and Byzantine Christians of our time come under the divine mercy, God willing. ” 5

Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abduh, the scholarly leader of the salafiyya theologians at Al Azhar, comments on Qur 2/61 with these words:

“This verse, revealed in such wonderful style, includes all those who have followed the guidance of a prophet of former times. The genealogical claims of various peoples: the religion which they practice and the religious community to which they adhere, have no influence on the kindness or anger of God. The importance or inferiority of a people means nothing. On the contrary, the condition of salvation and the means of obtaining the benefits of this world and of the next consists only in the truthfulness of their belief in God. ” 6

Abduh’s disciple and successor, Muhammad Rasid Rida, explains the verse as follows :

“This verse corresponds to the meaning of this other word of God : ‘Neither your wishes nor those of the Custodians of Scripture matter. Whoever errs will be punished, and, outside of God, he will find neither a protector nor a helper. Every man or woman who performs charitable works in believing will enter into Paradise, and will suffer no harm’ (Qur 4/123-124). And so it is clear that there is no problem in reconciling “those who have believed in God and the last day” to the former “those who believed”. Moreover, there is no longer any problem in understanding that belief in Muhammad should not be considered a condition of the true faith. For the Quranic discourse remarks on the way in which God treats each sect or community believing in a prophet and a revelation, and in particular every religion which thinks that its Salvation will be attained in the “beyond” without any doubt, because it is Muslim, Jew, Christian or Sabian for example. But God says that Salvation will not be the fruit of religious races, but only the fruit of the authentic faith which has influence over the soul and encourages works which better the conditions of man. This is why the Qur’an denies that the question may be resolved in the eyes of God according to the wishes of the Muslims or the Custodians of Scripture. On the contrary, it affirms that it will depend on virtuous acts together with the authentic faith” 7

The author summarizes his view on the matter with this statement:

“Here is my own opinion on the solution of the problem of the meaning of this verse, in the light of what has just been said:
Members of revealed religions – those who during their own lives have experienced the teaching of a prophet, with its condition – if they believe in God and the Last Day, in agreement with the true manner of belief set forward by their prophet, and if they have performed good works, they will be saved and rewarded by God.” 8

In the context of Muslim-Christian dialogue Professor Sa’id Ahmad Akbarabadi has recently drawn attention to the old rule of the tariqa that ‘in the sufferings of this world Muslims and non-Muslims are equal alike.’9 This is certainly true. But I believe that Muslims and non-Muslims, and especially Muslims and Christians share much more than the sufferings in this world. I believe that, having worshipped the One God, having shown their faith in God through a worthy life and having followed the dictates of their own conscience in their words and deeds, Muslims and Christians alike share the hope of reward from Him who is All-Merciful and Forgiving. In the words of Abu Hamid al-Ghazalf, we must give room to the Mercy of the Most High and should not measure the divine with narrow-minded human standards.10

God is merciful. And I would like to conclude this brief reflection with a Christian prayer, composed three hundred years ago, – a prayer which may voice to some extent the aspirations and faith of Muslims and Christians alike :

“O Lord, my God, Great and Terrifying God.
O God of boundless Majesty.
Thou art an infinite Ocean of Being.
Thou possessest in Thyself all Existence and all Goodness.
From all eternity Thou anticipatest all that exists,
Thou art its Source.
Thou art the Origin and final End of everything.
Thou art Creator and Maker, Support, Foundation and Ruler of all beings.
O Merciful Lord, Kind and Forgiving art Thou towards every creature.
Thou hast created all that all might be images of Thy beauty and might bear the sweetness of Thy rule.
O Benign Father, Compassionate Lord, Supreme Love,
may Thou be praised, worshipped and adored.
now and forever. Amen.” 11

  1. Qur’an 40/41-444-45; transl. by J. M. Rodwell, London 1953, p. 243.
  2. Decree on the Church, no 16: W. Abbott, the Documents of Vatican 11, New York 1966, 35.
  3. Declaration on non-Christian Religions, no 3; W. Abbot, ib., 663.
  4. Qur’an 2/61 ; transl. M. Rodwell, ib. p, 344, where the verse is numbered 2/59.
  5. Faysal al-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa I-zandaqa, e Cairo 1319H/1901, p. 75.
  6. Tafsir al-Qur’an al-hakim, in “al-Mandar”. vol. I 1315 H / 1898, p. 333-339.
  7. Muhammad Rasid Rida, “al-Manar”, ib.
  8. Muhammad Rasid Rida ” al-Manar “
  9. “Islam in the Modern World”; unpublished lecture, delivered at Dehra Dun on March 27,
  10. Faysal al-tafriqa, see note; R. Caspar, Ghazalf and the salvation of non-Muslims, S. P. C. Bulletin 5 (1967) p. 90.
  11. Lessius, De Perfectionibus Moribusque Divinis, Antwerp 1626, ed. Paris 1912, p. 22, 332.