What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?
The response to this delicate, but frequently asked question does more than just state Islam’s doctrinal position on the issue. Shaykh Abd Allah b. Bayyah’s responsa or fatwa demonstrates the much required balance between the letter of the law and its spirit; and between theological precision and spiritual humility. The fatwa also reminds us of the need for religious dignity and integrity, commitment to call to revealed truths, and an insistance that “the devotional life must be lived in peaceful coexistence with others.” An enlightening fatwa indeed! The following is my translation of the original Arabic.1
All praise belongs to God. May blessings and peace be upon our Prophet; and upon his Family, Companions and followers.
The start of your question boils down to this: Has Islam reached all of humanity? The reply: Islam has not reached all humanity, but it eventually will. One hadith says: ‘The Hour will not be established until there remains no house of brick or fur save that the religion will enter it: bringing with it honour or humiliation.’ Cited in Imam Ahmad, Musnad, (no.16957), al-Bayhaqi, Sunan (9:181), al-Tabarani, al-Kabir (no.1280). Hence this religion will certainly enter [everywhere].
Today the media and the means of mass communication have turned the world into a global village; such, therefore, are means for Islam to be conveyed to every household. Thus it is incumbent upon every Muslim to strive diligently to communicate Islam to others. But as for if this has [fully] happened, then not as yet.
As for those deserving of punishment in Hell, it applies to those to whom this religion is conveyed, but they refuse to believe in it. God says: And this Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may warn you with it and whomsoever it may reach. [6:19] Meaning, that it is a warning to all whom it reaches, even if one has not seen or spoken with the Prophet. Whoever the Qur’an has been communicated to, is of those who have been warned. Consequently, the Qur’an that is with every one of us must be conveyed to the whole of humanity. Those to whom the Qur’an has been conveyed, then the proof (hujjah) is established upon them. Those to whom it hasn’t reached, then the proof has not been established to them, and their case is like that of the ahl al-fatrah [people who lived in a period of time between two prophets, so that they never hear God’s revealed Word in an uncorrupted manner). About this, God, transcendent is He, says: Nor do We punish until We have sent a Messenger. [17:15] He also said: Whenever a fresh host is cast into it [Hell], its keepers ask them: “Did a warner never come to you?” They shall say: “Yes, a warner came to us; but we denied.” [67:8-9]
Thus Messengers were divinely sent in order that humanity would have no argument against God after the Messengers. So someone to whom the message has not reached, then the proofs cannot be said to have been established; proofs and arguments which are clear, thorough and decisive: Say: “Allah’s is the decisive argument.” [6:149]
Someone to whom the message reaches may not affirm it out of turning away from it (i‘radan ‘anha), being prejudiced against it, being hostile towards it, disbelieving in it, or rejecting it – as God, exalted is He, says: And they rejected them [the signs], although they inwardly recognised them, through injustice and pride. [27:14] They rejected them, that is, while their souls were convinced about them and inwardly knew them to be the truth. They choose to remain blind to the truth: But when they cover themselves with their garments, He knows what they conceal and what they reveal. He knows what is in their breasts. [11:5-7] In other words, they desire not to see the truth.
Many non-Muslims today fall into this predicament, in that some of them are capable of discerning truths if they are made clear. But whether out of not desiring to forsake familiar habits, or losing their standing among people, having contempt for Muslims, being prejudiced against them; or just out of sheer folly and misguidance, many turn away from even considering the Qur’an.
It is this turning away from contemplating the Qur’an, or becoming acquainted with the message whilst able to, that undoubtedly causes one to be divinely punished. For: The religion in the sight of God is Islam. [3:19] And: Whosoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from them, and they will be losers in the Afterlife. [3:85] Of course, a devotional life in this world should be lived in peaceful co-existence with others; for none can be compelled to accept the faith. Afterall: There is no compulsion in religion. [2:256]
This, then, is our stance, and our address and invitation here. Yet this is not to suggest that the truth is multiple, or that everyone can [ultimately] believe what they wish. For the truth is indeed singular; the truth is this religion: a religion that is the seal and guardian over all other religions. This, in brief, is a response to the question.
1. The original may be found at: http://www.binbayyah.net along with the actual question.
Here is something I came across many years ago from Shah Waliullah:
“The Ashab al-A’raf (People of the Heights, i.e.
the boundary between Paradise and the Fire) are of
many kinds. Some of them are as follows:
Persons who had not received the message of Islam at
all, such as those who are settled on mountain peaks,
who had not associated anyone with their Lord, nor had
denied Him, nor believed in Him. They are like the
animals which pay no attention to God, neither denying
Him nor acknowledging Him. They pay attention to the
things of profit only. Or they received the message
of Islam but they did not derive benefit from it on
account of their ignorance. They were like people who
had not understood the language of Islam or had not
grasped its argument. Or they were brought [up] in
negligence towards such deep thinking. The extent of
their knowledge was that the Muslims are a people
whose turbans are of a particular kind and whose
shirts are of a particular sort, and who eat certain
things and hold certain others as forbidden; or [that]
they are the people who fight with us for the capture
of our country, thus unavoidably we must fight with
them. Despite this all, they had not associated
anyone with God and were like the animals even though
they were constitutionally sound.”
Shah Waliullah of Delhi, Al-Budur al-Bazighah (The
Radiant Full Moons), Eng. tr. Prof. G.N. Jalbani,
National Hijra Council, Islamabad, Pakistan, 1406/1985.
Thank you for sharing. Early exegists (mufassirun) do indeed have various opinions as to who these “People of the Heights (ashab al-a’raf) are [Qur’an 7:46, 48]. The dominant opinion seems to be that they are those whose good and bad deeds are equal; so they are saved from the Fire but haven’t done enough to enter Paradise. They await Allah’s mercy and grace to be eventually entered into Paradise.
But other opinions of who they are include: the ahl al-fatrah; the children of idolaters who die young; as well as a few other categories of people. [Cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir; al-Suyuti, Tafsir Jalalayn; al-Baghawi, Ma’alim al-Tanzil].
Ibn Kathir cites a hadith in his commentary to Qur’an 17:15, which says that there are four categories of “excused” people who did not accept faith in this world. In the Hereafter they will be given a “test” to determine their eternal fate. These four are: the deaf, the senile, the insane and the ahl al-fatrah.
Al-Ghazali includes among the excused, those to whom the message of Islam reached, but in a garbled, corrupted form, and so they rejected it on that account. [Cf. Sherman Jackson’s introduction to his translation of al-Ghzalai’s Faysal al-Tafriqa, entitled: On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam.]
And Allah knows best.