“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

God emphasizes the common biological origin of humanity. We all belong to one human family without any inherent superiority of one over another. Formation of “nations and tribes” is meant to foster rather than to diminish their mutual desire to understand and appreciate the essential human oneness underlying their outward differentiations; and, correspondingly, all racial, national or tribal prejudice (‘asabiyyah) is condemned in the Qur’an.


The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He is not of us who proclaims the cause of tribal partisanship (asabiyyah); and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship; and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship” (Abu Da’ud, on the authority of Jubayr ibn Mut’im). When he was asked to explain the meaning of “tribal partisanship”, the Prophet answered, it means helping your own people in an unjust cause”


Speaking of people’s boasting of their national or tribal past, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Behold, God has removed from you the arrogance of pagan ignorance (jahiliyyah) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-conscious believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.”[1]


”And so it is that thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong].” (Qur’an, 6:131)


God does not punish a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]: for all shall be judged according to their [conscious] deeds.


“And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Worship God and shun false gods. And among those [past generations] were people whom God graced with His guidance, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So travel through the earth, and see the nature of the consequence for the deniers!” (Qur’an, 16:36)


“And for every nation there is a messenger, and when their apostle has come [and delivered his message] a decision is made between them in all equity; and they are never wronged.” (Qur’an, 10:47)


This verse stresses the continuity of religious revelation in mankind’s history and the fact that in the long run no community, period or civilization has been left without prophetic guidance.


“All mankind were one single community, and God sent Messengers as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they hold divergent views; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through mutual jealousy. But God guided the believers unto the truth about which, by His leave, they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided].” (Qur’an, 2:213)


By using the expression ummah wahidah (“one single community”) to describe the original state of mankind, the relative homogeneity of instinctive perceptions and inclinations characteristic of man’s primitive mentality and the primitive social order at birth. Since that homogeneity was based on a lack of intellectual and emotional differentiation rather than on a conscious agreement among the members of human society, it was bound to disintegrate in the measure of man’s subsequent development. As his thought-life becomes more and more complex, his emotional capacity and his individual needs, too, become more differentiated, conflicts of views and interests comes to the fore, and mankind cease to be “one single community” as regards their outlook on life and their moral valuations: and it was because of this that divine guidance become necessary. The Qur’an does not propound, as might appear at first glance, the idea of a mythical “golden age”.


“If your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views.” (Qur’an, 11:118)


That is, divergent views about everything, even about the truths revealed to them by God. The unceasing differentiation in men’s views and ideas is not incidental but represents a God-willed, basic factor of human existence. If God had willed that all human beings should be of one persuasion, all intellectual progress would have been ruled out, and they would have been similar in their social life to the bees and the ants, while in their spiritual life they would have been like the angels, constrained by their nature always to believe in what is true and always to obey God.


All mankind was but one single community, and only later did they begin to hold divergent views. And had it not been for a decree- that had already gone forth from your Lord, all their differences would indeed have been settled between them.” (Qur’an, 10:19)


This verse alludes to the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an, that the ability to realize God’s existence, oneness and omnipotence is innate in man, and that all deviation from this basic perception is a consequence of the confusion brought about by man’s progressive estrangement from his inborn instincts. (The estrangement comes from our own choices and external factors do not have any power over us. See 15:42; 14:22; 12:40; 7:71 and 53:23.)


“And if your Lord had willed, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force people till they become believers?” (Qur’an, 10:99)


He has given man the freedom to choose between right and wrong, thus raising him to the status of a moral being (in distinction from other animals, which can only follow their instincts).


“Say: that the final evidence [of all truth] rests with God alone; and if it had been His will, He could indeed have guided you all.” (Qur’an, 6:149)


And We have revealed to you the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and determining what is true therein. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you used to differ.” (Qur’an, 5:48)


The term shir`ah (or shari’ah) signifies, literally, “the way to a watering-place” (from which men and animals derive the element indispensable to their life), and is used in the Qur’an to denote a system of law necessary for a community’s social and spiritual welfare. The term minhaj, on the other hand, denotes an “open road”, usually in an abstract sense: that is, “a way of life”. The terms shir’ah and minhaj are more restricted in their meaning than the term din (deen), which comprises not merely the laws relating to a particular religion but also the basic, unchanging spiritual truths which, according to the Qur’an, have been preached by every one of God’s apostles, while the particular body of laws (shir’ah or shari’ah) promulgated through them, and the way of life (minhaj) recommended by them, varied in accordance with the exigencies of the time and of each community’s cultural circumstances.


“For, had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!” (Qur’an, 16:93)


Or: “God lets go astray whomever He wills, and guides whomever He wills”. All Qur’anic references to God’s “letting man go astray” must be understood against the background of 2:26-27 – “none does He cause to go astray save the iniquitous, who break their bond with God”. That is to say, man’s “going astray” is a consequence of his own attitudes and inclinations and not a result of an arbitrary “predestination” in the popular sense of this word. In his commentary on the above verse, Zamakhshari stresses this aspect of free choice on the part of man and points out that “God does not cause anyone to go astray except one who, as He knows, will never attain to faith; and He does not guide anyone aright except one who, as He knows, will attain to faith. Thus, He does not forsake anyone except those who deserve to be forsaken, and does not bestow His favour upon anyone except those who deserve to be favored. God makes the issue dependent on [man’s] free choice (al-ikhtiyar), and thus on his deserving either [God’s] favor or the withdrawal of [His] aid … and does not make it dependent on compulsion [i.e., predestination].”

Zamakhshari rounds off his views on this problem in these words: “If [it were true that] God compels [men] to astray or, alternatively, to follow His guidance-why should He have postulated their deeds as something for which they will be held responsible?


“If God had so willed, He could surely have made them all one single community. But He admits unto His Mercy him that wills [to be admitted] whereas the wrongdoers shall have have no protector nor helper.” (Qur’an, 42:8)

Verily, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Lord of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]!” (Qur’an, 21:92)


“But they have torn their unity wide asunder, all are returning unto Us.” (Qur’an, 21:93)

“And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Lord of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me! But they have torn their unity wide asunder, piece by piece, each group rejoicing in its belief.” (Qur’an, 23:52-53)


“Each group rejoicing in its belief,” literally, “in what they have [themselves]”. In the first instance, this verse refers to the various religious groups as such: that is to say, to the followers of one or another of the earlier revelations who, in the course of time, consolidated themselves within different “denominations”, each of them jealously guarding its own set of tenets, dogmas and rituals and intensely intolerant of all other ways of worship. In the second instance, however, the above condemnation applies to the breach of unity within each of the established religious groups; and since it applies to the followers of all the prophets, it includes the latter-day followers of Muhammad as well, and thus constitutes a prediction and condemnation of the doctrinal disunity prevailing in the world of Islam in our times. The well-authenticated saying of the Prophet quoted by Ibn Hanbal, Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi and Darimi: “The Jews have been split up into seventy-one sects, the Christians into seventy-two sects, whereas my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.” (It should be remembered that in classical Arabic usage the number “seventy” often stands for ‘‘many” – just as “seven” stands for “several” or ‘‘various’’ – and does not necessarily denote an actual figure; hence, what the Prophet meant to say was that the sects and divisions among the Muslims of later days would become many, and even more numerous than those among the Jews and the Christians.)


Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of Islam is not about forcing humanity to live under one religion. Islam accepts diversity. It accepts people of different races, backgrounds and faiths. It does not force anyone to follow the word of God and forbids its followers from doing the same. A great proof of this is evident in verse 10:99 of the Quran which states:


“And [thus it is:] had thy sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe,” (Asad)


In this verse, Allah is addressing Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) and telling him that he cannot force mankind to believe in Allah or the message of the Quran, because if Allah wanted, His creation would have believed in Him, but He willed otherwise. This “otherwise” is usually where most become confused: What does it mean that Allah willed otherwise? Did He will that some of his creation should not follow Him, and thereby be subjected to punishment? The simple answer is no. What Allah means is that He does not wish to force His creation to believe in Him or to accept Him and all the goods that He has bestowed on them. He has given them free will instead of force. He wants them to be able to choose whether or not they believe in Him, and realize and accept that they are His creations, that the world they inhabit and the food they eat and the water they drink to sustain themselves and the elements which they use to create materials and structures for everyday living ultimately come from the Almighty. It is not anyone’s place, not even Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) to coerce people to believe in their Creator and Sustainer, it is the people’s own choice. And that is the beauty of Islam: The freedom of choice. This same freedom of choice is what creates diversity: people can either choose to believe or not choose to believe, they can believe every part of the truth, some parts of the truth, or no part at all, and all of this is covered in Islam.   Further proof lies in verse 16:93 which states,


“For, had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!” (Asad)


In other words, if Allah wanted to, He could have compelled all of His creation to believe in Him, making them a single community, but He instead chose to give them their freedom and allowed them to choose for themselves whether they want to believe or not. This freedom of choice is what permits an individual to be different from another, in their belief, actions and choices. At the end though, as the Quran states in the above verse and repeats several times, everyone will be held accountable for the choices that they have made in life and all will be judged with justice.




[1] Fragment of a hadith quoted by Tirmidhi and Abu Da’ud, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *