After my experiences with some devout Christians that I had while I was in Britain for my studies, I have come to the conclusion that religious Muslims and religious Christians both demonstrate the same behaviour.
I stayed in Britain in Lampeter, a small university town in North Wales. A milk vendor would move from house to house to drop milk bottles at the doorsteps of his customers. The gentleman would always wear a broad, genuine smile on his face. I saw him several times and on all occasions I saw him with his familiar, impressive smile. One day, I decided to visit him to find out what could be the reason behind the overwhelmingly beaming face he had. I also had another agenda in mind: to introduce him to the teachings of Islam. On meeting him it transpired that he was a Born-Again Christian. He mentioned to me that prior to his spiritual rebirth, he had indulged in various kinds of sins. However, one day, he had an experience wherein the Holy Spirit visited him, and cleansed him inside out in a way that he no more felt tempted to sin. He had become a completely transformed person. He started going to the church regularly, and did all his work with a view to please his Lord. He was particularly impressed by Mr DiPartisan, the priest of his church, who used to deliver regular sermons on Sundays. I am a witness to the fact that Mr DiPartisan was a particularly impressive speaker.
His story reminded me of the spiritual experiences of many people back home who met with, and were later helped by their respective spiritual leaders in going through similar experiences that helped them to transform their lives. The spiritual experience narrated by the Born-Again "special-smile man" and many of our tasawwuf-inspired Muslims are strikingly similar. My question is: why should Muslims consider the smiling milkman to be misguided and the smiling sufis guided, when their experiences of transformation are the same, spiritual and non-rational in nature? Is it just because of the fact that the members of one group were born Christians, and therefore they were misguided, and the other group members were born Muslim and therefore, by virtue of that, they were guided?
Now take the other experience: While in Britain, I was regularly visited by Mr and Mrs Elsworthy, a retired couple in their sixties, who would take the advantage of their visit from their village to the church in Lampeter on Sundays to come to my place to try and preach evangelism. Mrs Elsworthy would be the one who would preach, and her husband would invariably weep on being emotionally touched by the effective description of his Christian faith by his wife. Mrs Elsworthy once said to me: "Khalid, how could it be that a good person like you could stay away from benefitting from the all-embracing mercy of Lord Jesus?" Her persuasive urging used to be extremely sincere. I would keep responding to her presentations by putting across my views based on the Qur'anic teachings. At some point, however, I realized that we were heading towards nowhere. I presented this difficulty before them thus: "I believe we have reached an impasse: you keep mentioning your understanding from the Bible and I keep talking about my views from the Qur'an. While I believe some part of the Bible to be from God, you do not believe the Qur'an to be from Him at all. How can we reach any common understanding unless we resolve this issue? I would suggest that you pray to your God during the next week and ask Him if the Qur'an too was His book, He should open your hearts for its guidance. I would do likewise for the Bible." They agreed to my suggestion. When they visited me the next time, Mrs Elsworthy started the proceedings by apologizing that she was unable to pray to God in the previous week the way she had promised, because as soon as she made the intention to do so, the Holy Spirit reminded her that praying for the purpose of seeking guidance from outside the Bible was against the commitment she had already made to God.
I thought to myself that such a suggestion was unlikely to be from God and His angel. My God tells me that if somebody claims to have been gifted with a better truth than the one I have, I should be open to listening to it. The Qur'an tells the Prophet (sws): "Ask them: [If your claim to truth is correct] then bring forth a book that is straighter than these two books [i.e. the Torah and the Qur'an], I will be the first to follow it." (Qur'an; 28:49)
The thought of the Elsworthys continues to bother me when I think of their sincerity towards their faith on the one hand, and their complete confidence that nothing other than the Bible could be a source of guidance from God on the other. If I should consider them misguided despite their sincerity, why then should I consider many Muslims guided who are equally convinced that their religious point of view is correct, and that any view different from theirs is sheer misguidance? We come across many Muslims who are initially inclined to be convinced that some other point of view is correct but, just as the Elsworthys were cautioned by the Holy Spirit, are warned by their religious leaders not to seek guidance from any source other than the one they are already attached to. In fact, I must admit that I have come across devout Christians like the Elsworthys who were more tolerant than many devout Muslims who would react far more aggressively at the mention of religious views different from theirs.
God is not biased against, or unfair towards, any human being. He would judge all humans according to the merit of their performance. He has made a firm vow that He has created this world, and is running it, on the principle of justice (Qur'an; 3:18). Like Muslims of today, some of the Jews and the Christians of the earlier days (and of the contemporary times too) believed that their judgment in the God's court of justice would not be based on merit. The Qur'an clarified this misconception by saying this: "It is neither [O Believers] your wishful thinking nor that of the people of the Book that would matter: Whoever would do evil shall be made to account for it and he would not find [in the hereafter] anyone, besides Allah, neither a friend nor a helper", (4:123). To sum it up, it is not who one is, or by what religious group one is identified with, but one's performance and attitude which shall count for one's final judgment at the time of accountability before God. The Qur'an says: "Indeed those who believe [in Islam], and the those who became Jews, and Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever [from amongst them], believed in Allah and the Day of Judgment and did good deeds, for them would be a reward before their Lord: they shall neither have any fear [of the future in paradise] nor shall they have any grief [of the past]", (2:62). Of course, all good people, when they are presented with the teachings of the genuine messengers of God, are motivated to accept them. However, no good individual can be blamed for not accepting a message from God if it was not presented in a befitting manner that the individual was convinced that it was from His Creator.
(Dr Khalid Zaheer)