He was trying to find his way.
While driving to the mosque for my Friday prayers, I saw him in my back view mirror, fidgeting with his GPS on a hot summer day. Driving up on Park Heights in Baltimore with a car full of children, this visibly Jewish man with a long wavy beard and thick black glasses was clad in a black suit. Say whatever you want, but this much was obvious: He had made some tough choices to please his G-d.
So why would your or my God not reward him for his commitment? What if this man was an organ donor? A volunteer firefighter? A caring neighbor? An honest trader? How could anyone declare with certainty that this man cannot go to heaven?
I don’t know how, but people say this all the time: “He cannot go to heaven because he does not believe in [insert your Prophet or God’s name here].” According to a 2008 Pew survey, one in five Christians in America believe that non-Christian faiths cannot lead to salvation. That number soared to 60 percent for white evangelical Protestants who attend church once a weak.
Frankly, I would have checked out of my faith, Islam, if it took such a position. Thank God (or Allah) that it doesn’t.
Islam recognizes that the Jewish man mentioned above, who was probably lost and finding his way, is not alone; we are all trying to find “the way” in our own way. So it guards humans from the temptation of declaring who goes to heaven and who doesn’t by proclaiming that “grace is in the hands of Allah. He gives it to whomsoever He pleases” (57:30).
This is not a fringe interpretation, applicable to Jews and Christians only. Prophet Muhammad (sa) paved the way to salvation — ultimately for all humans — in a famous narration from the book of Muslim, “A man said: By God, God will not forgive so-and-so. At this, God said: Who is he who swears by Me that I will not forgive so-and-so? Verily, I have forgiven so-and-so and have nullified your good deeds.”
Islam neither believes in an eternal hell nor in an exclusive heaven.