Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
First of all, my apologies if the title of the article hurts your religious sentiments, that certainly is not my intention.
I could not give up the temptation to write this article in a few minutes after I discovered a poll of 38,000 Muslims, by Pew Research Center.
I pose the question of who is a Muslim only tongue-in-cheek.
I personally believe that anyone who considers himself or herself, for any good or bad reason, a Muslim is a Muslim. After all he or she is not a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, an agnostic or an atheist. So, he or she is what he or she professes to be. To me it is self evident.
This article is a simple refutation of those who are critical or picky on how they want to define a Muslim and this includes probably a majority of the Muslims of all sects, the state of Pakistan and some other Muslim majority countries also.
The verse of the Quran that most theologians go to, for defining a Muslim, is the following and I provide translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published by the Oxford University:
The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, as do the faithful. They all believe in God, His angels, His scriptures, and His messengers. ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers,’ they say, ‘We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, our Lord. To You we all return!’ (Al Quran 2:285)
Conventionally six articles of belief have been emphasized in the Muslim tradition based on the above verse:
- Belief in the Oneness of God
- Belief in the Angels
- Belief in the Books of God
- Belief in the Prophets or Messengers of God
- Belief in the Day of Judgment
- Belief in the Divine Decree
In orthodox understanding of all Muslim sects all these six beliefs are considered essential.
If we read the details of the poll below about Angels, Divine Decree or Fate and belief in the Day of Judgment, there is no room left for black and white dogmatic judgment and one has to logically conclude that whoever calls himself or herself a Muslim is a Muslim.
If different people are disbelieving in the three categories polled below then it will make a very large segment of the 1.8 billion Muslim population, who will fall out of the fold of Islam or the label of a Muslim.
The Quran makes multiple mentions of angels, both collectively and individually, as in the case of the angel Gabriel.18 In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that in most countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say they believe in angels; in some regions this belief is nearly universal.
Across Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa, nine-in-ten or more Muslims affirm the existence of angels. In the Central Asian countries of Turkey (96%), Tajikistan (89%) and Azerbaijan (88%), overwhelming numbers also say they believe in angels. However, acceptance of angels is slightly less prevalent elsewhere in Central Asia, including in Kyrgyzstan (77%), Uzbekistan (74%) and Kazakhstan (66%).
Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa also vary in their attitudes toward angels, though more than half in all countries surveyed affirm this belief. In seven of the 16 countries in the region, eight-in-ten or more say angels exist, including as many as 97% in Tanzania. In the remaining nine countries surveyed in the region, belief in angels ranges from 72% in Mali to 52% in Djibouti.
Among those surveyed, Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe are generally the least likely to believe in angels. Fewer than two-thirds of Muslims embrace this article of faith in Russia (63%), Kosovo (60%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (50%), while Albania is the only country in the study where fewer than half of Muslims (42%) believe in angels.
In general, Muslims who are highly committed to their faith, as measured by frequency of prayer, are more likely to believe in angels. The gap on this question between those who are highly committed (they pray several times a day) and those who pray once a day or less is particularly large in Southern and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia. In Kosovo, for example, highly committed Muslims are 32 percentage points more likely to believe in angels; in Russia, the gap is 28 points. Among the Central Asian countries surveyed, the gap is 20 percentage points in Uzbekistan and 15 points each in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.
Predestination, or fate, is another traditional article of faith that is widely embraced by Muslims around the globe. In 19 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least seven-in-ten Muslims say they believe in fate. In the Middle East and North Africa, roughly nine-in-ten or more Muslims in Tunisia (98%), the Palestinian territories (94%), Egypt (93%), Iraq (93%), Jordan (91%), Morocco (91%) and Lebanon (89%) endorse the idea of fate.
Belief in fate is also widespread across Southeast Asia and South Asia, with the number of Muslims who affirm this article of faith ranging from 95% in Indonesia and Afghanistan to 74% in Bangladesh.
Acceptance of fate is nearly as high in Central Asia. With the exception of Muslims in Kazakhstan (59%), at least seven-in-ten in every country in the region embrace the concept of predestination, including as many as 93% in Azerbaijan and 92% in Turkey.
Overall, Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe are less likely to embrace the notion of fate. Levels of belief range from 78% in Bosnia-Herzegovina to 44% in Albania.
Belief in fate varies by level of religious commitment. In seven of the 23 countries where the question was asked, those who are more religiously committed are more likely to believe in fate. The prime example is Kosovo, where 59% of those who pray several times a day believe in predestination, compared with 36% of those who pray less often.
The Quran states that God will judge each individual by his or her deeds and that heaven awaits those who have lived righteously and hell those who have not.19 Belief in the afterlife is widespread among Muslims – majorities in all but one of the countries surveyed say they believe in heaven and in hell.
In South Asia and Southeast Asia, belief in heaven is nearly universal. The conviction that paradise awaits the faithful is nearly as prevalent across the Middle East-North Africa region. In these three regions, belief in heaven ranges from 99% in Thailand and Tunisia to 88% in the Palestinian territories.
Similar levels of belief are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, with nine-in-ten or more Muslims in most countries reporting that heaven awaits those who have lived righteously. In sub-Saharan Africa, the only countries where slightly fewer subscribe to this view are Chad (87%), Guinea Bissau (87%), Tanzania (86%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (85%). In Central Asia, Kazakhstan is the outlier, with only 70% of Kazakh Muslims expressing belief in heaven.
Overall, the lowest levels of belief in heaven are found in Southern and Eastern Europe, although even in that region at least half of Muslims surveyed in each country subscribe to the idea of paradise in the afterlife.
As in the case of heaven, belief in hell is particularly pronounced among Muslims in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa. Across all three regions, more than eight-in-ten Muslims say they believe in hell, with as many as 99% in Thailand and Tunisia subscribing to this view.
Slightly smaller majorities in Central Asia – ranging from 88% in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan to 66% in Kazakhstan – also say that hell awaits those who have not lived righteously. Overall, the concept of hell is less widely embraced in Southern and Eastern Europe, with as few as 46% of Muslims in Albania endorsing the concept – the only country surveyed where less than a majority of Muslims believe in hell.
While respondents in some countries are less likely to say they believe in hell than heaven, the difference is especially pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa. In four of the 16 countries surveyed in the region, the percentage that believes in hell is at least 20 points lower than the percentage that says heaven exists: Guinea Bissau (23-point difference), Liberia (23 points), Uganda (23 points) and Mozambique (22 points). In the other sub-Saharan countries surveyed, belief in hell and heaven differs by about 10 points or less.
Muslims who are more religiously committed tend to express higher belief in the existence of both heaven and hell. This is especially true in Southern and Eastern Europe. For example, in Russia, among those who pray several times a day, 79% believe in heaven and 78% in hell. By contrast, among Russian Muslims who pray less frequently, 49% believe in heaven and 46% in hell.
The diversity in all these beliefs should invite all the 1.8 billion Muslims to more progressive and flexible way of thinking.
I suggest that these six beliefs should not be taken as black and white bullet points, rather important themes to dwell on and understand as we go on our personal journeys to the Ultimate, to Whom we are ultimately accountable.
I conclude by adding a few other articles for a more compassionate and less divided Islam: