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Last Updated: 2012/04/03
Summary of question
If Islam was not sent down in the Arabian Peninsula, would hell and heaven be described in the same way as they have been described now?
question
If Islam was revealed somewhere else other than the Arabian Peninsula with different environmental and cultural conditions, would hell and heaven and also the behavioral and speech norms be described in the same way as they have been described now. Please give answer with a view to Islam’s rational justifications.
Concise answer

There are two viewpoints in this regard; one that believes that non-religious factors have a role to play in the emergence of religion and another that denies the role of such factors in the formation of religion. According to us, both of these views are erroneous as they are the two sides of an extreme. Both of these views are unjust and unauthenticated. There is a middle approach that goes through a religious epistemic path. Certainly, the temporal, special and epistemic conditions in every age affects the preaching, promulgating and guiding method on the part of the prophet sent down to people but the effect never goes beyond the method. That is to say, it does not affect the content of the message which the prophet is supposed to deliver to society.

Detailed Answer

There are two viewpoints in this regard: 1- One that believes that non-religious factors have a role to play in the emergence of religion irrespective of whether those factors are objective (non-epistemic factors e.g. environmental factors) or subjective (cognitive factors such as philosophical beliefs). That is to say, the religion has an essence, and with its maintenance, the remaining elements which are affected somehow by environmental factors and which cover a wide scope will not be integrated into the religion. Therefore, if this religion was revealed else where or under some other conditions, all these elements would change.

2- Another view which is the other side of an extreme completely denies or underestimates the role of these factors in the formation of the religion; that is to say all or most of what is found in the religion are considered to be a part of the essence of the religion in a way such that if the religion was revealed else where with a different culture, it would be exactly the same religion which exists now.

The proponents of the first viewpoint are mostly from among the secularists.  It is interesting to know that the first view leads to negation of the truthfulness of the religions and to its annihilation from society and finally to its confinement to personal realms. The second extremist view also leads to cancellation of thinking and excommunication of any religious thoughts as a consequence of which there will be nothing but literalism and racism.

When it comes to Islam, there are also two viewpoints. According to the first viewpoint, Islam is an Arabic religion whose rules for the major part have been taken from the Old Testament. The Quran is Muhammad’s book not God’s. Therefore, they believe that the Quran is a Muhammadan Quran and maintain that it is a description of the life of the seventh century Arabian society.

According to the second viewpoint which is also an extremist perspective, we are bound to obey and adhere to the outward and literal meaning of the teachings of the religion. We should not think of religion in a personal way. The way to salvation is to follow the religion literally. The environmental and temporal requirements have no impact on religion. According to this perspective, all matters should be followed categorically. Even imitating the Arabic and tribal tradition which has nothing to do with the religion is considered to be part of the good deeds and the essentials of the religion.[1]

According to us, both of these views are incorrect as they are the two sides of an extreme. Both of these views are unjust and unauthenticated. There is a middle approach that goes through a religious epistemic path. Certainly, the people’s temporal, special and epistemic conditions in every age affects the preaching, promulgating and guiding method on the part of the prophet sent down to people but the effect never goes beyond the method. That is to say, it does not affect the content of the message which the prophet is supposed to deliver to society. Certainly, every prophet speaks the language of his own tribe; he speaks up to the level of their understanding. This should not lead us to conclude that the prophet’s understanding holds good only for his own people and tribe, nor should it lead us to get into an unconscious Arabic and imitative racism.

Therefore, if a prophet is sent down among a people who speak Hebrew, he must speak Hebrew with them so that they can understand him. On the other hand, he should use examples and concepts which are understandable for them. The temporal and environmental conditions in which the prophet has been appointed have an impact on the language and framework within which the message of prophethood is delivered. Thus, the temporal elements emerge alongside the unchangeable elements in religion. With this explanation in mind, if the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, was sent to an English speaking land, there is no doubt that the Quran would have been revealed in English, and if in that land the people often dealt with kangaroos instead of camels, the prophet would give the example of Kangaroos in stead of camels to draw the attention of people to the wonders of Kangaroos’ creation.

However, this will not cause the Quran to lose its sanctity, holiness and value because if these differences would come into being, they would relate only to the outward and temporal elements which have something to do with the external aspect of human life and will not infiltrate the fixed and unchangeable elements which deal with man’s essence and nature. In other words, the perpetual message of the Last Religion (Islam) is the same in every age and time, although its language, frame and content relating to the temporal element would have been different.[2]

As for the description of hell and heaven, we should say again that the elements in the images presented of hell and heaven are coherent with the human nature. They represent the meaning, reality and incarnation of the deeds. That is to say, from an aesthetic perspective, the beauties described in Paradise are tied with the human soul and nature. They are the ones aspired by human beings. Basically, there in Paradise is all that the souls desire and eyes find sweet.[3] Yes, it is likely and natural that some of the features and emphases may be affected by addressees’ environment. Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate between these two delicate points.

On the other hand, the place of the descent of the Quran, according to the Quran and sayings of the Infallibles, has not been the Prophet’s mind or intellect so that subjective and cognitive factors (the Prophet’s mentality) may have had an essential impact on its creation. In fact, the Prophet’s “heart” is  the receptacle for the words of God, divine communication and truths.

For further information in this regard, you can refer to the following indexes:

2660 (site: 3067), 426 (site: 446), 7312 (site: 8229), 2946 (site: 3175).

 


[1] - The Akhbari scholars and the books they have written portray the religion in this way.

[2] - Excerpted from answer 2946 (site: 3175).

[3] - The Holy Quran says, “There shall be sent round to them golden bowls and drinking-cups and therein shall be what their souls yearn after and (wherein) the eyes shall delight, and you shall abide therein.” [Zukhruf, 71]

 

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