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Last Updated: 2009/03/14
Summary of question
How come although all of us gave an oath in the Alame-Arwah, there are still people who have religions other than Islam?
What is the concept of our souls giving an oath in Alam-e-Arwah due to which we were born in Shia, Muslim or Christian families?
Concise answer

In our religious texts and scriptures, a realm or world by the name of Dharr has been spoken of. There are differences between the scholars regarding what this realm exactly is. Nevertheless, the viewpoint which seems to be the best of all is the one that says Allah (swt) has created man with a natural tendency to the truth, to worshipping an unseen supernatural power, and to endless and absolute perfection. If these dimensions that rest in one's nature don’t go the wrong way as a result of improper training and discipline, he/she will naturally find a tendency to believe in and follow Islam. The realm of Dharr in no way contradicts man's free will, what it actually does is pave the path and eases man's journey towards perfection.

Detailed Answer

In Islamic teachings, a realm or world by the name of Dharr has been mentioned which is also sometimes referred to as the realm of Mithaq (oath) or the realm of Alast (am I not).

In surah A'raf, two verses have been interpreted as speaking of this realm: "And [remember] when your Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their descendants and made them bear witness over themselves, [He said to them,] "Am I not your Lord?" They said," Yes indeed! We bear witness." [This,] lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection," Indeed we were unaware of this. Or lest you should say," Our fathers ascribed partners [to Allah] before [us] and we were descendants after them. Will You then destroy us because of what the falsifiers have done?"[1]

These verses speak of an oath taken from the children of Prophet Adam (pbuh), yet nothing else is explained by the verse itself.

There are two major interpretations regarding these two verses:[2]

1- When Prophet Adam (pbuh) was created, all of his children till the last one came out from his loin in the form of particles, possessing the required amount of comprehension and intellect to understand what was being said to them and to respond; here Allah (swt) addressed them saying: "Am I not your lord?"

They all answered: "Yes, we all bear witness that it is so."

After such, all of the particles returned to his loin, and this is the reason why this realm is called the realm of Dharr [which literally means "particle"] and the oath taken in it is called the oath of Alast [which means "am I not" referring to Allah (swt) saying "Am I not your lord?"].

Therefore, the abovementioned oath was one related to tashri' [meaning legislation and law; what is meant is that in the realm of Dharr, man promised his lord to recognize Him and abide by His orders].

2- What is meant by the realm and oath of Dharr, is the oath of our fitrah or nature and creation. In other words, when man is at the beginning of being created and is a mere sperm drop and is actually no more than a number of particles, thus the name Dharr, Allah (swt) has given him the potential of accepting the true essence of tawhid.

Man has a tendency and insight that draws him towards God. When it is said that knowing Allah (swt) is something embedded in man's nature and he is born with it, it means that deep down in his heart, there is a link between him and Allah (swt). If one seeks this inner link, he will definitely find it, even though he might be unaware of it because of his busy life and all the things that draw his attention elsewhere and distract him.

If we interpret the story of the realm and oath of Dharr like so, it will no longer be a verbal oath and will no longer belong to Prophet Adam (pbuh) and his time; it will be an oath related to creation, one that every man and woman carry when created. In other words, the tendency towards pursuing, knowing and worshipping God and accepting the true essence of tawhid comes along with the creation of every human being.

Therefore, the abovementioned oath is a fitri one that lays in man's nature in which he experiences the effects of, to the extent that according to recent psychological studies, the tendency towards religion is considered a real and genuine feeling in the subconscience that has always guided man towards seeking and understanding God and when referring to the conscience, every understanding individual knows that he/she has a lord that not only belongs to him/her, but belongs to all creatures and all of creation. The prophets have been sent to nurture, grow and expand this very fitrah for it factors greatly in man's guidance to the straight path.

This is the very matter that Imam Ali (as) points to in the first sermon of the Nahjul-Balaghah: "The prophets were sent to invite the people to fulfill the oath of the[ir] fitrah."

Therefore, all people possess the spirit of tawhid and the language Allah (swt) has used to speak and take the oath with from all people is the language of creation and takwin, and the response given by man was with the same language. All people are born with the pure fitrah that has accepted tawhid and if nothing gets in its way and doesn’t distort it, it will do what it has to and the individual will grow with the spirit of knowing God and will not stray from the path of tawhid.

Out of these two interpretations of the realm of Dharr, the latter seems to be the true one; because the first has some problems, namely:

1- In verses of the Quran, the discharge of particles from the loins of the children of Adam (pbuh) has been mentioned, while nothing has been said about particles coming from the back of Prophet Adam (pbuh). On the other hand, the first interpretation speaks of the particles coming from Adam (pbuh) himself, which as was just said, hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in the Quran.

2- If the abovementioned oath was to actually be taken from us all in the state of us understanding everything happening, then how come no one remembers such a thing and we have all forgotten the occasion? Such a matter cannot be explained or justified in any way.

3- Believing in such a realm according to the first interpretation, is another way of believing in reincarnation, because this interpretation says that our spirits have come to this world once before and after a period of time, once again returned to where they came from, and finally have come for a final time. If it is to be so, all of the problems that accompany the belief of reincarnation, will apply here as well.

Not only doesn’t the second interpretation have any problems, there is also Quranic and non-Quranic evidence that helps prove this theory.


The realm of Dharr and man's free will

The realm of Dharr in no way contradicts man's free will. It doesn’t force him to be good, all it does is that it gives man the tendency to find and follow the truth, such that if nothing gets in its way, it will guide man to his salvation. The prophet of Islam (pbuh) has been narrated saying: "Every person is born Muslim as a result of his fitrah, it is the parents who make him/her Nasrani (Christian) or Jew."[3]

Those who for whatever reason go astray and embrace a religion other than Islam, have acted in contrast with what their fitrah calls them to do.

Therefore, on this account, the realm of Dharr doesn’t contradict man's free will and doesn’t force him to do anything, all it does is prepare the grounds and pave the path for the individual to go the way he has to; making it an ever smoother journey to salvation.

[1] A'raf:172-173.

[2] Naser Makarem Shirazi, Tafsir Nemouneh, vol.6 and 7, under verses 172 and 173 of surah A'raf, with some summarization and change.

[3] Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Biharul-Anwar, vol.3, pg.281.

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