Are Religious Changes Forbidden? – OpEd


The Qur’an in the Sahih International translation states: “They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah , and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.” (Qur’an 9:31) What does this mean? 

According to the translation commentary of Mohsin Khan: “They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allah), and (the Christians also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)) to worship none but One Ilah (God – Allah) La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).”

The Qur’an is correct in stating that in the many centuries following the revelations of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament the rabbis and monks expanded the teachings in their respective sacred scriptures. This is the normal way that a religion grows over time. 

As Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: “You (Muslims) will tread the same path as was trodden by those before you, inch by inch and step by step, so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah’s Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)” those before you”? He said: Who else.” (Sahih Muslim 2669a Book 47 Hadith 7 and Book 34 Hadith 6448)

As is the case with Jews and Christians, the ethnic, regional or material cultures of Muslims vary tremendously across the globe. Muslims exhibit different styles of clothing, different tastes for food and drink, diverse languages, and varying religious traditions and customs. Muslims view the diversity found throughout the world as a natural part of God’s plan for humanity; and believe it contributes to Islam’s continued vitality. 

Consequently, rather than imposing arbitrary cultural uniformity, diverse cultural and religious practices are encouraged and supported. So long as a given cultural practice or tradition does not violate the basic teachings of Islam it is considered legitimate and even beneficial. 

The longer a religion has been practiced the more it grows as it responds to changes in the society and the economy. Divorce laws, global warming, democracy, and the religious roles of females are good examples of open to or opposed to change in religion.

Since Judaism is the oldest ongoing monotheistic religion it has developed and changed the most over time. Since Christianity stresses religious beliefs much more than religious laws it has split into dozens of different sects and denominations. Since Islam is the most recent of the Abrahamic religions it is the most challenged by the many ideologies, cultures and the pluralistic society of the modern world.

However, as long as we remain committed to the one and only God, we will always be a part of God’s plan for humanity. As the Qur’an states: “O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you, that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah who is informed of what you do” (5:8)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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