The Quranic command to follow the 'millat' of Abraham
By: A. Muhammad
Some believers have interpreted the word 'millat' in such verses to mean the religion as a whole. This would include all the religious practises (Salat, Zakat, Hajj, etc). As a result, they conclude that to follow the 'millat' of Abraham would mean to follow all the religious practises which were first given to Abraham. By following such a definition of the word 'millat' many sincere believers, who made the decision to follow the Quran alone, have been led to follow a number of religious practices which are not found in the Quran with the excuse that they were given to Abraham! Considering that these believers advocate that we should all uphold the Quran, the whole Quran and nothing but the Quran, then a clear contradiction becomes apparent.
An immediate reference must be made to 6:114 where it is stated very clearly that all the details of our religion are given in the Quran, and to 6:38 where it is stated that nothing has been left out of the book. It is clear that there is no exception to the totality of this rule given in any of these two verses. In other words these verses do not say that all the details are in the book except what was given to Abraham! As a result, the totality in meaning of these two verses must be respected, and it means that all the lawful rituals decreed upon us are found in the Quran even if they were first given to Abraham.
Sadly, some believers who claim to believe God's words which confirm that the Quran has all the details (6:114) and that nothing has been left out (6:38), have been heard saying: The Quran does not list all the details but only the corrections to what has been corrupted!
All the following rituals are in question since none of them are found in the Quran:
- The 2.5% rate for Zakat: Not only does the Quran not specify a fixed rate for Zakat but we also have a clear Quranic evidence that God left the rate of Zakat open to each individual (for details see: Zakat in the Quran).
- The 5 daily Salat: The Quran has only three names for Salat (for details see: Three Salat).
- The 24434 raka format for the Salat: The word raka means a cycle of standing, bowing then 2 prostrations. Not only is the 24434 format not found anywhere in the Quran, but more important, the whole concept of raka is not in the Quran and the word raka does not appear in the Quran. The Quranic Salat is a sequence of standing, bowing then prostrating without any mention of the need to repeat this cycle.
- The sermon during the Friday Prayer: Once again is a ritual without any Quranic authorisation.
It must be said here that besides the fact that none of these rituals are found in the Quran, there is no Quranic evidence that these specific rituals were even given to Abraham! Indeed the Quran tells us that God gave Abraham the Salat, Zakat (21:73) and the Hajj (22:27). However we will not find in the Quran any confirmation that God decreed for Abraham 5 Salat, 24434 raka, 2.5% Zakat or any of the other rituals.
1- The Quranic definition of 'millat Ibrahim'
What is the meaning of the word 'millat'? Does it mean the religion as a whole as some suggest, or does it have a narrower meaning? If the word 'millat' is synonymous with the word religion, why does God use the word religion (deen) in some verses then the word millat in other verses?
We read about 'millat Ibrahim' in a number of verses such as 16:123 (above) and also in 2:135, 3:95 and others.
The first observation we have is that in all the verses that mention the words 'millat Ibrahim' these words are then followed by the words 'the monotheist, he was not one of the mushrekeen'.
It is obvious that God is giving us the definition of the words 'millat Ibrahim' as being Monotheism and the refrain from associating partners with God. Consequently, when God commands Muhammad, and all of us, to follow 'millat Ibrahim', God is commanding us to follow Monotheism and refrain from Shirk (associating partners with God).
When Joseph declared that he follows 'millat Ibrahim' he quickly added that it dictates to them (Joseph and his people) not to associate anything/anyone with God:
And I followed the creed of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not for us to associate anything with God. Such is God’s favour upon us and upon the people, but most people are not thankful. 12:38
Should we accept God's definition of the word 'millat' (creed), or should we devise a looser definition of this word to mean all the religious rituals, rules and detailed regulations of Islam? The deliberate insertion of the words 'the Monotheist, he was not among those who commit shirk' after the words 'millat Ibrahim' in all the verses which contain the words 'millat Ibrahim' compels us to accept that the words 'millat Ibrahim' refer to Abraham’s creed which is Monotheism.
God in his infinite wisdom knows that certain Quranic concepts will be disputed by various people. The concept of 'millat Ibrahim' is one example. God assures us that the Quran provides explanations for all things (16:89). When we consider the word 'millat' we find further evidence in the Quran to confirm that the word 'millat' does not refer to the religion as a whole but that the correct meaning of 'millat' is creed:
I have left behind the creed of a people who do not believe in God, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are disbelievers. 12:37
These words, which were uttered by the prophet Joseph, speak of the 'millat' of those who are atheists, they do not believe in God nor the Hereafter. Atheists do not have a religion but they have a creed as we are told in 12:37 that they have a 'millat' (which is atheism). This glorious verse gives us further evidence that the word 'millat' as used in the Quran means creed and not religious practises.
Further evidence for the definition of the word 'millat' can be found in the following Quranic words:
Neither the Jews nor the Nazarenes will approve of you unless you follow their creed. 2:120
We note that it is God who is speaking in 2:120, and as far as God is concerned the religion given to all people (Jews, Christians and Muslims) is one and the same, and God calls it Islam. This is confirmed in the fact that the only religion acceptable to God is Islam (3:19). In addition, we are told in the Quran that Abraham was a Muslim (3:67) and so were all the other prophets.
Since the religion given to all people is one and the same, there would be no reason why the Jews or Christians would not be pleased with the religion which is followed by Muhammad or us today, this is assuming that the word 'millat' in 2:120 means religion.
We do follow the same religion, all receivers of the scripture were given the same religion and it is Islam (even though the man made labels are different).
As a result, 2:120 would not make any sense if the word 'millat' meant religion.
However, if we take 'millat' to mean creed, then it would make perfect sense, this is because the Jews and Christians have each fabricated their own man-made creeds/beliefs (millat) and they would not be happy with other people until they follow these creeds.
We must also pause here and understand why God in 2:120 used the word creed and not religion? Why did not God say:
'Neither the Jews nor the Nazarenes will approve of you unless you follow their 'deen' (religion).' 2:120
The answer is that God does not consider any man-made deviation a religion as such, since the only approved religion is Islam which is the religion of all the Scriptures in their original form. Rather, God considers these man made deviations as creeds.
So what are the creeds of the Jews and Christians which are deviations from what God gave them in their Scriptures?
With the Jews, their millat (creed) is structured around their man-made traditions as well as the interpretations of the Rabis. In addition to the law of God, given to them in the Torah, they added what they call the 'Oral Law' which is contained in the Talmud (Mishnah and Gemara). In the Talmud they have set up a man made source of law besides the God given Torah.
As for the Christians, their creed which has largely deviated from the original message given to Jesus is based on such doctrines as the fictitious 'Trinity', the 'Atonement', the 'Salvation only through Jesus', the 'son of god', and the 'Resurrection of Jesus'. All these doctrines formulate a creed that is not approved by God nor in line with the original Scripture given to them.
What 2:120 tells us is exactly what is happening today, the Jews and Christians will never be happy until others follow these creeds which they have invented. The message of 2:120, applied at the time of Muhammad, also applies today.
Further evidence that the word 'millat' does not mean religion is in the fact that the word used consistently in the Quran for religion is 'deen' and not 'millat'. The fact that we find some Quranic verses (e.g 4:125 and 6:161) which actually contain both words 'millat' and also 'deen' confirms that these two words do not have the same meaning. This is not any different from the verses which use the words prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasool) in the same verse to confirm that these two words do not have the same meaning (e.g. 22:52).
The word 'millat' simply means a creed or a belief, but a religion is a complete and comprehensive set of religious laws which cover all the practises in addition to all the lawful and unlawful activities as prescribed by God.
In addition, it is not essential for a creed to be based on a belief in God, but by definition a religion must be centred around a belief in a god of some sort or another.
Atheism for example is a creed, because atheism is a belief, but it is not a religion since it is not based on a belief in God. This has been demonstrated in 12:37 (see point 2 above).
We note that God deliberately used the word 'millat' (creed) in 12:37 and not 'deen' (religion) for this specific point.
In contrast, God uses the word 'deen' (religion) in 5:3 to refer to all the rituals, practises, and prohibitions which God has authorised:
Today, I have completed your religion, perfected My blessing upon you and approved Islam as the religion for you. 5:3
Those who interpret the word 'millat' to mean religion come unstuck upon reading 6:161 where we find that both words, 'deen' and 'millat' are used.
We know that the word 'deen' means religion. If both words 'deen' and 'millat' meant religion, God would have used only one of the two words in 6:161.
2- Are we accountable to what was decreed for Abraham
The Quran confirms that the practices of Islam are older than the Quran:
We made them leaders who guide by Our command and We inspired them to work good deeds, to observe the Salat and to give the Zakat. They were worshippers of Us. 21:73
According to 21:73 and other verses we are told that the rituals of Islam are older than the Quran and that they were indeed first given to Abraham. However, the Quran does not tell us the details of what exactly was given to Abraham. How many daily Salat were given to Abraham, what rate Zakat was given to Abraham (if any) and so on.
The second issue to resolve is whether we today are required to follow what was decreed for Abraham and those before us or not. To do so, let us read the following verse:
And We brought down to you the Book, truthfully, confirming what is present of the Scripture, and superseding it. So rule among them in accordance with what God has brought down, and do not follow their wishes in place of what has come to you of the truth. For each of you, We have decreed your own law and methods. Had God willed, He would have made you one nation, but He tests you through what He has given each of you. You shall hasten to do good deeds. To God is your ultimate return, all of you, then He will inform you about that in which you have disputed. 5:48
From the above Quranic words we derive 3 important messages related to our inquiry:
1- We brought down to you the Book, truthfully, confirming what is present of the Scripture and superseding it. So rule among them in accordance with what God has brought down.
These words confirm that we are commanded to follow what was revealed to us (Quran) and nothing else. In this verse the Quran is given the function of 'confirming what is present of the Scriptures and superseding it'. This asserts the fact that what was given to those before us has now been replaced by the Quran. We are thus accountable only to what is revealed to us (Quran), and not what was given to Abraham or the others. To insist that we are to follow rituals that we inherited from as far back as Abraham is in violation of the words 'superseding it' that describe the Quran in 5:48
2- The words 'For each of you, We have decreed your own law and methods' tell us that the rituals given to each people (including us) are not necessarily identical to the ones given to those before them. As a result, although we all follow the same creed of Monotheism and submission to God (Islam), the specific rituals and practises are different for different people.
3- Moreover, the words 'He tests you through what He has given each of you' provide us with a truly important matter. These words confirm that God will test us and hold us accountable only to the revelation He gave us (Quran) and not to what was given to those before us. To be more precise, the significance of words 'He tests you through what He has given each of you' is that they give us an undeniable assurance that we will not be asked on Judgement Day: Why did you not follow some rituals which are not authorised in the Quran when you were told that they were given to Abraham?
Not only did God inform us that each people were given a different set of 'Shira'a wa minhaja' (laws and methods), but also that every people were given different rituals:
For every nation, We have decreed a set of rituals they are to uphold, so let them not dispute with you in this matter. You shall invite to your Lord, you are on a straight guidance. 22:67 (also 22:34).
We note that the word 'Mansakan', which is used in this verse, is different from the words which are used in 5:48. Whilst the words 'Shira’a wa minhaja' may be related to the laws explaining the methodology of performing the rituals, the word 'Mansakan' is speaking of the rituals themselves. We are told that these are not the same for different people. Consequently to claim that we are to follow the exact rituals that were given to Abraham is in violation of 22:67.
Now let us take a closer look at verses 67 to 72 of Sura 22:
If they argue with you then say, "God knows best what you are doing." 22:68
God will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection regarding that which you disputed. 22:69
Do you not know that God knows what is in the heavens and the earth? This is all in a record. This is easy for God. 22:70
They worship besides God that for which He did not bring down authority and of which they have no knowledge! The transgressors will not have any supporter. 22:71
When Our clear revelations are recited to them, you detect evil on the faces of those who disbelieve. They almost assault those who recite Our revelations to them! Say, "Shall I inform you of what is worse than this? The Fire! God has promised it for those who disbelieved; what a miserable destiny! 22:72
We note from these glorious verses a number of important messages:
1- As mentioned, the word 'Mansakan' speaks of rituals and how they are not the same for every people.
2- The words 'If they argue with you, then say, "God knows best what you are doing' are indeed very significant. The question is 'why would the disbelievers argue with the believers in this context?' The answer is that they will argue with them because the believers choose to follow the rites given in the Quran and nothing else. The believers are not interested in rites that are inherited to them and labelled "came from Abraham"! The believers believe God, and they are content that the Quran contains all the details of the religion they are required to follow.
3- These words are then followed by yet equally potent words, these are:
They worship besides God that for which He did not bring down authority and of which they have no knowledge! The transgressors will not have any supporter. 22:71
With these words, God is asserting the fact that those people are idolising others besides God. All those who do not believe God when He confirms that the Quran contains all the details of our religion, regardless of what was decreed for those before us or what we inherited, they are indeed transgressors. They are following rules and rites from outside the Quran, thus they have set up other gods to follow besides God.
4- God's words of truth continue:
When Our clear revelations are recited to them, you detect evil on the faces of those who disbelieve. They almost assault those who recite Our revelations to them. 22:72
If we take a look at the verses leading to 5:48 we note that God holds the receivers of every Scripture accountable only to what they were given in their Scripture, and not to what was given to those before them:
In 5:44 we read that God gave the prophets of Israel the Torah and commanded them to rule with it 'Yahkum biha'. The last words in the verse give this warning: 'those who do not rule by what God has brought down are the disbelievers'.
Then in verse 46 God says that He gave Jesus the Injeel and once again (in verse 47) God repeats the warning He gave to the receivers of the Injeel, the warning about those who do not rule in accordance with the revelation given to them.
Then in verses 48 and 49 God tells Muhammad that He gave him the Quran and that he should rule 'bima anzal Allah.' The very first words in verse 48 confirm that 'ma anzal Allah' mean the Quran (Kitaab) and nothing else.
This time the warning of ruling with God's revelations is repeated to the reader of the Quran twice, in verse 48 and once again in the first words of verse 49.
This warning, together with the confirmation that the Quran supersedes the older Scriptures (5:48), confirms that we are not required to follow the previous Scriptures which were revealed to previous people, nor are we required to follow what we have inherited, we are only to follow the Quran:
And when they are told, "Follow what God has brought down (Quran)", they say, "We only follow what we found our fathers upon." What! Even if their fathers do not reason anything and were not guided? 2:170
In another Quranic verse, the same truth is asserted. Our accountability on Judgement Day will only be to what was revealed to us (Quran) and nothing else. The following Quranic words confirm this meaning:
It (Quran) is a Reminder for you and your people and you will all be questioned. 43:44
3- Were the religious practises given to Abraham preserved, and
practised at the time of Muhammad? Were they preserved until today?
Even though it has already been concluded (above) that we are not accountable to what was given to Abraham, it is worthwhile to examine the claim that the practises that were given to Abraham, were preserved and were practised at the time of Muhammad. The proponents of this claim attempt to justify their claim by saying that God would not ask Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham if the latter was not preserved and practiced at the time of Muhammad.
This claim is debunked in its infancy since God never instructed Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham, but only the creed of Abraham, monotheism. As for the religion, Muhammad was commanded to follow the Quran and nothing but the Quran:
With the correct understanding of the phrase 'millat Ibrahim' it becomes obvious that all God asked of Muhammad, and all receivers of the Quran, was to follow monotheism and refrain from idol worship. After that, all the details of our religion are authorised in the Quran.
Now we come to the issue of whether there were in fact a group of people who were practising the same religious practises as given to Abraham, at the time of the revelation of the Quran.
If we stick to Quranic evidence we would quickly realise that this claim is totally unfounded.
1- We are told in the Quran of various groups of people at the time of the revelation of the Quran. God mentions the Jews, also the Nasara (Christians) in various verses. God also mentions the idol worshippers who worshipped stone idols, e.g. Allaat and Al-Uzzah (53:19). In all the Quran, there is never a mention of any group of believers at the time of Muhammad who followed the pure practises as given to Abraham. To claim that the practises given to Abraham were practised in their purity at the time of Muhammad is a claim that has no Quranic support whatsoever.
2- We are told in the Quran repeatedly how the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) have corrupted the Scriptures given to them (see 4:46, 3:78, 2:75, 5:41). If the Scriptures given to them were subject to corruption, how can there be any justification to say that the rituals and practices, which are derived from the Scriptures, were intact and without corruption?
3- We are also told that the rituals, and specifically the Salat, were lost by generations that followed one another. The claim that the rituals, and specifically the Salat, were preserved and passed down generation to generation contradicts the Quranic evidence:
Then after them, there came successors who lost the Salat and pursued their lusts, and so perdition awaits them. 19:59
The significance of points 2 and 3 above cannot be overlooked. Not only do these two points confirm that the people of the previous scriptures have corrupted their Scriptures, but they also lost the Salat. Therefore to still insist that the Salat and religious practises were preserved from the time of Abraham is in total contradiction to Quranic evidence.
4- We are told in the Quran that although there was some kind of prayer observed by various factions at the Kaaba (at the time of Muhammad) that the prayer was totally corrupt:
Their Salat at the House was no more than whistling and clapping. Therefore, suffer the punishment for your disbelief. 8:35
Obviously, a Salat that is described by God as being no more than whistling and clapping could hardly be the same Salat that was given to Abraham. This Prayer could not be regarded in any sense as a testimony to the preservation of the Salat since Abraham.
Moreover, verse 8:35 and the verses before it speak specifically about the idol worshippers. Hence the reference to their prayer could not be used to imply that the correct prayer was practised at the time of Muhammad. How could the prayer of idol worshippers be a correct prayer? And since the dwellers of the Kaaba and Mecca shaped the climate in which Muhammad was born and raised, how could we say that Muhammad had access to the uncorrupted Salat as given to Abraham from those around him?
From where exactly could Muhammad receive the claimed preserved Salat (as given to Abraham) which the proponents of this claim suggest? The Quran does not speak or hint of any group of people at the time of Muhammad who followed the uncorrupted rituals that were given to Abraham!
4- Does the Quran only detail laws that have been changed or
corrupted? Is the Quran merely an 'Amendment book'?
This is another claim made by some people. They say that the Quran does not detail everything, but only what has been changed or corrupted. Once again the Quranic evidence indicates contrary to this claim.
Nowhere in the Quran do we read any indication that the Quran addresses only changes and corruption! As a matter of fact the words 'fully detailed' in 6:114, the words 'nothing has been left out of the Book' in 6:38 and the words that describe the Quran as giving 'explanation for all things' in 16:89 all indicate that the Quran contains a complete and comprehensive law, and not just the changes.
If the Quran contains only the changes (as they claim) then we would be compelled to enquire into the Quranic details of all the rituals given in the Quran.
Let us consider the case of Hajj. The Quran lists all the rituals of Hajj that are authorised By God, and they are:
1- The visit and prayers at the Masjid Al-Haram (5:3)
2- The Safa and Marwah (2:158)
3- The animal offering (22:36)
4- Mount Arafat (2:198).
There is no mention anywhere in the Quran of the stoning ritual which Muslims consider to be an integral part of Hajj.
If we are to believe that the Quran lists only the corrections then we would have to say that the 'stoning' ritual was the only ritual preserved from the time of Abraham, and thus was not mentioned in the Quran, yet all the other rituals were subject to corruption and thus were re-instated in the Quran!
On the other hand, if we assume that these Quranic Hajj rituals are additions to what was given to Abraham, and thus needed to be given in the Quran, then what exactly was the nature of the Hajj decreed for Abraham if it had none of these rituals? In that case, did the Hajj decreed to Abraham comprise nothing other than stoning?
When we apply the same concept to the Zakat we must also conclude that paying the Zakat as soon as we receive the money (6:141) and paying it to the recipients specified in the Quran (2:215), are all changes, and that the only detail that has not been changed since Abraham was the one not mentioned in the Quran; the 2.5% rate! The same would apply to the Salat.
In essence, if the Quran only deals with the changes as is claimed by some, then God's command in 6:114 to accept no laws from outside the Quran would necessarily mean that the religion we are following is incomplete, since it would be no more than a collection of amendments and corrections!
Needless to say, this line of thought is full of holes and clearly violates the attributes of the Quran being 'complete' and 'fully detailed' (6:114-115).
To conclude, the attempt by some to reduce God's assurance that the Quran contains 'all the details' and that ‘nothing has been left out of the book’ to mean the Quran only deals with the changes/corruptions is indeed a great error.
When God says 'everything' God means 'everything'. The word 'everything' indicates that the Quran contains all that we need in order to practise Islam, and not just the changes.
5- Does the Quran outline only the main concepts while the details
are passed down to us from the time of Abraham?
Read what you can of it (Quran), observe the Salat, give the Zakat and lend God a loan of righteousness. 73:20
They add that at this early stage of the revelation Muhammad did not have all the details of the Salat, which were revealed in the later Suras, and as a result, they claim that Muhammad would not have been able to obey the command for Salat unless the preserved Salat (as given to Abraham) was known and practised at the time, and before the full Quran was revealed.
Most Exalted is God, the King, the Truth. Do not rush the Quran before it's inspiration comes to you and say, "My Lord, increase me in knowledge. 20:114
Obviously Muhammad was not impatient to know the details of how the universe was created (21:30), nor how the sky will one day be ruptured (84:1) nor how the earth will be levelled (84:3) and so on, but Muhammad would have been impatient to know the correct way to obey the specific command he received early in the revelation (73:20) to observe the Salat and Zakat in specific, and to conduct the religious practises in general and how to follow the law of God.
We also read:
Once again, all the above words confirm that Muhammad was not allowed to follow anything until it had been revealed to him. This applies to all what is in the Quran, and thus it includes the details of the Salat or any other Quranic command.
New 'came from Abraham' sect say: "Quran does not have all the details, rather, the Quran deals only with the corrections. The details are inherited and passed down from the time of Abraham".
GOD SAYS: The Quran is "fully detailed" (6:114), the Quran deals with "everything" (16:89) and "nothing has been left out of the Book" (6:38).
6- Do we have any Quranic proof for what was given to Abraham?
Do we have any Quranic evidence to support the claim that God gave Abraham any of these rituals which cannot be found in the Quran (5 Salat, 24434 raka, 2.5% rate for Zakat, stoning during Hajj, sermon during the Friday Prayer)? The answer is a straight no.
Indeed we are told in the Quran that the Salat and Zakat were given to Abraham (21:73) and also the Hajj (22:27) but we are not told of the exact details. As a result, all who claim that Abraham was given any of the above un-Quranic practises must be relying on a source other than the Quran to make that claim.
It follows that all who quote verses such as 21:73 and 22:27 to enforce these un-Quranic practises are really missing the point. These verses speak about Salat, Zakat and Hajj in general but do not give the specific details which were given to Abraham in connection to any of these practises.
7- Should we rely on 'Universal Acceptance'?
Another argument used by those who uphold rules and practises which are not authorised in the Quran, is that the greatest number of Muslims all over the world agree on these practises and figures. Consequently, they claim that this must be a sign that these practises have been preserved.
Once again, and by consulting Quranic evidence, we realise that this argument is quite contrary to the Quranic truth.
First, God never instructed us to follow rituals because the majority of people follow them or approve of them, but to follow rituals because they are authorised by God in the Quran.
Second, God tells us the following about the majority issue:
If you obey the majority of those in the earth, they will mislead you away from the path of God. They follow nothing but conjecture; they only guess. 6:116
From these Quranic words, we are ascertained that the majority of people on earth will actually lead us away from the path of God, and that what they follow is no more than conjecture; should we follow them? This Quranic assertion immediately debunks the claim of 'universal acceptance'. Indeed, absolute truth is only in God's Scripture, anything obtained from other than the Quran is pure guesswork.
To conclude, we are given in the Quran firm confirmation that we must only follow what is authorised in the Quran, not what was given to Abraham nor what we "inherited".