The religion of Islam is derived from Quran that constitutes its frame of reference. The major function of Quran can be easily deduced if we have a clear understanding of the concept of religion. I am not going to define religion from a theological perspective, but I will track its usage in Quran and come out with a definition that helps us understand the role of Quran in our individual and societal life.

What is religion?

From the early moments of the message of Islam, Quran asserted that religion is a universal human phenomenon. According to Quran, even those who rejected the new message and covered up the truth are -in effect- following their own religion. Quran, in its clear statements addressed them, acknowledged their presence and engaged them in the dialogue when it said,“Say: O you who reject the truth.” [109:1]

At the end of that short Chapter, Quran asked his Prophet to explicitly declare “To you be your religion, and to me mine.” [109:6]

Quran would remain consistent in its understanding of the concept of religion. When it narrates to us the experience of Prophet Joseph with the King of Egypt, Quran refers to the Law of the land at that time as “religion of the King.” Similarly, in the experience of Prophet Moses with the Pharaoh of Egypt, Quran tells us about the concern of the Pharaoh about the new message of Moses by saying “What I fear is lest he should change your religion.” [40:26]

In modern time, sociologists and anthropologists who studied the different human cultures and their religious practices, namely Max Weber who focused on the sociology of religion, came to the same conclusion that religion is a universal human phenomenon. The celebrated French social scientist, Alexis De Tocqueville, who came to the United States in the Eighteenth Century and wrote his Corpus Magnum, Democracy in America, said: “Irreligion is unknown.”

In view of all this we can say that religion is any system that informs the direction and the meaning of our actions in this life. In other words, religion is the system that answers for us the “why” and defines the path we have to follow.

Therefore, the major role of Quran is to show us the direction of truth. Quran is the reference of direction and meaning of our actions. It is not enough to know if a certain action works or does not work, but is it right or wrong?

“Say: of your partners is there any that guides to the Truth? Say: It is Allah who guides to the Truth.” [10:35]

Arabia was not an exception and had its own religion. According to historians, namely the contemporary North African Historian, Hisham Ja’it, religion in Arabia did not mean only tenets of belief and religious rituals, but also reflected culture, identity, and way of life.

The following verse validates our conclusion about the Quranic definition of religion. Worshipping the idols in Arabia did not stop at the rituals but extended to offering its children to these idols in sacrifice. People are confused about the meaning and the truthfulness of such practices. Quran refers to that as confusion of religion. “In the eyes of most pagans the custodians made alluring the slaughter of their children, in order to lead them to their own destruction, and cause confusion in their religion.” [6:137]

Therefore, Quran did not argue whether the Meccans had or did not have a religion. Also, Prophet Mohammad did not say to them: You do not have a religion and I am bringing you one. His message was mainly about a new approach to the concept of religion, and the quality of religion.

By Dr. Walid Khayr