Theories of evolution of the phenomenon called religion are still being debated in various corners of the globe. A considerable number of men (E.B. Tylor, James Farzer, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, Herbert Spencer, August Comte, Friedrich Nietzsche, Grant Allen, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, R N Bellah, etc.) belonging to diverse fields of philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, politics and science maintain that religion has no divine origin and that it is the product of man’s encounter with nature. They see no supernatural working in the management of the universe or intervention in the affairs of humanity. They anticipate the erasure of religious beliefs in the light of rational and scientific evidence. In their view, the beginning of religion was the simplest crude thinking, and its conclusion would be the substitution of religion with refined thought, i.e., the complete awareness of nature and its happenings. They believe that the space of religion would shrink with each new discovery of science. The evolutionary journey of religion (from Animism to Manism to Polytheism) to the highest mark, i.e., monotheism, in itself should pave way for a better system, i.e., scientific system.
On the other hand, the revealed and mystic literature of mankind speaks in bulk about the religious experience humans have gone through. Such an experience is so enduring and overriding in the annals of human history that it would be injustice to abandon it as mere illusion. There seems no reason, as Iqbal recounts, for the mundane level of human experience to be accepted as a fact and the mystical and emotional levels to be thought of as trash. The most trusted evidence is the testimony of the prophets, for they are the only souls who suffered heavily and solely for the welfare of others.
The entire narrative of the Qur’an is saturated with the opposite of what religious evolutionists uphold. Qur’an notices the monotheism of the earliest human beings. Qur’an identifies the primordial disposition (Fitrah) among human beings as an innate tendency, instinctive to every human being – a predisposition towards Tawhid. If a human being is not indoctrinated externally, he would continue to stick to the true nature of the world. The deviation from Tawhid (which is intertwined with Fitrah) is the result of human weaknesses and the blind imitation of others. The child is taught to subscribe to the belief of his parents (in most of the cases), otherwise the innate tendency of the child would always choose monotheism (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 6429).
Qur’an argues that mankind in the beginning was one Ummah. It was only after humans strayed from the true faith that Allah deputed prophets both as heralds of good tidings and warnings (Qur’an 2:213). Prophet Muhammad (SAW) communicated in Hadith-i-Qudsi that Allah created mankind upon the true faith, i.e., Tawhid. It was human folly that they fell prey to the whispers of the devil who led them off the straight path. They associated partners with God according to their own whims and desires.
It was with this view that Muslim religious scholars and historians analysed religious diversity. They discovered the seeds of religious pluralism in man rather than in God. Differences of religions in the eyes of such Muslim historians of religion owe either to the varying reports of the same phenomenon by the people who witnessed it, or to the insufficient descriptions, or flawed expressions of the phenomenon. On the other hand, human passions, negligence, fantasy, ulterior motives, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding resulted in the proliferation of religions. Besides the alteration of revealed texts through unprincipled expressions and descriptions coupled with the faulty scrutiny of the veracity of reports, along with socio-economic adversities, were the causes of deviation from the true religion of monotheism preached by prophets through the human existence.
Islam with the Prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) marked the culmination of divine revelations starting from Adam to Jesus and comprehending the entire legacy of Prophethood. It vigorously and unceasingly preached an uncompromising monotheistic creed. It endorsed not only the earlier revelations and the traces of God-consciousness among mankind but equally aimed at perfecting the civil, political, material, legal, and moral codes of conduct. It finalised the contours of Tawhid and took monotheism to its logical conclusion. The Qur’an declared Muhammad as the last in the line of messengers and Islam as the final religion for mankind. The Prophet of Islam stands as a bridge between the earlier Prophets and the contemporary populace. Iqbal in his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ says that as far as the source of revelation is concerned, Muhammad belongs to the ancient world, and so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the modern world.
Qur’an that calls itself as Muhaimin [Guardian of True Monotheism] shows not the least hesitation in acknowledging that all the Prophets of Allah before Muhammad professed Tawhid and invited people to the worship of one God, thereby restricting people from veneration and obedience to pseudo-gods and evil spirits. Indeed, the perfect notion of a singular Being has achieved its final shape in the teachings of the Quran. The qualities and attributes of Allah have been detailed with their subtle implications for human lives, while the minutest aspects of Polytheism, Monolatrism, Henotheism, Pantheism, Trinity, and Dualism have been rendered vague and irrational.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad argued that the Torah represented God as vengeful, while the Gospel of Jesus signified Him as compassionate. According to Azad, the transition is not meant to discriminate one community from the other or to authenticate the Dualism of Zoroastrians/ Manicheans but to expound the attributes of God piecemeal, so that it suits people according to their mental set-up. He says that the Qur’an presents both the attributes of retribution and mercy in equal proportions. This reveals the wisdom of Allah in ensuring the steadfastness of people on the path of virtue and righteousness.
As the thought and awareness among human beings continues to improve with respect to nature, so do the greatness of Allah and His attributes each passing moment. As one cannot deduce that humans have still not reached the level of higher rationality, so cannot we assume that religion has not reached its maturity! The belief of monotheism cannot evolve out of the remnants of polytheism as the philosophers or religious evolutionists believe. Only the modes of expression and the rules of worship can evolve in a certain sense. If Buddhism rebelled against the belief of idolism in Hinduism, it shouldn’t have degenerated into intense idol worship itself! If monotheism was the last milestone of religious evolution, there should have been no superstition and polytheism at present, for man has entered the scientific age or the age of reason.