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The verse 62 of sura Bakarah say that,

Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.[sahih international]

Then, why do people need to embrace Islam?

Edited - Correct Translation

Added correct translation. Notice that Sihih International translation uses past tense. This question needs to be answered in light of correct translation below.

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. [Shakir]

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Because Muslims believe the Christians are worshiping a corrupt religion and one that can be considered as a polytheism. From my understanding, they also believe the Judaism is corrupt. Besides those two religions, there are no order major religions who believe in the God of Abraham. Maybe a better question would be, "Why do we need Christianity, Islam, and Judaism if we have God?" Which is then more of a philosophical question than a religious one. –  user206 Jan 4 '13 at 20:45
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

We believe, before Prophet Muhammad (peach be upon him), The Jews, Christians, and Sabeans (Who were following original teachings of their prophets, such as belief in Islamic monotheism, and the day of judgment, with all their laws for them) were in Islam, So they will be rewarded.

Note that, Allah first says about "who believed", indicating the people now believed in Muhammad (pbuh) , and (answering the question immediately, "what about the people before him?"), who are

Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad]

and who have also the quality of

believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness

will be rewarded. It doesn't imply that, the people who do not embrace Islam after prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) will be rewarded.

As Prophet Muhammad (Sall-allahu-alaihi-wa-sallam) says, in several hadith,

"He who dies without associating anything with Allah will enter Jannah, and he who dies associating partners with Allah will enter the Fire" source

Here, The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) clearly says that, Anyone who dies associating partners with Allah, will enter into the Fire. This is true for the current (it is for the purpose of answer, not an attack on them) Jews and Christians, who associates partners with Allah.

Second point here is, Though the fundamental belief was same from time to time, the Shariah (Law) was changed, and the later people are obliged to follow the new Shariah. And in this point, Islam is the last Shariah from Allah, and the former believers (we do not saying about people who associate with Allah, since they are filtered in the first point) have to follow and embrace the last Shariah, to be considered as the true servant of Allah. Who fail to follow, they will be excluded from the reward.

As prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse." They said, "O Allah's Apostle! Who will refuse?" He said, "Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me is the one who refuses (to enter it). source

As in this Hadith Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) clearly saying

وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لاَ يَسْمَعُ بِي أَحَدٌ مِنْ هَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ يَهُودِيٌّ وَلاَ نَصْرَانِيٌّ ثُمَّ يَمُوتُ وَلَمْ يُؤْمِنْ بِالَّذِي أُرْسِلْتُ بِهِ إِلاَّ كَانَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ النَّارِ ‏

By Him in Whose hand is the life of Muhammad, he who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state (of disbelief), he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire. source

In short

The meaning of the Ayat is:

The people, who were believers in Islamic monotheism (do not associates any partner with Allah, and have belief in Last day) in their age, and follower of the Shariah (Law) revealed to them by their prophets, and died in that state, and the believer in present (Muslims in short) will be rewarded, if they did rightful deeds.

Who are excluded

  1. The people who associates any partner to Allah, currently ...
  2. The people who have believe in Allah's oneness, do not associate any partner to him, but also do not follow the last Shariah (Law) and do not accept and believe in the prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they are excluded.

Please note that, I have answered this according to my knowledge. It should not be used as the last proof for something. You can go to the Ulama (Knowledgeable person) to understand more clearly.

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In Quran, the followers of the religious laws of our prophet are referred to as "الذین آمنوا". The phrase is similar to "الذین هادوا" which refers to the followers of the religious laws brought by Moses (PBUH) (and other prophets following him), i.e. Jews.

It doesn't refer to the Jews before the time of our prophet. The Jews at the time of the prophet are also referred to as "الذین هادوا" in Quran (e.g. verse 5:41). So the verse does apply to Jews and Christians during the time of the prophet and after his time.

Note that the verse states that "the followers of Mohammad (PBUH) and those who follow Judaism and Christians and Sabeans whomever believes in God and the last day and does good". That is those following our prophet are added to these other religious groups and the verse states very explicitly that if any of them satisfies those three conditions they shall have neither fear nor sorrow. And These conditions do not include believing in our prophet, do not include following the religious laws given to him. If they accepted and followed the laws brought by our prophet they wouldn't be called Jews, etc.

Those conditions also apply to the followers of the Islamic laws, i.e. simply following the Islamic laws is not considered to result in salvation in this verse. A person following Islamic laws should also satisfy the later three conditions, otherwise this verse doesn't apply to that person.

So what the verse implies that following a particular set of religious laws (Islamic Sharia, Judaism halaka, etc) is not necessarily nor sufficient for salvation. What is important is iman in God and the last day and doing good. (However, there is a catch here: iman in God means submitting to his will and if a person knowingly reject his will and insists on disobeying God's orders then that person doesn't have iman. So if a person from those religions knows that Mohammad (PBUH) is sent from God but rejects him then the verse does not apply to that person because that person does not have iman.)

If being Jew or Christian meant that the person doesn't have iman after our prophet's time we wouldn't have verses in Quran were God allows relations between Muslims and them, eating from each others food, marrying each other, etc. (e.g. verse 5:5). In Quran the treatment of the people of the book is clearly and explicitly different from the non-believers. There are several very positive verses about the people of the book.

One of the strongest related verses is verse 5:48 which states that for each of these religions God has given a (different) set of religious laws and if God wanted he could make all of them one, but he didn't. Therefore he doesn't want so. The preceding verse (5:47) orders that the followers of Christianity should judge between themselves based on Injil, this is during during the prophet's time and even the prophet has to judge between them based on Injil and not based on Islamic laws. The verse 5:48 ends by ordering the followers of all of these religions to speed and outpace each other in doing good. That is what God wants from people: believe in him, in the last day, and do good. If you think you are following a better religion, outpace the followers of the other religions in doing good. And in the judgement day God will judge between the followers of these religions over their disagreements (also see verses 22:67-69).

So the answers that say the verse is about the time before our prophet do not look consistent with Quran.


Now, let's return to your question. You ask:

"why do people need to embrace Islam" if the followers of the previous religions can also obtain salvation without embracing Islam (under the conditions mentioned in the verse)?

A follower of these religions needs to have iman in Mohammad (PBUH) and what is given to him (Quran) if that person knows that this is from God. A person who knows this has to do so because it is God's explicit order to them, e.g. verse 2:41. It is also part of God's covenant with them to accept the prophets that God sends(verse 5:12). If a person doesn't know these, then that person may not need to accept them, however such a person should neither reject them. A person lacking knowledge should neither accept nor reject. Accepting without knowledge and rejecting without knowledge about a matter are both bad.

So if a follower of these religions does not know that Mohammad (PBUH) is sent by God, that person may not need to accept it, but must not rejects either.

This is what I understand from Quran, and God knows best.

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That is tricky; a follower of Judaism / Christianity does not accept Muhammad (as a prophet, or at all), or the Quran, which seems to lead to a contradiction - specifically: it would suggest Jews/Christians can be saved as long as they don't follow Jewish/Christian doctrine (which, if they didn't, would mean: they aren't Jews/Christians). Muhammad does not feature in Jewish/Christian doctrine. At all. Both Christianity and Judaism would see such as a heresy. –  Marc Gravell Aug 6 '12 at 11:56
    
@Marc, I don't see the contradiction. What do you mean by Jewish/Christian doctrine? –  Kaveh Aug 6 '12 at 11:59
    
the teachings, scripture and dogma of those religions. –  Marc Gravell Aug 6 '12 at 11:59
    
Specifically, I'm saying that the line "A follower of these religions needs to have iman in Mohammad (PBUH) and what is given to him (Quran)" is not compatible with those people being Jewish/Christian. –  Marc Gravell Aug 6 '12 at 12:00
    
@Marc, I still don't see a contradiction, especially regarding Judaism. From Muslim perspective, these religions have been altered over the centuries and therefore the fact that some of their beliefs is not consistent with Islamic views is not surprising. In fact Quran states such cases all the time. However the origin and the core beliefs are similar. –  Kaveh Aug 6 '12 at 12:07
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Ultimately the statement is saying that those who are true believers whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish will be treated justly (this maybe opinion). More detail...

The section you are referring to is a story about Moses. It is (as implied in your translation in the []) referring to Moses and people of his time, before Islam was brought down. Particularly if you read the two previous verses you will have see that it is describing people of Moses' time who chose not to believe and killed the prophets. Then your verse states that those who did believe will be treated justly and be rewarded.

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how can a man be a true believer and a non-Muslim simultaneously? –  BROY Jun 29 '12 at 15:10
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@BROY Muslim means "one who submits to God". Before the nation of Muhammad (Salallahu alayhi wassalam), there were many nations and they had their messengers like Musa (Alayhi salam) and Isa'(Jesus)(Alayhi salam). There were people who submitted to God among the followers of these Messengers. They are true believers. The current nation is that of Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wassalam) and the true believer is one who believers in him and his Message. –  Abdullah Jun 29 '12 at 15:16
    
This needs proofs. I don't think this answer is correct; see the next answer. –  ashes999 Jun 29 '12 at 16:48
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(I) Allah didn't name this religion (Abraham named us "Muslims" only). The name of this religion is "Islam", it means "obedience", and Quran uses that name for its literal meaning, not for naming the religion.

(II) In order for someone to be salvaged from hell, he must be a Mumin and must have done good deeds. The word "mumin" comes from the root "امن", and one of its etymological meaning is "to be safe". Being a Mumin is nothing but being in the safe line called "suratal mustakim". There is a lot of ayats in Quran saying that those who are Mumin and who did good deeds will be salvaged for sure, but there is no ayat in Quran saying that a Muslim will be salvaged for sure.

(III) It is possible that someone heard bad things about Islam on TV, did hear its rightful explanation from anyone, hated it by name only. But somehow lived as a Mumin. Stayed away from shirk, did good deeds, did salat according to his own way and understanding and Allah accepted that, etc. Then he is a Mumin.

If you combine (I), (II) and (III) then you understand the ayat 2:62. Quran states that some of ahlul kitab are Mumin, even though they are defining themselves as Christian, Jew, etc. This is a fact. Defining yourself as a Muslim does not make you a Muslim. Defining yourself as an Atheist does not make you a pagan; there are some pagans who oppose the wrong definition of Allah, so they are opposing this wrong definition by saying "There is no Allah!" by their mouth, but they live a better life than an ordinary Muslim does. Quran is mentioning this fact in that ayat.


An extra information and thinking exercise:
Animals and plants are not Muslim (they are living according to their own desires), but they are Mumin (Satan did not deceive them and lured them out of Cannat as he did to human race by Adam). So, being a Mumin is theoretically possible without being a Muslim.

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The Prophet (pbuh) clearly says, that Who don't accept his prophecy, He is neither a Mumin, nor a Muslim. Then how can he be safe? –  Anwar Jun 29 '12 at 17:29
    
@AnwarShah That kind of people would have accepted prophecy of Muhammad (pbuh) if they had learned him from neutral sources. Please try to understand my explanation. They hate Islam, the prophet and Allah, because they learned them from subjective sources. –  Ahmed Han Jun 29 '12 at 18:32
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-1 because you don't provide proof for (III). If you do that I will take back the DV. –  Ansari Jun 30 '12 at 2:59
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I meant the part where you say "Then he is a mumin" - that's a pretty strong statement. Please provide some type of backing up. –  Ansari Jun 30 '12 at 9:17
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@Ansari The proof is the ayats like 5:69 (Indeed, those who becomes a mumin (amenu) and those who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians - those [among them] who becomes mumin with (amene bi-) Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.). This ayat indicates that there maybe Mumins even among Jews and Christians. What a person names his/her religion is not important, the important thing is what religion he/she actually is living according to. There are some people among non-Muslims which lives as a Mumin even more than a Muslim does. –  Ahmed Han Jun 30 '12 at 20:04
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