Salam Dear Sister,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Allah does have full knowledge of the desires of the unbelievers. Accordingly, He has provided them the very thing that they want; “freedom”! Yet, no person will be asked about that which they have no knowledge.
None will be punished for what they did not know. Every person will be asked according to his or her own understanding and what they attempted to do about their understandings. Every person will be judged according to his or her own intentions.
As for your question about your Christian family, for sure we all have the common ancestors from Adam and Eve and they are not all bound for Hell. As regards others, they will be judged according to what they were exposed to in their lives, what they understood, what they intended and what they attempted. Allah knows best who of His creatures are destined for Paradise or Hell. And He is the Final and Best Judge in all affairs.
You have also mentioned your understanding that the Muslims, Jews, and Christians all share the same God. Well, for sure there is only One God. Without doubt we are all referring to the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. However, we must quickly differentiate between what the various sects and teachings say about our belief about the One God.
It is not sufficient to say that we all believe in God and then one group is saying that ‘God is Only One’ and another is saying that ‘God is also Three at the same time He is One.’ The concepts and understandings of what is meant by saying ‘God is One’ are in reality quite different.
As for your questioning Islam being discriminative, the fact is that Islam is not “discriminating” but rather it definitely does “differentiate” between religions. There is no religion acceptable to Allah other than what He has ordained for His creation. He is God Alone and only He has the right to be worshiped and it must therefore be on His terms. The one who is worshiping cannot tell the One being worshiped what is going to be acceptable and what is not.
So according to the meaning of the word in Arabic, ‘Islam’: total submission to God’s will on His terms and in peace at all times, is the only logical religion or way of life that Allah would accept. However, this does not mean that Muslims have the right to dictate to others that they must all follow Islam. The opposite is true. This is because it would negate the free will that Allah has offered each of His creatures amongst the jinn and mankind.
Your question about the word ‘unbelievers’, whether it means unbelievers of Islam or of a single and omnipresent God, is a beautiful question and well worded. Definitely you are on the right track by making the distinction between what some people believe about ‘God’ and what they believe about ‘Islam’.
Let me just attempt to provide the ‘secret formula’ of understanding what is going on with Muslims and Allah in Islam:
‘Allah’ means the ‘Only One True God, Alone, without gender, without partners, and due all worship.’ This is the meaning of the word ‘Allah.’ This is one of two nouns in the formula.
‘Islam’ means the ‘surrender, submission, obedience, in total sincerity and peace.’ This is the action of verb that describes what is going on between the one worshiping and the One who is being worshiped.
The word ‘Muslim’ finds its origin in the word ‘Islam’ itself. The word ‘Islam’ is the verb or action, describing what is to be done. The word ‘Muslim’ is simply the Arabic word for ‘one who does Islam,’ or in English parlance we might say, he or she is an ‘Islamer.’
The rules in English of course do not apply to the Arabic language. English uses the suffix ‘er’ added to the end of a verb to indicate the ‘one who performs the verb,’ while Arabic uses the prefix ‘mu’ to show the one who is performing the verb.
Therefore, the ‘Muslim’ is one who is performing the verb of ‘Islam, that is to say, ‘surrendering, submitting, obeying, in sincerity and peace to Allah.’
We learn from this that ‘Islam’ is describing the relationship between the One being worshiped (Allah – The Only One Worthy of Worship) and the worshiper (the one worshiping according to the formula).
Finally, to answer this question most correctly, it is not sufficient to merely ‘believe in God.’ There must be more than an oral statement. This requires devotion, dedication and effort, otherwise anyone could come along and say, ‘I believe God is One’, but then they could be very evil and do horrible things and never worship God on His terms.
So, by your own distinction in the question you have provided the key to the solution and hopefully my ‘formula’ will provide the answers or at least stimulate your intelligence and cause you to reflect and continue in your search for truth. – For more on this aspect of the Declaration of Faith in Islam, please watch the videos: The 9 Points of ‘Shahadah’
Sister Heba, – from the AAI board of consultants – also drew my attention, in her comment attached to your question, when she e-mailed it to me to an important point. That is Islam does make a distinction between judgments in the civil society and judgment in the religious realm.
While Islam respects and regards believers of the book from other religions, as equal citizens – hence the stress on their rights – it does not acknowledge their conception of God in the religious realm. Islam does say that this is not acceptable by Allah on the Day of Judgment.
This is not a contradiction. On the contrary, this is the foundation for civil religious tolerance, while matters of reward on the Day of Judgment are left to the One and Only!
Muslims do not have to accept trinity in order to be tolerant! Nevertheless, they have to make sure Christians are treated as equal citizens even if they see them on the wrong path. I guess this is the essence of justice.
I am a man of religion, a caller to Islam, while Heba is a political scientist. So, I guess her vision is quite insightful here.
Wishing you the very best, we pray to Allah to show us all, the straight path.
I hope this helps answer your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.