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Why One God and Many Religions?

Familiar. Convenient. Connected. The world would feel a lot different if it had only one religion. Religions are estimated to be in the thousands, making it daunting to have to consider one. However, our world must perforce allow for the existence of many religions. Here are the reasons why:

Free Will

Endowed with free will, if the first humans to set foot on earth had only one religion, it would not remain the only one for long. The quirks and vagaries of man’s whim would, eventually, produce a myriad of religions.

God would, however, permit man to concoct other belief systems and religions; not doing so would have impeded man’s divinely granted free will. The alternative, a single belief forced on everyone, would have rendered a person’s belief contrived and artificial.

Belief by its nature would need to be genuine from the heart, anything less would transform it into disbelief:

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They were nearer to disbelief that day than to faith, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah is most Knowing of what they conceal. (Quran 3:167)

As a result, God’s religion would have to include mandates protecting choice, here are a few of them:

1- There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (Quran 2:256)

2- And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.’ (Quran 18:29)

3- Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful. (Quran 76:3)

4- You have the right to your religion, and I have the right to my religion. (Quran 109:6)

Islam acknowledged a person’s right to choose his religion. Critics who have promoted “forced conversions” and “the spread of Islam by the sword” in their historical narratives as religious duties of Muslims seemed to have contradicted unequivocal texts of the Quran and much of history. The Muslim Ottoman Empire, one of the longest lasting empires– which spanned over 600 years, did not require non-Muslims to convert to Islam.

While Christians expelled Jews from Spain, and Catholics killed Protestants in England, the Ottoman Empire resettled the Jews in its lands and allowed religious pluralism to flourish under its millet system, which granted much autonomy to non-Muslims. Under the system, Christians and Jews were granted the freedom to practice their own religion, to administer their own courts, to collect their own taxes, and to even be able to rise to high administrative positions in the Ottoman government.

Since forced faith from God was not a possibility, man’s free will would eventually give way to the existence of many religions, even if only one God existed. The Ottoman Empire was a fascinating mosaic that featured how religions could coexist without the empire, a superpower of its time, employing coercion.

God’s Will

{They will not cease to differ.} (Quran 11:119) was the forecast for religions. Man would continue to create a plethora of religions.

{And for that He created them.} (Quran 11:119) Man was created into a test that would evaluate his deeds, {to test you which of you is best in deed.} (Quran 67:2). The natural result of this test would be that man would differ with each other in what they thought was best or not. Was monotheism best or was polytheism?

However, if God wanted, He could have guided all of mankind under one religion:

And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind under one religion. (Quran 11:118)

But, He didn’t.

Yet, it was also God’s will that man should follow only one religion:

This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you Islam as a religion. (Quran 5:3)

Why, then, did God not will for mankind to all be under His one chosen religion?

God’s will could be categorized into two categories: a) the will that signified what God loved and approved, like monotheism, honesty, kindness, etc., and b) the will that signified what God permitted to exist, irrespective of His love for them, like monotheism, polytheism, honesty, lying, kindness, rudeness, etc. The first will could be called God’s Legal Will and the second could be called God’s Existential Will.

God’s Legal Will was to be known by His commands and edicts found in revelation, and His Existential Will was to be known by what happened in the universe. Man’s test was to see if he would follow God’s Legal Will within the framework of His Existential Will. If God made his Legal Will become Existential, meaning that monotheism, honesty, kindness, and all that God loved, could only exist in the world, then this life would not be a test anymore.

Critics who vilified God for the evil that existed in the world have misdirected their criticism. The evil that existed in the world was not because God liked for it to exist (His Legal Will). It only existed by God’s Existential Will, i.e. it was permitted to exist because man, himself, chose to do evil during his test in this world. Preventing man from doing evil would fall under divine coercion and defeat the purpose of his test.

For example, if a college professor observed his student selecting a wrong answer on a test, the professor’s silence should not be interpreted as an agreement to the student’s response nor should the professor ever be reproached. The professor would not correct his student simply because it would make the test counterproductive.

Despite man’s production of multiple religions, sects, and subsects, God sent Prophets and Messengers throughout time to ensure His Message was available if anyone chose to follow His original religion.

The existence of many religions was not an indication in any way that God could not be One. Rather, their existence was only the natural result of man’s free will and God’s Existential Will.

About Shakiel Humayun
Shakiel Humayun, a dad, a husband, and an entrepreneur, was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Baruch College with a BBA in Business Administration. He then completed postgraduate studies at the Umm-ul-Qura University in Makkah al-Mukarramah receiving an Associate’s Degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies with honors. He continued his studies at the College of Shariah at Umm-ul-Qura University. During his stay in Makkah, he had the opportunity to benefit from many scholars.He firmly believes in the importance of a strong community and as a result his non-profit endeavors include founding the Foundation for Knowledge and Development,Wellspring Elementary, the Hatebusters, and Masjid ‘Eesa ibn Maryam. He currently blogs at