The idea of “covenant” appears frequently in the Qur’an and sunnah, the primary sources of Islam. There are different types of covenants (e.g., between two people such as husband and wife, between business partners, between nations, etc.), but the one that is relevant in this discussion is the covenant between God and human beings. To better appreciate the concept, it is worthwhile to start from the basics.
- God is the creator of Adam and Eve. So, all people, being descendants of Adam and Eve, are brothers and sisters in humanity. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: “O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may know one another…” (Qur’an 49:13).
- As the human population increased across the globe and formed different tribes, communities, and nations, God sent messengers throughout history to the various groups, in their own language.“And We have already sent messengers before you. Among them are those [whose stories] We have related to you, and among them are those [whose stories] We have not related to you” (Qur’an 40:78).
While the exact number of messengers is not known, it is said to be in the hundreds of thousands, according to Muslim scholars. However, the Qur’an mentions the names of only a few of them, and some of them are Israelite while others are not. They include Adam, Noah, Idrees, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ayyub, Shuaib, Moses, David, Solomon, Zakariah, Jesus and, finally, Muhammad, peace be upon them all.
- Muslims are to honor and respect all the messengers and prophets without distinction.“The Messenger believes, and so do the believers, in the guidance sent down upon him from his Lord: each of them believes in Allah, and in His angels, and in His Books, and in His Messengers. They say: ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers. We hear and obey. Our Lord! Grant us Your forgiveness; to You we are destined to return’” (Qur’an 2:285).
- The Qur’an also makes it clear that all prophets of God were exceptional people of highest character. On this basis, Muslims reject all of the “not so flattering” stories about various prophets in the Bible. Stories of incest, murder, adultery, cruelty, etc. that are attributed to holy prophets are false and, according to Islamic doctrine, interpolations by humans into the divine texts.
- The equality of mankind is a central aspect of the teaching of Islam. In the eyes of God, there are no differences of status or value among people based on race, ethnicity, tribe, nation, social status, etc. The only thing that matters is piety and God-consciousness. Prophet Muhammad did his utmost to root out among his followers the false constructs of worthiness, whether race or lineage or wealth, or any factor other than righteousness and good character.Equality, as prescribed by God, is exemplified in worship. In salah (the obligatory prayer), people stand side-by-side, all in equal status of humility before God. During Hajj, every male has to wear the same two-piece white cloth covering. The values hierarchy of the dunya is replaced in Islam: the only true superiority is righteousness and that is something that any individual can strive for and attain.
“…Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware” (Qur’an 49:13).
Further, an individual should not take credit for those gifts from God that he or she did not earn, whether great intelligence, beauty, strength, talent, or any other God-given endowment.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black any superiority over a white except by piety and good action” (from the last sermon of the Prophet).
- God instituted a covenant with each prophet that the revelation or the teaching he was given required him to witness and disseminate it faithfully. By extension, the followers of the prophets are to abide by the covenant about faith and righteousness.When people live by those covenants, God might reward the righteous people with favors in this earthly life. However, the real reward is in the next life yet to come.
So, when Moses successfully freed the Israelites from clutches of Pharaoh, or King David ruled over his kingdom, or Muslims under the leadership of Muhammad defeated the Makkans after 23 years of oppression — these are examples of worldly rewards that God bestowed upon his messengers and righteous servants. These are not to be understood as God favoring any specific race or tribe or group. Rather it is God’s favor upon the righteous.
- God established a covenant with each and every human being.“And when your Lord took from the children of Adam, from their loins — their descendants — and made them testify of themselves, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said, ‘Yes, we have testified.’ Lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, ‘Indeed, we were of this unaware’” (Qur’an 7:172).
Please note that this is the covenant with all of humanity and it is a most important covenant. God has embedded awareness of this covenant in our souls so that we can recognize the truth, about God and about His existence as Creator and Lord, and that none should be worshipped but Him.
And so, recognizing and worshipping God is intrinsic knowledge in the human soul and in human nature. In fact, Islam is known as “deen al-fitrah,” the religion of human nature. This is because Islam aligns perfectly with the innate nature whose core is recognition of God and the covenant between Him and humankind. Thus, the natural inclination of an individual, unless he or she has been acculturated differently, is to worship and surrender to God, to recognize the messengers sent by God, and to conform to the divine message that they bring. This results in understanding reality, in using our reason and rationality to confirm and abide by the distinction between good and evil, to live our lives in a way that seeks a heavenly life after death, and to strive to acquire knowledge of, and live according to, the essential truths that make us human and impel us toward surrender to the one true God.