The above quotation is a very serious and important rhetorical question from the Almighty, one which we should always consider when we attempt to understand for ourselves the will of Allah and its function in our own lives and intellectual/spiritual components. God knows what exists in the entire creation, he is aware of who lives in the universe, and is best suited to judge his creation. That much is obvious, and is perhaps accepted by all Muslims as well as a number of Non-Muslims.
The Qur'an addresses the question of Deen in the presence of God in the following words:
"And whosoever desires a Deen that is not Islam [Ghayril Islaam] it will never be accepted from him, and he-in the end- will be among the Losers" [ 3:85]
From this Quranic ayah , as well as other texts, it is generally believed that the Islamic position is that "Muslims" will find salvation and happiness in the next life, and that all others are doomed to hellfire.
One saying in vogue among the Muslims is that "the worst Muslim is better than the best Christian" [Ft. 1] allegedly because the 'Muslim' will recite the Shahaadah at various times in life as well as when close to death, thus securing a place in Paradise. [Ft. 2]
It is our hope to examine the Quranic teaching in whole on this subject, to determine the validity of these common assertions, and perhaps, God-willing, offer an explanation that will put to rest this question, among my fellow-Muslims- and Non-Muslims- for their information and consideration, as a source of assistance spiritually.
It is a common misconception that Islam first entered the human sphere with the coming of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad :saws:. This is a view that is not supported by the Qur'an. [Ft. 3]
The Qur'an asserts that all of the prior scriptures and messengers taught the same religion, i.e. Islam. One example reads:
"Say: We believe in God, and what has been revealed to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Issac and Jacob-in that given to Moses, Jesus and all the Prophets-We make no distinction between anyone of them and we are for him submissive [Muslimoon]"[ 2:136]
"The road established for you in that religion was also enjoined upon Noah..and that given to Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Stand firm in religion, do not make division in it.."[ 42:13]
This "Islam" is not the Islam found in contemporary Muslim practice! The Al-Faatihah [Qur'an Surah #1], central to prayer as conducted by today's Muslim practice- was not central to prayer as conducted by Abraham, Moses and the other prophets, as The Qur'an had yet to come to the world.
Islam is an Arabic word meaning "Submission to God". Similarly, the word "Muslim" is a rather generic term describing one who does the act of submission [see fts. 4-5]
Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, upon whom be peace, born in the year 570 C.E. in Makkah, Arabian peninsula, was simply the last and final Prophet, to whom God sent the final book, known as the Qur'an. He is the exemplar model as to how the Qur'an should be put into practice. [Ft. 6]
The Qur'an and Muhammad are simply the completion of the entire process of revelation and teachers, a continuation of that sublime legacy, not a new religion or a faith different from that taught before.
"This day I have perfected your Deen for you, completed by favour upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your Deen" [ Qur'an 5:3] [ft. 7]
What about other religions?
It is certainly true that the Qur'an has asserted that Islam is the religion which is accepted by God [see Qur'an 3:19]. However, let us pay close attention to the verse cited at the beginning of this article.
" And whoever desires a religion that is not Islam..." [3:85]
It is quite unfortunate that many commentators have focused upon the words "Islam" "It will never be accepted from him" and have overlooked the word "desires"[Yab-tagh].
Surely, in this vast world, filled with creatures and beings that far outnumber those of our own race, creed or cast, there are many among the Christians, the Jews, and others who have a desire to serve God, love God and live according to Godly principles.
Admittedly the Qur'an asserts that some views and ideological positions of the various religions are incorrect, nonetheless it has also expressed God's mercy, forgiveness and unlimited compassion all the same:
"Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, Christian, Sabian- who believe in God and the last day, who perform righteous deeds, on them shall be neither fear, nor grief" [2:62, also see 5:69 ] [see ft.8]
In the midst of condemnation of bad behavior, we are told:
"They are not all alike. From the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] are a group that are standing true, reading God's signs in the evenings prostrating [to God]" [2:113 also see 2:114]
The Qur'an has placed great emphasis on faith in God, as well as deeds that exemplify that faith, such as charity, prayer, etc..and not on recitation of formulas, as that which places one in a position to receive God's blessings in this life and the next.
"And some people say 'We believe in God and the last day' and yet-they are not believers" [2:6]
"So condemned are those who pray, who are negligent in their prayer, who pray to be seen, and that refuse neighborly deeds"[107 4-7]
If God rewards my faith, why should I follow the Qur'an and Muhammad?
The Qur'an has been sent from the Divine being to humankind to be a source of assistance, nay-guidance, to clarify misunderstandings and false notions. It is imperative to investigate this claim, especially when one has faith in the existence of God and Divine Justice. Muhammad, to whom it was sent- was God's final Prophet, a messenger to all humanity and himself a source of mercy insofar as showing that humans are perfectly capable of overcoming adversity and Satanic enmity. [see Q 33:40 and 21:107]
To accept these principles is to accept that God becomes the center of life, an existence of happiness and purpose, and not centered upon sect, tradition, or race. Such narrowness limits one's spiritual life to naught.
The Qur'an informs us that:
"The messenger [Muhammad] believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the believers. Say:We believe in God, his angels, his books, and his messengers. We make no distinction between his messengers, and we say 'We hear, and we obey'.."[ 2: 285]
Those who accept the Islam as given in the Qur'an and the person of Muhammad the Prophet of God will be rewarded twice, for the life of virtue before, and for the new path [ 57:28].
Muslim tradition tells us that one who accepts Islam will have his prior sins wiped clean, and are even suggested to bathe prior to publically accepting Islam [by the Shahaadah], as a symbol of a new life.
- This saying has been attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, however it is not in the authoritative collections such as Sahih Bukhari. In fact, This author has been unable to find a source for this alleged statement.
 "He who says 'Laa Ilaa-ha Ill-Allah' while dying will enter paradise' Sunan Abi Dawud, 3:190
 Numerous Quranic texts show this, see 3:3-4, 3:84, etc..
 Islam is a verbal noun [Masdar].
 Ism al-Faa'il in Arabic grammatical terminology. Other examples include 'Mujrim' [Criminal] 'Mukhlis"[ Sincere person], etc...
 see 33:21
 Many Muslim scholars believe this to be the last verse revealed to the Prophet.
 It is popularly assumed that these sort of verses are "abrogated" by 3:85 and 3:19. This is an example of how feelings of group solidarity and political intrigue can influence the interpretation of the Quranic text in a wrong fashion. This author does not accept the idea of Abrogation [Man-sookh] when dealing with the Qur'an. Muhammad Asad has also rejected this notion, see his The Message of the Qur'an [1980 Gibraltar, Dar-Andalus books].
Many traditionalists do accept this theory. I would suggest reading Ibn katheer's comments on 2:62 [Tafseer al-Qur'aan Al-'Adheem] for their perspective.