Inherited beliefs vs. new persuasion
As Muslims, we believe that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was the last messenger Allah sent to mankind and that the Islamic message is the final one from Allah. As such, it is the faith all mankind should follow. The problem is the followers of other religions have similar beliefs, whether they are Christians, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus, they believe that their faith is the best, outlining the ultimate truth. This makes it very difficult to persuade followers of other religions that Islam is the only way to happiness in the life to come. No one chooses where and in which family and community he is born. Please comment.
It is true that no one chooses where he is born. Indeed, practically all children receive their education in schools in the choice of which they have no say. Let me give you this example: Two people are born to Muslim families that are religious. At home they learn Islamic principles and the beliefs in the Oneness of Allah and in the message of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is implanted in their minds at an early age. They then go to the same school; and receive the same type of education. However, they are different in their make up. One of them grows up fulfilling his duties as he is taught. He never questions anything related to Islam. He simply accepts it and attends to what he is taught to be his duties. The other does the same, but he questions everything. Indeed, he looks at the basic Islamic beliefs including the cornerstone of the Islamic faith, namely, the belief in the Oneness of Allah.
His questioning leads him to accept those beliefs with an open mind. He considers carefully the benefits of attending to each one of the Islamic duties. He is sure in his mind that attending regularly to prayers makes him a better person. He realizes that the payment of Zakah makes the community a compassionate one where the rich take care of the poor. He realizes that by fasting he achieves a high level of discipline that enables him to attend to the greater task of jihad required by every Muslim. Thus he approaches every one of the Islamic obligations, not merely with the attitude of one who wants to fulfill his duties, but also with the feeling that he, as an individual, and his community benefits by the fulfillment of those duties. Are these two persons the same?
There is no doubt that the second person is much superior to the first. As such, he will receive a more handsome reward from Allah because he found his belief on personal choice, which comes on top of what he has been taught. Indeed, this is what Islam requires of every one of us. If we are Muslims simply because we have been brought up as such and we do not question things that have been taught to us in childhood, we are considered to have failed in the requirement that our belief in Islam should be based on proper investigation and enlightened choice. If such study and investigation is required of those who are brought up as Muslims, then it is only fair that the same requirement should apply to people who are born in other faiths.
Allah wants every human being to choose to believe in Him. He has placed in the universe numerous pointers and indicators testifying to His existence, oneness and overall sovereignty in the universe. These indicators and pointers are sufficient to guide anyone who contemplates and thinks logically to the ultimate conclusion of Allah's existence and man's need to worship Him alone.
Allah did not leave matters at that. He sent prophets and messengers to call on people to believe in Him. Those who respond will be guided right and will make sure of learning Allah's pleasure, that results in admission to heaven in the life to come. Because distortion crept into earlier scriptures, Allah has guaranteed to make His final message, the Qur'an, available to mankind in its pure and original form. He has guaranteed to preserve His revelations intact. This is indeed manifest in the preservation of the Qur'an and the Hadith. Moreover, in all previous messages, Allah has included references to the final messenger He would send and the requirement of the followers of earlier religions to follow the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once he begins to make his call to mankind to believe in the oneness of Allah. Every prophet is required to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and follow him if he happens to be alive when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, begins to preach his message. The earlier prophets' followers are also required to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his message. We still can find such references in the scriptures of several religions. Nevertheless people tend to overlook these and to stick to what they believe to be the truth. If they fail to use their minds and act on Allah's instructions, they only have themselves to blame.
You speak of the difficulty in persuading a disbeliever to convert to Islam. Our task is not to convert people. Allah does not require that of us. What He wants us to do is to convey His final message to other people and make it clear to them that Allah wants them to believe in this message and implement it in their lives. If they refuse, then they incur His displeasure and will certainly be punished for that.
Once we have made this clear to other people, we have fulfilled our task. Allah will not ask us why they have not responded. After all, it is He who guides people to the right path. He tells his messenger: "You certainly cannot guide [to the right path] anyone you please. It is Allah who guides whomever He wills. He certainly has full knowledge of those who are guided."