To a varying degree, all of us suffer from ‘I am right, so you must be wrong’ syndrome. I don’t have any issues with the first part since we all believe that the faith tradition we follow is the right path. The trouble is that we often take it to mean that the ‘others’ must be wrong- in fact ‘all wrong’. But how do we define who is “right” and how do we define what is ‘righteousness’?
Here is how Merriam Webster dictionary defines righteousness:
..acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin.
I am not sure who can claim they are free from sin, but even the first part of the definition raises further questions. How do you know if someone is acting in accordance with the divine law? And what is the divine law anyway?
One passage in the Qur’an spells out the code of conduct of a righteous person.
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces Towards east or West [during prayers]; but it is righteousness- to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; AND to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient, in tribulation and adversity, and in time of stress. Such are the people of truth, the Godfearing. 2:177
The last bolded phrase is also translated as pious, who guard against evil, or righteous by various translators of the Qur’an. The Arabic word used in the Quran is Mutaqoon, derived from Muttaqi. A Muttaqi is considered to be at a higher level of belief and conduct than a ‘regular believer’.
This verse defines who is righteous without saying if one must be a “Muslim” or a “Jew” or a “Christian’. It defines what one must do to be counted among the Mutiqoon, or God-fearing, righteous, pious people. The first part involves a set of beliefs and the second part deals with actions—what one must do to be righteous.
In other words, anyone who fulfills the criteria may be considered righteous.
The following verse is not nearly as detailed but revolves around the same theme.
And they [referring to People of the Book] say: None shall enter the garden [meaning paradise] except he who is a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful. Yes! Whoever submits himself entirely to God and he is the doer of good (to others) he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for him nor shall he grieve [meaning on the Day of Judgment]. 2:111–112
The following verses are more direct and specifically address the Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Surely, those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does good work, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve [on the day of Judgment]. 2:62
An almost identical message is sent by verse 5:69.
Righteousness in the Bible
Righteousness is defined broadly as ‘fearing’ God (also interpreted more widely as being God-conscious) and obeying the decrees and the commands of the Lord. This verse does not spell out the deeds in as much details like the verse 2:177 in the Qur’an, but it makes a reference to obeying “all the commands” to be counted as righteous:
And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear Him so He can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as He has done to this day. For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us. Deuteronomy 6:24–25
The take home lesson for me is that rather than trying to figure (or claim) who is right or wrong, if we believe, and do good work, we are good to go. The belief part is a personal matter between the believer and the Creator. We will be a much better community if we can come together and simply focus on the ‘doing good work’ part.