Fourteen centuries ago, Islam made the greatest ecumenical call the world has ever seen. The Qur'an calls the People of the Book (Christians and Jews primarily):
This call, coming in the ninth year of the Hijra, begins with the "la (no!)" in the statement of faith "La ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but God)." More than a command to do something positive, it is a call not to do certain things, so that followers of the revealed religions could overcome their mutual separation. It represented the widest statement on which members of all religions could agree. In case this call was rejected, Muslims were to respond: Your religion is for you; my religion is for me (109:6) That is, if you do not accept this call, we have surrendered to God. We will continue on the path we have accepted and let you go on your own path.
Elmalili Hamdi Yazir, a famous Turkish interpreter of the Qur'an, made the following interesting observations regarding this verse:
It has been shown how various consciences, nations, religions, and books can unite in one essential conscience and word of truth, and how Islam has taught the human realm such a wide, open, and true path of salvation and law of freedom. It has been shown fully that this is not limited to the Arab or non-Arab. Religious progress is possible not by consciences being narrow and separate from each other, but by their being universal and broad.7
Islam gave this breadth of conscience, this broad path of salvation, and this law of freedom to us as a gift. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi explains this broadest scope of Islam from a contemplative observation he had in the Bayezid Mosque in Istanbul:
Once I thought about the pronoun "we" in the verse: You alone do we worship, and You alone we ask for help (1:5), and my heart sought the reason why "we" was used in place of "I." Suddenly I discovered the virtue and secret of congregational prayer from that pronoun "we."
I saw that by doing my prayer with the congregation at the Bayezid Mosque, every individual in the congregation became a kind of intercessor for me, and as long as I recited the Qur'an there, everyone testified for me. I got the courage from the congregation's great and intense servitude to present my insufficient servitude to the Divine Court.
Suddenly another reality unveiled itself: All of Istanbul's mosques united and came under the authority of the Bayezid Mosque. I got the impression that they confirmed me in my cause and included me in their prayer.
At that time I saw myself in the earthly mosque, in circular rows around the Ka'ba. I said: "Praise be to the Lord of the worlds. I have so many intercessors; they are saying the same thing I say in my prayer and confirming me. "
As this reality was unveiled, I felt I was standing in prayer in front of the blessed Ka'ba. Taking advantage of this situation, I took those rows of worshippers as witnesses and said: "I witness that there is no god but God; again I bear witness that Muhammad is God's Messenger." I entrusted this testimony to faith to the sacred Black Stone. While leaving this trust, suddenly another veil opened. I saw that the congregation I was in was separated into three circles.
The first circle was a large congregation of believing Muslims and those who believe in God's existence and Unity. In the second circle, I saw all creatures were performing the greatest prayer and invocation of God. Every class or species was busy with its own unique invocation and litanies to God, and I was among that congregation. In the third circle I saw an amazing realm that was outwardly small, but, in reality, large from the perspective of the duty it performed and its quality. From the atoms of my body to the outer senses, there was a congregation busy with servitude and gratitude.
In short, the pronoun "we" in the expression "we worship" pointed to these three congregations. I imagined our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, the translator and propagator of the Qur'an, in Madina from which he was addressing humanity, saying: O humanity! Worship your Lord! (2:21). Like everyone else, I heard his command in my spirit, and like me, everyone in the three congregations replied with the sentence: "You alone do we worship."