Claude Boisson writes,
Given your criterion 3 for an ideology to be a religious doctrine, it is doubtful that Islam could be viewed as a religion (it is also a socio-political system with a supremacist agenda, but that is another matter).In Islam, man can err, has to be obedient to Allah, but man is not fallen, and needs no redemption.When he is born, a human being is pure (and a Muslim by nature). His primordial nature (fitra) is not wounded, corrupted, fallen, and needs no regeneration.Even more, according to the most extensive interpretation of the (belated and somewhat anti-Qur'anic) doctrine of ismah (the impeccability of prophets), prophets, including Muhammad, never sin intentionally.
1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is a spiritual reality and thus mind-like. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.
As I understand Islam, a normative Muslim could accept my (1) and (2). But as Professor Boisson makes clear, (3) implies that Islam is not a religion.
We can now argue in two ways: If anything is a religion, then its satisfies my criteria; Islam does not satisfy my criteria; ergo, Islam is not a religion. Or one could insist that Islam is a religion and that my (3) ought to be jettisoned.
What about Buddhism? It is a religion of self-help, a religion of self-power as opposed to other-power. Among the last words of the Tathagata:
Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth. Look not for assistance to anyone besides yourselves.
[. . .]
I now exhort you, saying: ‘All component things must grow old and be dissolved again. Seek ye for that which is permanent, and work out your own salvation with diligence.’
My (4) rules out self-help wisdom-paths. We cannot achieve salvation by our own power. We need divine grace. So if Buddhism is a religion, then (4) must be jettisoned. If, however, (4) is upheld, then Buddhism does not count as a religion.
We note en passant that my (4) also rules out Stoicism and Pyrrhonian Skepticism as religions.
This leads to the thorny question of what one is doing when one sets forth criteria as I have done. I am obviously not involved in a project of pure stipulation. On the other hand I am not trying to give a lexical definition of 'religion.' Dictionary definitions are of little use in inquiries such as this one. (See The Dictionary Fallacy.) I am trying to pin down the normative essence or nature of religion.
But does religion have an essence? Not clear. It may be that the concept of religion is a family resemblance concept, one to which no essence corresponds. But even if religion does have an essence, how do I know that my criteria articulate this essence? In particular, how do I justify (3) and (4)?
But suppose religion does have a normative essence and that I have captured it. Then Islam and Buddhism are no more counterexamples to my definition than the existence of a three-legged cat is a counterexample to a definition of 'cat' that includes being four-legged as one of its essential marks. A three-legged cat is not a normatively normal cat; it is a defective cat. Islam and Buddhism are arguably not normatively normal religions; they are defective religions. They leave out essential features of the 'true' religion.
It is important to realize that none of these questions will ever be resolved, here below leastways, to the satisfaction of every competent practitioner of the relevant disciplines. It is therefore eminently stupid, besides being morally wrong, to violate and murder our ideological opponents, except in self-defense against the adherents of the 'religion of peace' to employ a contemporary example.