Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
How do we know that religion wasn’t just a construct created by earlier people for control?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
In order to answer your question, we must first understand what is meant by religion.
The Religion of Islam
Although there are many religions in the world, Islam would argue that there is and has always been only one true God-made religion. The rest are either distortions of the true religion or man-made religions.
The true God made religion is just that God-made. At its core, it demands submission to God’s will and, by extension, carrying out the will of God in the world through humble and grateful obedience.
Every Prophet and Messenger from the inception of the Human race submitted to God’s will, obeyed Him entirely, and guided creation to do the same. Thus from Adam (Blessings and peace be upon him) to the final Messenger Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), all were people of submission, linguistically – Muslims.
Created for Control
It is easy (though it may take time) to firmly establish that not only was Islam not created by man to gain control over the world, its core book, any human could have never created the Qur’an. Its miraculous nature testifies to that fact. See the following links for more details on that.
That said, the message and example of the Prophets stand against the notion that Islam was created to gain control.
Let’s Assume You’re Right
If man made up Islam (or religion in general) to gain control over the world, all the Prophets would then be lying about receiving revelation from God and acting solely to gain power, status, and control.
If this were true, as soon as the opportunity for control arose – mission accomplished – they would take it, and they would have no further need for proselytizing.
The Quraysh (the tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged) assumed that Muhammad had ulterior motives for preaching: lustful pleasures, riches, and authority over the tribes of Mecca.
Acting on this assumption, they offered Muhammad any woman he wanted in all of Mecca, that they would gather their money and give it to him, making him the richest of them all. They offered to make him king of Mecca, unheard of in a tribal society. He refused it all. His only motive was to connect people’s hearts to their Creator.
I assume that the arguments in your question are not of your own promotion. You have likely heard such arguments from others, particularly non-muslim, atheist types. If this is the case, I advise you to stop listening to such people/discussions.
First and foremost, one must have a firm grounding in their religious understanding. A deep understanding of Islamic Theology, Jurisprudence, and Spiritual Purification will equip one with the ability to discern the true or false nature of people’s claims or objections. An intermediate student of the Sacred knowledge of Islam understands the falsehood of the majority of the objects of the atheists and others of that sort.
Lastly, faith is a matter of the heart, not the head. Islam is the clear truth rationally, and those arguments and proofs can be found in the books and lectures of scholars. But the reality of knowing Allah Most High and truly understanding creation is the fruit of absolute certitude (yaqin) in faith. This can only be achieved through humble submission and grateful obedience.
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.