The main stages of religion are as follows:
1- The “nafsul-amr” religion: What exists in the knowledge of Allah (swt) regarding the guidance of man to his eternal prosperity and salvation, is the “nafsul-amr” religion. In other words, the nafsul-amr religion is the way of life for man from the beginning to the end.
2- The “mursal” religion: The religion that has been sent down to man for his guidance through his prophets. In other words, the “mursal” religion is a portion or all of the “nafsul-amr” religion which is bestowed upon man via the prophets.
Four stages can be pictured for religion in which the main ones are as follows:
1) The “nafsul-amr” (the term nafsul-amr literally means “the reality”) religion: What lies in the knowledge of Allah (swt) regarding the guidance of man and leading him to eternal prosperity, is called the religion of “nafsul-amr”. The religion of “nafsul-amr” is the way of life for man from his beginning to his end. According to the Quran, the beginning of man begins with knowing nothing:
و اللّه أخرجکم من بطون أمّهاتکم لا تعلمون (And Allah brought you out from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing), and his end, according to the verse:
ما خلقت الجنّ و الإنس إلاّ لیعبدون (I did not create the jinn and the humans except that they may worship Me), is endless knowledge. That is because worship is the result of knowledge and acquaintance, and the amount of worship depends on the amount of knowledge and acquaintance one has regarding Allah (swt). That is why Mulla Sadra interprets the verse like this: “I did not create Man and Jinn except for knowing, and since Allah (swt) is endless, knowing about Him is also endless. The nafsul-amr religion is the “prescription” and the guidelines to the salvation of mankind which is in the Al-Lohul Mahfudh (the preserved tablet; referring to the knowledge of Allah (swt)). The nafsul-amr religion is an entity of true reality that has its own existence and isn't something merely imaginary without any reality.
2) The “mursal” (mursal literally means something that has been sent down) religion: The religion sent down by Allah (swt) to the people through his prophets for the guidance of mankind. In other words, the mursal religion is a portion or all of the nafsul-amr religion which has been sent to the prophets in order to teach the people and make them aware of it.
Although these terms may sound a bit unfamiliar, yet if one pays close attention to the essence of religion and what has taken place in history, he/she will truly figure out these different stages and will realize that they are there. Ever since the creation of man, while knowing of man’s beginning and end, Allah (swt) had a clear way of life for man’s true salvation and eternal prosperity (the nafsul-amr religion), in which he would send a portion of to mankind in every period through his messengers (the mursal religion).
One can also realize these different stages through the various usages of the term “religion”. Whenever we speak of Allah’s (swt) true religion and we call it Islam (note that here, what is meant by Islam is “surrendering”, not the specific religion of Islam that belongs to the beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)), or when we remove false beliefs from the realm of religion, in reality we are paying attention to the nafsul-amr religion. When we say that the religion of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) was a monotheistic one, or that in Prophet Musa’s (pbuh) religion there were some hard laws or when we say that Islam is the final religion and nullifies all previous ones, we are speaking of the mursal religion. Paying attention to the different meanings of this term can help us make less mistakes when it comes to understanding and explaining things.
There are also two other stages of religion that we won't get specific about which are called the “revealed” religion and the “inner” religion.
For further information, see:
1- Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Velayat va Diyanat, The Cultural
2- Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Mabaniye Kalamiye Ejtehad, The Cultural
3- Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Maktab va Nezame Eqtesadiye Islam, The Cultural