The Religion Of Islam vol.1


  • bookcover

  • The Religion Of Islam vol.1


  • Introduction


    The diffusion of knowledge all–over the world and the spread civilisation have very largely lessened the difference between one nation and another and have almost subdued the flames of animosity kindled in men’s bosoms by blind fanaticism evoked by religion or creed.

    History related many awful wars waged in the name of religion.

    Today, however, men are largely imbued with the spirit of toleration and love of truth and liberty. The more enlightened do respect the doctrines and principles of their fellow men, however widely they offer from their own. The followers of different religions make earnest endeavours to spread their own faith and to plant their standards event farther a field. It is left to reason to examine and judge the respective merits of each. Christian missionaries in the Orient may be heard loudly preaching Christianity to followers of Moses and Mohammad (Peace and blessing of Allah be upon them) without the least apprehension of any unlawful opposition on the part of their hearers.    

    From time to time, we read of some distinguished person who has abandoned the religion of his forefathers to adopt a different persuasion, which, in the light of reason he has found more acceptable. Further the spirit of intelligent curiosity has been so fully developed in human beings by education, that books are eagerly read which deal with the dogmas and tenets of different nations. The widest possible knowledge of these is sought and at time an attachment to new beliefs is not hidden, nor a readiness to adopt them.

     

    On the other hand, the more highly a nation is civilized, the more it is inclined to make known its customs, habits and national or religious character. Although some vague knowledge of the laws and tenets of Islam may be obtained from treatises and books which have been composed by certain westerners, yet he who desires to thoroughly comprehend their spirit must trace them to the fountain head. In the ordinary intercourse of life, he who is desirous of gaining the esteem and affection of those with whom he converses, will be careful not to offend against their religious precepts and notions of right and wrong, with which precepts and notions he can become acquainted by consulting their own records.

     

    Furthermore, it behaves those ministers and missionaries of the Christian faith whose zeal leads them to labour in the propagation of their own doctrines and in attempts to refute the tenets and precepts of other religions, to be well acquainted with those things which they undertake to impugn.

    The learned Roland[1] has shown that “Christian writers of no small eminence in point of learning and reputation have egregiously misrepresented the doctrines of Muslim faith, and bestowed much useless labour, in confuting opinions which the followers of the Arabian Prophet never maintained, thus exposing themselves to the charge of ignorance and the contempt of their adversaries and injuring the cause they had undertaken to defend, by making it appear to stand in need of false allegations for its support”.

     

    Indeed, it is misrepresentation and misinformation, from which Muslims chiefly suffer. They have had imputed to them that which has no existence whatever in their teachings and policy; baseless charges have been advanced against Islam; nay, the very beauties which Muslims account amongst their exclusive possessions have been denied them, and the very evils which Islam came to eradicate and did succeed in so doing are ascribed to it. It is certainly a great pity that, with all this outpouring of learning and literature, every little real effort has been made to clear away the clouds of misrepresentation and defective knowledge which still envelop the religion of the Arabian Prophet in Europe and America. It is happy sign, however, to find plans for a universal religion being discussed in certain advanced circles in both continents, and a desire to create a better understanding among the adherents of the various denominations of the world. To achieve this desirable end, it is inconsistent with the advanced culture of enlightened European or American inquirers that information on Islam– a religion which at present is a powerful factor in humanizing millions hitherto living in ignorance barbarity- should come through any adulterated channels and from the writings and works of propagandists hostile to Islam. Undoubtedly a true knowledge of the life of the Prophet and of his principal teachings is full of interest to those who desire to increase their general stock of information. Indeed the doctrines of Islam tend in general to promote the welfare and property of mankind, in as much as they cultivate charity and good will to all people.[2]

     

    The prophet said: “No man’s faith shall be perfect unless he wishes for his brother whatsoever he wishes for himself”.

    That Islam was admittedly the torch–bearer of light and learning in the West when Europe was enshrouded in ignorance and darkness, and that the followers of the Prophet were undoubtedly among the very few factors creating the conditions leading to present culture and advancement, are in themselves cogent reasons to justify an appeal to the Westerner’s sense of duty and justice in judging Islam and the Muslims.

     

    An honest student of the tenets of Islam and the labours of Muslims for the regeneration and edification of mankind, especially of Europe, cannot fail to find much for which Islam should be thanked.

    I quote Major Arthur Glyn Leonard in this connection:

    “Never to this day has Europe acknowledged in an honest and wholehearted manner the great and everlasting debt she owes to Islamic culture and civilisation. Only in a lukewarm and perfunctory way has she recognized that when, during the dark ages, her people were sunk in feudalism and ignorance Muslim civilisation under the Arabs reached a high standard of social and scientific splendour that kept the flickering embers of European society from utter decadence.

     

    “Do not we, who consider ourselves on the topmost pinnacle ever reached by culture and civilisation, recongnise that, had it not been for the high culture, the civilisation and intellectual, as well as the social splendours of Arabs and soundness of their school system, Europe would to this say have remained sunk in the darkness of ignorance? Have we forgotten that the Muslim maxim was that “the real learning of man is of more public importance than any particular religious opinion he may entertain”, that Muslim liberality was in striking contrast with the then intolerant state of Europe? Does the magnificent valour of the Arabs, inspired as it was by atheism as lofty as it was pure, not appeal to us? Does not the moderation and comparative toleration shown by them to the conquered not with standing the fierce and burning ardour to regenerate mankind that impelled them onward to conquest also appeal to us? Does it not all the more appeal to us when we contrast this with the bitterness of the attitude of the Christian sects towards one another? Especially when we consider that in Christendom, as it was then constituted, extortion tyranny and imperial centralisation, combining with ecclesiastical despotism and persecution, had practically extinguished patriotism, by substituting in its place schismatic and degenerate Church?

     

    Further the same writer continues to say: -

    “Is it possible that Europe is unmindful of, and has the ingratitude to ignore, the splendid services of the scientists and philosophers of Arabic? Are the names of Assamh, Abu Othman, Alberuni, Alberithar Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) the great physician and philosopher, Ib Rushd (Averroes) of Cordova, the chief commentator of Aristotle, Ib Bajja (Anempace) besides a host of others but dead letters? Is the great work that they have done and the fame they have left behind them in their books to be consigned to the limbo of oblivion, by an ungrateful but antipathetic Europe?

     

    “It cannot be that already we have lost sight of the amazing intellectual activity of the Muslim world during the earlier part of the “Abbaside period more especially. It cannot be that we have quite forgotten the irrecoverable loss that was inflicted on Arabian literature, and on the world at large, by the went on destruction of thousands of books that was promoted by Christian bigotry and fanaticism. “It cannot be surely said of Christian Europe that for centuries now she has done her best to hide her obligation to the Arabs; yet most assuredly obligations such as these are far too sacred to lie much longer hidden.[3]

     

    For further enlightment as to the far-reaching beneficial effects of Islam I quote Bosworth Smith, M.A., Asst master in Harrow School and late fellow of Trinity College, Oxford:

    “Nor does Islam lack other claims on our attention. Its ultimate acceptance by the Arabs, the new direction given to it by the later revelations to Mohammad, its rapid conquests, the literature and civilisation it brought in it train, the way in which it crumpled up the Roman Empire on one side and the Persian on the other, how it drove Christianity before it on the West and North and fire worship on the East and South; how it crushed the false prophets that always follow in the wake of a true one, as the jackals do the trail of a lion, how it spread over two continents, and how it settled in a third and at one time all but overwhelmed the whole.... all this is matter of history, at which I can  only glance.

     

    “And what is the position now?

    “ It numbers at this day more than one hundred millions, probably one hundred and fifty millions[4] of believers as sincere, as devout, as true to their creed, as are the believers in any creed whatever. It still has its grip on three continents extending from Morocco to the Malay Peninsula, from Zanzibar to the Kirghis horde...

     

    “... Africa which had yielded so early to Christianity, nay, which had given birth to Latin Christianity itself, the Africa of Cyprian and Tertullian, of Antony and Augustine yielded still more readily to Mohammad’; and from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Isthmus of Suez may still be heard the cry which with them is no vain repetition of “Allah Akbar”, God is Great, there is no God but God and Mohammad (Peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) is his Prophet.

     

    “And if it be said, as it often is, that Islam has gained nothing since the first flame or religious enthusiasm fanned, as it then often was, by the lust of conquest has died out, I answer that this is far from the truth. “ In the extreme East, Islam has since then won and maintained for centuries a moral supremacy in the important Chinese province of Yun-Nan, and has thus actually succeeded in thrusting a wedge between the two great Buddhist empires of Burma and of China....

     

    “Throughout the Chinese Empire there are scattered Mussulman communities who have higher hopes than Buddhism or Confucianism, and a purer morality than Taoism can supply. The Panthays themselves, it is believed, still number a million and a half and the unity of God and the mission of God’s Prophet are attested day by day by a continuous line of worshippers from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

    “Nay, even beyond, in the East Indian Archipelago, beyond the straits of Malacca if I may venture just now so to call them, in Java and Sumatra, in Borneo and Celebes, ISLAM has raised many of the natives above their former selves and has long been the dominant faith...

     

    “It cannot of course, be supposed that among races so low in the scale of humanity as are most of the Indian islanders, Islam would be able to do what it did originally for the Arabs or for the Turkish hordes’ but it has done something even for them. It was propagated by missionaries who cared very much for the souls they could win, and nothing for the plunder they could carry off. They conciliated the natives learned their language, intermarried with them and in larger islands their success was rapid and, so far as nature would allow, complete.[5]

     

    “The Philippines and the Molaccas, with were conquered by Spain and Portugal respectively did not become Muslim, for they had to surrender at once their liberty and their religion. It is no wonder that the religion known to the natives chiefly through the unblushing rapacity of the Dutch has not extended itself beyond the reach of their swords. Here, as elsewhere in the East, the most fatal hindrance to the spread of Christianity has been the lives of Christians.[6]

     

    In Africa again Islam is spreading itself by giant strides almost year by year.  Everyone knows that within half a century of the Prophet’s death, the richest states of Africa, and those most accessible to Christianity and to European Civilisation, were torn away from both, by the armies of the faithful, with hardly a struggle or a regret; but few except those who have studied the subject, are aware that even since then Islam has been gradually spreading over the northern half of the continent.

    “Starting from the north west corner, it first marched southwards from Morocco, and by the time of the Norman Conquest had reached the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo, and had got firm hold of the Mandingoes, thence it spread southwards again to the Foulahs, and then eastward by the thirteenth century to Lake Chad, where finally the Arab missionaries from the West joined hands with those from the East in the very heart of Africa...

    “We hear of whole tribes laying aside their devil– worship or immemorial Fetish and springing at a bound, as it were from the very lowest to one of the highest forms of religious belief. Christian travelers with every wish to think otherwise, have remarked that the Negro who accepts Islam, acquires at once a sense of the dignity of human nature not commonly found even among those who have been brought to accept Christianity.

    “It is also pertinent to observe here, that such progress as any large part of the Negro race has hitherto made, is in exact proportion to the time that has elapsed, or the degree of fervour, with which they originally embraced, or have since clung to Islam. The Mandingoes and the Foulahs are salient instances of this; their unquestionable superiority to other Negro tribes is as unquestionably owing to the early hold that Islam got upon them, and to the civilisation and culture that is has always encouraged. The Government Blue Books on our West African settlements, and the reports of missionary societies themselves, are quite at one on this head. The Governor of our West African Colonies, Mr. Pope Hennesay, remarks that the liberated Africans are always handed over to Christian missionaries for instruction, and that their children are baptized and brought up at the public expense in Christian schools, and are, therefore, in a sense ready made converts, yet the total number of professing Christians 35.000 out of a population of 513.000, very few even of these, as the Governor says, and as we can unfortunately well believe from our experience in countries that are not African, being practical Christians – falls far short of the original number of liberated Africans and their descendents.[7] On the other hand the Rev. James Johnson, a native clergyman, and a man of remarkable energy and intelligence, as well as of very Catholic spirit, deplores the fact that of the total number of Muslims to be found in Sierra Leone and its neighbourhood three fourths were not born Muslims, but have become so by conversion, whether from a nominal Christianity or from Paganism.[8]

    “We are assured on all hands that the Muslim population has an almost passionate desire for education, and those in the neighbourhood of our colonies would through our schools, first if the practical education given was worth having, and secondly, if the teachers would refrain from needlessly attacking their cherished and often harmless customs. Wherever Muslims are numerous, they establish schools them-selves, and there are not a few who travel extraordinary distances to secure the best possible education. Mr. Pope Hennessy mentions the case of one young Muslim Negro who is in the habit of purchasing costly books from Trubner in London and who went to Foulah, two hundred and fifty miles away, to obtain an education better than he could find in sierra Leone itself. Not is it an uncommon thing for newly converted Muslims to make their way right across the desert from Bornu or from Lake Chad, or down the Nile from Darfour or Wadi, a journey of over one thousand miles that they may carry on their studies in El–Azhar, the great collegiate Mosque at Cairo, and they may thence bring back the results of their training to their native country, and form so many centers of Muslim teaching and example.

     

    “Nor as to the effects of Islam when first embraced by a Negro tribe can there be any reasonable doubt. Polytheism disappears almost instantaneously, sorcery with it attendant evils, gradually dies away; human sacrifice becomes a thing of the past. The general moral elevation is most marked; the native begins for the first time in their history to dress and that neatly. Squalid filth is replaced by a scrupulous cleanliness; in hospitality becomes a comparatively rare exception. Though polygamy is allowed by the Koran, it is not common in practice; and, beyond the limits laid down by the Prophet, incontinence is rate; chastity is looked upon as one of the highest and becomes in face one of the commoner virtues. It is idleness henceforward that degrades, instead of the reverse. Offences are henceforward measured by a written code instead of the arbitrary caprice of a chieftain – a step, as everyone will admit, of vast importance in the progress of a tribe. The Mosque gives an idea at all events higher than any the Negro has yet had. A thirst for literature is created, and that for works of science and philosophy, as well as for commentaries on the Koran. There are whole tribes, as the Jalofs on the river Gambia and the Haussas, whose manly qualities we have had occasions to test in Ashantee, which have become to a man Muslims and have raised themselves infinitely in the process; and the very name salt-water- Muslims given to those tribes along the coast, who, from admixture with European settlers, have relaxed the severity of the Prophet’s laws is a striking proof of the extent, to which the stricter form of the faith prevails in the far interior.

    “It is melancholy to contrast with these wide spread beneficial influences of Islam, the little that has been done for Africa till very lately by the Christian nations that have settled in it, and the still narrower limits within which it has been confined. Till a few years ago the good effects produced beyond the immediate territories occupied by them were absolutely nothing…

    “The message that European traders have carried for centuries to Africa has been one of rapacity, of cruelty and of bad faith. It is a remark of Dr. Livingstone’s [9] that the only art that the nations of Africa have acquired from their 500 years’ acquaintance with the Portuguese, has been the art of distilling spirits from a gun – barrel; and that the only permanent belief they owe to them, is the belief that man may sell his brother man; for this, he says emphatically, is not a native benefit to Africa; but if we except the small number of converts made within the limits of their settlements, it has been the only benefit conferred by Europeans.

     

                “Truly if the question must be put, whether it is Muslim or Christian nations that have as yet done most for Africa, the answer must be that it is not the Christian…[10]

    I think I can occupy no more space in this introduction by making further quotations to discuss the relation of Islam to modern civilisation and the position which it holds among the recognized religions of the world. It is a matter of pure history that Islam has been beneficial to humanity in general and that it had, and still has, an everlasting influence on the development of human character.

    The Muslim School embraces all branches of human knowledge and research: -theology, medicine, history, astronomy, grammar, economics, physics, racial philosophy and racial psychology and ethics. It is an important educator on all systems of purely human origin, and its creed most sublime loftiest and divine expression, never to be found in the liturgy of other religions. The Islamic conception of God is that He is “Allah” and there is no deity beside Him; He alone is to be worshipped. He begets not and He is not begotten. He was before time began its race. He is “Allah” Who hath raised different Prophets of men throughout the ages. His Greatness is immeasurable. Allah is He that abideth from eternity to eternity. This is but a fractional part of the Muslim Creed – a creed that strictly forbids the worship of images and the artistic representation of anything that resembles the human form. Yet in Christian literature periodicals and other publications Muslims have been alluded to, and spoken of, as pagans idolaters, polygamists, sun–worshippers and what not. Out sacred edifice has been characterized as the Mosque of swords our heaven as a heaven of sensual bliss, and that after death we sink into space soul less and have no account to give. In the romance of “Trpin” quoted by Renan, Mohammad, the fanatical destroyer of all idolatry, is turned himself into an idol of gold and under the name of Mawment, is reported to be the object of worship at Cadiz. In the song of Roland, the National Epic of France, “Mohammad” appears with the chief of the pagan gods on one side of him and the chief of the Devils on the other. Human sacrifices are supposed to have been offered to him, in imagination and assertions of Christian writers of the tenth and eleventh centuries under the various names of Bafum, or Maphomet, or Mawment, Malaterra, in his history of Sicily describes that island as being, when under Saracenic rule, and land wholly given up to idolatry.[11] It is not a little curious that both the English and French languages still bear witness to the popular misapprehension; the French by the word “Mahomerie”, the English by the word “Mummery”, still used for absurd or superstitious rites.[12] “Mammetry”, a contraction of Mahometry was used in early English for any false religion, especially for worship of idols, insomuch that “Mammet” or        “Mawmet: came to mean an idol. In Shakespeare the name is extended to a mean doll: a Juliet, for instance, is called by her father “A whinning mammet”[13]. In the twelfth century “the god Mawmet” passes into the heresiarch Mahomet, and as such, of course he occupies a conspicuous place in the “Inferno.”

     

    Dante places him in his ninth circle among the showers of religious discord; his companions being Fra Dolimo a communist of the fourteenth century, and Bertrand de Born, a fighting Troubadour.

    The Romances of Baphomet, so common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, attribute any and every crime to him, just as the Athanasians did to Arius. He is a debauchee, a camel stealer, a cardinal, who having failed to obtain the object of every cardinal’s ambition, invents a new religion to revenge himself on his brethren.[14]

    With the leaders of the Reformation, Mohammad “the greatest of Reformers” [15]meets with little sympathy, and their hatred of him, as perhaps was natural, seems to be proportionate with their knowledge Luther doubts whether he is not worse than Leo; Melanchton believes him to be either Gog or Maggog and Probably both.[16]

    In the imagination of the Biblical commentators, the Arabian Prophet divides with the Pope the credit or discredit, of being the subject of special prophecy in the books of Daniel and the Revelation. “He is Antichrist, the Man of Sin, the Little Horn” and I know not what besides; nor do I think that a single writer, till towards the middle of the eighteenth century, treats of him as otherwise than a rank impostor and false prophet.[17]

    England and France were the first to take a different view and to have begun that critical study of Arabian history or literature which in the hands of Gibbon and of Muir, of Caussin de Perceval and of St. Hilaire, of Weil and of Springer has provided some material for a comparatively fair and unbiased judgment within the reach of everyone. But most other writers of the 18th century such as Dean Prideaux and the Abbe Maracci, Boulainvilliers and Voltaire have approached the subject only to prove a thesis. With them the Prophet was to be either a hero or an impostor. “From them is learnt much that has been said about Mohammad, but comparatively little of Mohammad himself.”[18]

    Gagnier has then proceeded to write a history of the Prophet claimed to have been based on the work of Abul Feda. Gagnier’s history was still not free from wrong inferences and erroneous allusions.[19]

    Then followed the translations of the “Koran “ by Sale and Savary into English and French respectively. Gibbon has then written his “three master-pieces of biography”: Athansaius, Juian, and Mohammad. Gibbon’s treatment of Islam is considered to be generally fair and philosophic, “in spite of occasional uncalled–for sarcasms and characteristic innuendoes.[20] It seems that Gibbon’s so called unfair treatment of Christianity prevented the Christian world from doing justice to his generally fair treatment of Islam: and consequently most Englishmen “who do not condemn the Arabian Prophet unheard, derive what favourable notions of him they have not from Gibbon, but from Carlyle.”[21]

     

    It was really a great surprise and an epoch in English intellectual and religious life, as Bosworth Smith has rightly observed, when it was found that Caryle chose for his “Hero as Prophet” “not Moses or Elijah or Isaiah, but the so called impostor Mohammed” [22]

    Now it is time to conclude this my introduction. The reader will see and judge for himself the extent to which European writers of various reputations and in various ages have, in their different treatment of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and blessing of Allah be Upon him) and of Islam, been either misleading or themselves misled.

    In conclusion I wish to express my heart–felt–obligation to my numerous friends both in Egypt and abroad for their kind assistance and encouragement which enabled me to bring this work to completion. I wish it were possible for me to name them all, but certain considerations prevent my doing so.

    My special gratitude is due to His Eminence Shiekh Mohammed Mustapha El Maraghi Grand Rector of Al Azhar University through whose personal suggestion the book has been accredited by that great Muslim Institution for publication as a supplement to Al Azhar Official Monthly Review.

    In my human endeavours I humbly implore the Almighty God, the God of all mankind, to grant that my labour may serve as a basis, if not for an ultimate agreement between Christendom and Islam, at all events for mutual understanding and forbearance, for sympathy and respect.

     

    Ahmed Galwash   

     

    ([1]) De Relig. Mohamammedica L II.

    ([2]) Bosworth Smith: “Mohamed and Mohammedanism”.

    ([3]) “Islam” Her Moral and Spiritual Value” By Major Arthur Glyn Leonard.

    ([4]) The number is assumed at present (2002) to be about 1100 millions

    ([5]) Crawford’s “Indian Archipelago” II, 275 and 315

    ([6]) For the cruelties of the Portuguese, see Craford, II, 403 and for the Dutch see especially II, 425 and 441. For some startling facts as to the comparative morality of some native and Christian communities in India, see a paper by Rev. J.N. Thoburn in the Report for the Allahabad Missionary Conference, held in 1872-73 p. 467-470.

    ([7]) Papers  relating to Her Majesty’s Colonial Possessions Part. II 1873 2nd Division, p.14.

    [8]([8]) Papers relating to Her Majesty’s Colonial Possessions Part. II 1873 2nd Division, p.15. “As Mr. Pope Hennessy’s Report has been much criticized, chiefly on the ground  that he is a Roman Catholic, and as I have based some statements upon it, it may be worth mentioning that I have had a conversation with Mr. Johnson, who is a strong protestant himself, and that he bore testimony to the bonafides of the Report and to its accuracy even on some points which have been most questioned, He told me that Islam was introduced into Sierra Leone not many years ago, by three zealous missionaries  who came from a great distance. It seems now to be rapidly gaining the ascendancy, in spite of all the European influence at work.

     

    ([9]) Livingstone’s “Expedition to the Zambesi” page 240.

    ([10]) R. Bosworth Smith “ Mohamed and Mohammedanism”.

    ([11]) “Which people were the great idolaters, any candid reader of the Italian annalists of this time, collected by Muratori, can say” Bosworth – “Mohammed and Mohammedanism”

    ([12]) See Trench on “Words” p.112.

    ([13]) “Mawmet (countr.fr. Mahomet) a puppet; a doll; originally an idol, because in the Middle Ages was generally believed that the Moslems worshipped images representing Mohammed”. See Webster’s Dictionary.

    ([14]) Renan “Etudes d’Histoire Religieuse” p. 223, note.

    ([15]) Bosworth Smith.

    ([16]) See “Quarterly Review” Art. Islam, by Detsch, No.  254, p.296.

    ([17])Bosworth Smith.

     

    ([18]) Bosworth Smith.

    ([19]) Ibid.

    ([20]) Bosworth Smith. 

    ([21]) Bosworth Smith. 

    ([22]) Ibid.

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