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Islam The Most Suitable Religion for Mankind

The role of the Prophet Muhammad and the revealed message, which he communicated to mankind were revolutionary; they brought about a radical transformation in society. Man was freed from slavery to innumerable nameless and arbitrary forces into the service of One God. He was raised from an abject position to one of supremacy second only to God. He learned of the dignity of man, and the universal brotherhood and equality of all men before God. He was given a new purpose in life, and with the gift of his own free will became master of his destiny as never before. It is difficult to imagine a more fundamental revolution nor one whose dynamic has continued for so long. The forces which transformed men in the seventh century still have the power to inspire him today.

The liberal and revolutionary aspects of Islam and its Prophet Muhammad, which transformed society in the seventh century, are still today amongst the most potent forces at work for the betterment of humanity. They brought not only a new ideology, but inspired the energy and confidence which so radically altered man and the society in which he lived. They provided the impetus for a new age of culture and civilization, arts and learning, material and spiritual progress.

What was the nature of the service rendered to mankind? What were the gifts of the Prophet that so profoundly affected man and society as he found it? First and foremost he proclaimed belief in the Oneness of God. No more revolutionary, more life giving and more profitable creed could have been vouchsafed to humanity. Man had been proud and presumptuous, boastful of his creations. He took pride in enslaving other countries and nations, often arrogating to himself even the position of God; yet at the same time he demeaned himself by bowing his head before idols, inanimate, lifeless objects, artifacts of his own creation. He subjected himself to the elemental forces of nature and war, a slave to credulous belief and irrational fears of demons and devils. His life was spent in fear of the unknown and helpless belief in nameless powers, which could not hut, foster confusion, cowardice, doubt and indecision. By removing the fear of all else save God alone, the Prophet of lslam made him a self-reliant, courageous, rational believing being. It was through Muhammad that man came to recognise his Creator as the Supreme Power, the sole Enricher and Destroyer of life. By submitting only to the will of the one true God, man was freed from servility to all other powers. He was enabled to see the unity of Cause in the multiplicity of phenomena; he was reassured of his pivotal position in the scheme of creation; he became aware of his worth and dignity. In short, by accepting the role of servant to the One and only God, he became master of every other created being and object. For the first time man became aware of the exalted position allotted to him by God in the scheme of things.Unity of Godhead came to be recognised, thanks to the last Prophet, as the guiding principle for all schools of thought. The power of his message undermined the polytheistic religions of the day. Pagan belief and practice, though it persisted, suffered a blow from which it never recovered. Man was released from slavery to creation. Could there be a greater gift to humanity than this?

The second great favour conferred by the Messenger of God on human beings was the concept of the equality and brotherhood of all mankind. Before him the world was divided into innumerable castes and creeds, tribes and nations, some claiming nobility for themselves and condemning others to the position of serfs and chattels. It was from Muhammad that the world first heard the revolutionary message of human equality.

O Mankind, Your God is one and you have but one father. You are all progeny of Adam, and Adam was made of clay. Lo! The noblest among you, in the sight of God, is the best in conduct. No Arab has any preference over a non-Arab save by his piety.

The Prophet made this declaration on the occasion of his last Haj before a congregation of one hundred and twenty four thousand persons. His announcement put the seal on the twin principles of the Unity of God and the Unity of Mankind. These are the two natural foundations for raising any edifice of peace and progress, friendship and cooperation between different peoples and nations. Together they create a bond of brotherhood between human beings that of One Lord and one father for them all. Oneness of God is the spiritual principle of human equality; common lineage of high and low, white and coloured, places all men on the same plane of humanity.

So radical a message was not well received. The world was in no mind to listen to a message, which struck so sharply at the roots of existing social, relationships are economic and political order. Its cataclysmic consequences threw the world into confusion. This was a time when numerous clans and families claimed their descent from the sun or moon. The Pharaohs of Egypt had believed themselves to be the re-incarnation of the sun-god, while in India several ruling families claimed their descent from the sun and moon. The Emperors of Iran called themselves Kisra or Chosroes implying that Divine blood flowed in their veins. The Chinese rulers too, deemed themselves to be the sons of Heaven. According to the Qur'an even:

"The Jews and the Christians say that they are the children of God and those whom He loves". (V.18).

Even amongst the Arabs things were little better. So proud were they of their language that every other nation besides their own was an Ajami or dumb to them. Further, the Quraish of Mecca, being extremely conscious of maintaining their superiority, claimed a position of privilege even in the performance of Haj. This was the shape of things all over the world, when the Qur'an heralded that all human beings were equal.

"O Mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.'' (XLIX. 13).

In the opening Surah of the Qur'an, Allah is invoked as:

"Lord of the Worlds". (I.I).

Man had been accustomed to associate nobility with those who claimed themselves to be the progeny of gods and demi-gods. In order that the honour of the common man was not usurped again by the selected few, the Prophet announced:

"The whole of, mankind is the family of God and he amongst His family, is dearest to Him, who does good to others.''

Today we find the principle of human equality enshrined in the constitutions of different countries and proclaimed from the forum of the United Nations Organisation in the shape of the Charter of Human Rights. Yet long before the days of UN Charters, it was in Islam that the concept of equality was first proclaimed as a human right. The indefatigable efforts of Muhammad and his followers to create a truly egalitarian Muslim society established the principle later adopted as the basis for human existence throughout the world.

The third great gift bestowed by the Prophet of Islam is the concept of human dignity. During the age of darkness when Islam made its appearance, none was more ignoble and humiliated than man. Without realisation of his worth, he had no sense of human dignity. A sacred tree or animal, dedicated to some religious belief or practice, enjoyed a more coveted place than man himself. Human sacrifice on the altars of countless deities was a common spectacle It was solely through Muhammad the Prophet that men came to appreciate the fact that human beings,the glorious creation of God, were entitled to much more loving regard, respect and honour than any other creature. The rank accorded to man was next only to God, for God had Himself heralded the purpose of man's creation in words of lasting beauty:

"He is who created-for you all that is in the earth". (II.29).

Man was declared as the best of creations, the ruler of the world and all that existed in it:

"Verily have honoured the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom we created with a marked preferment''. (XVII. 70).

A celestial Tradition of the Prophet alludes to the deep concern of God for the welfare of human beings: God will ask someone on the Day of Judgement:

"I fell ill but thou did not pay a visit to Me".

The man will reply:

"How can l have paid a visit to Thee? Thou art the Lord of the worlds".

But God will say:

"Did thou not know that one of my slaves was ill? Had thou gone to see him, thou would have found me by his side".

Then God will again ask:

"O Son of Adam, I asked thee to feed Me, but thou refused it to Me."

The man will submit:

"How could I have fed Thee? Thou art the Lord of the worlds".

But the reply of God will be:

"Did thou not know that one of My slaves had asked for food from Thee? Didst thou not know that if thou had given him food, thou would have found it with Me?"

God will again ask:

O son of Adam, I asked thee water to drink but thou refused it to Me".

The man will say in reply:

"O Lord, How could have I given water to Thee? Thou art the Lord of the worlds''.

But the reply given by God will be:

"Did thou not recollect that one of My slaves asked for water from thee, but thou refused? Did thou not know that if thou had given him water, thou would have found it with Me?''

Islam preaches unalloyed and absolute unity of God and rejects every form of anthropomorphism. Even so, it can employ this analogy to drive home the rank and dignity of man in the eyes of God. Has any other religion or philosophical thought accorded a nobler place to human beings than Islam?

The Prophet of Islam stressed the importance of right actions in attracting the blessings of God. Most praiseworthy were kindness and consideration from one man to another.

"The Most compassionate (God) is kind to those who are kind to others. If you would show kindness to those who live on the earth, He who lives in the Heaven shall shower His blessings on you. "

The condition of mankind when this powerful voice was raised in the world was pitiable. Human life was of little account. Rulers diced with the lives of their subjects as they chose: a man was subject to his master's whim. For centuries the world had been one vast battlefield where kings and emperors fought for supremacy with the lives of their subjects. The entire population of a conquered land could be put to the sword at the hand of the victor.

In addition a profound sense of pessimism springing from the worthlessness of human nature and hopelessness of divine succour filled the air. The ancient religions of the East and the perverted form of Christianity in the West, both had a share in producing a climate of despair. The philosophy of re-incarnation preached by the ancient religion of India assigned no place to the will and decision of man in shaping his destiny. This present life was but a form of retribution for his actions during his previous life. The Christian doctrines of Original Sin and Atonement had joined hands to shake man's confidence all over the world in the determination and accountability of human actions. Mankind had lost faith in the mercy of God. His eternal and immutable decrees seemed to condemn man to a pre-determined destiny in which his own conduct, good or bad, was of little consequence. But Muhammad affirmed that Man was born with a clean slate and perfect freedom of action. He was, declared the Prophet, the author of his actions, both good and evil. As such he was solely responsible for his deeds, and would earn reward or punishment according to his deserts. Discarding the theory of vicarious atonement, the Qur'an established the principle, once for all, that every man was his own redeemer.

"And that man hath only that for which he maketh effort. And that his effort will be seen". (LII. 39-40).

This was the message of salvation which gave man a new confidence as master of his own destiny. He could apply himself with renewed vigour, confidence and determination to shaping his own life and re-forming the future of humanity.

The doctrine of forgiveness of sins was one of the most bounteous gifts of Islam to mankind. The Prophet declared that sins were but temporary deviations from the right path inherent in the nature of man, and were brought about by ignorance, mistake, man's own desire and the promptings of the devil. But man's deeper desire was to regret his mistakes and seek pardon of God with a contrite heart. To be broken in spirit by a sense of guilt and to seek forgiveness of God showed the innate goodness of human nature and attracted the mercy of God. This gospel of hope and good tidings was a revolutionary message to despondent humanity condemned forever by the guilt of original sin and past misdeeds. How profound a change it wrought on the prevailing atmosphere of gloom and depression is illustrated by the fact that the Prophet came to be known as the Apostle of Repentance. Repentance, he said, did not involve faint-heartedness, nor did it arise from fear of disapprobation, but was a bold and daring step taken by the first man Adam, which showed the innate nobility of his nature. Repentance was sanctified as one of the acts of devotion due to God. So forcefully did the Prophet preach the virtue of repentance, that even those who seemed irredeemably sunk in sin turned in repentance to God and attained a sublimity of spirit that was envied by others.

Describing the clemency of God which is ever willing to forgive sinners, the Qur'an speaks with such alluring charm that one wonders whether God loves best those who seek His forgiveness after deviating from the path of virtue. God's magnanimity to those who turn to Him for forgiveness, is endless; He is long suffering and of great mercy. In the words of the Qur'an:

"Say: O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own hurt! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful''. (XXXIX. 53).

Other verses in the Qur'an exhort believers to acquire positive merit and win everlasting Bliss:

"And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those ward off (evil); Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good; "And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins - Who forgiveth Sins, save Allah only? - and will not knowingly repeat (the wrong) they did. "The reward of such will be forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide for ever - a bountiful reward for workers'' (III. 133-136).

Among the characteristics of the true believer enumerated in another verse, repentance takes precedence over all others.

"(Triumphant) are those who turn repentant (to Allah) those who serve (Him), those who praise (Him), those who fast, those who bow dawn, those who fall prostrate (in worship), those who enjoin the right and who forbid the wrong and those who keep the limits its (ordained) of Allah - And give glad tidings to believers?" (IX. 112).

The place of honour accorded to those who repent of their sins is further illustrated by those verses of the Qur'an revealed on the occasion of the forgiveness of three companions of the holy Prophet, who had been excluded from other followers for their failure to accompany him on the expedition to Tabuk. Before the verses alluding to the mistake of these companions being condoned by God, the Qur'an mentions the Prophet and the Ansar and Muhajir companions in order that no stigma may remain attached to them after their mistake had been pardoned. The Qur'an in this way, teaches all believers who take the companions of the Prophet as models of virtue, that no ignominy attaches to a man after a genuine change of heart.

"Allah hath turned in mercy to the Prophet, and to the Muhajirin and the Ansar who followed him the hour of hardship. After the hearts of a party of them had almost swerved aside, then turned He unto them in mercy. Lo! He is Full of pity, Merciful for them. "And to the three also (did He turn in mercy) who were left behind, when the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for them, and their own souls were straitened for them ,till they bethought them that there is no refuge from Allah save toward Him. Then turned He unto them in mercy that they (too) might turn (repentant unto him). Lo! Allah He is the Relenting, the Merciful" (IX. 117-118).

Remission of sin leads us to one of the chief attributes of the Divine Being - His mercy and compassion. The bounty of God's mercy is the constant theme of the Qur'an. Says God:

"My mercy embraces all things" (VII 156),

while a celestial Tradition of the Prophet tells us:

"Verily my Mercy overcomes My anger".

To despair of God's mercy was made a cardinal sin. Quoting Jacob and Ibrahim, two great Prophets of God, the Qur'an announces:

"Verily none despair of the comfort of Allah except a people disbelieving". (XII. 87).

And:

"who despaireth of the mercy of his Lard save those who are astray?" (xv. 56).

According to the Jewish and Christian doctrines, the misery and suffering of humanity on earth was but a feeble image of the never-ending agony, which awaited them in the future world. The mediaeval monastic orders developed this doctrine with appalling vividness and in graphic detail. Humanity, scared by these ghastly visions and glimpses of eternal suffering, was relieved by the Prophet's emphasis on God's all-embracing mercy and the efficacy of repentance which could wipe clean the slate of even the most vicious among the castaways of society.

There is yet another gift of the prophethood of Muhammad still more far-reaching, more beneficial to humanity at large. This is the concept of the unity of spirit and matter: the harmony of the sacred and the profane. He taught that the dichotomy between the two was superficial, more apparent than real. Every one of man's actions, his behaviour and morality, is guided by his motive, which, in the terminology of religion, is known as niyat or intention. No religious belief is entirely divorced from the realities of human experience in its manifold practical aspects. The intention or purpose with which any act is done is the criterion of its moral worth. The Qur'an does not recognise any division between the temporal and the spiritual since man's desire to propitiate God and follow His commands permeates every fibre of human activity, no matter whether it is the art of government or war; availing oneself of one's earthly possessions or satisfaction of one's natural desires; earning one's living or leading a satisfactory married life. If the intention is good even the most mundane act is turned into a virtuous deed, and becomes a means of bringing man nearer to God. On the contrary, no merit whatsoever attaches to right acts - like devotion to God or fighting in His cause - if the sincere desire to attain the will and pleasure of God is absent.

The ancient world had divided life into two compartments - the religious and the secular. As a result a wedge had been driven between those who selected one or other of these modes of life. Frequently the two groups were at loggerheads with one another, for the `world' and `religion' were to them incompatible spheres of human life. Every man was forced to choose one or the other, since no-one could be expected to travel in two boats at the same time. The prevalent view was that the path of salvation lay not through the rough and tumble of life, but only in isolation from the social, economic and political problems of worldly pursuits. No concept of religion which barred the gates to material progress and acquisition of power, riches and fame, could be of interest to intelligent, capable and ambitious persons. Forced by this dichotomy to choose between the world and religion, large numbers of the most able people dissociated themselves from the rigours and constraints of religious and ascetic life. By withdrawing themselves from the pursuit of virtue, such men frustrated any integration of secular and religious affairs. Morality appeared to vanish from the conduct of public affairs. The State eventually revolted against the Church and made itself free from all obligations to it. This hideous schizophrenia not only divorced what was called worldly from the benefit of spiritual wisdom, but also gave birth to the faithlessness and agnosticism of modern Europe, which is now threatening, because of its political and cultural supremacy, to inundate the entire world. The present wave of gross materialism, loss of faith and moral debasement can be seen as a direct consequence of the division between spirit and matter effected by the older civilizations. It was left to the Prophet to re-integrate the spiritual and temporal spheres of life: to persuade men of religion and men of the world to unite in bringing about God's kingdom on earth. It would be difficult to conceive a more complete transformation of life than the one brought about by the fusion of the secular and the sacred. Let us leave the last word with Iqbal, one of Islam's great poets:

"On monastic order was laid the foundation of church,
How could mendacity contain royalty in its confines?
The conflict was deep between hermit and king,
One was triumphant, the other subdued.
Politics got rid of religion,
Helpless was the high priest.
When the world and religion parted ways,
Avarice was Ruler, King and Vizier.
Dualism was the doom of mind and matter,
Dualism made civilization blind.
This is the miracle of the dweller of the desert,
Whose warnings reflected the tidings glad;
That humanity's only refuge was this -
That the mystic Junaid unite with Ardsher the King".

Yet another radical change brought about by the Prophet of Islam in the life of man was to make him conscious of the ultimate end of existence. Unaware of any ultimate purpose, man had for long fixed his eyes on trivial and ephemeral ends. He directed his whole intelligence and labour to the acquisition of material wealth fame or power. The only virtue lay in the pursuit of pleasure: happiness became identified with the satisfaction of worldly desires. But Muhammad told man that the business of mankind was to exert itself in striving to attain perfect knowledge of God; to contemplate His nature and attributes; to bring his soul nearer to God through awareness of the infinite; to seek unity in the diversity of nature; to seek fulfilment in virtuous acts. He told man that these were the objectives whose achievement conferred on him a rank envied by the angels of God.

The prophethood of Muhammad made a clean sweep of the existing order of things in the world. The desire and longing of man was now centred on a new objective. Love of God took possession of his being; the pleasure of God became the ever-lasting thirst of the human heart; mercy and kindness to God's creatures became the prime object of his endeavors. It was only after the advent of the Prophet that the countries who submitted to Islam adopted the pursuit of spiritual values as a way of life. In Arabia and Iran, Syria and Egypt, Turkestan and Iraq, North Africa and Spain, thousands of souls undertook the search for higher and tender virtues. During this period we find innumerable men of God preaching to all mankind love of the Lord, kindness and compassion, the merits of virtuous living, the acquisition of Divine knowledge, the rejection of cruelty and indecency, and the race of humility and modesty. They taught the lessons of human dignity and the brotherhood of man and sought to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

Could we today look into the hearts of these supreme examples of mankind, we would witness the depth and purity of their innermost being. We would see how they were ever willing to put their own life at stake for others, made their own children and family suffer for the good of all, compelled autocrat kings and potentates to do justice to the weak and the poor, and dispensed true justice even to their enemies. Had historians and biographers not preserved a faithful record of their lives, the truth of their deeds would be beyond belief. This revolutionary change in the manners and morals of people was indeed a miracle worked by the holy Prophet of Islam; the sum of his great gifts to mankind.

Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi

 
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