Interview with Kamal-ud-Din
HUMAN mind is so constituted that, in spite of materialism, scepticism, cynicism and selfishness that we find rampant in the world, it is willing to listen to those who speak and preach the eternal verities of life. War, famine, plague and pestilence ending in death, more than anything else, force the question of the Great Unknown, and of the Region Beyond, even on the most reckless, the most selfish and the most callous of human souls. I have always thought that the spiritual East has a great message to the materialistic West. My grounds were not only that the great Prophets, the founders of the great religions of the world, were born in the East, but that time and changed conditions of life and circumstances have not taken away from Asia its spiritual supremacy over the temporal domination of Europe. Whoever carries that spiritual message of the East to the West is a great benefactor of the human race, for there can be no real progress for mankind if it is not laid on a spiritual basis. Therefore, I was interested in Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s missionary work in England, and although I had the benefit of his talk more than once, I was anxious to record my conversation for the benefit of the readers of the Rangoon Mail as well.
Meeting him at the lunch hour on Thursday, I explained to him the object of my visit, but said that the interview might be deferred till the lunch was over. Seeing a sheet of paper in my hand in which I had jotted down my interrogatories, he said with a smile, "That is perhaps the volley you have prepared to make me target of. I would digest it first before I digest my lunch." However, we came to a compromise of lunching together first and interviewing next.
Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din is a tall, well-built man with a thick beard, dressed in the fashion of his province, the Punjab, with a will and courage of his own, and with an abiding faith in the success of the great cause to which he has dedicated his life. Nevertheless, there is the look of the tired man in him, tired not of course of his mission, for death alone can sever it from him, but tired owing to over-work and nervous exhaustion. When I remarked that Nature exacts her penalty even on God’s workers like him, he had a hearty laugh. Serious as he is, he has related to me in a vein of humour several incidents in his missionary work in England, and has laughed with me. He said that he was particularly lucky in that he has been treated with love wherever his work took him, and opposition and misrepresentation, rancour and hatred shown towards him in some places and on some occasions, said he, had been only a passing phase. It is perhaps the old saying that those who came to curse his work stayed there to bless him. I began to catechise him thus:-
Q. Khwaja Sahib, when I was in England 13 years ago, I thought that Islam had made no impression in that country, and had no converts, for the matter of that. How is it that you were able to carry on a propaganda work since then, and that you have made many converts?
A. Before the movement in my hand came to existence, no sustained effort was ever made in England for the presentation of the Muslim faith to Western countries, and if Islam could not hitherto make any good impression on English mind, it was on account of lack of missionary efforts on our part. On the other hand, much came in the shape of libel and slander, with absolute misrepresentation, from the adversaries of Islam to vilify it, but the present experiment has shown that the Western mind, with all its seeming strangeness to religion, is open to conviction, and welcomes Islamic truths when brought home to it in some suitable way.
Q. Do you think that you have a good field for a work of the kind you have so unselfishly undertaken?
A. In 1917 and 1918 I studied the conditions obtaining in England from quite different points of view, and what I saw is this: that on one side, if Western mind has become disgusted with the dogmatised religion in the Western Church, it, on the other hand, finds no consolation in tenets of dry materialism. Belief in God has become revived, minds are hankering for a religion and faith which, on one side, must be consistent with the demands of rationality, and on the other, may give them some spiritual food. The religion they look for must be free from ceremonials, formalities, with no sacraments and intermediaries; something which with its simplicity of teaching may bring them face to face with God. New Churches are cropping up in every nook and corner of the country. They at present receive the inspiration mostly from America, but if a person studies their doctrines thoroughly they only preach different aspects of Islam in different accents and stress. I may say that these various religious movements such as Spirit moving under the same grove towards Islam. I have addressed them from their respective platforms on Islam, dealing with their respective tenets and principles, and have found response favourable to Islam, so much so that many conversions to Islam have emanated from these various Churches.
Q. What about your funds? How much have you spent on your Mission till now?
A. The Muslim Mission in my hand was first started on my own responsibility, and I bore the financial burden to a great extent myself; then help came from different quarters, and I think more than 2 lakhs of Rupees (Rs. 200,000.00) has been spent till now on the various activities of the Mission; but I cannot say that the Mission is on a completely satisfactory basis financially. It exists to some extent at the consideration of my Muslim brethren.
Q. I do not believe that your community has ever thought of the possibility of a propagandist work for Islam in other countries.
A. My efforts and the success they have been crowned with, have inspired people with the idea of sending such Mission to other countries as well, but the present political cloud which is frowning over Muslim countries has possibly damped all enthusiasm and zeal; but I am sure if the Muslims will give their best consideration to the question, they will very soon realise that Islam has still a very large field before it—a very brilliant future on the missionary lines. From what I have seen in Europe from various angles of thought, I may say that the European point of view is not Christian, but to greater extent Muslim. One has simply to study the Western mind and know the way to approach it, then it will be only a question of time to see the desired result. At least my experience assures me of it.
Q. Do you think your community will realise the good of your work and contribute towards your Mission as much as the Christian communities have invested their millions on Christian Missions?
A. I think my community has realised it, though to a very limited extent. Christian Missions, more or less, get their support from those who see the realisation of their political ends in the missionary work, and this explains the flourishing condition of Christian missionary finance; but very soon my community will have to appreciate that the chief good of their community lies in this direction.
Q. I know you have numerous sects in Islam. Do you advocate any particular sect in England?
A. I am afraid that you are impressed by the absurd bickering which comes out of pure ignorance of the adherents of the so-called sects in Islam. Islam on its doctrinal side does not admit of any sub-section and sub-division. Difference of opinion in matters not cardinal should not be mistaken for differences of doctrines. All the so-called sects of Islam do converge on their fundamental doctrines. The only difference in them is in things of no importance from religious point of view. Islam allows differences of opinion and respects personal judgement. This salubrious permission in Islam has led to various schools of thought. This was a happy sign of progress on the religious plane, but unfortunately ignorance and fanaticism sometimes convert this blessing of difference in opinion, as the Prophet himself calls it, into something very very undesirable.
My belief is that Islam is a religion without sect, in the real signification of the word "sect". I do not believe in preaching sectional differences in propagation of Islam in non-Muslim countries. They don’t carry any weight in Islam. My preaching has been, and will remain always, free from sectarian principles. They have nothing to do with those fundamentals. This I say from conviction which finds its translation in my missionary activities. I may say I find no sects in Islam.
Q. Is the future for Islam very bright so far as its Mission to the world is concerned?
A. I think I have said enough in the replies to other questions as to the brilliant prospects of Islam in the West. I may say that if only a few co-workers are added to my Mission and the area for free circulation of Islamic literature in English among non-Muslim quarters is extended, the results will be ten times more. My means, though independent, don’t cope with the demand. I have been giving 15 and 20 lectures a month in the year 1918, and most of them from non-Muslim pulpits at their request, and this caused me a nervous breakdown. Demand is still the same, but where are the workers to satisfy it? The field, I say, is ready for sickle, but where are men to collect the harvest? I have come here to lay my case before my community. My services have never been a burden on the Mission for their remuneration, and will remain so. The Islamic Review is my personal property, but its proceeds have always been and will remain for the benefit of the community.
Thus ended an interesting interview. What impressed me most was the fact that the Khwaja Sahib is being seriously handicapped in his work, first by lack of funds, and secondly, by want of fellow-workers. For a great and rich community like the Muslim, it is not impossible to afford him relief in both ways. Look at the sacrifice he has undertaken! Humanly speaking, if he had continued his practice at the Bar, he would have wealth and position in life in abundance. It is, therefore, but right that his Muslim brethren should help him most generously in his work in the West for the propagation of Islam. To one who, like me, belongs to the school of Protestant Hinduism, his presentation of Islam on a Broad-Church basis—although I know he will repudiate in his eloquent language that Islam has neither several Churches nor several sects, as there is only one Church according to the Quran—is very appealing. I wondered before I took leave of him after the close of the interview whether the Khwaja Sahib has not half converted me to the Islamic faith.