Islam as an Ethical and Political Ideal
PART I: ISLAM AS AN ETHICAL IDEAL
There are three points of view from which a religious system can be approached:
- from the standpoint of a teacher.
- from that of the expounder.
- from that of a critical student.
I do not pretend to be a teacher whose word and action are, or ought to be, in perfect harmony in so far as he endeavours to work out in his own life the ideals which he places before others, and thus influences his audience more by example than by precepts. Nor do I claim the high office of an expounder who brings to bear a subtle intellect upon his task, endeavours to explain all the various aspects of the principles he expounds, and works with certain presuppositions, the truth of which he never questions.
The attitude of mind which characterises a critical student is fundamentally different from that of the teacher and the expounder. He approaches the subject matter of his inquiry free from all presuppositions, and tries to understand the organic structure of a religious system just as a biologist would study a form of life, or a geologist would examine a mineral. His object is to apply the methods of scientific research to religion, with a view to discover how the various elements in a given structure fit in with one another; how each factor functions individually; and how their relations with one another determine the functional value of the whole. He looks at the subject from the standpoint of history, and raises certain fundamental questions with regard to the growth and formation of the system he proceeds to understand:
- What are the historical forces, the operation of which
evoked as a necessary consequence the phenomenon of a particular
- Why should a particular religious system be produced by a
- What is the real significance of a religious system in the
history of the people who produced it, and in the history of
mankind as a whole?
- Are there any geographical causes which determine the
original locality of the religion?
- How far does it reveal the inmost soul of a people, their
social, moral, and political aspirations?
- What transformation, if any, has it worked in them?
- How far has it contributed towards the realisation of the ultimate purpose revealed in the history of man?
I propose to look at Islam from the viewpoint of a critical student. But I may tell you at the outset that I shall avoid the use of expressions current in popular revelational theology, since my method is essentially scientific and consequently necessitates the use of terms which can be interpreted in the light of everyday human experience. For instance, when I say that the religion of a people is "the sum total of their life experience finding a definite expression through the medium of a great personality," I am translating the fact of revelation into the language of science. Similarly, "interaction between individual and universal energy" is simply another expression for the feeling of prayer, which ought to be described for the purpose of scientific accuracy. It is because I want to approach my subject from a thoroughly humane standpoint, and not because I doubt the fact of divine revelation as the final basis of religion, that I prefer to employ expressions of a more scientific content.
Islam is, moreover, the youngest of all religions, the last religious creation of humanity. The founder stands out clear before us. He is truly a personage of history, and lends himself freely even to the most scorching criticism. Ingenious legend has woven no screen round his figure. He is born in the broad daylight of history. We can thoroughly understand the inner spring of his actions. We can subject his mind to a keen psychological analysis. Let us then, for the time being, eliminate the supernatural element, and try to understand the structure of Islam as we find it.
I have just indicated the way in which a critical student of religion approaches his subject. Now, it is not possible for me in the short span of a lecture to answer with regard to Islam all the questions which a critical student of religion ought to raise and answer in order to reveal the real meaning of this religious system. I shall not raise, therefore, the question of the origin and development of Islam; nor shall I try to analyze the various currents of thought in the pre-Islamic Arabian society which found a final focus in the utterances of the Prophet of Islam. I shall confine my attention to the Islamic Ideal in its ethical and political aspects only.
To begin with, we have to recognize that every great religious system starts with certain presuppositions concerning the nature of man and the universe. The psychological implication of Buddhism, for instance, is the central fact of pain as a dominating element in the constitution of the universe. Man, regarded as an individuality, is helpless against the forces of pain, according to the teachings of Buddhism. There is an indissoluble relation between pain and individual consciousness which, as such, is nothing but a constant possibility of pain.
Starting from the fact of pain, Buddhism is quite consistent in placing before man the ideal of self-destruction. Of the two terms of this relation, pain and the sense of personality, one (i.e. pain) is ultimate. The other is a delusion: a tendency to intensify the sense of personality. According to Buddhism, then, salvation is inaction; renunciation of self and unworldliness are the principal virtues.
Similarly, Christianity, as a religious system, is based on the fact of sin. The world is regarded as evil, and the taint of sin is regarded as hereditary to man who, as an individuality, is insufficient, and stands in need of some supernatural personality to intervene between him and the Creator. Christianity, unlike Buddhism, regards human personality as something real, but agrees with Buddhism in holding that man, as a force against sin, is insufficient. There is, however, a subtle difference in their agreement: we can, according to Christianity, get rid of sin by depending upon a redeemer. We can free ourselves from pain, according to Buddhism, by letting this insufficient force dissipate or lose itself in the universal energy of nature. Both agree in the fact of insufficiency, and both agree in holding that this insufficiency is an evil. But while the one makes up the deficiency by bringing in the forces of a redeeming personality, the other prescribes its gradual reduction where it is annihilated altogether.
Again, Zoroastrianism looks upon Nature as a scene of endless struggle between the powers of evil and good, and recognises in man the power to choose any course of action he likes. The universe, according to Zoroastrianism, is partly evil and partly good. Man is neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but a combination of the two principles — light and darkness — continually fighting against each other for universal supremacy.
We see, then, that the fundamental presuppositions with regard to the nature of the universe and man in Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism respectively are the following:
- Buddhism: There is pain in nature; and man, regarded as an
individual, is evil.
- Christianity: There is sin in nature; and the taint of sin
is natural to man.
- Zoroastrianism: There is struggle in nature; man is a mixture of the struggling forces, and is free to range himself on the side of the powers of good which shall eventually prevail.
The questions now are:
- What is the Muslim view of the universe and man; and
- What is the central idea which determines the structure of the entire system?
We know that sin, pain, and sorrow are constantly mentioned in the Qur'an. The truth is that Islam looks upon the universe as a reality, and consequently recognises as reality all that is in it. Sin, pain, and sorrow, and struggle are certainly real, but Islam teaches that evil is not essential to the universe. The universe can be reformed, and the elements of sin and evil can be gradually eliminated. All that is in the universe is God's:
"Now, surely, whatever is in the heavens, and whatever is in the earth, is Allah's." (Qur'an 10:66)
And the seemingly destructive forces of nature become sources of life, if properly controlled by man:
"Most surely in the creation of the heaven and the earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships that run in the sea laden with that which profits men, and the water that Allah sends down from the cloud, then gives life to the earth after its death, and spreads in all kinds of animals, and the changing of the courses of winds and the clouds made subservient between the heaven and the earth, there are signs for a people who understand." (Qur'an 2:164)
Who is endowed with the power to understand and control them:
"We have made him (man) hearing and seeing." (Qur'an 76:2)
"The Islamic view of the universe is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. ... The highest stage of man's ethical progress is reached when he becomes absolutely free from fear and grief."
This and similar other verses of the Qur'an, combined with the Quranic recognition of sin and sorrow, indicate that the Islamic view of the universe is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Modern psychometry has given the final answer to the psychological implications of Buddhism: Pain is not an essential factor in the constitution of the universe, and pessimism is only a product of hostile environment. Islam believes in the efficacy of well-directed action; hence the standpoint of Islam must be described as melioristic, the ultimate presupposition of all human effort at scientific discovery and social progress. Although Islam recognises the fact of pain, sin, and struggle in nature, yet the principal fact which stands in the way of Islam is neither sin, nor pain, nor struggle. It is fear, to which man is victim owing to his ignorance of his environment, and want of absolute faith in God. The highest stage of man's ethical progress is reached when he becomes absolutely free from fear and grief.
"They shall neither fear, nor shall they grieve." (Qur'an 2:38)
The central proposition which regulates the structure of Islam, then, is that there is fear in nature, and the object of Islam is to free man from fear. This view of the universe indicates also the Islamic view of the metaphysical nature of man. If fear is the force which dominates man and counteracts his ethical progress, man must be regarded as a unit of force and energy, a will, a germ of infinite power — the gradual unfoldment of which must be the object of all human activity. The essential nature of man, then, consists in will, and not in intellect and understanding. With regard to the ethical nature of man, too, the teaching of Islam is different from those of other religious systems:
"And when God said to the Angels, 'I am going to make a viceroy on earth,' they said, 'Art Thou creating one who spills blood and disturbs the peace of the earth, and we glorify Thee, and sing Thy praise.' God answered, 'I know what you do not know.'" (Qur'an 2:30).
These verses of the Qur'an, when read in the light of the famous tradition, "Every child is born a Muslim (peaceful)," indicates that, according to the tenets of Islam, man is essentially good and peaceful — a view explained and defended in our own times by Rousseau, the great father of modern political thought.
The opposite view, the doctrine of the depravity of man held by the Church of Rome, leads to most pernicious religious and political consequences. If man is essentially wicked, he must not be permitted to have his own way. His entire life, then, must be controlled by an external authority. This means priesthood in religion and autocracy in politics. The Middle Ages in the history of Europe drove the dogma of Romanism to its political and religious consequences; the result was a form of society which required terrible revolutions to destroy it, and to upset the basic presuppositions of its structure. Luther, the enemy of despotism in religion, and Rousseau, the enemy of despotism in politics, must always be regarded as emancipators of European humanity from the heavy fetters of popedom and absolutism. Their religious and political thoughts must be understood as a virtual denial of the church dogma of human depravity.
The possibility of the elimination of sin and pain from the evolutionary process, and faith in the natural goodness of man, are the basic proposition of Islam, as of modern European civilisation which has, almost unconsciously, recognised the truth of these propositions, in spite of the religious system with which it is associated.
"The ethical ideal of Islam ... [is] to give him a sense of his personality, and then to make him conscious of himself as a source of power."
Ethically speaking, therefore, man is naturally good and peaceful. Metaphysically speaking, he is a unit of energy which cannot bring out its dormant possibilities owing to its misconception of the nature of environments. The ethical ideal of Islam, then, is to disenthrall man from fear and thus to give him a sense of his personality, and then to make him conscious of himself as a source of power. The idea of man as an individuality of infinite power determines, according to the teachings of Islam, the worth of all human actions. That which intensifies the sense of individuality in man is good, and that which enfeebles it is bad. Evil is weakness. Give a man a keen sense of respect for his own personality, and let him move fearless and free in the immensity of God's earth and he shall respect the personalities of others and become perfectly virtuous.
It is not possible for me to show you in this lecture how all the principal forms of vices can be reduced to fear. But you will see the reason why certain forms of human activities, e.g., self-renunciation, poverty, slavish obedience which at times conceals itself under the beautiful name of humility, and unworldliness — modes of activity which tend to weaken the forces of human individuality — are regarded as virtues by Buddhism and Christianity, but are altogether ignored by Islam. While the early Christians glorified poverty and unworldliness, Islam looks upon poverty as a vice, and says:
"Do not forget thy share in this world." (Qur'an 28:77)
The highest virtue from the standpoint of Islam is "righteousness," which is defined by the Quran in the following manner:
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces in prayers towards east or west, but it is this: that one should believe in Allah, the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Scriptures and the Prophets; and give away wealth for His sake to the near of kin and orphans, and the needy and the wayfarers and the beggars, and for the redemption of captives; and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate; and who perform their covenant when they have covenanted, and are patient in distress and affliction." (Qur'an 2:177)
"Man is a free, responsible being; he is the maker of his own destiny; and his salvation is his own business. There is no mediator between God and man."
It is, therefore, evident that Islam, so to speak, transvaluates the moral values of the ancient world, and declares the preservation and intensification of the sense of human personality to be the ultimate ground of all ethical activities. Man is a free, responsible being; he is the maker of his own destiny; and his salvation is his own business. There is no mediator between God and man. God is the birthright of every man. The Qur'an, therefore, while it looks upon Jesus Christ as the Spirit of God, strongly protests against the doctrine of redemption, as well as the doctrine of an infallible visible head of the church — doctrines which proceed upon the assumption of the insufficiency of human personality, and tend to create in man the sense of dependence which is regarded by Islam as a force obstructing the ethical progress of man.
The Law of Islam is almost unwilling to recognise illegitimacy, since the stigma is a great blow to the healthy development of the spirit of independence in man. Similarly, in order to give man an early sense of individuality, the Law of Islam has laid down that a child is absolutely free at the age of fifteen. To this view of Muslim ethics, however, there can be one objection. If the development of human individuality is the principal concern of Islam, why should it tolerate the institution of slavery?
"The Prophet of Islam ... declared the principle of equality ... [and] took away the whole spirit of the institution [of slavery]."
The idea of free labour was foreign to the economic consciousness of the ancient world. Aristotle looks upon it as a necessary factor in human society. The Prophet of Islam, being a link between the ancient and modern worlds, declared the principle of equality; and though, like every social reformer, he slightly conceded to the social conditions around himself, in retaining the name "slavery," he quietly took away the whole spirit of the institution. That slaves had equal opportunities with other Muslims is evidenced by the fact that some of the greatest Muslim warriors, kings, premiers, scholars, and jurists were slaves. During the days of the Early Caliphs slavery by purchase was quite unknown. Part of public revenue was set apart for the purpose of manumission; and prisoners of war were either freely dismissed or freed on payment of ransom. 'Umar set all slaves at liberty after his conquest of Jerusalem. Slaves were set at liberty as a penalty for culpable homicide, and in expiation for a false oath taken by mistake. The Prophet's own treatment of slaves was extraordinarily liberal. The proud aristocratic Arab could not tolerate the social elevation of slaves even when they were manumitted. The democratic ideal of perfect equality, which had found the most uncompromising ideal in the Prophet's life, could only be brought home to an extremely aristocratic people by a very cautious handling of the situation. He brought about a marriage between an emancipated slave and a free Quraysh woman, a relative of his own. This marriage was a blow to the aristocratic pride of the free Arab woman; she could not get on with her husband, and the result was a divorce, which made her the more helpless, since no respectable Arab would marry the divorced wife. The ever-watchful Prophet availed himself of this situation at [for?] social reform. He married the woman himself, indicating thereby that not only a slave could marry a free woman, but also that a woman divorced by him could become the wife of no less a personage than the greatest Prophet of God. The significance of this marriage in the history of the social reform in Arabia is, indeed, very great. Whether prejudice, ignorance, or want of insight has blinded European critics of Islam to the real meaning of this union is difficult to guess.
In order to show you the treatment of slaves by modern Muslims, I quote a passage from the English translation of the autobiography of the late Amir 'Abdu'r Rahman Khan of Afghanistan (may his soul rest in peace):
"For instance, Faramurz Khan, a Chitrali slave, is my most trusted commander-in-chief at Herat; Nazir Ahmad Safar Khan, another Chitrali slave, is the most trusted official of my Court; he keeps my seal in his hands to put it on any document and food and diet. In short, he has the full confidence of my life, as well as of my kingdom, in his hands. Parwana Khan, the late Deputy Commander-in-Chief, and Jan Muhammad Khan, the late Lord [of the] Treasury, two of the highest officials of the kingdom in their lifetimes, were both of them my slaves."
The truth is that the institution of slavery is a mere name in Islam; the idea of individuality reveals itself as a guiding principle in the entire system of Muslim Law and Ethics. The poet 'Umar Khayyam has so beautifully expressed the spirit of Muslim ethics in one of his quatrains that I cannot help reading it to you:
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So long as there lie (together) bones, veins, and energy
Never step out of the House of Fate;
Do not submit even if Rustam bin Zal be your foe,
Do not accept obligation of a friend even if he be Hatim of Tayy.
[translated by S. Y. Hashimy]
Briefly speaking, then, "a strong will in a strong body" is the Ethical Ideal of Islam.
But let me stop here for a moment, and see whether we Indian Muslims are true to this ideal.
- Does the Indian Muslim possess a strong will in a strong
- Has he got the will to live?
- Has he got sufficient strength of character to oppose those forces which tend to disintegrate the social organism to which he belongs?
I regret to answer my questions in the negative. You know, gentlemen, that in the great struggle for life it is not principally number which makes a social organism survive; character is the ultimate equipment of man, not only in his efforts against a hostile natural environment, but also in his contest with kindred competitors after a fuller richer, and ampler life.
The life-force of the Indian Muslim, however, has become woefully enfeebled. The decay of the religious spirit, combined with other causes of a political nature over which he had no control, has developed in him now a sense of dependence and, above all, the laziness of spirit which an enervated people call by the dignified name of "contentment" in order to conceal their own enfeeblement. Owing to his indifferent commercial morality, he fails in economic enterprise; for want of a true conception of national interest and the right appreciation of the present situation of the community among the communities of this country, he is working, in his private as well as public capacities, on lines which, I am afraid, must lead to ruin. How often do we see that he shrinks from advocating a cause, the significance of which is truly national, simply because his standing aloof pleases an influential Hindu through whose agency he hopes to secure a personal distinction. I tell you, gentlemen, that I have got greater respect for an illiterate shopkeeper who earns his honest bread, and has sufficient force in his arms to defend his wife and children in times of trouble, than the brainy graduate of high culture whose timid voice betokens death [dearth?] of soul in his body, and who takes pride in his submissiveness, eats sparingly, complains of sleeplessness in [at] night, and produces unhealthy children for his community, if he does produce at all.
Gentlemen, I hope I shall not be offending you when I say that I have a certain amount of admiration for the devil. By refusing to prostrate himself before Adam, whom he honestly believed to be his inferior, he revealed a high sense of self-respect, a trait of character which, in my opinion, ought to redeem him from his spiritual deformity, just as the beautiful eyes of a toad redeem him from his physical repulsiveness. And, I believe, God punished him not because he refused to make himself low before the progenitor of an enfeebled humanity, but because he declined to give absolute obedience to the Will of the Almighty Ruler of the universe.
The ideal of our educated young men is mostly service; and service begets, especially in a country like India, that sense of dependence which undermines the force of human individuality. The poor among us, of course, have no capital; the middle class people cannot undertake joint economic enterprises owing to mutual mistrust; and the rich look upon trade as an occupation beneath their dignity. Economic dependence is the prolific mother of all the various forms of evils. Even the vices of the Indian Muslim indicate weakness of life-force in him. Physically, too, he has undergone dreadful deteriorations. Go and see the pale, faded faces of Muslim boys in schools and colleges, and you will find the painful verification of my statement. Power, energy, force, strength — yes, physical strength is the Law of Life. A strong man may rob others when he has got nothing in his pocket; but a feeble person must die the death of a mean thing in the world's awful scene of continual warfare.
"The ethical training of humanity is really the work of great personalities who appear from time to time in the course of human history. Unfortunately our present social environment is not favourable to the birth of such personalities of ethical magnetism."
But how to improve this undesirable state of things? Education, you might say, will work the transformation. Now, gentlemen, I do not put much faith in education as understood in this country. The ethical training of humanity is really the work of great personalities who appear from time to time in the course of human history. Unfortunately our present social environment is not favourable to the birth of such personalities of ethical magnetism. An attempt to discover the reason of this dearth of personalities among us will necessitate the subtle analysis of all the visible and invisible forces which are now determining the course of our social evolutions — an inquiry which I cannot undertake in this lecture. But you will, I think, admit that such personalities are rare among us. Such being the case, education is the only thing to fall back upon. But what sort of education? There is no absolute truth in education, as there is none in philosophy or science. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is the maxim of fools. Do you ever find a person rolling in his mind the undulatory theory of light simply because it is a fact of science? Education, like other things, ought to be determined by the needs of the learner. A form of education which has no direct bearing on the particular type of character which you want to develop is absolutely worthless. I grant that the present system of education in India gives you bread and butter. You manufacture a number of graduates, and then you have to send titled mendicants to the government to beg appointments for them. Well, if you succeed in securing a few appointments in the higher branches of service, what then? It is the masses who constitute the backbone of a nation. They ought to be better fed, better housed; and properly educated. Life is not bread and butter alone; it is something more. It is the healthy character that reflects the national ideal in all its aspects.
"Healthy pride in his [a young boy's] soul which is the very lifeblood of a truly national character. ... A living nation is alive because it never forgets its dead."
For a truly national character, you ought to have a truly national education. Can you expect free Muslim character in a young boy who is brought up in an aided school in complete ignorance of his social and historical traditions? You administer him doses of Cromwell's History. It is idle to expect that he will turn out a truly Muslim character. The knowledge of Cromwell's History will certainly create in him a great deal of admiration for the Puritan Revolutionary; but it cannot create that healthy pride in his soul which is the very lifeblood of a truly national character. Our educated young men know all about Cromwell, Wellington, Gladstone, Voltaire, and Luther. They will tell you that Lord Roberts worked in South African wars like a common soldier at the age of eighty. But how many of us know that Muhammad II conquered Constantinople at the age of twenty-two? How many of us have the faintest notion of the influence of our Muslim civilisation over modern Europe? How many of us are familiar with the wonderful historical productions of Ibn Khaldun, or the extraordinary noble character of 'Abdu'l-Qadir of Algeria? A living nation is alive because it never forgets its dead.
I venture to say, gentlemen, that the present system of education in this country is not at all suited to us as a people: It is not true to our genius as a nation. It tends to produce an un-Islamic character. It is not determined by our national requirements. It breaks away entirely with our past. It appears to proceed on the false assumption that the ideal of education is the training of human intellect rather than human will. Nor is this superficial system true to the genius of the Hindus. Amongst them it appears to have produced a number of political idealists whose false reading of history drives them to the upsetting of all conditions of political order and social peace. Gentlemen, you spend an immense amount of money every year on the education of your children. Well, thanks to the King Emperor, India is a free country; everybody is free to entertain any opinion he likes. I look upon it as a waste. In order to be truly yourself, you have to have your own schools, colleges, and your own universities keeping alive your social and historical traditions, making you good and peaceful citizens, and creating in you that free and law-abiding spirit which evolves out of itself a nobler type of political virtue. I am quite sensible of the difficulties that lie in your way. All that I can say is that if you cannot get over your difficulties, the world will soon get rid of you.
PART II: ISLAM AS A POLITICAL IDEAL
Gentlemen, I beg your pardon for this digression, and I hope you will give serious consideration to the painful criticism I have ventured to make on the existing undesirable conditions of Muslim society in India. And though I cannot promise to spare you in my exposition of Islam as a political ideal, I think I must now say a few words on the political aspects of the Islamic Ideal.
"Defensive war is certainly permitted by the Qur'an, but the doctrine of aggressive war against the unbelievers is wholly unauthorised by the Holy Book of Islam."
Before, however, I come to the subject, I wish to meet an objection against Islam so often brought forward by our European critics. It has been said that Islam is a religion that implies a state of war. Now, there can be no denying the fact that war is an expression of the energy of a nation. A nation which cannot fight cannot hold its own in the strain and stress of selective competition, which constitutes an indispensable condition of all human progress. Defensive war is certainly permitted by the Qur'an, but the doctrine of aggressive war against the unbelievers is wholly unauthorised by the Holy Book of Islam. Here are the words of the Qur'an:
"Summon them to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom, and kindly warning; dispute with them in the kindest manner." (Qur'an 16:125)
"Say to those who have been given the Book and to the ignorant, 'Do you accept Islam?' Then if they accept Islam they are guided aright; but if they turn away, then thy duty is only preaching, and God's Eye is on His servants." (Qur'an 3:20)
All the wars undertaken during the lifetime of the Prophet were defensive. His war against the Roman Empire in 628 began by a fatal breach of international law on the part of the government at Constantinople, who killed the Arab envoy sent to the court. Even in defensive wars he forbids wanton cruelty to the vanquished. I read to you the touching words which he addressed to his followers when they were starting for a fight?
"In avenging the injuries inflicted upon us, disturb not the harmless votaries of domestic seclusion; spare the weakness of the female sex; injure not the infant at the breast or those who are ill in bed; abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants; destroy not the means of their subsistence, nor their fruit trees, and touch not their palms."
"The history of Islam tells us that its expansion as a religion is in no way related to the political power of its followers."
The history of Islam tells us that its expansion as a religion is in no way related to the political power of its followers. The greatest spiritual conquests of Islam were during the days of our political decrepitude. When the rude barbarians of Mongolia drowned in blood the civilisation of Baghdad in 1258, and when the Muslim power fell in Spain, and the followers of Islam were mercilessly killed and driven out of Cordova by Ferdinand in 1236, Islam had just secured a footing in Sumatra and was about to work the peaceful conversion of the Malay Archipelago. In the hours of political degradation, says Arnold (Preachings of Islam), Islam has achieved some of its most brilliant conquests. On two historical occasions infidel barbarians have set their foot on the necks of the followers of the Prophet: the Seljuq Turks in the eleventh and the Mongols in the thirteenth centuries; and in each case the conquerors have accepted the religion of the conquered. We undoubtedly find, says the same learned scholar elsewhere, that Islam has gained its greatest and most lasting missionary triumphs in times and places in which its political power has been weakest, as in South India, and in Eastern Bengal.
The truth is that Islam is essentially a Religion of Peace. All forms of political and social disturbances are condemned by the Qur'an in the most uncompromising terms. I quote a few verses from the Qur'an:
- "Eat and drink from what God has given you, but run not on
the face of the earth in the manner of rebels." (Qur'an 2:60)
- "And disturb not the peace of the earth after it has been
reformed; this is good for you if you are believers." (Qur'an
- "And do good to others as God has done good to you, and seek
not the violation of peace in the earth, for God does not like
those who break the peace." (Qur'an 28:77)
- "That is the home in the next world which We build for those
who do not mean rebellion and disturbance in the earth, and
(good) end is for those who fear God." (Qur'an 28:83)
- "Those who rebelled in cities and enhanced disorders in them,
God visited them with His punishment." (Qur'an 11:102)
You will see, gentlemen, from these verses, how severely all forms of political and social disorders are denounced in the Qur'an. But Qur'an is not satisfied with the denunciation of the evil of Fasad. It goes to the very root of this evil. You know that both in ancient and modern times secret meetings have been a constant source of political and social unrest. Here is what the Qur'an says about such conferences:
"O believers, if you converse secretly (that is to say, hold secret conferences), converse not for the purpose of sin and rebellion." (Qur'an 58:9)
The ideal of Islam is to secure social peace at any cost. All methods of violent change in society are condemned in most unmistakable language. Turtushi, a Muslim lawyer of Spain, is quite true to the spirit of Islam when he says:
"Forty years of tyranny are better than one hour of anarchy."
"Listen to him and obey him", says the Prophet in a tradition mentioned by Bukhari, "even if a Negro slave is appointed to rule over you." Muslim mentions another important tradition of the Prophet on the authority of Arfaja who says,
"I heard the Prophet say, 'When you have agreed to follow one man, then if another man comes forward intending to break your stick (weaken your strength), or to make you disperse in disunion, kill him.'"
Those amongst us who make it their business to differ from the general body of the Mussalmans in political views ought to read this tradition carefully; and if they have any respect for the words of the Prophet, it is their duty to dissuade themselves from this mean traffic in political opinion which, though it perhaps brings a little personal gain to them, is exceedingly harmful to the interests of the community. My object, gentlemen, in citing these verses and traditions is to educate your political opinion on strictly Islamic lines.
In this country we are living under a Christian government. We must always keep before our eyes the example of those early Muslims who, when persecuted by their own countrymen, had to leave their homes to settle in the Christian State of Abyssinia. How they behaved in that State must be our guiding principle in this country where an overdose of Western ideas have taught people to criticise the existing government with a dangerous lack of historical perspective. Our relations with the Christians are determined for us by the Qur'an, which says:
"And thou wilt find nearer in friendship of the believers those who call themselves Christians; this is because among them are learned men and hermits, and because they are never vain." (Qur'an 5:82)
Having thus established that Islam is a Religion of Peace, I now proceed to consider the purely political aspect of the Islamic ideal — the ideal of Islam as entertained by a corporate individuality.
- Given a settled society, what does Islam expect of its
followers regarded as a community?
- What principles ought to guide them in the management of
- What must be their ultimate object; and how is it to be achieved?
"The membership of Islam is not determined by birth, locality, or naturalisation; it consists in the identity of belief."
You know that Islam is something more than a creed, it is also a community, a nation. The membership of Islam is not determined by birth, locality, or naturalisation; it consists in the identity of belief. The expression "Indian Muslims," however convenient it may be, is a contradiction in terms, since Islam in its essence is above all conditions of time and space. Nationality with us is a pure idea; it has no geographical basis. But inasmuch as the average man demands a material centre of nationality, the Muslim looks for it in the holy town of Mecca, so that the basis of Muslim nationality combines the real and the ideal, the concrete and the abstract. When, therefore, it is said that the interests of Islam are superior to those of Muslims, it is meant that the interests of the individual as a unit are subordinate to the interests of the community as an external symbol of the Islamic principle. This is the only principle which limits the liberty of the individual, who is otherwise absolutely free.
The best form of government for such a community would be democracy, the ideal of which is to let a man develop all the possibilities of his nature by allowing him as much freedom as practicable. The Caliph of Islam is not an infallible being; like other Muslims, he is subject to the same law; he is elected by the people and is deposed by them if he goes contrary to the law. An ancestor of the present Sultan of Turkey was sued in an ordinary court of law by a mason who succeeded in getting him fined by the town Qazi. Democracy, then, is the most important aspect of Islam as a political ideal. It must, however, be confessed that the Muslims, with their idea of individual freedom, could do nothing for the political improvement of Asia. Their democracy lasted only thirty years, and disappeared with their political expansion. Though the principle of election was not quite original in Asia (since the ancient Parthian government was based on the same principle), yet somehow or other it was not suited to the nations of Asia in the early days of Islam. It was, however, reserved for a Western nation to vitalise the countries of Asia politically.
Democracy has been the great mission of England in modern times, and English statesmen have boldly carried this principle to countries which have been for centuries groaning under the most atrocious form of despotism. The British Empire is a vast political organism, the vitality of which consists in the gradual working out of this principle. The permanence of the British Empire as a civilising factor in the political evolution of mankind is one of our greatest interests. This vast Empire has our fullest sympathy and respect, since it is one aspect of our own political ideal that is being slowly worked out in it. England, in fact, is doing one of our own great duties, which unfavourable circumstances did not permit us to perform. It is not the number of Muslims which it protects, but the spirit of the British Empire, that makes it the greatest Muslim Empire in the world.
To return now to the political constitution of the Muslim society: just as there are two basic propositions underlying Muslim ethics, there are two basic propositions underlying political constitution:
1. The Law of God is absolutely supreme.
Authority, except as an interpreter of the law, has no place in the social structure of Islam. Islam has a horror of personal authority. We regard it as inimical to the unfoldment of human individuality. The Shi'as, of course, differ from the Sunnis in this respect. They hold that the Caliph or Imam is appointed by God, and his interpretation of the law is final. He is infallible, and his authority, therefore, is supreme. There is certainly a grain of truth in this view; since the principle of absolute authority has functioned usefully in the course of [the] history of mankind. But it must be admitted that the idea works well in the case of primitive societies, and reveals its deficiency when applied to higher stages of civilisation. People grow out of it, as recent events have revealed in Persia, which is a Shi'a country and yet demands a fundamental structural change in her government in the introduction of the principle of election.
2. There is no aristocracy in Islam.
Says the Prophet,
noblest amongst you are those who fear God most." (Qur'an 49:13)
There is no privileged class, no priesthood, no caste system. Islam is a unity in which there is no distinction; and this unity is secured by making men believe in the two simple propositions: (1) the Unity of God; and (2) the mission of the Prophet. These propositions, which are certainly of a super-rational character and are based on the general religious experience of mankind, are intensely true to the average human nature. Now, this principle of equality of all believers made the early Mussalmans the greatest political power in the world. Islam worked as a levelling force; it elevated those who were socially low. The elevation of the downtrodden was the chief secret of the Muslim political power in India. The result of the British rule in this country has been exactly the same; and if England continues true to this principle, it will ever remain a source of strength to her, as it was to her predecessors. But are we Indian Muslims true to this principle in our social economy? Is the organic unity of Islam intact in this land? Religious adventurers have set up different sects and fraternities which are ever quarrelling with one another. And then, there are castes like the Hindus. Surely we have out-Hindued the Hindu himself. We are suffering from double caste system, which we have either learnt or inherited from the Hindus. This is one of the quiet ways in which the conquered nations avenge themselves on their conquerors.
"The unity of Islam had been split up into various factions. ... I condemn it in the name of God ... There are no Wahhabis, Shi'as, Mirza'is, or Sunnis in Islam. ... Let the idols of class distinctions and sectarianism be smashed forever. "
As in the beginning of April 660 A.D. 24 years after the Battle of Siffin, in the town of Mecca, a Muslim had stood up to tell the pilgrims of that sacred soil how the unity of Islam had been split up into various factions, so in the beginning of April in the town of Lahore, the soil of which claims the bones of some of the greatest personalities of Islam, I, an insignificant member of the community, venture to stand up and place my finger on this dreadful wound in the body-social. In this great assembly of educated Mussalmans I condemn this accursed religious and social sectarianism. I condemn it in the name of God, in the name of humanity, in the name of Moses, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the name of him — a thrill of emotion passes through the very fibre of my soul when I think of that exalted name — yes, in the name of him who brought the final message of equality to mankind. Islam is one and indivisible: it brooks no distinction in it. There are no Wahhabis, Shi'as, Mirza'is, or Sunnis in Islam. Let all come forward and contribute their respective shares in the great toil of the nation. Let the idols of class distinctions and sectarianism be smashed forever. Let the Mussalmans of this country be once more united into a great vital whole. How can you, in the presence of violent internal dispute, expect to succeed in persuading others to your ways of thinking? The work of freeing humanity from superstitions — the ultimate ideal of Islam as a community, for the realisation of which you have done so little in this land of myth and superstition — will ever remain undone if the emancipators themselves are becoming enchained in the very fetters from which it is their mission to set others free.