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MANKIND’S DEBT TO THE PROPHET (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)

Shaikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi

John William Draper, the reputed author of A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, writes: Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born at Makkah, in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest influence upon the human race.

He says further: Muhammad possessed that combination of qualities which more than once has decided the fate of empires ... Asserting that everlasting truth, he did not engage in vain metaphysics, but applied himself to improving the social condition of the people by regulations respecting personal cleanliness, sobriety, fasting and prayer.

The great historian-philosopher of this century, A.J. Toynbee, is on record as saying that: The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.

It is a strange coincidence that over a hundred years ago Thomas Carlyle chose Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) as the supreme hero, and now, in the closing decades of the twentieth century, Michael H. Hart of the United States of America has prepared a list of 100 most influential persons in history, placing the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) at the top.

The Prophet of Islam and his followers conferred favors on humanity which have played an unforgettable role in the promotion and development of culture and civilization. We will mention here only two of these, amply supported by historical evidence.

Students of history are aware that in the thirteenth century the civilized world, divided by the two great religions, Christianity and Islam, was suddenly confronted with a situation which threatened the imminent destruction of both the then vast empires, their arts and sciences, their cultures and morals. In short, all that the human race had laboriously achieved during the past hundreds of years once again faced its reduction to barbarism. This was brought about by the sudden rise of Genghis Khan (Tamuchin), a chieftain of the nomadic Mongol tribes, who possessed remarkable qualities of leadership and was able to subdue all that sat in his way. In 619/1219, Genghis Khan turned towards the western and northern civilized countries, ravaging them with fire and sword. How severe a blow the Mongol invasion dealt to all social and cultural progress can be gauged by a few graphic descriptions of Mongol rapine and slaughter, as given by Harold Lamb, Genghis Khan’s biographer: "cities in his path were often obliterated, and rivers diverted from their courses; deserts were peopled with the fleeing and dying, and when he had passed, wolves and ravens often were the sole living things in once populated lands.

And consternation filled all Christendom, a generation after the death of Genghis Khan, when the terrible Mongol horsemen were riding over Western Europe, when Boleslas of Poland and Bela of Hungary fled from stricken fields, and Henry, Duke of Silesia, died under the arrows with his Teutonic Knights at Liegnitz12 — sharing the fate of the Grand-Duke George of Russia.

Such details are too horrible to dwell upon today. It was a war carried to its utmost extent — an extent that was very nearly approached in the last European War. It was the slaughter of human beings without hatred — simply to make an end of them.

Unchecked by human valor, they were able to overcome the terrors of vast deserts, the barriers of mountains and seas, the severities of climate, and the ravages of famine and pestilence. No danger could appeal them, no stronghold could resist them, no prayer for mercy could move them.

His achievement is recorded for the most part by his enemies. So devastating was his impact upon civilization that virtually a new beginning had to be made in half the world. The empires of Chathay, of Prester John, of Black Cathay, of Kharesem, and — after his death — the Caliphate of Baghdad, of Russia and for a while the principalities of Poland, ceased to be. When this indomitable barbarian conquered a nation all other warfare come to an end. The whole scheme of things, whether sorry or otherwise, was altered, and among the survivors of a Mongol conquest peace endured for a long time.

Harold Lamb correctly says that the impact of the Mongols, brought about by Genghis Khan, has been well summed up by the authors of the Cambridge Medieval History in these words: This ‘new power in history’ — the ability of one man to alter human civilization — began with Genghis Khan and ended with his grandson Kublai, when the Mangol Empire tended to break up. It has not reappeared since.

The terror of the Mongol invasion was not confined to Turkistan, Iran and Iraq alone. Mongol atrocities provoked trembling even in far-off corners of the world where they could hardly have been expected to carry their arms. Edward Gibbon writes in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: The Latin world was darkened by this cloud of savage hostility; a Russian fugitive carried the alarm to Sweden; and the remote nations of the Baltic and the ocean trembled at the approach of the Tartars, whom their fear and ignorance were inclined to separate from the human species.

The Mongols first attacked Bukhara and razed it to dust. Not a single soul was spared by them. Thereafter, they laid Samarkand to ruin and massacred its entire population. The same was the fate of other urban centers in the then Islamic world. The Tartars would indeed have most probably devastated the whole of Christendom (then divided politically and suffering from numerous social evils), as stated by H.G. Wells: A prophetic amateur of history surveying the world in the opening of the seventh century might have concluded very reasonably that it was only a question of a few centuries before the whole of Europe and Asia fell under Mongolian domination.

Harold Lamb also writes: We only know that the German and Polish forces broke before the onset of the Mongol standard, and were almost exterminated; Henry and his barons died to a man, as did the Hospitallers …. In less than two months they had overrun Europe from the headwaiters of the Elbe to the sea, had defeated three great armies and a dozen smaller ones and had taken by assault all the towns excepting Olmutz.

Then a miraculous event changed the course of history. It not only allowed the civilized world to heave a sigh of relief but also permitted culture and civilization to be built afresh. The hearts of the indomitable Mongols were captured by the faith of their subjects who had lost all power and prestige. Arnold writes in The Preaching of Islam: In spite of all difficulties, however, the Mongols and savage tribes that followed in their wake were at length brought to submit to the faith of those Muslim peoples whom they had crushed beneath their feet.

The names of only a few dedicated servants of Islam who won the savage Tartars to their faith are known to the world, but their venture was no less daring nor the achievement less significant than a great and successful reform movement. Their memory shall always be cherished as much by the Muslims, as by Christendom, or rather by all mankind, since they rescued the world from the barbarism of a savage race, the insecurity of widespread upheaval, and allowed it to once again devote its energies to the establishment of social and political stability. Normalcy thus restored, the world was allowed to resume its journey of cultural development and the promotion of arts and crafts, learning and teaching, preaching and writing.

After the death of Genghis Khan, his vast conquests were divided into four dominions headed by his sons’ children. The message of Islam then began to spread among all these four sections of the Mongol empire and before long all were converted to Islam.

The Tartars not only accepted Islam but a number of great scholars, writers, poets, mystics and fighters in the way of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta'aalaa), rose from amongst them. Their conversion to Islam completely changed their outlook and disposition as also their attitude towards humanity and civilization. This, in turn, benefited not only the Islamic East but also Christendom and even India. ….This achievement of Islam, the transformation of the Tartars into a civilized people, was a service of a defensive nature rendered to humanity in general, and to the West in particular.

Another accomplishment of Islam, in contrast to the one just described, was its introduction of a new way of thinking and learning. It was like a flash of light in the Dark Ages of Europe one which paved the way for its Renaissance. It transformed not only Europe but helped the entire human race to benefitted from new researches and discoveries. A new era of empirical sciences was inaugurated which has changed the face of the earth. The intellectual patrimony of the ancients (consisting of philosophy, mathematics and medicine) found it way to Europe through Muslim Spain. This intellectual gift consisted of observation and experiment a replacement of inductive logic with deductive logic where by Europe’s whole way of thinking was changed. Science and technology were the main fruits. All the discoveries made by European scientific explorations — in short, whatever success has so far been achieved in harnessing the forces of nature — are directly related to inductive reasoning, not known to Europe until it was bequeathed to it by Muslim Spain. The noted French historian, Gustave Ie Bon, writes of the Arab contribution to Modern Europe: Observation, experimentation and inductive logic which form the fundamentals of modern knowledge are attributed to Roger Bacon but it needs to be acknowledged that this process of reasoning was entirely an Arab discovery.

Robert Briffault has also reached the same conclusion, for he says: There is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic civilization is not traceable.

He further says: It is not science only which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life.

Those who have studied the history of the Catholic Church and the Reformation are aware of the profound effect Islamic teachings had on the minds of those who initiated reform in Christendom. We can, for example, see the influence of Islam reflected in the thought of Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) Reformation movement. The revolt against autocratic leadership in the Catholic Church in medieval Europe also reveals the influence of Islam, which had no organized church.

It is, thus, our moral duty to acknowledge both these great favors conferred by Islam which have had a revolutionary impact on the world. When we speak of those who conferred these gifts or reassess their achievements we must at least keep in mind the rules of courtesy which have been accepted by all nations and cultured peoples and schools of thought. We should not abandon the norms of politeness, moderation, dignity and truthfulness, for these have been commended by the scriptures of all religions, moral treatises, as also by great writers and critics. It is on such civilized behavior that good relations between different religions, communities and peoples depend; such behavior alone makes possible a purposeful dialogue between people holding different views. In its absence, all serious writings, critiques and reviews must degenerate into obscene and sensational novels, vulgar and outrageous parodies. Such writings can unleash negative and disruptive forces, not only contemptible in themselves and harmful to serious intellectual endeavor, but also likely to embitter relations between different nations and countries.

The argument that any restraint placed on freedom of expression amounts to coercion, restriction of personal freedom, or interference in the rights of individuals under the constitution of an independent country, is simply untenable. The obscene and offensive description of the benefactors of mankind, prophets and reformers, particularly if such narration is against the established facts of history, hurts the feelings of millions who respect and revere them and is also likely to cause disharmony between different groups within a country or even between countries. It is an intolerable infringement of moral values, an offense against humanity that should not be overlooked by any peace-loving nation upholding the value of harmonious co-existence between its different ethnic and religious communities. Western political thinkers, too, do not subscribe to such an unlimited right of freedom of expression. They have argued that such unlimited liberty would be even more harmful than the limits placed on freedom of expression. The subject might be treated at great length, but I will cite here only two authorities who have explained why limitations on freedom of expression are essential for the maintenance of public order.

Isaiah Berlin explains the two concepts of liberty in these words: To protest against the laws governing censorship or personal morals as intolerable infringements of personal liberty presupposes a belief that the activities which such laws forbid are fundamental needs of men as men, in a good (or, indeed, any) society. To defend such laws is to hold that these needs are not essential, or that they cannot be satisfied without sacrificing other values which come higher — satisfy deeper needs — than individual freedom, determined by some standard that is not merely subjective, a standard for which some objective status — in principle or a priori — is claimed.

The extent of man’s or a people’s liberty to choose to live as they desire must be weighed against the claims of many other values, of which equality, or justice, or happiness, or security, or public order are perhaps the most obvious examples. For this reason, it cannot be unlimited.

A speech delivered in the American Senate by Blackstone in 1897 and which forms the basis of American law on the subject, says about freedom of expression: Every free man has an undoubted right in law to air what sentiment he places before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity. To subject the press to the restrictive power of a licenser .. is to subject all freedom of sentiment to the prejudices of one man, and make him the arbitrary and infallible judge of all controversial points in learning, religion and Government. But to punish .. any dangerous or offensive writings which when published, shall on fair and impartial trial be adjudged of pernicious tendency, is necessary for the preservation of peace and good order, of Government and religion, the only solid foundations of civil liberty. Thus, the will of individuals is still left free; the abuse only of that free will is the object of legal punishment.

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