MANKIND’S DEBT TO THE PROPHET (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)
In certain parts of the world, people enjoy freedom of conscience and choice,
are free to lead their lives in peace and amity, to devote their energies to
teaching and preaching, researching and making new discoveries. Yet even these
parts of the world have not always been so tolerant, nor free from strife, nor
disposed towards the co-existence of different peoples, sects and groups, still
less sufficiently broad-minded, to accommodate differences of opinion.
Mankind has seemed, many times, to be bent upon self-destruction, and passed
through stages when, by its own misdeeds, it has forfeited any right to
survival. Men have sometimes behaved like crazed and ferocious beasts, flinging
all culture and civilization, arts, literature, decency, the canons of moral and
civil law, to the winds.
All of us know that the writing of history is of a relatively recent origin. The
‘pre-historic’ era was very much longer. The decline of mankind when it relapsed
into savagery was by no means an agreeable task for historians and writers to
record. Nevertheless, we do find narratives of the downfall of empires and the
decay of human society, told at long intervals in the pages of history. The
first of these date from the fifty century A.D. some are briefly touched and
H.G. Wells, the well-known historian, writes about the decay of the Byzantine
and Sassanid Empires as follows:
Science and political philosophy seemed dead now in both these warring and
decaying empires. The last philosophers of Athens, until their suppression,
preserved the text of the great literature of the past with an infinite
reverence and want of understanding. But there remained no class of men in the
world, no free gentleman with bold and independent habits of thought to carry on
the tradition of frank statement and inquiry embodied in these writings. The
social and political chaos accounts largely for the disappearance of the class,
but there was also another reason why the human intelligence was sterile and
feverish during this age of intolerance. Both empires were religious empires in
a new way, in a way that greatly hampered the free activities of the human mind.
The same writer, after describing the onslaught of the Sassanids on Byzantium
and their eventual victory, comments on the social and moral degradation to
which both these great nations had fallen:
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. There were no signs of order or union in Western Europe, and the
Byzantine and Persian empires were manifestly bent upon mutual destruction.
India also was divided and wasted.
Another writer, Robert Briffault strikes a similar note:
From the fifth to the tenth century Europe lay sunk in a night of barbarism
which grew darker and darker. It was a barbarism far more awful and horrible
than that of the primitive savage, for it was the decomposing body of what had
once been a great civilization. The features and impress of that civilization
were all but completely effaced. Where its development had been fullest, e.g.,
in Italy and Gaul, all was ruin, squalor and dissolution.
The Civilizations nurtured by ancient religions were disintegrating; this
according to J.H. Denison. In Emotion as the Civilization, he writes:
In the fifth and sixth centuries the civilized world stood on the verge of
chaos. The old emotional cultures that had made civilization possible, since
they had given to men a sense of unity and of reverence for their rulers, had
broken down, and nothing had been found adequate to take their place ...
It seemed then that the great civilization which it had taken four thousand
years to construct was on the verge of disintegration, and that mankind was
likely to return to that condition of barbarism when every tribe and sect was
against the next, and law and order was unknown ... The old tribal sanctions had
lost their power ... The new sanctions created by Christianity were working
division and destruction instead of unity and order. It was a time fraught with
tragedy. Civilization, like a gigantic tree whose foliage had overarched the
world and whose branches had borne the golden fruits of art and science and
literature, stood tottering ... rotten to the core.
At a time when mankind and human civilization were on the edge of destruction,
the Lord and Creator of the word caused a man to be born in Arabia who was
entrusted with the most difficult task: not only to rescue mankind from imminent
destruction but also to raise it to sublime height, heights hitherto beyond the
knowledge of historians and the imagination of poets. If there were not
incontrovertible historical evidence to demonstrate his achievements, it would
be difficult to believe such greatness. This man was Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe
WaSallam) who was born in the sixth century. He saved mankind from imminent
danger, gave it new life, new ambition, fresh energy, a revitalized sense of
human dignity and intellect, as also a new found idealism. It was because of him
that a new era came about, an era of spirituality in art and literature, of
personal sincerity and selfless service of others, all of which produced an
ordered, graceful and kindly culture. His most precious gifts to man were his
devotion to r
ighteousness and aversion to evil, his hatred of false gods and a passion for
establishing justice and morality, and a readiness to lay down one’s life for
these righteous goals. Such goals ultimately are the fountainhead and incentive
for all reforms and improvements. Whatever great and sublime heights man has
attained have been the result of such noble sentiments — indeed, all material
resources, means and methods owe their existence to human will and
determination. That great benefactor of humanity replaced barbarism and
brutality with the milk of human kindness, magnanimity and courtesy. He
struggled unceasingly for the propagation of his noble teachings with complete
disregard for his own self, his life or prestige.
Precisely because of this struggle, there arose from among an uncivilized and
ill-mannered people noble-hearted men who led a graceful and kindly life, men
who started a new era of courtesy and warmth in human history, who engendered
gentleness and goodness in those around them. The world obtained a fresh lease
of life; justice and fairness became its hallmark; the weak were emboldened to
claim their rights from the haughty and strong; mercy and kindness became the
norms. It was a time when humanitarianism became a driving force, faith and
conviction captured human hearts, mankind began to take pride in selflessness,
and virtuous behavior became habitual with people.
We list below, in brief, the precious gifts of Islam which have played a key
role in the advancement of human values and culture. A new and bright world,
quite different from the decaying and disintegrating humanity at the time of its
advent, came into being as a result of these Islamic contributions:
1. The clear and unambiguous creed of the Oneness of God.
2. The concept of human equality and brotherhood.
3. The concept of human dignity and man being the masterpiece of God’s creation.
4. Acknowledgement of the proper status of women and the restoration of their
5. The rejection of despair and the infusion of hope and confidence in human
6. The fusion of the secular and the sacred, the refusal to accept any cleavage
7. The integration of religion and knowledge, making one dependent on the other
and raising respect for knowledge by declaring it a means of attaining nearness
8. Emphasis on the use of intellectual faculties in religious and spiritual
matters and encouraging the study and contemplation of natural phenomena.
9. Charging the followers of Islam with the responsibility of spreading virtue
and goodness in the world, and making it a duty incumbent on them to restore
truth and justice.
10. The establishment of a universal creed and culture.
I will not elaborate upon these points here. Instead, I would rather cite a few
eminent western thinkers and writers who have acknowledged these virtues of
Islam. one of the bases of culture and civilization — something that enhances
gentility, and refinement, civility in conduct as well as in literature — is the
acknowledgement of a truth, appreciation of the great achievements of others and
returning thanks to those who have done us any favor. The day this noble
sentiment is expelled from our lives, literature, ethical standards,
intellectual labors, even the right of expressing our thoughts freely, will
become meaningless. It will not be a world to live in and die for. It will be a
world of beasts and brutes where the ruling passion is to fend for oneself
alone. No sentiment will remain except the fulfillment of carnal desires. All
rightly ordered relationships between teacher and taught, benefactor and
beneficiary, doctor and patient, even between parents and children, will peter
out and lose their significance.
Gratitude, as defined by William H. Davidson, a contributor to the Encyclopedia
of Religion and Ethics, is a spontaneous and natural sentiment generated by the
kindness and benefit conferred by someone. It is a human virtue, at once abiding
and universal. Davidson in this respect says:
Gratitude has been defined as that delightful emotion of love to him who has
conferred a kindness on us, the very feeling of which is itself no small part of
the benefit conferred. Gratitude is an unselfish joyous response to kindness — a
response that is immediate and spontaneous; the ultimate meaning of which is
that human nature is so constituted that affection and unity between persons is
the foundation of it, ill-will and enmity (all indications to the contrary
notwithstanding) being abnormal and depraved.
Ingratitude is, thus, a moral depravity and a perversion of human nature, a sign
of benumbed human conscience. The lowest depth to which this immorality can fall
is the ingratitude shown to founders of religion, the teachers of morals and the
greatest benefactors of humanity. Grotesque parody in deliberately offensive
language is not appropriate from anyone, let alone of those noble souls who have
founded religions, for it hurts the feelings of millions who not only follow
them but who are also willing to lay down their lives for them. Efforts at such
offensiveness also entail a denial of truth. No cultured people, country or
society should tolerate or defend anyone so depraved and unmannerly, who
possesses no conscience.
Now let us refer to the compliments paid to the greatest benefactor of humanity
by a few eminent men of letters from this part of the world where I am speaking.
One of these candid men, Lamartine of France, says in his tribute to the
Prophethood of Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam):
If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the
three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in
modern history with Muhammed?
The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if
anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before
their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples and
dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and
more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the
beliefs and souls. On the basis of a Book, every letter of which has become law,
he created a spiritual nationality which blended together peoples of every
tongue and of every race. He has left us as the indelible characteristic of his
Muslim nationality, the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and
immaterial God. This avenging patriotism of Heaven formed the virtue of the
followers of Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam); the conquest of one-third of
the earth to this dogma was his miracle; or rather it was not the miracle of man
but that of reason. The idea of the unity of God, proclaimed amidst the
exhaustion of f
abulous the genies, was in itself such a miracle that upon its utterance from
his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols and set on fire one-third
of the world.