Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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the lowly and the charitable, they who seek pardon at each
daybreak " : 4 . . . " Who give alms, alike in prosperity and
in success, and who master their anger, and forgive others !
God loveth the doers of good " ; 5 [theirs a goodly home with
their Lord.] " O our Lord ! forgive us then our sin, and hide
away from us our evil deeds, and cause us to die with the
righteous " : 6 . . . " And their Lord answereth them, ' I
will not surfer the work of him among you that worketh,
whether of male or female, to be lost, the one of you is the
issue of the other.' " 7 " And fear ye God, in whose name ye
ask favours of each other — and respect women." 8

" And marry not women whom your fathers have married :
for this is a shame, and hateful, and an evil way." 9

" Covet not the gifts by which God hath raised some of you
above others." 10

" Be good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans, and

1 Sura vi. 141. * Sura ii. 261-263.

3 Sura ii. 286. * Sura iii. 16. 5 Sura iii. 128.

6 Sura iii. 192. » Sura iii. 194. 8 Sura iv. 1.

9 Sura iv. 22. 10 Sura iv. 32.


to the poor, and to a neighbour, whether kinsman or new-
comer, and to a fellow-traveller, and to the wayfarer, and to
the slaves whom your right hands hold ; verily, God loveth
not the proud, the vain boaster." 1 "He who shall mediate
between men for a good purpose shall be the gainer by it.
But he who shall mediate with an evil mediation shall reap
the fruit of it. And God keepeth watch over everything." 2
" O ye Moslems ! stand fast to justice, when ye bear witness
before God, though it be against yourselves, or your parents
or your kindred, whether the party be rich or poor. God
is nearer than you to both. Therefore follow not passion,
lest ye swerve from truth." 3

Do the preachings of this desert-born Prophet, addressing a
larger world and a more advanced humanity, in the nobility of
their love, in their strivings and yearnings for the true, the
pure, and the holy, fall short of the warnings of Isaiah or
" the tender appeals of Jesus ?

The poor and the orphan, the humble dweller of the earth
" with his mouth in the dust," the unfortunate being bereft
in early life of parental care, are ever the objects of his tenderest
solicitude. Ever and again he announces that the path which
leads to God is the helping of the orphan, the relieving of the
poor, and the ransoming of the captive. His pity and love
were not confined to his fellow-beings, the brute creation
shared with them his sympathy and tenderness.

" A man once came to him with a bundle, and said : ' O
Prophet, I passed through a wood and heard the voice of the
young of birds, and I took them and put them in my carpet,
and their mother came fluttering round my head.' And the
Prophet said : ' Put them down ' ; and when he had put them
down the mother joined the young. And the Prophet said :
' Do you wonder at the affection of the mother towards her
young ? I swear by Him who has sent me, Verily, God is more
loving to His servants than the mother to these young birds.
Return them to the place from which ye took them, and let
their mother be with them.' " " Fear God with regard to
animals," said Mohammed ; " ride them when they are fit to
be ridden, and get off when they are tired. Verily, there are

1 Sura iv. 36. * Sura iv. 85. 3 Sura iv. 135.



rewards for our doing good to dumb animals, and giving them
water to drink."

In the Koran, animal life stands on the same footing as
human life in the sight of the Creator. " There is no beast on
earth," says the Koran, " nor bird which flieth with its wings,
but the same is a people like unto you — unto the Lord shall
they return." It took centuries for Christendom to awaken to
a sense of duty towards the animal creation. Long before the
Christian nations ever dreamt of extending towards animals
tenderness and humanity, Mohammed proclaimed in impressive
words the duty of mankind towards their dumb and humble
servitors. These precepts of tenderness so lovingly embalmed
in the creed are faithfully rendered into a common duty of
everyday life in the world of Islam.


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FOR the conservation of a true religious spirit, Mohammed
attached to his precepts certain practical duties, of
which the following are the principal : (i) prayer, (2)
fasting, (3) alms-giving, and (4) pilgrimage.

Man's consciousness of a supreme, all-pervading Power ;
his helplessness in the eternal conflict of nature ; his sense of


benefaction, — all lead him to pour out the overflowing senti-
ments of his heart in words of gratitude and love, or repentance
and solicitation, to One who is every-wakeful and merciful.
Prayers are only the utterance of the sentiments which fill
the human heart. All these emotions, however, are the result
of a superior development. The savage, if supplications do
not answer his purpose, resorts to the castigation of his fetish.
But every religious system possessing any organic element
has recognised, in some shape, the efficacy of prayer. In
most, however, the theurgic character predominates over the
moral ; in some, the moral idea is entirely wanting.

The early Hindu worship consisted of two sets of acts —
oblations and sacrifice accompanied with invocations. In
the infancy of religious thought the gods are supposed to
possess the same appetites and passions as human beings ;
and thus whilst man needs material benefits, the gods require
offerings and propitiation. This idea often finds expression
in the old hymns of the Rig Veda. With the development of
religious conceptions, it is probable that, among at least the
more advanced or thoughtful minds, the significance attached
to oblations and sacrifice underwent considerable modification.
But as the hold of the priestly caste, which claimed the posses-
sion of a " secret virtue " transmissible only through the blood,
strengthened on the minds of the masses, Brahmanism crystal-
lised into a literally sacrificial cult. The sacrifice could be
performed only by the priest according to rigid and unalterable
formulae ; whilst he recited the mantras and went through the
rites in a mechanical spirit, without religious feeling or
enthusiasm, the worshipper stood by, a passive spectator of
the worship which was performed on his behalf. The smallest
mistake undid the efficacy of the observances. The devotional
spirit, however, could not have been entirely wanting, or the
Bhagavad Gita could not have been composed. But for the
people as a whole, their worship had become a vast system of
sacrifice, the value of which depended not so much upon the
moral conduct of the individual worshipper as upon the
qualification of the officiating priest. The former had only
to believe in the efficacy of the rite and be in a state of legal
purity at the time.


The Mago-Zoroastrian and the Sabsean lived in an atmos-
phere of prayer. The Zoroastrian prayed when he sneezed,
when he cut his nails or hair, while preparing meals, day and
night, at the lighting of lamps, etc. Ormuzd was first invoked,
and then not only heaven, earth, the elements and stars, but
trees, especially the moon-plant, 1 and beasts. The formulae
were often to be repeated as many as twelve hundred times. 2
The moral idea, however pure with the few, would be perfectly
eliminated from the minds of the common people. But even
the sort of spiritual life enjoyed by exceptional minds was
monopolised by the ministers of religion. The barriers of
special holiness which divided the priesthood from the laity,
shut out the latter from all spiritual enjoyments of a nobler
type. The Magians, like the Ophici, had two forms of worship,
or rather, two modes of understanding the objects of worship :
one esoteric, especially reserved for the priestly classes ; the
other exoteric, in which alone the vulgar could participate. 3

The Mosaic law contained no ordinances respecting prayers ;
only on the payment of tithes to the priests, and the domestic
solemnity of the presentation of the firstlings, was there a
prescribed formula of a prayer and acknowledgment, when
the father of the house, on the strength of his having obediently
performed the behests of the law, supplicated blessings from
Jehovah on Israel, " even as He had sworn unto their fathers." 4
But, with the rise of a more spiritual idea of the Deity among
the people and the teachers, and the decline of an uncompro-
mising anthropomorphism, the real nature of prayer, as the
medium of intercommunication between God and man, began
to be understood. Tradition and custom, in default of any
express regulation by the law, made the Jews at last, as Dollinger
says, a people of prayer. 5 Three hours daily were consecrated
to devotional exercises, viz. nine, twelve, and three o'clock.
The necessity, however, for the service of priests, combined

1 Called Soma by the Sanscritic, and Homo, or Haoma by the Zend races.

3 Dollinger, The Gentile and the Jew, vol. i. p. 398. The Zend Avesta itself
is a grand repertory of prayers, hymns, invocations, etc., to a multitude of
deities, among whom Ormuzd ranks first. In fact, it is a book of liturgies.
Comp. Clarke, Ten Great Religions, pp. 187, 202

3 Reland, Dissertationes Miscellance, part i. p. 191 i Shahristani.

J Deut. xxvi. 12-15. 5 Dollinger, vol. ii. p. 372.

S.I. L


with the absence of any positive precedent coming down
from the Lawgiver himself, tended to make prayer, in the
majority of cases, merely mechanical. Phylacteries were in
use in the time of Jesus, and the Koran reproaches the Jews
in bitter terms for " selling the signs of God." 1

The teachings of Jesus, representing a later development of
the religious faculty in man, recognised the true character of
prayer. He consecrated the practice by his own example. 2
The early disciples, in the spirit of their Master, laid great
stress on the habit of devotion and thanksgiving to God. 3
But the want of some definite rule for the guidance of the
masses, in process of time, left them completely adrift in all
that regarded the practice of devotion, and under subjection
to the priests, who monopolised the office of regulating the
number, length, and the terminology of prayers. Hence
missals, liturgies, councils, and convocations to settle articles
of faith and matters of conscience ; hence also, the mechanical
worship of droning monks, and the hebdomadal flocking into
churches and chapels on one day in the week to make up for
the deficiency of spiritual food during the other six ; hence
also the " presbyter," who, merely a " servant " at first, 4
came to regard himself as " the Lord of the spiritual heritage "
bequeathed by Jesus.

All these evils had culminated to a point in the seventh
century, when the Prophet of Arabia began to preach a re-
formed religion. In instituting prayers, Mohammed recognised
the yearning of the human soul to pour out its love and gratitude
to God, and by making the practice of devotion periodic, he
impressed that disciplinary character on the observance of
prayer which keeps the thoughts from wandering into the
regions of the material. 5 The formula?, consecrated by his
example and practice, whilst sparing the Islamic world the
evils of contests regarding liturgies, leave to the individual
worshipper the amplest scope for the most heartfelt outpouring
of devotion and humility before the Almighty Presence.

1 Sura ii. 42. 2 Luke ix. 1-4.

3 E.g. Eph. vi. 18 ; Col. i. 12 et seq.

* Mosheim, vol. i. 99 et seq.

5 Comp. Oelsner, Des Effets de la Religion de Mohammed, p. 6.


The value of prayer as the means of moral elevation and the
purification of the heart, has been clearly set forth in the
Koran :

" Rehearse that which hath been revealed unto thee of the
Book, and be constant at prayer, for prayer preserveth from
crimes and from that which is blameable ; and the remembering
of God is surely a most sacred duty." x

The forms of the supplicatory hymns, consecrated by the
example of the Prophet, evince the beauty of the moral element
in the teachings of Islam :

" O Lord ! I supplicate Thee for firmness in faith and direction
towards rectitude, and to assist me in being grateful to Thee,
and in adoring Thee in every good way : and I supplicate
Thee for an innocent heart, which shall not incline to wicked-
ness ; and I supplicate Thee for a true tongue, and for that
virtue which Thou knowest ; and I pray Thee to defend me
from that vice which Thou knowest, and for forgiveness of
those faults which Thou knowest. O my Defender ! assist
me in remembering Thee and being grateful to Thee, and in
worshipping Thee with the excess of my strength. O Lord ! I
have injured my own soul, and no one can pardon the faults of
Thy servants but Thou ; forgive me out of Thy loving-kindness,
and have mercy on me ; for verily Thou art the forgiver of
offences and the bestower of blessings on Thy servants." 2

Another traditional prayer, called the prayer of David, runs
thus ; " O Lord, grant to me the love of Thee ; grant that I
may love those that love Thee ; grant that I may do the deeds
that may win Thy love ; make Thy love to be dearer to me
than self, family or than wealth." 3

The two following prayers of Ali (the Caliph) evince the
highest devotional spirit.

" Thanks be to my Lord ; He the Adorable, and only to be
adored. My Lord, the Eternal, the Ever-existing, the Cherisher,
the True Sovereign whose mercy and might overshadow the
universe ; the Regulator of the world, and Light of the creation.
His is our worship ; to Him belongs all worship ; He existed
before all things, and will exist after all that is living has

1 Koran xxix. 45. a Mishkat, bk. iv. chap. 18, parts 2, 3.

3 Tasfsir-JaldH, p. 288.


ceased. Thou art the adored, my Lord ; Thou art the Master,
the Loving and Forgiving ; Thou bestowest power and might
on whom Thou pleasest ; him whom Thou hast exalted none
can lower ; and him whom Thou hast lowered none can exalt.
Thou, my Lord, art the Eternal, the Creator of all, All-wise
Sovereign Mighty ; Thy knowledge knows everything ; Thy
beneficence is all-pervading ; Thy forgiveness and mercy are
all-embracing. O my Lord, Thou art the Helper of the
afflicted, the Reliever of all distress, the Consoler of the broken-
hearted ; Thou art present everywhere to help Thy servants.
Thou knowest all secrets, all thoughts, art present in every
assembly, Fulfiller of all our needs, Bestower of all blessings.
Thou art the Friend of the poor and bereaved ; my Lord,
Thou art my Fortress ; a Castle for all who seek Thy help.
Thou art the Refuge of the weak ; the Helper of the pure and
true. O my Lord, Thou art my Supporter, my Helper, the
Helper of all who seek Thy help. ... O my Lord, Thou art
the Creator, I am only created ; Thou art my Sovereign, I
am only Thy servant ; Thou art the Helper, I am the beseecher ;
Thou, my Lord art my Refuge ; Thou art the Forgiver, I am
the sinner ; Thou, my Lord, art the Merciful, All-knowing,
All-loving ; I am groping in the dark ; I seek Thy knowledge
and love. Bestow, my Lord, all Thy knowledge and love and
mercy ; forgive my sins, O my Lord, and let me approach
Thee, my Lord."

" O my Lord, Thou the Ever-praised, the Eternal, Thou
art the Ever-present, Ever-existing, the Ever-near, the All-
knowing. Thou livest in every heart, in every soul, all-pervad-
ing ; Thy knowledge is ingrained in every mind." " He
bears no similitude, has no equal, One, the Eternal ; thanks
be to the Lord whose mercy extends to every sinner, who
provides for even those who deny Him. To Him belong the
beginning and the end, all knowledge and the most hidden
secret of the heart. He never slumbers, the Ever-just, the
Ever-wakeful. He forgiveth in His mercy our greatest sins, —
loveth all creation. I testify to the goodness of my Lord, to
the truth of His Messenger's message, blessings on him and his
descendants and his companions." 1

1 Sahifai-Kdmila.


" It is one of the glories of Islam," says an English writer,
" that its temples are not made with hands, and that its
ceremonies can be performed anywhere upon God's earth or
under His heaven." 1 Every place in which the Almighty
is faithfully worshipped is equally pure. The Moslem, whether
he be at home or abroad, when the hour of prayer arrives, pours
forth his soul in a brief but earnest supplicatory address ;
his attention is not wearied by the length of his prayers, the
theme of which is always self-humiliation, the glorification of
the Giver of all good, and reliance on His mercy. 2 The intensity
of the devotional spirit embalmed in the church of Mohammed
has hardly been realised by Christendom. Tradition, that
faithful chronicler of the past, with its hundred corroborative
witnesses, records how the Prophet wept during his prayers
with the fervour of his emotions ; how his noble cousin and
son-in-law became so absorbed in his devotions that his body
grew benumbed.

The Islam of Mohammed recognises no caste of priesthood,
allows no monopoly of spiritual knowledge or special holiness
to intervene between man and his God. Each soul rises to its
Creator without the intervention of priest or hierophant. No
sacrifice, 3 no ceremonial, invented by vested interests, is
needed to bring the anxious heart nearer to its Comforter.
Each human being is his own priest ; in the Islam of Mohammed
no one man is higher than the other.

European rationalists have complained of the complex
character of the Moslem prayers, but the ritual of the Koran
is astonishing in its simplicity and soberness. It includes
the necessary acts of faith, the recital of the creed, prayer,
almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage, but lays down scarcely
any rules as to how they are to be performed. " Observe the
prayers and the mid-day prayer, and stand ye at tent before
God ; seek aid from patience and prayer. Verily, God is
with the patient ; " but nothing is said regarding the manner
in which the prayers should be offered. " When ye journey

1 Hunter, Our Indian Musalmans, p. 179.

2 Sura ii. 127, 239, etc., vii. 204, 205, xvii. 79, xx. 130, xxx. 16, 17, etc. etc.
See the Kitdb ul-Mustalraf.

3 The annual sacrifice at the Hajj and the Bairam is a mere memorial


about the earth," says the Koran, " it is no crime to you that
ye come short in prayer if ye fear that those that disbelieve
will set upon you. God pardons everything except associating
aught with Him."

The practice of the Prophet has, however, attached certain
rites and ceremonies to the due observance of prayers. At
the same time it is pointed out in unmistakeable terms that it
is to the devotional state of the mind the Searcher of the spirit
looks : " It is not the flesh or the blood of that which ye
sacrifice which is acceptable to God : it is your piety which is
acceptable to the Lord." * " It is not righteousness," con-
tinues the Koran, " that ye turn your faces in prayer towards
the east or the west ; but righteousness is of him who believeth
in God ; . . . who giveth money for God's sake unto his kindred,
and unto orphans, and the needy, and the stranger, and those
who ask, and for the redemption of captives ; who is constant
at prayers and giveth alms ; and of those who perform their
covenant, when they have covenanted ; and who behave
themselves patiently in hardship and adversity, and in times
of violence : these are they who are true." 2 . . .

It was declared that prayer without " the presence of the
heart " was of no avail, and that God's words which were
addressed to all mankind and not to one people, should be
studied with the heart and lips in absolute accord. And the
Caliph Ali held that devotion offered without understanding
was useless and brought no blessing. 3 The celebrated Imam
al-Ghazzali 4 has pronounced that in reading the sacred book 5
heart and intelligence must work together ; the lips only utter
the words ; intelligence helps in the due apprehension of their
meaning ; the heart, in paying obedience to the dictates of
duty. 6 "It is not a sixth nor a tenth of a man's devotion,"
said the Prophet, " which is acceptable to God, but only such
portion thereof as he offers with understanding and true
devotional spirit." 7

The practice of baptism in the Christian Church, even the

1 Sura xxii. 37. 2 Sura ii. 177.

3 Ghurrar wa'd Durrar. 4 See post, chap. xx.

5 The Koran. 6 The Kitdb ul-Mnstatraf, chap. i.

7 From Muaz ibn Jabal, reported by Abu Daud and Nisai.


lustrations, which the Egyptians, the Jews, or the hierophants
of the heathen religions in the East and the West, required as
preliminary to the performance of devotional or religious
exercises, show the peculiar sanctity which was attached to
external purifications. Mohammed, by his example, conse-
crated this ancient and beneficent custom. He required
cleanliness as a necessary preliminary to the worship and
adoration of God. 1 At the same time, he especially inculcated
that mere external, or rather physical, purity does not imply
true devotion. He distinctly laid down that the Almighty
can only be approached in purity and humility of spirit. 2
Imam al-Ghazzali expressly says, as against those who are only
solicitous about external purifications, and have their hearts
full of pride and hypocrisy, that the Prophet of God declared
the most important purification to be the cleansing of the
heart from all blameable inclinations and frailties, and the
mind from all vicious ideas, and from all thoughts which
distract attention from God. 3

In order to keep alive in the Moslem world the memory of
the birthplace of Islam, Mohammed directed that during
prayers the Moslem should turn his face towards Mecca, as the
glorious centre which saw the first glimmerings of the light of
regenerated truth. 4 With the true instinct of a prophet he
perceived the consolidating effect of fixing a central spot round
which, through all time, should gather the religious feelings of
his followers ; and he accordingly ordained that everywhere
throughout the world the Moslem should pray looking towards
the Kaaba. " Mecca is to the Moslem what Jerusalem is to
the Jew. It bears with it all the influence of centuries of
associations. It carries the Moslem back to the cradle of his
faith, the childhood of his Prophet, it reminds him of the
struggle between the old faith and the new, of the overthrow
of the idols, and the establishment of the worship of the one

1 Sura v. 6.

The Koran, in its universality, speaks of ablutions, but where water is not
available it allows any cleansing substitute for lavation, but nowhere lays
down the details of the Wuztt. As usual, the manner of performing the
lavations or ablutions, derived from the practice of the Prophet, has given
rise to considerable discussions and difference among the theologians.

2 Sura vii. 206. 3 Compare the Kitab ul-Mustatraf, chap. i. sec. I.
4 Sura ii. 139, 144, etc.


God ; and, most of all, it bids him remember that all his
brother Moslems are worshipping towards the same sacred
spot ; that he is one of a great company of believers, united
by one faith, filled with the same hopes, reverencing the same
things, worshipping the same God. Mohammed showed his
knowledge of the religious emotions in man when he preserved
the sanctity of the temple of Islam." 1 But that this rule is
not an essential requisite for devotion, is evident from the
passage of the Koran quoted above. 2

The institution of fasting has existed more or less among all
nations. But it may be said that throughout the ancient world
the idea attached to it was, without exception, more of penit-
ence than of abstinence. Even in Judaism the notion of
fasting as an exercise of self-castigation or self-abnegation was
of later growth. The Essenians (from their connection with
the Pythagoreans, and, through them, with the asceticism
of the further East) were the first among the Jews to grasp
this moral element in the principle of fasting ; and Jesus
probably derived this idea, like other conceptions, from them.

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 21 of 55)