Syed Ameer Ali.

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The example of Jesus consecrated the custom in the Church.
But the predominating idea in Christianity, with respect to
fasts generally, is one of penitence or expiation ; 8 and partially,
of precedent. 1 Voluntary corporal mortifications have been
as frequent in the Christian Church as in other Churches ;
but the tendency of such mortifications has invariably been
the destruction of mental and bodily energies, and the fostering
of a morbid asceticism. The institution of fasting in Islam,
on the contrary, has the legitimate object of restraining the
passions, by diurnal abstinence for a limited and definite

1 Stanley Lane-Poole, Introd. to the Selections from the Koran, p. lxxxv.

2 See ante, p. 166.

3 Mosheim, vol. i. p. 131. Mosheim distinctly says that fasting came early
to be regarded " as the most effectual means of repelling the force, and dis-
concerting the stratagems of evil spirits, and of appeasing the anger of an
offended deity." Vol. i. p. 398.

4 " The weekly and yearly festivals of the Christians," says Neander,
" originated in the same fundamental idea, . . . the idea of imitating Christ,
the crucified and risen Saviour." And, again, " by the Christians — who were
fond of comparing their calling to a warfare, a militia Christi — such fasts,
united with prayers, were named stationes, as if they constituted the watches
of the soldiers of Christ (the milites Christi) " ; Neander, Church Hist. vol. i.
pp. 408, 409.


period, from all the gratifications of the senses, and directing
the overflow of the animal spirits into a healthy channel.
Useless and unnecessary mortification of the flesh is discounte-
nanced, nay, condemned. Fasting is prescribed to the able-
bodied and the strong, as a means of chastening the spirit by
imposing a restraint on the body. For the weak, the sickly,
the traveller, the student (who is engaged in the pursuit of
knowledge — the Jihdd-ul-Akbar), the soldier doing God's
battle against the assailants of the faith, and women in their
ailments, it is disallowed. Those who bear in mind the
gluttony of the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, and the
pre-Islamite Arabs, their excesses in their pleasures as well
as their vices, will appreciate the value of the regulation, and
comprehend how wonderfully adapted it is for keeping in
check the animal propensities of man, especially among semi-
civilised races.

Mark the wisdom of the rule as given in the Koran : " O
ye that have believed, a fast is ordained to you . . . that ye
may practise piety, a fast of a computed number of days.
But he among you who shall be ailing, or on a journey, (shall
fast) an equal number of other days ; and they that are able
to keep it (and do not), shall make atonement by maintaining
a poor man. . . . But if ye fast, it will be better for you if
ye comprehend ; . . . God willeth that which is easy for you." 1

This rule of abstinence is restricted to the day ; in the night,
in the intervals of prayer and devotion, the Moslem is allowed,
perhaps indeed; is bound, to refresh the system by partaking
in moderation of food and drink, and otherwise enjoying himself
lawfully. In the true spirit of the Teacher, the legists invari-
ably laid down the rule that, during the fast, abstinence of
mind from all base thoughts is as incumbent as the abstinence
of the body. 2

No religion of the world prior to Islam had consecrated
charity, the support of the widow, the orphan, and the helpless
poor, by enrolling its principles among the positive enactments
of the system.

The agapce, or feasts of charity among the early Christians,
depended on the will of individuals ; their influence, therefore,

1 Sura ii. 183-4. - The Kitah ul-Mustatraf, chap. i. sec. 4.


could only be irregular and spasmodic. It is a matter of
history that this very irregularity led to the suppression of the
" feasts of charity or love-feasts " only a short time after their
introduction. 1

By the laws of Islam every individual is bound to contribute
a certain part of his substance towards the help and assistance
of his poorer neighbours. This portion is usually one part of
forty, or 2§ per cent, on the value of all goods, chattels, emble-
ments, on profits of trade, mercantile business, etc. But alms
are due only when the property amounts to a certain value, 2
and has been in the possession of a person for one whole year ;
nor are any due from cattle employed in agriculture or in the
carrying of burdens. Besides, at the end of the month of
Ramazan (the month of fasting), and on the day of the Id-ul-
Fitr, the festival which celebrates the close of the Moslem
Lent, each head of a family has to give away in alms, for him-
self and for every member of his household, and for each guest
who breaks his fast and sleeps in his house during the month,
a measure of wheat, barley, dates, raisins, rice, or any other
grain, or the value of the same.

The rightful recipients of the alms, as pointed out by the
practice of Mohammed and his disciples, are (i) the poor and
the indigent ; (2) those who help in the collection and distri-
bution of the obligatory alms ; (3) slaves, who wish to buy
their freedom and have not the means for so doing ; (4) debtors,
who cannot pay their debts ; (5) travellers and strangers. 3
General charity is inculcated by the Koran in the most forcible
terms. 4 But the glory of Islam consists in having embodied
the beautiful sentiment of Jesus 5 into definite laws.

1 Neander, vol. i. p. 450 et seq. ; Mosheim, vol. ii. p. 56. I do not mean
to say that this was the only form in which Christian charity expressed itself.
The support of the widow, the poor, and orphan was as much insisted upon
in Christianity as in Islam. But even this divine charity taught by Jesus
received an impress of exclusiveness from the disciples, in whose hands he left
his work. The widow, in order to claim the benefits of charity, was required
to be " threescore years of age, to have been the wife of one man, to have
brought up children," etc. Compare throughout Blunt's History of the
Christian Church, p. 27 et seq.

2 For example, no alms are due from a man unless he own twenty camels.

3 Jamaa ut-Tirmizi, chapter on " Alms-giving " ; Jdmaa-Abbasi ; Querry,
Droit Mitsulman. Comp. also the Mabs-ut.

4 Sura ii. 267, 270, 271, etc., ix. 60, etc. 5 Matt. xxv. 35, 36.


The wisdom which incorporated into Islam the time-honoured
custom of annual pilgrimage to Mecca and to the shrine of the
Kaaba, has breathed into Mohammed's religion a freemasonry
and brotherhood of faith in spite of sectarian divisions. The
eyes of the whole Moslem world fixed on that central spot,
keep alive in the bosom of each some spark of the celestial
fire which lighted up the earth in that century of darkness.
Here, again, the wisdom of the inspired Lawgiver shines forth
in the negative part of the enactment, in the conditions neces-
sary to make the injunction obligatory : — (1) ripeness of
intelligence and discernment ; (2) perfect freedom and liberty ;
(3) possession of the means of transport and subsistence during
the journey ; (4) possession of means sufficient to support the
pilgrim's family during his absence ; (5) the possibility and
practicability of the voyage. 1

Owing to the minute regulations, almost Brahminical in
their strictness, in force among the heathen Arabs regarding
the lawful or unlawful character of various kinds of food, the
Teacher of Islam had frequently to admonish his followers
that, with certain exceptions, all food was lawful. " And
eat of what God hath given you for food that which is lawful
and wholesome : and fear God, in whom ye believe." 2 " Say,"
says the Koran, " I find not in what hath been revealed to me
aught forbidden to the eater to eat, except it be that which
dieth of itself, or blood poured forth, or swine's flesh, for that
is an abomination, and meat which has been slain in the name
of other than God [idols]." This is amplified in the fifth sura,
which is also directed against various savage and idolatrous
practices of the pagan Arabs. " That which dieth of itself,
and blood, and swine's .flesh, and all that hath been sacrificed
under the invocation of any other name than that of God, 3
and the strangled, and the killed by a blow or by a fall, or by
goring, 4 and that which hath been eaten by beasts of prey,

1 Radd-ul-mnhtdr , chapter on Hajj ; Querry, Droit Musulman, vol. i. ; the

* Sura v. 98.

3 The heathen Arabs, when killing any animal for food, used to consecrate
it by invoking the names of their gods and goddesses.

4 The idolatrous Arabs had different savage methods of killing animals.
This prohibition has reference to the brutal processes employed by them.


unless ye give the death-stroke yourselves, and that which
hath been sacrificed on the blocks of stone, 1 is forbidden to
you : and to make division of the slain by consulting the
arrows, is impiety in you." 2 " Eat ye of the good things
wherewith we have provided you and give thanks to God." 3

Intoxication and gambling, the curse of Christian com-
munities, and the bane of all uncultured and inferior natures,
and excesses of all kinds, were rigorously prohibited.

Nothing can be simpler or more in accord with the advance
of the human intellect than the teachings of the Arabian
Prophet. The few rules for religious ceremonial which he
prescribed were chiefly with the object of maintaining discipline
and uniformity, so necessary in certain stages of society ;
but they were by no means of an inflexible character. He
allowed them to be broken in cases of illness or other causes.
" God wishes to make things easy for you, for," says the
Koran, " man was created weak." The legal principles which
he enunciated were either delivered as answers to questions
put to him as the Chief Magistrate of Medina, or to remove or
correct patent evils. The Prophet's Islam recognised no

1 Sacrificial stones placed round the Kaaba or at the entrance of houses
over which the offerings were made to the idols.

2 Sura v. 3.

3 Things by nature abhorrent to man, such as the flesh of carnivorous
animals, birds of prey, snakes, etc., required no specific prohibition. The
idea prevalent in India, borrowed from the Hindus, that Moslems should not
partake of food with Christians, is entirely fallacious, and opposed to the
precept contained in the following passage of the Koran (sura v. 5) : " This
day things healthful are legalised to you, and the meats of those who have
received the Scriptures are allowed to you, as your meats are to them." With
regard to the sumptuary regulations, precepts, and prohibitions of Mohammed,
it must be remembered that they were called forth by the temporary cir-
cumstances of the times and people. With the disappearance of * such
circumstances, the need for these laws has also disappeared. To suppose,
therefore, that every Islamic precept is necessarily immutable, is to do an
injustice to history and the development of the human intellect. Ibn
Khaldun's words are, in this connection, deserving of our serious consideration :
" It is only by an attentive examination and well-sustained application that
we can discover the truth, and guard ourselves against errors and mistakes.
In fact, if we were merely to satisfy ourselves by reproducing the records
transmitted by tradition without consulting the rules furnished by experience,
the fundamental principles of the art of government, the nature, even, of the
particular civilisation, or the circumstances which characterise the human
society ; if we are not to judge of the wants which occurred in distant times
by those which are occurring under our eyes, if we are not to compare the past
with the present we can hardly escape from falling into errors and losing the
way of truth." Prolegomenes d'Ibn Khaldoun, traduits par M. de Slane,
Premiere Par tie, p. 13.


ritual likely to distract the mind from the thought of the one
God ; no law to keep enchained the conscience of advancing

The ethical code of Islam is thus summarised in the fourth
Sura : " Come, I will rehearse what your Lord hath enjoined
on you — that ye assign not to Him a partner ; that ye be good
to your parents ; and that ye slay not your children because
of poverty : for them and for you will We provide ; and that
ye come not near to pollutions, outward or inward ; and that
ye slay not a soul whom God hath forbidden, unless by right
. . . and draw not nigh to the wealth of the orphan, save so
as to better it . . . and when ye pronounce judgment then be
just, though it be the affair of a kinsman. And God's compact
fulfil ye ; that is, what He hath ordained to you. Verily,
this is my right way ; follow it, then." x And again, " Blessed
are they who believe and humbly offer their thanks-giving to
their Lord . . . who are constant in their charity, and who
guard their chastity, and who observe their trust and covenants
. . . Verily, God bids you do justice and good, and give to
kindred their due ; and He forbids you to sin and to do wrong
and oppress."

" Faith and charity," to use the words of the Christian
historian, " are not incompatible with external rites and
positive institutions, which, indeed, are necessary in this
imperfect state to keep alive a sense of religion in the common
mass." 2 And, accordingly, Mohammed had attached a few
rites to his teachings in order to give a more tangible conception
to the generality of mankind. Jesus himself had instituted
two rites, baptism and the " Holy Supper." 3 Probably, had
he lived longer, he would have added more. But one thing is
certain, that had a longer career been vouchsafed to him, he
would have placed his teachings on a more systematic basis.
This fundamental defect in Christianity has been, in fact,
the real cause of the assembling of councils and convocations
for the establishment of articles and dogmas, which snap
asunder at every slight tension of reason and free thought.
The work of Jesus was left unfinished. It was reserved for
another Teacher to systematise the laws of morality.

1 Sura iv. 155 et seq. 2 Mosheim, vol. i. p. 124. 3 Ibid.


Our relations with our Creator are matters of conscience ;
our relations with our fellow-beings must be matters of positive
rules ; and what higher sanction — to use a legal expression —
can be attached to the enforcement of the relative duties of
man to man than the sanction of religion. Religion is not to
be regarded merely as a subject for unctuous declamations by
" select preachers," or as some strange theory for the peculiar
gratification of dreamy minds. Religion ought to mean the
rule of life ; its chief object ought to be the elevation of human-
ity towards that perfection which is the end of our existence.
The religion, therefore, which places on a systematic basis the
fundamental principles of morality, regulating social obligations
and human duties, which brings us nearer and nearer, by its
compatibility with the highest development of intellect, to the
All-Perfect — that religion, we say, has the greatest claim to
our consideration and respect. It is the distinctive character-
istic of Islam, as taught by Mohammed, that it combines within
itself the grandest and the most prominent features in all
ethnic and catholic 1 religions compatible with the reason and
moral intuition of man. It is not merely a system of positive
moral rules, based on a true conception of human progress,
but it is also " the establishment of certain principles, the
enforcement of certain dispositions, the cultivation of a certain
temper of mind, which the conscience is to apply to the ever-
varying exigencies of time and place." The Teacher of Islam
preached, in a thousand varied ways, universal love and
brotherhood as the emblem of the love borne towards God.
" How do you think God will know you when you are in His
presence — by your love of your children, of your kin, of your
neighbours, of your fellow-creatures ? " 2 " Do you love
your Creator ? love your fellow-beings first." 3 "Do you wish
to approach the Lord ? love His creatures, love for them what
you love yourself, reject for them what you reject for yourself,
do unto them what you wish to be done unto you." He
condemned in scathing language the foulness of impurity, the
meanness of hypocrisy, and the ungodliness of self-deceit.

1 For the use' of these words see Clarke, Ten Great Religions, chap. i.

2 Mishkat, bks. xxii., xxiii. chaps, xv. and xvi.

3 Comp. Kastalani's Commentary on the Sahih of Bukhdri, pt. i. p. 70.


He proclaimed, in unmistakable terms, the preciousness of
truth, charity, and brotherly love.

The wonderful adaptability of Islamic precepts to all ages
and nations ; their entire concordance with the light of reason ;
the absence of all mysterious doctrines to cast a shade of
sentimental ignorance round the primal truths implanted in
the human breast, — all prove that Islam represents the latest
development of the religious faculties of our being. Those
who have ignored the historic significance of some of its precepts
have deemed that their seeming harshness, or unadaptability
to present modes of thought ought to exclude it from any
claim to universality. But a little inquiry into the historic
value of laws and precepts, a little more fairness in the exam-
ination of facts, would evince the temporary character of such
rules as may appear scarcely consonant with the requirements
or prejudices of modern times. The catholicity of Islam, its
expansiveness, and its charity towards all moral creeds, has
been utterly mistaken, perverted, or wilfully concealed by the
bigotry of rival religions.

" Verily," says the Koran, " those who believe (the Moslems),
and those who are Jews, Christians, or Sabaeans, whoever hath
faith in God and the last day (future existence), and worketh
that which is right and good, — for them shall be the reward
with their Lord ; there will come no fear on them ; neither
shall they be grieved." l

The same sentiment is repeated in similar words in the fifth
Sura ; and a hundred other passages prove that Islam does not
confine " salvation " to the followers of Mohammed alone : —
" To every one have we given a law and a way. . . . And if
God had pleased, He would have made you all (all mankind)
one people (people of one religion). But He hath done other-
wise, that He might try you in that which He hath severally
given unto you : wherefore press forward in good works. Unto
God shall ye return, and He will tell you that concerning which
ye disagree." 2

Of all the religions of the world that have ruled the conscience

1 Sura v. 69. Compare the spirit of these teachings with that of the
Athanasian Creed.

2 Sura v. 48. Compare also xxix. 46, xxxii. 23, 24, xxxix. 41, xl. 13, etc.


of mankind, the Islam of Mohammed alone combines both the
conceptions which have in different ages furnished the main-
spring of human conduct, — the consciousness of human dignity,
so valued in the ancient philosophies, and the sense of human
sinfulness, so dear to the Christian apologist. The belief that
man will be judged by his work solely, throws the Moslem on
the practice of self-denial and universal charity ; the belief
in Divine Providence, in the mercy, love, and omnipotence
of God, leads him to self-humiliation before the Almighty,
and to the practice of those heroic virtues which have given
rise to the charge that the virtues of Islam are stoical," x
patience, resignation, and firmness in the trials of life. It
leads him to interrogate his conscience with nervous anxiety,
to study with scrupulous care the motives that actuate him, 2
to distrust his own strength, and to rely upon the assistance of
an Almighty and All-Loving Power in the conflict between
good and evil.

In some religions the precepts which inculcated duties have
been so utterly devoid of practicability, so completely wanting
in a knowledge of human nature, and partaking so much of the
dreamy vagueness of enthusiasts, as to become in the real
battles of life simply useless. 3 The practical character of a
religion, its abiding influence on the common relations of
mankind, in the affairs of everyday life, its power on the
masses, are the true criteria for judging of its universality.
We do not look to exceptional minds to recognise the nature
of a religion. We search among the masses to understand its
true character. Does it exercise deep power over them ?
does it elevate them ? does it regulate their conception of
rights and duties ? does it, if carried to the South Sea islander,
or preached to the Caffrarians, improve or degrade them ? —
are the questions we naturally ask. In Is] am is joined a
lofty idealism with the most rationalistic practicality. It
did not ignore human nature ; it never entangled itself in the
tortuous pathways which lie outside the domains of the actual

1 Clarke, Ten Great Religions, p. 484.

2 Compare the first Apologue in the Akhlak (Ethics) of Husain Waiz on
I k Mas.

3 Compare M. Ernest Havet's remarks in his valuable and learned work,
Le Christianisme et ses Origines, Pref. p. xxxix.


and the real. Its object, like that of other systems, was the
elevation of humanity towards the absolute ideal of perfection ;
but it attained, or tries to attain, this object by grasping the
truth that the nature of man is, in this existence, imperfect.
If it did not say, " If thy brother smite thee on one cheek,
turn thou the other also to him " ; if it allowed the punishment
of the wanton wrong-doer to the extent of the injury he had
done, 1 it also taught, in fervid words and varied strains, the
practice of forgiveness and benevolence, and the return of good
for evil : — " Who speaketh better," says the Koran, " than
he who inviteth unto God, and worketh good ? . . . Good and
evil shall not be held equal. Turn away evil with that which
is better." 2 And again, speaking of paradise, it says, " It
is prepared for the godly, who give alms in prosperity and
adversity, who bridle their anger, and forgive men ; for God
loveth the beneficent." 3

The practice of these noble precepts does not lie enshrined
in the limbo of false sentimentalism. With the true follower
of the Prophet they form the active principles of life. History
has preserved, for the admiration of wondering posterity,
many examples of patience under suffering exhibited by the
followers of other creeds. But the practice of the virtue of
patient forgiveness is easier in adversity, when we have no
power to punish the evil-doer, than in prosperity. It is related
of Husain, the noble martyr of Kerbela, that a slave having
once thrown the contents of a scalding dish over him as he sat
at dinner, fell on his knees and repeated the verse of the Koran,
" Paradise is for those who bridle their anger." " I am not
angry," answered Husain. The slave proceeded, " and for
those who forgive men." " I forgive you." The slave, how-
ever, finished the verse, adding, " for God loveth the beneficent."
" I give you your liberty and four hundred pieces of silver,"
replied Husain. 4

1 Koran, sura xxii. 39, 40. Thonissen's remark, that Mohammed allowed
the punishment of the wilful wrong-doer for the purpose of preventing
enormous evils, must always be borne in mind. — L'Hist. du Droit Criminel
des Peuples Anciens, vol. ii. p. 67.

2 Koran, sura xli. 33, 34. 3 Koran, sura xlii. 37.

1 This anecdote has been told by Sale in a note to the third chapter of his
translation of the Koran, and also by Gibbon ; but both have, by mistake,

S.I. M


The author of the Kashshdf thus sums up the essence of the
Islamic teachings : " Seek again him who drives you away ;
give to him who takes away from you ; pardon him who
injures you : 1 for God loveth that you should cast into the
depth of your soul the roots of His perfections." 2

In the purity of its aspiration, can anything be more beautiful
than the following : " The servants of the Merciful are they
that walk upon the earth softly ; and when the ignorant
speak unto them, they reply, Peace ! they that spend the night
worshipping their Lord, prostrate, and standing, and resting :
those that, when they spend, are neither profuse nor niggardly,
but take a middle course : . . . those that invoke not with God

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 22 of 55)