Syed Ameer Ali.

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As to the parabolical nature of the Koranic expressions, this
school of thinkers bases its convictions on the following passage
of the inspired Book : " It is He who hath sent down unto thee
' the Book.' Some of the signs (verses) are firm (i.e. per-
spicuous or clear to understand) — these are the basis (or
fundamental part) of the book — and others are figurative." 4

1 Koran xxxii. 17 ; Mishkat, bk. xxiii. chap. xiii. pt. i. 2 From Suhaib.

3 Koran x. 26. Consult here Zamakhshari (the Kashshdf), Egyp. Ed., pt. i.
p. 244 ; he gives the fullest references to the opinions of the different theo-
logians and schools, and especially mentions the doctrines of the Mush-
habbahas and the Jabarias.

* Koran iii. 5.


Another section looks upon the joys and pains of the Here-
after as entirely subjective. It holds that as extreme mental
pain is far more agonising than physical pain, so is mental
pleasure of the higher type far more rapturous than any
sensuous pleasure ; that as, after physical death, the indi-
vidual soul " returns," to use the Koranic expression, to the
Universal Soul, all the joys and pains, portrayed in vivid
colours by the inspired Teacher to enable the masses to grasp
the truth, will be mental and subjective. This section includes
within its bosom some of the greatest philosophers and mystics
of the Moslem world.

Another, and by far perhaps the larger class, however, believe
in the literal fulfilment of all the word-paintings of the Koran.

Without venturing to pass any opinion on these different
notions, we may take this occasion to state our own belief
with regard to the Koranic conception of future rewards and

A careful study of the Koran makes it evident that the mind
of Mohammed went through the same process of development
which marked the religious consciousness of Jesus. Moham-
med and Jesus are the only two historic Teachers of the world,
and for this reason we take them together. How great this
development was in Jesus is apparent, not only from the
idealised conception towards the end of his earthly career
regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, but also from the change
of tone towards the non-Israelites. Thoroughly exclusive at
first, 1 with a more developed religious consciousness wider
sympathies awaken in the heart. 2

As with Jesus so with Mohammed.

The various chapters of the Koran which contain the ornate
descriptions of paradise, whether figurative or literal, were
delivered wholly or in part at Mecca. Probably in the infancy
of his religious consciousness, Mohammed himself believed in
some or other of the traditions which floated around him. But
with a wider awakening of the soul, a deeper communion with
the Creator of the Universe, thoughts, which bore a material

1 Matt. x. 5, xv. 22-26.

2 Matt, xxviii. 19, etc. ; comp. throughout Strauss, New Life of Jesus (1865),
vol. i. p. 296 et seq.


aspect at first, became spiritualised. The mind of the Teacher
progressed not only with the march of time and the develop-
ment of his religious consciousness, but also with the progress
of his disciples in apprehending spiritual conceptions. Hence,
in the later suras we observe a merging of the material in the
spiritual, of the body in the soul. The gardens " watered by
rivers," perpetual shade, 1 plenty and harmony, so agreeable to
the famished denizen of the parched, shadeless, and waterless
desert, at perpetual discord with himself and all around him,
— these still form the groundwork of beautiful imageries ; but
the happiness of the blessed is shown to consist in eternal peace
and goodwill in the presence of their Creator. " But those,"
says the Koran, " who are pious shall dwell in gardens, amidst
fountains ; they shall say unto them, ' Enter ye therein in
peace and security ' ; and all rancour will we remove from their
bosoms ; they shall sit as brethren, face to face, 2 on couches ;
weariness shall not affect them therein, neither shall they be
repelled thence for ever." 3

What can be nobler or grander in its conception or imagery,
or give a better idea of the belief in the Prophet's mind
when conveying his final message concerning the nature
of the present and future life, than the following passage :
" It is He who enableth you to travel by land and by sea ; so
that ye go on board of ships, which sail on with them, with
favourable breeze, and they rejoice therein. But if a tem-
pestuous wind overtake, and the waves come on them from
every side, and they think they are encompassed therewith,
they call on God, professing unto Him sincere religion ; (saying)
wouldst Thou but rescue us from this, then we will ever be
indeed of the thankful. But when We have rescued them,
Behold ! they commit unrighteous excesses on the earth. O
men ! verily the excesses ye commit to the injury of your own
souls are only for the enjoyment of this earthly life ; soon shall
ye return to Us, and We will declare unto you that which ye
have done. Verily, the likeness of this present life is not
otherwise than the water which We send down from heaven ;
and the productions of the earth, of which men and cattle eat,

1 Koran xiii. 34, xlvii. 16, 17. Comp. also chaps, ix., x., and xiv.

2 I.e. with peace and good-will in their hearts. 3 Koran xv. 48.


are mixed therewith, till the earth has received its beautiful
raiment, and is decked out, and they who inhabit it imagine
they have power over it ! (But) Our behest cometh unto it
by night or by day, and We make it as if it had been mown, as
though it had not teemed (with fertility) only yesterday. Thus
do we make our signs clear unto those who consider. And
God inviteth unto the abodes of peace, and guideth whom He
pleaseth into the right way. 1 For those who do good is
excellent reward and superabundant addition of it ; neither
blackness nor shame shall cover their faces. These are the
inhabitants of paradise ; therein do they abide for ever. But
those who have wrought evil shall receive the reward of evil
equal thereunto ; 2 and shame shall cover them (for there will
be none to protect them against God) as though their faces
were covered with a piece of the night of profound darkness." 3

Then again, what can be purer in its aspirations than the
following :

" Who fulfil the covenant of God and break not their com-
pact ; and who join together what God hath bidden to be
joined ; and who fear their Lord and dread an ill-reckoning ;
and who, from a sincere desire to please their Lord, 4 are constant
amid trials, and observe prayers and give alms, in secret and
openly, out of what We have bestowed on them ; and turn
aside evil with good : for them there is the recompense of that
abode, gardens of eternal habitation, into which they shall
enter, together with such as shall have acted rightly from
among their fathers, their wives, and their posterity ; and the
angels shall go in unto them by every portal, (saying) ' Peace
be with you ! because ye have endured with patience.' Excellent
is the reward in that abode ! " 5

Enough has been said to show the utter falsehood of the
theory that Mohammed's pictures of future life were all

1 Baizawi explains the expression " whom He pleaseth," as " those who
repent " (p. 67, n. 1, chap. iv). Compare Zamakhshari (the Kashshaf).

- Observe the reward of virtue will not be confined to an exact measure
of man's works ; it will far exceed his deserts ; but the recompense of evil
will be strictly proportioned to what one has done.

3 Koran x. 23-27.

4 This may also be translated as " from a desire to see the face (glory) of
their Lord."

5 Koran xiii. 20-24. Compare throughout Zamakhshari (the Kashshdf),


sensuous. We will conclude this chapter with the following
passage from the Koran to show the depth of spirituality in
Islam, and the purity of the hopes and aspirations on which it
bases its rule of life : " O thou soul which art at rest, return
unto thy Lord, pleased and pleasing Him, enter thou among
my servants, and enter thou my garden of felicity." l

1 Koran lxxxix. 27-30.


. ^*« ^ *l/l >

li IssJU. J*r ; t iJ| f ,xJI ; *UIL

THE extraordinary rapidity with which the religion of
the Arabian Prophet spread over the surface of
the globe is one of the most wonderful phenomena
in the history of religions. For centuries Christianity had
hidden itself in byways and corners ; not until it had largely
absorbed and assimilated paganism, not until a half-pagan
monarch had come to its assistance with edicts and orders,
was it able to rear its head among the creeds of the world.
Islam, within thirty years of the death of its Teacher,
found its way into the hearts of millions of people. And
before a century was well over the voice of the Recluse of
Hira had rolled across three continents. The legions of the
Caesars and the Chosroes, who endeavoured to stop the onrush
of the new democracy preached in Arabia, were shattered to
pieces by the children of the desert. Its remarkable success and
marvellous effect upon the minds of men have given rise to the
charge that, as a religion of the sword, Islam was propagated

1 Sura ii. 261, " Let there be no compulsion in religion."

2 Sura v. 69; seep. 175. Compare this with the thunders of the Athanasian


by the sword and upheld by the sword. We propose, therefore,
carefully to examine the circumstances and facts connected
with the rise of Islam, to see whether there is any truth in the

At the time of the Prophet's advent into Medina, the two
tribes of Aus and Khazraj, who had been engaged in deadly
conflict for years, had just ended their strife by a hollow peace.
There was every prospect of the war breaking out again with
fiercer animosity. The Jews, who after the onslaught of Jabala
had accepted the clientage of the Medinite Arabs, were fast
recovering their strength and were openly threatening their
pagan compatriots with the vengeance of the Messiah, whose
appearance was hourly expected. The surrounding tribes,
among whom the influence of the Koreish was supreme, were
arrayed in all their desert ferocity against Medina. The
moment Mohammed appeared among the Medinites the
elements of danger which threatened the new religion became
apparent. The Meccan disciples who had braved death, and
now faced destitution and exile for their Master and the light
which he had brought to their hearts, were few and weak. His
Medinite followers were not many ; they were divided amongst
themselves, actuated by tribal jealousies. An important
faction, headed by an influential chieftain, an aspirant to the
throne of Medina, worked in the city on the side of the heathens. 1
The Jews, compact and united, jealously and relentlessly, with
poison and with treachery, opposed him in every direction.
But the heart, which did not fail when the Koreish threatened
him with death, was not daunted when the existence of others
depended on him. He at once set himself to the task of
organising into a social entity the varied elements which had
gathered round him as the minister of God. He substituted
referees for the old tribal vendetta ; he abolished the dis-
tinction of Aus and Khazraj ; he comprehended the Jews and
Christians in his little commonwealth, and planted germs of
cordial relations among all believers ; he proclaimed that a Jew,
Sabaean, or Christian, whoever believed in God and future life
and acted righteously, " on him shall come no fear." To a
people wedded to the worst type of heathenism, to a race with
1 See antej-p. 57.


whom the shedding of blood was a second nature, he taught
purity and truth, self-restraint, charity, and love of one's kind.
" It shall be an expiation with God," he said to them, " when
one shall drop his right of retaliation." " He who shall mediate
between men for a good purpose shall be the gainer thereby,
but the mediator for evil shall reap the fruit of his doing." '

Whilst engaged in this divine work of humanising his people,
raising them from the abyss of degradation, purifying them from
abominations, he is attacked by his enemies, ruthless and un-
tiring in their vengeance. They had sworn his death and the
extirpation of his creed. The apostates from the faith of their
fathers, as the Koreish regarded Mohammed and his followers
to be, had betaken themselves to the rival city, to plant the
germs of revolutionary doctrines. United Arabia must annihi-
late these crazy enthusiasts who had forsaken home and wealth
for the sake of an unseen God, so exacting in His worship, so
insistent on the common duties of love, charity, and benevolence,
on purity of thought and deed. From the moment of his entry
into Medina, Mohammed's destiny had become intertwined
with that of his people, and of those who had invited and
welcomed him into their midst. His destruction meant the
destruction of the entire body of people who had gathered
round the minister of God. Surrounded by enemies and
traitors, the whole of Arabia responding to the call of the
Koreish, the ancient servitors of the national gods marching to
their slaughter, his followers would have inevitably perished
but for the swords in their hands. And it was not until their
enemies were upon them that it was declared, " The infidels
regard not in a believer either ties of blood or covenant ; when
they break their oaths of alliance, and attack you, defend
yourself " ; and again, " Defend yourself against your enemies ;
but attack them not first : God hateth the aggressor." 2 To
the Moslems self-defence had become a question of self-
preservation. They must either submit to be massacred or
fight when they were attacked. They chose the latter alter-
native, and succeeded, after a long struggle, in subduing their

The bitter animosity of the Jews, their repeated violations of

1 Sura iv. 85. 2 Sura ii. 190.


the most solemn engagements, their constant seditiousness, and
their frequent endeavours to betray the Moslems to the idolaters,
led naturally to severe chastisement. It was essentially neces-
sary for the safety of the weak and small community, more as
a deterrent warning than as a vindictive punishment.

We have no right to assume that because some of the great
teachers who have from time to time appeared on earth have
succumbed under the force of opposing circumstances and
become martyrs, that because others have created in their
brains an unrealised Utopia, that because dreamers have
existed, and enthusiasts have suffered, Mohammed was bound
to follow their example, and leave the world before he had
fulfilled his mission. Nor was he obliged to sacrifice himself
and the entire community over which he was called to preside,
for the sake of carrying out what, in the present time, would
be called an ' Idea.'

Let us compare the struggles of the Moslems in self-defence,
and for self-preservation, with the frightful wars of the Jews
and the Christians, and even of the gentle Parsis, for the
propagation of their respective faiths. In the case of the Jews,
aggression and extirpation were sanctified by religion. They
were cursed for sparing.

In the case of the early Christians, the doctrine of humility
and meekness, preached by the Prophet of Nazareth, was soon
forgotten in the pride of power. From the moment Christianity
became a recognised force, — the dominant faith of a community,
— it became aggressive and persecuting. Parallels have been
drawn between Jesus and Mohammed by different writers.
Those fully penetrated with the conviction of the godhead of
Jesus have recognised in the " earthly " means employed by
the Arabian Prophet for the regeneration of his people the
result of " Satanic suggestions," while the non-employment of
such means (perhaps from want of opportunity to use them)
has been looked upon as establishing the divinity of the Prophet
of Nazareth. We shall furnish reasons to show that such com-
parisons are unfair, based as they are on what is not only false
to history, but false to human nature.

The circumstances attending the lives of Jesus and
Mohammed were wholly different. During his short ministry


the influence of Jesus remained confined to a small body of
followers, taken chiefly from the lower and uneducated ranks.
He fell a victim x to the passions he had evoked by his scathing
denunciations of the lifeless sacerdotalism of the priestly classes
— to the undying hatred of a relentless race— before his followers
had become either numerous or influential enough to require
practical rules for their guidance, or before they could form an
organisation, either for purposes of spiritual teaching, or as a
safeguard against the persecutions of the dominant creed.
Drawn from among a people with settled laws, the observance
of which was guaranteed by the suzerain power, the followers
of Jesus had no occasion to constitute themselves into an
organised body, nor had the Teacher any need to frame rules
of practical positive morality. The want was felt when the
community became more extensive, and the genius of a scholar,
well-versed in the Neo-Platonic lore, destroyed the individuality
and simplicity of the teachings of the Master.

Mohammed, like Jesus, was followed from the commence-
ment of his career as a preacher and reformer by the hostility
and opposition of his people. His followers also, in the
beginning, were few and insignificant. He also was preceded
by men who had shaken off the bondage of idolatry, and had
listened to the springs of the life within. He, too, preached
gentleness, charity, and love.

But Mohammed appeared among a nation steeped in barbar-
ous usages, who looked upon war as the object of life, — a nation
far removed from the materialising, degrading influences of the
Greeks and the Romans, yet likewise far from their humanising
influences. At first his enunciations evoked scorn, and then
vengeful passions. His followers, however, increased in number
and strength until at last the invitation of the Medinites
crowned his glorious work with success. From the moment he
accepted the asylum so nobly proffered, from the moment he
was called upon to become their chief magistrate as well as

1 I write according to the generally received opinion among Western
scholars ; that Mohammed, in accordance with the traditions current in his
time, believed that Jesus miraculously disappeared, there is no doubt. In
spite of this so-called apocryphal Gnostic tradition being opposed to the
general body of Christian traditions, there is as much historic probability on
one side as the other.


their spiritual teacher, his fate became involved in theirs ;
from that time the hostilities of the idolaters and their allies
required an unsleeping vigilance on the part of the Moslems.
A single city had to make head against the combined attacks
of the multitudinous tribes of Arabia. Under these circum-
stances, energetic measures were often necessary to sustain the
existence of the Moslem commonwealth. When persuasion
failed, pressure was required.

The same instinct of self-preservation which spoke so warmly
within the bosom of the great Prophet of Nazareth, 1 when he
advised his disciples to look to the instruments of defence,
caused the persecuted Moslems to take up arms when attacked
by their relentless enemies.

Gradually, by gentle kindness and energy, all the disjointed
fragments of the Arabian tribes were brought together to the
worship of the true God, and then peace settled upon the land.
Born among a people the most fiery of the earth, then as now
vehement and impulsive by nature, and possessed of passions
as burning as the sun of their desert, Mohammed impressed
on them habits of self-control and self-denial such as have
never before been revealed in the pages of history.

At the time of Mohammed's advent international obligations
were unknown. When nations or tribes made war upon each
other, the result usually was the massacre of the able-bodied,
the slavery of the innocent, and plunder of the household

The Romans, who took thirteen centuries to evolve a system
of laws which was as comprehensive as it was elevated in con-
ception, 2 could never realise the duties of international morality
or of humanity. They waged war for the sole purpose of
subjugating the surrounding nations. Where they succeeded,
they imposed their will on the people absolutely. The sacred-
ness of treaties was unknown ; pacts were made and broken,
just as convenience dictated. The liberty of other nations
was never of the slightest importance in their estimation. 3 The

1 Luke xxii. 256.

2 In justice to the Semitic races, I must say that almost all the great jurists
of Rome were Semites,— Phoenicians, Syrians, or Carthaginians.

3 Compare Dollinger, The Gentile and the Jew, throughout on this subject.

s.i. o


introduction of Christianity made little or no change in the
views entertained by its professors concerning international obli-
gations. War was as inhuman and as exterminating as before ;
people were led into slavery without compunction on the part
of the captors ; treaties were entered into and broken just as
suited the purpose of some designing chieftain. Christianity
did not profess to deal with international morality, and so left
its followers groping in the dark.

Modern thinkers, instead of admitting this to be a real
deficiency in the Christian system, natural to the unfinished
state in which it was left, have tried to justify it. A strange
perversion of the human intellect ! Hence, what is right in the
individual comes to be considered wrong in the nation, and
vice versa. Religion and morality, two convertible terms, are
kept apart from the domain of law. Religion, which claims
to regulate the ties of individual men, ignores the reciprocal
relations of the various aggregates of humanity. Religion is
thus reduced into mere sentimentalism, an object of gushing
effusion, or mutual laudation at debating societies, albeit
sometimes rising to the dignity of philosophical morality.

The basis of international obligations consists in the recogni-
tion of nations as individuals, and of the fact that there is not
one standard for individuals and another for nations ; for as
individuals compose a nation, so nations compose humanity ;
and the rights of nations and their obligations to each other
in nowise differ from those existing between individuals. 1

True it is, that the rise of the Latin Church in the West, and
the necessary augmentation of the power of the bishops of
Rome, introduced in the Latin Christian world a certain degree
of international responsibility. But this was absolutely con-
fined to the adherents of the Church of Rome, or was occasion-
ally extended as a favour to Greek Christianity. The rest of
the world was unconditionally excluded from the benefits of
such responsibility. " The name of religion served as the plea
and justification of aggression upon weaker nations ; it led to
their spoliation and enslavement." Every act of violation
was sanctified by the Church, and, in case of extreme iniquity,

1 Comp. David Urquhart's essay on the " Effects of the Contempt of Inter-
national Law," reprinted from The East and West, Feb. 1867.


absolution paved the criminal's way to heaven. From the
first slaughters of Charlemagne, with the full sanction of the
Church, to the massacre and enslavement of the unoffending
races of America, there is an unbroken series of the infringement
of international duties and the claims of humanity. This
utter disregard of the first principles of charity led also to the
persecution of those followers of Jesus who ventured to think
differently from the Church. 1

The rise of Protestantism made no difference. The wars
and mutual persecutions of the several religious factions form
a history in themselves. " Persecution," says Hallam, " is
the deadly original sin of the Reformed Church, that which
cools every honest man's zeal for their cause, in proportion as
his reading becomes more expansive." 2

But, however much the various new-born Churches disagreed
among themselves, or from the Church of Rome, regarding
doctrinal and theological points, they were in perfect accord
with each other in denying all community of interests and

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 25 of 55)