In the desert of Arabia was Muhummed born, according to Muslim historians, on April 20, 571. The name means, "Highly Praised". He is to me the greatest mind among all the sons of Arabia. He means so much more than all the poets and kings that preceded and succeeded him in that impenetrable desert of red sand.
When he appeared, Arabia was a desert - a nothing. Out of nothing of the desert a new world was fashioned by the mighty spirit of Muhummed - a new life, a new culture, a new civilization, a new kingdom which extended from Morocco to Indies and influenced the thought and life of three continents - Asia, Africa and Europe.
NEED FOR UNDERSTANDING
When I thought of writing on Muhummed the prophet, I was a bit hesitant because it was to write about a religion one does not profess (The author is a Hindu) and it is a delicate matter to do so, for there are many persons professing various religions and belonging to diverse schools of thought and denominations even in same religion. Though it is sometimes claimed that a religion is entirely personal yet it cannot be gainsaid that it has a tendency to envelop the whole universe seen as well unseen. It somehow permeates sometime or other, our hearts, our souls, and our minds their conscious parts, subconscious parts, unconscious or whatever part they contain or are supposed to contain. The problem assumes overwhelming importance when there is a deep conviction that our past, present and future all hang by the soft, delicate, tender-silked cord. If we further happen to be highly sensitive, the center of gravity is very likely to be always in a state of extreme tension. Looked at from this point of view, the less said about other's religion the better. Let our religions be deeply hidden and embedded in the recesses of our innermost hearts fortified by unbroken seals of our lips.
MAN IS GREGARIOUS
But there is another aspect of this problem. Man lives in society. Our lives are bound with the lives of so many, willingly or unwillingly, directly or indirectly. We eat the food grown in the same soil, drink the water, from the same spring, and breathe the air of the same atmosphere. Even while staunchly holding our own views, it would be helpful, if for no other purpose, at least to promote proper adjustment to our surroundings, if we also know to some extent, how the mind our neighbor moves and what the main springs of his actions. From this angle of vision, it is highly desirable that one should try to know all religions of the world, in the proper sprit, to promote mutual understanding and better appreciation of our neighborhood, immediate and remote.
Further, our thoughts are not scattered, as they appear to be on the surface. They have got themselves crystallized around a few nuclei in the form of great world religions and living faiths that guide and motivate the lives of millions that inhabit this earth of ours. It is our duty, in one sense if we have the ideal of ever becoming a citizens of the world before us, to make a little attempt to know the great religions and system of philosophy that have ruled mankind.
THE PROPHET - A HISTORIC PERSONALITY
In spite of these preliminary remarks, the ground in the field of religion, where there is often a conflict between intellect and emotion, is so slippery that one is constantly reminded of fools that rush in where angels fear to tread. It is also so complex from another point of view. The subject of my writing is about the tenets of a religion, which is historic, and its prophet, who is also a historic personality. Even a hostile critic like Sir William Muir speaking about the holy Qur'an says that. "There is probably in the world no other book which has remained twelve (Now fourteen) centuries with so pure text." I may also add, Prophet Muhummed is also a historic personality, every event of whose life has been most carefully recorded and even the minutest details preserved intact for the posterity. His life and works are not wrapped in mystery. One need not hunt for the accurate information and embark on arduous expeditions to sift the chaff and husk from the grain of truth.
My work is further lightened because those days are fast disappearing when Islam was highly misrepresented by some of its critics for reasons political and otherwise. Prof. Bevan writes in Cambridge Medieval History, "Those account of Muhummed and Islam which were published in Europe before the beginning of 19th century are now to be regarded as literary curiosities." My problem is to write this monograph is easier because we are now generally not fed on this kind of history and much time need not be spent on pointing out our misrepresentation of Islam.
The theory of Islam and Sword for instance is not heard now frequently in any quarter worth the name. Principle of Islam that there is no compulsion in religion is well known. Gibbon, a historian of worldwide fame, says, "A pernicious tenet has been imputed to the Muhummedans, the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword." This charge of ignorance and bigotry, says the eminent historian, is refuted by Qur'an, by the history of Musalman conquerors and by their public and legal toleration of Christian worship. The greatest success of Muhummed's life was affected by sheer moral force, without a stroke of sword.
MUSTAFA THE CHOSEN ONE / "WHO SUBDUE THEIR ANGER" Holy Qur'an (3:134)
To the Arabs who would fight for forty years on the slight provocation that a camel belonging to the guest of one tribe had strayed into the grazing land belonging to other tribe and both sides had fought till they lost 70,000 lives in all, threatening the extinction of both the tribes, to such furious Arabs, the Prophet of Islam taught self-control and discipline to the extent of praying even on the battlefield.
WAR FOR SELF-DEFENCE
When, after repeated efforts of conciliation had utterly failed, circumstances arose that dragged him into the battlefield purely in self-defense, the prophet of Islam changed the whole strategy of the battlefield. The total number of casualties in all the wars that took place during his lifetime, when the whole Arabian Peninsula came under his banner, does not exceed a few hundreds in all. He taught the Arab barbarians to pray, to pray not individually, but in congregation to God Almighty even amidst the dust and storm of warfare. Whenever the time for prayer came - and it comes five times every day - the congregational prayer had not to be abandoned or even postponed. A party had to be engaged in bowing their heads before God while another was engaged with the enemy. After finishing the prayers, the two parties had to exchange their positions.
In an aged of barbarism, the Battlefield itself was humanized and strict instructions were issued not to embezzle, not to cheat, not to break trust, not to mutilate, not to kill a minor child or a woman or an old man, not to hew down date palm nor burn it, not to cut down a fruit tree, not to molest monks and persons engaged in worship. His own treatment of his bitterest enemies was the noblest example for his followers. At the conquest of Mecca, he stood at the zenith of his power. The city which had tortured him and his followers, which had driven him and his people into exile and which had unrelentingly persecuted and boycotted him even when he had taken refuge in a place more than 200 miles away, that city now lay at his feet. By the laws of war he could have justly avenged all the cruelties inflicted on him and his people. But what treatment did he meet out to them? Muhummed's heart overflowed with the milk of love and kindness as he declared, "This day, there is no reproof against you and you are all free."
BITTEREST ENEMIES PARDONED
This was one of the chief objects why he permitted war in self-defense - to unite human beings. And when this object was achieved, even his worst enemies were pardoned. Even those who had killed his beloved uncle, Humza, mutilated his dead body, had ripped it open and chewed a piece of his liver.
THEORY MERGED WITH PRACTICE
The principles of universal brotherhood and doctrine of the equality of mankind, which he proclaimed, represent very great contribution of Muhummed to the social uplift of humanity. All great religions have also preached the same doctrine, but the prophet of Islam had put this theory into actual practice and its value will be fully recognized, perhaps sometime hence, when international consciousness being awakened, racial prejudices would disappear and a stronger concept of the brotherhood of humanity comes into existence.
PEASANT AND KING EQUAL BEFORE GOD
Sarojini Naidu, speaking about this aspect of Islam, says, "It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy; for, in the mosque, when the AZAAN (the Muslim call to prayer) is sounded and the worshipers are gathered together the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim, 'God alone is great'." The great poetess of India continues, "I have been struck over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes a man instinctively a brother. When you meet an Egyptian, an Algerian, an Indian and a Turk in London what matters is that Egypt is the motherland of one and India is the motherland of another."
ISLAM-CIVILISED SPAIN AND IS ANSWER TO TODAYS SOCIAL DILEMMA
Mahatma Gandhi, in his inimitable style, says "Someone has said that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent Islam - Islam, that civilized Spain; Islam that took the torch of light to Morocco and preached to the world the Gospel of Brotherhood. The Europeans of South Africa dread the advent of Islam, as they claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it, if brotherhood is a sin, if it is equality of the colored races that they dread, then their dread is well founded."
PILGRIMAGE - HAJ - A LIVING TESTIMONY
Every year, during the pilgrimage season, the world witnesses the wonderful spectacle of this international Exhibition of Islam in leveling all distinctions of race, color and rank. Not only the Europeans, the African, the Arabian, the Persian, the Indians, the Chinese all meet together in Mecca as members of one divine family, but they are all clad in one dress, every person in two simple pieces of white seamless cloth, one piece round the loin the other piece over the shoulders, bare headed, without pomp or ceremony, repeating, "Here am I O God; at thy command; thou art one and the only; Here am I." Thus there remains nothing to differentiate the high from the low and every pilgrim carries home the impression of the international significance of Islam.
In the words of Prof. Hurgronje "the league of nations founded by prophet of Islam put the principle of international unity and human brotherhood on such universal foundations as to show candle to other nations." He continues: "the fact is that no nation of the world can show a parallel to what Islam has done towards the realization of the idea of the League of Nations."
ISLAM - A BEACON TO A DRIFTING WORLD
The prophet of Islam brought the reign of democracy in its best form. Caliph Umar, Caliph Ali and the son-in-law of the prophet, the Caliph Mansur, Abbas, the son of Caliph Mamun and many other caliphs and kings had to appear before the judge as ordinary men in Islamic courts. Even today we all know how the civilized white races treat the black Negroes. Consider the state of Bilal, a Negro slave, in the days of the prophet of Islam nearly 14 centuries ago. The office of calling Muslims to prayer was considered to be a position of honor in the early days of Islam and it was offered to this Negro slave. After the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet ordered him to call for prayer and the Negro slave, with his black color and his thick lips, stood over the roof of the holy Kaaba, the most historic and the holiest place in the Islamic world, when some proud Arabs painfully cried loud, "Oh, this black Negro slave, woe be to him. He stands on the roof of holy Kaaba to call for prayer."
As if to answer this outburst smacking of pride and prejudice, both of which the Prophet of Islam aimed at eliminating, he delivered a sermon in which he said:
"Allah is to be praised and thanked for ridding us of the vices and pride of the days of ignorance. O People! Note that all men are divided in two categories only: The pious and God-fearing who are esteemable in Allah's reckoning, and the transgressors and hard-hearted, who are lowly and contemptible in the eye of Allah. Otherwise all human beings are the progeny of Adam and Allah has created Adam of Clay"
This was later approved and confirmed by Qur'an in the following words:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Holy Qur'an (49:13)
The Prophet of Islam thus brought about such a mighty transformation that the noblest and purest among Arabs by birth offered their daughters in marriage to this Negro slave and whenever the second Caliph of Islam, known to history as Umar the great, the commander of faithful, saw this Negro slave, he immediately stood in reverence and welcomed him by exclaiming, "Here comes our master; Here comes our lord." What a tremendous change was brought by Qur'an and Prophet Muhummed in the Arabs, the proudest people at that time on the earth. This is the reason why Goethe, the greatest of German poets, speaking about the Holy Qur'an, declared that, "This book will go on exercising through all ages a most potent influence." This is also the reason why George Bernard Shaw says, "If any religion has a chance of ruling over England, nay, Europe, within the next 100 years, it is Islam".
It is this same democratic spirit of Islam that has emancipated women from the bondage of man. Sir Charles Edward Archibald Hamilton says, "Islam teaches the inherent sinless ness of man. It teaches that man and woman and woman have come from the same essence, posses the same soul and have been equipped with equal capabilities for intellectual, spiritual and moral attainments."
WOMEN HAD RIGHT TO OWN PROPERTY
The Arabs had a very strong tradition that he alone can inherit who can smite with the spear and can wield the sword. But Islam came as the defender of the weaker sex and entitled women to share the inheritance of their parents. It gave women, centuries ago the right of owning property. Yet it was only 12 centuries later, in 1881, that England, supposed to be the cradle of democracy, adopted this institution of Islam and an act was called "the married woman's Act". But centuries earlier, the Prophet of Islam had proclaimed that "Woman are twin halves of men. The rights of women are sacred. See that women maintained rights granted to them."
AL-AMEEN THE TRUSTWORTHY / THE GOLDEN MEAN
Islam is not directly concerned with political and economic systems, but indirectly and, in so far as political and economic affairs influence man's conduct, it does lay down some very important principles of economic life. According to Prof. Massignon, Islam maintains the balance between exaggerated opposites and has always in view the building of character, which is the basis of civilization. This is secured by its law of inheritance, by an organized, and not an optional, system of charity known as Zakat; and by regarding as illegal all anti-social practices in the economic field like monopoly, usury, securing of pre-determined unearned income and increments, cornering markets, hoarding and creating artificial scarcity of any commodity in order to force the prices to rise. Gambling is illegal. Contribution to schools, to places of worship, hospitals, digging of wells, opening of orphanages are highest acts of virtue. Orphanages have sprung for the first time, it is said, under the teaching of the prophet of Islam. The world owes its orphanages to this Prophet who was himself born an orphan. "Good all this" says Carlyle about Muhummed. "The natural voice of humanity, of pity and equity, dwelling in the heart of this wild son of nature, speaks."
THE TESTWas he found to be of true mettle by his contemporaries?
Was he great enough to rise above the standards of his age?
Did he leave anything as permanent legacy to the world at large?
A historian once said, a great man should be judged by three tests:
This list may be further extended but all these three tests of greatness are eminently satisfied to the highest degree in case of Prophet Muhummed. Some illustrations of the last two have already been mentioned.
The first of the three is: Was the Prophet of Islam found to be of true mettle by his contemporaries?
Historical records show that all the contemporaries of Muhummed both friends foes, acknowledged the sterling qualities, the spotless honesty, the noble virtues, the absolute sincerity and the absolute trustworthiness of the apostle of Islam in all walks of life and in every sphere of human activity. Even the Jews and those who did not believe in his message, accepted him as the arbiter in their personal disputes on account of his scrupulous impartiality. Even those who did not believe in his message were forced to say "O Muhummed we do not call you a liar, but we deny him who has given you a book and inspired you with a message." They thought he was one possessed. They tried violence to cure him. But the best of them saw that a new light had dawned on him and they hastened him to seek that enlightenment. It is a notable feature in the history of Prophet of Islam that his nearest relation, his beloved cousin and his bosom friends, who know him most intimately, were not thoroughly imbued with the truth of his mission and convinced of the genuineness of his divine inspiration. "If these men and women, noble, intelligent, and certainly not less educated than the fishermen of Galilee, had perceived the slightest sign of earthliness, deception or want of faith in the Teacher himself, Muhummed's hopes moral regeneration and social reform, would all have been crumbled to dust in a moment." From "The Sprit of Islam" by Sayed Ameer Ali.
On the contrary, we find that devotion of his followers was such that he was voluntarily acknowledged leader of their lives. They braved for his sake persecutions and danger; they believed, trusted, obeyed and honored him even in the most excruciating torture and severest mental agony caused by excommunication; even unto death. Would this have been so, had they noticed the slightest backsliding in their leader?
UNDYING LOVE FOR THE HOLY PROPHET
Read the history of the early converts to Islam, and every heart would melt at the sight of the brutal treatment of innocent men and women. Sumayya, an innocent woman, is cruelly torn into pieces by piercing through with spears. An example is made of Yasir whose legs are tied to two camels and the beasts are driven in the opposite direction. Khabbab bin Arth is made lie down on a bed of burning coal with the brutal legs of the merciless tyrant on his breast so that he may not move and this makes even the fat beneath his skin melt. "Khabban bin Adi is put to death in a cruel manner by mutilation and cutting off his flesh piecemeal." In the midst of his tortures, when asked whether he did not wish Muhummed in his place while he was in his house with his family, the sufferer cried out that he was gladly prepared to sacrifice himself, his family and children and all to save Muhummed from the prick of a thorn. Scores of heart-rending incidents of this type may be narrated. But what do all these incidents show? Why was it that these sons and daughters of Islam not only surrendered to their Prophet their allegiance but also made a gift of their bodies, hearts and souls? Is not the intense faith and conviction on the part of the immediate followers of Muhummed, the noblest testimony to his sincerity and to his utter self-absorption in the task assigned to him?
FOLLOWERS OF BEST CALIBRE
And these men were not of low station or of an inferior mental caliber. Around him in quite early days, gathered what was best and noblest in Mecca, its flower and cream, men of position, rank, wealth and culture, and from his own kith and kin, those who knew the ins and outs of his life. All the first four Caliphs, with their towering personalities, were converts of this period.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "Muhummed is the most successful of all Prophets and religious personalities". But this success was not the result of mere accident. It was not a windfall. It was recognition of the fact that he was found to be of true mettle by his contemporaries. It was the result of his admirable and all-compelling personality.
AS-SADIQ THE TRUTHFUL / PERFECT MODEL FOR HUMAN LIFE
The personality of Muhummed, it is most difficult to get into the whole truth of it. Only a glimpse of it I can catch. What a dramatic succession of picturesque scenes. There is Muhummed, the Prophet, there is Muhummed, the General; Muhummed, the King; Muhummed, the Warrior; Muhummed, the Businessman; Muhummed, the Preacher; Muhummed, the Philosopher; Muhummed, the Statesman; Muhummed, the Orator; Muhummed; the Reformer; Muhummed, the Refuge of Orphans; Muhummed, the Protector of slaves; Muhummed, the Emancipator of women; Muhummed, the Judge; Muhummed the Saint. And in all these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human activities, he is alike a hero.
Orphanhood is the extreme of helplessness and his life upon this earth began with it. Kingship is the height of the material power and his life ended with it. From an orphan boy to a persecuted refugee and then to an overlord, spiritual as well as temporal, of a whole nation and Arbiter of its destinies, with all its trials and temptations, with all its vicissitudes and changes, its lights and shades, its up and downs, its terror and splendor, he has stood the fire of the world and came out unscathed to serve as a model in every face of life. His achievements are not limited to one aspect of life, but cover the whole field of human conditions.
MUHUMMED (P.B.U.H.) THE GREATEST
If for instance, greatness consist in the purification of a nation, steeped in barbarism and immersed in absolute moral darkness, that dynamic personality who has transformed, refined and uplifted an entire nation, sunk low as the Arabs were, and made them the torch-bearers of civilizations and learning, has every claim to that greatness. If greatness lies in unifying the discordant elements of society by the ties of brotherhood and charity, the prophet of the desert has got every title to this distinction. If greatness consists in reforming those warped in a degrading superstition and pernicious practices of every kind, the Prophet of Islam has wiped out superstitions and irrational fear from the hearts of millions. If it lies in displaying high morals, Muhummed has been admitted by friend and foes as Al-Amin, and As-Sadiq, the trustworthy and faithful. If a conqueror is a great man, here is a person who rose from helpless orphan and a humble creature to be the ruler of Arabia, the equal of Khosros and Caesars, one who founded a great empire that has survived all these 14 centuries. If the devotion that a leader commands is the criterion of greatness, the prophet's name even today exerts a magic charm over millions of souls, spread all over the world.
THE UNLETTERED PROPHET
He had not studied philosophy in the school of Athens or Rome, Persia, India, or China; yet, he could proclaim the highest truths of eternal value to mankind. Unlettered himself, he could yet speak with an eloquence and fervor which moved men to tears of ecstasy. Born an orphan and blessed with no worldly goods, he was loved by all. He had studied at no military academy; yet he could organize his forces against tremendous odds and gained victories through the moral forces, which he marshaled. Gifted men with a genius for preaching are rare. Descartes included the perfect preacher among the rarest kind in the world. Hitler in his 'Mein Kamp' has expressed a similar view. He says: "A great theorist is seldom a great leader. An Agitator is far more likely to posses these qualities. He will always be a better leader. For, leadership means the ability to move masses of men. The talent to produce ideas has nothing in common with capacity for leadership." But, he says, "The Union of theorists, organizer and leader in one man, is the rarest phenomenon on this earth; Therein consists greatness." In the person of the Prophet of Islam the world has seen this rarest phenomenon on the earth, walking in flesh and blood.
And more wonderful still is what the reverend Bosworth Smith remarks: "Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but, he was pope without the pope's pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without an standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to say that he ruled by a right divine, it was Muhummed, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life."
MUHUMMED (P.B.U.H.)-UNTAINTED AND PURE
After the fall of Mecca more than one million square miles of land lay at his feet, Lord of Arabia, he mended his own shoes and coarse woolen garments, milked the goats, swept the hearth, kindled the fire and attended to other menial offices of the family. The entire town of Medina where he lived grew wealthy in the later days of his life. Everywhere there was gold and silver in plenty and yet in those days of prosperity many weeks would elapse without a fire being kindled in the hearth of the king of Arabia, his food being dates and water. His family would go hungry many nights successively because they could not get anything to eat in the evening. He slept on no soften bed but on a palm mat, after a long busy day, to spend most of his night in prayer, often bursting with tears before his creator to grant him strength to discharge his duties. As the reports go, his voice would get choked due to weeping and it would appear as if a cooking pot was on fire and boiling had commenced. On the day of his death his only assets were few coins, a part of which went to satisfy a debt and rest was given to a needy person who came to his house for charity. The clothes in which he breathed his last had many patches. The house from where light had spread to the world was in darkness because there was no oil in the lamp.
CONSISTENT UNTO DEATH
Circumstances changed, but the prophet of God did not. In victory or in defeat, in power or in adversity, in affluence or in indigence, he was the same man, disclosed the same character. Like all the ways and laws of God, Prophets of God are unchangeable.
By: Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, Head of the Department of Philosophy, Government College for Women, University of Mysore, Mandya-571401, Karnataka, India.