In the desert of Arabia was Muhammad 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 him in that
impenetrable desert of red sand.
When he appeared Arabia was a desert -- a nothing. Out of nothing a new world
was fashioned by the mighty spirit of Muhammad -- 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
When I thought of writing on Muhammad the prophet, I was a bit
hesitant because it was to write about a religion I do not profess and it is a
delicate matter to do so for there are many persons professing various religions
and belonging to diverse school of thought and denominations even in same
religion. Though it is sometimes, claimed that religion is entirely personal yet
it can not be gain-said that it has a tendency to envelop the whole universe
seen as well unseen. It somehow permeates something or other our hearts, our
souls, our minds their conscious as well as subconscious and unconscious levels
too. 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 religion the better. Let our religions be deeply
hidden and embedded in the resistance of our innermost hearts fortified by
unbroken seals on our lips.
But there is another aspect of this problem. Man lives in society. Our lives
are bound with the lives of others willingly or unwillingly, directly or
indirectly. We eat the food grown in the same soil, drink water, from the same
the same spring and breathe the same air. Even while staunchly holding our own
views, it would be helpful, if we try to adjust ourselves to our surroundings,
if we also know to some extent, how the mind our neighbor moves and what the
main springs of his actions are. 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 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 citizen of the world before us, to make a little attempt to know
the great religions and system of philosophy that have ruled mankind.
In spite of these preliminary remarks, the ground in these 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 not 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 Quran says that.
"There is probably in the world no other book which has remained twelve
centuries with so pure text." I may also add Prophet Muhammad
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.
My work today 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 Muhammad 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 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. The principle of Islam that there is no
compulsion in religion is well known. Gibbon, a historian of world
repute says, "A pernicious tenet has been imputed to Muhammadans
(Muslims), the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword." This
charge based on ignorance and bigotry, says the eminent historian, is refuted by
Quran, by history of Muslim conquerors and by their public and legal
toleration of Christian worship. The great success of Muhammad's life
had been effected by sheer moral force, without a stroke of sword.
But in pure self-defense, after repeated efforts of conciliation had utterly
failed, circumstances dragged him into the battlefield. But 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. But even
on the battlefield he taught the Arab barbarians to pray, to pray not
individually, but in congregation to God the Almighty. During the dust and storm
of warfare whenever the time for prayer came, and it comes five times every day,
the congregation prayer had not to be postponed even on the battlefield. A party
had to be engaged in bowing their heads before God while other was engaged with
the enemy. After finishing the prayers, the two parties had to exchange their
positions. 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. In an aged of barbarism, the
Battlefield itself was humanized and strict instructions were issued not to
cheat, not to break trust, not to mutilate, not to kill a child or woman or an
old man, not to hew down date palm nor burn it, not to cut a fruit tree, not to
molest any person engaged in worship. His own treatment with his bitterest
enemies is the noblest example for his followers. At the conquest of Mecca, he
stood at the zenith of his power. The city which had refused to listen to his
mission, 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 accord to
them? Muhammad's heart flowed with affection and he declared, "This
day, there is no REPROOF against you and you are all free." "This
day" he proclaimed, "I trample under my feet all distinctions
between man and man, all hatred between man and man."
This was one of the chief objects why he permitted war in self
defense, that is to unite human beings. And when once this object was achieved,
even his worst enemies were pardoned. Even those who killed his beloved uncle,
Hamazah, mangled his body, ripped it open, even chewed a piece of his liver.
The principles of universal brotherhood and doctrine of the equality of
mankind which he proclaimed represents one very great contribution of Muhammad
to the social uplift of humanity. All great religions have preached the same
doctrine but the prophet of Islam had put this theory into actual practice and
its value will be fully recognized, perhaps centuries hence, when international
consciousness being awakened, racial prejudices may disappear and greater
brotherhood of humanity come into existence.
Miss. 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 minaret 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 and over
again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes a man instinctively a
brother. When you meet an Egyptian, an Algerian and Indian and a Turk in London,
it matters not that Egypt is the motherland of one and India is the motherland
Mahatma Gandhi, in his inimitable style, says "Some one has said
that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent Islam -- Islam that civilized
Spain, Islam that took the torch light to Morocco and preached to the world the
Gospel of brotherhood. The Europeans of South Africa dread the Advent of Islam.
They may claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it, if
brotherhood is a sin. If it is equality of colored races then their dread is
Every year, during the Hajj, 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 Medina as members of one divine
family, but they are 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 head without pomp or ceremony, repeating "Here
am I O God; at thy command; thou art one and alone; 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 opinion of Prof. Hurgronje "the league of nations founded by
prophet of Islam put the principle of international unity of human brotherhood
on such Universal foundations as to show candle to other nations." In
the words of same Professor "the fact is that no nation of the world
can show a parallel to what Islam has done the realization of the idea of the
League of Nations."
The prophet of Islam brought the reign of democracy in its best form. The
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 black Negroes were treated by the civilized white races. 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 of status 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
mosque at Mecca called the Ka'ba the most
historic and the holiest mosque 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 Ka'ba to call for prayer." At that moment, the prophet
announced to the world, this verse of the Holy Quran for the
"O mankind, surely we have created you, families and tribes, so you
may know one another.
Surely, the most honorable of you with God is MOST RIGHTEOUS AMONG you.
Surely, God is Knowing, Aware."
And these words of the Holy Quran created such a mighty transformation that
the Caliph of Islam, the purest of Arabs by birth, offered their daughter 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 "Here come
our master; Here come our lord." What a tremendous change was brought
by Quran 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
Quran 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 or ruling over England, say,
Europe, within the next 100 years, it is Islam".
It is this same democratic spirit of Islam that emancipated women from the
bondage of man. Sir Charles Edward Archibald Hamilton says "Islam
teaches the inherent sinlessness 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."
The Arabs had a very strong tradition that one who can smite with the spear
and can wield the sword would inherit. 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 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 the act was called "the married woman
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."
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 to govern economic
life. According to Prof. Massignon, it 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 system
of charity known as Zakat, and by regarding as illegal all anti-social
practices in the economic field like monopoly, usury, securing of predetermined
unearned income and increments, cornering markets, creating monopolies, creating
an 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 born an orphan. "Good
all this" says Carlyle about Muhammad. "The natural
voice of humanity, of pity and equity, dwelling in the heart of this wild son of
A historian once said a great man should be judged by three tests:
Was he found to be of true metel by his contemporaries ? Was he great enough
to raise above the standards of his age ? Did he leave anything as permanent
legacy to the world at large ? This list may be further extended but all
these three tests of greatness are eminently satisfied to the highest degree in
case of prophet Muhammad. Some illustrations of the last two have
already been mentioned.
The first is: Was the Prophet of Islam found to be of true metel by his
Historical records show that all the contemporaries of Muhammad both
friends foes, acknowledged the sterling qualities, the spotless honesty, the
noble virtues, the absolute sincerity and every 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, adopted him as the arbiter in
their personal disputes by virtue of his perfect impartiality. Even
those who did not believe in his message were forced to say "O Muhammad,
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 the 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 were convinced of the genuineness of his
divine inspiration. If these men and women, noble, intelligent, educated and
intimately acquainted with his private life had perceived the slightest signs of
deception, fraud, earthliness, or lack of faith in him, Muhammad's
moral hope of regeneration, spiritual awakening, and social reform would all
have been foredoomed to a failure and whole edifice would have crumbled to
pieces in a moment. On the contrary, we find that devotion of his followers was
such that he was voluntarily acknowledged as dictator of their lives. They
braved for him persecutions and danger; they 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 master?
Read the history of the early converts to Islam, and every heart
would melt at the sight of the brutal treatment of innocent Muslim men and
Sumayya, an innocent women, is cruelly torn into pieces with spears.
An example is made of "Yassir whose legs are tied to two camels
and the beast were are driven in opposite directions", Khabbab bin Arth
is made lie down on the bed of burning coal with the brutal legs of their
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 piece-meal." In the
midst of his tortures, being asked weather he did not wish Muhammad 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 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 hearts and souls to their master?
Is not the intense faith and conviction on part of immediate followers of Muhammad,
the noblest testimony to his sincerity and to his utter self-absorption in his
And these men were not of low station or 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 all about his life. All the first four Caliphs, with
their towering personalities, were converts of this period.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says that "Muhammad is the most
successful of all Prophets and religious personalities".
But the success was not the result of mere accident. It was not a hit of
fortune. It was a recognition of fact that he was found to be true metal by his
contemporaries. It was the result of his admirable and all compelling
The personality of Muhammad! It is most difficult to get into the
truth of it. Only a glimpse of it I can catch. What a dramatic succession of
picturesque scenes. There is Muhammad the Prophet, there is Muhammad the
General; Muhammad the King; Muhammad the Warrior; Muhammad the Businessman; Muhammad
the Preacher; Muhammad the Philosopher; Muhammad the Statesman; Muhammad the
Orator; Muhammad the reformer; Muhammad the Refuge of orphans; Muhammad the
Protector of slaves; Muhammad the Emancipator of women; Muhammad the Law-giver; Muhammad
the Judge; Muhammad the Saint.
And in all these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human
activities, he is like, a hero..
Orphan-hood is extreme of helplessness and his life upon this earth began
with it; Kingship is the height of the material power and it 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
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-bearer of civilization and learning, has
every claim to greatness. If greatness lies in unifying the discordant elements
of society by 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 degrading and blind 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, Muhammad has been
admitted by friend and foe as Al Amin, or the faithful.
If a conqueror is a great man, here is a person who rose from helpless orphan
and an humble creature to be the ruler of Arabia, the equal to Chosroes and
Caesars, one who founded 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.
He had not studied philosophy in the school of Athens of Rome, Persia, India,
or China. Yet, He could proclaim the highest truths of eternal value to mankind.
Illiterate himself, he could yet speak with an eloquence and fervor which moved
men to tears, to tears of ecstasy. Born an orphan 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 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 more likely to posses these
qualities. He will always be a great leader. For leadership means ability to
move masses of men. The talents 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."
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