, by MOHAMMAD YACOOB
In this Section
In the seventh century CE, the people of the book, Jews and Christians were following their respective religions in West Asia and Europe. The people of the book were following the path shown to them by Prophet Musa (Moses – Peace be to him) and Prophet Isa (Jesus – Peace be to him). These earlier prophets were sent down to their own communities.
On the other hand, in the seventh century, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be to him) was sent down to the entire humanity. Had Prophet Muhammad been sent to any other nation, the people of that nation would have localised his activities and mission and would have declared that he is their own prophet, not to be touched or shared by other nations?
Since, he was sent down for the whole humanity, God sent him among the Arabs, the people who needed the help most. He sent Prophet Muhammad at a time when the people of the book had deviated from the straight path, and the pagans and idol worshippers were living in ignorance.
Islam is not a new religion. Prophet Muhammad did not claim to be the founder of a new religion. His mission was to remind people about the truth of the earlier religions and restore them to the pristine purity God has intended in the first place.
At the same time let us take a note of the fact that Allah is the Arabic word for God; the Arab Christians living in the US have translation of the Bible in Arabic and they also use the word ‘Allah’ for God in their Arabic translations. Allah is the God of all prophets – Adam, Noah, Yakub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Ismael (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Dawood (David), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad. God sent prophets to all nations. In the Qur’ān God says: “There has never been a nation to whom God hath not sent a Prophet.” The Aryans and other nations believed in oneness of God and later, while in contact with other nations, started in believing in multiple gods. Hindus also believe in One God, but the Hindus have pushed the concept of Oneness of God in the background, and belief in hundreds of gods has become the normal practice; very few Hindus declare that they believe in One God. Muzammil Siddiqi, President of the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies in California, and the Director of The Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove wrote:
“Allah says in the Qur’ān that He sent Prophets to all people. ‘Surely We have sent you (O Muhammad) in truth as a bearer of glad tidings and a Warner. And there never was a people without a Warner having lived among them (in the past)’ (Sura Fatir 35:24). ‘You (O Prophet) are a Warner and for every people there was a guide.’ (Sura Al-Ra’d 13:7).
The Qur’ān is not an encyclopaedia of religions or prophets. The Qur’ān does not mention the names and stories of all the prophets and messengers of Allah. The Qur’ān is the book of guidance. It gives as examples the names of the most famous and familiar prophets who were well-known to the people among whom Prophet Muhammad lived. Allah says, ‘Of some of the messengers We have told you the story and of others We have not.’(Al-Nisa 4:164)
Thus it is clear from the Qur’ān that in India, China, Africa, America and other parts of the world Allah also sent His prophets and Messengers to guide the people of those areas as He guided the people of the Middle East. When we read the religious books of Hinduism and Buddhism we find a lot of moral and spiritual teachings in them. These messages must have come from Allah through His Prophets and Messengers. However, we cannot say definitely that Gautama Buddha, Rama or Krishna were prophets because Allah has not given us their names. We recognise only those prophets by name whose names are given to us in the Qur’ān and we cannot recognise those whose names are not given by name. It is important to keep in mind that though we do not call the major religious figures of Hinduism and Buddhism as prophets of God, we treat their traditions and their followers with respect.” (In August 2006, the Los Angeles Times recognised Muzammil Siddiqi as one of the top 100 most powerful people in Southern California.)
In the 16th century many Christian churches did not like the dictatorial powers and proclamations by Roman Catholic Church and made plans to break away from Rome. They protested against the decree that was passed in 1529 by Rome that prohibited all further reforms. The reformers’ understanding of the Biblical message forced them, in 1530, to make the principal statement of Lutheran Christian faith and practice called “The Augsburg Confession”, which became a model for other protestant confessions. The major Christian Protestant denominations include the Lutheran, Reformed-Calvinist, Presbyterians, Anglican (Episcopalian), Quakers, Baptists, Pentecostal and others.
In earlier decades of the 20th century, Sir Hassan Suharwardy, Advisor to the Secretary of State of India and former Vice Chancellor of University of Calcutta, India, educated the people living in Europe and England when he delivered lectures about Islam in England and told the Englishmen that Prophet Muhammad is the first Protestant and the first reformist.
“In the domain of spiritual renaissance, by analysis, of the resemblances between the teachings of Christ and those of Muhammad, the striking fact is made clear that Muhammad was indeed the first “Protestant”, and through successive stages of Reformation the Presbyterians, the Quakers, and the Covenanters, the Unitarian Church of Modern Christianity has come back to the purity of the original teachings of the Master, which it was Muhammad’s Mission to revive.” (‘Islam as a Religion’ lecture by Sir Hassan Suharwardy, published by International Society for the Propagation of Islamic Culture, 12 Malika St., Cairo, Egypt)
The people of England could not believe their ears when they heard the speech of Sir Hassan Suharwardy about Islam. They discovered that almost a thousand years before the Augsburg Declaration Prophet Muhammad was given the Qur’ān. It referred to the fact that Jews and Christians had deviated from the message given to them by Prophet Moses and Prophet Jesus. The people of England suddenly became cognisant of the fact that Prophet Muhammad was the first protestant and the most successful reformist.
Prophet Muhammad, a humble person entrusted with the mission of propagating the forgotten message of Islam, made sure that the laws of God were implemented in the lives of the people who had embraced Islam. He not only showed the people of the book as to how to return to the straight path, but also produced a model, to be emulated by the rest of humanity, by making reforms in the Arabian society in social, cultural, economic and spiritual areas.
Prophet Muhammad followed the laws of God, advised Muslims to believe in one God and helped them lift themselves up morally, culturally and spiritually. He enforced the injunctions of the Holy Qur’ān and continued to remind and advise his companions and other believers throughout the Muslim world about these injunctions. He inculcated a sense of value, teaching right from the wrong, giving glad tidings for good deeds and warning about punishment for committing sins, continuing to remind them about improving their lives in this world in order to gain a better life in the afterlife. The books of Ahadis are full of reminders and directions for the entire mankind.
In 632 C.E., Prophet Muhammad performed the Hajj, known as the ‘Farewell Hajj’. He delivered his historic address to the congregation and reminded each and every Muslim about their duties and responsibilities. He declared that the women have rights over men just as men have rights over them. He spoke to them about the equality of men and women because he knew that until recently the whole of Arabia was practising paganism. Women were treated as chattels. The Arabs considered the birth of a daughter a matter of shame and disgrace. Prophet Muhammad not only gave the women the dignity they deserved by raising their status, but also informed them that they have a right to own property. In Islam women can own property and can engage in business. This is reformation of the highest order.
Almost 55 years ago, this writer was learning Arabic grammar and taking Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) lessons in the city of Hyderabad, South India. The teacher made the following comment when the chapter on “Inheritance” was being discussed. He said, “If your wife owns two houses, and you are living in one house, you have no right to tell your wife that you will collect the rent of the other house.”
During the age of ignorance and before the advent of Islam the Arabs were addicted to drinking, gambling, lewdness and promiscuity. Rivalries, bitter jealousies and blood feuds were common among them and continued for generations. Superstition, barbarism, killing, plundering, and might-is-right attitude destroyed their social consciousness, and made them morally bankrupt. Each tribe or clan considered itself to be superior to others. At the ‘Farewell Hajj’ the Prophet declared that an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab unless he is more pious than the other person. Taqwa and piety determine who the great person is and not the race of the human being.
Prophet Muhammad reminded his companions at the ‘Farewell Hajj’ that there is no racism in Islam and advised them to take this message to the four corners of the world. The elimination of race consciousness is one of the greatest moral achievements of Islam. Prophet Muhammad destroyed the walls of separation between the clans and tribes. He made the indigenous people of Madina and the immigrants of Makkah brothers. He encouraged Muslim brotherhood and finally was able to establish the Muslim community (Ummah).
At this point let me quote Arnold Toynbee from his book Civilization on Trial. He says, “Two conspicuous sources of danger – one psychological and the other material in the present relation of cosmopolitan proletariat with the dominant element in our modern western society are race consciousness and alcohol and in the struggle with each of these evils the Islamic spirit has a service to render which might prove, if it were accepted to be of high moral and social value. The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the moral achievements of Islam and in the contemporary world there is a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue. If the attitude of the exponents of racial intolerance towards the race question prevails, it may eventually provoke a general catastrophe.” He further says, “It is conceivable that the spirit of Islam might be the timely reinforcement which would decide this issue in favour of tolerance and peace.”
Alcohol consumption has caused more damage to the families and misery to mankind than all other vices combined. One of the greatest evils in the Arabian Peninsula during the time of Prophet Muhammad was alcohol. Indulgence in excessive drinking became one of the pastimes of the upper class people and the elite, and slowly became a socially accepted norm among all Arabs.
Islam took a unique stand on prohibition of drinking alcohol. Concerning use of alcohol and drinking, the Qur’ānic verses came down in three stages over a period of three years. During the first stage the Qur’ānic verses mentioned about the harm that was going to be much greater than the advantages of alcohol. Later, the Qur’ānic commandment stated that Muslims should abstain from performing prayers in the state of drunkenness. And the last injunction revealed to Prophet Muhammad was the commandment ordering total prohibition. When the verse concerning total prohibition was received, the Prophet recited it and immediately prepared for the enforcement of the commandment. He walked to a pre-designated part of Medina and ordered people to bring their alcohol containers. He personally destroyed the skins and leather containers that were filled with alcohol.
Malcolm X, Alhaj Malik Shahbazz, hated the white man. He followed a ‘custom designed’ religion which looked like Islam. Malcolm X gave up the custom designed religion and came into the folds of mainstream Islam and finally went for Hajj. He rediscovered that there is no room for race consciousness in Islam. Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world because of the elimination of race consciousness, for preaching equality, giving property rights to women 1400 years ago, and for making various other reforms.
Transformation of the pre-Islamic Arabs, from the Jahilliya and ignorance to the light of Islam, was due to the cardinal inspiration of Prophet Muhammad’s life. He brought reformatory changes and revolutionary changes in the lives of Arabs. These changes were in line with the moral commandments and laws of the Qur’ān. The primitive life of the Arabs included moral bankruptcy and social evils.
Prophet Muhammad continued to make reforms in all phases of human life. He transformed the lives of the people living in the Arabian Peninsula into practical, honest human beings, and good Muslims. He made social and moral changes in order to create a unique culture based on taqwa and piety, and to establish a civilization that would pass along Islamic values and Islamic heritage to the coming generations. The reforms made by Prophet Muhammad changed the course of human history on this planet forever. Prophet Muhammad is the most successful reformist.
[MOHAMMAD YACOOB is an Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposals Analyst working at an Aerospace Company in Los Angeles, California, USA]