One of the strangest facts in today's world is that Islam, a religion which in many ways is almost identical to Christianity and Judaism, should be so poorly understood in Europe and America. Since there are millions of Moslems in the world, and since they control many strategic areas of the earth it is essential that we understand them better.
Mohammed, the inspired man who founded Islam, was born about 570 AD at Mecca. Orphaned at birth, he was always particularly solicitous of the poor, needy, widows, orphan, slaves and the downtrodden. At 20 he was already a successful businessman and soon he became the director of camel caravans of a wealthy widow. When he reached 25, his employer recognising his merit proposed marriage. Even though she was 15 years senior, he married her and as long as she lived, he remained a devoted husband.
By 40 this man of the desert had secured for himself a most satisfying life, a loving wife, fine children and wealth. Then, Moslems believe, in a series of dramatic and terrifying events, he began to revive through Archangel Gabriel a revelation of God's word.
Like almost every major Prophet before him, Mohammed fought shy of serving as the transmitter of God's word, sensing his own inadequacy. But the angel commanded, 'Read'. So far as we know, Mohammed was hardly able to read or write, but he began to dictate those inspired words which would soon revolutionize a large part of the earth; "There is but one God".
Mohammed's message infuriated those rich Arabs whose faith required
many idols, and he and his few followers were driven from Mecca, his home.
Forced now to fight in defense of the freedom of conscience which he
preached, he became an accomplished military leader.
Later he became head of the state, and the testimony even of his enemies is that he administered wisely. The wisdom he displayed in judging intricate cases became the basis for the religious law that governs Islam today. In his final years, he was invited to become a dictator or a saint, but he rejected both temptations, insisting that he was an average man to whom God had sent another of his periodic messages to the world.
By the force of his extraordinary personality, Mohammed revolutionized life in Arabia and throughout the Middle East. He preached a religion dedicated to one God and he lifted women from the bondage in which desert custom held them and preached general social justice.
Moslems think it particularly ironic when Mohammed is charged
Western critics have based their charges of voluptuousness mainly on the question of women. Before Mohammed, however men were encouraged to take innumerable wives, he limited them to four only and the Qoran is explicit that husbands who cannot maintain strict equality between two or more wives must confine themselves to one.
A widespread misunderstanding arises from Mohammed's promise of paradise. In a land of blistering drought and sandstorms he predicted that evil men would suffer the tormenting fires of hell. Whereas good men will experience cool breezes, comforting streams and beautiful hours.
Western imaginations, unfamiliar with this last word hour, defined it by analogy with one of the ugliest words in English and jumped to the conclusion that Mohammed's paradise was to be a sexual debauch. They were wrong. A hour is a fair-skinned, blacked woman created from musk and spices, incredibly beautiful and perpetually virgin.
In all things, Mohammed was profoundly practical. When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred, and rumours of God's personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Mohammed is said to have announced-" An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the birth or death of a human being."
At Mohammed's own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man
who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with
one of the noblest speeches in religious history. "If there are any among
you who worshipped Mohammed, he is dead.
These things explain why people who follow the religion of
It is written in Arabic, and devout Moslems have often insisted that it must not be translated into any other language. One might expect that such a wish would have limited the spread of Islam. On the contrary, all over the world men have laboured to learn Arabic, not an easy language just to be able to read their holy book and pray in the original.
The Qoran was revealed to Mohammed between the years 610 and 632 AD in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Devoted scribes wrote it down on "scraps of paper, bark and the white shoulder blades of animals. The early revelations were dazzling assurances that there was only one God, Merciful and Compassionate; He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, and the Fashioner. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory and He is the Mighty, the Wise.
It was this message that inspired men to revolutionize their lives and their nations. In later years, when Islam began to penetrate large areas of Arabia and had acquired much power, the revelations dealt with the organisation of society its laws, procedures and problems.
The Christian or Jew who reads the Qoran finds himself on familiar
ground a good deal of the time. Many revered names from Christianity and
Judaism appear in the Qoran. For example, five of the important chapters
are entitled Noah Jonah, Joseph, Abraham, and Mary. Lacking specific
chapters of there own, but playing quite important roles are Jesus, Adam,
Islam is partly founded on the words of four Prophets who lived before Mohammed; Jesus, Noah, Abraham, Moses. The Qoran does not acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God and that He suffered death upon the Cross. If Jesus were acknowledged the child of God, Moslems believe it would compromise God's oneness, the belief which is the cornerstone of Islam. It would, moreover be difficult thereafter to contend that Mohammed was the bearer of the final perfect revelation as Moslems do.
It is this dedication to one God plus practical instruction that makes
the Qoran unique.
About 200 years after Mohammed's death, more than 6,00,000 separator
anecdotes about him were still current, and several great scholars
undertook the job of checking them for historical validity. More than
5,97,000 were rejected. The remainders called the Hadith,
Much of Islam's common sense comes from them. For example, one dark night Mohammed had to escort his wife home from the mosque. On the way he saw two men giggling in the shadows so he called them to him, lifted his wife's veil and said, "See, it is my wife with whom I walk." When the strangers protested that they trusted him, he said; "I was not worried about your trust of me. I did not want your faith to be affected by your suspicions.
Once a Jew came to the Prophet and protested that Mohammed's chief assistant had outraged Jews by claiming that Mohammed was more exalted than Moses. The Prophet said to his assistant: "You should not have said this. The feelings of other people must be respected."
Also some of the profoundest elements of Moslem faith and culture derive from these traditions. Every Moslem, before beginning a meal or entering upon any other task, repeats 'In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Beneficent'. This is the opening verse of the Qoran. Moslems greet each other with the traditional salutation "peace be on you." The whole ritual of congregational prayer is taken from the traditions, including the well-known call to worship.
Some traditions influenced Western behaviour. On one occasion, Mohammed
saw a donkey being branded on the face. When asked why this was being
done, the herdsmen said, "The Romans taught us this to prevent theft".
Mohammed reflected a moment and said: "An animal's face is the most
sensitive part of its body. If you must brand, then do it on the flanks,
As a successful general, Mohammed left many traditions regarding decent conduct in war. "Faithfully carry out all covenants and agreements. Avoid treachery and do not disfigure the enemy dead. Do not slay children, women, old men or persons dedicated to the service of religion. Do not destroy sacred objects, orchards or crops.
Throughout the traditions Mohammed appears as a saintly man, one whom
devout people of all religions would have recognised immediately as deeply
concerned about the nature of God. He preached that slaves should be set
free, that fathers should not kill unwanted baby girls, that those
oppressed by society inherit the earth, that peace is much proof that
Mohammed hoped for the day when all who shared a common belief in God
would exist together in peace. It is well documented that, on one
occasion, when a deputation of Christians visited him, he said, when time
for prayers arrived, "Conduct your service here in the mosque.
No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. By the time of Mohammed's death (AD 632) Islam controlled a great part of Arabia. Soon it triumphed in Syria, Persia, Egypt, and the lower borders of present Russia and across North Africa to the gates of Spain. In the next century its progress was even more spectacular.
The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made
possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the
Quran is explicit in support of freedom of conscience. The evidence is
strong that Islam welcomed the people of many diverse religions, so long
as they behaved themselves and paid extra taxes. Mohammed constantly
taught that Moslems should cooperate with the "people of the Book" (Jews
More than most religions, Islam preaches the brotherhood of all races, colours and nations within its fold. Mohammed himself probably had the same skin colouring as Jesus, a very suntanned white but today his followers embrace all colours: black men from Africa, yellow men from China, brown men from Malaya, white men from Turkey.
For long periods in history Moslem nations strayed far from the spirit
Moallim Hazrat Khwaja Syed Moinuddin Hasan Chishty(R.A.)
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