British Muslim Heritage
A sermon preached by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall

            ‘Or do you calculate that you will enter Paradise when there has not come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you? Tribulation and calamity afflicted them, they were shaken as by earthquake, so that the Prophet and those who believed with him said: ‘When comes Allah’s help?’ Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’ – Al-Qur-án.

This verse in its context has a close connection with the revelation which first told the Prophet and the early Muslims that they must fight in self-defence. They had suffered cruel persecution for twelve years in Mecca. At last they had escaped by flight to Yathrib – the city which we now call El Medînah – among friendly people, and they had thought their troubles were all over. Then came the news that the idolatrous Coreysh in Mecca, not content with their voluntary exile from that city, were raising a great army, for those days, with intent to follow them to their place of refuge and destroy them utterly. They saw themselves already overwhelmed, they were thinking of a further flight; and the Ansâr, their faithful helpers in Medînah, were preparing to fly with them rather than abjure the Faith, when word from Allah came that they were not to flee away at all, but to go out and fight.

            They were dismayed at the command; for they possessed no fighting force to bear comparison with that of their pursuers. Some of them grumbled and complained about it in the simple fashion of those days when every Muslim spoke his mind before the Holy Prophet freely. They said that they would all be dead in a short while. And the word of Allah came:

            ‘Call not those who are killed in the way of Allah dead, but rather living, only you do not perceive.’

            They complained that they had hoped, after all they had already suffered, that they would be allowed to live out the remainder of their pious lives in peace, and enter Paradise without more tribulation. And the word of Allah came:

            ‘Or do you calculate that you will enter Paradise when there has not come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you? Tribulation and calamity afflicted them, they were shaken as by earthquake, so that the Prophet and those who believed with him said: “When comes Allah’s help?” Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’

            It took a long while to make the simpler companions understand that they were no longer ordinary people, but companions of a wonder-working Prophet like those of old of whom the story had come down to them. They did not know the future. They could not foresee the miraculous success which would attend their fighting. They did not realize that they were called by God Himself to play the part of saints and heroes in the holy war which liberated human destiny from all the earthborn superstitions and restrictions which till then had held it bound, and broke the walls which foolish people had erected, shutting out the light of Heaven and barring the approach to God which should be free to all. It was hard for them to realize that they were highly favoured when they found themselves subjected to great hardships and unheard-of dangers, things they disliked as heartily as you and I do. Some of them even thought, comparing all this tribulation with the quiet life which they had led before conversion, that Allah was angry with them for becoming Muslims. For we find in the Qur-án a verse warning believers not to mistake the persecution of the heathen for the wrath of God, and assuring them of Allah’s favour if they persevered. They persevered, and they found Allah’s favour, and they entered Paradise.

            If they had disobeyed the Divine command to fight, if they had fled before the danger threatening them, only intent to lead their harmless lives in peace, they would have missed the happiness which was, in fact, in store for them – the glorious peace, the wonderful prosperity, the triumph of good over evil which gave new life to the world. And they would not have entered Paradise hereafter. And their enemies also would have been the losers, for they would not have known the peace which comes from resignation to Allah; Arabia would have remained idolatrous, disgraced by drunkenness and senseless bloodshed and every kind of vicious and degrading orgy.

            It is obvious that those who strive and suffer and endure the most in Allah’s service are the most notable, if not necessarily always the best of Allah’s servants. But some of you may be astonished when I say that they are the happiest of Allah’s servants in this world, provided always that they persevere. For Allah’s help is always near to them, and that is no mere figure of speech or poetical expression. It is a promise of Allah, who never breaks His promise. I need not tell you that for every one who has endured some persecution for the Faith – and few British Muslims, I imagine, can have quite escaped it – must have experienced the curious serenity of mind, the flood of happiness coming at the very moment when the greatest shame, the greatest suffering, or the greatest fear was to be expected. It is just as if a powerful protecting friend had clasped your hand and said: ‘Fear nothing. You are not alone. Leave all to me.’ I am not at all the type of person who is naturally addicted to seeing visions and to dreaming dreams, yet I have had that experience sometimes for days together, not once nor twice, but many times in the past year. So evidently other and more spiritually gifted people must have had it too in the like circumstances. I have no doubt but that some perfect Muslims enjoy that serene communion at all times, and that it is the condition mentioned in the Qur-án when it is said:

            ‘And there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’

            But I have only known it in its fullness at moments which would have been moments of despair for anybody who did not hold himself subservient to Allah’s purpose. And looking back upon those moments I would not exchange them for as many years of quiet, comfortable life. So I say that we, the Muslims of to-day, are fortunate in a religious sense because we live in a time of trial and misfortune for the Faith. The touch of persecution we have to endure, the fight we have to wage against an overwhelming foe, is nothing when compared with ‘that which came to those who passed away before us’ – the Holy Prophet and his blest companions – for the world has grown in toleration since those days! But it is sufficient to awake in us new spiritual life through the assurance which each one of us receives of Allah’s help – ‘Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh’ – and to draw us all more close together in affection and comradeship. When I think of all the dangers and the temptations of the past four years, of the furious way in which the Muslim world has been assailed, with threats and bribes and war-time propaganda from both sides incessantly, it is with a glow of pride that I look round upon the Muslim world to-day and see that it stands firm; it has not flinched nor moved the fraction of an inch from the correct position defined for it by the Holy Prophet and the Sacred Book; it is with a thrill of pride that I see Sunni and Shî‘a standing side by side as brothers in the firm demand for what is just and right. Thank God for that.

            But we must not now sit down to comfort and a life of laziness, thinking that our work is done and we shall enter Paradise. Our work, perhaps, is only just beginning. We must stand prepared for a yet greater ordeal, if it be Allah’s will that it should come to us. We have been passive until now; we must henceforth be active in defending the essentials of our Faith. There comes a time when further yielding, a further flight, on our part would mean incalculable loss and ruin to ourselves and our opponents, because the essentials of Islam are essential to the welfare of the world.  But if the ordeal comes, we need not fear it; because the end, we know, is peace and the great victory, and because we known now, from our own experience, that in the darkest hour we shall find help from Allah, transforming enemies into friends and deserts into flowering fields.

            We, the little band of English Muslims, have a most important part to play at present – a very honourable part. We, indeed, probably more than any other Muslim community to-day, are in the position of the early Muslims in Mecca in the days when they were looked upon as weak and negligible. Alas, you say, we are without the Prophet. We are without the person of the Prophet (may God bless and keep him), but we have his teaching with us, and we have the Qur-án. And He in whose hand was the life of Muhammad (may God bless and keep him), in whose hand is my life and the life of every one of you, my hearers, is with us. His help is as near to-day, and as effective, as it was to the early Muslims in Mecca and Medînah. We have our part in the great struggle which is going on between two parties in the world, one seeking to enthrone man’s handiwork as Lord and King – these are the idolators; the other striving for the recognition of Allah by every nation as the only Lord and King of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of all the Worlds, whom some men do not know because they never seek Him. Seek Him; you will surely find Him. Strive in His way, be constant and sincere in prayer, be kind and charitable, and you will be conscious of His active help; you will know true happiness in the consciousness of God’s kingdom upon earth. Do all that is in your power to spread true knowledge of Islam among our English people, dispelling the false notions and the prejudices which still prevail among so many English Christians. Make your Islam respected and beloved in your own circles, and give the lie to those who say false things about the Faith. And if, in the course of your striving, you should meet with persecution, do not fear it. It is good that ‘there should come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you.’ Then you will know that Allah’s help is coming to you.

            ‘Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’ | British Muslim Heritage