Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi is one of the senior scholars of the Muslims from the Sunni tradition. In a lecture given at Zaytuna College in California, he expertly dismantles and destroys the theological basis if the so called Islamic State.
The book that this is based on is available on Amazon
1. Three things to admire – intellectual power, dignity, gracefulness.
2. It is better to go with truth into the wilderness than to follow falsehood into a palace.
3. The true love of God is to love beauty, truth, and goodness.
4. Whoso feeleth Islam to have filled his heart is half-way towards heaven.
5. Courage and conviction are two good warriors. When they fight shoulder to shoulder victory oft crowns their efforts.
6. There is music in the sound of the words of the man who practices that which he teaches.
7. Alive or dead still we are in the presence of the eternal All-Wise.
8. The best preacher is the conscience, the best teachers are time and experience, the best book is the world, the best friend is God.
9. Do your best, God will do the rest.
10. None of us is too old to learn. When a man ceases to desire to acquire knowledge his intellectual death has commenced, and his funeral had better be arranged for.
11. The whipped cur always yelps the loudest.
12. The difference between life and death is nothing more than the difference between to-day and to-morrow. What will happen to us to-morrow is as uncertain and unknown to us as what may occur after the happening of the event called death, and yet there are many who look forward to the coming of to-morrow with joyful anticipation and to death with dismay.
13. It is natural for us to die, as it is for us to be born. It is only the passing of another milestone on our journey.
14. Harness your chariot with truth and honesty, and the devil will come a very bad second in the race.
15. You have no more right to use abusive or insolent words to a person than you have to smack him across the face.
16. Brave men do not hesitate to recognise bravery in others, even though they may be or may have been antagonists in the field.
17. A great lie is like a great fish on dry land: it may fret and fling and make a frightful bother, but it cannot hurt you. You have only to keep still, and it will die of itself.
18. Those who most distrust others are generally those who know that others have good reason to distrust them.
19. The quarrelsome person is always the one who professes to be the easiest individual in the world to get on with.
20. Some people preach more religion in one hour than they practice during the whole of their life.
21. Meanness is the evidence of a defect of intellect as well as of heart. Even the cleverness of greed and avarice is but the extreme cunning of imbecility.
22. A good man desires nothing but that which just laws will permit him to enjoy.
23. Men love women for what they think they are; women love men for what they promise to become.
24. Cold is the absence of heat, darkness the absence of light, and spite and malignity the absence of love and right-heartedness.
25. Forget yourself, know yourself, that is the secret of both happiness and success.
26. The quintessence of knowledge is applying it when you have got it, or confessing your ignorance when you have not knowledge.
27. The person who is confident he or she could manage things better than everyone else, generally lives in a garret, and is not above borrowing a shilling.
28. Just as rain finds its way through the roof of a badly-thatched house, so passion breaks through the badly-regulated, unreflecting, or shallow mind; so as rain cannot percolate through the perfect roof, so passion will not percolate through the well-regulated and reflecting mind.
29. If you live up to your highest aspirations to-day, new glories will wait for you to-morrow.
30. The big drum makes a loud noise, but it is hollow inside.
31. He is not very good who is not better than his friends imagine him to be.
32. A lie trembles all over when it discovers that truth is on its track.
33. The poorest man in the world is the one who gets rich by selling intoxicating liquor or amassing wealth by usury.
34. I notice that the ‘new woman’ is no more proficient in alighting from a tram-car, while it is in motion, than her old-fashioned sisters.
35. A fool will be all his life learning what the wise man can see at a glance.
36. In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; in passing over it, he is superior.
37. There never was a man who did anything worth doing, that did not receive more in return than he gave.
38. When we review our lives, the follies stand out boldly; the good we have done seems very insignificant.
39. When prosperity comes we are prone to forget the lessons of adversity.
40. Keep your eyes on the goal, and remember that thousands of others are trying to get there first.
41. A small mind is about the only little thing that does not accomplish something.
42. The fool in his haste says things which the wise man dare not think.
43. Show me a person who loves to slander the absent, and I will show you a sneak, a coward and a liar.
44. The intuitive thought of conscience is the whispering of the voice of Truth.
45. The more one learns, the more ignorant he discovers he is.
46. Don’t wait for something extraordinary to happen in order to distinguish yourself, work away at the ordinary events of everyday and you will find distinction will come to you at the right time.
47. What appears to be a misfortune may become good fortune if borne with fortitude and resignation.
48. Too much pleasure becomes pain.
49. There are some persons in this world who, if they were in heaven, would find fault with the arrangement of the feathers on an angel’s wing.
50. Don’t spoil a good action by talking about it.
51. As foul gas escapes from a sewer, so doth bad language and evil thoughts emerge from a foul mind.
52. Spite is the meanest revenge of the meanest mind.
53. Work kills few, worry slays thousands.
54. Slander is like mud; throw it against a mud wall and it will adhere, but cast it against marble and it falls off as it grows older, and even the stains wash away.
55. Slander is the favourite weapon of cowards.
56. The stars sprinkled over the sky are the favourite handwriting of the Creator, and the sentence they spell is “There is only One God.’
57. Kindness is the oil which causes the hinge of the gate of Paradise to open easily.
58. Small sorrows worry us, great ones prove us.
59. The jackass who brays loudest is not always the best worker.
60. Do you want to be good? Then do good.
61. What the mother does the child thinks.
62. Misfortune tests, prosperity often spoils the man.
63. Bad habits are as contageous as the measles, and young people are the most liable to catch both.
64. Beneficence spreads its roots deep and its branches far.
65. Money and water are both good things when used properly, but they are both apt to become stagnant and useless, even poisonous, when kept too long.
66. Luxury begets effeminacy, and the off-spring of effeminacy is ruin.
67. Slander would soon die of starvation if nobody fed it.
68. Which is the strangest: eternal life, or life at all?
69. The richest man is the one who is contented with what he has got.
70. One kiss is worth more than a thousand kicks.
71. Evil thoughts like birds may alight anywhere, but that is no reason why they should not be driven away.
72. Foolish elders make foolish juniors.
73. Some people give gifts like blows.
74. It is unfair to say that a man does good deeds only for effect because he does them with effect.
75. Show me a lazy man, and I will show you a miserable one.
76. Genius is another name for a combination of energy, industry and patience.
77. It is better to bear injustice than to do it.
78. Learning is useful, but the knowledge of how to use it is wisdom.
79. Learn to bear little trials with patience, so that you can endure greater ones with complaisance.
80. Your time and your mind is your garden and your field; let them lie fallow and you will get a good crop of weeds, cultivate them both and you will have a rich harvest of flowers, fruit, and good grain.
81. The first real step towards heaven is to say farewell to evil.
82. Little minds always carp at the deeds of greater men.
83. Ingratitude is the most contemptible trait in a person’s character.
84. Never despise instruction even if you have to receive it at the hands of an enemy.
85. The first step towards happiness is self-control, the second, self-denial, the final one, persistent effort.
86. Beware of the person who professes to betray confidences to you in secret.
87. Did you ever hear of a lion who was disturbed by the braying of jackasses?
88. The first turning from the path of duty and honour lies to the crooked lane of adversity.
89. A man never gains anything by exhibiting his annoyance by his face, much less by bursting into a passion.
90. There are two sorts of patience: the one, by which we bear up in adversity, which is fine and beautiful; but the other, that by which we withstand the commission of evil, is better.
91. Perfection consists in three things: patience in affliction, moderation in our pursuits, and assisting him that asketh.
92. Liberality consists less in giving much than in giving at the right moment.
93. Nothing is more apt to remove all good thoughts than want of trust, whereas trust in a person inspires him to do right; we are touched by the good opinion of others, and will not lose it easily.
94. The present hour is all we have.
95. It is now we must be penitent, now we must be holy. This hour has its duty, which cannot be done the next. To-morrow may bring its own opportunities, but will not restore to-day’s.
96. Self-reliance and self-denial will teach a man to drink out of his own cistern and eat his own sweet bread, and to learn and labour truly to get his living and carefully expend the good things committed to his trust.
97. It is far easier to ask for what is impossible than to do that which is possible.
98. All you have to do in any individual heart is to kindle the higher life and set it to work; and that higher life will conquer all that is lower, because God is in the higher life, and you cannot defeat God.
99. Knowledge and timber shouldn’t be much used until they are seasoned.
100. If you will consider and try and reckon up all the blessings you have
enjoyed in life, you will find that although you are a polyglot you will
not have language enough to be able to thoroughly describe them all.
In 1913, Pickthall spent several months in Turkey, where he sought to counteract the anti-Muslim agitation of the British press by collecting first-hand information about the massacres of Muslims which had taken place in Macedonia in the previous year. The result was a series of lectures to the Anglo-Ottoman Friendship Society, and a book, With the Turk in Wartime (London: J.M. Dent). The following is a chapter.
In Misket Hanum’s garden I found visitors. Three bare-headed, bare-faced, black-haired, comely maidens were with my hostess on a seat beneath the deodars. Misket had talked to me about them previously. They were Greeks from a village up the Bosphorus – fearless, self-respecting girls who earned a modest living by their work as dressmakers, journeying from house to house. At one time they had gone to Christian houses only; but latterly, by Misket Hanum’s recommendation, had worked for Turks as well. As they themselves informed me they were petted by all the Turkish ladies, and treated by the men with all respect. Yet they dared not let their parents know that they had ever been employed in Muslim houses. Had the fact been but suspected in their village they would have been ostracised, perhaps stoned; for ignorant Christians are as fanatical as ignorant Muslims. A native Christian girl who marries a Mohammedan is killed as a sacred duty by her nearest relatives if they can get at her. On the steamer on which my wife and I travelled to Marseilles at the end of July, there was such a girl among the steerage passengers. Her brothers had beguiled her into accompanying them to America where her Muslim husband was already trying to make money. At Marseilles they performed her murder in a curiously open manner, seeming to think the deed would be applauded in a Christian country.
These Greek dressmakers, therefore, gave it out, at seasons when they were employed in Turkish houses, that they were working for a European, Misket Hanum, who thus acquired a reputation for extravagance and love of finery. They gave her house as their address in case of letters, and generally came to stay there in the intervals of work; Misket Hanum, like the Turkish ladies, keeping open house for women. Yet, though they owned to being much indebted to the Turks for kindness, they hated them, as I discovered presently; and did not see how any Muslim could really be regarded by a Christian as a fellow-creature.
Seeing me in a fez, they took me for a Turk at first, and were going to withdraw when Misket Hanum introduced me, with a touch of malice, as an Englishman who much preferred the Turks to ‘Greeks, etcetera.’ At that they all broke out:
It was impossible! A European could not really like the Turks! What was there in them to inspire a liking? They were good-natured, truly; so were many animals. But were they not barbarians, and cruelly fanatical? Did they not keep their women in seclusion? In a word, they were not Christians. How could anyone prefer them? As a return for Misket Hanum’s little thrust, all three declared their firm belief that if I wore that hateful head-dress and pretended to love Turks, it was simply from terror of my hostess, who might otherwise have turned me out of doors.
‘Why, what have you against the Turks?’ cried Misket Hanum. ‘Is it not true that when your father’s house was burnt one night, the Turks, and not your precious Christian brethren, took you in, and got up a subscription for you?’
That was true, the girls admitted; the Muslims often did kind actions, which, however, could not blind a Christian to their utter and essential wickedness, the product of a false religion. It was known that they esteemed it holiness to kill a Christian when they got the chance. As for this poor, wandering Englishman, how should he know anything about them, having just arrived! It was evident that he took his cue from present company, for peace.
At this point I was moved to say that I knew something of Mohammedans, having spent a great part of my life with them. I asked these girls to give a single instance of Mohammedan fanaticism, not hearsay, but their own experience. The two elder appeared disconcerted by the point-blank question; but the youngest, nothing daunted, answered hotly:-
‘I have heard them call out “ghiaour” behind me in the public street.’ The horror of this accusation hardly reached me. It resembled that made by the Christians of San Stefano to M. Lausanne when he was inquiring of the conduct of raw Turkish troops from Asia who had encamped there by the thousand during many weeks: ‘Shocking! One of them kissed a girl the other day.’ I had to struggle with a strong desire to laugh before replying: ‘That is nothing. I have been stoned by Muslims more than once.’
Their astonishment at that remark was very great.
‘And yet you like them? It is hardly possible. You are joking, certainly. Why should they have stoned you? And, if they stoned you seriously, how did you escape?’
I assured them I was very far from joking. The thing had happened to me once in Hebron, once in a village northward from Jerusalem, and three or four times in the Muslim quarter of Beyrout, which eighteen years ago was very rough indeed. My only crime had been to wear an ugly English hat.
‘So that is why you wear a fez at present, is it?’ sneered the eldest of the girls; nevertheless she begged me to proceed with my narration and say how I escaped from these fanatics.
Not being a native Christian, I informed her, and therefore not having fanaticism on the brain, I on each occasion had looked upon the stoning merely as a piece of impudence involving danger to my horse and me. I simply rode my horse at the assailants, desiring to know what they meant by throwing stones at us, and invariably I was supported by the sense of justice of the crowd. Once in the outskirts of Beyrout, a friend who was with me had just thrashed the ringleader – a boy about fifteen – within an inch of his life, when the father of that boy, with other elders, came upon the scene. The men were fully armed. We looked for trouble. But no sooner had I told our tale to the newcomers than the father pounced upon his son and administered a second hiding, still more awful than the first. When they discerned the moral of my tale, the three girls bridled highly and disdained it, observing that Muslims were not Christians so could not be tolerated. She then turned to Misket Hanum and in the same chill tone congratulated her on having found a guest after her own heart.
I had many subsequent opportunities of studying the point of view of ordinary Greeks, for these girls were often in the house and our cook was also Greek and fond of argument. I never ceased to marvel at its pure fanaticism. They really liked the Turks of their acquaintance; that is to say, their own experience would have made them tolerant, but for the instruction which they had received from priest and parents, in which they hurriedly took refuge if accused of such a liking. They were gentle girls, incapable of harming anyone; yet I have heard them earnestly maintain that the great persecution of Mohammedans at that time going on in Macedonia was justified upon religious grounds; though they changed their tune directly it was known that the Greeks had suffered too. Some Turkish men, who visited our house habitually, took delight in teasing them until they showed fanaticism. Then they would turn to me and say: ‘Amazing, is it not? In this century! But all Greeks, without exception, are like that.’
The Greeks of Turkey were not always like that. Of old, when their women veiled like the Turkish women, when their men wore fez and turban like the Turkish men, there was no such bitterness between the two religions. If they are ‘like that’ today it is the outcome of a century and more of anti-Turkish propaganda, first Russian, then Hellenic. How many Turkish subjects have thus cunningly and patiently been trained to be a barrier to Turkish progress, to prevent the realisation of my Muslim khôja’s dream of peace and goodwill!
There is an aspect of this Christian question which has not been touched upon by any writer that I know of. It is the utter helplessness of the Christian subjects of the Porte before the Muslims, as compared with their immense pretensions. Their pride is not in what they have achieved themselves, but in what their co-religionists have done for them. They have seen province after province taken by the Powers from Turkey, and made into an independent Christian State, and they glory in each loss to Turkey as their victory; forgetting that, but for the interference of the Powers, Turkey would have lost no territory in Europe, or if she lost it for a moment, would have soon regained it. All the achievements of the Western world, in every field, they claim as theirs upon the score of Christianity. They have assimilated themselves in dress and manners to the Europeans, who have established privileges in the Ottoman dominions, and incline to claim those privileges on the strength of mere resemblance. When one remembers that these people are the conquered race, and that they constantly announce themselves as future conquerors, with talk of turnng Aya Sofia into a church again, and crowning a new Constantine before its altar, it is a wonder that the hatred should appear on one side only. Yet so it is. The Turks dislike the Greeks – chiefly, I believe, on grounds of roguery – but laugh at them; they do not hate them.
‘Oh,’ said the friend, who, for his quiet judgments, I had chosen for my mentor, when we broached this subject; ‘the hatred that they have for us is imposed on them, a kind of dogma. They hate the Armenians, Bulgars, Catholics with another, much more lively kind of hatred, I assure you. If Europe would but say decidedly that Greece shall never have Constantinople, that no more territory shall be taken from us, those people might become good subjects.’
Among the cultured, cosmopolitan Greeks of Constantinople one occasionally finds a cordial liking for the Turks. A Greek of this sort who was interested in my studies invited us to his island villa towards the end of my stay in Turkey. One evening, as we smoked together, looking out upon the sea and the many distant lights which marked the entrance to the Bosphorus, he let fall this strange saying: ‘You cannot say much for the Turks that would appeal to English people, for they are unbusinesslike – a fault for which commercial Europe will never forgive them. But you can say with truth that they are generally good and kindly while the Christians of this country are – well, “wicked”; I can find no other word for it.’
I cannot honestly endorse that judgment, in so far as it concerns the poorer peasant Christians, whom I know and like. It may be true of the rich Levantines; I cannot say. But the poorer Christians are not wicked; only they have been misled, and schooled to great intolerance, at a time when Muslim education tends the other way. After I had been two months in Misket Hanum’s house the Greek cook asked me: ‘Do you truly like the Muslims? Surely it is only a pretence. We have watched you and feel sure you are a Christian. Why, then, do you like them?’
She seemed really worried. I gave some reason which occurred to me. She thought it good, and quite agreed with me – on natural ground.
‘But still they are not Christians,’ she suspired. ‘It is so surprising.’
It was the supernatural aspects of the case, at war with facts, which worried her.
The circumstances which gave birth to Pickthall’s travelogue Oriental Encounters are described in the Introduction below. His manservant Rashid later joined the Suez Canal Police, and met Pickthall again during one of the latter’s passages to India, in 1922.
Early in the year 1894 I was a candidate for one of two vacancies in the Consular Service for Turkey, Persia, and the Levant, but failed to gain the necessary place in the competitive examination. I was in despair. All my hopes for months had been turned towards sunny countries and old civilisations, away from the drab monotone of London fog, which seemed a nightmare when the prospect of escape eluded me. I was eighteen years old, and, having failed in one or two adventures, I thought myself an al-round failure, and was much depressed. I dreamed of Eastern sunshine, palm trees, camels, desert sand, as of a Paradise which I had lost by my shortcomings. What was my rapture when my mother one fine day suggested that it might be good for me to travel in the East, because my longing for it seemed to indicate a natural instinct, with which she herself, possessing Eastern memories, was in full sympathy!
I fancy there was some idea at the time that if I learnt the languages and studied life upon the spot I might eventually find some backstairs way into the service of Foreign Office; but that idea, though cherished by my elders as some excuse for the expenses of my expedition, had never, from the first, appealed to me; and from the moment when I got to Egypt, my first destination, it lost whatever lustre it had had at home. For then the European ceased to interest me, appearing somehow inappropriate and false in those surroundings. At first I tried to overcome this feeling or perception which, while I lived with English people, seemed unlawful. All my education until then had tended to impose on me the cult of the thing done habitually upon a certain plane of our society. To seek to miux on an equality with Orientals, of whatever breeding, was one of those things which were never done, nor even contemplated, by the kind of person who had always been my model.
My sneaking wish to know the natives of the country intimately, like other unconventional desires I had at times experienced, might have remained a sneaking wish until this day, but for an accident which freed me for a time from English supervision. My people had provided me with introductions to several influential English residents in Syria, among others to family of good position in Jerusalem; and it was understood that, on arrival in that country, I should go directly to that family for information and advice. But, as it chanced, on board the ship which took me to Port Said from Naples I met a man who knew those people intimately -–had been, indeed, for years an inmate of their house – and he assumed the office of my mentor. I stayed in Cairo, merely because he did, for some weeks, and went with him on the same boat to Jaffa. He, for some unknown reason – I suspect insanity – did not want me in Jerusalem just then; and, when we landed, spun me a strange yarn of how the people I had thought to visit were exceedingly eccentric and uncertain in their moods; and how it would be best for me to stop in Jaffa until he sent me word that I was sure of welcome. His story was entirely false, I found out later, a libel on a very hospitable house. But I believed it at the time, as I did all his statements, having no other means of information on the subject.
So I remained at Jaffa, in a little gasthaus in the German colony, which had the charms of cleanliness and cheapness, and there I might have stayed till now had I awaited the tidings promised by my counsellor. There for the first two weeks I found life very dull. Then Mr. Hanauer, the English chaplain, and a famous antiquarian, took pity on my solitary state, walked me about, and taught me words of Arabic. He was a native of Jerusalem, and loved the country. My sneaking wish to fraternise with Orientals, when I avowed it after hesitations, appeared good to him. And then I made acquaintance with a clever dragoman and one of the most famous jokers in all Syria, who happened to be lodging at my little hostelry, with nothing in the world to do but stare about him. He helped me to throw off the European ad plunge into the native way of living. With him I rode about the plain of Sharon, sojourning among the fellâhîn and sitting in the coffee-shops of Ramleh, Lydda, Gaza, meeting all sorts of people, and acquiring the vernacular without an effort, in the manner of amusement. From dawn to sunset we were in the saddle. We went on pilgrimage to Nabî Rubîn, the mosque upon the edge of marshes by the sea, half-way to Gaza; we rode up northward to the foot of Carmel; explored the gorges of the mountains of Judaea; frequented Turkish baths; ate native meals and slept in native houses – following the customs of the people of the land in all respects. And I was amazed at the immense relief I found in such a life. In all my previous years I had not seen happy people. These were happy. Poor they might be, but they had no dream of wealth; the very thought of competition was unknown to them, and rivalry was still a matter of the horse and spear. Wages and rent were troubles they had never heard of. Class distinctions, as we understand them, were not. Everybody talked to everybody. With inequality they had a true fraternity. People complained that they were badly governed, which merely mean that they were left to their devices save on great occasions. A Government which touches every individual and interferes with him to some extent in daily life, though much esteemed by Europeans, seems intolerable to the Oriental. I had a vision of the tortured peoples of the earth impelled by their own misery to desolate the happy peoples, a vision which grew clearer in the after years. But in that easy-going Easter life there is a power of resistance, as everybody knows who tries to change it, which may yet defeat the hosts of joyless drudgery.
My Syrian friend –the Suleymân of the following sketches – introduced me to the only Europeans who espoused that life – a French Alsatian family, the Baldenspergers, renowned as pioneers of scientific bee-keeping in Palestine, who hospitably took a share in my initiation. They had innumerable hives in different parts of the country – I have seen them near the Jaffa gardens and among the mountains south of Hebron – which they transported in due season, on the backs of camels, seking a new growth of flowers. For a long while the Government ignored their industry, until the rumour grew that it was very profitable. Then a high tax was imposed. The Balden spergers would not pay it. They said the Government might take the hives if it desired to do so. Soldiers were sent to carry out the seizure. But the bee-keepers had taken out the bottom of each hive, and when the soldiers lifted them, out swarmed the angry bees. The soldiers fled; and after that experience the Government agreed to compromise. I remember well a long day’s ride with Emile and Samuel Baldensperger, round by Askelon and Ekron, and the luncheon which a village headman had prepared for us, consisting of a whole sheep, roast and stuffed with nuts and vegetables; and a day with Henri Baldensperger in the Hebron region. The friendships of those days were made for life. Hanauer, the Baldenspergers, Suleymân, and other natives of the country – those of them who are alive – remain my friends to-day.
In short, I ran completely wild for months, in a manner unbecoming to an Englishman; and when at length, upon a pressing invitation, I turned up in Jerusalem and used m introductions, it was in semi-native garb and with a love for Arabis which, I was made to understand, was hardly decent. My native friends were objects of suspicion. I was told that they were undesirable, and, when I stood up for them, was soon put down by the retort that I was very young. I could not obviously claim as much experience as my mature advisers, whose frequent warnings to me to distrust the people of the country thus acquired the force of moral precepts, which it is the secret joy of youth to disobey.
That is the reason why the respectable English residents in Syria figure in these pages as censorious and hostile, with but few exceptions. They were hostile to my point of view, which was not then avowed, but not to me. Indeed, so many of them showed me kindness – particularly in my times of illness – that I cannot think of them without a glow of friendliness. But the attitude of most of them was never mine, and the fact that at the time I still admired that attitude as the correct one, and thought myself at intervals a sad backslider, made it seem forbidding. In my Oriental life they really were, as here depicted, a disapproving shadow in the background. With one – referred to often in these tales – I was in full agreement. We lived together for some months in a small mountain village, and our friendship then established has remained unbroken. But, he, though not alone, was an exception.
Owing to the general verdict on my Arab friends, I led what might be called a double life during the months of my first sojourn in Jerusalem; until Suleymân, the tourist season being ended, came with promise of adventure, when I flung discretion to the winds. We hired two horses and a muleteer, and rode away into the north together. A fortnight later, at the foot of the Ladder of Tyre, Suleymân was forced to leave me, being summoned to his village. I still rode on towards the north, alone with one hired muleteer, a simple soul. A notion of my subsequent adventures may, perhaps, be gathered from the following pages, in which I have embodied fictionally some impressions still remaining clear after the lapse of more than twenty years. A record of small things, no doubt; yet it seems possible that something human may be learnt from such a comic sketch-book of experience which would never be derived from more imposing works.
The brown plain, swimming in a haze of heat, stretched far away into the distance, where a chain of mountains trenched upon the cloudless sky. Six months of drought had withered all the herbage. Only thistles, blue and yellow, and some thorny bushes, had survived; but after the torrential winter rains the whole expanse would blossom like the rose. I traversed the plain afterwards in spring, when cornfields waved for miles around its three mud villages, wild flowers in mad profusion covered its waste places, and scarlet tulips flamed amid its wheat.
Now all was desert. After riding for four days in such a landscape, it was sweet to think upon the journey’s end, the city of perennial waters, shady gardens, and the song of birds. I was picturing the scene of our arrival – the shade and the repose, the long, cool drinks, the friendly hum of the bazaars – and wondering what letters I should find awaiting me, all to the tune of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ – for the clip-clap of a horse’s hoofs invariably beats out in my brain some tune, the most incongruous, against my will – when a sudden outcry roused me. It came from my companion, a hired muleteer and sounded angry. The fellow had been riding on, ahead. I now saw that he had overtaken other travellers – two men astride of one donkey – and had entered into conversation with them. One of the two, the hindmost, was a Turkish soldier. Except the little group they made together, and a vulture, a mere speck above them in the blue, no other living creature was in sight. Something had happened, for the soldier seemed amused, while my poor man was making gestures of despairing protest. He repeated the loud cry which had disturbed my reverie then turned his mule and hurried back to meet me.
‘My knife!’ he bellowed. ‘My knife! – that grand steel blade which was my honour! – so finely tempered and inlaid! – an heirloom in the family! That miscreant, may Allah cut his life! – I mean the soldier – stole it. He asked to look at it a minute, seeming to admire. I gave it, like the innocent I am. He stuck it in his belt, and asked to see the passport which permitted me to carry weapons. Who ever heard of such a thing in this wild region? He will not give it back, though I entreated. I am your Honour’s servant, speak for me and make him give it back! It is an heirloom!’ That grey-headed man was crying like a baby.
Now, I was very young, and his implicit trust in my authority enthralled me. I valued his dependence on my manhood more than gold and precious stones. Summoning all the courage I possessed, I clapped spurs to my horse and galloped after the marauder.
‘Give back that knife!’ I roared. ‘O soldier! it is thou to whom I speak.’
The soldier turned a studiously guileless face – a handsome face, with fair moustache and a week’s beard. He had a roguish eye.
‘What knife? I do not understand,’ he said indulgently.
‘The knife thou stolest from the muleteer here present.’
‘Oh, that!’ replied the soldier, with a deprecating laugh: ‘That is a thing unworthy of your Honour’s notice. The rogue in question is a well-known malefactor. He and I are old acquaintance.’
‘By the beard of the Prophet, by the August Coran, I never saw his devil’s face until this minute!’ bawled the muleteer, who had come up behind me.
‘Give back the knife,’ I ordered for the second time.
‘By Allah, never!’ was the cool reply.
‘Give it back, I say!’
‘No, it cannot be – not even to oblige your Honour, for whose pleasure, Allah knows, I would do almost anything,’ murmured the soldier, with a charming smile. ‘Demand it not. Be pleased to understand that if it were your Honour’s knife I would return it instantly. But that man, as I tell thee, is a wretch. It grieves me to behold a person of consideration in such an unbecoming temper upon his account – a dog, no more.’
‘If he is a dog, he is my dog for the present; so give back the knife!’
‘Alas, beloved, that is quite impossible.’
With a wave of the hand dismissing the whole subject the soldier turned away. He plucked a cigarette out of his girdle and prepared to light it. His companion on the donkey had not turned his head nor shown the slightest interest in the discussion. This had lasted long enough. I knew that in another minute I should have to laugh. If anything remained for me to do it must be done immediately. Whipping my revolver from the holster, I held it close against the rascal’s head, yelling: ‘Give back the knife this minute, or I kill thee!’
The man went limp. The knife came back as quick as lightning. I gave it to the muleteer, who blubbered praise to Allah and made off with it. Equally relieved, I was about to follow when the utterly forlorn appearance of the soldier moved me to open the revolver, showing that it was not loaded. Then my adversary was transfigured. His back straightened, his mouth closed, his eyes regained their old intelligence. He stared at me a moment, half incredulous, and then he laughed. Ah, how that soldier laughed! The owner of the donkey turned and shared his glee. They literally hugged each other, roaring with delight, while the donkey underneath them both jogged dutifully on.
Before a caravanserai in a small valley green with fruit-trees, beside a slender stream whose banks were fringed with oleander, I was sitting waiting for some luncheon when the donkey and its riders came again in sight. The soldier tumbled off on spying me and ran into the inn like one possessed. A minute later he brought out the food which I had ordered and set the table for me in the shade of trees.
‘I would not let another serve thee,’ he informed me, ‘for the love of that vile joke that thou didst put upon me. It was not loaded. After all my fright! … It is a nice revolver. Let me look at it.’
‘Aye, look thy fill, thou shalt not touch it,’ was my answer; at which he laughed anew, pronouncing me the merriest of Adam’s race.
‘But tell me, what wouldst thou have done had I refused? It was not loaded. What wouldst thou have done?’
His hand was resting at that moment on a stool. I rapped his knuckles gently with the butt of the revolver to let him know its weight.
‘Wallahi!’ he cried out in admiration. ‘I believe thou wouldst have smashed my head with it. All for the sake of a poor man of no account, whom thou employest for a week, and after that wilt see no more. Efendim, take me as thy servant always!’ Of a sudden he spoke very earnestly. ‘Pay the money to release me from the army. It is a largish sum – five Turkish pounds. And Allah knows I will repay it to thee by my service. For the love of righteousness accept me, for my soul is thine.
I ridiculed the notion. He persisted. When the muleteer and I set forth again, he rode beside us, mounted on another donkey this time – ‘borrowed,’ as he put it – which showed he was a person of resource. ‘By Allah, I can shoe a horse and cook a fowl; I can mend garments with a thread and shoot a bird upon the wing,’ he told me. ‘I would take care of the stable and the house. I would do everything your Honour wanted. My nickname is Rashîd the Fair; my garrison is Karameyn, just two days’ journey from the city. Come in a day or two and buy me out. No matter for the wages. Only try me!’
At the khan, a pretty rough one, where we spent the night, he waited on me deftly and enforced respect, making me really wish for such a servant. On the morrow, after an hour’s riding, our ways parted.
‘In sh’Allah, I shall see thee before many days,’ he murmured. ‘My nickname is Rashîd the Fair, forget not. I shall tell our captain thou art coming with the money.’
I said that I might think about it possibly.
‘Come,’ he entreated. ‘Thou wouldst never shame a man who puts his trust in thee. I say that I shall tell our captain thou art coming. Ah, shame me not before the Commandant and all my comrades! Thou thinkest me a thief, a lawbreaker, because I took that fellow’s knife?’ he asked, with an indulgent smile. ‘Let me tell thee, O my lord, that I was in my right and duty as a soldier of the Sultan in this province. It is that muleteer who, truly speaking, breaks the law by carrying the knife without a permit. And thou, hast thou a passport for that fine revolver? At the place where we had luncheon yesterday were other soldiers. By merely calling on them to support me I could have had his knife and thy revolver with ease and honesty in strict accordance with the law. Why did I not do so? Because I love thee! Say thou wilt come to Karameyn and buy me out.’
I watched him jogging on his donkey towards a gulley of the hills along which lay the bridle-path to Karameyn. On all the evidence he was a rogue, and yet my intimate conviction was that he was honest. All the Europeans in the land would lift up hands of horror and exclaim: ‘Beware!’ on hearing such a story. Yet, as I rode across the parched brown land towards the city of green trees and rushing waters, I knew that I should go to Karameyn.
THE long day’s ride was uneventful, but not so the night. I spent it in a village of the mountains at a very curious hostelry, kept by a fat native Christian, named Elias, who laid claim, upon the signboard, to furnish food and lodging ‘alafranga’ – that is, in the modern European manner. There was one large guest-room, and an adjoining bedroom of the same dimensions, for some thirty travellers. I had to find a stable for my horse elsewhere. A dining-table was provided, and we sat on chairs around it; but the food was in no wise European, and the cooking was degraded Greek. A knife, fork, and spoon were laid for every guest, but several cast these on the floor and used their fingers. In the long bedroom were a dozen beds on bedsteads. By offering a trifle extra I secured one to myself. In others there were two, three, even four together. An elderly Armenian gentleman, who had a wife with him, stood guard with pistols over her all night. He was so foolish as to threaten loudly anyone who dared approach her. After he had done so several times a man arose from the bed next to mine and strolling to him seized him by the throat.
‘O man,’ he chided. ‘Art thou mad or what, thus to arouse our passions by thy talk of women? Be silent, or we honest men here present will wring thy neck and take thy woman from thee. Dost thou understand?’ He shook that jealous husband as a terrier would shake a rat. ‘Be silent, hearest thou? Men wish to sleep.’
‘Said I not well, O brother?’ said the monitor to me, as he got back to bed.
‘By Allah, well,’ was my reply. The jealous one was silent after that. But there were other noises. Some men still lingered in the guest-room playing cards. The host, devoted to things European, had a musical-box – it was happily before the day of gramophones – which the card-players kept going all night long. I had a touch of fever. There were insects. Sleep was hopeless. I rose while it was yet night, went out without paying, since the host was nowhere to be seen, and, in some danger from the fierce attacks of pariah dogs, found out the vault in which my horse was stabled. Ten minutes later I was clear of the village, riding along a mountain side but dimly visible beneath the stars. The path descended to a deep ravine, and rose again, up, up, interminably. At length, upon the summit of a ridge, I felt the dawn. The mountain tops were whitened like the crests of waves, while all the clefts and hollows remained full of night. Behind me, in the east, there was a long white streak making the mountain outlines bleak and keen. The stars looked strange; a fresh breeze fanned my cheek and rustled in the grass and shrubs. Before me, on an isolated bluff, appeared my destination, a large village, square-built like a fortress. Its buildings presently took on a wild-rose blush, which deepened to the red of fire – a splendid sight against a dark blue sky, still full of stars. A window flashed up there. The sun had risen.
Some English people, when informed of my intention to buy a man out of the Turkish Army, had pronounced it madness. I did not know the people of the land as they did. I should be pillaged, brought to destitution, perhaps murdered. They, who had lived in the country twenty, thirty years, were better qualified to judge than I was. For peace and quiet I pretended acquiescence, and my purpose thus acquired a taste of stealth. It was with the feelings of a kind of truant that I had set out at length without a word to anyone, and with the same adventurous feelings that I now drew near to Karameyn. Two soldiers, basking in the sunshine on a dust-heap, sprang up at my approach. One was the man I sought, the rogue Rashîd. They led me to their captain’s house – a modest dwelling, consisting of a single room with hardly any furrniture. A score of soldiers followed after us.
The Captain – Hasan Agha – an old man, with face scarred and heavy white moustache, was in full uniform, and, as I entered, was engaged in putting on a pair of cotton gloves. He was one of the old ‘alaïli,’ Turkish officers – those whose whole knowledge of their business was derived from service in a regiment or ‘alaï,’ instead of from instruction at a military school; and his manner towards the men had nothing of the martinet. He addressed them as ‘my children,’ with affection; and they, though quite respectful, conversed freely in his presence. Hasan Agha paid me many compliments, and repeatedly inquired after my health. He would not hear about my business till I had had breakfast. Luncheon had been arranged for me, he said, but that could not be ready for some hours. Would I be so kind as to excuse a makeshift? Even as he spoke, a soldier entered with a tray on which were slabs of Arab bread, a pitcher of sour milk, and heaps of grapes. Another soldier began pounding coffee, while yet another blew upon the charcoal in a brazier. I refused to eat unless my host ate with me, which he did only after much polite resistance. After the meal, we sat and talked, the soldiers joining in the conversation. They told me of old wars and deeds of valour. Hasan Agha was, it seemed, a famous fighter; and the men did all they could to make him tell me of his battles. They brought an old man in out of the town to see me because he had fought in the Crimean war, and knew the English. Before it grew too hot, they took me out to see the barracks and a ramshackle old fieldpiece which they seemed to idolise. Then followed luncheon with its long array of Arab dishes, of which the soldiers had their share eventually. Rashîd assured me afterwards that all the food on this occasion had been ‘borrowed.’ That was in Abdul Hamid’s golden days. After luncheon, there was coffee with more compliments; and then at last we got to business.
A public writer was brought in. He wrote out a receipt for me, and also the discharge Rashîd required. Hasan Agha stamped both documents with an official seal, and handed them to me, who gave him in exchange the money.
‘Bismillah!’ he exclaimed. ‘I call all here to witness that Rashîd, the son of Alî, called the Fair, is free henceforth to go what way he chooses.’
To me he said: ‘Rashîd is a good lad, and you will find him useful. The chief fault I have found in him is this: that, when obeying orders, he is apt to think, and so invent a method of his own, not always good. Also, he is too susceptible to female charms, a failing which has placed him in some strange positions.’
The last remark evoked much laughter, relating, evidently to some standing joke unknown to me. Rashîd looked rather sheepish. Hasan Agha turned to him, and said:
‘My son, praise Allah for thy great good fortune in finding favour in the sight of one so noble and benevolent as our beloved guest, who is henceforth thy master. Remember, he is not as I am – one who has been what thou art, and so knows the tricks. Serve him freely with thy mind and soul and conscience, not waiting for commands as in the Army. Come hither, O my son, grasp hands with me. I say, may God be with thee now and always. Forget not all the good instruction of thy soldier days. Be sure that we shall pray for thy good master and for thee.’
The old man’s eyes were wet, so were Rashîd’s, so were the eyes of all the soldiers squatting round.
Rashîd, dismissed, went off to change his uniform for an old suit of mine which I had brought for him, while Hasan Agha talking of him as a father might, explained to me his character and little failings.
At last I took my leave. Rashîd was waiting in my cast-off clothes, a new fez of civilian shape upon his head. He held my stirrup, and then jumped on to a raw-boned beast which had been ‘borrowed’ for him by his friends, so he informed me. It might be worth my while to buy it for him, he suggested later – the price was only eight pounds Turk, the merest trifle. The whole garrison escorted us to the last houses, where they stood a long while, waving their farewells. Two hours later, on the mountain-ridge, beyond the wady, we turned to look our last on Karameyn. It stood amid the flames of sunset like a castle of the clouds.
We returned, then, to the ‘alafranga’ hostelry; but Rashîd, having heard the story of my sleepless night, would not allow me to put up there. I paid my debt to the proprietor, and then he found for me an empty house to which he brought a mattress and a coverlet, a lot of cushions, a brazier, and the things required for making coffee, also a tray of supper – all of them borrowed from the neighbouring houses. I might be pillaged, brought to destitution, and eventually murdered by him, as my friends had warned me. At least, the operation promised to be comfortable.
THE moon began to shine upon the gardens of Damascus, casting pale shadows, though the daylight had not quite departed, and the sky behind the trees to westward was still green. We were sitting out on stools under the walnut trees, beside a strem which made a pleasant murmur. The air was laden with the scent of unseen roses. Behind us was a little tavern with a lantern lighted in its entrance arch, a solitary yellow eye amid the twilight.
We were the centre of a crowd, as usual when Suleymân was with us. His voice attracted people like a drum, and the matter of his talk had power to hold them. It was a weighty voice of studied modulations, which promised wisdom on the brink of laughter. He generally chose some moral or religious subject for discourse, and illustrated it by what we call ‘nawâdir’ (rare things) selected from his vast experience of life. By his own account he had journeyed to the world’s rim, and had associated not alone with men, but also with jinn and ghouls. On the other hand, he had been to Europe several times, and knew the streets of Paris and of London. Somehow, one never doubted any of his stories while he was telling them, the accents of his voice had such conviction. One was conscious that his tales – even the most extravagant – were true in some mysterious, intrinsic way. This time he chose to speak to us of guilt and innocence, of good and evil works, and their effect on man’s salvation. He aired the theory, which roused approving murmuers in the listening circle, that to have a good intention was the chief desideratum for every son of Adam on his journey through the world, no matter though his works might turn out bad or unsuccessful.
‘To lie with good intention is better than to tell the truth with bad intention,’ he declared.
‘To lie is the salt of a man; the shame is to him who believes,’ put in Rashîd, my servant, who was great at proverbs.
Suleymân paid no heed to the interruption.
‘A sin committed thoughtlessly,’ said he, ‘is light compared with one which thou hast hatched and planned.’
‘Nay, O belover, a sin is a sin, appointed so by the Most High; and the duty of a man is to avoid it. The hurt to man’s salvation is the same, however he approach it,’ said an old man in the audience. ‘If I cut my hand, is the wound less, is it not rather likely to be more – for being thoughtless?’
There was a murmur of applause as all eyes turned on this objector, whose likeness could not be distinguished in the gloaming.
I spoke in approbation of the view expressed, and the old man, emboldened, laughed:
‘To lie is bad, to kill is bad, to steal is bad. Our Lord destroy this rogue of an Intention, which plain men cannot catch nor understand!’
‘Nay, listen!’ Suleymân became persuasive and profoundly earnest, as was his manner always under opposition. ‘Thou hast not altogether caught my meaning. I say a man should trust in the Most High, not think too much beforehand of his ways. By thinking beforehand, he may form a bad intention, since man’s thoughts are naturally fallible. Let him think afterwards, thus he will learn to shun such snares in future, and by repentance place a good work to his credit. Men learn wisdom from their sins, not from their righteous deeds. And the consciousness of sin, the knowledge that they may at any moment fall into it, preserves them from the arrogance of goodness.’
‘There may be some small grain of sense in what thou sayest,’ chuckled the objector, ‘but not enough to make sin righteous, nor yet to abrogate the sacred law.’
Suleymân pursued unheeding: ‘I have a rare thing, which will show you what I mean.
‘A new judge had been appointed to the Holy City. He was departing from Stambûl by ship to take up his appointment. On the quay, a Jew of his acquaintance came to him with reverence, and begged him kindly to convey a basket of bastirma to his (the Jew’s) son at the Holy City, which the Jews in their own language call Jerusalem. You all know what bastirma is. It is dried and salted mutton – very tasty – a dish of which the Turks are most inordinately fond. The Cadi graciously consented, bidding his major-domo take the basket, and bestow it carefully among the things. The Jew departed. The Cadi and his party journeyed till they reached their destination, where, upon arrival, they discovered a young Jew inquiring earnestly about a basket of bastirma. The Cadi had forgotten its existence. ‘Ah, to be sure!’ he cried. ‘I gave it to my major-domo for safe keeping.’
‘He called the servant, and commanded him to give the basket of bastirma to the Jew there waiting. The major-domo bowed his head, folded his hands upon his breast, and said: ‘I ask forgiveness, O my lord. The basket still remains, but the bastirma was so excellent that, having tasted all but a piece of it, I wanted more, so that, in fact, I ate it all upon the journey. I wish to pay the price of it to this young Jew.’’
‘The Cadi thought his servant’s offer fair enough, but the young Jew went mad. Flying at the throat of the major-domo, he flung him to the ground, and tried to tear the soul out of his body with his teeth and nails. The Cadi called upon the bystanders for held. The Jew was dragged with difficulty from his victim. Then the Cadi asked:
‘‘Why, pray, did you attack my servant in that savage manner?’
‘’That man,’ said the Jew, still white with rage, and pointing with his tallow finger at the major domo, who had risen from the ground – ‘that man contains my grandfather.’
‘‘What words are these? Explain yourself!’ the Cadi cried.
‘‘Three weeks ago, O gracious Excellency, my grandfather died in Stambûl. It had ever been his dearest wish to be buried in the Holy City, near the scene of Judgment; and that wish of his was law on us his offspring. But how could we fulfil it? How, I ask? No skipper, whether Nazarene or Muslim, would receive a dead Jew on his ship for less than the corpse-weight in gold. And we are poor. To take him overland was quite impossible. And so my father and my mother in Stambûl cured his dead limbs, and made of them bastirma, and sent him hither in the way thou knowest. It follows that thy servant has committed a most dreadful crime. Let him be killed, I pray, and buried in the tomb we have prepared, so that my grandfather’s great wish may be fulfilled.’
‘The major-domo was more dead than living as he heard that story. He rent his clothes and fell down on the ground insensible.
‘The Cadi answered the young Jew with wisdom, saying: ‘Thou art entitled to the price of one basket of bastirma, and no more, from this my servant; but he, on his side, has a right to all thou ownest. What wealth can ever compensate him for the haunting fear that on the Last Day he may rise inextricably mingled with thy worthy grandfather? Go, I say, and never venture to approach him any more, or I shall surely act upon this judgment and denude thee quite.’ The major-domo – ’
Cries of ‘Miskîn! Miskîn!’ (poor fellow!) interrupted the narrative.
One said: ‘I once ate pig’s flesh by mistake, but this man’s plight is much more horrible.’
Suleymân’s opponent cried: ‘It was a judgment on him, evidently, for his theft of the bastirma. Say, what became of his thereafter, O narrator?’
‘The major-domo, who, till then, had been a precious rogue – I knew him intimately from a child, and so can vouch for it – became from that day forth the saintliest of men. He thought about his crime and mourned for it, and deemed himself an unclean beast until he died – may God have mercy on him – and was buried in the Holy City as the Jew desired. He thought of nothing but good deeds, yet without seeking merit, knowing that nothing he could do would ever cleanse him. He became the humblest and the best of men, who had beforebeen arrogant and very wicked. Therefore I say that it is well for men to think of their sins after rather than before committing them.’
‘But the intention! What of the intention, O my master? His intention was not good. He stole!’
‘His intention went no further than a basket of bastirma. The Jew was only an unpleasant accident, in respect whereof no guilt attached to him. The case is clear, and yet, although I used to argue with him on the subject, I never could contrive to make him see it. One thing is certain, and will prove to you the worth of good intentions. He only meant to eat a basket of bastirma; therefore he felt great remorse when he devoured a Jew, and so became a saint for Paradise. Had he intended to devour a Jew he could not possibly have felt such great remorse. What say you?’
And everyone agreed that it was so.
Though I had known Suleymân for nealry two years, and had had him with me for some six months of that time, I had never seen him in his function of a dragoman, by which he earned enough in two months of the year to keep a wife and children in a village of the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, of which he spoke with heart-moving affection, though he seldom went there. It was only after much insistence that he allowed us to conduct him thither on one memorable occasion, when I could not but admire his perfect manners as a despot. When first I met him he had been a gentleman at large, and it was as that, and a familiar friend, that he repaired to me whenever he had nothing else to do. Judging from his gifts of conversation, which we all admired, and his unbounded knowledge of the country, I thought that, as a guide for tourists, he would be invaluable. So, when I heard that English friends of mine were coming out to Palestine, I wrote advising them to ask for him, him, only; and I was glad to hear soon afterwards that he was with them. When they came north, I joined the party at Damascus and travelled with them for their last fortnight.
It did not take me many minutes in the camp to see that Suleymân was not himself, and that my friends were not so charmed with him as I had thought they would be. On the first evening in their tent I heard complaints. They told me he was most unconscionably lazy, and would not take them to the places they desired to visit. The trouble was, as I soon learnt, that they possessed a map and guidebook which they studied reverently every night, finding out places said therein to be of interest. Suleymân, on his side, had, at setting out, possessed a plan to make their tour the most delightful one imaginable. He hoped by visiting selected spots and people to give it sequence and significance. In a word, he was an artist in travel, wishing to provide them with delicious memories, while they were English and omnivorous of facts and scenes. When he learnt from various rebuffs that they would not confide themselves to him, he lost all pleasure in the tour. It was a listless and disgusted upper servant, most unlike the man I knew, whom I found in glorious raiment sitting by the cook’s fire in the gardens of Damascus, which were then a wilderness of roses.
He did not explain matters to me all at once. When I reproached him for neglecting friends of mine, he answered only: ‘It is the will of Allah, who made men of different kinds, some sweet, some loathsome.’ But my arrival mended things a little. At least, my English friends professed to see a great improvement in the conduct of Suleymân and all the servants. I think it was because the poor souls knew that they had someone now to whom they could express their grievances, someone who would condescend to talk with them; for nothing is more foreign to the Oriental scheme of life than the distance at which English people keep their servants. In the democratic East all men are equal, as far as rights of conversation are concerned. It is a hardship for the Oriental to serve Europeans, and only the much higher and more certain wages bring him to it.
My English friends had few good words to say for any of their Arab servants; but I found they had conceived a perfect hatred for the cook, who had undoubtedly a villainous appearance. He was a one-eyed man with a strong cast in his surviving eye. A skull-cap, which had once been white, concealed his shaven poll, and his long pointed ears stood out upon it.. he wore a shirt of indigo impaired by time, over which, when riding, he would throw an ancient Frankish coat, or, if it chanced to rain, a piece of sacking. His legs were bare, and he wore scarlet slippers. To see him riding on an ass hung round with cooking tins, at the head of the procession of the beasts of burden, suggested to the uninformed spectator that those beasts of burden and their loads had all been stolen.
I spoke about him to Suleymân one day when in my company he had regained his wonted spirits, telling him of the extreme dislike my friends had taken to the man.
‘They are foolish,’ he replied, ‘to grumble at the figure of a mill which grinds good flour. They profit by his cooking, which is excellent. Indeed, he is the best cook in the world, and most particular. I took great trouble to secure him for this expedition, knowing that the Khawâjât were friends of yours.’ The tone of grievance in his voice became acute.
I feared that he was going to cry, so answered quickly:
‘It is not that. They like his cooking. But his manners – ’
‘What know they of his manners? Has he ever entered the saloon or bed-tent to defile them? Has he ever spoken insult in their hearing? Inform me of his crime, and I will beat him bloody. But well I know he has done nothing wrong, for I have kept him in the strictest order all these days. It is only his appearance they object to; and that is God’s affair, not theirs. The Lord repay them!’
‘You say that you have kept him in strict order? Is that necessary?’
‘Of course it is, for the poor man is mad. I thought his madness would amuse them; it is very funny. But Allah knows that there is not a laugh in all their bodies. So I have kept him from approaching them.’
The word ‘majnûn,’ which I have here translated ‘mad,’ has often, as I knew, a complimentary value; and I gathered from Suleymân’s way of speaking that the cook was not a raving maniac, but rather what in English country-places we should call ‘a character.’
I cultivated his acquaintance after that, and was astonished by his powers of story-telling and of mimicry; still more, perhaps, by a curious dry scepticism, expressed facetiously and sometimes with profanity, which was evident in almost everything he said. This it was which chiefly pleased the waiter and the muleteers, who were his usual listeners, since they were together on the road. They would laugh and curse him in religious terms for a blasphemer and a wicked atheist, reproofs which he received as high applause. It was his custom to salute his friends with insults, which they took kindly from him, being what he was. They told me in low tones of awe, yet with a chuckle, that he had even sold his father’s grave in a facetious way. But I could never get them to relate that story clearly.
I could understand then why Suleymân had kept him in strict order on the journey; for my English friends were quite incapable of seeing any fun in such a character. Nor did I ever tell them of the great adventure of that journey, in which their cook was very nearly done to death.
It happened near the village of Mejdel-esh-Shems, down in the valley underneath Mount Hermon. We remained in camp there over Sunday, and on Sunday afternoon my friends were resting in the tent. Suleymân and I had seized that opportunity to go off for a ramble by ourselves, which did us good. We were returning to the camp in time for tea, when a crowd of fellâhîn came hurrying from the direction of our tents, waving their arms and shouting, seeming very angry. Suleymân called out to them to learn the matter.
‘Zandîq!’ (an atheist) they cried. ‘Zandîq! Zandîq!’
‘Where?’ I asked eagerly.
‘There, in yonder tent,’ an old white-bearded man informed me, with wide eyes of horror. He pointed to the canvas windscreen against which our famous cook sat gazing at the kettle he had set to boil for tea. ‘We go to fetch the wherewithal to kill him properly.’
‘Stop!’ said Suleymân peremptorily. ‘You are mistaken. That is our cook – a good, religious man, but mad occasionally.’
‘No, there is no mistake, O lords of honour,’ cried a score of voices; while the old man who had pointed out the cook to me, explained:
‘He said – may God protect us from the blame of it! – He said: “You see that mountain! It is I who made it. Prostrate yourselves before me for I made the world.” We had been standing round him inoffensively, asking him questions, as the custom is, about his parentage, his trade, and so forth. But when we heard that awful blasphemy, we rent our clothes, and ran in haste to fetch our weapons, as thou seest. Delay us not, for he must surely die.’
‘Commit not such a wickedness! The man is mad!’
‘No; he is sane.’
‘Quite mad, I do assure you. Return with us, and I will prove it to your understanding,’ cried Suleymân.
I added my assurance. They came back with us, but murmuring, and in two minds. I could not but admire the simple piety which prompted them at once to kill a man whose speech betrayed him as an atheist. But I was very much afraid of what might happen, and of the sad impression it would make upon my English friends. And everything depended on the cook’s behaviour.
‘I tell you he is mad,’ said Suleymân, advancing towards the fire. ‘It were a sin for you to slay a fellow-creature thus afflicted. Come hither, O Mansûr,’ he cried as to a dog.
The cook rose up and came towards us with a foolish air.
‘Lie down before my horse. I would ride over thee.’
The cook fell prostrate, then turned over on his back. His mouth hug open idiotically; his tongue lolled out.
‘Now rise and kiss my boot.’
The cook obeyed. By that time there were murmurs of compassion from the would-be slayers.
‘Spake I not truly?’ asked Suleymân.
‘Aye, O sun of verity! He is quite mad, the poor one,’ said the old man who had acted spokesman. ‘It were a sin for us to kill him, being in that state. His manner at the first deceived us. Allah heal him! How came the dreadful malady upon him?’
‘It came upon him through the pangs of unrequited love.’
‘Alas, the poor one! Ah, the misery of men! May Allah heal him!’ cried the women, as the group of villagers moved off, contented. Just when the last of them passed out of sight the longest tongue I ever saw in man emerged from the cook’s mouth, and the rascal put his finger to his nose in a derisive gesture. Those portents were succeeded by a realistic cock-crow.
‘What makes the cook like that, devoid of reverence?’ I asked of Suleymân.
‘It is because he was born in Jerusalem,’ was the astonishing reply. ‘He is a Christian, and was born poor; and the quarrels of the missionaries over him, each striving to obtain his patronage for some absurd belief, have made him what he is – a kind of atheist.’
Selîm, the waiter, who was near and overheard this ending, burst out laughing.
‘An atheist!’ he cried. ‘Your Honour understands? It means a man who thinks there is no God. Just like a beetle!’ and he held his quaking sides.
Both he and Suleymân appeared to think that atheism was a subject to make angels laugh. And yet they were as staunch believers as those fellâhîn.
The novel concerns an English governess who converts to Islam and marries Yûsuf Bey, a young aristocrat from Cairo’s Turkish elite in the 1870s.
WITH the return of reason a new spirit came to Barakah. At the moment of her seizure she had been exasperated with her Eastern life. She awoke to rapture in it, to impatience of the European nurse and doctor. The smell of them, as they leaned over her, was an offence; their voices jarred so that often she would hide her head beneath the bed-clothes to shut out the sound.
On the other hand, she listened eagerly to noises out of doors – the creak of the shadûf which tipped up water on the garden, the camel-bells, the chant of passing funerals; she watched the sunlight stud with gems the inky lacework of her lattice, and eagerly inhaled the breeze which entered; and Yûsuf’s daily visits were her joy. In the forest of distorted memories through which her soul had wandered friendless like a ragged child, the Europeans she encountered had reviled her; the love of Yûsuf and his people had been all her hope.
In the hunger which distressed her convalescence, the growing disaffection for a diet all of milk, her fancy pictured feasts of Eastern dishes, English cookery appearing loathsome in the memory. Strangest of all, she could now think in Arabic, of which, before her illness, she had scarce a sentence.
As soon as she had licence to see visitors, the Pasha’s harîm came in force to greet her. The lady Fitnah fell upon her in a transport of affection, and she responded with entire abandonment, thankful to have at last the love of Yûsuf’s mother. The elderly princess, Amînah Khânum, and other ladies of importance, paid her visits and, as her health improved, carried her off to their own houses – not for an hour, but for whole days together. There, in the perfumed shade, she was enthroned with cushions, fanned and sprinkled, nourished delicately, and sung to sleep when she showed signs of weariness. The sense of frailty and of worth was exquisite. She was content to be the guarded pet, and let them plan; regarding them as beings of a higher race, with whom it would be vanity to try to cope. Their freedom from the sentimental mists of Europe helped this feeling, and so did their bold vision of existence, blinking nothing. The potential cruelty which lurked beneath their gentleness subdued her; the way they talked of death habitually made her feel a timid child.
Thus, with the body pampered and the mind enslaved, she studied and observed their life, completely fascinated. The world of women was, she found, a great republic, with liberties extending to the meanest slave, and something of the strength which comes of solidarity. Unless in jealous fury, no woman would inform against another, bond or free; nor fail to help her in the hour of need. They had their shibboleths, their customs, rites, and ceremonies, even their courts of justice, independent of the world of men. Each lady owning slaves controlled them absolutely. Her husband never saw their faces, hardly knew them. The law against his making love among them, except by her command, was very drastic. The child of such a union would have been her slave. If her required a concubine, he had to buy, not steal one. So sacred with the Muslims was the married woman’s right to property – a right which was not recognized at all in England. Occasionally Barakah heard talk of cruelties which chilled her blood; but her friends excused them on the ground of anger, which was for them a visitation from on high. The very victims, they assured her, never felt as she did.
One feature of the harîm life which shocked her was the equalling of black with white. The Muslim faith disowning all race prejudice, a strain of negro blood appeared in the best families; and any negro having fortune was esteemed as marriageable as the fairest Turk. Then the black slaves, though less regarded because they cost less than the white Circassians, possessed great influence, particularly in the article of superstition, which they quite controlled. Weeds from the heathen Soudan, brought to Cairo in the convoy of the slave-dealer, luxuriated in that tank of guarded ignorance; and many an enlightened Muslim would have died of horror had he known the works of darkness countenanced by his harîm – the sacrifices to malignant beings; the veneration paid to hoary negresses for demoniacal possession; the use to which the name of God was sometimes put. To Barakah, however, in those early days, such fancies – what she heard of them – seemed merely comic. She ranked them with the women’s playfulness, their funny stories. She was enamoured of their life as she conceived it, enslaved and thrilled by its unblushing candour. This was the season of her real conversion, which reached its climax on a certain morning, when she was carried in a guarded litter to the citadel to witness the departure of the yearly pilgrimage. From a place reserved for ladies on the ramparts, she beheld the troops, the guilds of dervishes, defile before the Khedive’s tent, and then the great procession wind away. Fanfares sounded, cannons roared, and from the multitude which hid the square and covered every roof and balcony in sight, beading with heads the very summits of the citadel, a sigh went up.
Barakah was in an ecstasy. When her eyes wearied of the flash and movement, she surveyed the vast blue sky, the coloured, sun-lit walls, the minarets where doves were circling. She pictured the long journey of the pilgrims, on the shining sea, across the burning sands, to the eternal sanctuary. What scene in Christian Europe could be matched with this? Religion, but a mummy there, here lived and moved.
Returning home, she felt a craving to unbosom, and bethought her of a girl in England, once her friend. She called for ink and pens, and wrote forthwith to Julia Long, recounting her changed fortunes, and extolling Egypt. She described the scene she had that morning witnessed, and concluded:
“Julia darling, you with think it strange, but I am sure that this religion is the true one. Here every woman has a chance to marry, and the accidents of wealth and birth are not the barriers they are at home. Polygamy is not at all what people think. The Moslems are as strict as Puritans about morality; and the women here are happier than those at home. Europe has gone all wrong, and so has Christianity. Here we believe in Jesus just as you do: we know that his religion is the true one; but St. Paul and others after him corrupted it. Do think of this, and learn about Mahometanism. I would give anything that you might find the happiness that I have found. My husband will be taking me to Paris at the end of June. Do try and join us there. We will pay all expenses.
“With true affection from your old friend
“MARY, Madame Yousouf Bey Mohamed, c/o Mohamed Pasha Sâlih, Cairo, Egypt.”
This letter was read out to Yûsuf in the evening. He applauded it, and vowed she had a natural gift of eloquence. He asked for a minute description of her friend, seeming much pleased to think that they would meet in Paris; and when Barakah had satisfied him to the best of her remembrance, chuckled:
“And you love her? Then you would not object to have her for your durrah!”
She warned him archly that she could be jealous.
Barakah called often on the lady Fitnah, who just now was in high feather, having been commissioned by Murjânah Khânum to find out a husband for the latter’s slave, Gulbeyzah. At once she sent out go-betweens in all directions, threads of a gigantic web, in which she sat and waited. Flies soon came – ladies with eligible sons or husbands needing matrimony – whose claims the shrewd Egyptian sifted, smelling out the slightest fraud. Barakah was interested in these doings, naturally, seeing they concerned the welfare of her closest friend.
Murjânah Khânum wished to emancipate a charming slave and place her in a good position, at the same time seeking some remuneration for her previous outlay. She appointed Fitnah Khânum her intendant. Those were the naked facts. But the word ‘price’ was never mentioned in discussions of the subject; it was always ‘dowry,’ of which a third part would be paid, of course, to the bride’s people. Gulbeyzah was referred to as a cherished daughter of the house; her wishes were consulted with regard to each proposal; and no-one was annoyed when she seemed hard to please.
‘Thou art like Leylah Khânum,’ whispered Barakah. ‘Thou wilt choose and choose away till none are left.’
‘By no means,’ was the laughing answer. ‘I am a young maid. Moreover, it is not the man I stickle for, it is society.’
Whenever ladies whom she did not choose came to inspect her, Gulbeyzah donned a rustic air and talked to shock them. Barakah had no idea of what she meant when saying she required society, until one day she told her:
‘Praise to Allah! Only think, beloved! Three Circassians, young like me, from the same district! Their lord – a Pasha of the richest – wants another like them. They are gratified. I have been recommended. They come to-day for my inspection. Thou shalt see them presently, as also a Gulbeyzah no one ever saw before. O day of milk! O wave-crest of all days!’
Barakah had been summoned by the ladies and a carriage sent for her. Gulbeyzah had waylaid her on the way to the reception-room.
‘But what of the man – the husband?’ she inquired.
‘Splendid! Rich and generous; impartial as the prophet in division of his favours. If God wills, I shall bear him children. What more could girl require? Think – four of us, like sisters! Four pearls strung together, and inseparable! Thou wilt visit us, and we shall all four love thee dearly. O joy! Now go! I will rejoin thee presently.’
The clack of tongues was heard from the reception-room. Before the door stood rows of coloured slippers. All the dependants of the household, all the go-betweens, had rallied to support the ladies on a great occasion. Hardly had Barakah concluded greetings ere the three Circassians were announced. They were all charming, and all bore, she fancied, some resemblance to Gulbeyzah in their child-like faces and huge eyes. They had pretty, deferential manners, seeming to speak by pre-arrangement and to think in concert, obedient to some rule which bound them, just like nuns. They were still amid the storm of formal compliments when Gulbeyzah entered clad in soft apparel, and paused as if in awe at finding strangers. Then, blushingly, she went and kissed their hands, going on to kiss the hands of all the ladies present. In so doing she gave Barakah a little bite, and when her tour was ended sank down humbly at her feet.
‘They will unmask thee. Thou canst never keep this up for life,’ the Englishwoman whispered.
‘By Allah! only look!’ was the reply. ‘They too are acting.’ See now, the plump one: there is inward mirth.’
The visitors, impressed by her demeanour, put certain questions, which she answered to the point. It appeared that she could dance and sing; spoke Turkish, Arabic, and some Armenian. At mention of French also, they raised hands and eyes, declaring her a perfect prodigy. They then addressed her in their native dialect, when sudden smiles broke up their shy decorum. Turning to the hostesses, they asked forgiveness for employing private speech. They had but asked the dear one of her native village, and smiled to hear that it adjoined their own. They begged for leave to call again, which meant the bargain was acceptable; and then withdrew with every blessing on the house.
No sooner had they vanished than Gulbeyzah threw off her demureness and performed with energy a naughty dance which terminated in a sudden swoop to clasp Murjânah Khânum’s feet. Her mistress bent and kissed her forehead tenderly; the lady Fitnah was convulsed with glee; the humbler women gave forth wedding-cries. And the cause of all this joy, the object of that motherly consideration, was a slave! In Europe, people thought of slaves as miserable. Here was a story to be told to Julia Long.
‘O disappointment! Thou wilt be in Paris! Thou wilt miss my wedding!’ cried Gulbeyzah suddenly. ‘Yûsuf Bey should take some low girl with him since he needs must go. It is sinful to expose thy worth to the risks of travel.’
‘Have I not told him?’ cried the lady Fitnah. ‘The world will be quite black when she is gone. A girl for whom his father paid three thousand pounds. It is absurd to fling her into boats and filthy trains.’
Barakah smiled at their desire to keep her, thinking with rapture of the coming talks with Julia. She had not then had Julia’s answer to her letter. It arrived within a fortnight of the time of starting.
‘ … How can you write such wickedness? … I heard that you had married a Turk, but thought of course he was converted … I do not envy you your riches nor your rank at such a price! … No, I will not join you in Paris, and abet you in your infamy. I banish your most impious suggestions from my thoughts for ever.’
She crumpled up the closely written sheets, then flung them on the ground and stamped upon them. Yûsuf found her weeping uncontrollably, and asked the cause.
‘Then their women are fanatical like ours!’ he sighed when told. ‘Take heart, O fountain of my life! By Allah, such a friend is not worth weeping. We will none the less enjoy ourselves in Paris.’
‘I have no wish to go at all,’ sobbed Barakah.
GHANDÛR attended Yûsuf in the train to Alexandria, and accompanied the pair on board the steamer. Kissing hands at parting he wept uncontrollably, and in that condition was propelled by sailors to the boat awaiting him. Barakah would have liked to stand and watch the harbour, which offered charming pictures in the evening glow; but Yûsuf drew her down into a stuffy cabin, where he left her, bidding her secure the door against intrusion. He told her she must take her meals down there, since there was no separate dining-room assigned to women. Directly afterwards his voice resounded in the corridor, with others talking Arabic, by which she knew that he had friends on board.
A stewardess knocked at her door, bringing her supper, which consisted of a single dish of meat and vegetables. By then the pulse of engines could be felt; there was a noise of running overhead, shouts, and the clank of chains; the ship was moving. Having made an end of eating, she retired to bed and, being tired, went to sleep immediately. The slamming of the door by Yûsuf partly roused her. She could hear him swearing, asking Allah to be put on shore, and knew that he was sea-sick; but it seemed no matter. Next morning, as the sea was rather rough, she kept her bunk until eleven o’clock, when she got up and put on English clothes she had brought with her Yûsuf, more dead than living, asked what for.
‘I go to smell the air.’
He sobbed. ‘With face exposed! Behold me dead, while dogs defile my grave.’
Supposing his mind wandered – for she wore the English veil which he himself had said would be sufficient after leaving Egypt – she found her way on to the deck and spent an hour there, pacing up and down, enjoying the strong wind. When she returned to Yûsuf he was inarticulate. She stayed with him until the evening, when she went on deck again for a few minutes before turning in. It was five days before the gale abated.
At length, one morning they awoke to ease of movement, and Yûsuf rose. His smile was tentative at first, but soon grew confident. ‘I could not tell thee for my sickness,’ he informed her, ‘but there are common people of our faith on board. I would not have their talk asperse my wife. It mattered less while I myself made no appearance. No doubt they took thee for some Frankish woman. But now keep close in here. Wait till we get to Fransa.’
Without waiting for her answer, he went out. But in a minute he was back again, exclaiming:
‘The wife of Hâfiz Bey, my friend, lies near to death! Come thou and see what can be done for her, and God reward thee! Put on thy habbarah. My friend will guide thee.’
It was the first time he had spoken of his friends to her. She followed him and was presented to a fat, good-tempered-looking youth, exceeding swarthy, clad in a European suit too tight for him, who apologized in baby French for thus ‘deranging’ her. He opened the door of an adjacent cabin, bowed her in, and then retreated arm in arm with Yûsuf.
It was a two-berth cabin. In the lower bunk a buxom girl of eighteen years or less – a perfect blonde – lay with her eyes closed, making moan with every breath. The childish face was flushed, discoloured round the eyes with weeping; the hands clenched. Whatever her complaint, it was not sea-sickness.
‘How is thy health?’ the visitor asked softly.
‘O Lord! I die! I perish! O fresh air! O sun!” gasped out the sufferer. ‘O Allah! Was I born a fish to be thus thrown upon the sea – a snake, to be imprisoned in this box?’
‘Be brave! The voyage is now almost ended. In two days or three, at most, we are released. Tell me thy pains! What ails thee?’
The prostrate beauty opened great blue eyes of injured innocence and asked: ‘Who art thou?’
‘I am the wife of Yûsuf Bey, thy husband’s friend.’
‘The Englishwoman!’ She sat up and clung to Barakah. ‘How cans’t thou bear it, thou, an honoured wife! Will not thy parents take account for the indignity? Oh, end my life, I pray thee; it is unendurable!’
Slowly, by force of patience, Barakah elicited that the girl, by name Bedr-ul-Budûr, a pet slave of the mother of young Hâfiz Bey, had been presented to him for his comfort on this journey, since his bride, of high ideas, refused to travel. She had been a little frightened in the train, a new experience, but much elated till she came aboard this ship and felt the sea. Then she realized that she had been beguiled, defrauded, enticed to an undignified and hideous death. Hiccuping sobs broke in upon her narrative, which ended in a storm of tears.
Barakah tried to soothe her mind with cheerful talk, depicting all the charms of life in Paris.
‘Thy voice is sweetness,’ she entreated. ‘Stay with me! Turn out my consort: let him house with thine. What does one want with men when one is dying?’
Going out on that injunction, Barakah found Hâfiz and her husband waiting close at hand. The former, greatly scared by his companion’s illness, was prepared for any sacrifice to save her life; and Yûsuf raising no objection, Barakah’s effects were moved into the other cabin, while Hâfiz took his baggage to the ‘house of Yûsuf,’ as he called it, jesting.
Bedr-ul-Budûr gave praise to Allah. The presence of a lady of acknowledged standing relieved her of the sense of singular and base ill-treatment, which was all her illness.
At length, the ship stood still and filled with voices. It was night. The men called from the corridor to warn them that the landing would take place at the third hour next morning. Thus bidden, they took out their Frankish garments and compared them.
Barakah’s were old, of sober hue. Bedr-ul-Budûr’s brand-new and something garish. They slept but little, talking through the night.
When Barakah had finished dressing in the early morning, her companion, waking, screamed in horror at the English veil.
‘Merciful Allah! It is dreadful. It hides nothing. It is what the wantons wear. Wait but a minute! I have more than one. I will provide thee. My kind princess advised me what was right to wear.’
Tumbling out of her berth, Bedr-ul-Budûr found in her box a fold of thick white gauze, which she proceeded to throw round the face of Barakah, attaching it to the bonnet with two little brooches.
‘By Allah, that is better,’ she remarked, and then gave all her mind to her own dressing.
When this was finished, her appearance smote the eye. Her bonnet was sky-blue, the thick white veil depending from it like a curtain, her dress a lively pink, her stockings white, her boots and gloves bright yellow, shining in their newness; she had a pale blue parasol adorned with frills of lace.
‘The Franks wear many colours,’ she remarked to Barakah, adding with childish wonder, ‘Why are yours so dull? … By Allah, I feel naked in the middle.’
So did Barakah. To one accustomed to go shrouded, a dress which emphasises the hips and bust seemed vile at first.
Yûsuf and Hâfiz fetched them up on deck, where they found two more ladies garishly arrayed, and two more men in French-made suits and fezes.
After the introduction all stood awkwardly, gaping like children who have lost remembrance of their part. Barakah, to ease the strain, remarked to Hâfiz Bey upon the beauty of the morning, the bustle of the harbour of Marseilles; but his response was marred by evident embarrassment; his eyes kept veering round to look at Yûsuf, whom he soon rejoined. The ladies formed a group apart, in titters at each other’s odd appearance. Presently a man, clad as a Frank, approached with Arab greetings. He kissed the hand of Hâfiz Bey, who welcomed him. It seemed he had been warned by letter to prepare the way for them.
‘All is ready, lords of bounty!’ he exclaimed. ‘Deign but to follow me, the ladies with you.’
The drive along the quays through noisy streets to the hotel, the breakfast which their guide assured them had been cooked and chosen in accordance with religious law, were trammelled by constraint, and went off sadly. Only in the train, where they were separated, each sex enjoying a reserved compartment, did conversation flow. Among the women it was soon uproarious. They talked and laughed half through the night, appealing constantly to Barakah, a European born, for information. The appearance of the men at every station, to ascertain that they were well, produced a hush; but no sooner were the despots gone again than the mad talk and laughter raged anew.
At length they tired and tried to rest. They cursed the narrowness of the divans, the work of devils. When morning came, Bedr-ul-Budûr was at the point of death once more, asking her Maker what she had done to deserve such disrespectful treatment; while Barakah, looking out at European villages, was haunted by remembrance and grew sad.
The sun had long been up when they reached Paris. Yûsuf and Hâfiz, Bedr-ul-Budûr and Barakah, packed in one cab, were driven with a rattle through tumultuous streets to the hotel where rooms had been engaged for them. The hostess, a stout woman elegantly dressed in black, and the entire staff stood out to welcome them. The woman bowed incessantly, addressing Yûsuf and his friend as ‘Monseigneur.’ Finding that Barakah knew French she drew to her and poured a smooth flow of amenities into her ear.
‘Madame has only to command – all that she desires. Should madame require conversation, I am always at her service. The princes come to Paris for diversion, that is understood. Young men so rich! They must amuse themselves! But then their ladies must not find the life too sad.’
Thus prattling, she conducted them upstairs and flung open a door, exclaiming, ‘Voila!’ Crossing the landing to another door, she flung that open also. ‘Voila!’ she cried again. Bedr-ul-Budûr, so tired that she could hardly drag her feet up, chose the left-hand room, which happened to be nearest. Yûsuf and Barakah proceeded to the other. Both parties ordered coffee and some light refreshment, and after breakfasting went straight to bed. They rested until evening, when the men went out to find their friends, whose lodging was close by. They returned with sundry purchases, hats, gloves and scarves, which they declared they needed for complete disguise.
On the next morning the whole party, in two carriages, went out to smell the air and view the city. It was a cloudless day and the streets sparkled, the trees along the boulevards were like fat green posies. They were feeling happy when, in an important thoroughfare, they discovered people pointing at them, drivers shouting. Yûsuf and his seat companion Hâfiz grew uncomfortable. Cries of amazement reached them from the other carriage. Their cabman turned round with a grin and told them:
‘“Place aux dames,” messieurs! – That is what they cry. These ladies are not slaves with us, que diable!’
The two men had been lounging in the roomy seat which faced the horse. They at once resigned it, addressing bows and smiles of deference to the angry multitude; and called out to their friends to do the like. But the incident destroyed their pleasure in the drive; nor were the ladies happy in the seat of honour, a gazing-stock for infidels who might possess the evil eye.
‘Saw one ever such fanaticism?’ groaned Yûsuf. ‘And they call this country free – a place where every one does what he likes!’
That afternoon was spent in the hotel in a strange manner; Barakah, at the demand of Yûsuf, instructing the four men in foreign customs. They posed and pirouetted in her salon, rehearsing bows, the flourish of a hat, the proper compliments; while the three girls looked on with saucer eyes. After dinner they again appeared before her, this time without their fezes, wearing hats which gave them a very villainous and sleek appearance. Required to criticize their dress and bearing from a Frankish standpoint, she suggested some improvements which were hailed with gratitude. Yûsuf returned home after midnight, tired but garrulous. It seemed that they had lighted on a charming Frenchman, who undertook to show them all the sights. Next day the men rose late and then went out together, leaving the women to their own devices; returned to dinner, then went off again, remaining out this time till nearly morning.
The programme did not vary on succeeding days. The girls, deserted, clung to Barakah. They wailed and prayed to God, and dreamed of Cairo. At length one of them – it was Bedr-ul-Budûr – took courage to reproach her lord; when all four men were stricken with amazement. They had thought the ladies would be gay indoors without them, as they were at home. To cheer them up, a trip to Versailles was arranged. It passed off gaily, with less shyness than usually appeared when they all mixed together. As they strolled about the park, a youth named Izz-ud-dîn made up to Barakah, and with the greatest diffidence implored her to confide to him the secret how to win the love of Frankish ladies. When she smilingly assured him there was none, he cried:
‘O Lord of Heaven! Then thou wilt not tell it. They are so easy to their own men, as we know from books; to us so difficult. It cannot be fanaticism, since we seem as Franks.’
‘But what need hast thou of women, with a pearl of beauty here beside thee?’ questioned Barakah.
‘One who has beheld thy loveliness must evermore desire the like of it! Oh, that thou hadst a sister for me!’ he made answer glibly.
He moved away, but presently another came and made the same preposterous request, retreating with the same forced compliment; and on the journey home, when Yûsuf closed his eyes and seemed to sleep, Hâfiz Bey, whom she had thought more sensible, approached her in his turn. When she denied all knowledge of the matter he answered in low tones:
‘There is a secret, that is known, by Allah. Thou hast it, and hast given hints to Yûsuf; else why should he be more successful than the rest of us?’
‘Because he is better looking,’ it was on the tip of her tongue to say, as she surveyed the fat, good-tempered face of Hâfiz with its Chinese eyes. It was all that she could do to keep from screams of laughter.
‘It is my dream,’ he whispered. ‘By Allah it disturbs my nights with cruel pain – to take a lady just like thee in all respects – a Frank and noble, of extreme refinement – back with me to Masr.’
She derided him. He still continued pleading, supporting his petition with the grossest flattery, till they reached home, when Yûsuf suddenly sprang up and glowered at Hâfiz. He had been feigning sleep. It was a thunderbolt. Bedr-ul-Budûr screamed warning to her lord, who took but a single look and fled indoors, the jealous one pursuing like a madman. In the hall the harmless youth was overtaken and turned round to plead. With a howl of ‘Dog!’ Yûsuf sprang at his throat and bore him to the ground. Like dogs in very truth they fought until parted by the hotel servants with the help of broomsticks; while Barakah strove in vain to make her explanation heard. Bedr-ul-Budûr appealed to Allah and the prophet; and the landlady from the third step of the stairs, with hands and eyes thrown up, exclaimed repeatedly:
‘O ciel! C’est monseigneur!
(London: Evelyn Nash, 1913.)
After the success of his Saïd the Fisherman, Pickthall was emboldened to attempt a novel set entirely in the Middle East. The plot is set during the reign of Sultan Abd al-Majid, and concerns a saintly scholar, Shems-ud-dín, who comes to Jerusalem to find a European doctor for Alia, his desperately-ill daughter. This entails both a tussle with his own religious pride, and a difficult encounter with his son, who has risen to high office in the local Ottoman administration.
The sun rode high above the Holy City, but a freshness of the dawn still lurked in the shade of her rough walls, in the gloom of her covered ways, which swarmed with people in all kinds of raiment representative of every nation under heaven. To any one threading that crowded labyrinth of whitish stone, ancient and coherent, glimpses of the pure blue sky became welcome as a flower on rocks. For Shems-ud-dín, accustomed through so many years to wide horizons and an open road, the overshadowing walls made a prison. The hubbub of the bazaars dazed him, and he felt hurt by the careless shouldering of other wayfarers.
He had been to visit Alia, and was making his way, under guidance of the faithful Zeyd, to the Sacred Area, when he met Shibli walking with Hassan Agha and his attendant Circassians amid the throng in a long, dim market.
‘How is the health of our dove this morning?’ cried Hassan, speaking for them all. ‘In sh’ Allah, the poor one is much better/‘
‘If not better, her frame has rest – for which Allah be praised!’ returned Shems-ud-dín. ‘The people of the house are very kind, as I learn from the mouth of Mâs. The Lord reward them! … O Shibli, son of my hope, unless thou hast some grave business, come with me to the Dome of the Rock, whither I go to pray. It is long since I spoke with thee in private. Come and let thy voice comfort me, O my dear.’
Shibli obeyed, as in duty bound; but his face often turned to gaze wistfully after the Cricassians, and the lines of his mouth expressed grievance.
‘Is the health of the beloved indeed no better?’ he felt it incumbent on him to ask.
‘I know not how to answer thee, O my son. I fear hope as a friend untried. It is enough to desire. Notwithstanding, if Allah wills that she be made whole, there appears to my mind a possibility which yesterday I could not discern.’
‘Praise be to Allah!’ murmured Shibli, very properly.
The quiet of the Muslim quarter brought refreshment to Shems-ud-dín, after the clamour of the motley throng in the bazaars. Old walls rose high on either hand. Jutting lattices, with here and there an arch, encroached on the jewel sky. In the shade of one ancient portal, ornate but crumbling to decay, sat a breadseller asleep behind two tiers of flat, brown loaves. A man with a water-skin on his back turned in at the doorway of a house before them. A grave notable, in apparel sober but rich, passed them without a glance, one hand in his breast. Everything in that dim, once splendid quarter told of a proud reserve, of a dignity that needs no trump for its assertion. The air was sad with the sadness of great things past.
They entered what seemed a disused bazaar of rare magnificence, a huge corridor with a lofty vaulted roof, which got light from the far end where its tall arch framed the sky. The place was deserted and ruinous, its floor uneven and strewn with the brash of masonry. Shems-ud-dín quickened step instinctively to gain the light which picked out the faces of his companions from the shades wherein they had walked so long.
The outer sunshine crashed on their sight with the splinter of a thousand lances. The great mouth of the passage yawned black as night behind them. On either side of it ran a high irregular wall, bearing here and there a lattice, the end of the houses in this direction. They stood on a strip of clear ground, on which a few old trees cast blots of shadow; a place waste save for patches of wrought pavement and certain small, domed shrines as delicate as toys of ivory.
Before them, at no great distance, rose a flight of wide steps leading up on to a terraced plateau, and at a point further off up sprang a sister flight exactly similar. On the top of either stairway, in the gate of the Haram, stood three slender columns, light and graceful as flower-stems, supporting arches. At one end of the plateau, seen through cypress trees, crouched a mosque of many aisles; and numberless small, domed buildings – shrines and cells and pulpits – capped the terrace walls. But what drew and absorbed their gaze to the forgetting of all else, the sun and centre of all, was a mighty dome, in form and colour somewhat resembling a ripe fig, springing from the roof of an octagon of two kinds of marble, wrought together into cunning patterns. Not a foot of the great building but had been treated minutely, curiously, by the hands of forgotten craftsmen. In the full light of morning, there in that sand-hued place, it bloomed a wondrous iris of the hills, a thing to wring a shout from the dying.
Even Shibli forgot his dudgeon, and joined reverently with Zeyd ebn Abbâs in reciting the prayer of first approach, after Shems-ud-dín.
Then, having gazed all about them, they crossed the waste ground and mounted the steps. Discarding slippers, they passed along a time-worn pavement to the place of washing. With the exception of two middle-aged men in dark robes and white turbans, who sat disputing gravely beneath a tree and gave but one look to the pilgrims, they seemed alone in the vast enclosure.
When, having purified their bodies, they ventured to approach the Noble Sanctuary, Shems-ud-dín thought well to remind them of its claims to reverence.
‘Within, beneath this admirable dome,’ he said, ‘we shall behold the rock whereon Neby Ibrahim, the Friend of God, prepared to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail, at the bidding of the Most High. Hither also, in an after age, was our lord Muhammed, the Apostle of God, borne by night on the celestial beast, Burac; and from that same rock was he transported to the seventh heaven, being yet mortal. Surely there is no stone in all the world save only that of Mekka, more worthy of our reverence than this rock, which God has hallowed from of old. And the Khalif, Omar El Khattab (peace to him!), did well to raise this splendid dome above it.’
Zeyd ebn Abbâs devoured those high words greedily. Shibli heard them with respect. At the entrance to the Dome of the Rock Shems-ud-dín ceased speaking, and they passed into the tinted gloom of the sanctuary.
While Shibli and Zeyd ebn Abbâs paced the ring of pavement, studying the texts worked in mosaic upon the walls and above the arches looking on the natural rock so gloriously enshrined, Shems-ud-dín knelt and made prostration, praying –
‘O Allah, pardon! Grant to thy servant faith on the pattern of El Khalil, who in this place offered his dearest freely unto thee. Am I not the very opposite of Neby Ibrahim El Khalil? When all reasonable means failed to restore my child, and prayer had been made in vain, Thy Will was manifest to me. Yet I presumed to seek other aid, I sought to procure her health by man’s exertion. I followed the contrivance of my own mind. Am I not impious, therefore? Am I not abominable? What am I that Thou shouldst hear me, or my deeds upon the earth to make a claim upon Thee? Nevertheless, Thou deignest to give ear to the prayers of men, and hast ordained prayer unto us as an offering pleasing in Thy sight. Hear me, O Lord, in this my extremity! Oh, have mercy on my daughter, the innocent; and smite me rather, for I am sinful! And whatever Thy Will concerning her, teach me to resign myself to it utterly. Subdue my mind and my soul, and lead me in the way of the upright.’
He rose at length from off the pavement, and went and sat cross-legged, his back against the wall. Tears blinded him. The footsteps of Shibli and Zeyd echoed in the vast dome, and their whispering made a hollow murmur. But Shems-ud-dín heard nothing save the clamour of his inward strife.
All at once a voice near his ear said, ‘Why weepest thou, O my brother?’
With a start, as one awakes out of sleep, he looked and beheld one in flowing raiment standing before him, a very old man who leaned upon a staff. His face was deeply furrowed where the white hair grew not, and his lips were shrivelled and sucked inward as when the gums beneath have shrunken, being toothless. Shems-ud-dín sat amazed by the apparition, for he had not heard the old man’s steps approaching nor the tap of his staff along the stones. He saw the forms of Zeyd and Shibli afar off, standing watching as men smitten with dismay.
‘What ails thee, O my brother? Wherefore weepest thou? I cannot discern thy likeness, for my eyes grow dim; but I see thy beard white as my own, and I hear thy sobs. What dire distress is thine, an old man inured to human griefs, that thou so lamentest?’
‘A long story, O my brother.’
‘A long story is the best of stories, and I like it none the worse for promising to be sad. At my age one is impatient only of abruptness, the inconsequence of the merry and light-minded. Lend me the help of thy hand, O my brother, that I may compose my limbs to sit beside thee.’
Shems-ud-dín reached forth his hand and the old man grasped it, steadying himself therewith while he tucked his staff beneath his left elbow. He was about to subside upon the bare stones, when Zeyd ebn Abbâs darted forward and spread his ragged cloak upon the ground beneath him. The old man smiled vaguely, exposing his toothless gums.
‘May Allah requite thee, O my son! May this thy courtesy be counted to thee for righteousness! Thy cloak is old and of poor material, as my hands perceive. May a rich mantle fall upon thee from the hands of Allah!’
Zeyd bowed his head to the blessing, and rejoined Shibli with a face of great elation.
‘Now deign to impart thy story, O my brother!’ said the old man, when fairly seated.
Shems-ud-dín complied straightway. He abated nothing of his own frowardness, but confessed it throughout the story, speaking much of his soul’s uneasiness on that account.
At the end, there was silence for a little space. Then that old man spoke.
‘During all the years that I have been Chief of the Learned in this place, never – Allah witness! – never heard I such a tale as this thou hast related. Beloved, I see not with thy eyes; I see goodness everywhere in thy conduct, save only in the one point of thy recourse to the unbeliever, of which thou madest nought in the telling. This Frank is not an infidel like another infidel. He is of those who openly oppose the faith. Is there not a corân concerning such an one: “The worst beasts in God’s sight are those who are obstinate unbelievers”?’
‘But, on the other hand, there is also this corân: “Allah is our Lord and your Lord; unto us our works, and unto you your works; no quarrelling between us and you; for Allah will gather in us both, and unto Him we shall return.”’
‘Good. But that word is abrogated in the judgement of all the learned!’
‘Not of all, by thy leave! There be many who assert that no word from Allah can be rendered null, that this has its season, and that its season, but all are eternally valid. I was ever of the party of these last. As to the degree of intercourse permissible with unbelievers, and more especially with the People of the Book, it is nowhere fixed for us. I could quote a hundred traditions in support of either argument, and the best precedents are in like manner at variance. For instance, if we refer to the Sûnna – ’
‘Stay! Hast thou studied the Sûnna?’
‘Assuredly; and all our commentators and, I verily believe, every scripture relevant to the subject.’
‘O happy day for me! Welcome, and again welcome, O my soul! Deign now to dispute a little! It is seldom I can exercise my learning; very seldom I am able to confer with a man like thee. The lamp of knowledge does but smoke nowadays.’
It was long since Shems-ud-dín had enjoyed conversation with his equal in learning. The two sheykhs held long conference, while Zeyd sat on his heels watching them, and Shibli wandered to and fro, yawning frequently and viewing the wonders about him with a growing disenchantment.
At last the old man rose by the help of Shems-ud-dín and the attentive Zeyd. He said –
‘My peace on thee! Thou art a prince of scholars, and a man most righteous. If I perceive any fault in thee, it is that thy mind exalts small matters, and overlooks or belittles points of real importance – a common failing among us learned in the Law, professed quibblers. This matter of thy going to the Frank is, to my thinking, no trifle. I hope to convince thee of the wrong in it at some other time. Come hither whenever thou art so minded, it is a boon I crave of thee. Ask for Mahmûd Ali, which is my name. And if ever thou desirest to pray alone, there stand cells enough within our precincts, empty, for the most part, save in Ramadân, which is not yet. They and all I dispose of are thine to use, O my soul’s brother!’
With a parting benison the old man hobbled away, bowed upon his staff.
Shems-ud-dín said one last prayer, then went out with his companions into the blinding sunlight.
Zeyd, the son of Abbâs, raised his hands on high, towards that sapphire dome which has the world for pavement. In a loud voice he praised Allah, and blessed the day on which it had been given him to witness the meeting of two most holy men, and garner in his imagination a drop of two of the celestial wisdom that had gushed in rivers from their mouths.
Shibli drew breath of relief, and looked upon the heaped-up, whitish city with a lover’s eyes.
(London: Methuen, 1906).
‘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.’
‘O people, listen to my words, and understand the same. Know that all Muslims are brothers one to another. You are one fraternity. Nothing which belongs to one of you is lawful to his brother unless given out of free goodwill. Guard yourselves from committing injustice.’
Those words are from the solemn admonition which our lord Muhammad (God bless him!) addressed to the whole Muslim community from Mount ‘Arafat on the occasion of his last pilgrimage to Mecca – The Pilgrimage of Farewell, as it is called. And no one can say that the injunction has been fruitless. For where in the world to-day can we find a real fraternity of rich and poor, of black and white and brown and yellow people, except in El Islam?
‘Liberty, equality, fraternity!’ has been, and is the cry or revolutionaries here in Europe. Well, liberty is a fine thing, but in a civilized community it must be always relative, for ever bounded by the liberties of others. Equality of opportunity is an ideal to be aimed at, rather than a law which can be practised rigidly. Still every one will admit that it is desirable. Equality of persons and of personalities is contrary to natural law, and so impossible. These two ideals are abstract and entirely relative. Fraternity, upon the other hand, is positive, and can be practised wherever men of like opinions and goodwill consort together. In the political body of Islam, which was at first a model to free peoples, there has of late years been too little liberty. There has been of late years less equality of opportunity than there was formerly, though more than you could find in modern Europe. But fraternity there is, and always has been, in that body.
The prejudices both of race and class which taint the atmosphere of Christendom seem a strange growth of Christianity when we reflect that Jesus of Nazareth was the apostle of meekness and of love, and himself adorned a modest station in society. Many Christians would protest that these developments have nothing to do with Christianity. That they have nothing to do with Christ, we all agree. But what has Christianity to do with Christ? If these prejudices of class and race are not in any sense a growth of Christianity, how comes it that we find them flourishing in Christian lands, and altogether absent from the Muslim brotherhood? Class distinctions are not absent from the Muslim brotherhood, but class prejudices are. There is free speech and free intercourse between all sorts and conditions of men, and between all sorts and conditions of women. Those prejudices mar the outlook of most English people, even of those who rail against them and denounce them – I should say, especially of those who rail against them and denounce them; for where will you find a revolutionary who has a brotherly regard for individual aristocrats? One of the great blessings which Islam brings to an Englishman is deliverance from this insanity. His vision grows serene, enabling him to smile at the pretensions of all parties, to accept men on their merits, with a brotherly regard for men whose conduct pleases him irrespective of class or race or colour. I have just been in the British army in the ranks – pitchforked, so to speak, at forty-three, among all sorts of men – and I have found this Muslim point of view a very godsend, making me content where I should once have been extremely miserable.
The feeling of fraternity inherent in Islam has sometimes struck me as miraculous, such comfort does it bring to one in circumstances which by every standard would be called uncomfortable. Why, I have asked myself occasionally, did I never know such happiness while I was a Christian? Well, it may seem a strange answer to give, it may appear far-fetched to some of you, but I believe the reason is that Christianity – the Christianity that I was taught in childhood – practically does away with the Last Judgment.
You know the words of the Qur-án:
‘Verily those who believe (i.e. the Muslims) and those who obey the Jew’s religious rule, and the Christians and the Sabaeans – whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does good works, their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’
Christians did once believe in the Last Day – that is, the Day of Judgment for all mankind. It was part of the teaching of Christ. But by proclaiming that salvation can be obtained by a belief in such and such dogmas, and the observance of such and such ceremonies, the Church, while still formally maintaining the doctrine of the Last Judgment, has made the judgment a foregone conclusion for its own adherents. Certain people thus appear before their Lord in a privileged position. Where then is fraternity? And how can any Christian man, brought up in that belief, be happy, with the consciousness of all the people in the world who are not Christian in belief, who consequently are condemned to everlasting torment? Another foregone conclusion, you perceive. The judgment of God is reduced to a mere ceremony, a formal confirmation of the Church’s judgment. And if a Christian can be found who does find happiness in thinking that he himself is certain to be saved through certain doctrines and observances, while countless millions of mankind are no less certain to be damned; can such a man be suspected of any sense or spirit of fraternity? And yet these people have been taught to say ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’
God is metaphorically the Father – since He is the primal Author of the being – of all mankind. That was, I think, unquestionably, the meaning of the Prophet Jesus when he gave that prayer to his disciples. But see what they have made of it. An earthly father, the partisan of his own family against all who differ from them. A father to the Christians – it amounts to that – with angry feelings for all other people in the world. The first meaning – that of Christ himself – is in accord with nature, the second, that of Christendom, is against nature, since Allah’s blessings in the world of nature are bestowed on all alike.
Our Prophet saw that error among Christians in his day, and for that reason, to avoid a similar misguidance of his followers, he never used the words Our Father when speaking of Allah. We Muslims shun those words, for the same reason, though there can be not the least objection in the mind of any Muslim to the words of the Lord’s prayer, which is a Muslim prayer, without a trace of all those doctrines which later turned the Christians from Islam. We believe that Jesus was a Muslim Prophet. The religion which he preached, the life he wished that men should lead, is not to be found to-day in Christendom, but in Islam. And Muslims have a better right than Christians to pray ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’ for they have kept the true ideal of human brotherhood which Christians have discarded; and that brotherhood is based on the idea of Allah’s universal fatherhood. We never use the word, but the idea is with us always. Allah has given certain laws which we know, and strive always to obey. We naturally have a sentiment of brotherhood for all who recognize those laws, and try to conform to them. All who love the Father of us all, the Source of all Existence, and look only for His judgment on their actions, are our brothers. ‘And there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’
I do not know whether you, my audience, prefer an autocratic or a democratic form of government. Where theocracy is acknowledged, it matters little whether earthly sovereignty is held by one man or a crowd of men. For, in the presence of the Mighty Sovereign of the universe, fearing His judgment, the autocrat becomes in fact the brother of his poorest subject. And as for democracy, compare the French Revolution, or that Russian Revolution which took place only the other day, with the greatest revolution which the world has ever known – the advent of Islam in consequence of our Prophet’s preaching. In all three cases you have multitudes of people suddenly released from old restraints and discipline, and confronted with an altogether new idea of life. In all three cases you have the demand for brotherhood. Why were the first two characterized by cruelty, bloodshed, and disorder, and why was the Islamic Revolution free from all these things? The Russian and the French revolutionaries established governments which had to use harsh measures to maintain their sway. The Muslims were without any of the machinery of government, and yet they were perfectly orderly and, what is more, entirely happy. Why? Simply because they had a common ground of brotherhood, a common standard of morality which all accepted. Simply because they had a true fraternity in complete dependence on the will of the Universal Father. Simply because they believed in the Day of Judgment.
Some people seem to think that a belief in a Day of Judgment is an antiquated belief. Some people even seem to think it horrible. Well, I personally do not care a fig for any man or woman who does not, consciously or unconsciously, believe in a Day of Reckoning. Every man or woman who accepts a life of service or of suffering sooner than get success by evil doing; every man or woman who does his or her best without reward rather than gain the applause of the multitude, whatever motive they themselves would give for their behaving in that way, and most of them would find it difficult to give a reason for their behaviour, are looking to a judgment higher and purer than the judgment of men, a judgment quite impersonal, which God alone is capable of giving. I do not care if they are Muslims, or Christians, or agnostics. I say that they all, after a fashion, believe in the Last Day.
And as for the belief in the Last Judgment being in any way horrible or terrifying – why, ladies and gentlemen, it seems to me the most radiantly hopeful of all the doctrines which have ever been accepted among men. If any man were to be the judge, if any being at all resembling man in limitation were to be the judge, then indeed we might be terrified, for we should fear injustice. No man could make all due allowance for inherited tendencies in determining the criminal’s career of crime. No man could know all the extenuating circumstances which in every case appear to the All-knowing God. Has any son of earth to fear injustice before the throne of Him who made the heavens and the earth, who knows all their temptations and their disabilities, who knows His creatures infinitely better than they know themselves? And when we know, as every Muslim knows, that the All-wise is also the All-Merciful! Surely this doctrine, which has been so much maligned, really holds out a hope for all mankind.
I think the horror and dislike which it inspires in some intelligent people comes from misapprehension. They associate the judgment with the threats of dreadful punishment denounced against the wicked in all Scripture, as if those threats were levelled against individuals. They are not; they cannot be, since we are not the judges. They merely mean that if we do certain things against our spiritual and moral welfare, or against the welfare of our neighbour, we have to fear the condemnation of the Lord of heaven and earth, even though the wrongs which we commit according to human laws may be no crime. But we are not the judges. Every one of us has to await the judgment of his Lord, and if we are quite honest in our self-examination, we shall admit that it is only by the grace of God we have escaped great crimes. Are we then any better than the actual criminals? Have we not equal need with them to ask for mercy before a Judge who reads the secrets of men’s hearts?
King and beggar, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, all will appear before their Lord on equal terms. The ruler will have no advantage of his power, the savant no advantage of his education, unless that power, that education has been used for good. That is the true foundation of Islamic brotherhood. We shall be judged not by accidents of class, or race, or wealth, but by that which we have done, whether it be good or whether it be evil. Acknowledging this common destination, this equality, how can we hold aloof from one another, or despise one another?
There is another aspect of Islamic fraternity, of particular importance at the present time. Islam abolished nationality, as we understand it; and patriotism, as we understand it, it denounced as a crime. A Muslim of India is the brother of a Muslim of Egypt or West Africa. If any one of another religion asked him of his nationality, he would not say: ‘I am an Indian,’ but ‘I am a Musulman.’ Only if a fellow Muslim from another country were to ask him the same question, would he answer ‘I am of India,’ since his faith was understood already by the other. I have heard Englishmen exclaim concerning Muslim peoples that ‘they have no patriotism, only religious fanaticism’ By fanaticism such people mean no more than a passionate regard for a religion and obedience to its precepts. Well, which has done most, which is capable of doing most, for the great cause of human progress, human brotherhood: the unbridled nationalism which appears to-day to be the chief political ideal of Christians, a nationalism which makes big states avaricious and little states ridiculously self-assertive, a cause of wars, past, present, or to come; or the religion of Islam, which wipes away all that as worthless, and in its place sets universal brotherhood? The backward state of many Muslim peoples in respect of modern sanitation and mechanical contrivances blinds Europeans to the fact that the Muslim world is thirteen centuries ahead of Europe in political and social science. It also blinds young Muslims, who have been educated here in Europe to admire things European indiscriminately, to this most important fact of Muslim progress. But only for a time, in youth. They shake off the illusion with a little thought. Let them remember that, as Muslims, they are representatives of an ideal more advanced than any that prevails in Europe. If they forsake that high ideal of brotherhood for the lower one of national pride, they (in the words of the Qur’án) ‘barter the higher for the lower,’ as certainly as did the Children of Israel when they turned from worshipping Allah, and bowed themselves before a calf of gold, the work of men’s hands.
A Christian can say: ‘I am an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a German first, and a Christian afterwards’; for it is the truth. The development of Christianity has produced this nationalism. But that is not the case in El Islam. Whatever nationalism has appeared in Muslim countries has been purely imitative and artificial, the work of foreign influences, foreign money. I speak of nationalism in the European sense. Pan-islamism – which is true Islamic patriotism – has been misnamed ‘nationalism’ in the Press of Europe more than once; and a pan-Islamic movement in some Eastern country has been wrongly represented as a nationalist movement. A pan-Islamic movement would, of course, if left alone, be a peaceful and progressive movement, aiming at the raising of the Muslim brotherhood in every land by education. A nationalist movement, on the other hand, is an aggressive movement, jealous of all other nationalities and heedless of religion. It is therefore foreign to the spirit of Islam.
There is nothing that we Muslims ought to guard more zealously than this brotherhood of all believers. I dare say that some of you English Muslims are occasionally impatient at some of the customs of the Muslim world. Well, if you have in you the true Islamic spirit, you will be careful of those little matters for your brother’s sake, who loves them. They may be little in themselves. A nail or rivet is a little thing. And these small matters hold us all together.
on the occasion of “Eid-ul-Fitr”, on the 29th June, 1919
‘O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah with the care which is due to Him, and do not die without submitting to Him utterly.
‘And hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah, and do not separate. And remember Allah’s goodness to you, how you were enemies and He united your hearts so that you became brothers. And how you were on the brink of an abyss of fire and He rescued you from it. Thus Allah makes clear His revelations to you, in order that you may be rightly guided.’
‘The cable of Allah!’ In another chapter of the Book it is written: ‘There is no compulsion in religion. The Right Direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who discards vain superstitions and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will not give way.’ Everything else gives way and fails us except the tie which binds the sons of men by duty to Allah. And in that tie, that cable joining us to God, is the one certain and unfailing hope of human progress, the one sure way of human brotherhood, the one way to success in that which hitherto has been a failure – the progress of mankind as a whole to peace and happiness. Self-sacrifice is the proof of true religion. But some people when they speak of self-sacrifice mean the sacrifice of one human being for another. That may be anti-social, anti-human. It may happen that a worthy, useful, good person sacrifices himself or herself for a worthless, useless, wicked person. The only self-sacrifice which has real human – and therefore religious – value, is the sacrifice of the self to Allah, the surrender of our selfish and ambitious aims to Allah’s universal purpose.
In the same way love of children, friends, relations, and the desire to serve them; love of country, love of creed, are admirable in their way; but without the thought of Allah, and the higher purpose, they become detrimental to humanity at large. Allah is the Creator and Sustainer alike of all mankind, no matter what their race, or creed, or colour. His mercy and His purpose are for all alike. If we serve our friends, or our relations, or our country, or our religious community without that personal adherence to Allah which is the duty of every one of us, without the thought of Allah’s universal purpose, we exalt our relations, or our country, at the expense of other men’s relations, other people’s countries, and we are really doing harm instead of good, in terms of humanity. And as objects of devotion, all these things must fail and disappoint us. ‘All men die. All men must meet the judgement of their Lord. Be not of those who forget.’
Our closest intimacy with a fellow-creature is not perfect intimacy. No human being really comprehends another. We touch each other only externally at certain points, and the attempt to get to closer intimacy leads to disappointment, pessimism and despair. There is in every one of us an inner self, which was old when we first woke to consciousness and will be young when all our faculties are smitten with decay. If that inner self surrenders to another human being there is tragedy, for no human being has the power to satisfy its yearnings. In Allah only can it find contentment. In Allah only can all our various personalities find fulfilment and really reach communion with each other. There is no such thing as a perfect communion of two human souls. The inmost soul of every man and woman is solitary from the cradle to the grave, unless and until it surrenders to Allah, and then it is never solitary any more. It is at one with Allah’s purpose in the universe, reconciled to the conditions of existence, content with life and death, happy to strive in the way which Allah has appointed, leaving the results to Him. That is Islam. It is not, as some suppose, a state of ecstatic lethargy, but a state of ecstatic energy, of glad fulfilment of the laws of God. And the laws of Allah in the Qur-án are not negative; they are positive; not merely, Thou shalt not do so-and-so; but, Do so-and-so, and so-and-so with all your might. At the time of the coming of Muhammad religion was a thing apart from daily life. It was bound up with vain ideas of the miraculous. A phenomenon to be regarded as divine had to transgress the natural order in a glaring way. The men of Mecca said: ‘What is the matter with this Prophet? He eats food and walks in the streets. Why has not an angel been sent down to support him in his admonitions? Why has not a heavenly treasure been bestowed on him? Why has he not a paradise from which to eat?’ They had such legends of the former prophets. The Qur-án informs them of the truth: ‘We have not sent any messengers before you but they did assuredly eat food and walk in the streets.’ In other words the former prophets, whom they deified, were only men.
Islam brought back religion to the light of every day. It proclaimed the phenomena of every day to be signs of Allah, bearing testimony to His power and majesty more truly than any miracle that ever was related. And it placed a goal of true religion in this world. Allah is the king of this world. We are all in His hands, helpless against laws wenever made – the laws of nature, which are laws of God. Man is His Khalifah (viceroy) in this world. But Allah is not an absent king. ‘Allah is the protecting friend of those who believe. He leads them out of darkness into light.’ His evidences are around us. He is here. ‘And do not die without submitting to Him utterly.’ Do not die without becoming Muslims in the inward sense.
But do not think of that submission as the end of spiritual life. It is not an end at all, it is a state of being, and a very active state of being in obedience to the law of God – a law above the laws which men have made – and that law is the service of humanity as a whole. It covers not only personal conduct, but social relations, commerce and finance, politics and international relations. ‘Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you.’ The laws of Allah as revealed in the Qur-án are simply that maxim extended to collective as well as individual human conduct, codified and reasoned out in detail in such a way that the ignorant and the intelligent, the nation and the individual, alike can know for certain what their duty is in given circumstances.
Usury is anti-social, gambling is anti-social, drunkenness is anti-social. The ideal of property as belonging absolutely to the individual to do exactly what he likes with it, and leave it in his will to whom he likes, is anti-social. All property is a trust from God, and held upon conditions clearly laid down in the sacred law. A certain portion of the income must be given to the poor, a certain portion to the community every year. And when a man dies his property must be divided among certain relatives, women as well as men, in fixed proportions.
Aggressive nationalism is a crime in the Kingdom of Allah. Patriotism, as Europeans generally understand it – my country right or wrong – is anti-human. The Muslim has no business with such errors. Obedience to the law of Allah as revealed in the Qur-án is, in my belief, the only way to reconcile the claims of rich and poor, of governors and governed, of slave and free. When once the law of Allah is accepted all those troubles disappear. I believe it is the only way out of the dilemma in which civilization is now placed; and it is interesting for a Muslim to note how nearly the most enlightened European thinkers approach to it in their suggested remedies. They little guess that what they deem the latest thing in human thought was first propounded by an unlettered Arab thirteen hundred years ago as part of the divine law governing all human progress. When you hear the Muezzin calling, ‘Come to success! Come to success!’ what do you suppose is meant? Not selfish success. Spiritual success! Yes, for only through the service of humanity can we attain the sense of Allah’s protecting friendship in this world, and to attain that is the purpose of our being. For thirteen hundred years that cry has been going forth from every mosque in the world by night and day. ‘Come to success! Come to success!’
Success in that which hitherto has been a failure – the progress of mankind as a whole! Success within the Muslim world there has been, and there is. Nationalism has been abolished. Patriotism has been replaced by the spirit of brotherhood. Black and white and brown and yellow people mix in Islam upon a footing of complete equality, holding fast, all of them together, to the cable of Allah: the sacred law. There was no police for centuries within the Muslim empire, and no need of one. There is no need of a police for happy people. Oh, we Muslims have great cause to remember Allah’s goodness to us: ‘how we were enemies and He united our hearts and we became brothers; and how we were on the brink of an abyss of fire and He saved us from it.’
But what of the world outside Islam? Have Muslims thought sufficiently of that? Have they not been content with their own happiness, and neglected their duty as a community to do good to others, to mention Allah’s goodness to them so that others too might come to knowledge of it? And so it has happened that the tortured peoples of the earth, made energetic by their misery, attacked the happy peoples. They overcame the Muslim empire, bit by bit, till now they stand above the last heroic remnant of it in the attitude of executioners. They know no law of God – nor even any law of man – where conquered peoples are concerned.
But is that their fault? Is it not the fault of Muslims in the past? It is thirteen hundred years since the Divine laws regulating war and conquest for the welfare of mankind were revealed. How comes it that the rulers of the world to-day have never even heard of them?
But is the Kingdom of Allah destroyed? Is the Kingdom of Allah at anybody’s mercy? No, indeed! The Muslims had become distracted; in their bewilderment they scattered, going this way and that. Now, praise to Allah, they are once again united, holding fast, all together, to the cable of Allah, no longer separate. The Kingdom of Allah can never be defeated while Muslims keep that spirit, while our men in high positions are ready to resign, while every Muslim is prepared to give up everything and die if necessary, in order to secure an act of justice. The Muslim empire has been conquered once before; and then what happened? The conquerors themselves were conquered. They embraced Islam. Is that impossible to-day? No, it is not; if by Islam we mean what the Prophet and the Qur-án mean by it: not necessarily our own form, but the great principles of our religion, acknowledgement of Allah’s kingship over earth and acceptance of that law of universal brotherhood and tolerance which Muhammad (may God bless and keep him) preached to men. It is what the tortured nations of the world are longing for. The one thing needed is a good example from the Muslims. Strive to do good to everyone with whom you come in contact; avoid all evil and degrading habits; stand up for good, wherever you perceive it, not only among Muslims but in all the world; oppose evil wherever it appears; call upon everyone who believes in a higher law than that of men, and looks for a higher judgment than that of men, who believes in abstract right and wrong according to the measure of Allah, whether he call himself a follower of Jesus (on whom be peace) or of Moses (on whom be peace) or of any Prophet or of no Prophet, to join with us in a great effort after righteousness. Let us hold fast, all of us together, to the cable of Allah, and never separate!
In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
It’s interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together – how Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about it, I can’t help saying “Subhannallah”, and thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born into Islam and been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don’t really appreciate this blessing.
Insha’Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for da’wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read, insha’Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.
I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small own (San Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 when I last checked) was a mostly white, upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area – just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbours, played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed trees in my front yard.
My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we didn’t know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet – a kind of “direction book” -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do next (if we didn’t fall asleep first!). I was baptized in this church, and received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don’t remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.
I lived on a dead-end street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian Church. When I was about 10, the people of this church invited me to participate in their children’s Christmas play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only about 30 older people (past their 50’s), but they were nice and never made me feel out of place. There were about three younger couples with children younger than me.
I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade, I started baby-sitting the younger kids during the service. By ninth grade, I was helping the minister’s wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: my friends, myself, and a young couple with kids, but we liked it that way. The big Presbyterian Church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. Nevertheless, our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend’s abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they’re Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people’s sins; why are we guilty of Adam’s original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn’t give us good answers either; they only told us to “have faith”.
The people at church told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.’ It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The rule was that you had to sit alone – anywhere on the camp’s 200 beautiful acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek, and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs – listened to the water, the birds’ songs, the crickets’ chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned home, this feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of Jesus’ role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church teachings behind.
I believed (and still do) in the teaching “Love your neighbour as yourself”, fully giving to others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it wasn’t much), I sent the first $25 to a program called “Foster Parents Plan” (they’ve changed the name now). This charity hooked up needy children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn’t work. He had 2 younger brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 – he was excited because his sister had got engaged. I thought, “She’s the same age as me, and she’s getting engaged!” It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.
Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students at my school in English. In a group called “Students for Social Responsibility,” I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all had at that time was of a nuclear war).
I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I had penpals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called `Children of War’ – a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house – the group’s chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn’t talk much (their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.
All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these interests with me.
At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others – a girl from California (who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn’t know anyone else at school, so I tried to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a group of international students to practice English).
I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious. We got together every week to listen to “personal testimonies”, sing songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their heads, with their eyes closed) and singing “hallelujah.” I had _never_ seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian Church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God, and I didn’t feel comfortable returning.
I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel – a small, round building nestled in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues – nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and closer to God there than at any church I had ever been to.
During this time, I was also meeting with a group of international students as part of the Conversation Group program. We had five people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an Italian man and a Palestinian man. We met twice a week over lunch, to practice English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our studies, our childhood, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the Palestinian man (Faris) talk about his life, his family, his faith, etc., it struck a nerve in me. I remembered Sherif, Fatima and Maysoon, the only other Muslims I had ever known. Previously, I had seen their beliefs and way of life as foreign, something that was alien to my culture. I never bothered to learn about their faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.
During my second term of school, the conversation group disbanded and the international students transferred to other schools. The discussions we had had, however, stayed at the front of my thoughts. The following term, I registered for a class in the religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. None of us are punished for Adam’s original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful and Loving God forgave him. God doesn’t require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn’t God, he was a prophet, like all of the other prophets, who all taught the same message: Believe in the One true God; worship and submit to Him alone; and live a righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn’t confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to rest my faith.
That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of the library and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had been searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions, Buddhism in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how Islam would affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian, with my family, etc. I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out Islamic centers in my area, but the closest one was in San Francisco, and I never got to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn’t fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in particular, when we were all watching a public television program about the Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for “snow”, because snow is such a big part of their life. Later that night, we were talking about how different languages have many words for things that are important to them. My father commented about all the different words Americans use for “money” (money, dough, bread, etc.). I commented, “You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God – I guess that’s what is important to them.”
At the end of the summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the mosque in south-west Portland. I asked for the name of a woman I could talk to, and they gave me the number of a Muslim American sister. That week, I visited her at home. After talking for a while, she realized that I was already a believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help guide me in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For example, how to pray. I had read it in books, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it just from books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but I knew I wasn’t doing it right. The sister invited me that night to an aqiqa (dinner after the birth of a new baby). She picked me up that night and we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there, and they were very friendly to me that night. I said my shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how to pray. They talked to me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night feeling like I had just started a new life.
I was still living in a campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take two buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women lived). I quickly lost touch with the women I met, and was left to pursue my faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to the mosque, but was confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I’d show up to borrow some books from the library, and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I decided to go to my first Jumah (Friday) prayer, and I couldn’t go in for the same reason. Later, I was told that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that I couldn’t go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to have faith and learn on my own.
Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had been contemplating the issue of hijab, but was too scared to take that step. I had already begun to dress more modestly, and usually wore a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited the sister, she told me “all you have to do is move that scarf from your shoulders to your head, and you’ll be Islamically dressed.”). At first, I didn’t feel ready to wear hijab, because I didn’t feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the reason for it, agreed with it, and admired the women who did wear it, they looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it, people would ask me many questions, and I didn’t feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up and went to class in hijab. Alhamdillah, I haven’t taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong, and proud to be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody’s questions.
However, I also felt isolated and lonely during that first Ramadan. No one from the Muslim community even called me. I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get special meals (the dining hall wasn’t open during the hours I could eat). The school agreed to give me my meals in bag lunches. So every night as sundown approached, I’d walk across the street to the kitchen, go in the back to the huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for fitoor (sunset breakfast meal), one for suhoor (pre-dawn meal)). I’d bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit, cookies, and either a tuna or egg salad sandwich. The same thing, for both meals, for the whole month. I was lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.
When I embraced Islam, I told my family. They were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision, and knew that I was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my activities and my deep faith, even if they didn’t share it. They were not as open-minded, however, when I started to wear hijab. They worried that I was cutting myself off from society, that I would be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals, and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical. They didn’t mind if I had a different faith, but they didn’t like it to affect my life in an outward way.
They were more upset when I decided to get married. During this time, I had been back in touch with Faris, the Muslim Palestinian brother of my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in Islam. He was still in the Portland area, attending the community college. We started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother’s house, etc. We were married the following summer (after my sophomore year, a year after my shahaada). My family freaked out. They weren’t quite yet over my hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something else at them. They argued that I was too young, and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of school, become a young mother, and destroy my life. They liked my husband, but didn’t trust him at first (they were thinking “green card scam”). My family and I fought over this for several months, and I feared that our relationship would never be repaired.
That was 3 years ago, and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University. We live in a very strong and close-knit Muslim community. I graduated magna cum laude, with a degree in child development. I have had several jobs, from secretary to pre-school teacher, with no problems about my hijab. I’m active in the community, and still do volunteer work. My husband, insha’Allah, also finished his Electrical Engineering degree. We visit my family a couple of times a year. I met Faris’ parents for the first time this summer, and we get along great. I’m slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list of languages I speak.
My family has seen all of this, and has recognized that I didn’t destroy my life. They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments, and can see that I am truly happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to Alhamdulillah.
Looking back on all of this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today. I truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in a pattern – a path to Islam.
Alhamdillillahi rabi al’amin.
Your sister in faith, C. Huda Dodge “Say: Allah’s guidance is the only guidance, and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds…”
As Muslims we have a lot to be proud of with the noble marial art of boxing. First to capture the imagination of Muslims was Muhammad Ali who single-handedly changed the face of boxing into the commercial success and carnival it is to today. He was the Muslim gladiator of his time, even though he was aligned with the heretical Nation of Islam. Not knowing his relgious leanings, the sense of pride felt by the Muslims when he defeated a non-Muslim opponent was universal. More recently we have Mike Tyson, Chris Eubank, Prince Nassem Hameed and much more recently the young Amir Khan; who continue to give Muslims a sense of pride in this sport.
But as Muslims should we really be enjoying and participate in boxing? I must admit up until recently I loved the sport, I enjoyed watching my favourite boxer knock out his opponent and used to get into the atmosphere created by the pre-match hype. I used to pour scorn on those who wanted boxing banned, what right did they have in banning such an exciting and exhilarating sport?
I remember watching the Chris Eubank and Michael Watson fight in which Michael Watson lost not only the fight but his quality of life, for he was left a vegetable confined to a wheelchair and with severe brain damage. This upset me greatly, here before my very eyes a healthy and able bodied man who could stand against anyone was now reduced to someone incapable of fending for himself physically and mentally. This would not be the only time I would see a good man reduced to a vegatative state as sometime later the boxer Gerald McClennan suffered a similar fate. Infact he was in a coma and it was feared that he would not survive. Fortunately he did survive, but was it really living, as he was brain damaged for life? It was after this incident that I started to think about boxing and its validity, not only as a sport, but as a sport sanctioned by Shari’ah. I am no scholar but given the evidence boxing must be a sport that the Shari’ah cannot justify.
Some time ago, with the Bruno-Tyson fight I noticed a lot of interest by friends and family in the fight. During the pre-match hype my mind went into overdrive thinking about boxing and Islam and increasingly I was abhorred by boxing. Looking at the evidence against boxing, it is not hard to realise that boxing must be considered haraam (forbidden) or undesirable to the point of being haraam (Makruh al-Tahrim). The object of boxing is knocking an opponent unconscious by physically hitting him with excessive force about the head, the intent is physical damage to your opponent. At the end of all fights that I have seen, the face is left severely damaged and scarred, we know from ahadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) forbade hitting the face:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “If somebody fights (or beats somebody) then he should avoid the face.” [Sahih al-Bukhari Vol III Hadith 734.]
Narrated Salim: Ibn ‘Umar said, “The Prophet forbade beating (animals) on the face.” [Sahih al-Bukhari Vol VII Hadith 449]
So we know that the word “forbade” here seems to indicate that this action is haraam when done to animals and humans are above animals in all respects. When the damage to a person is so severe such as brain damage or worse, fatal, then this has to be considered haraam, for there is no reason to suffer such injuries. Our bodies and lives are an amanah (trust) from Allah ta’ala given to us for safe keeping, they do not belong to us to do as we choose, so we have no right to participate in a sport or any other activity that violates the amanah and whose objective is intense physical damage.
It is sad to see such people as Muhammad Ali, who once “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee” now a shadow of his former self (although still has a remarkable dignity about him), Muhammad Ali once one of the finest examples of masculinity coupled with charisma, physical beauty and elegance, an object of pride for the entire Muslim Ummah, now an object of pity and a distant memory of bygone glory. Ironic isn’t it considering the current downtrodden predicament of our Ummah? Should a man have to be reduced to this through his own doing?
As for Muhammad Ali I have a lot of love and respect for him as a Muslim, and recently there was a documentary about him on BBC2 in a series called “Reputations”, it occured to me that here was a man who had so much more than boxing to offer the world and the Ummah, a man principled enough to stand by his beliefs no matter what the consequences, a spokesperson for the oppressed, a voice that would always be heard. As a Muslim one cannot help but feel drawn to such a remarkable and likeable personality and, alhamdulillah, he entered the fold of orthodoxy in the early 80s. If anyone wishes to read about Muhammad Ali then his biography has been available for quite sometime, it is called “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times” by Thomas Hauser and is well worth reading.
Any parent whose child takes an interest in boxing should bear in mind the severe dangers and consider answering for their decision on the Day of Judgement, since our children are also an amanah from Allah ta’ala. The physical training and discipline offered by boxing is excellent and children should be encouraged into physical exercise. Rather than encourage them to do boxing, parents should encourage children to learn semi-contact Karate or Kung-Fu, since the object of semi-contact is not physical damage but to score points by minimum contact, anyone one using excessive force is penalised. Semi-contact Kung-Fu and Karate also teach vital self-defence techniques that are needed in an increasingly violent society and parents should instill discipline and good adab (manners) in their children not to show off the skills they may have learned.
May Allah forgive any incorrect assumptions I may have made, success is only through Him.
“Tradition” in academic circles has come to signify old fashioned customs, archaic cultural practices, ossified ideas handed down from the past and articulated to the letter by naïve, simple minded neo-Luddites. In popular discourse, to be traditional is to adamantly cling in the past. Those espousing traditional values are often lumped into the same category as the tree-huggers and angry protesters hurling insults at the towers of free-trade, liberalization and globalization and in the process braving the batons and pepper-spray of heavily armed policemen.
From this perspective, tradition is not only diametrically opposed to modernity; it represents a distinct historical period from which modernity saved the world by liberating itself from the shackles of tradition. Thus, anyone who consciously clings to the profound and perennial “Truths” or “Virtues” if you wish, embodied in all sacred traditions, is regarded as “backward looking,” anti-progress or worst, hopeless romantics.
In “Arguing Sainthood: Modernity, Psychoanalysis and Islam,” Katherine Pratt Ewing eloquently explains and historically illustrates that what has come to be regarded as “traditional” was never static nor monolithic, but was instead varied and constantly evolving over time. The accusation of rigidity was hurled at tradition, she argues, by the architects of colonization in order to establish the colonizer’s hegemony over the colonized. Ultimately, in order for the colonizer to succeed in his colonization, the modern had to be cast as superior to the existing order. And thus the only reason why civilizations of old were destroyed, the argument goes, was because they failed to develop, progress, and to change. In other words, leave the old and dilapidated and get with the new program.
Unfortunately, many Muslims today have swallowed the false discursive assumption that tradition is something static. Therefore, in order to move forward, they have to tear themselves away from the past and embrace the modern, and by extension, the post-modern, with all its technological gadgetry, and its shifting house of virtues and ethics.
The consequence of this charge has produced some rather abnormal collective behavioral traits among us. We find in the murky water of contemporary Muslim reality those who feel the need to label themselves: modernists, progressives, reformists, fundamentalists; and even when there is absolutely no need for other categories, they nevertheless continue to pile up.
At this particular juncture, when young Muslims in the west are feeling a burning desire to understand and perhaps also experience something of the intellectual, spiritual, ethical and virtuous ambiance of earlier generations, it is important to clarify what we mean by the term “traditional.”
According to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, executive director of Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, CA, traditional Islam is the “plumb line”, the trunk of the Islamic tree, if you prefer, whose roots are firmly buried in the soil of Prophethood.
Over time, tributaries sprout from the “plumb line” and eventually die out, but the line continues because ours is a tradition based on isnad – sound, authentic, reliable transmission of sacred knowledge.
Young Muslims in the West, I believe, are responding positively to the call of “tradition” because they are a tad fed up with the many tributaries that have fractured from the “plumb line.” They want to experience an Islam free of ideology, statist or otherwise, an Islam free of political affiliations, organizational goals, and market driven visions hatched in lofty towers by engineers and doctors.
Therefore, by “tradition” we mean the “Sunnah” of our Noble Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, in all its timeless,
living and sacred glory. The Sunnah here is the worldly manifestation of the divine revelation which has been codified and preserved in the sacred text of Al-Qur’an.
To follow this sacred tradition means to stake all claims, whatever they are, in the two sources of Truth: The Qur’an and the Sunnah. In our Ummah, no one, regardless of what category he puts himself in, will argue to the contrary. Some may choose to stress only the intellectual, cultural, social, or spiritual aspects of the Islamic tradition instead of treating the tradition as an integrated whole. Regardless of what is given priority, it must be based on the explicit “Truths” evident in the Qur’an and the Sunnah for it to be regarded as within the parameters of the Islamic tradition.
This tradition is the whole of Islam (al-din) and whenever an attempt is made to compartmentalize or divide it up into edible portions, for whatever reasons, that effort will never survive the test of time. Having said that, we should recognize that those who emphasize one aspect of the tradition may be doing it out of a need and not an attempt to split the tradition into parts.
In order for speak of a sacred tradition there must be a model that serves as its reference point. We therefore recognize that the community of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was established with divine guidance as a model, and at no time in history will there ever be another community like it. Further, the Islamic sacred tradition has been from its inception a living tradition and rigorously documented as such.
In order for the tradition to remain valid it has to be transmitted in a way that will stand the test of time. A sacred tradition cannot survive without transmission and the key to transmission is isnad, or sound and verifiable links that stitches each generation of believers to the preceding one all the way back to the Blessed Messenger.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, has often said that “isnad” is the secret of this Ummah and a gift from Allah. Without “isnad” the entire tradition could very well collapse. The system of ijaza (teaching licenses) is intricately linked to isnad in that one takes his knowledge from noble men and women who took their knowledge from those who took their knowledge from those….all the way back to that model community and to the blessed Messenger himself, whose knowledge, without a shadow of doubt, came from the Lord of the Divine Throne through his messenger, the angel Gibril, upon him be peace.
There is a tested and established tradition aimed at preserving and transmitting sacred knowledge within the overall tradition of Islam. We recognize its validity and importance today especially when the “sacred” has been relegated to an inferior position in our modern educational system. Zaytuna Institute in California, and a host of other well-established organizations in the U.S.A., Canada and the UK, have dedicated themselves to preserving and re-establishing the traditional educational method of teaching the Islamic sacred sciences to the present generation of Muslims in the West.
The fact that the tradition must be transmitted to remain valid, necessarily entails that it cannot be static because time does not stand still and the world is certainly not one big snapshot. The established Truths of the Islamic tradition will always confront and must reconcile itself to new situations, events and circumstances.
A lot of the divisions and acrimony we find in our communities today is as a direct result over a problem in determining exactly what is an “authentic” tradition.
In “Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought” Daniel Brown points out: “…it is also evident that tradition is frequently appealed to as a way of defending against perceived innovation, as a way of preserving threatened values. Alternative uses of tradition are thus a major battleground; there is fierce competition to control the process by which the content of tradition is defined, and for modern Muslims, sunna has become the bitterest point of conflict. Thus, the modern problem of sunna arises out of conflict among Muslims over the definition and content of the authentic tradition, and over the method by which the tradition is to be defined.” (page 3)
The only way to effectively deal with the thorny issue of what constitutes an authentic application of our tradition is to recognize that the mujatahid Imams, and by extension the `ulama who follow in their methodological footprints, are the final arbiters. This applies to fiqh as well as to the other branches of the Islamic sacred sciences.
Differences of opinions and interpretations in our sacred tradition is not a sign of weakness in the tradition, but instead, they attest to its richness and complexity.
When we live according to the Sunnah today we are preserving our tradition and ensuring its continuity and validity in time by handing it down to the next generation in much the same way as it was given to us by the pervious. The point here is that we act upon the tradition, not impose our modern sensibilities upon it, in the hope that the divine barakah may trickle down on us.
Finally, we are aware that the Islamic tradition, handed down to us over the years, is our link to the historic Prophetic community. By living it we are confirming that the way of our noble Messenger is as valid today as it was when Allah The Almighty sent him as a Mercy to all of mankind 1400 years ago.
This is what we mean by “tradition” and so when reference is made to the work we do as being “traditional,” it is not an attempt to label, but to identify a focus that’s broad enough to include all Muslims.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in his “Traditional Islam in the Modern World” offers the following comprehensive definition of tradition and one that I think works well as a summary:
“Tradition is at once al-din in the vastest sense of the word, which embraces all aspects of religion and its ramifications, al-sunnah, or that which, based upon sacred models, has become tradition as this word is usually understood, and al-silsilah, or the chain which relates each period, episode or stage of life and thought in the traditional world to the Origin….Tradition, therefore, is like a tree, the roots of which are sunk through revelation in the Divine Nature and from which the trunk and branches have grown over the ages. At the heart of the tree of tradition resides religion, and its sap consists of that grace or barakah which, originating with the revelation, makes possible the continuity of the life of the tree. Tradition implies the sacred, the eternal, the immutable Truth; the perennial wisdom, as well as the continuous application of its immutable principles to various conditions of space and time.” (page 13).
(By Nazim Baksh. Nazim is a television journalist at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada. Over the last five years he has been involved in organizing Deen Intensives, Rihlas and other traditional programs in North America).
[Source: Dr. `Inayatullah Iblagh al-Afghanistani, Doctorate thesis: al-Imam al-A`zam Abu Hanifa al-Mutakallim (The Greatest Imam: Abu Hanifa, The Theologian), 2nd edition, with supervision of Dr. Muhammad Ali Mahjub, Minister of Awqaf and President of the Supreme Council for Religious Affairs, Cairo, 1987.]
Some counted his teachers as four thousand within the ranks of the Tabi`in. Among them al-Laith ibn Sa`d and Malik ibn Anas, the Imam of Dar al-Hijraas mentioned by Daraqutni [al-Khairat al-Hisan, 23].
The author of al-Khairat al-Hisan collected information from books of biographies and cited the names of the Sahaba whom it is reported that the Imam has transmitted ahadith from. He counted them as sixteen of the Sahaba. They are:
1. Anas ibn Malik
2. Abdullah ibn Anis al-Juhani
3. Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Juz’ al-Zabidi
4. Jabir ibn Abdullah
5. Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa
6. Wa’ila ibn al-Asqa`
7. Ma`qal ibn Yasar
8. Abu Tufail `Amir ibn Wa’ila
9. `A’isha bint Hajrad
10. Sahl ibn Sa`d
11. al-Tha’ib ibn Khallad ibn Suwaid
12. al-Tha’ib ibn Yazid ibn Sa`id
13. Abdullah ibn Samra
14. Mahmud ibn al-Rabi`
15. Abdullah ibn Ja`far
16. Abu Umama
Many disagreements exist regarding his reporting of Ahadith from some of these Sahaba. His reporting from Anas is supported by most of the biographers. The following are some of the Ahadith believed to be reported by the Imam directly from the Sahaba. Many biographers list them in their books:
“Seeking of knowledge is an obligation on each and every Muslim.” Reported by Abu Hanifa upon the authority of Anas ibn Malik. Many books of biography mention two chains of transmition for this Hadith.
Arabic transliteration: (“Talabu al-`ilmi fariDaatun `ala kulli muslim”)
Abu Hanifa reported upon the authority of Jabir ibn Abdullah, said, “A man from the Ansar came to the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! I never was gifted a son and a son was never born to me.’ So he (saw) said, ‘And where are you from the abundance of zikr and istighfar? Allah provides, by them, the children.” He said, “So, the man used to increase his charity and his asking for forgiveness.” Then Jabir, said “nine sons were born to him.”
Some argued, though, that Jabir died in the year 79 A.H. while Abu Hanifa was born, most probably, in the year 80 A.H., so how can this report be true?
Arabic transliteration: (“Ja’a rajulun min al-anSar ila al-nabi – Salla allahu `alaihi wa sallam – fa qala lahu, ‘ya rasulallahi ma ruziqtu waladan qaTT wa la wulida li,’ faqala, ‘wa aina anta min kathrat al-istighfar wa al-Sadaqa, yarzuqu Allahu biha al-walad.’ Qal, “fa kana al-Rajul yukthiru min al-Sadaqa wa al-istighfar.” Wa qala jabir – radiya allahu `anh – “fa wulida lahu tis`atun mina al-dhukur”).
The Greatest Imam said, “I heard Abdullah ibn Juz’ al-Zabidi, the companion of the Prophet (saw), saying, “Whoever learned the knowledge of religion, Allah will protect him from worries and will provide him with sustenance from where he does not expect.”
Arabic transliteration: (“Man tafaqqaha fi al-din kafahu Allahu hammahu wa razaqahu min Haythu la yaHtasib”).
Reported from Abu Hanifa, said, “I heard Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa saing, “I heard the Prophet (saw) saying, “Whoever built a mosque, even if it be like a nest of a sand-grouse, Allah will build him a house in Paradise.”
Arabic transliteration: (“Man bana lillahi baitan wa law ka mafHaSi qaTa, bana Allahu lahu baitan fi al-janna”).
Reported from Abu Hanifa, said, “I was born in the year eighty, and Abdullah ibn Anis came to Kufa in the year ninety-four, and I heard from him while I was fourteen years old. I heard him saying, ‘Your loving the thing causes blindness and deafness.’”
Arabic transliteration: (“Wulidtu sanata thamanin, wa qadima Abdullah ibn Anis al-Kufa sanata arba`in wa tis`in, wa sami`tu minhu wa ana ibnu arba`a `ashrata sana. Sami`tuhu yaqul, ‘Hubbuka al-shay’a yu`mi wa yuSimm’”).
Reported by Abu Hanifa, said I heard Wa’ila ibn al-Asqa` saying, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) saying, ‘Do not display your rejoicing at your brother [‘s misfortune], so that Allah might remedy him and inflict it upon you.’”
Arabic transliteration: (“La tuZhiranna shamatataka li akhika fa yu`afiahu Allahu wa yabtalika”).
Reported from Abu Hanifa, said, “Wa’ila ibn al-Asqa` told me, from the Messenger of Allah (saw), said, ‘Leave what causes you doubt and head towards what does not cause you doubt.’”
Arabic transliteration: (“Da` ma yuribuk ila ma la uribuk”).
[al-Manaqib, al-Muwaffaq al-Makki, Vol. 1, 27; al-Manaqib, al-Kurdari, Vol. 1, 5]
And from what is agreed upon among many of the authors is that the Imam saw Anas ibn Malik. [Even] al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, despite his advocacy of a negative image for the Imam, does support the fact of his seeing of Anas ibn Malik with his saying, “Abu Hanifa saw Anas ibn Malik and heard from `Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah” [Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. 13, 324].
Ibn `Abd al-Barr mentions in his Jami` Bayan al-`Ilm [Vol. 1, 35], after he mentioned, alongside its sanad, a piece of news which Imam Abu Hanifa heard from Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn al-Juz’, the Sahabi, “Ibn Sa`d, author of al-Waqidi, mentioned that Abu Hanifa saw Anas ibn Malik and Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn al-Juz’.” Counting on this, Ibn al-Juz’ is considered to have died late, and in priority, that Abu Hanifa saw Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa since he wasKufi with regards to his residence and place of death.
Furthermore, Abu Nu`aim al-Asfahani mentioned among the Sahaba, whom Abu Hanifa saw, Anas, Abdullah ibn al-Harith, and Ibn Abi Awfa. The same is reported by Sibt ibn al-Jawzi upon the authority of Dhakir ibn Kamil from Abu `Ali al-Haddad from his book al-Intisar wa’l-Tarjih. This, considering the birth date of Abu Hanifa in the year 80 A.H., but if his birth date was in the year 61 A.H., or in the year 70 A.H., as in the reports of Ibn Zawad and Ibn Hayyan, the possibility of his seeing of the Sahaba would be bigger. Abu al-Qasim ibn Abi al-`Awam expanded on clarifying who was comtemporary of him relying on the first report in his book Fazail Abi Hanifa wa Ashabih (The Virtues of Abu Hanifa and His Followers).
Among what was altered by means of tampering in [the process of] copying what was mentioned is that Daraqutni was asked about Abu Hanifa’s hearing from Anas, is it considered correct? He said “la wa la ru’ytuh” (No, niether his seening). But the original statement is “la illa ru’yatuh” (No, except his seeing). As an evidence on this is what Suyuti mentioned in the beginning of his book Tabiyd al-Sahifa with his saying “Hamza al-Sahmi said, ‘I heard Daraqutni saying Abu Hanifa did not meet any of the Sahaba except that he saw Anas with his eyes but did not hear from him.’” And from the ones who professed his seeing Anas are: Ibn Sa`d, al-Daraqutni, Abu Nu`aim al-Asfahani, Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Khatib [al-Baghdadi], Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Sam`ani, `Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi, Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, Fazl Allah al-Turishty, Nawawi, Yafi`i, Dhahabi, Zain al-Din al-`Iraqi, al-Wali al-`Iraqi, Ibn al-Wazir, al-Badr al-`Ayni, Ibn Hajar [al-`Asqalani], Shihab al-Din al-Qastalani, Suyuti, and Ibn Hajar al-Makki, among others. [Ta’nib al-Khatib fi ma Saqahu fi al-Imam Abi Hanifa min al-Akadhib, Kawthari, 15].
References the Author Relied On:
1. al-Haytami, al-Khairat al-Hisan. For al-`Allama, Mufti al-Hijaz Ibn Hajar (d.943 A.H.).
2. Manaqib al-Imam Abi Hanifa. For Abu al-Mu’ayyid al-Muwaffaq al-Makki (d.568).
3. Manaqib Abi Hanifa. For Ibn al-Bazzaz al-Kurdari, author of Fatawi al-Bazzaziyya (d. 827).
4. al-Durr al-Munazzam fi Manaqib al-Imam al-A`zam: a manuscript kept in the library of al-Azhar al-Sharif (#238). For Noah Afandi (d. 1070, Cairo).
5. al-`Uqud al-Jiman fi Manaqib Abi Hanifa al-Nu`man: also a manuscript in al-Azhar. For al-Salih al-Dimashqi.
Article supplied courtesy Hani Alkhatib
Now, the tongue of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal) is even more eloquent in communicating with the dead than that of the speech when communicating with the living. The Emissary of God (May God bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘When the dead man is laid in his grave it speaks to him, saying, “Woe betide you, O son of Adam! What distracted you from contemplating me? Did you not know that I am the house of trial, the house of darkness, the house of solitude and the house of worms? What distracted you from me? You used to pass me by, strutting on!” Now if he had worked well, then someone will reply to the grave on his behalf, saying, “Do you not see that it was his practice to enjoin the good and forbid the evil?” And the grave replies, “Then for him shall I turn to verdure [a condition of freshness or healthy growth.], and his body shall become radiance, and his spirit shall soar up to God (Exhalted is He!)”.’ (According to the narrator, ‘strutting’ [faddad] is to take large strides.) [Ref: al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, 161; Abu Nu`aym, VI. 90; Abu Ya’la, al-Musnad (Haytami, Majma’, III. 45-46)]
Said `Ubaid bin `Umayr al-Laythi ‘Not a single man dies without being called by the pit in which he is buried, which declares, “I am the house of gloom, and of loneliness and solitude! If you were obedient to God during your lifetime then today I shall be a source of mercy for you, but if you were rebellious then I am an act of vengence against you. The obedient who enter me shall come forth joyful, while the rebellious who enter me shall emerge in ruin”.’
Said Muhammad ibn Sabih ‘I have heard that if a man is laid in his tomb to be tormented or afflicted by something which is odious to him, his dead neighbours call out to him, saying, “O you who leave your bretheren and neighbours behind you in the world! Was there never a lesson for you in us? Was there no clue for you in our preceding you? Did you not see how our actions were severed from us while you still had some respite? Why did you not achieve that which passed your bretheren by?” Then the regions of the earth call out to him, saying, “O you who were beguiled by the outer aspect of the world! Did you not take heed from your relatives who had vanished into the earth’s interior? Those who were beguiled by the world before you and then met their fate, and entered into their graves? You watched them being borne aloft [To the cemetary], availed nothing by those they loved, and taken to the abode which they could not escape.”‘
Said Yazid al-Ruqashi ‘I have heard it said that when the deceased is set in his tomb his works amass around him and are given to speak by God, so that they say, “O bondsman, alone in his pit! Your family and friends are now separated from you, so that today we are your sole companions”.’
Said Ka’b [al-Ahbar], ‘When the righteous bondsman is laid in his tomb he is surrounded by his righteous acts, such as his prayer, his fasting, his pilgrimage, his engagement in the Holy War, and the charity he used to distribute. Then the Angels of Chastisement approach him from the direction of his feet, but are told by Prayer,”Get back from him, you have no authority over him, for upon those [feet] he stood in me at length for the sake of God”. Then they approach him from the direction of his head, but Fasting says, “You have no authority over him, for in the world’s abode he thirsted at length for the sake of God”. Next they draw near to him from the direction of his trunk, but Pilgrimage and Holy War say, “Get back from him for he exhausted himself and wearied his body when he accomplished the Pilgrimage and the Holy War for the sake of God; no authority do you have over him”. Then they approach him from the direction of his hands, but Charity says, “Back! Retreat from my master, for how many an act of charity issued from those two hands to fall in to the hand of God (Exalted is He!), while he acted only for His sake; no authority, do you have over him”. Then he shall be told, “Rejoice! Good you have been in life and in death!” Next, the Angels of Mercy come, and spread a heavenly cloth and resting-place out for him, and his grave is widened around him for as far as the eye can see. A candle is brought from Heaven, and from it he has light until God resurrects him from his grave.’
Said `Abd Allah ibn `Ubayd ibn `Umayr at a funeral, ‘I have heard it said that the Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) once declared, “The dead man sits up and hears the footsteps of those that are present at his funeral, but none addresses him save his tomb, which says, ‘Woe betide you, O son of Adam! Did you not fear me and my narrowness, and my corruption, terror and worms? What have you prepared for me?” [Ibn al-Mubarak, (riwayaNu`aym ibn Hammad), 41; Ibn Abi’l-Dunya, K. al-Qubur (Zabidi, x.397; Suyuti, Sharh, 114).
The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife
(Kitab dhikr al-mawt wa-ma ba’dahu)
Book XL of The Revival of the Religious Sciences
(Ihya `ulum al-din)
translated with an introduction and notes by T. J.Winter
Available from Amazon UK | Amazon USA
An exposition of the grave’s discourse
to the dead, and of their utterances,
either on the tongue of common speech,
or that of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal)
from Chapter Seven
ISBN: 0 946621 13 6 (Islamic Texts Society)
If we are to intelligently discuss issues related to secularism it is imperative that we first define the term. Secularism is the divorcing of religious belief, religious ritual, or a sense of community based on religious affiliation from the moral life of society. Secularism has manifested itself historically in both a subjective and an objective sense. Subjectively, or at the level of individual experience, secularism involves the disappearance of religious thought, feeling and imagery from the understanding of worldly things. At this level of experience, many people who may appear outwardly extremely religious, may in fact be thoroughly secularized as their thought processes, sentiments, and worldview are void of any truly religious referents.
At the objective level secularism involves the exclusion of religious offices, institutions, and ceremonies from public life. All modern states are thoroughly secularized. This reality also includes the states of the Muslim world as our countries are ruled by elites who have adopted the secular institutional and bureaucratic structure of the Western Kafir state. Even those states, which have undergone some degree of Islamic reform, have done little to alter those structures.
The roots of secularism have been variously identified as emanating from Hellenic rationalism, the civil and communal values of Greco-Roman life, the Renaissance, the Reformation, Calvinism, and most prominently the moral and empirical philosophies spawned by the Enlightenment. Regardless of which of these developments we view as being pivotal in the development of secularism, we must return to one salient fact: Secularism constitutes open rebellion against Allah.
We are informed that the rationale for the creation of the human being is to worship Allah, and that the Islamic polity and the principles, which underlie it, are instituted to facilitate that worship. Hence, Islam is fundamentally anti-secular. Allah informs us in the Qur’an:
I have only created the Jinn and Humans that they worship Me.
He also informs us that the rejection of that worship involves grave consequences. He says:
Whoever turns away from My Remembrance will have a wretched life and
We shall resurrect him blind on the Day of Judgment.
Ta Ha: 124
Whoever rejects the Remembrance of his Lord, He [Allah] will lead him
into a severe, unbearable punishment.
Having thus defined secularism, we turn to the second theme introduced by the title of this lecture: secularism’s changing face. If we understand that secularism initially involved a struggle between its advocates and the European Church, we can see that it has indeed undergone significant changes. The first major change occurred during the latter 19th Century when the struggle between secularism and the church was replaced by a struggle between two competing versions of secularism: the Marxist/Socialist version and the liberal version. With the victory of the liberal version, a victory finalized by the falling of the “Iron Curtain” and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union, a set of circumstances was created which led to the return of the debate between secularism and religion. Secularism was to indeed change faces, or more precisely to reveal a new manifestation of an old face.
In the new debate between secularism and religion, Islam emerged as the standard bearer of religion. The reason for this is that Islam is, as admitted by Ernest Gellner, Zbigniew Brezinski and other leading Western intellectuals, the last true, or normative religion. The current secularist assault against Islam is thus assuming the intensity that characterized the earlier attack on Christianity. It is our contention that the origin of this assault lies in the rebellion of Satan against Allah, and his subsequent declaration of war against the descendants of Adam. The Qur’an describes that declaration in the following words:
Because you have caused me to stray, I’m going to lie waiting to ambush them [humankind] along your Straight Path. I’m going to assault them from in front, from behind, from the right and from the left; and you won’t find most of them thankful [for you blessings].
It is interesting to note that the earliest Muslim commentators as producing all of the psychological and behavioural traits that characterize the contemporary secular individual have understood this assault of Satan. Ibn Kathir relates the following passage in his commentary on this verse:
‘Ali ibn Abi Talha relates from Ibn ‘Abbas (May be Pleased with them both) that Satan’s
assault from in front means he will cause them to doubt about the Hereafter. From behind
means he will make them excessive in their craving for the World. From the right means he will cause them confusion concerning their religion. From the left means he will make sin
appealing to them. (This quote is from memory thus there may be slight changes from the
When one views the damage which has been wrought by secularism in the Christian world, and the nature of the damage which is currently manifesting itself in the Muslim world, one can readily see the accuracy of Ibn ‘Abbas’ explanation. In the Muslim world, the reality of a life after death seems the furthest thing from many people’s mind. The obsession with the World, which drives Muslim participation in a new globalized consumer culture, is too clear to warrant further comment. Increasingly large numbers of Muslims feel deprived if growing arrays of labels and logos aren’t plastered over their clothing. The confusion in the Din is apparent in the expanding ranks of the religiously noncommitted, and the increasing pettiness of the issues being vehemently argued by the committed. The appeal of sin can be gauged by the ubiquitous nature of the satellite dishes which adorn the rooftops of houses throughout the Muslim world and the increased viewing of soft and hard pornography which those dishes facilitate.
The need for an Islamic response to an increasingly pervasive secularism is all too clear. The destructiveness of man’s effort to orchestrate the social, economic and political life of society has to be arrested if we are to conceive of a meaningful future for this planet. At the individual level, the insecurity, rootlessness, and anomie resulting from the elimination of religiously informed traditional institutions provides the conditions which encourage gangs, ethnically-based hate groups, and an oftentimes violence-prone religious fundamentalism. The legions of willing recruits for extreme Zionist groups, ultraconservative armed militias in the American Midwest, chauvinistic Hindu nationalism, and increasingly inflexible “Jihad” groups in the Muslim world are all the direct or indirect result of secularism.
At the family level, the disintegration of traditionally ascribed roles, rights, and responsibilities for men, women, and children is leading to stresses that many families cannot survive. In the Muslim community, the familial stability which made spouse and child abuse rare occurrences has given way to a volatile instability whose presence can be gauged by the rapidly escalating numbers of battered women, homeless children, and divorces.
Environmentally, secularist ideals have led to what Professor ‘Abd al-Hakim Murad has referred to as the “gang rape” of the planet. The toxic byproducts of an ill-conceived developmental model poison our land, air, and the seas. Untreated sewage chokes and defiles our rivers and streams. Whole communities in coastal areas are rendered economically unviable due to overfishing so severe that in some areas even the hardy, once abundant codfish has disappeared. Even in remote areas of the planet which are presented by the tourist industry as “island paradises” the destructiveness of man’s economic hubris is all too clear.
In Oahu, the most populous of the Hawaiian islands, a ceiling of smog hovers over the densely populated downtown area and the airport/American Air Force base during still summer days. Beaches are often closed due to sewage spills. The countryside is littered with garbage dumps and junkyards. Large areas of the island have been transformed into treeless wastelands, abandoned by the pineapple industry, which has moved on to greener pastures in the Philippines and elsewhere. What few forested areas remain rapidly disappearing as developers throw up acres of new “ticky tacky” condominiums. Keeping golf courses green uses up a disproportionate percentage of available fresh water, while pesticide residues from those same golf courses poisons scarce ground water.
The above-mentioned victory of the liberal version of secularism has meant the victory of what Francis Fukuyama, one of the leading advocates of that version, refers to as free market capitalism and liberal democracy. These twin forces have worked to ensure that the ethics of profit replace the ethics of the Prophets (Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon them). Corporate profits determine if potentially privatized schools will teach children to think or to mindlessly consume. Profits determine if our rivers and lakes are swimmable. Profit determines if genetically engineered food grown in warehouses will eliminate the small farmer throughout the “developing” world just as corporate greed and agribusiness giants have practically eliminated the family farm in America. Furthermore, the relentless pursuit of profit has been the primary impetus behind the oppressive provisions of the recent Uruguay Round of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and the associated WTO (World Trade Organization). This will allow massive transnational corporations to dump cheaply produced junk food, junk products, and a junk culture on any nation of the world, with the right to declare any opposition to that process -no matter how principled that opposition- as an impediment to free trade.
In terms of liberal democracy, the corrupt implications of this arrangement are epitomized by one of its leading philosophical schools -deconstruction. This school elevates a form of literary criticism and linguistic analysis to inform social action. It posits that just as language is the product of a set of subjectively experienced “deep structures” which don’t admit the existence of any universal referents for meaningful objective knowledge, so too social and political reality is subjectively formed and experienced. Hence, there are no universal or objective referents for meaningful transcending social or political action. Whatever, social or political action does unfold in this intellectual climate, unfolds along fragmented ethnic, cultural or gender lines. The spiritual strength and philosophical principles necessary to challenge the destructive hegemony of transnational capitalism disappear before they are created leaving both pseudo-liberated woman and a growing array of multicuturalisms united by a single unchallengeable characteristic: consumerism.
This dangerous school of thought, of which the more fundamentalist wing of our current Islamic reform is in many ways an unwitting agent, eliminates the possibility of meaningful social and political action leaving a void in the human soul which is filled by consumerism. It is no accident that McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken, two symbols of the emerging global consumer culture, have appeared in Mecca, the Holiest place in Islam, under the auspices of the most fundamentalist of all Muslim governments. Taken to it logical end, this consumerism will destroy the Earth.
Islam obviously opposes this arrangement. Although deconstructionalists don’t admit the existence of universal principles such as tolerance or compassion, which make ethnic, cultural and gender politics possible, Islam contains no such internal contradiction. Let us consider one of numerous examples. Allah declares in His Noble Book:
What is wrong with you that you don’t fight in the way of Allah and the oppressed;
men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord deliver us from this town whose people are oppressors. And raise up for us from yourself one who will protect us, and raise up for us from yourself one who will help!”
Assisting the weak, working to eliminate oppression, and protecting the defenseless are higher principles the knowledge of which is made possible by the existence of an ultimate, objective reality from which all else derives its existence, and upon which all else depends for its continued existence -Allah. Hence, Islam admits an ultimate reality. It admits a higher purpose to life, the worship of Allah. It similarly presents a set of principles and ideals that serve as the basis for meaningful collective action.
Reflecting on the state of the world, one cannot help but be struck by the penetrating words of Allah in His Glorious Book:
Corruption has appeared in the land and sea because of what the hands of men have wrought [by their sinful recklessness] This is so that We may give them a taste of what they have done, in order that they may return [to the way of Divine Guidance].
If man is to return to the way of the Divine, it will be the Muslims who will lead that return. Islam presents a viable critique of contemporary atheistic thought and it is also the only major socio-religious force with a viable ecological philosophy. The thoughtless abuse and waste which characterizes our contemporary secular world is roundly condemned by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Allah declares in the Qur’an:
Eat and drink from the provision of Allah and don’t go through the Earth working
Son of Adam! Adorn yourselves at every place of prayer; eat, and drink, but don’t
waste. Surely, He [Allah] doesn’t love those who are wasteful.
Allah says concerning the mercy which His Messenger (Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) exemplified:
We have only sent you as a mercy to all the Worlds.
It is interesting to note that in the opening chapter of the Qur’an, Al-Fatiha, after mentioning his Lordship over all creation, Allah immediately mentions the vastness of His Mercy. He says, “Al-Hamdu lillahi Rabb al-‘Alamin, Al-Rahman Al-Rahim (All Praise is for Allah the Lord of All the Worlds, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful). Allah similarly reminds humanity that all living creatures comprise organized communities which have many of the basic rights possessed by humans. He says:
There is no creature on the Earth, nor any bird flying upon its wings, except that it
comprises communities like yourselves.
Muslims must honor the rights of those creatures as part of our custodianship over the Earth. However, petty little Islamic groups cannot exercise that custodianship. If Muslims are to provide badly needed direction for humanity we will have to transcend the divisions, which in many cases are the byproducts of the ill-conceived schemes of small men. In his insightful book, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century, Zbigniew Brzenski clearly implies that Islam can potentially offer a viable socio-political alternative for humanity. However, that Islamic alternative is generally unknown because unlike the failed communist alternative it hasn’t been articulated at the state level. Such an articulation must occur before Islam can respond seriously to the challenge of secularism.
In order for Islam to be a viable international actor, state or nonstate, Muslims will have to move beyond the petty political divisions which have afflicted the Ummah for much of the past century. In the West, we will have to prevent the emerging “Traditionalist-Salafi” division from becoming a fundamental, irreconcilable split. One way to do this is to define Ahli al-Sunnah w’al-Jama’ah as broadly and as inclusively as possible, instead of the narrow, exclusive definitions, which dominate current discourse. One such definition is provided by Tahir al-Bagdadi (d. 429 AH) in his book, al-Farq bayn al-Firaq (The Difference Between the Sects). He mentions Ahl al-Sunnah w’al-Jama’ah as being comprised of eight basic groups. These groups accommodate all of the orientations, which serve as the basis for the thought of informed Traditionalists and Salafis. He then mentions an objective standard (Dabit) which distinguishes these eight groups from the adherents of the sects such as the Khawarij, M’utazilah, and others. Adopting such a broad view, which represents the best of a rich academic tradition, is essential if we are to move forward as a unified community.
I have chosen to close by emphasizing the need for Muslim unity because the tremendous challenges confronting humanity and our Ummah require our collective action. Secularism, doesn’t have to be the enduring socio-political legacy of humanity. Islam, as we have tried to show, offers something a lot better to humanity, to a ravaged Earth, and her creatures. It is up to us Muslims to demonstrate to humanity through our unity, our love, our spiritual elevation, our sacrifice, our living, and our dying that Islam is truly the “solution.” If we can understand and take up the challenges of the day humanity will be able to see the first rays of a new dawn after a long, dark, and difficult night.