‘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.