Unique Among the Religions
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
The Light (Pakistan), 16th February 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 5, pp. 1–2)
The uniqueness of Islam among the religions of the world is too wide a subject to be dealt with in an article in a newspaper, but there are certain aspects of that uniqueness which have struck even the Western writers notwithstanding their strong prejudice against Islam. I would briefly refer here to three main points.
1. The spread of Islam. It is commonly believed in the West that the political ascendancy of Islam was the real cause of its vast and easy spread among the nations of the world. The bias on this point is so deep-rooted that the strongest of arguments fall only on deaf ears and the clearest facts are brushed easily aside. What material and strength were at the back of Islam in China and the islands of the Pacific where it can count today no less than 80 million followers? Why is it that with the single exception of Arabia there is not one country in the world which, notwithstanding its being subject to the political dominance of the Muslims during the last thirteen centuries, does not own today a non-Muslim population? And as against this, Europe, which has been subject to Christian dominance during almost the same period, does not show any vestige of the non-Christian religions which Christianity supplanted. The facts are just the opposite of what the Western world commonly believes them to be. There is no religion in the world which has been more dependent for its spread on material force than Christianity, and none whose inherent truth and spiritual force have stood in less need of material force than Islam.
The truth of this is admitted by the latest Western writer on Islam in the clearest words. Thus opens Mr Stoddard’s work, The New World of Islam:
“The rise of Islam is perhaps the most amazing event in human history. Springing from a land and a people alike previously negligible, Islam spread within a century over half the earth, shattering great empires, overthrowing long established religions, remoulding the souls of races, and building up a whole new world — the world of Islam.
The closer we examine this development the more extraordinary does it appear. The other great religions won their way slowly, by painful struggle, and finally triumphed with the aid of powerful monarchs converted to the new faith. Christianity had its Constantine, Buddhism its Asoka, and Zoroastrianism its Cyrus, each lending to his chosen cult the mighty force of secular authority. Not so Islam. Arising in a desert land sparsely inhabited by a nomad race previously undistinguished in human annals, Islam sallied forth on its great adventure with the slenderest human backing and against the heaviest material odds.”
2. The Quran. The Book of Islam, the Holy Quran, was introduced in the West when European mind was simply poisoned against it. Christian Europe, which had never been, and never could be friendly to a rival creed which strove for supremacy in the world, had been brought to the highest pitch of inimicality during the Crusades, and it was after that feeling of hatred had been nursed for centuries that the Holy Book was translated into European languages by European writers. How it could be received in such a state of mind in a garb [clothing] which had been put on it by no friendly hands can be easily guessed. Yet even in that state it won over the best minds of Europe. The picture of the hatred with which the Quran is handled and its sure conquest is nowhere better drawn than in that great German, Goethe:
“However often we turn to it, at first disgusting us each time afresh, it soon attracts, astounds, and in the end enforces our reverence.”
Commenting on those words, Dr Steingass writes:
“A work, then, which calls forth so powerful and seemingly incompatible are emotions, even in the distant reader — distant as to time and still more so as to mental development — a work which not only conquers the repugnance with which he may begin its perusal, but changes the adverse feeling into astonishment and admiration, such a work must be a wonderful production of the human mind indeed, and a problem of the highest interest to every thoughtful observer of the destinies of mankind…. We may well say the Quran is one of the grandest books ever written because it faithfully reflects the character and life of one of the greatest men that ever breathed.”
3. The Prophet. And lastly, among the darkest pictures that have been drawn of the Founder of Islam in the West, the truth shines out as supreme that he was the
“most successful of all prophets and religious personalities” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Article—Koran).
Will not such a Religion, such a Book, and such a Prophet win over the world when that strong prejudice has vanished, as vanish it must with the spread of true knowledge? Certainly, it will.