The Muslim Outlook — Past and Present
by Maulana Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad, B.A.
The Light (Pakistan), 1st August 1925 Issue (Vol. 4, No. 15, pp. 2, 4 and 6)
Every step towards the highest goal of human life — the meeting with the Deity, as the Holy Quran eloquently puts, it entails a corresponding marching out from the tempting enclosure of deceptive consciousness of the material existence towards the serious and boundless fields of the real self of the human soul.
The teachers of humanity, or the Prophets as the Muslims call them, have been from age to age making continuous efforts to save the human soul from death by preventing mankind from so narrowing its outlook as to lose it within the limited circle of physical demands, and have taken countless pains at every lapse to give fresh impetus to it for taking a step further in expanding its vision. They have thus helped the realisation of the relative individual self with a near and nearer approach to the realm of the universal soul.
It is significant that in every religion there are ordinances for some sort of pilgrimage which is nothing but a plea for voyage with a tinge of the religious — a system continued to prevent members of society from relapsing into the gross deceptive animal consciousness of human life. But the soul, engrossed in its surroundings of material wants as often as not, loses sight of the real demand. Its lukewarm attempts to feel its way out of the prevailing confusion allow it to be engulfed deeper and deeper into the mire, making it day by day more forgetful of its ultimate goal till the redeemer comes, takes it by the hand and leads it out of the dark dungeon of oblivious self to the bright prospect of the recognition of its own place in the broader sphere of life in a tribe, a nation and a people.
The last of these revivals was ushered in by the advent of the last and the greatest of the Prophets [i.e., Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)] with his Last Message [i.e., the Holy Quran]. Suitably to his position and order, his message claims to push individual man’s outlook of life to the utmost bounds of imagination and thoughts, to widen his interest to the unknown limits of creation, and to broaden his sympathy to the universal circle of human society and beyond. It wants him to live in the universal life of mankind and feel his existence in the limitless expanse of creation.
The God described in the opening chapter of the Holy Quran is the Lord of the worlds.
“My Rabb, Who created; created mankind from a clot of blood,”
“Guidance for mankind,”
and phrases like this are of frequent occurrence in the Holy Quran, and
“Mercy for mankind”
and similar other expressions are to be found here and there in the Book to indicate the position of the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] in the ranks of the teachers of mankind.
So this last message of God was clearly meant for investing the self-consciousness of the individual man to the utmost extremity of the sphere of humanity for making its circle of sympathy and duty so spacious as to coincide with the boundary line of the living world.
Man’s ideal should be as high as the Creator of the universe! Since, as the Book declares, he is the image of the Creator, his outlook should be as large as Eternity, being promised an eternal progress; his sympathy should be as wide as humanity, being told that mankind is one nation; his interests as vast as the creation, being informed that whatever is between the earth and the heavens has been made for his benefit; and so in every way the message satisfies the hankering of the human soul, as becoming an image of the Perfect Being.
The worthy expounder of this sublime message, the Holy Prophet, fully illustrated the cosmopolitan breadth of its vision in his own life. The universality of the human soul so tangibly and vividly manifested itself in his life that the blackest cloud of brutish struggle, caused by the fiery passions of the flesh, was disposed at the merest touch of his personality, and the catholic consciousness of the human soul was miraculously delivered from the dark narrow dungeon of the animal percept of existence.
As the first indication of this self-consciousness of the human soul and as a natural result of the actual realisation of the Mysterious Truth that is evermore encompassing us in our existence — the First Realiser and his Companions hastened to invite their fellow-beings, near and distant, to the truth that had been revealed to them. Realisation gave them conviction, conviction brought them courage, and this courage, combined with the fresh awakening of a universal sympathy, urged them to carry the message to the furthermost corner of the world.
The message revealed to them the universality of the human soul and thus brought home to them the oneness of the whole of humanity. No boundary of hills or oceans could in any way limit the broad catholicity of the outlook of these truly inspired Muslims. The God presented and proved by the Holy Quran was not then a hearsay, the broad immutable and awful laws of nature laid down in that Book had not then become traditional love, and the spirit of the religious performances was not then covered under the tasteless garb of familiar terms and forms. With that unsullied spirit of conviction they caught the glimpse of that catholic spirit that breathed from the Holy Book and framed their minds and thoughts accordingly. They realised the importance of the Divine message:
“You are the best of the people raised for mankind, who should enjoin good and forbid evil” [The Holy Quran, 3:110],
and laid to heart the significance of the verse:
“The Prophet is a witness over you and you are witness over the rest of mankind” [The Holy Quran, 2:143].
They spread over the wide world with the Quran in hand and love and sympathy for humanity in their hearts.
But as the enervating influence of matter never ceases to work upon the human soul, it gradually dulled again their keen zeal for self-realisation and consequently narrowed down the breadth of their raised self-consciousness. It so happened, therefore, that these pioneers of catholic outlook and universal sympathy, in the course of a long struggle for existence and a sustained enjoyment of material prosperity, had gradually their sympathy limited, their vision narrowed, and the range of their sense of responsibility and interest shortened, so much so that it became one like many other groups of human society with a more or less limited sympathy and circumscribed aspirations of a material nature. Thus the religion that started with the express aim of embracing the whole of humanity stopped in course of time only to form another settled community, though on a comparatively broader basis and with a larger sphere of sympathy than any other.
The same jealous spirit of national or communal sympathy and the same attitude of intolerance towards others that we find in the members of all other societies are as well found in full play in the society that goes now under the name of Islam. The spirit of heroic tolerance and forgiveness, the magnanimous sympathy and the conquering liberality of manners that were characteristic of the first Muslims and are indispensable for the teacher and the guardian are so sadly wanting in them now.
Whatever good we find, now, in the society and whatever preference it yet has over other social unit is the inevitable result following from the inherent beauties and perfection of the faith and from the overtopping and unobscurable personality of its expounder. The catholic outlook of the faith was so clearly defined and so strongly emphasised that it cannot possibly be misunderstood and misinterpreted, and the personality of the Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] presents such a vivid and resplendent example of how to maintain the surpassing magnanimity of the heart even in the thickest of the contest and in the extreme of zeal, and how to uphold the preference of the spirit over the matter even amidst the dense surroundings of material comforts and enjoyments, that it is rather difficult for one having the least pretence to his following to lose sight of it altogether.
Nevertheless it appears that the evil influence of matter cannot be held out for long by the poor human soul even though it be supplied with the best of teachings and given the best of models. So gradually, though comparatively slowly, a sort of communal (if not racial, strictly speaking) jealousy grew up in the Islamic society and robbed it of the original spirit of the faith. A sort of exclusiveness and separateness which was at first adopted as a temporary policy for social solidarity, compact sympathy and strength of organised action, was highly magnified in the course of time, and then reduced to a confirmed principle of the life of the society.
Thus the society, as we find it at the present time, has, really speaking, no nobler bond of unity than a common tradition of some material achievements of the past, and possesses no larger self-consciousness than that of an ordinary racial group. It has forgotten, it seems, altogether the very ideal that the early Muslims had before them. By their actions the Muslims of these days seem to replace the Quranic phrase
“Raised for mankind”
by a phrase of their own making, viz.
“Raised for themselves.”
In fact, the attitude of these Muslims towards those outside the fold of Islam is never that which the Quran wants us to entertain. The Holy Prophet’s anxiety to see the non-Muslims converted to Islam is expressed in these words of the Holy Quran:
“Then maybe you will kill yourself with grief, sorrowing after them if they do not believe in the announcement” [The Holy Quran, 18:6].
He being thus so keenly anxious for the welfare of his opponent’s soul could not possibly entertain any grudge or ill-feeling towards their persons.
He was forced, of course, to take up the sword for defending his and his followers’ lives, but the attitude of his mind on that struggle can be well be described in that beautiful expression of Tennyson:
“The sword that strikes them dead is as my own death to me.”
For this reason only the faith spread so rapidly in those days.
But we — the present-day Muslims — are, on the contrary, anxious only for our material prosperity and for the mean interests of the world even at the expense of others, if the chance so offers, and so, in spite of all the noble teachings and the catholic motto of Islam, we have begun to entertain a sort of racial hatred towards those who are born of non-Muslim parents and happen to possess some worldly advantages over us at the same time, so much so that we cannot even bear the idea of seeing them converted to Islam by themselves far less to think of ourselves preaching the faith to them. That the state of affairs has reached such a hopeless extreme can be seen from the mean criticisms in some Muslim papers on the occasion of Lord Headley’s visit to Arabia and Egypt, and from the mean scandals that are circulated from time to time by some so-called Muslims in the names of the high-souled new Muslims of Europe.
Great God! How sorely we need a man to save the imperilled philanthropic spirit of Islam! There is a lesson and a warning in this deplorable change for a party that shows promising signs at present but has adopted even before it is fully fledged an unbending policy of exclusiveness that stands in direct contrast to the spirit of the Holy Quran.