Muhammad and H. G. Wells

Professor Vaswani’s Rejoinder

The Light (Pakistan), 8th June 1937 Issue (Vol. 16, No. 22, pp. 1, 9)

In his survey of the Worlds History, the eminent English writer Mr. H. G. Wells refers to many men and many movements. He makes a list of the men whom he regards as the greatest ones of history. In this list there is room for Bacon and Aristotle but there is no room for Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. He writes brilliantly but with a bias. He is not in sympathy with the vision of the East.

I am not surprised at his ungenerous attack on the personality of Muhammad. Mr. Wells speaks of Muhammad’s life as being

“on the whole … unedifying.”

Muhammad, to Mr. Wells, was a

“man compounded of very considerable vanity, greed, cunning, self-deception, and quite sincere religious passion.”

Mr. Wells is equally disappointed in the Quran, “regarded as literature or philosophy.” When, many years ago I read in English translation the Quran, I was much moved by its noble inspiration, and as I have from time to time heard the devout recite the Quran, my eyes have been, again and again, touched with tears. Mr. Wells has read widely; he has not abandoned crude conceptions re the Islamic ideal—an ideal which has been a shaping power in East and West. Guizot [François Guizot] and Draper [Dr. John William Draper] had the frankness to admit that Islam freed Europe from feudalism. And did not Islam exert an uplifting influence on mediaeval Europe? Long before the French Revolution, Islam gave to the nations a message of liberty, equality and fraternity. Again and again has Islam produced men and women of profound knowledge—men who, having reached the stage of illumination and ecstasy, have sung songs and lived lives which have, I believe, a meaning for the human race. What a profound philosophy of life is in the lyrics they have left— the lyrics which sing of the nightingale and the rose, the moth and the candle, the camel and the desert, the lover and the lake—lyrics of Sasui and Punuh, Ummer and Marui, Yusuf and Zulaikha, Laila and Majnu—lyrics of the soul’s longing for the love that makes the world, for all its struggles and sufferings, a wonder and a vision of mystery.

To Mr. Wells, Muhammad’s life is “unedifying.” To me, Muhammad is one of the world’s mighty heroes. He has been a world-force, a mighty power, for the uplift of many peoples. Read the old records and you will glimpse the grace and beauty of his life. A king and a spiritual leader, he yet mends his clothes, visits the sick, loves little children in the streets, lives on simple food—sometimes taking only dates and water— milks his cattle, dines with slaves, and mixes with the people as their comrade.

“I sit at meals as a servant,”

he says,

“for I am really a servant.”

“Show us the way that is established—the way of those on whom is peace,”

This is his constant prayer, for this word Islam means peace. They persecute him, his very life is in danger, but he is loyal to the call; he moves about preaching the way of peace. Carlyle [Thomas Carlyle] does well to speak of Muhammad as a type of the heroic prophet. Muhammad was a Hero and a Prophet. I have often thought of his last words:

“Lord, grant me pardon and join me to the fellowship on high, viz., the Blessed Fellowship on high!”

Am I wrong in saying that such a man was beautiful in life, beautiful in death?

Muhammad had a broad catholic vision. Abraham, he said, was a true Muslim.

“A perfect Muslim,”

said Muhammad,

“is he from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe.”

Muhammad expressed the Rule of Life for the true Musalman [Muslim] in the following significant words:

“Do unto others what you would have them to do to you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourself.”

One day a bier passed by the Prophet. Being told it was the bier of a Jew, he said:

“Was it not the holder of a soul from which we should take example and fear?”

Muhammad realised that Jews and Christians, like the Muslims, were souls that belonged to God. And Muhammad subordinated money to the immaterial values of life.

“The love of the world,”

he said,

“is the root of all evil.”

Capitalism, imperialism, commercialism, land-grabbing, exploitation—the root of it all is “love of the world.’”

When shall the modern nations place love of man above love of the world? There can be no democracy without love of man as man. This democracy is the very essence of Islam. Allahu Akbar. God alone is great. What a faith, what an inspiration, this ringing cry! How often did not Muhammad declare that he, too, was a man, a man like others, a mortal, a servant of Allah, the Merciful? All are equal in the sight of Allah; all need His mercy. Such is the faith of Islam. This faith makes Islam a Brotherhood, an International Brotherhood, a Fellowship of many races and tribes. This faith Muhammad cherished in his heart. He could not have cherished it if he had been, in Mr. Wells’ words, a man of “shifty character.”

Mr. Wells does not understand Muhammad, nor Abu Bakr, nor the Quran. Consider for a moment what the faith which Muhammad preached has achieved. Islam abolished infanticide in Arabia. Islam enjoined on the faithful total abstinence from drink. Islam emphasised great qualities of faith, courage, endurance and self-sacrifice. Islam introduced into Asia and Europe a robust puritanism which the West needs to check the “cult of the naked.”

“Whoso is a Muslim seeketh after the Right Way”.

There is wisdom, there is inspiration in these words of the Quran. And history shows how well Islam in the day of its true greatness was a seeker after the Right Way. Islam founded the great University of Cordova [Córdoba, Spain], which attracted Christian scholars from different parts of Europe. At a time when Europe was in darkness, the Muslim scholars of Spain held high the torch of science and literature. They taught medicine and mathematics, chemistry and natural history, philosophy and fine arts. Islam built hospitals and asylums for the poor. Islam struck the first blow at slavery when Umar set all slaves at liberty after his conquest of Jerusalem. Islam opened free libraries, established observatories, and endowed laboratories for chemical experiments.

This month (May) commemorates the birth anniversaries at once of Muhammad and Mahavir and Gautama Buddha, and I recall the beautiful words of the Quran:

“We make no difference between the prophets” [The Holy Quran, 2:136].

I write at a time when the memory is still fresh of the tragedy at Shikarpur. Human lives were lost, for the “Right Way” was lost. The Right Way is the Way of “Peace,” the way of friendship and fellowship.

There is a passage in that remarkable letter which the great Rajput hero, Rana Partab, sent to the Mughal King Aurangzeb:

“The Hindu and the Muslim stand alike before God.”

Yes, the Hindu and the Muslim stand alike before Him. The Eternal Saviour of the nations has joined us together; let nothing tear us apart. In unity is the strength of our future. And in the understanding which is born of sympathy in the spirit of that true culture which, alas, I miss in Mr. Wells’ strictures on Islam and the Prophet of Arabia. The spirit of Culture inspired the great Muslim poet of Sind [Sindh Province], who sang the words which I quote as I close:

The true mosque in a pure and holy heart is builded;
There let men worship God;
For there He dwells,
Not in a mosque of stone!