The Transformation Wrought by the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)]
The Review of Religions (English), January 1903 Issue (Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 1–7)
To have an idea of the miraculous transformation wrought by the greatest benefactor of mankind, the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] that was born in the land of Hedjaz [Hejaz], it is necessary to cast a glance at the state of Arabia before and after his appearance. Before his advent, the Arabs worshipped strange gods and paid Divine honours to idols made of stone. They had no faith in the unity of God and in the day of judgment. They were in love with their false deities and attributed to them Divine powers. They believed that none but their idols brought about rain and made the earth yield its produce, and that the idols created the embryo in the womb and had full control over things pertaining to life and death. Every false god found in them ready believers. Each one of them believed himself to be under the patronage of a special deity before whom he bowed down. To him he addressed his supplications and prayers in time of distress, to him he looked up for the reward of his good works and before him he laid his needs and complaints. They were quite ignorant of the truth and walked in the dark and crooked paths of falsehood. They were content with their false gods and had no higher aspirations. They laboured under the delusion that their idols alone could answer their prayers and that God Himself was too high to meddle with human affairs. They firmly adhered to the belief that God had delegated to their deity’s dominion over the worlds of spirit and matter and invested them with all the Divine powers, Himself keeping aloof from this world. They were fully persuaded that their idols interceded for them with God, brought them into His nearness, gave them relief from their pains and led them to all sorts of success.
This is a brief summary of the religion of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the practical outcome of which was that they plunged themselves headlong into all sorts of brutal excesses, and what gave a still darker tinge to this picture was that they took a savage pride in their sins. They freely indulged in adultery and theft, murdered the innocent and robbed the stranger, ate up the property of orphans, oppressed the poor and tyrannised over the weak, and committed all sorts of sin without fear of retribution. They brought low the dignity of human nature and fell away from morality. They sank into wickedness and became like wild beasts. They ate the flesh of their brethren with avidity and drank their blood as if it were milk. In their revolt against God they went beyond all bounds. Their poets out of sheer impudence sang songs insulting to the fair sex. The rich among them amused themselves with drinking, gambling and quarrelling. Those who claimed to be thrifty trampled upon the rights of widows and orphans and their own blood-relations and wasted their gains the gratification of their carnal desires. One of the most horrible features of Arab society was infanticide. They made away with their children for fear of poverty and despatched their daughters in particular because they thought it a disgrace to give them in marriage. They were characterised by all the base and beastly qualities which can disgrace human nature. Fornication was so commonly practised by their men and women that a large section of their society was composed of men of illegitimate birth. If there was some one among them who was pure-minded and detested their evil deeds, he had not the moral courage to express his abhorrence and utter words of counsel for fear of his own life and property. To be brief, the Arabs were a people who had never heard the voice of a preacher and were utter strangers to virtue and piety. There were very few among them who were truthful or just.
In such dark days when all Arabia was corrupt to the core and its people were utterly polluted from within as well as from without, there appeared among them a prophet at Mecca. But they rejected him and refused to listen to his healing words. With a stubborn perverseness they persisted in their evil ways and actuated by spite began to persecute their best well-wisher. He held up under their persecutions and bore them patiently. He met their malice with benevolence and always returned good for evil and approached them like a well-meaning and sincere friend. For a long time, he walked about the streets of Mecca, friendless and alone. On the one hand, he bore his sufferings with apostolic patience, and on the other, spent whole nights in praying for his benighted countrymen. At last, his prayers were answered and the sun of truth shone forth in its full effulgence. In a short time, Arabia was completely transformed. The hearts of seekers-after-truth were drawn to him with a mighty magnetism and every lover of truth began to seek the pleasure of the Lord. It seemed as if angels had come down from heaven to cast their holy influence over the hearts of men. Those who accepted the chosen one of God, showed extraordinary zeal for his cause. They laid down their lives for his sake and sealed their sincerity with their blood. By their deeds they proved to the world that they were the true and faithful servants of God. In the days of ignorance they were immersed in the depths of darkness, but the religion of God brought them into light and liberty. Their evil dispositions were changed for virtuous inclinations. Their nocturnal orgies gave place to heartfelt prayers and their morning draughts, to singing the praises of God. When they had gained the utmost firmness of conviction, they made the service of God the end of their existence, and in this cause they laid down their lives and spent money without stint. Their practice conformed with their doctrine and showed how beautiful and fraught with blessings their faith was.
In order to put their faith to the severest possible test, they threw themselves into all sorts of danger and trials. This it was that made them so brave and so happy. This it was that braced their hearts and confirmed their belief and gave certainty to their knowledge. They put themselves into the crucible of God’s love until their souls were wholly purged of the dross of earthliness and thus purified found union with God. They cleared the ways of the Lord. The path was full of thorns but to them it appeared as strewn with flowers. It was beset with terrible difficulties but to them its very difficulties proved inviting. Let one think for an instant how they forsook their former lawless lives and put down their wild and riotous passions, and he will be firmly convinced that all this wonderful change was due only to the healing influence of the grand personality of one Divine physician.
Indeed, it was Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him—that great Prophet whom God had chosen and trained under His special care—who first made the Arabs aware of the dignity of human nature and laid before them the beauty and grandeur of man’s soul. Think over the sublimity of that spiritual life whose salutary example brought about such a marvellous spiritual awakening. Reflect upon the lives of the companions who rose from the depths of degradation and soared aloft until they reached the highest point of spiritual perfection. The Prophet found them living beastly lives, utterly strangers to God and His ways and possessing no definite ideas of right and wrong. He instructed them in the rules of right conduct and taught them how to lead righteous lives. He impressed upon them the necessity of purity and gave them the minutest directions by which they could adopt the habits of cleanliness. He taught them to dress decently and gave them rules of hygiene and laws of preserving health. Above all, he laid much stress upon their always adopting the mean in all things. In short, he remodelled their whole society. When the savage Arabs had thoroughly mastered the rules of keeping their bodies clean, he drew their attention to moral duties and the virtues of faith, that through them they might attain to spiritual purity. When he found that they had been fully settled in the habits of morality and had become fixedly averse to what is morally sinful or hateful in the sight of God, and a new propensity to virtuous actions had been created in them, he initiated them into the Divine mysteries. He created in them a deep love for the source of all beauty and a burning desire for union with Him that they might rest in Him and find enjoyment in Him everlastingly.
The teachings of the Holy Prophet as embodied in the Holy Quran are graduated and can be marked off into three stages according to the different stages of a man’s moral and spiritual development. The first stage comprehends rules calculated to lift up natural man from his savage and primitive state and to supply him with rudiments of morals. The second stage consists of a sublime and perfect system of ethics fitted to elevate man to the height of perfection as a moral being. The third stage is meant to make the moral man godly in the true sense of the word. At this stage man loses himself wholly in God and resigns himself completely to His will. Everywhere he sees the hand of God and finds no trace of himself or of anything else besides God. To him God is all in all. This is the final stage in the course of a seeker after God and is styled istiqamat [steadfastness] in the opening chapter of the Quran [Al-Fatihah]. Here all his labours are brought to an end. Here carnal desires vanish away, and self is conquered. Here the demon of lust is crushed to rise no more and the turmoil of passions ceases once for all. Then it is said:
لِمَنِ الۡمُلۡکُ الۡیَوۡمَ ؕ لِلّٰہِ الۡوَاحِدِ الۡقَہَّارِ
“To whom does all dominion belong today? To God, the Almighty, the Great” [The Holy Quran 4:16].
But the man who at his best is but moral and no more, and who has not found union with God, has not got beyond the reach of danger. The devil may claim him still as his own and the demon of lust may still get the mastery over him. Still greater victories are to be won and still mightier conquests are to be made. The man who is not wholly annihilated in God, cannot be proof against the arrows of appetite.
The glory belongs to the Holy Quran that it carries a man to the haven of perfect security, that high and sacred place where Satan is not allowed to set foot. Through this book man is raised to the highest point of perfection he is capable of. The case is quite different with other books claiming a Divine origin. They contain only the most elementary principles of morality and fall far short of the high standard revealed by the Quran. While it contains a perfect revelation of God’s will, they are but partial and incomplete. In this respect the Quran may be called a miracle of our Prophet—a miracle not only of knowledge but of power also. The miracles associated with the names of other prophets are stale and out of date. They remain confined only in books and have no practical value whatever. But the Quran shall remain a standing miracle for all times. That this claim is not a mere empty vaunt but rests on the solid ground of fact, may be shown by the following considerations:
Firstly, the Quran comprehends all the necessary doctrines, precepts and directions which may not only guide man safely through the journey of life but also impart to him the most clear and certain knowledge respecting God, and show him the nearest and the surest way of seeing Him.
Secondly, the Quran advances the most convincing arguments in support of its truth, and we can draw upon its treasures of Divine wisdom for the refutation of all false systems of religion.
Thirdly, the language of the Quran is so sweet, beautiful and sublime, and the phrases used by it are so apt and so well chosen, that it has always defied and still defies comparison and has always won the reverential homage of the most eminent poets and orators of the world. It is moreover easy and simple and this fact further enhances its beauty. Are not these important facts sufficient to testify to the superhuman origin of the Quran?
We have said that the Quran is not only a miracle of knowledge but also a miracle of power. This is as clear as day. The wonderful spiritual influence exerted by the Holy Quran, and the marvellous transformation brought about by its teachings, have always puzzled philosophers. It has moved the hardest heart, renewed the most perverted will and regenerated the most depraved disposition and has thus proved to the satisfaction of all persons not blinded by prejudice, that it was not Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, but the Almighty God working in him that effected all this. A deep and impassable gulf lay between man and God; the Quran filled it up. Men were at war with truth, the Quran reconciled them to it. Those who brought themselves under its beneficent influence made such progress in spirituality that many of them had personal communion with God and were favoured with heavenly signs which were made a heritage for all true believers in the Prophet. It is for this reason that if we are asked to show signs, we are not compelled to refer to ancient times but Almighty God favours us with them in the same manner as he favoured the Companions of the Prophet. The sacred books of our opponents, on the other hand, are full of meaningless fables and childish stories which serve no purpose to establish truth. They are wholly destitute of the Divine light which never goes out but shines brightly for ever more. The Quran as a miracle is, therefore, sublime in both its aspects. Its blessings are wide and its miraculousness has been certified by all people.
There is another thing. If some great philosopher were to take in hand the work of reformation, he will find the reformation of a single person hardened in vice an almost impossible task. From this we may gauge the greatness of the person who in a short period of time transformed a whole nation. He pulled down the fabric of their infidelity and led them into the paths of righteousness and piety. Their very faces bore witness that they loved their Lord with a mighty love. In the cause of truth, they exerted all the powers of their body and mind, and went forth, alone and resourceless, to preach the word of God to all people of the earth. Their intellect became refined and their understanding became fitted for the comprehension of Divine mysteries. They began to shun all manner of sin and every appearance of evil, and there was implanted in them a deep love for what is good and a fixed aversion to what is bad. The men who once bowed down before idols became now the champions of Islam. They spared no pains to spread Islam until it became the religion of Arabia, Persia, Asia Minor and several other countries, and went eastward as far as China. All places where infidelity reigned supreme were visited by them, and all countries where strange gods were worshipped heard their preaching. They faced death but never fell back; were cut down but always stuck to their post. As warriors of God, they ran even into the jaws of death but never deserted the standard of Islam. In this way they went to the very extremities of the earth. As rulers and administrators, they proved that they were the best the world ever saw. Their practice conformed to their doctrine and in both they excelled the rest of the world. In fact, this was one of the greatest miracles and is a standing testimony to the truth of the Divine origin of his revelations and the reality of revelation itself. Not a single instance of this can be produced from among the followers and companions of any other prophet, not even the followers of Moses and Jesus [AS].