Chapter 2: The Kaleidoscopic View of Religion
Islam — My Only Choice
by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din
It did not take me long to pass in review the various religious persuasions with their tenets and doctrines. Whatever may have been the original form of Hinduism, it is now one vast accretion of ceremonialism and sacrifice, this being the only feature common to its numberless sects; beyond this there is no meeting-ground among them. In fact, there does not exist a definition of Hinduism wide enough to comprise all its sections and sub-divisions. Animism, element- worship, hero-worship, polytheism in its worst shapes, monotheism, though not in its pure form — all come under the heading of Hinduism. It possesses its philosophy, but it is a philosophy which has no bearing whatever on practical life; it tries to solve certain riddles — for example the problem of ultimate pain and pleasure, and here it speaks of the transmigration of the soul — but all this is a species of mental luxury possessing no practical advantage. I admit that ceremonialism and sacrifices are not without their uses, but they are of secondary importance – a means to certain ends — whereas in Hinduism they have become essentials. Again, these Hindu rituals were intended to meet certain local and topical needs, and cannot therefore be of use to alien races and later generations.
Judaism brought light and culture into the world, but in the course of time it, too, became merged in ceremonialism and sacrifice. The vice of ceremonial piety lies in the fact that when once a person has observed its demands he thinks himself to be better than his neighbour, no matter what crime he may commit. For this very reason the Brahmins in Hinduism and the Pharisees in Judaism considered themselves absolved of all the duties laid upon other members of society. Jesus did not come with a new religion, nor did he found a church; he was a Jew of the Jews. Jealous for the religion taught by Moses, he came to redeem the teachings of the Master from the formalism of the Pharisees. He had the courage to expose their hollowness and hypocrisy. In short, his aim was to reform Judaism and to restore it to its pristine purity, but his enemies would not allow him to do so, and so he failed in the end. Then St. Paul came on the scene, but instead of carrying on the work of Jesus, he grafted on the old faith something quite new and repugnant to it — the religion of the Blood and its grace. It is called the “New Covenant”, but it seems to me but a reappearance of old paganism with a change of name and setting.
I sum up here the story of Christianity in a few words: Man drowned in sin and God alienated from him and in anger. To appease His wrath He sends His own son to the world through a virgin’s womb. The son is brought to the Cross and pays the penalty for all human sin, thus washing away the sins of humanity with his blood. He dies for all, and then through his resurrection brings new life to mankind. This is the superstructure of the Pauline schism as it was never taught by the Lord of Christianity. But it is not a new revelation. It has now come to light that Jesus as portrayed by Paul and others as “the new Adam” is only just the last of the virgin-born Sun-gods — Mithra, Apollo, Bacchus, Horus, Osiris and others; all of them born at the first hour of the 25th of December. They all led a peaceful mission; the first miracle that all performed had some connection with wine; they all declared that they had come to save humanity through their blood; they all went to death at the third hour of Friday some time in the end of March; they all remained in the tomb for two days; they all rose again on Easter Sunday; they all ascended into heaven with a promise to return.
Thus, centuries before the construction of the Christian Church, different countries had already evolved a system of religion which Christianity repeated word by word in the writings of the early Fathers. In the names of these virgin-born incarnates people were initiated into their cult through baptism. Their votaries worshipped the Cross, and their great festivals were Easter and Christmas. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, the first Church on Pauline lines after Jesus, is just a replica of the old cult of mystery; and Christian worship remains sun-worship with all its old features. How can we stigmatize Paganism as a false religion when all its features did but forestall the official Church in the West? If Paganism is falsehood, the formal Church must, ipso facto [by the fact itself], be falsehood too. Anyhow, current Christianity is not a religion if by religion is meant a code of life that may help man to live worthily in this world and in the hereafter.
Viewed from this standpoint again, I say, Islam is my only choice. It is a religion of action, of good morals and ethics; a religion simple and practical; if I am asked to subscribe to its doctrines, I can do so freely: they are not dogmatic in their nature. All Islamic tenets are reasonable and consistent with intelligence. They have a direct bearing on life; and here I will go more into detail.
Doubtless Islam is not free from some sort of formalities. Muslims also make sacrifices, but my happiness knew no bounds when I read in the Quran:
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteousness is this, that one should believe in God and the last day and the angels and the book and the prophets, and give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for (the emancipation of) the captives, and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in time of conflict — these are they who are true (to themselves), and these are they who guard (against evil).” (The Holy Quran, 2:177)
What a wonderful, decisive and bold statement! It brushes ceremonialism completely away. Islam has a few formalities but they seem to me to be essential formalities — one of them being the turning of the face, when in prayer, towards Makka. It indicates the place that gave birth to Islam, and is hence a necessity; but the above verse says that doing so in itself is not a virtue unless thereby we are helped to observe certain beliefs and actions which are there set out. In fact, Muslims turn their faces to Makka to remember and renew the inspiration they first received from that sacred place; and if turning our faces to Makka is in itself of no value, then what of other ceremonial acts?
Muslims do observe sacrifice, but not to appease Divine wrath. One of the objects is to
“Feed the poor man who is contented, and the beggar” (The Holy Quran, 22:36).
This institution also supplies an occasion for being benevolent to others, and it is a symbol of the religion of God; as the Quran says, we have to submit to His will as the animals under the knife have to submit to ours. And then a verse on the subject in the following thundering words denudes sacrifices of the merits that had been attached to them by other religions — such as the propitiation of Divine anger:
“Not their flesh, nor their blood, reaches God, but to Him is acceptable the guarding (against evil) on your part; thus has He made them subservient to you, that you may magnify God because He has guided you aright; and give good news to those who do good (to others).” (The Holy Quran, 22:37)
I know of no other formality in Islam; and if ceremonial piety is in itself of no consequence, then Hinduism and Judaism cannot satisfy human needs as a code of religion. Christianity no doubt did away with all the ritual that Jesus observed himself, because his personal sacrifice, as they say, atoned for it and absolved the believers in the blood from the ceremonial burden. But another set of rituals and formalities entered into the Church as a legacy from Paganism, and the position is worse than before.
I cannot conclude these general remarks on religion and turn to the special doctrines of Islam before emphasizing one thing, though I have made reference to it in the foregoing: that is the necessity for Quranic Revelation at a time when the old Books of God had become hopelessly mixed with folk-lore. Every religion of the world has based its teachings on a Revelation from on High. It has pleased the Lord to guide humanity into the right path by revealing His Will to the world. The position is quite a tenable one, but if His Revelation sometimes suffers in purity and becomes vitiated, should He not send another Revelation to take the place of the old one? The Lord of the Universe observes the same course in all His dispensations. He creates things for our use, and when they disappear or become impaired or allayed there comes a fresh supply of such needful things. What is true in physical dispensations must be true also in the spiritual sphere. How can a believer shut his eyes to the necessity of a new Revelation if the old one has admittedly become corrupt? But none of all the Revelations given to the various nations of the world in olden days had remained in their original form — a fact now admitted by all — at that period of the Christian era, and a new Revelation, the Quran, was a necessity.