What is Islam?
by James William Lovegrove (Habeeb-Ullah)
Equality of Man
“Love thy neighbour as thyself,” [Matthew 22:39]
is a beautiful expression of Jesus, but like many of his other dicta, lacking in means wherewith to make it a practical reality. The period of his ministry was very short and he could not accomplish his work. Consequently, he had to leave it to the coming Master. The Spirit of Truth—the Paraclete—as spoken of in the fourth Gospel, was Muhammad, and he showed the world the way to bring the various teachings of Jesus into practice.
No one can afford to love his neighbour as himself unless he has a feeling of equality between himself and his neighbour.
“I am only a man like unto you,”
so says the noble Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)]; and thus bringing himself on an equal footing with other men, he establishes the principle of equality between man and man.
“The believers are brothers,” [The Holy Quran, 49:10]
is another verse in the Quran. The Arabic word for “brothers” used in the text is ikhwan, which I am told means brothers from the same parents. Thus
“love thy neighbour as thyself”
becomes a practical truth. When a Muslim regards another Muslim as born of his own parents he will feel for him as he would for himself. The universal brotherhood of Islam is here translated into action.
Only the other day some British Muslims lunched with His Highness, the Ameer Abdullah, at the Mosque, Woking. There were about one hundred persons of different ranks of society, but no distinction of class or caste was made. The full spirit of equality and brotherhood breathed in every corner of the house; all could shake hands and talk freely with the King. When the hour of lunch came, it was something marvellous in the eye of the visitor to find that no special seats or tickets for particular guests had been provided. It was left to the company, including the King and his staff, to find their own seats. A gentleman declared his faith in Islam and accepted the faith. His Highness was the first man not only to shake hands with the new brother, but to kiss him and to be kissed by him. This illustrates the strong spirit of fraternal equality which exists between the faithful. Muslims feel more at home even in another’s house than members of an average English family would in their own home. Freedom of talk and action, openheartedness, no reserve or formality characterize the whole atmosphere. Islam has succeeded in welding black and white into one family. It would not be out of place to quote some of the teachings of the Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] on the subject. The last war has established that Christianity lacks that bond of union which exists in Islam. European nations, though most of them belong to the same faith, are at daggers drawn against one another. Nationality and not religion is the binding force in Christendom, but in Islam religion and not nationality is the first consideration. Says our Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)]:
“Muslims are brothers in religion and they must not oppress one another, nor cease from assisting one another, nor hold one another in contempt. The seat of righteousness is the heart; therefore, that heart which is righteous does not hold a Muslim in contempt, and all the things of one Muslim are unlawful to another—his blood, property and reputation.”
“No man has believed perfectly until he wishes for his brother that which he wishes for himself. All the Muslims are as one body. If a man complains of a pain in his head, his whole body complains, and if his eye complains, his whole body complains.”
“All Muslims are like one wall, some parts strengthening others, in such way must they support one another.”
“Help your brother in adversity and redeem him if he goes astray.”
This aspect of the question leaves me to say something of the hospitality awarded to strangers.
In Muslim lands there are no hotels or boarding-houses. Every Muslim house opens its door to the stranger according to its means. A Muslim will break bread with his guest and do everything to make his stay comfortable. To respect or entertain a guest is an act of great merit in Islam. Even in wild towns of the Indian borders, when a tribal feud is at its height, a host will not ask the name of a person who comes to partake of his hospitality. The guest may possibly belong to the enemy camp, and the disclosure of his name might deprive him of willing hospitality. The Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] says on this subject:
“He who believes in one God and in a future life let him honour his guest.”
“Whosoever believes in God and the hereafter must respect his guests, and whosoever believes in God and the hereafter must not incommode his neighbours, and a believer must speak only good words, otherwise remain silent.”
“It is not right for a guest to stay so long as to incommode his host.”
“‘O Apostle of God, inform me, if I stop with a man and he does not entertain me, and he afterwards stops at my house, am I to entertain him as he did me?’ Lord Muhammad answered: ‘Entertain him. It is of my ways that the host should come out with his guest to the door of his house.’”
Democracy, the chief boast of the West, had its birth in Islam. Equality between man and man is its basic principle, and it is observed to its full extent in every form of life in Muslim countries.
In their mosques they meet five times a day; there are no pews or seats reserved or sold to some of the congregation. The first who enters takes the first position. Perfect democracy in religion, in politics and society, is the marked feature of Islam. The levelling forces of Islam have demolished all barriers of caste, colour, and descent.