(Adapted from the Review of Religions, March, 1933, Vol. XXXII, No. 3)
Islam is that religious system preached to the world by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) from the desert of Arabia in the beginning of the 7th Century of the Christian era. Islam, though presented in its most perfect form by the Prophet of Arabia(saw), did by no means originate with him. It was the religion of all the Prophets of God from Adam(as) up to Jesus Christ(as). It was as wide in its conception as humanity itself. In fact, any divine teaching that was given to any nation was Islam. But the teachings of the prophets before the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), were constrained by the limitations of time and local circumstances, and were meant only for the peoples for whose spiritual growth and development they were revealed. Hence, those teachings were not given any independent name. But because the Divine teaching that was given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) assimilated all that was imperishable in the teachings of all the prophets before him, and because it was meant for all peoples and all time, therefore God gave it a distinct name, which is Islam. The Holy Qur’an says:
…This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion… (Ch.5:V.4)
Again it says :
Surely, the true religion with Allah is Islam (complete submission)… (Ch.3:V.20)
The word Islam indicates the very essence of the religious system known by that name. Its primary significance is the “making of peace,” and the idea of peace is the dominant idea in Islam. Islam stands for peace between man and his Creator, between man and his fellow beings and between different religions and communities. Peace is the greeting of one Muslim to another and “Peace” shall also be the greeting of those in Paradise. “The Author of peace” is one of the many names of God mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the “Abode of Peace” is the destination and the spiritual goal of humanity. It is only natural that a religion which claims to be the Last Divine Message for mankind should offer us some basis on which inter-religious, international and inter-communal peace could be established permanently and without any fear of being disturbed.
The enormities and the most monstrous crimes that man has committed against man have been perpetrated in the fair name of religion. Innocent and honest men have been burned at the stake, stoned to death, buried alive, and drowned in the sea, in the name of religion. Nations have fought against nations to impose their own religious beliefs on their opponents. To stamp out Buddhism, the holy fathers of the so-called peaceful Hinduism sanctioned the wearing of arms against the heretics. The Romans subjected the Christians to every persecution known to man. The storm of savage fanaticism which in the annals of Christendom is called “The Holy Wars,” swept over Western Asia to serve the cause of Christianity. Some so-called Muslims have also wrongly carried fire and sword in the name of religion; Islam however has always respected the freedom of conscience:
Let religion only be for the sake of God. (Ch.2:V.194)
There should be no compulsion in religion… (Ch.2:V.257)
are the express commandments of the Holy Qur’an. The Muslims are strictly enjoined to respect and protect the places of worship of the followers of other religions, even at the cost of their lives. The Holy Qur’an says:
…And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated… (Ch.22:V.41)
The inclusion by Islam of the belief in the Divine origin of all religions and the acceptance of their founders as Messengers of God, in its fundamental doctrines, is the most important and practical step that Islam has taken to remove feelings of bitterness and animosity among the followers of various faiths and to create an atmosphere of peace and goodwill among them.
That the great religions of the world are one in origin and many in form is a truth now widely recognised, but when Islam made its appearance in the world that truth was quite unknown. It was from the desert of Arabia and from the mouth of the man who could not even read and write that the great truth was promulgated that God was the Lord, not of a particular tribe or particular nations, but of all nations, nay of all the worlds. The God Whom Islam requires us to worship is the Lord of all peoples, of all ages and all countries.
He has been equally Merciful and Beneficent to all nations. If He raised Muhammad(saw) from Arabia, He raised Moses(as) from Egypt, and Jesus(as) from Judea; Zoroaster(as) from Iran, and Buddha(as) and Krishna(as) from India. These Prophets were the propagators and disseminators of the same fundamental truths, though their teachings differed in their quality and scope. Hence Islam recognised the truth that all these teachers of humanity were God’s great Messengers and it was made incumbent upon a Muslim to believe in them as he believes in Muhammad(saw). Ransack the pages of all religious scriptures and you will not find this teaching in them. A Christian may look upon Muhammad(saw) as an imposter, and a Jew regard Jesus(as) as a false Prophet, and a Hindu who believes in the finality of the Vedic revelation may consider Moses(as) a charlatan, but a Muslim ceases to remain a Muslim the instant he ceases to revere any one of them as he reveres the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). Consistently with these teachings, how can a Muslim adversely criticise Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism when he regards the Old and the New Testament in their original form, the Vedas and the Zend Avesta in their pristine purity as the revealed Word of God? Does not this great principle of Islam strike at the very root of all religious rancour? The Holy Qur’an says:
…there is no people to whom a Warner has not been sent. (Ch.35:V.25)
And We did send Messengers before thee; of them are some whom We have mentioned to thee, and of them there are some whom We have not mentioned to thee… (Ch.40:V.79)
According to these verses all great Prophets of God are the spiritual ancestors of a Muslim and their followers his brothers in faith.
Peace between Labour and Capital
The other great problem which is seriously undermining the peace of the world is the discontent prevailing in the working class against the capitalists. Islam claiming to bring about harmony and peace among warring interests has not failed to solve this baffling question also. On the one hand it recognises private ownership because there is no spirit of competition and incentive to progress left without the recognition of this fact, because if those who work harder than others or can bring a superior intellect or higher business capacity into the conduct of their affairs are to be deprived of the just rewards of their labour, all this competition and striving after better results would cease and the world would come to a standstill. On the other, Islam recognises in principle the right of the poor in the wealth of the rich. The Holy Qur’an says that in the wealth of the rich, those who can and who cannot ask have a right.
Islam suggests three remedies to remove the vast disparities of wealth and poverty. Firstly, it enjoins the distribution of inheritance. No man has the power to bequeath the whole of his property to one man, so as to promote its accumulation in a few hands. Under the Islamic Law of inheritance and succession, a man’s property must be distributed among his parents, all his children, his widows, brothers, sisters, and nobody can interfere with or divert this mode of distribution.
Secondly, Islam prohibits the giving and taking of interest. The possibility of being able to raise loans on interest enables people with established credit, to enhance it to any extent they please by borrowing. The huge trusts and syndicates which at present monopolise the sources of the national wealth would not be possible without interest, and wealth would be more evenly distributed among the people.
Thirdly is the institution of Zakat. Zakat is a charge of two and a half percent levied by the Government on all capital, money, precious metals, and merchandise, etc., which a person has been in possession of for one year or over. It is not a tax on income, but is a tax on capital. The proceeds of this tax may be provided to those who possess the necessary business capacity, but who are unable to make a start owing to want of funds. By this institution of Zakat, Islam provides for the discharge of all those rights that the poor have in the wealth of the rich, and thus brings about reconciliation between the haves and the have-nots.
The third problem which is destroying the peace of the world is the unsatisfactory condition of the international relations. For the settlement of international disputes Islam lays down rules for Muslim states which contemplate a body like the present League of Nations [replaced later by the United Nations – Editor]. The Holy Qur’an says:
And if two parties of believers fight against each other, make peace between them; then if after that one of them transgresses against the other, fight the party that transgresses until it returns to the command of Allah. Then if it returns, make peace between them with equity, and act justly. Verily, Allah loves the just. (Ch.49:V.10)
This verse lays down the following principle for the maintenance of international peace: as soon as there are indications of disagreement between two Muslim nations, the other Muslim nations, instead of taking sides with one or the other of them, should at once serve a notice upon them to submit their differences to the ‘peace makers’ for settlement. But if one of them refuses to submit to the League, or having submitted refuses to accept the award of the ‘peace makers’, and prepares to make war, the other nations should all fight it. It is apparent, however, that one nation, however strong, cannot withstand the united forces of all other nations and is bound to make a speedy submission.
Peace between the Rulers and the Ruled
The strained relations of the rulers and the ruled is another factor disturbing the world’s peace. Islam prefers a democratic government but does not preclude any form of government. The Holy Qur’an has used the word Amanat (trust) in describing the Islamic concept of Government.
For a full appreciation, however, of the Islamic concept of the State, it is necessary to quote the verse, which in brief but comprehensive terms, describes the nature and duties of the rulers and the ruled. The Holy Qur’an says:
Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Ch.4:V.59)
According to this verse, government is a trust, and not in the nature of property, and the rulers are required to rule justly. And another verse of the Holy Qur’an states:
O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority among you… (Ch.4:V.60)
enjoins all men to obey those who are in authority over them and thus cuts at the root of all kinds of rebellion and anarchy.
Peace in the Family
By recognising the social status of woman and securing her rights in inheritance, in the guardianship of the children, in the management of the affairs of the family and in worship (in short, in Church and State), Islam has established peace in the family on a firm basis. If men have rights over women, women according to the Qur’an, likewise, have rights over men. According to Islam, women are the keystone of the arch of family life. Unity in the family is essential to a progressive state. Let it not be forgotten that of all religions, Islam alone has accorded woman status which after thirteen centuries of progressive development, working with the legacy of a prior civilisation, under the most favourable circumstances, the most civilised country in the world has not given her. By raising women from the condition of a mere chattel in which they were held before the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), and giving women their rightful place in society, Islam settled those knotty family problems 1300 years ago which in the present progressive state of woman have wrecked many homes.
Peace among Individuals
Islam has laid down detailed injunctions which regulate the relations of individuals towards one another:
God commandeth you to do justice, beneficence and kindness to kith and kin. (Ch.16:V.91)
In this verse of the Holy Qur’an God has set forth three injunctions. The first step is the step of justice. A Muslim is enjoined to discharge his duty and obligations quite faithfully and honestly and in the best way he can. No violation of the rights of others is permitted. When justice becomes to him a matter of course, he is required to do more than mere justice. He should be beneficent to others. When beneficence begins to appear to him not a very high stage of morals, he should be kind to his fellow people as a mother is kind to her son.
The first stage of morals is of doing good in proportion to the good received; the second stage is of doing more good than the good received; and the third and the highest stage of morals consists in doing good to others, not in return of a good received, nor in doing more good than the good received, but in doing good as prompted by natural impulse without the expectation of any reward or even any appreciation or acknowledgment.
Nothing seems more ironical than that the religion of which the very name signifies peace, which stands for freedom of conscience, which has enjoined upon its followers to respect the religious beliefs of other peoples and to protect their places of worship even at the risk of their own lives, a religion which has struck at the very root of religious acrimony by requiring its followers to believe in the missions of all the Prophets of God and in the Divine origin of their teachings, a religion which has laid down teachings that if fully acted upon would bring about an era of perpetual peace, should be looked upon as a religion breathing war and preaching hatred and a religion propagated at the point of the sword.
But such really is the prevailing view about Islam. Let there remain no doubt about it that Islam positively forbids the use of force for the propagation of its teachings.