Islam, A Western View
Islam--A Western View
On the subject of Islam it would not be out of place to reproduce here some of the relative excerpts from a learned article on Islam by the noted author James Michener which appeared under the above title in the Reader's Digest.
A devoted scholar of Islam, Mr. Michener draws a true and faithful picture of some of the most important aspects and principles of Islam and the life of its Holy Prophet with a view to correct the prevailing misconceptions about Islam among the Western people. Mr. Michener writes:
"One of the strangest facts in today's world is that Islam, a religion which in many ways is almost identical with Christianity and Judaism, should be so poorly understood in Europe and America. Since there are 1,350 million Muslims in the world, and since they control many strategic areas of the earth, it is essential that we understand them better."
Rejecting some of the ridiculous notions and imaginary stories heaping insults upon Islam, Mr. Michener proceeds to clarify the tenets of Islam and the aspects of the pious life of its Prophet :
"Let us see why these experiences would be so offensive to a believer in Islam. Mohammed , the inspired man who founded Islam, was born about A.D. 570 at Mecca. Orphaned at birth, he was always particularly solicitous of the poor and the needy, the widow and the orphan, the slave and the down-trodden. At 20 he was already a successful businessman and soon he became director of camel caravans of a wealthy widow. When he reached 25, his employer, recognizing his merit, proposed marriage. Even though she was 15 years senior, he married her and as long as she lived he remained a devoted husband.
"By the age of forty," Michener says, "this man of the desert had secured for himself a most satisfying life: a loving wife, fine children and wealth. Then, in a series of dramatic and terrifying events, he began to receive through Archangel Gabriel a revelation of Allah's word. Like almost every major Prophet before him, Mohammed fought shy of serving as the transmitter of Allah's word, sensing his own inadequacy. But the angel commanded, 'Read.' So far as we know, Mohammed was hardly able to read or write, but he began to dictate those inspired words which would soon revolutionize a large part of the earth: "La Ilaha Il Allah" ("There is but one God").
"Mohammed's message infuriated those rich Arabs whose faith required many idols, and he and his few followers were driven from Mecca, his home. Forced now to fight in defense of the freedom of conscience which he preached, he became an accomplished military leader. Although he repeatedly went into battle out-manned and out-armed as much as five to one, he won spectacular victories.
"Later he became head of the state, and the testimony even of his enemies is that he administered wisely. The wisdom he displayed in judging intricate cases became the basis for the religious law that governs Islam today. In his final years, he was invited to become a dictator or a saint, but he rejected both temptations, insisting that he was an average man to whom Allah had sent another of His periodic messages to the world.
"By the force of his extraordinary personality, Mohammed revolutionized life in Arabia and throughout the Middle East. He preached a religion dedicated to one God. He lifted women from the bondage in which desert custom held them and preached general social justice. Muslims think it particularly ironic when Mohammed is charged by Western writers with having established a voluptuous religion. Among drunkards he abolished alcohol, so that even today all good Muslims are teetotalers. Among the lazy, he ordered individual prayers five times each day. In a nation that reveled in feasting he instituted a most rigorous daytime fast lasting a full month each year.
"Western critics have based their charges of voluptuousness mainly on the question of women. Before Mohammed , however, men were encouraged to take innumerable wives; he limited them to four only and the Quran is explicit that husbands who are unable to maintain strict equality between two or more wives must confine themselves to one.
"A widespread misunderstanding arises from Mohammed's promise of paradise. In a land of blistering drought and sandstorms he predicted that evil men would suffer the tormenting fires of hell, whereas good men would be transported to a perpetual paradise of cool breezes, comforting streams and beautiful houris. "Western imaginations, unfamiliar with this last word houris, defined it by analogy with one of the ugliest words in English and jumped to the conclusion that Mohammed's paradise was to be a sexual debauch. They were absolutely wrong. A houri is a fair-skinned, black-eyed woman created from musk and spices, incredibly beautiful and perpetually virgin.
"In all things, Mohammed was profoundly practical. When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred, and rumors of Allah's personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Mohammed is said to have announced: An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the birth or death of a human being.
"At Mohammed's own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches in religious history: "If there are any among you who worshipped Mohammed , he is dead. But if it was Allah you worshipped, He lives for ever." These things explain why people who follow the religion of Mohammed do not like to be called Mohammedans.
"Many Westerners, accustomed by their history books to believe that Muslims were barbarous infidels, find it difficult to comprehend how profoundly our intellectual life has been influenced by Muslim scholars in the fields of science, medicine, mathematics, geography and philosophy. Crusaders who invaded the Holy Land to fight Muslims returned to Europe with new ideas of love, poetry, chivalry, warfare and government. Our concept of what a university should be was deeply modified by Muslim scholars who perfected the writing of history and who brought to Europe much Greek learning.
"More than most religions, Islam preaches the brotherhood of all races, colors and nations within its fold. Mohammed himself probably had the same skin coloring as Jesus, a very suntanned white, but today his followers embrace all colors: black men from Africa, yellow men from China, brown men from Malaya, white men from Turkey.
"For periods in history Muslim nations strayed far from the spirit of Mohammed. If one focuses only upon the worst Persian and Turkish caliphs, one can easily condemn Islam as a religion that failed. But one can find such similar dark spots in the history of Christianity and other religions. If one looks at the enormous good that Islam has achieved, however, one sees the permanent greatness of this religion. I have been studying Islam for many years, and I cannot see any valid reason why this religion and others cannot cooperate. I know that some fanatic men in Islam preach Jihad (holy war) against unbelievers and that they try to assassinate their own leaders to foment such war. But no sensible Muslim listens to them. They are today's equivalent of the hot-headed Christian knights who, in the Middle Ages, vowed to exterminate all Muslims. Age cures such rashness.
(Extracts reprinted by permission of Reader's Digest, London, 1955).
Beauties of Quran in the Eyes of Western Scholars
The Quran needs no earthly champions. Its champion is Almighty Allah Himself. Its excellence is apparent to the world of the highly learned scholars, deep thinkers and religionists. It proclaims: "And they shall not bring to you any argument, but We have brought to you (one) with truth end the best significance." (25:33).
Besides the candid and elaborate opinions of a host of Western scholastic giants, the following passage in the Chamber's Encyclopedia, Vol. IIl, (New Edition) records the beauties of the Quran:
"That part of Islam, which most distinctly reveal the mind of its author, is also its most complete and its most admirable part -- we mean the ethics of the Quran. They are not found any more than the other laws brought together in one or two Suras, but, like golden threads they are woven Into the huge fabric of the religious constitution of Muhammad.
"Injustice, falsehood, pride, revengefulness, calumny, mockery, avarice, prodigality, debauchery, mistrust, and suspicion are inveighed against as ungodly and wicked; while benevolence, liberality, modesty, forbearance, patience and endurance, frugality, sincerity, straightforwardness, decency, love of peace and truth and, above all trust in Allah and submission to His Will are considered as the pillars of true piety and the principal signs of a true believer.
Nor must we omit to point out expressly that Muhammad never laid down that doctrine of absolute predestination which destroys all human will and freedom, because the individual's deeds cannot alter one iota in his destiny either in this world or in the next. Such foolhardiness is distinctly prohibited in the Quran (ii: 196). Caution is recommended.