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What western thinkers said about Islam

Posted on: May 7, 2008

Islam came like a flood of light – it illumined the entire environment. Its charm captivated so many that they moved into its fold – but those who, for a variety of reasons, did not enter its fold, were also spellbound. They could not help admiring its beauty, splendor and grandeur. They confessed its greatness and paid tributes to it. Their evidence is important in one respect – it comes from those who are not within it, from many who have, on the whole, been rather antagonistic; but they too had to admit its unique features, its serenity that casts its spell on all and sundry. It is a selection of such evidence that we now present.
ISLAM – A Simple, Humanitarian and Attractive Religion
“Islam had the power of peacefully conquering souls by the simplicity of its theology, the clearness of its dogma and principles, and the definite number of the practices which it demands. In contrast to Christianity which has been undergoing continual transformation since its origin, Islam has remained identical with itself.”
(Jean L’heureux, Etude sur L’Islamisme P.35)
“Two features in the Creed of Islam have always specially attracted me. One is the God conception, the other is its unquestionable sincerity – a tremendous asset in human affairs, the religious aspect of them especially. After all, sincerity is almost divine and like love covers a multitude of sins.”
(Major Arthur Glyn Leonard, Islam – Her Moral and Spiritual Value, London, 1927).
“Sense of justice is one of the most wonderful ideals of Islam, because as I read in the Quran I find those dynamic principles of life, not mystic but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life suited to the whole world.”
(Sarojini Naidu, Lecture on The Ideals of Islam vide Speeches and Writings of Sarojini Naidu, Madras, 1918, P 167)
“The rise of Islam is perhaps the most amazing event in human history. Springing from a land and a people alike previously negligible, Islam spread within a century over half the earth, shattering great empires, overthrowing long established religions, remolding the souls of races, and building up a whole new world – the world of Islam.”
“The closer we examine this development the more extraordinary does it appear. The other great religions won their way slowly, by painful struggle, and finally triumphed with the aid of powerful monarchs converted to the new faith. Christianity had its Constantine, Buddhism its Asoka, and Zoroastrianism its Cyrus, each lending to his chosen cult the mighty force of secular authority. Not so Islam. Arising in a desert land sparsely inhabited by a nomad race previously undistinguished in human annals, Islam sallied forth on its great adventure with the slenderest human backing and against the heaviest material odds. Yet Islam triumphed with seemingly miraculous ease, and a couple of generations saw the Fiery Crescent borne victorious from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas and from the deserts of Central Asia to the deserts of Central Africa… Muhammad, an Arab of the Arabs, was the very incarnation of the soul of his race. Preaching a simple, austere monotheism, free from priest-craft or elaborate doctrinal trappings, he tapped the wellsprings of religious zeal always present in the Semitic heart. Forgetting the chronic rivalries and blood feuds which had consumed their energies in internecine strife, and welded into a glowing unity by the fire of their new-found faith, the Arabs poured forth from their deserts to conquer the earth for Allaah, the One True God…”
“They (Arabs) were no bloodthirsty savages, bent solely on loot and destruction. On the contrary, they were an innately gifted race, eager to learn and appreciative of the cultural gifts which older civilisations had to bestow. Intermarrying freely and professing a common belief, conquerors and conquered rapidly fused, and from this fusion arose a new civilisation, the Saracenic civilisation, in which the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome and Persia were revitalised by the Arab genius and the Islamic spirit. For the first three centuries of its existence (650-1000 CE) the realm of Islam was the most civilized and progressive portion of the world. Studded with splendid cities, gracious mosques, and quiet universities where the wisdom of the ancient world was preserved and appreciated, the Muslim world offered a striking contrast to the Christian West, then sunk in the night of the Dark Ages.”
(A.M Lothrop Stoddard, Ph.D., The New World of Islam, London 1932, p. 1-3).
“There can be no question but that, with its pure monotheism, and a code founded in the main on justice and humanity, Islam succeeds in raising to a higher level races sunk in idolatry and fetishism, like those of Central Africa, and that in some respects, notably in that of temperance, it materially improves the morality of such peoples.”
(Sir William Muir, Mohamed and Islam, London, 1895 p.246)
********
ISLAMIC BROTHERHOOD – ALL ARE EQUAL
“Take away that black man! I can have no discussion with him,” exclaimed the Christian Archbishop Cyrus when the Arab conquerors had sent a deputation of their ablest men to discuss terms of surrender of the capital of Egypt, headed by ‘Ubaadah as the ablest of them all.
“To the sacred Archbishop’s astonishment, he was told that this man was commissioned by General ‘Amr, that the Muslims held black and white men in equal respect – judging a man by his character and not by his colour.”
“Well, if the Negro must lead, he must speak gently,” ordered the prelate, “so as not to frighten his white auditors.”
“There are a thousand blacks, as black as myself, amongst our companions. I and they would be ready to meet and fight a hundred enemies together. We live only to fight for God, and to follow His Will. We care naught for wealth, so long as we have the wherewithal to stay our hunger and to clothe our bodies. This world is naught for us, the next world is all.”
“Such a spirit of class distinction is certainly the greatest hindrance to missionary work in the East, as every impartial observer has noted. How, for instance, can any other appeal stand against that of the Muslim who, in approaching the pagan, says to him, however obscure or degraded he may be: ‘Embrace the faith, and you are at once an equal and a brother.’ Islam knows no ‘colour line’.”
(S.S Leeder, Veiled Mysteries of Egypt, London, 1912,pp.332 – 335)
“The Islamic brotherhood which they proclaimed was a real thing, and a new thing among eastern nations. It is doubtful whether Christian Syrians ever felt the same sense of brotherhood with Christian Persians as Muslim Syrians did with Muslim Persians.”
(Lawrence E. Browne, The Prospects of Islam, London, 1944, p.12)
“But Islam has yet a further service to render the cause of humanity… No other society has such a record of success in uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity and of endeavour so many and so various races of mankind. The great Muslim communities of Africa, India and Indonesia, perhaps also the small Muslim community in Japan, show that Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconciliable elements of race and tradition. If ever the opposition of the great societies of the East and West is to be replaced by co-operation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition.”
(H.A.R. Gibb. Whither Islam, London, 1932 p. 379).
“But above all—and herein is its supreme importance in the missionary history of Islam—it ordains a yearly gathering of believers, of all nations and languages, brought together from all parts of the world, to pray in that sacred place towards which their faces are set in every hour of private worship in their distant homes. No stretch of religious genius could have conceived a better expedient for impressing on the minds of the faithful a sense of their common life and of brotherhood in the bonds of faith. Here, in a supreme act of common worship, the Negro of the West coast of Africa meets the Chinaman from the distant East; the coultry and polished Ottoman recognises his brother Muslim in the wild islander from the farthest end of the Malayan Sea. At the same time throughout the whole Muhammedan world the hearts of believers are lifted up in sympathy with their more fortunate brethren gathered together in the sacred city, as in their own homes they celebrate the festival of ‘Eed al-Ad-haa’ or (as it is called in Turkey and Egypt) the feast of Bayram.”
“Besides the institution of the pilgrimage, the payment of the legal alms is another duty that continually reminds the Muslim that ‘the faithful are brothers’ (XLIX-10) – religious theory that is very strikingly realised in Muhammedan society and seldom fails to express itself in acts of kindness towards the new convert. Whatever be his race, colour or antecedents he is received into the brotherhood of believers and takes his place as an equal among equals.”
(T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, London, 1956, pp. 415-416).
“It was the first religion that preached and practised democracy; for, in the mosque when the call from the minaret is sounded and the worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim: “God Alone is Great”. I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes a man distinctively a brother. When you meet an Egyptian, an Algerian, an Indian and a Turk in London, what matters that Egypt was the motherland of one and India the motherland of another.”
(Sarojini Naidu, Lecture on “The ideals of Islam” vide Speeches and Writings of Sarojini Naidu, Madras, 1918, p.169).
ISLAMIC LAW—THE MOST ENLIGHTENED JURISPRUDNCE
“The Muhammadan Law which is binding on all — from the crowned head to the meanest subject is a law interwoven with a system of the wisest, the most learned and the most enlightened jurisprudence that ever existed in the world.”
(Edmund Burke, in his Impeachment of Warren Hastings).
ISLAM IMPARTS KNOWLEDGE AND CREATES INTELLECT
“To seek knowledge is a duty of every Muslim man and woman.” ‘Seek knowledge even though it be in China’. ‘The savants are the heirs of the Prophets.’ These profound words of the great reformer are an indisputable contradiction to those who seek and exert themselves in putting the responsibility of the intellectual degradation of Muslims upon the spirit of the Quran. Let them read and meditate upon this great Book and they will read that the Prophet incessantly called the attention and the meditation of his people to the splendid marvels, to the mysterious phenomenon of creation. The incredulous, sceptical and unbelieving may convince themselves that the importance of this Book and its doctrine was not to throw back, eventually, the intellectual and moral faculties of a whole people. On the contrary, those who have followed its counsels have been, as we have described in the course of this study, the creators of a civilisation which is astounding unto this day”.
(Dr. A. Bertherand, Contribution des Arabes au Progress de Sciences Medicales, Paris 1883, p.6).
“It is to Mussulman science, to Mussulman art and to Mussulman literature that Europe has been in a great measure indebted for its extrication from the darkness of the Middle Ages.”
(Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, Speeches Delivered in India, London, 1890, p. 24).
“It may be boldly asserted that no people in the world give the impression of being so religious-minded as do Moslems. All of life is saturated with the consciousness of God.”
(Charles R. Watson, What is this Moslem World? London, 193, pp. 38-39)
JIHAAD AND MUSLIM CONQUESTS
“The Crusades, the Turkish wars, and the great expansion of Europe widened the gulf between Christianity and Islam, while as the East was gradually brought under ecclesiastical influence the contrast grew deeper. The theory, however, that the Muhammadan conquerors and their successors were inspired by a fanatical hatred of Christianity is a fiction invented by Christians.”
(C.H. Becker, Christianity and Islam, London, 1909, pp. 28-33)
“Incidentally these well-established facts dispose of the idea so widely fostered in Christian writings that the Muslims, wherever they went, forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword.”
(Lawrence W. Browne, The Prospects of Islam, London, 1944, p.14).
“The Jihaad was not really obligatory except against peoples who had no revealed religion or who menace the existence of Islam… Jihaad had to be waged to defend Islam against aggressions… Once the war was terminated, the Muslims always displayed a great tolerance towards the conquered peoples leaving them their legislation and religious beliefs.”
(O. Houdes, La Grade Encyclopaedia, 1894, Tome 20, p. 1006)
“No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam… The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Quran is explicit in support of the freedom of conscience. The evidence is strong that Islam welcomed the peoples of many diverse religions, so long as they behaved themselves and paid extra taxes. Muhammad constantly taught that Muslims should co-operate with the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews and Christians).
“True, there were often wars between Muslims and either Christians or Jews (sometimes because the older religions insisted on battle), and the Quran contains passages of primitive violence relating to those wars. But testimony is overwhelming that “followers of the Book” were usually given decent treatment, sanctuary and freedom to worship as they wished.
“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 field 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.
“Although Islam originated in Arabia, today only a small percentage (7 percent) of the world’s Muslims are Arabians, and less than a quarter (20 percent) speak Arabic as their native language.
“More than most religions, Islam preaches the brotherhood of all races, colours and nations within its fold. Muhammad himself probably had exactly the same skin colouring as Jesus – a very suntanned white – but today his followers embrace all colours: black men from Africa, yellow men from China, brown men from Malaya, white men from Turkey.
“Islam permits no priesthood, and because Muhammad had to fight so bitterly against idols, his religion discourages portraiture. Mosques are decorated with geometrical patterns only.”
(James A. Michener, “Islam – The Misunderstood Religion”, in the Reader’s Digest (American Edition, May 1955).
“History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have over repeated.”
(De Lacy O’Leary, Islam at the Crossroads, London, 1923, p.8).
“In their wars of conquest, however, the Muslims exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame.”
(E. Alexander Powell, The Struggle for Power in Muslim Asia. New York 1923, p.48).
“The nobility and broad tolerance of this creed, which accepts as God-inspired all the real religions of the world, will always be a glorious heritage for mankind. On it could indeed be built a perfect world religion.”
(Duncan Greenless, M.A. (Oxon.), The Gospel of Islam, Adyar 1948, p.27)
“As a religion the Mohammedan religion, it must be confessed, is more suited to Africa than is the Christian religion; indeed, I would even say that it is more suited to the world as whole….
“It is undeniable that polygamy, or to speak more accurately, the principle underlying it, is not confined to Moslem peoples. To put the matter plainly, who can honestly say that the sexual morality of the West is superior to that of the East? A fair comparison would, I believe, very much favor the latter. Then it is undeniable also that faith in the power of the sword is by no means restricted to the Islamic world. Who can bear more telling witness to the truth of this assertion than Moslems themselves who have suffered greatly from the sharp swords of the Western nations? Putting aside these two points of resemblance, the achievement of the Moslem faith enjoys, I maintain, a definite superiority, in proof of which may be cited Moslem abstinence, sense of fraternity, condemnation of usury, and recognition of prophets other than its own. Its quality may be summed up saying that it takes a man as he is, and while it does not pretend to make a god out of him, it seeks to regulate his conduct so that at least he shall become a good neighbor.”
(Lancelot Lawton, The Sphere, London, May 12, 1928).
“In Muhammad’s day there was no Arabic version of the Bible from which he could obtain accurate knowledge of Christ…. Therefore some maintain that the very existence of Islam is due to the failure of the Church.”
(Angus Nicolson, Ph. D., A Guide to Islam, Stirling, 1951, p. 16).
“I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phases of existence which can make itself appeal to every age…
I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today. The Mediaeval ecclesiastics, either through ignorance or bigotry, painted Muhammadanism in the darkest colours. They were, in fact, trained to hate both the man Muhammad and his religion. To them Muhammad was anti-Christ. I have studied him, the wonderful man, and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ he must be called the Savior of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that he would bring it the much-needed peace and happiness. Europe is beginning to be enamored of the creed of Muhammad. In the next century it may go still further in recognising the utility of that creed in solving its problems and it is in this sense that you must understand my prediction.”
A collection of Writings of Some of the Eminent Scholars, published by the Working Muslim Mission, 1935, p.77).
ISLAM CAN FILL THE SOCIAL AND SPIRITUAL VACUUM CREATED BY THE WEST
“While Christianity in recent years has moved towards a social gospel, Islam has been a social gospel from the start.
A significant distinction between the two religions is that in the New Testament is a revelation of God; in the Quran is a revelation from God… Any religion that has lasted fourteen centuries must have some thing fundamentally significant and meaningful to say to every man whether he is a millionaire or a pauper, a prince or a slave. And Islam undoubtedly does.”
(Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Islam in Modern History, London, 1946, pp.22-24).
“In these recently and rapidly opened up tropical territories, the Western civilisation has produced an economic and political plenum and, in the same breath, a social and spiritual void.
“If ever the ‘natives’ of these regions (Central Africa and Indonesia)
succeed in recapturing a spiritual state in which they are able to call their souls their own, it may prove to have been the Islamic spirit that has given fresh form to the void. This spirit may be expected to manifest itself in many practical ways; and one of these manifestations might be a liberation from alcohol, which was inspired by religious conviction and which was therefore able to accomplish what could never be enforced by the external sanction of an alien law.
“Here then in the foreground of the future, we can remark two valuable influences which Islam may exert upon the cosmopolitan proletariat of a Western society that has cast its net round the world and embraced the whole of mankind.”
(A. J. Toynbee, Civilisation on Trial, New York 1948, pp.208-208)

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