(The speech was delivered at the Muslim Community Centre, Chicago on June 19, 1977, before a large gathering of educated Muslims.)
Allama Iqbal opens his long Persian poem, Asrar-i-Khudi (Secrets of the Self), with these verses from Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi.
Last night the Sheikh wandered about the town with a lamp
Saying, “I am tired of demon and beast; man is my desire.
My heart is sick of the feeble-spirited fellow-travellers;
The Loin of God(Meaning Hazrat Ali) and Rustam-i-Dastaan (Rustam son of Zal (nicknamed Dastaan) was a famous hero of pre- Islamic Persia) are my desire.”
I said, “We, too, searched for him, but he couldn’t be found.”
He replied, “What cannot be found that thing is my desire.”
On a dark night, Maulana Rumi tells, a sage was wandering in the streets of the town, with a lamp in hand, as if he was searching for something that had been lost. The poet enquired from him, what he was trying to find, and he replied that he had grown sick of living in what, in truth, was the abode of wild animals, and was now looking for man, a Lion of God and a Rustam-i-Dastaan, who could restore his faith in humanity. The poet remarked, “You are looking for the impossible; for something that does not exist. Rest assured, you are never going to find him.” “It is the rare, the uncommon, the unattainable that I seek. This is the trouble with me,” replied the wise, old man.
As you know, I have come here at the invitation of the Muslim Students Association and it is a new world for me, not, of course, in the sense in which it was for Columbus, but from the viewpoint of a student who, also, possesses some knowledge of religion. I am grateful to the Muslim Students Association for giving me an opportunity not only of coming to this great land, but, also, of seeing it from coast to coast and of meeting people and speaking to them. I have travelled from New York to California, and, also, visited Canada, thus covering about four thousand miles during these few weeks. It is at the end of the tour that I am addressing this meeting. You will, naturally, like to know my impressions. Coming, as I do, from a country which, so to speak, is backward at present and lagging behind the West, I would have described to you with relish the phenomenal advancement that has taken place here, but you are more familiar with it than me, and, hence, it will be unnecessary.
To many of you the verses from Maulana Rum I have just quoted will have come as a surprise. Maulana Rum lived in Anatolia which was not backward. On the other hand, it was one of the most advanced parts of the then civilised world. The Maulana belonged to a place where the foundations of the magnificent Saijuk Kingdom were about to be laid. He was born at Balkh, in Iran, which was the most civilised country in those days and could, justly, be called the Greece of the East, In philosophy and literature it had made a glorious contribution and left an imperishable mark on the pages of history. Nevertheless, he has tried to show the wounds of his heart through these verses. He relates the story of the sage. but in fact, it is his own story. He says that in that wonderful city and in that land of culture and enlightenment, he pines for man. There is everything there-stately mansions, blooming gardens, delicious food, elegant dresses and refined manners, but not man. What one sees are not real men; they possess only human forms and figures.
In another verse, Maulana Rum has spoken with greater clarity. He says :
These are not men, only men’s faces they have,
Slaves of the stomach, victims of sensuality.
The bloom of the machines
I have seen of America what could be seen during this brief stay and have travelled from north to south and from east to west, but the one thing that has struck me is the supremacy of the machines. The bloom you see here is the bloom of mathematics, trade and technology. The physical sciences have reached the highest point of their development and given to mankind whatever they could by way of progress, ease and luxury.
But what will the answer be if in this country which is bustling with life and activity one were to ask how many real men lived; men whose hearts throbbed and eyes wept for the sake of humanity; men who controlled their carnal desires and, were the riders and not the mounts of this civilisation; who held the reins of life instead of being driven by it; who knew their Creator and whose hearts were filled with love for Him and respect for mankind; who led a simple life, in harmony with nature, and were aware of true joys and genuine pleasures; who did not like tensions and conflicts in the world and hated the selfishness and greed of the politicians; who wished every country well and wanted it to prosper; who were eager to give and not to grab; who did not believe that the aim of life was only to eat, drink and be merry, but thought that there was much more pleasure in feeding the other man and going hungry themselves than in eating the most sumptuous meal; who saw gain in loss and victory in defeat; who dreamt of the reconstruction of the world and were not concerned solely with the growth and development of their own land; who wanted to see the world united, not on the transitory and artificial platform of the United Nations, but on the real and natural stage of the oneness of mankind; who knew what was the beginning and the end of their existence, and were, also, regardful of it; who realised that they had been created by someone and would not turn to dust, like the insects, after completing the span of their life, but had to go somewhere and render an account of the tremendous capabilities God had endowed them with, capabilities which had enabled them to impart life to stones, conquer the vastness of the skies, imprison the rays of the sun and plant their feet on the moon, and felt that the glory of man did not fie in breathing life into inanimate matter and subjugating the world through it, but in enlivening himself? God had created man and placed the crown of Vicegerency on his head: it was, therefore, not the height of his achievement that he became a slave to matter but made the matter his slave, or, rather, the slave of God and took from it the task of the fulfillment of His Will. This was what Vicegerency of God meant. Men who did not see greatness in subjugating the other countries and making them bow to their will but wanted to serve mankind selflessly and put an end to exploitation of one country or community by the other; men who aspired to release humanity from the bondage of the inordinate appetites of power, wealth and even intellect ?
The bedouin of Arabia whose head Islam had raised as high as the heavens had told Rustam, the Commander-in-Chief of Iran, bluntly that “we have been sent by Allah to deliver whom He wills from the overlordship of His slaves (i. e. men) to His own overlordship, from the narrow confines of the world to its boundlessness, and from the oppressiveness of other religions to the fairness and justice of Islam.” Now, there was the mighty Rustam whose name was enough to strike terror in the heart of the enemy, and, before him, it had become possible for a poor bedouin to stand up and say : “God has appointed us to rescue men from the worship of fellow-men and lead them to the worship of no one save Him: to take them out of the prison-cell to which you have given the imposing name of the Iranian Empire into the Lord’s wide and limitless world and into the open air of freedom. We take pity not on ourselves, but on you. It is your wretchedness that has evoked sympathy in our hearts and compelled us to come out of the desert-land of Arabia. Unfortunate Iranians, we want to bring you out of the golden cage in which you are held in captivity like the nightingales into the boundless kingdom of the Lord. You are the slaves of your desires and habits, of your musicians, cooks and water-men, while we are the slaves of God. We have come to deliver you from the countless forms and varieties of servility to freedom”.
Light is one, darkness has numerous faces
Freedom is one; servility is of many kinds, Light is one, but darkness has numerous faces. Hence. wherever Noor (Light) is mentioned in the Quran, it is in the singular number. As for instance, Allah is the Protecting Friend of those who believe. He bringeth them out of Zulumaal(Plural of Zilumat, meaning darkness.) into Noor. (II : 257)
But why? Is the plural form of Noor not found in the Arabic language? Or, was the range of expression of the Quran limited? The fact is that light is one, while ‘darknesses’ are unlimited. The origin of Noor is one and it is the awareness of God There is no other source of guidance if Light is not available from that eternal fountainhead. Today, as I see this country, the following verses from Iqbal come to my mind. Iqbal had not visited the United States, but his knowledge of the West was deeper than ours. He says :
Though Europe is radiant with the light of knowledge,
The Ocean of Darkness’ is barren of the ‘Fount of Life’.
A nation unblessed by Divine Light,
Steam and electricity bound its works.
The Westisan, Ocean of Darkness in which the ‘Fount of Life’ does not exist. There is an old proverb that the Fountain of Life’ is found in the Ocean of Darkness’. It is said that Alexander had made Khwaja Khizri (Name of a Prophet who is said to have discovered the ‘Fountain of Life’ and drunk of it.) his guide and requested him to take him to the waters of immortality in the -Ocean of Darkness’, but even Khizr had confessed his inability. Alluding to this brief story, Iqbal observes that though the West is an -Ocean of Darkness’, it does not possess the Fountain of Life’. What, then, is the ultimate fate of the nation which is deprived of Divine beneficence and turns its back upon Apostleship and relies wholly upon the intellect and spends all its energies on matter, on minerals, steel and weapons, and makes the terrestrial, and not the celestial, world the sole sphere of its activities? The matter is conquered, but not its own soul; the world is subjugated, but not the spirit of the world. The West made the material world the only field of its struggle and endeavour, and material progress the high aim and ambition of its life. In it, the West has been eminently successful for it is the practice of the Lord that He makes His Help available, in fullest measure, to man in whatever sphere he singles out for his attention. In whatever field a man wants to make progress, God grants him a full opportunity to go ahead. The crux of the matter lies in choice and preference.
Christianity is unsuited to the West
Those of you who have studied the history of the West and the Western Civilisation and read J. W. Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science will agree that when Europe was converted to Christianity and the Christian missionaries got busy in it events took such a turn that it plunged head-long into materialism. Religion could not capture its imagination for Christianity offered no encouragement to intellect, nor gave a practical guidance for the Organisation of society. It wanted to take it backwards while the European races which were eager and restless by temperament wanted to press onward. A vista of opportunity and achievement was opening before them and the competition for advancement urged them to stop at nothing. The revolution that was unfolding itself forced the European people to select for themselves a field in which they had no rivals. They could not rest content with a narrow sphere of growth and progress in which they had to abide by the Bible at each step or ask the ecclesiastics whether such and such a thing was lawful or not. It was a tragedy not only for Europe but for the whole world that Christianity fell to its lot.
If it was asked which religion was most identical to the spirit of Europe and the natural disposition of its people, the answer would invariably be, Christianity. On the other hand, as a little thought will show, no religion could be more in keeping with its genius and capable of giving it a proper sense of direction than Islam.
According to Christianity, man is born a sinner. He is carrying the heavy load of the original sin on his head. How, then, can a Christian have faith in himself? How can a man who is feeling ashamed of himself on account of being a sinner by birth look boldly at the universe, lay bare the forces of nature, piece the bosom of the oceans and dream of reaching the planets?
How can a man who believes that he is a born sinner, that sin is ingrained in his nature and that be is in need of an external atonement which has to be offered on his behalf under- take with pride and courage the voyage of the discovery and conquest of nature? Here was a contradiction the parallel of which could scarcely be found in the world. It was as if two horses had been tied to a cart, one in front of it and the other behind. The same thing happened to Europe. Two horses were fastened to it. Under the influence of climatic and other environ- mental factors, its spirit was eager to go forward, to do some- thing, but the horse of Christianity was pulling it back. It was trying to take it towards monasticism. The ecclesiastics were openly preaching that earthly life was a bad business and the spiritual advancement of man lay in escape from life. If he wanted to attain salvation, he should live in mountains, dedicate his life to the Church, and practice celibacy. A perusal of Lecky’s History of European Morals would show how people ran away from the shadow of a woman. The height of callousness was that a mother travelled a thousand miles to see her son and when the son heard that she was coming he took to heels like a man possessed and the mother had to return broken- hearted. This was the Christianity that had reached the West. In the upshot, the West decided that if it had to progress, it should not only free itself from the shackles of the Church, but also take leave of religion. Significantly enough, while the decline of the Muslim World started when it abandoned Islam; the rise of the West began when it forsook Christianity.
Slave of machines
It is this distressing evolutionary process that has, today, made America a slave of the machines. The supremacy of the United States is accepted all over the world and its hand is seen in everything that happens anywhere. No country, Muslim or non-Muslim, is altogether free from its control and domination. In one form or another, its presence is felt at every place. Plans are made here and enforced in our countries and our own leaders implement them. Today, America has enslaved the world, but it has, itself, become the slave of the machines. It is a prisoner of its way of life, of material progress, of factories and laboratories, and of fancy goods and gadgets. The thing that I did not see here was man, the real man whose heart was alive and awake, and not the working part of a machine. Man, here, has got cast so completely in the technological mould of life that his ideas and emotions, too, have become mechanical. The properties of rock and iron have entered into his soul. He has become narrow and selfish, cold, unfeeling and impervious. There is no warmth in his heart-, no moisture in his eyes. This is the reality I have sadly observed during my stay in America.
Guard against the dissolution of your personality
Before I leave for home I would like to tell you one thing do not be overawed by this civilisation. You are the fruit of the tree of Apostleship. Live here, but keep away from the slavish imitation of the Western Civilisation. Derive as much benefit as you like from your stay, but do not be swayed by crude and vulgar materialism. Remember your message and be on your guard against the dissolution of your personality. Do not feel ashamed of your Faith, way of life and culture. Do not imagine that you are the beasts and they are men. No, you are men and they are the beasts. This land is glittering with electric lights; even the night here is bright as day; but it is devoid of true effulgence of blessedness and Divine guidance. As Iqbal has said :
Dark is the Frankish country with the smoke of its machines;
This valley of Blessedness and Hope’ is not worthy of Divine Splendour.
Bondmen of idols carved by themselves
These people are the slaves of their habits and of the mechanical contraptions and devices made by themselves. Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham) had asked the idol-worshippers of his time : What are these images Onto which ye pay devotion ? (XXI : 52). What irony is it that you kneel down tomorrow before what you make today? The same is happening here. To-day a standard is laid down, a law is formulated and a machine is made, and tomorrow, the whole nation becomes a slave to them. Bondmen of the idols and images carved by their own hands!
Deputyship of Ibrahim
This country is an idol-hall in which the Azan of Ibrahim has to be given, and this you, alone, can do. You are the real descendants of Ibrahim, not the Jews who have strayed far away from his path. Not the Christians who are the followers of the Christianity of St. Paul, not of Jesus. They have been divested of true Christianity. It was a colossal conspiracy that bore fruit. No religious conspiracy has,- perhaps, been so successful. It brought about a complete metamorphosis of Christianity. Now, whether Catholics or Protestants, they are the adherents of St. Paul. They have lost the claim to be the successors of Hazrat Ibrahim. You are his successor.
In the words of Iqbal:
Architect of Haram, for rebuilding the world awake;
Out of heavy sleep, heavy sleep arise Out of slumber deep arise !
Only the architects of Haram can build the new world. Today, destruction is rampant. In appearance it is constructions, in truth, destruction. It was the mission of the Apostle- you follow to deliver mankind from every kind of servility to the servility of One God. You therefore, are in America not merely- as masses of flesh and blood, nor simply as Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians and Slvrians.
Break idols of colour and blood; lose yourselves in the Millet.
Neither the Irani should remain nor Turani nor Afghani. You are not Egyptians and Syrians, but Muslims You are one community, one brotherhood. You are Ibrahimi and Mohammadi. Know yourself. You have not come here to lose your identity and get fitted into this monstrous machine -like a valueless part or to fill your bellies like the animals. No. Take the Message to the peoples of this land; wake them up; tell them how they have gone out of the right way.
If it ever occurs to the Western people how wrong and perverted is their outlook on life, they go to the other extreme. They turn towards Hippie-ism, Hindu asceticism and renunciation. A large bathing festival, called Kumbh, is held every year at Allahabad, in India. If you go to it, you will find educated Americans roaming about like stray cattle, or, rather fanatics. This civilisation has developed indigestion. They have imbibed the wine of culture so excessively that they have begun to vomit. They are seeking satisfaction by descending to the level of the beasts, by rejecting the favours and blessings of God, and by running away from the realities of life. Would to God that our Islamic countries were capable of showing the correct path to the Americans and speaking to them in a confident, self-assured manner. But alas, not one of them is in that position. The result is that when the Americans get disgusted with their own way of life, they go to the Himalayas and use narcotics to produce an unreal feeling of peace and serenity. We, the Muslims, could tend guidance to them if we possessed the capability.
Where are Muslims ?
Brothers and sisters, you are not here merely to earn and spend. This any community can do. You are here to earn according to your need, but you must, also, know your station and present before the Americans a new design of life. You should give the Azan which may stir their minds and offer Namaz so that they may see and ponder over it. Lead a clean life in order that a revulsion is created in them for their own degenerate ways of living, practice moderation so that a realisation may dawn on them of the foulness of sensuality and excessive self-indulgence, and freeing yourselves from the ruthless domination of the machines, live in a cool, calm and collected manner in order that they may know where peace is. Rediscover the world that lies within you and develop the spirituality which might be felt by those who came into contact with you. I wish that devout bondmen of the Lord, men with an illumined heart, came to live here and told these people who are disgusted with life that Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. (XIII : 28).
Today, only the Muslims can give this message, but where are they? Has any Muslim country or community the courage to tell the Americans that in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest? They no longer believe in it themselves. How can they convey the message of Divine Unity to others who have them- selves lost faith in the power and efficacy of Namaz, in the truth and veracity of the Kalima, in the control and authority of God over gain and loss, and in the pre-ordination of good and evil, and made the Americans the great provider of the daily bread? How can they tell them that there is no Giver of Sustenance save Allah?
First, try to produce Faith within yourselves, observe Namaz and spend some time everyday in meditation; produce the warmth that has been destroyed by the smoke of the factories, refresh your soul, set right the aim of your life, read the Quran daily, study the life of the Prophet and seek light from it, and, then, convey the message of the Religion of Nature to the Americans.
Only Islam is the Religion of Nature
Islam, alone, is the religion which does not frown upon human nature, but declares it to be essentially pure and flawless.
God had given a clean state to man, a guiltless nature and an inclination towards goodness; we have debased it. Man is, by nature, upright. Left to his natural instincts, he will follow the correct path. First, realise these truths, produce them within yourselves, in your hearts as well as in your minds, and, then, place them before the Americans. You are the people of preaching and instruction; you are the people of Apostleship, a community with a purpose, and the bearers of the Message. It dose not become you to live like two-legged animals, filling your stomachs and procreating.
These are some of my impressions. I have spoken to you from the heart. I have seen everything in America, but man. If I have found one here, it is among you. It is not that I am unacquainted with America or the Americans. I have met them in literature, on the T.V., and over the radio. They are not strangers to me.
Find out the man who is the Vicegerent of God and for whom the world has been created and in whose breast beats the heart which is more precious than, the entire universe. All the treasures of the world and the achievements of science are nothing before an illumined heart. ‘Produce that humanity in yourselves. You stay here is correct. It is not only justified, but also a worship and a great source of preaching and propagation of Faith. And if it is not that then I have great misgivings. As I have said on various occasions, if you do not take full care to safeguard your religious life and arrange for the religious education and upbringing of your children and make sure that your future generations remain true to Islam then your living in this country is a sin and you are in grave danger.
Lo ! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wrong themselves, (the angels) will ask: In what were ye engaged? They will say : We were helpless in the land. (The angles) will say : Was riot Allah’s earth spacious that ye could have migrated therein ? (IV: 97).
For us it is legitimate to live only in a country where we can live with our distinctive qualities and observe our duties. If it is not possible in this environment or you feel you cannot carry out your religious obligations then it is not permissible for you to reside in this land. It is your duty to see that you lived here as Muslims, with all your characteristics You should build your own society, and, also, assure that your children will remain Muslims after you, as Hazrat Yaqoob (Jacob) had done in regard to his progeny. It is set forth in the Quran:
or were you present when death came to Yaqoob, when he said unto his sons: What will you worship after me? They said: We shall worship thy God, the God of thy fathers, Ibrahim and Ismail (Ishmael) …. (II: 133).
It was then that Hazrat Yaqoob was satisfied and he departed from the world with a contented heart. It is the duty of all of us to make certain that our children grow up to be Muslims, otherwise, friends, it will be necessary to have a second look at your stay and to decide whether you should continue to live in this country or not.
You must live as Muslims
I highly appreciate the services of MSA and other institutions and individuals who strive in the cause of Faith, form study circles, circulate the Islamic literature and organise meetings. Whether they are Arabs or non-Arabs, they are a blessed lot. God will accept their services and raise them in ranks. Of fore- most importance, however, is the stipulation that you made sure you would be able to live here as Muslims and not break up and lose your identity. Would you melt like wax before the heat of this civilisation? In that case, you would better go back to your native lands, no matter whether you earned only a fourth or a fiftieth part of what you do here. And if you are safe against it and there is no such danger then blessed is your stay in America. A new light may come to it through you, and the path may be opened for Islam.