Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (ra) delivered this speech on June 6, 1977 in the Hall of the Divinity College of Harvard University. The speaker was introduced to the audience by Mr. Mudassir Husain Siddiqui which included University teachers and scholars. A large number of students from different parts of the country also attended. The proceedings began with the recital of Sura-i-Wat-Teen by a Black American Muslim.
Surely We created men of the best stature
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low.
Friends and Brothers,
Today I will begin my speech with the remark to which I have been guided by the verses of the Quran that have just been recited. These verses have shown me the path of speaking to you. I am going to begin with something that may startle you The Western World which stretches from Europe to the Americas is most fortunate, and yet it is most unfortunate. Such a big contradiction, in the same breath, may seem strange to you, but the verses which have been read to you, too, would appear self-contradictory, though they convey a profound reality. The same is the case with the whole of the West which, for reasons to go into which will be unnecessary here, has been vested by God with the leadership of the world. I have discussed at length in my book. Islam and the World, how universal leader- ship came to pass into the hands of the West. So, as I have said, what is true of man is also true of this part of the world. It is, at once, lucky and unlucky. It would not have mattered much had it been its own affair. Nations have risen to great heights in the past, and, then their decline has set in and they have fallen into the abyss of obscurity. There would have been no reason for us to pay a particular attention if it appertained to a mere country. But when that country is in the position of leadership and its influence is felt throughout the world, it assumes serious proportions.
America is fortunate because Nature has been most generous to it. The Lord has bestowed His gifts lavishly upon this country. Its people are resourceful and enterprising. They are full of enthusiasm for living. They have been granted such a tenacity of purpose, resoluteness and pertinacity that they have made their country a paradise on earth. They have unrevealed the mysteries of nature and harnessed its forces to their use. In the words of Iqbal, they have “enchained the rays of the sun” and “sought the orbits of the stars”. They have turned the dust into gold. Now, in this land wealth pours down from the skies and rivers of milk and honey flow. This is the result of the galvanic spirit, robust imagination and unflagging eagerness of the American people. The United States not only abounds in mineral resources, but has, also, the bands to exploit them. In this respect, it is exceedingly fortunate and the whole world is, as if it were, keenly desirous to prove it. Everyone is a beggar at its door, eager to solicit its favours. But their ingenuity, sense of discipline and capacity for management, the people here have organised their life so well that the world at large is benefiting from it. In the material and economic fields they are supreme.
You can justly be envious of America and admire it as much as you like. I do not believe in partisanship whether religious, social or political. One must give praise where praise is due.
But, at the same time, this country is most unfortunate. I say it with a full sense of responsibility. Many of you may be shocked at it, but it is a fact.
He who enchained the sunbeams
It has been a tragedy not only for America but the whole of mankind that it concentrated entirely on material progress and made the physical world the sole sphere of its activity. It would have been a different story had it received correct guidance and the boon and blessing of true faith had reached it. and the Americans had, also, paid attention to morality with equal earnestness and enthusiasm and looked for the portents of God in Anfas i. e., within themselves, and not only in Afaq i.e., the horizons. If the intellectual faculties of the Americans had not been directed towards finding a clue to the mysteries of nature and they, also, had cared to discover the secrets of the self-of the heart and the soul-, they would have realised that the world of heart was immeasurably more extensive than the world of matter, so much so that if the whole of the universe was dropped into the heart of man it would get lost like a pebble in an ocean. The people of America would, then, have been able to appreciate correctly the place of man in the grand design of creation. Of the time and energy they have recklessly spent on material sciences, and, as we all know, with what results, we have it in the Quran :
And that man hath only that for which he maketh effort,
And that his effort will be seen.
And afterward he will be repaid for it with fullest payment.
(LIII : 39-41)
Each do We supply, both these and those, from the bounty
Of thy Lord; And the bounty of the Lord can never we walled up.
(XVII : 20)
Whatever field man chooses for himself, God will grant him success in it. Their is no limit to it; no thus far and no further. The consequences of the enterprise and industry of the West are before us. The world has shrunk and man has subjugated it for his own ends and interests. Had the Westerners exerted themselves, in the same way, on the heart, soul, and belief, the world would have known the true station of humanity. When the West worked on a tree, it produced from it a fruit no one could dream of. Identically, when it turned to Physics, Chemistry and Botany, it discovered new worlds. In the earlier days people were not inclined to believe in the plurality of the worlds and those who made such a claim were remorselessly punished by the Papal authority. But, today, a new world is being discovered in almost everything. In the same way, had the West known the true station a humanity and appreciated the distinction God had conferred upon man, the history of our race would have been different.
Most appropriate religion
Two events were largely responsible for the tragedy which overtook not only the West, but the whole of mankind. One was the arrival of Christianity in the Western hemisphere. We, the Muslims, are. also, to blame and however much were we to regret it, it would not be unjustified. The fact is that the most appropriate religion for this part of the world would have been Islam which awakened the latent human capabilities, gave encouragement to intellect, and made man self-reliant and self-respecting. Says the Quran:
Surely We created man of the best stature. (XCV : 4)
Verily We have honoured the children of Adam..
We carry them on the land and the sea,
and have made provision of good things for them,
and have preferred them over many of those whom
We created with a marked preferment. (XVII : 70)
Lo ! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth. (II : 30)
Islam places the crown of Vicegerency on man’s head than which there can be no greater honour. The whole structure of Islam is based upon the doctrine of Divine Unity and when it declares that man is Khakefat-ul-Laah i. e. the Vicegerent of God on earth, it elevates him so much that one cannot think of a higher and nobler concept of humanity. Thus, in a Tradition, it is stated that on the Day of Judgement God will say to His bondsman, “I fell ill and you did not visit Me.” The bondsman will reply, “Thou art the Lord of the Worlds. How could I visit Thee?” God will, thereupon, say, “Do you not know that such and such a bondsman of Mine was ill and you did not care to visit him? Had you gone to see him in order to comfort or help, you would have found Me with him.”
God, again, will say, ‘O son of Adam! I asked you for food, but you did not give it to Me.” The bondsman will reply, “Thou art the Lord of the Worlds. How could I give Thee food?” God will, then, say, “Are you not aware that such and such a bondsman of Mine begged you for food and you did not give it to him. Had you fed him you would have found it with Me.” God, again, will say, “O son of Adam! I was naked, but you did not cover Me with a garment.” The bondsman will reply, “Thou art the Lord of the Worlds. How could I clothe Thee?” God will, then, say, “Such and such a bondsman of Mine begged you for something to wear and you did not give it to him. Had you done that the dress would have reached Me.”
What greater honour can there be for mankind? Islam, further, tells that man is sinless by birth, his nature is pure, and his slate is clean. A Tradition has it that, every child is born on its nature i. e., pure and guiltless and it is its parents who make it a Jew, Christian or Fire-worshipper.” They dye it in their own hue otherwise when a man is born he is on the Colour of Allah. Islam teaches that the innate characteristic, the fundamental reality of human nature is submission. There is no defect in it. It is basically sound. The Quran says: It gets what it earns, and it suffers what it earns. (II: 286) which means that it is beneficial for man what he earns and it is harmful for him what he earns with effort. The good deed a man does is in conformity with his nature while the wrong part he pursues is in defiance of it. The assertion that the good deeds of man are in response to his natural instincts whereas his misdeeds are, so to speak, a revolt against himself bears a most eloquent testimony to the inherent purity of human nature.
So, Islam was the most suitable religion for this land. Had a union taken place between the two, the history of mankind would have taken a different course. On the one side, there would have been the unbounded natural resources of America, the tremendous vitality, resoluteness and enterprise of its people- the will to forge ahead and to win new laurels, and, on the other, the moderation of Islam, its message of hope and confidence, its incomparable quality of being the Faith of Nature and its insistence on the intrinsic innocence of man i. c., the doctrine that man is born free from sin and if he goes astray and falls into error, it is a passing phase and the rust that is formed on his heart as a result of it disappears as soon as he resolves to offer sincere repentance which is not a thing of constraint, but an inborn impulsion, and, that is why, a high place has been given to those who repent after sinning.
Islam gives encouragement to the creativeness of man and arouses his dormant capabilities. It is the faith of Monothism, of the Oneness of God. There is no speculative philosophy or empty idealism in it. It is based on solid facts and is such a simple religion that anyone can easily understand it. It does not put fetters on life, nor places obstacles in the path of knowledge, but elevates learning to an act of worship. It calls on man to study and reflect.
And in earth are portents for those whose faith is sure, and (also) in yourselves. Can ye then not see ? (LI: 20-21)
(Who) reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth (and say) : Our Lord ! Thou createdst not this in vain. (III: 191)
We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves. (XLI : 53)
Islam does not imprison the mind. On the contrary, it demands of man to make the fullest use of his mental faculties.
And those who, when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord, fall not deaf and blind thereat (but listen attentively and cogitate). (XXV: 73)
But, alas, the West opted out for a faith which upheld the doctrine of the Original Sin and gave rise to the worst kind of pessimism and frustration by hammering into man the belief that to sin was his destiny, and destiny was unalterable. Or, in other words, it was a hereditary trait with him, a congenital disease. It is a different matter that a man goes wrong and transgresses against a God-given law, but realises his mistake and makes amends for it. But if the idea is implanted in his mind that-he is a born sinner, you can imagine to what abnormal reactions will he fall a prey.
Thus, one misfortune of this country was that it chose a religion which did not raise the stature of humanity, but put the mark of disgrace on its forehead and persuaded it to believe that it needed a personality that could redeem it by offering an atonement for its misdeeds. To make the matters worse, the inclination for monasticism and renunciation of the world soon appeared in the West.
The Church put impediments in the path of knowledge and understanding
The other calamity was that when the Church was in the ascendant, the ecclesiastics blocked the path of knowledge and investigation. At a time Europe was waking up and breaking the chains, the Papal authority stood before it like a thick wall and started measuring everything with its own yardstick. The Church opposed when it was claimed that the earth was round. Bruno, whose only crime was that he taught the plurality of the worlds, was declared a heretic and burnt alive, and Galileo another scientist of no less worth, was punished till he died in prison for having held that the earth moved round the sun. The Inquisition was established which performed its duty with such savage alacrity that the number of persons tried and punished by it was, in no way, less than the casualities in the last war.
The two things combined to turn the face of Europe decidedly towards materialism. The enlightened sections among the Europeans developed a strong aversion to everything associated with the ecclesiastics. They began to exhibit a definite intolerance of every kind of spiritual control. The feelings of disgust and disdain were directed not against a particular religion, but, against the whole concept of religious belief and worship. In its baste, the West decided that no progress could be made until religion was discouraged and the bonds of slavery to the Church were broken. Europe, thus, rose openly in revolt against the Church and set out on the journey of materialism, the mournful consequences of which stare us in the face everywhere.
Gentlemen, it is a long and painful story. You all are educated people and you must have read about it. Besides, the University at which I am speaking today is universally recognised as a great seat of learning. I will, therefore, not go into the details.
Western Civilisation has completed its action
The Western Civilisation has reached the highest point of its development. No one knows the mysteries of the universe save God, nor can anyone say, positively, what lies in store for us tomorrow. But, as the case is at present, this Civilisation has brought forth the best fruits it was capable of bearing. Now, we are standing at the cross-roads of history. The Western Civilisation has almost completed its action, and ‘ America, which is a major centre of it, is swaying merrily in the swing of its attainments. It can proudly claim to have lifted every veil from the face of Nature and unfolded all its secrets-distances have been reduced and man is enjoying all the facilities he could think of.
Nevertheless, the heart of man is devoid of peace. His soul is unhappy. He has reached a stage where life seems meaning- less. He is dazed and bewildered. What was needed at this juncture was that men were born in this very country who could pull it out of the morass of frustration and disillusionment, give it a new message and breathe a new life into it. The life is moving at a pace that has left man breathless. The modern Civilisation is taking him at break-neck speed, he knows not where. Neither the reins are his hands nor are his feet in the stirrups.
Ray of hope
I do not believe in the philosophy of chance happenings. I feel that there is the Hand of God behind everything that takes place. That is the Measuring of the Almighty, the Wise. (XXXVI:37). You have come to live here in large numbers. There are not merely manual workers among you, but some highly gifted Muslims as well who are studying in the universities and engaged in valuable scientific investigation. Many of you have made your mark as scholars and researchists. What is more, Islam is spreading in America. It has made a dent. A number of Americans have either embraced Islam or are ready to do so. Our Black Muslim brethren are a source of strength to us. This country, in brief, seems to be taking a new turn and a new ray of hope is appearing. Due to our shortsightedness and internal dissensions we, in the past, lost the opportunity to come to its aid. Had Islam been propagated in Europe when the Ottomans had established their rule over a part of the Continent, or, even earlier, when the Moors had swept over Spain, the West, today, would not be finding itself in this predicament. It would not have been caught in the quagmire of materialism.
But, unfortunately. we did not rise to the occasion. How much do I wish that the Muslim evangelists had reached here when they had set out into the world in the early centuries of’ Islam. It is said that the Muslims had discovered America before Columbus. How wonderful it would have been had they taken advantage of it and given the message of Islam to the New World. But it was not to be, and the Islamic countries have been paying the penalty for the last two hundred years. I believe that the way the Muslim countries have, today. become the lackeys of the West and the treatment they are receiving at its hands is a punishment for the failure the of Muslims to convey to it the Message of God at the proper time.
But now the circumstances are taking a favourable course. Muslims are migrating to America, in a steady stream; from different lands and for different reasons. There is no Islamic country whose finest young men are not found here. Lastly, a large number of enterprising people are coming to it from the country where the House of Ka’aba is situated. You should, now, realise your responsibility which does not lie merely in acquiring-higher education or solving your economic problem. You are not here only to earn and take back the money to your native lands and provide for your families. You should know that it is your duty to give this country what it lacks. If you look at its material attainments and scientific advancement, it presents a true picture of the Divine pronouncement, Surely We created man of the best stature, but if you think over its moral bankruptcy and the agony of its soul, you will find it at the level of the lowest of the low. Intellectual maturity and puerility exist side by side in America. On the one band, the Americans are going to the moon, and, on the other, they are sinking into the lowest depths of moral degradation. The country that solved all the problems is finding itself helpless in providing a solution to the moral crisis of its youth. As Iqbal bad said :
He who enchained the sunbeams could not Unfurl the dawn on life’s dark night.
I say it without hesitation that there is no Muslim country which can look the Westerners in the face and say : “See it is here that you stumbled. With us is the panacea of your ills and the balm for your inner wounds. It is the Quran and the teachings of our Prophet.” The bitter truth is that we have made ourselves unworthy of speaking to the West like men. We carry a heavy load of gratitude to it on our heads, and are immersed from head to foot in its favours. Our ignorance deposes against us. Our poverty shouts from the house-tops. Our arm is stretched out for alms. Such being the case, how can an Islamic country speak, like an equal, to the West which has the whip in hand and enjoys every kind of superiority-intellectual. political and economic ? Which Muslim country is there that can express the mildest criticism of the West or offer a suggestion ?
Your station is of men who invite to goodness
You may ascribe it to my imagination, but I will urge upon you to show them by your conduct and way of life that you have something to give to the West. You are not here simply to take, but are, also, capable of giving. No matter whether you are a University teacher or a student or working in a firm, you can prove the authenticity of Islam to those with whom you live or associate. You can arouse in them the feeling that Islam can still give them something. In spite of possessing everything, they are paupers; they are insolvent from within. They are not deriving the advantage they should be from their material achievements. The real fruits of scientific and technological progress have been eluding them. You should have, first, faith in yourselves, in your station as the givers of the call to good- ness. You are not mere gleaners to pick up the droppings. You can, also, fill their bowl with your own grain. It may sound preposterous in the present circumstances and many of my brothers and sisters may be wondering to what world do I belong.
But the Quran and the example of the Prophet fill me with faith and hope. The sacred Prophet had sent the following epistle to Caesar, who ruled over half of the then known world, when there was not enough to cat in his own house and the Muslim State had not been established in Medina.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Benevolent, the Most Merciful
From Mohammad, the bondsman and Messenger of Allah, to Heraclius, the Emperor of Rome.
Peace be upon him who follows the Guidance. I invite yon to the message of Islam. Accept Islam and you shall be delivered: two-fold will be Allah’s reward to you. But if you turn away then on you will rest the sin of (the denial of) your community. Oh People of the Scripture ! Come to an agreement on a thing that is common between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. And if you turn back upon it then bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).
I am a follower of the Prophet who, with utmost self- reliance and trust in God, gave the call of Islam to the mightiest- ruler of his time and in circumstances of utter poverty and powerlessness. When oven is not lighted in his house for months, when members of his household do not have a satisfactory meal even for two consecutive days, when his coffers are empty and his followers are few in number, he says to the Roman Emperor. Accept Islam and you shall be delivered.” We are the adherents of that Apostle. We must summon up courage to give to these people what they need, to make them realise that we possess what they are, regrettably, wanting in, and without which the Western Civilisation is doomed This Civilisation is ready to commit suicide. If anything can save it, it is the guidance of the Quran. A harmonious blending has to be worked out between material progress and spiritual values. Disaster awaits the world if materialism gains the upper hand over morality. This is the call our Islamic countries should give. They should tell plainly to the West, “Look here. You are drowning and we can save you.” But is anyone of them in that position ? We have forfeited the right to do so. We are the hangers-on of the West. None of the Islamic countries has the courage to tell the West what ails its civilisation. They consider the Western Civilisation the last word in perfection. As someone has said, “The Qibla (The place to which the Muslims turn in prayer) of the world is Haram (The holy Kaba in Mecca), and the Qibla of Haram is America.” I make bold to say that, today, the Islamic countries and the Muslim ruling classes are incapable of giving any call to the West. But you can perform the duty by displaying self-confidence, by presenting before them a solid example of the Islamic way of life and by learning to be proud of your Faith. You should be grateful to the Lord for these favours. Through Namaz, supplication and freedom from servility to worldly ends and interests you should demonstrate to the world that materialism can never enslave your hearts and minds. You have not yet lost the ability to judge between good and evil. Worldly goods are not everything in your sight; not even this existence. Hereafter is an article of faith with you. You hold as true that there is to come another life and another world at the end of this of mortal life. You believe that God is All-powerful, He has control over all things, and His good pleasure is the extreme limit of felicity and good fortune. God has given you the opportunity to acquaint the Americans with the realities that have receded into oblivion and Christianity has failed to revive them in spite of the vast resources at its disposal. You can discharge that responsibility, all your faults and weaknesses notwithstanding.
Friends ! I have taken a lot of your time. But you must make an allowance for the burning of my heart. Listen to the cry of anguish that rises from the depths of my soul. I can now attest before the Lord to have given the Azan in the biggest idol-hall of the world, and conveyed His Guidance to what can be the most appropriate place in the modern world. I shall deem myself successful if I have been able to evoke a sympathetic response in even one of my listeners here.
May Allah take from you, in an increasing degree, the service of his Faith and make you more useful to Islam and to this country than to yourselves, to your families, and to your native lands.