This speech was delivered at the Islamic Centre of New Jersey on June 4, 1977. Introducing the speaker, the Egyptian scholar, Dr. Sulaiman Duniya eulogised the services of Indian Muslims to the Arabic language and Islamic sciences and said that non-Arab Muslims had taken an equal part in the propagation and presentation of Islam with the Arabs, if not greater. He also stressed the universal character of Islam, claiming that it transcended geographical and political boundaries.
Friends and Brothers, It is my good fortune to meet you at this great Islamic Centre, This is my first visit to North America. Before it, I used to read and hear about this land and the progress Islam was making in it. I had, also, some knowledge of the religious inclination and solicitude of the Muslims who had taken up residence here. But I did not imagine that I would be meeting so many of my religious brethren in this far-off country or witnessing such a keen interest and enthusiasm for Islam.
On coming here I realised that Islam was trying to obtain a foothold in the United States which enjoyed the position of leadership in the contemporary world owing, largely, to its phenomenal advances in the fields of science and industry. By the grace of God, Islam has made its debut in. this part of the world and is making a steady headway, and, God willing, the day is not far when an Islamic society will be established here.
It is, of course, a good augury for Islam and a matter of joy for the Muslims, but I, also, have some misgivings by reason of what little knowledge I possess of history. The establishment of an Islamic society so far away from the centres of Islamic faith and civilisation is open to grave risks and can lead to catastrophic consequences. Dr. Sulaiman Duniya, from whose writings 1, too, have profited, has very aptly remarked that Islam is not exclusive to any country. I wholly agree that Islam is not a territorial faith, yet, it also needs a distinctive environment, a congenial climate, and a prcdisposition that may transcend personal, cultural and intellectual standards and give forth, as one would say, the aroma of Islam. It requires an Islamic homeland for it is neither a mystical doctrine nor a philosophy nor a collection of soulless beliefs and rituals, but a real, living and all-embracing faith.
Islam, at once, is comprehensive of Idea and Action, Morality and Monetary Dealings, and Emotion and Intellect. In the same way, it, also, is a special kind of natural inclination and a peculiar state of mind. It embraces all the manifold aspects of human personality-spiritual and material, moral and physical, emotional and intellectual, and personal and social. It casts a man into a new mould. Whoever embraces Islam with an open heart believing it to be the chosen faith of the Lord and the Last of the Divine Messages will get cast into the mould of Islam. He will be transformed so radically as if be had been born anew because Islam is a complete and eternal plan of life which comprehends all the aspects of change and revolution and perfection and beauty. Islam is not a wooden dogma or a traditional religion, but a faith that permeates through the inmost recesses of the heart and soul.
If the true image of Islam is present before the mind’s eye, it would be evident that it is not something that can, simply, be transmitted through the written or spoken word or seen in the books, but a typical way of thought and a distinctive state of feeling. Hence it passes judgement about the goodness and badness desirability and undesirability of things. as is related about the holy Prophet that he liked or disliked many things. He, for example, liked to begin every good act with the right hand so much so that be started combing his hair from the right side or when he wore the shoes, he began with the right foot. Similarly, there were many things that gave him pleasure or made him annoyed and uncomfortable. Islam, in fact, is an Apostolic of empyreal way of life that has come down from the heaven of heavens and the Divine Messengers have been its bearers and custodians, and they have left it behind as their legacy.
This is why, God had described Islam as Sibghatuilah (Colour of Allah). Were it only a body of doctrines or a code of conduct it would not have been called Sibghat which denotes a mark’, ‘a colouring’, and a distinguishing feature’. This can be possible only when Islam draws a clear line of demarcation between one man and another, between one life, character and temperament, and another life, character and temperament, and brings out clearly the difference among the standards of things and values of life. The criterion of Islam is quite different from the criterion of Infidelity. Hence, you will find warnings in the compilations of the Traditions and Sunnah of the Prophet against the Age of Ignorance and its practices. For instance, sometimes, it is said about a thing that it is a practice of the Age of Ignorance, and, sometimes, that is very much like the zealotry and arrogance of those days. It is set forth in the Quran;
(O ye women); Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance. (XXXIII : 33)
But why ? The Age of Ignorance having ended long ago, for what purpose did the Quran call upon men to shun it? It was because Ignorance was a definite way of life and had its own values and standards for judging the goodness and badness, lawfulness and unlawfullness of things, and it was a way of life which the Lord viewed with disfavour. It is mentioned in the Traditions that God looked at the earth and was displeased with the Arabs and non-Arabs who dwelt on it except for a few People of the Scripture”.
The Almighty disliked Ignorance; He cursed it, and declared it undesirable for the bondmen. Hence, it was said: Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance. And, also:
When the unbelievers got up in their hearts heat and cant : the heat and cant of Ignorance.
(-XLVIII : 26)
Whenever the sacred Prophet noticed a trait of Ignorance in a Muslim, he took exception to it, saying: ‘You are still under the influence of Ignorance’. For instance, when he saw an illustrious Companion like Abu Zarr Ghifari ill-treating his slave and beating him up, the Prophet observed : “The inclination towards Ignorance has not yet gone out of you”. The worthy Companion, on his part, was so deeply affected by the rebuke that he, at once, started treating his slave like an equal, and gave him to eat and wear what he ate and wore himself.
Had Islam not been possessing a distinctive character and temperament, the Lord would not have used the word, Colour, in respect of it.
The Colour of Allah : and who is better than Allah at Colouring. (II: 138)
Exhorting, further, the bondmen to follow the Apostles, the Lord proclaimed, giving out a long and lustrous list of Divine Messengers:
And We bestowed upon him Issac and Jacob; each of them We guided; and Noah did We guide aforetime; and of his seed (We guided) David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do We reward the good.
And Zacbariah and John and Jesus and Elias. Each one (of them) was of the righteous.
And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot. Each one of them did We prefer above (Our) creatures, with some of their forefathers and their offspring and their brethren; and We chose them and guided them unto a Straight Path. Such is the guidance of Allah wherewith He guideth whom He will of His bondmen. But if they set up (for worship) aught beside Him, all that they did would have been in vain. (-VI : 85-89)
And. again : Those are they whom Allah guideth, so follow their
guidance. (-VI : 91)
Afterwards, the Lord determined that the command was exclusively with regard to the Prophet Mohammad whose life was a perfect model for mankind and an ideal example. The following words were thus. addressed to the Believers through the holy Prophet :
Say, (O Mohammad, to mankind); If you love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. (-III: 31)
Islam is more sensitive than any other faith. It is enough for a man to call himself a Christian, and, after it, he can adopt whatever social, cultural or intellectual standards he likes. A friend of mine once said to an educated Hindu gentleman. “My brother, if a Muslim is asked who is a Muslim, he unhesitatingly replies that whoever recites and believes in the holy Kalima of Laa ilaaha Iliallaah, Mohammadur rasuluilaah (There is no deity save One God. and Mohammad is His Apostle) is a Muslim. This affirmation sums up the whole of Islam. Now, what will your answer be if the same question was put to you concerning a Hindu ? I do not want a long and exhaustive reply because there are enough books in my library by the help of which one can understand the Brahmin or Vedantic philosophy. I have only a few minutes to spare and I want you to explain Hinduism quickly”. My friend related that the Hindu gentleman paused for a while, and, then, said : “A Hindu can believe or refuse to believe in anything. If a person calls himself a Hindu, he is a Hindu, and, after it, it does not matter what he believes in or rejects. He remains a Hindu”.
But it is not the same with Islam. As I have said, it is a highly sensitive faith and is more quickly affected by things that are inimical to it than any other religion. Its limits are marked out very clearly. It leaves no one in doubt about itself In concrete, well-defined and clear-cut terms it makes it known that this is Islam and this is Infidelity; this is Islam and this is Ignorance; this is lawful and this is forbidden; and this is where Islam ends and Infidelity and Apostasy begin. Such an explicit concept of Apostasy, perhaps, does not exist in any other faith. In Islam, to be an Apostate is a mortal sin, the very thought of which makes the hair stand on end. It is stated in a Tradition that ,the sign of perfection in faith is that the idea of going back to Apostasy, after a man has embraced Islam, is as repugnant to him as being thrown into the fire.”
When such is the disposition of Islam, the responsibility of the Muslims who are settled in Europe or America becomes much greater. Had Islam, like the other faiths, been only a body of beliefs and practices, it would have been different, but if it is a Colour and a programme of life, and stands, also, for a state of feeling and awareness, and is much more sensitive than the other religions as well, and calls for a fundamental change in the values and ideals of things, the matter becomes far more complex. We can, therefore, not rest content with reading books and treatises, however, weighty they may be. Books, of course, are necessary but we cannot cultivate the Islamic spirit wholly through them, nor develop the Islamic mood and temperament. Our real need is an Islamic region, an Islamic Colouring and an Islamic environment in which we can see, hear and feel Islam directly. Personal contacts; social intercourse and the adoption of the Islamic mode of living are its essential conditions. We should go to places where the Islamic way of life and Islamic society are present in any measure and we can have some experience of Islam as a living force.
For this reason, the company of. Muslims and truthful Believers is necessary to the extent that God felt the need to tell the sacred Prophet, whose life was a model of perfection, to seek the company of pious and warmly devoted bondman.
Restrain thyself along with those who cry unto their Lord at morn and evening seeking His countenance; and let not thine eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world; and obey not whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who followeth his own Just and whose case hath been abandoned.
(-XVIII : 28)
When such was the case with the sacred Apostle we can imagine how important it would be for common Muslims like us to spend some time with the truthful and the pure in heart.
Oh ye who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the truthful.
(-IX : 119)
The Islamic society here being in the initial stages of evolution, we must not neglect our duty towards it. I am confident that, by the grace of God, this infant society will not only endure but, also, flourish and attain maturity and the means and opportunities of training and discipline will be available to it which are nothing but faith and belief, study and investigation, learning and culture, and good company and exertion. Those who make sincere efforts for the glory of the Divine Faith, for them the Lord opens the doors of wisdom, faith and discernment that are beyond human imagination.
And for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo, Allah is with the good.
(-XXIX : 69)
Such, in brief, are the responsibilities you owe to the society you have founded in this country. It would never have come into existence had you not migrated to America and taken up residence here. Now, with it, you should, also, take pains to assure that it develops into an ideal Islamic society and does not remain confined to the ideological sphere alone because, as we know, Islam is not merely a social, political or economic concept, but before all this, it is an indivisible and indissoluble creed that permeates the whole existence. It is a state of mind and a design of life. The Islam of the holy Companions possessed all these attributes. They were Muslims by all standards, spiritual, moral and practical, and criterion for all things. Hence, it was said by Abdullah bin Masud that what the Muslims consider good is good, also, in the judgement of God”. According to the authorities, the word Muslims’ here denotes the Companions. It will, thus, mean that what the Companions hold to be good is good also in the sight of the Lord and what they, collectively, regard bad is bad.
Islam and the Quran demand of the Muslims to be the criterion of truth and virtue. They should possess a genuine Islamic disposition so that the Americans, here, can see distinctly the difference between their own society which is being driven mercilessly by Materialism and the Islamic society that is pure, healthy and dignified-a society which spends its nights in prayer and repentance and days in seeking honest sustenance and rendering selfless service to mankind.
The creation of such a society will, positively, lead to the victory of Islam. On seeing it, the American will exclaim that the real joy of living is in the Islamic society and not in his own, and advance towards it instinctively and curse the stinking environment in which he has been brought up.
I fear the day, in America as elsewhere, when we will with- draw into our shells and get entangled in the labyrinth of study and research, and our connecting links with the real fountain- head of Islam and with the Islamic centres will be broken where, in spite of all drawbacks, Islam is, still. alive, and the springs of Islamic warmth and eagerness will dry up within us. It will be, then, that the American Islam, European Islam, and the Japanese, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani Islams will emerge, making it impossible to distinguish one from the other. They will be as different from each other as an American is from an Asian, or a Japanese from an Afghan, and Islamic societies will appear whose mental attitudes and natural inclinations and values will be widely apart.
We should take up the challenge and get ready to meet the threat now when the things have not gone far and the Islamic leaders, are, to some extent, active and effective. The wisdom behind the obligatoriness of the Haj Pilgrimage and the congregation of the Muslims, with all their different social. cultural and linguistic characteristics, at a particular place and at a particular time, is that nothing about Faith remained vague or unclear and stock was taken, at the same time, of the Muslims of the world and their Islamic lineaments and local innovations and un-islamic influences they might have accepted owing to the negligence and apathy of the Ulema or as a result of living together, for a considerable length of time, with other peoples and communities could be ascertained and plans evolved for their eradication. As Shah Waliullah has admirably put it, “Had the Haj not been there, the Islamic faith and the Muslims of the East and the West would have been the victims of change and alteration, like the other religions, and it would not have been discovered for ages.”
So, brothers, beware of the emergence of a local or territorial Islam and the establishment of Islamic societies that are devoid of the spirit of Islam and built upon foundations that are not genuinely Islamic.
Believe me, it is not a figment of my imagination. I attach the highest importance to it, and, I am sure, when you will go home and think over it you will appreciate the gravity and magnitude of the danger I have indicated.