The initial gift of Islam, which also constitutes the invaluable heritage of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the gift of the Absolute and undiluted Oneness of God. This creed is revolutionary, life-giving and vigorous, and cannot be compared with anything else that man has pinned his faith on, either before or after the Prophet of Islam. (peace be upon him)
The Effect of Paganism of Human Life
Man has been proud and presumptuous, boastful of his creations, such as philosophy, poetry and the art of government; he has taken as much pride in enslaving other countries and nations as he has in digging canals and turning arid lands into gardens; often he has arrogated himself to the position of God; but he has also demeaned himself by bowing his head before inanimate, lifeless objects, things of his own creation which neither harm nor do him any favour:
“And if a fly should rub them of aught,
they would never rescue it. Feeble
indeed are the seeker and sought (Al-Hajj: 73)
Man prostrated himself before his own creations, feared them and begged them for help. He was over-awed by mountains, rivers, trees, animals and harboured credulous beliefs and irrational fears of demons and devils. He paid divine respect even to reptiles and insects. He spent his life in fear of the unknown and hope from non-existent powers, all of which went to produce mental confusion, cowardice, doubtfulness and indecision in him. Brahmanic India shot ahead of every other region in the world with its 33 million gods and goddesses.( Dutt, R.C., Ancient India, Vol. III, p. 276 and O’Mally, L. S.S. Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses, Cambridge, 1935.) Everything which fascinated man or appeared frightening was elevated to the position of a deity.
The Effect of Monotheism on Human Life
The Qur’an and the Holy Prophet declared that this universe was neither without (peace be upon him) a Lord nor was it jointly controlled by a set of deites. It had One Lord and Master, the Creator and Controller wielding complete and Absolute power over it. The Qur’an announced: Lo! His is the Creation and the Command, (Al-Araf: 54) meaning that God was the Sole Creator, the Sole Originator, or, the Sole Creative Principle and everything around man was dependent on Him by virtue of its creation by Him. Yet to Him submitted whose is in the Heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly (Ali-Imran: 83), was a natural corollary of this declaration meaning that all things in nature, whether heavenly or earthly, bow down to His decrees and have perforce to submit to His Physical laws— so Exalted is he. So was it not incumbent on the
creature possessing will and option to submit to Him willingly? sincere and exclusive obeisance was due to God alone. He asks: Belongs not sincere religion to God? (Sad: 3)
The natural consequences following from this belief was that the world was united through a Common Principle; a Universal Law ran through it. Man was led to acknowledge a unity of purpose, motive and law in the varied phenomena of nature which could also help him find meaning and significance in his own life since it was integral to the wisdom underlying the integrated nature of this universe.
The Prophet of Islam acquainted man with the clear and easy creed to the Unity of God which was satisfying and full of vitality since it took away all irrational fear from him. This simple creed made him self-reliant, courageous, rational and undoubting by removing the fear of everything else save that of His real Master and Lord. It was because of this creed that man came to recognise his Creator as the Supreme Power, as the Enricher and the Destroyer. This discovery meant a world of change for him; he could now see the unity of cause in the manifoldness of phenomena, was reassured of his pivotal position in the scheme of creation, became aware of his worth and dignity; in short, is acceptance of the serfdom of the One and only God made him the master of every other created being and object. As a vicegerent of God, he became aware of the exalted position allocated to him as the executor of the Will of God on earth. It was a concept previously unknown to the world.
The Effect of Monotheism on Other Religions
It was, thus, the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) which granted the gift of absolute monotheism to humanity. Faith in One and only God was earlier something most unusual but its forceful advocacy by Islam made it such a compelling concept that no religion and no social philosophy remained uninfluenced by it. Even polytheistic religions taking pride in idol worship and a multiplicity of deities began confessing the existence of the Supreme Lord and Master by taking recourse to philosophical justifications for the concept of unity in multiplicity. They were ashamed of their pantheism, developed an inferiority complex and started to make efforts to bring their creed closer to Islam.
How the absolute and unalloyed monotheism of Islam proved to be a revolutionary concept for humanity has been sharply delineated by Syed Sulaiman Nadwi in his Sirat-un-Nabi in the following words:
Those nations which were unfamiliar with the creed of monotheism were also nescient of the worth and dignity of man; they took man as just a servitor of every natural phenomenon. It was the lesson of monotheism, taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), that removed the fear of everything save God from the heart of man. This was a revolutionary concept for it pulled down everything— from the sun to the rivers and ponds on earth— from their pedestal of divinity to an attendant in the service of mankind. The magic of regal glory and splendour vanished: monarchs of Babylonia, Egypt, India and Iran no longer remained the lords and the “highest gods”, deriving their right and authority from the gods and angels, but became servants and guardians to be appointed by the people themselves.
Mankind under the authority of gods and goddesses had been divided into castes and classes, high and low, noble and menials; some were supposed to have been born of God’s mouth, others from his hand or foot. These articles of faith had drawn such lines of demarcation between man and man that he could never hope to be united again. Human equality and brotherhood had perished from the earth converting it into a vast arena for asserting one’s superiority and vanity through the most barbarous means, if need be. Then came the belief in monotheism levelling all human beings, destroying all concepts of high and low-born, making them all servants of God, equal in His sight, brother unto one another and having equal rights and obligations. The revolutionary changes that were brought about by this radical creed in the social, moral and political fields of human life are self-evident from the pages of history.
The truth of this principle was at last acknowledged by those who were not acquainted either with the Oneness of God or the equality of mankind; who could not get rid of the false notion of their superiority even in the House of God; who discriminated on grounds of wealth, colour and race between men bowing in submission to the same deity. Muslims, however, have been enjoying the fruits of human equality for the last thirteen hundred years solely because of their faith in the Oneness of God. They do not acknowledge any man-made distinctions; all are servants of the same Lord, all are equal in the sight of God; no dividing line of wealth, race, colour and nationality can now separate them; only he is worthy of greater honour who is more God-fearing, more obedient of God3. Surely the noble among you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you (Al-Hujurat: 13).
The Influence of Islam on India
The deep imprint which Islam has left on Indian thought and culture has been discussed by K.M. Pannikar in his Survey of Indian History, which he says:
One thing is clear. Islam had a profound effect on Hinduism during this period. Medieval Hindu theism is in some ways a reply to the attack of Islam; and the doctrines of medieval teachers, by whatever names their gods are known, are essentially theistic. It is the one supreme God that is the object of the devotee’s adoration and it is to His grace that we are asked to look for redemption. All Bhakti cults are therefore essentially monotheistic, not in the exclusive sense that other devotees cannot worship the same supreme being under other names, but in the affirmative belief that whether known as Siva, Krishna or Devi, they all symbolise the One and the Eternal. This is of course most noticeable in the songs of Kabir, the influence of which was very greater among the common film.
Another well-known scholar, Dr Tarachand, who argues in a similar vein has cited Barth:
The Arabs of the Khilafat had arrived on the shores (of South India) in the character of travelers and had established commercial relations and intercourse with these parts long before the Afghans, Turks or Mongols, their co-religionists, came as conquerors. Now, it is precisely in these parts that from the ninth to the twelfth century, those great religious movements took their rise which are connected with the name of Sankara, Ramanuja, Anandatirtha and Basava, out of which the majority of the historical sects came and to which Hinduism presents nothing analogous till a much later period.6
Dr Tarachand discusses the growth of the emotional cult, the Bhakti school, and after delineating the propositions put forward by different authorities, reaches the conclusion that:
It is necessary to repeat the most of the elements in the southern schools of devotion and philosophy, taken singly, were derived from ancient systems; but the elements in their totality and in their peculiar emphasis betray a singular approximation to Muslim faith and therefore make the argument for Islamic influence probable.
In his other book, Society and State in the Mughal Period, Dr. Tarachand writes about the Bhakti school:
…there was the third group of mystics who employed the language of the people to preach their radical creeds. They mostly belonged to the lower castes and their movement represents the urge of the unprivileged masses to uplift themselves. Some of them were persecuted by Governments, some incurre social opprobrium, and others were not regarded as worthy of notice. But they were held in high esteem among the humbler classes who followed their simple teachings with eagerness and understanding. They laid stress upon the dignity of man, for they taught that every individual would reach the highest goal of human life by his own effort… The movement arose in the fifteenth century and continued till the middle of the seventeenth, but then it declined and gradually lost its momentum.
The leaders of this group hailed from all parts of India but their teachings manifest a distinct influence of Islam on their belies.
The same is true of Sikhism which has made an important contribution to the cultural, religious and political life of India. The system of Guru Nanak and his followers, as well as its literature and traditions, show that it owes its origin to the reformation of Hinduism under Islamic influence. Its founder, Guru Nanak, was deeply attracted by Islamic teachings. He learnt Persian and Sufi doctrines from Syed Hasan Shah. He is also reported to have been closely associated with six other Muslim mystics of his time. He is stated as having performed Hajj and spent some of his time in Baghdad. The most significant associate which Guru Nanak found was undoubtedly, Shaikh Farid whose 142 stanzas were admitted in the Adi Granth itself.
Guru Nanak called upon his followers to worship Alakh Niranjan— the True, the Immortal, the Self-existent, the Invisible, the Pure One God, to treat all human beings as equals and to renounce idols and incarnations. It is not only with respect to the idea of the Unity of God that the identity of his teachings is discernible; he liberally made use of Sufi terms and imagery.
Tauhid and the Christian World
The impact of Islam on the Christian world has been delineated by an Egyptian scholar, Dr Ahmad, Amin in Zuhal Islam. He writes:
Several dissensions arose in Christendom which unmistakably reveal the influence of Islam. In the eighth century A.D., that is, the second and third century A.H., a movement emerged in Septamania(10) which denied confession of sin before Church authorities. It propagated the view that the bishops had no authority to absolve anyone from sin, for which one should only beseech God. Islam had no organised church nor there was any concept of such a confession of sin.
Another movement of a similar nature was against the presence of images and statues in churches which was known as Iconoclast. This was a sect in the eighth century A.D. or the third and fourth century A.H., which was opposed to the worship paid to statues. The Roman Emperor Leo III issued an Edict in 726. A.D. against showing respect to the images and statues and then interdicted it in 730 A.D. The Popes, Gregory II and III and Jerome, the Patriarch of Constantinople, were in favour of paying homage to images and statues while Constantine V and Leo IV were opposed to it. The struggle that ensued between them need not be describe here, but what we would like to emphasise is that the Iconoclast movement, as the historians acknowledge, came into existence through the impact of Islam on Christianity. They are on record that Clodius, the Pontiff of Touraine who became Pontiff in 828/213), used to destroy images and the Cross and prohibited divine honours being paid to them. He was born and brought up in Spain where he must have learnt to hate images and statues as objects of worship. Bukhari and Muslim include a report from Ayesha, the Prophet’s wife, which says: “The Prophet returned from a journey when I had hung a curtain having a few pictures on a window. When the Prophet saw it, he tore it apart and remonstrated me saying; Ayesha, the Day of Reckoning will be the hardest for those who copy God’s creation.
She further relates that she made pillows out of that cloth.
There have been sects in Christianity which explained Trinity as belief in One God and denied divinity of Jesus.
European historians, particularly those of the Church, discern the influence of Islam in the conflict between the Papist and the Protestant reformers. The sixteenth century movement for the reform of abuses in the Roman Church, led by Martin Luther, betrays the influence of Islam.
Simple faith in the Unity of God has been a standing reproach to the inexplicable intricacy of Trinity. Michael Servetus (1511-1553) a contemporary of Calvin and Luther depicts his anguish in The Errors of Trinity:
How much this tradition of Trinity has alas been the laughing stock of Mohammedans only God knows. The Jews also shrink from giving adherence to this fancy of ours, and laugh at our foolishness about the Trinity, and on account of its blasphemies, they do not believe that this is the Messiah promised in their Law. And not only the Mohammedans and the Hebrews, but the very beasts of the field, would make fun of us, did they grasp our fantastic notion, for all the workers of the Lord bless the One God.
Christianity amalgamated antagonistic doctrines, according to Ernest De Bunsen, which were framed by St. Paul and so came to be recognised as the foundation of orthodox Christianity. Several others like George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Dr. Albert Schweitzer have also reached the conclusion that the Pauline heresy became the foundation of Christian orthodoxy while the legitimate teachings of Jesus Christ were disowned as heretical.Perhaps no wonder then that Luther spearheaded Protestantism, a revolt against the assumption of supremacy in spiritual matters by the Roman Catholic Church and taught that man is responsible to God and not to the Church.
The Reason for Failure
A well-grounded fact demonstrated by the history of religions and in tune with human psychology is that reformative or even revolutionary movements that take shape within the bosom of any religion are ultimately absorbed within that religion if they do not reject its basic postulates and maintain an ambivalent attitude towards it. The fate of all such movements, no matter to which religion they belong is the same; they lose both their identity and their message.
Reformative movements within Christianity and Hindu sects calling people to accept Divine Unity and the brotherhood of mankind were ultimately assimilated within the religions they tried to reform. Contrary to such reformism, the Prophets of God (peace be on all them) were always candid and straightforward in their condemnation of what they did not think to be correct. This is best illustrated by what the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) is reported to have said to his people:
Surely an excellent pattern you have in Abraham and those who followed him. They said to their people: we disown you and what you worship beside Allah. We renounce you: enmity and hate shall reign between us until you believe in Allah alone except the saying of Abraham to his father: I shall implore Allah to forgive you, although I have no power for you with Allah at all. O Lord, in Thee we put our trust and to Thee we turn and to Thee we shall come at last. (Al-Mumtahaha:4)
The stand taken by the Prophet Abraham was meant not for the people of his time alone. He enjoined posterity to follow his example:
And (recall) when Abraham said to his father and his people: I renounce what you worship save Him, who has created me it an abiding precept among his descendants, so that they might turn (to none but Allah). (Al-Zukhruf: 26-28)
It was this teaching which has helped Islam to maintain its pristine purity to this day. The principle to be followed for ever being: whosoever perished might perish by a clear sign, and by a clear sign he might live who remained alive. (Al-Aufal: 42)