By Syed Abul A’lā Maudūdī,
Translated by Prof Syed Asim Ali
Close your eyes for a moment and fly back in time on the wing of imagination to have a glimpse of the world as it was fourteen centuries ago.
The World before 1400 Years Ago
How scarce were the means of communication and exchange of ideas among humans then! How limited were the means of interaction among nations and countries! How meagre was human knowledge! How deficient were their ideas! How badly overcast were their thoughts with superstition and savagery! How dim was the light of knowledge against all-pervasive darkness of ignorance! And what a massive resistance it faced while pushing through this darkness! The world then knew no wire, no telephone, no radio, no trains, no airplanes, no printing press and no publishing houses. There was no abundance of schools and colleges. No newspapers and magazines were published. Nor were the books written in large numbers or published freely. A scholar of that time knew much less, in certain respects, than a layman today. Even a high-class person of those days was much less refined than a bumpkin now. Even a highly enlightened person then was in fact more bigoted than the bigots of our day. What even a layman knows today as a commonplace was not easy to know then despite one’s years-long struggle in research and investigation. The information spread like light in the atmosphere in our day and available to every teenager freely could be accessed then only after undertaking long assiduous journeys of hundreds of miles that consumed sometimes one’s entire lifetime. What is considered superstitious and preposterous today was the ‘absolute truth’ of that period. Actions considered crude and barbaric today formed the normal human behaviour then. The ways held in contempt by human conscience today were not only admitted by the ethics of the time but none could even think of an alternative mode of behaviour. Man’s susceptibility to ‘the wonderful’ was so endemic that he was not willing to concede any truth or holiness in an object unless it was extraordinary, spectacular, bizarre, supernatural, bewildering or uncanny. So much so that man considered himself so despicable and mean that it was far beyond his conception that an ordinary human could be saintly or the saintly an ordinary human.
Conditions in Arabia
In those gloomy days there was a certain godforsaken place on earth where the pall of this darkness was even thicker. The land of Arabia lay forgotten and lost amid the countries reckoned civilized by the cultural standards of the day. The surrounding lands of Persia, Rome and Egypt did enjoy some light of sciences, arts, culture and sophistication, but Arabia lay estranged from them sunken as it was in the vast sandy expanses. Arab traders journeyed for months together to visit those neighbouring countries for their trade, but returned only with an exchange of merchandise. No ray of knowledge or civilization accompanied them back home. They had no schools in their land, nor bookstores; nor did they have any yearning for education nor any interest in sciences or arts. Those who knew reading and writing were very few in number, but they too were not skilful enough to the extent of keeping a track of the arts and sciences of the time. They were certainly in possession, though, of a high-standard language extraordinarily capable of expressing sublime ideas. They also possessed a first-rate poetic taste. But the remnants of their literature, still extant, tell us how pathetically limited was the extent of their knowledge; how inferior they were in culture and civilization; how overburdened with superstitions; how vicious and barbaric in their habits and attitudes; and how coarse and crude in their moral concepts!
There was no proper government in Arabia and no regulations. Each tribe was autonomous in its own right and only the law of the jungle prevailed. On the first available opportunity one would slay the other and grab his belongings. It was beyond the understanding of an Arab bedouin why he should not kill a person not of his tribe or grab his wealth.
Whatever concepts of morality, culture and refinement were found among them were extremely lowly, vulgar and crude. They were almost unaware of the distinction between holy and unholy, permissible and impermissible, sophisticated and unsophisticated. Their life was extremely filthy and their manners were savage: adultery, gambling, drinking, waylaying, murder and bloodshed marked the routine of their life. Without hesitation they became naked in public. Even their females circled the Ka’aba naked. They buried alive their daughters with their own hands simply to avoid the humiliation of having a son-in-law in the family. They married their step-mothers after the deaths of their fathers. They had no notion of even the ordinary etiquette of eating, dressing and purification.
In religious matters they shared all the ignorance and depravities as were common in the contemporary world. All shades of worship practised in the world then, such as idolatry, spirit-worship or star-worship prevailed among them too. In this regard, if anything was conspicuous by its absence, it was the worship of One God. They possessed no correct knowledge about the ancient Prophets and their teachings. They just knew that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefathers. But, they did not remember any longer what the religion of those two was and who they worshipped. The stories of Ād and Thamūd were also popular among them. But, in their chronicles, as handed down to us by the Arab historians, one never comes across even a single trace of the teachings of the prophets Sāleh or Hūd. They also received the stories of Israelites through the Jews and Christians. But, how downright silly those accounts were can be seen in the Judaic stories as reported by the Muslim exegetes. From them you may learn what sort of characters the prophets were as known to the dwellers of Arabia and even to the Jews. You may also learn how extremely vulgar was their concept of the institution of the prophethood.
The Rise of a Personality
He loses his mother, father, and grandfather even while quite young, on account of which he misses every chance of getting even that scanty training as would be available otherwise to an ordinary Arab child in a normal household. In his boyhood this person finds himself tending sheep and goats with other bedouin lads. As a young man he is seen in the company of traders. His days and nights are all spent in the company of the same Arabs whose condition has already been described above. He knows nothing in the name of education, so much so that he does not even read or write.
In such times and in such a land a person is born. He loses his mother, father, and grandfather even while quite young, on account of which he misses every chance of getting even that scanty training as would be available otherwise to an ordinary Arab child in a normal household. In his boyhood this person finds himself tending sheep and goats with other bedouin lads. As a young man he is seen in the company of traders. His days and nights are all spent in the company of the same Arabs whose condition has already been described above. He knows nothing in the name of education, so much so that he does not even read or write. He never gets a chance to sit at the feet of a scholar since this ‘species’ was nowhere to be found in the entire Arabia. He did get a chance though on a few occasions to set foot outside Arabia, but travels only as far as Syria. These tours to Syria were of the same nature as generally undertaken then by the trade caravans of the Arabs. Let us assume that he briefly observed some signs of knowledge and culture and encountered some men of knowledge en route. But, such sporadic observations and chance meetings, needless to say, are not sufficient in any way to build the whole character of a person. Their impact is not as enormous and long-lasting as to totally disentangle oneself from one’s immediate environs and be entirely different and so lofty in stature that there remains no linkage whatsoever between him and his surroundings. Culling such knowledge from them is not possible as would make an illiterate bedouin the leader of not only one country but of the whole world and not of one period but of all times. Even if he benefitted educationally from people abroad in some measure, so to speak, no source could be traced for his religious, moral, civilizational and cultural concepts and the models of human character non-existent in the contemporary world.
Bear in mind not just the atmosphere of Arabia but that of the whole world and consider the following.
This person appears to be different in his habits and morals from all those amidst whom he was born, spent his childhood and attained his youth, whose companionship he kept, and with whom he had daily interactions. He never tells a lie and his entire nation bears witness to his trustworthiness. Even the worst of his adversaries never blame him of falsehood on any occasion. He never indulges in foul speech. None did ever hear him uttering abuses or obscenities. He has free interaction with people but without indulging once in indecent exchanges or rant and rave. He knows no harshness. He is honey-tongued to such an extent that one who meets him once becomes fond of him forever. He never indulges in unfair dealings and never impinges on anyone’s rights. He never takes a penny from anyone in an unjust way even though he has been in trading business for years together. All the people he deals with fully trust him as an absolutely upright person. The whole society identifies him as ‘trustworthy’. Even his enemies deposit their money with him for safekeeping which he diligently guards. Though he lives among indecent and shameless people, he himself is so decent that he is never seen improperly dressed. Though surrounded by immoral and debauched people, he is so pure in his morality that he never indulges in any iniquity. He never goes near drinking or gambling. Among uncouth people, he is one so sophisticated that he hates every shade of vulgarity and crassness. Each of his acts is marked by purity and candour. Though he lives among callous people, he is so kind-hearted that he stands by everyone in their hour of distress. He helps orphans and widows and takes good care of the traveller. He never hurts anyone, rather suffers hardship for the sake of others. Though he lives among violent savages, he is so peaceful and peace-loving that he is agonized to see violence and bloodshed rampant in his society. He keeps at bay from the wars of his tribe and is found in the forefront of conciliatory efforts. Though he lives among idol-worshippers, he is so reasonable and good-natured that he never considers anything worthy of worship between the earth and heaven. He never bows his head to any of the creatures. Neither does he partake of the food-offerings made to idols. His heart is naturally indisposed to polytheism and creature-worship. He appears as distinct in this environment as a candle lit in the midst of thick darkness or a diamond shining through a heap of pebbles.
This person appears to be different in his habits and morals from all those amidst whom he was born, spent his childhood and attained his youth, whose companionship he kept, and with whom he had daily interactions. He never tells a lie and his entire nation bears witness to his trustworthiness. Even the worst of his adversaries never blame him of falsehood on any occasion. He never indulges in foul speech. None did ever hear him uttering abuses or obscenities.
Mental and Spiritual Transformation
After leading such a clean, decent, gentle and pure life for about forty years, a radical change unfolds in his life. He loses patience with the profound darkness spread all around. In his world-weariness, he wants to get away from the dreadful sea of ignorance, immorality, indecency, characterlessness, chaos, polytheism and idolatry surrounding him. Nothing in his environment appears to him seemly to his temperament. He starts to isolate himself from all that, frequently seeking solitude in the quiet mountains away from the hustle and bustle of his township. There he would spend days together in the environs of peace and solitude. Through frequent fasting there, he would seek the purification of his heart and mind more and more. He contemplates, reflects, and ruminates. He is searching for a light whereby he may dispel the persisting sway of all-pervasive darkness. He is seeking some kind of power with which he may restructure this depraved world and restore it to its pristine glory.
The Call for Revolution
Suddenly a light illuminates his heart that was not there before. Suddenly a power overwhelms him that he had not known earlier. He steps out of the solitude of his cave-dwelling. He approaches his people and tells them: ‘The idols you bow down to are all unreal. Stop worshipping them! No human, no tree, no stone, no spirit and no star is worthy enough to deserve your deference, your obedience or worship. This earth, this moon, this sun, these stars, and all objects on the earth and in heavens are just creatures of God.
Suddenly a magnificent change occurs in him. Suddenly a light illuminates his heart that was not there before. Suddenly a power overwhelms him that he had not known earlier. He steps out of the solitude of his cave-dwelling. He approaches his people and tells them: ‘The idols you bow down to are all unreal. Stop worshipping them! No human, no tree, no stone, no spirit and no star is worthy enough to deserve your deference, your obedience or worship. This earth, this moon, this sun, these stars, and all objects on the earth and in heavens are just creatures of God. He alone is your Creator and of everything else. So, worship Him alone! Obey Him alone and bow down to none else! This theft, this plundering, this bloodshed and destruction, these atrocities and brutality, this debauchery and licentiousness are all sinful acts. Give them up! God does not like them. Speak the truth! Do justice! Kill none and filch no one’s assets. Take, whatever you will, in a just manner, and give, whatever you will, also in a just manner! All of you are humans and all humans are equal. None is born with the stigma of disgrace, and none is born with the medal of honour. Distinction and nobility are not in class and family, but only in piety, virtue and purity. One who is God-conscious, virtuous and pious is alone the most eminent human. And one who is not so is unworthy. After death, all of you are bound to appear before your Lord. Each one of you is answerable for his actions to Him; the same God Who sees all and knows all. You cannot hide anything from Him. A thorough record of your entire life will be presented before Him in its entirety. Judging by it He would decide about your end. No intercession, nor bribe, nor even status would be of any value before His Holy and Ultimate Justice. Only faith and virtuous deeds would count that moment. One who possesses these would go to paradise. And one who possesses none of these would be consigned to hell.’
This was the call with which he emerged from his cave-shelter.
Reaction of his society
His ignorant society turns hostile to him, abuses him and stones him. Not for a day or two but for as long as thirteen years subjects him to the worst forms of torment and persecution. So much so that it kicks him out of his hometown one day. And still it is not happy. It tortures him by all means even in his distant place of retreat; rouses entire Arabia against him; and remains up in arms against him for full eight years seeking his annihilation along with his call. He endures all those tortures but would not give up his call.
Why do these people turn hostile to him? Was it a dispute of property and wealth? Was it about a blood claim? Was he asking them for any worldly object? No. All hostility is caused by just one thing; that is, why does he preach to them the worship of only One God and piety and uprightness? Why does he speak against idolatry, polytheism and wantonness? Why does he denounce the supremacy of priests and clerics? Why does he decry the overlord ship of tribal heads? Why does he seek to eliminate class distinctions from the human society? Why does he call tribal and racial biases idiocy? Why does he seek to tear down the long-standing social systems? His society protests strongly saying that all what he says goes totally against the family traditions and national trend. They warn him to drop all that or his life would be made insufferable for him.
Endurance but why?
His society was ready to grant him kingship. It was ready to deposit heaps of wealth at his feet. The only condition was that he should stop preaching his message. But he discarded all those offers and accepted to undergo worst kind of persecution and physical torment for the sake of his message.
Why on earth did he endure all that suffering? His society was ready to grant him kingship. It was ready to deposit heaps of wealth at his feet. The only condition was that he should stop preaching his message. But he discarded all those offers and accepted to undergo worst kind of persecution and physical torment for the sake of his message. But why? Did he have any personal interest in their turning righteous and God-conscious? Was there any interest whatsoever against which power, kingship, wealth and means of luxuries were all just meaningless? Can any interest be identified for the sake of which one can willingly endure the most excruciating physical and mental tortures for as long as twenty one years? Just ponder! Can you imagine a higher level of uprightness, sacrificial spirit and human sympathy that one, not for one’s own sake but for the sake of others, should suffer so badly? Can you imagine that those for whose betterment and welfare he strives stone him, abuse him, kick him out of his home and would not leave him alone even in his banishment and yet he persists in doing all he can for their betterment?
Look again! Can a liar bear extreme tortures for something having no substance? Can a charlatan or a petty swashbuckler so steadfastly stick to his guesswork and speculative utterance to the extent that tortures shower upon him like rain, earth fails to offer him a shelter, entire nation rises up against him, formidable armies swarm to finish him off, and yet he would not budge an inch from the stand he has taken? This fortitude, this determination, this resoluteness itself confirms that he firmly believed in his own veracity. Had there been an iota of doubt in his heart about his own position, he would not have survived waves after waves of privations for as long as twenty one years.
This was just one aspect of his transformation. The other aspect is even more astonishing.
Another Aspect of his Transformation
For as long as forty years he lived just as an ordinary Arab, like any other common Arab. During this long period none in his society knew this trader as an impassioned orator. None ever witnessed him discussing the issues of theology, moral philosophy, law, politics, economics or sociology. None ever heard a single word from his mouth about God, angels, Divine Scriptures, past prophets, bygone nations, Doomsday, life after death, or Hell and Heaven. True, he possessed sound morals, refined manners, and the best personal character, but for the first forty years of his life nothing unusual was noticeable about his person as might have aroused inklings in the minds of people about his assuming a different role ever in future. Until that time, people knew him only as a quiet, peaceful, and thoroughly gentle person. But, when he emerged from his cave-shelter at the age of forty with a new message, he had been completely transformed.
Now, a wonderful oration issued from his lips, hearing which the entire Arabia became spellbound. This oration was so lofty and so intensely moving that even the worst of his foes feared lending an ear to it lest it should find its way into their hearts. The sublimity and eloquence of this speech was so intensely captivating that it repeatedly challenged all Arabs, who prided themselves on the presence of great poets, orators and master-composers amongst them, to bring forth a single piece of its like, but none dared to accept that challenge. Arabs had just never heard such a fantastic speech, unparalleled so far.
Now, all of a sudden he had been transformed into a matchless philosopher, a unique cultural and moral reformer, an astute politician, an awe-inspiring legislator, a supreme judge, and a peerless army commander. This man, this unlettered bedouin, started uttering such words of deep wisdom and sagacity as had never been uttered by anyone before him, nor after. That ‘illiterate one’ started making authoritative speeches on theology and metaphysics, giving lectures on the philosophy of the rise and fall of nations in close reference to the history of nations, commenting on the achievements of earlier reformers, criticizing world religions, deciding the disputes among nations, and imparting lessons in culture, morality and refinement.
That quiet recluse, who betrayed no ray of political inclination for 40 years, suddenly emerged as a reformer and statesman of such a grand stature that just within 23 years he brought all of the warring, illiterate, recalcitrant, uncivilized, bellicose and untamed tribes, scattered over a desert expanse of 1.2 million square miles and always at war, under the control of one faith, one culture, one law, and one political order
He started formulating laws on culture, economics, social affairs and international relations. And the laws he made are such that the scholars and rationalists of the highest order spend their entire lifetimes in really appreciating the prudence and perspicacity of those laws. The richer the world grows in experience, in sharper relief emerges the judiciousness of his laws.
The quiet trader who had never used a sword, never received a military training – so much so that he just once joined a war only as an onlooker – grew in no time into a brave soldier who never retreated an inch even in the most nerve-wrecking combats. Suddenly he became such an army general who conquered the whole of Arabia in as few as nine years. He manifested such an astounding military genius that the high and dry Arabs, propelled as they were by his military organization and the fighting zeal he generated, were able to knock down the two formidable superpowers of the world within just a few years.
That quiet recluse, who betrayed no ray of political inclination for forty years, suddenly emerged as a reformer and statesman of such a grand stature that just within twenty three years he brought all of the warlike, illiterate, recalcitrant, uncivilized, bellicose and untameable tribes, scattered over a desert expanse of 1.2 million square miles and always at war, under the control of one faith, one culture, one law, and one political order, and that too without the aid of any of the modern means of transportation or communication such as the train, aircraft, wireless, radio or electronic or print media as we have today. He transformed their ideas and morals, he altered their vulgarity into refinement of the highest order, their savagery into the best civility, their immorality and characterlessness into piety and impeccable morality, their bellicosity and anarchism into law-abidance and compliance to order. He made the barren nation, which had never produced a single individual of any worth, so fertile that in no time it brought forth thousands of personalities of the greatest worth who spread out all over the world preaching faith, ethics and civility to people.
He did not accomplish all that through fraudulent, coercive, deceptive or despotic means, but through heart-winning morality, soul-gripping gentleness, and attention-grabbing discourse. Through his high morality he tamed his foes and through his affection he softened hearts. He ruled justly and never deviated in any measure from the principles of truth and justice. Even in wars he abstained from treachery or deception. He never tortured even his worst enemies. He chose to forgive, in the high moment of his ultimate victory, even those who stoned him, banished him from his home, roused the whole of Arabia against him, and even chewed the liver of his uncle at the height of their rancour. He never took revenge on anyone for personal reasons.
Along with that, his self-control, rather selflessness, was of such grandeur that when he became the sole ruler of Arabia he remained as indigent as ever. He lived in a small thatched hut, slept on a coarse matting, wore most ordinary dress, ate the meal of the poor, starved frequently, stood in prayer nightlong and served the poor and the miserable. He never hesitated to work like a labourer. Until his very last days, no air of royalty or of the arrogance of the rich or of the haughtiness of the great was ever observed about him even in the least degree. He met people like an ordinary man, joined them in their hour of pain, and joined public gatherings in such a way that it was difficult for a stranger to identify which of them was the leader of the nation and the ruler of the land. Despite being so great, he treated even the most ordinary person as if he was just like him. After the lifelong struggle and sacrifice, he left behind no inheritance for his family, but endowed the whole of it to his people. He did not establish any rights for himself or for his descendants to be observed by his followers, so much so that he permanently deprived his descendants from accepting regular charity (zakāt), lest his followers should start paying all charity to his descendants alone [assuming it an act of special virtue].
Founder of the Modern Era
To assess his status accurately, you have to cast a glance at the world history. You will realize that this unlettered bedouin of the Arabian Desert, born in the dark ages of fourteen hundred years ago, is in fact the founder of the modern period and leader of the whole world.
The list of the accomplishments of this greatest of is not yet exhausted. To assess his status accurately, you have to cast a glance at the world history. You will realize that this unlettered bedouin of the Arabian Desert, born in the dark ages of fourteen hundred years ago, is in fact the founder of the modern period and leader of the whole world. He is not the leader of those alone who accept him as their leader, but also of those who don’t recognize him as such. The latter have no sense of the fact that how the guidance of the one who they decry has got embedded in their ideas, in their thoughts, in their principles of life, in their norms of action and in the very spirit of the modern period they belong to.
Those who deified every mighty human were made to realize by him that a human is just a human and nothing else. No one has come to this world with the birth right of holiness, kingship or overlordship, nor does anyone carry the stigma of unholiness, subservience and servitude from the mother’s womb. This was the teaching that promulgated in the world the concepts of the unity of mankind, equality, democracy and freedom.
This is the man who altered the intellectual orientation of the world from superstition, wonder-worship and monasticism to rationalism, realism and upright worldly life. He cultivated a taste for appreciating rational miracles and holding them alone as the standard of truth in a world which demanded miracles to testify the truth. He opened the eyes of those who looked for the signs of divinity in preternatural and uncanny phenomena and made them accustomed to see the signs of God in the natural phenomena. He dissuaded those given to building castles in the air from speculative tendencies and instated them on the path of rationality, contemplation, observation and research. He explained to humanity the distinctive boundaries between reason and senses, worked out compatibility between materialism and spirituality, and interlinked religion with knowledge and action and vice versa. He generated the scientific spirit with the strength of religion and true religiosity from scientific spirit. He eradicated polytheism and creature-worship root and branch and with the power of knowledge established the monotheistic faith so firmly that even the polytheistic and idolatrous religions found themselves helpless to don monotheistic hue. He changed the basic concepts of ethics and spirituality. He showed a new way to those who had believed renunciation and self-denial to be the essence of morality and considered spiritual progress and salvation impossible even while fulfilling the demands of one’s body and self and participating in the affairs of the world. To them he showed the way of attaining moral excellence, spiritual progress and salvation within the cultural and social life and normal human action. It is he who told those unwilling to accept anyone as their leader and guide other than a superhuman, a reincarnation of God or a son of God. It is he who stressed that an ordinary man, just like them, could also be a representative of heavenly kingdom and an appointee of God. Those who deified every mighty human were made to realize by him that a human is just a human and nothing else. No one has come to this world with the birth right of holiness, kingship or overlordship, nor does anyone carry the stigma of unholiness, subservience and servitude from the mother’s womb. This was the teaching that promulgated in the world the concepts of the unity of mankind, equality, democracy and freedom.
Now, step ahead of concepts! You will notice the practical consequences of the guidance of this unlettered leader reflected in the laws, ways and general affairs of the world so profusely that you will lose count of them. A vast number of principles related to the issues of ethics, culture, refinement, purification and cleanliness practised throughout the world actually sprang up from his teachings. How immensely the world benefited from the principles he laid down for the social life and is still doing so is out there for anyone to see. How many movements sprang up throughout the world from the principles of economics he preached, and the process is still on! How many revolutions took place in the political ideologies of the world based on the ways of governance he adopted, and the process has not stopped yet! How massively the principles he laid down for justice and legislation impacted the world legal system and judicial concepts and are still doing so quietly! One who practically civilized the affairs of war and peace as well as international relations is in fact the same unlettered man of Arabia. Otherwise, before him the world was simply ignorant of the fact that even war could be subjected to some civilized conduct, and affairs could be settled among different nations on the basis of common humanity.
A Perfect Versatile
Against the backdrop of human history, the personality of this amazing man appears so towering that all those, from first to last, recognized by the world as celebrated ‘heroes’ in history look no more than dwarfs when placed beside him. None of the so-called ‘greats’ of the world could be presented as an example whose accomplishments could relate to more than one or two areas of human life.
Against the backdrop of human history, the personality of this amazing man appears so towering that all those, from first to last, recognized by the world as celebrated ‘heroes’ in history look no more than dwarfs when placed beside him. None of the so-called ‘greats’ of the world could be presented as an example whose accomplishments could relate to more than one or two areas of human life. Of them, someone is the master of theories, but devoid of practical calibre; someone is a man of action, but lacks thought; someone’s talent is limited to political acumen; someone manifests only military genius; someone’s attention is so focused on one single aspect of social life that the other aspects just disappear from his view; someone is focused on morality and spirituality so exclusively that he ignores economics and politics and someone ignores morality and spirituality in his contemplation of economics and politics. In sum, we meet but single-dimensional heroes all over in the pages of history. This personality alone is the unique example of being perfectly versatile in all dimensions of life. He himself is a philosopher and a sage and himself an implementer of his ideology in the practical life. He is a statesman, army commander, law-giver, moral teacher as well as a religious and spiritual guide. His vision embraces human life in its entirety, assimilating even the minutest details. He issues instructions about each and every thing ranging from matters as commonplace as the etiquette of eating and drinking and body purification to matters as critical and complex as international relations. He proves himself by bringing into existence a civilization based on his own ideology. He establishes such an equipoise among all the various dimensions of life that it knows no imbalances as each part is in perfect harmony with the other. Have you ever known any other person of this versatility and perfection?
Above his Environs
Not one of the great personalities of the world was, more or less, but a product of his immediate circumstances. But this person remains a bewildering exception. His environment seems to have played no part in his rise. Nor can it be proved by any argument that the contemporary circumstances of Arabia historically necessitated the inevitable appearance of such a personality.
Not one of the great personalities of the world was, more or less, but a product of his immediate circumstances. But this person remains a bewildering exception. His environment seems to have played no part in his rise. Nor can it be proved by any argument that the contemporary circumstances of Arabia historically necessitated the inevitable appearance of such a personality. The most you can say here is just this that the contemporary historical forces in Arabia probably asked for the rise of a leader who by eliminating or downplaying the tribal differences could unify Arabs into one nation and by conquering other lands secure their economic future. That is, he would be a nationalist leader, an embodiment of all the contemporary Arabian characteristics, who by resorting to any means whatsoever, including brutality, callousness, bloodshed, deception and treachery, would work for the prosperity of his nation and, thus, build an empire to be inherited by his descendants for sustainable dynastic rule. Other than this no other demand of the contemporary history could be proved. From the point of view of Hegelian philosophy of history or Marxian materialistic interpretation of history, the maximum you can assert is that in those circumstances a builder of a nation or empire should have arisen or could possibly arise. But how on earth would the Hegelian or Marxian theories explain and justify the rise of such a person at that time and in those circumstances who proved to be the best moral teacher, reformer of humanity, purifier of the souls and eradicator of biases and superstitions and whose vision crossing the barriers of nation and homeland encompassed the whole of humankind; who laid down the foundation of moral, spiritual, cultural and political system for the entire humankind rather than for his own nation alone; who established the economic affairs, civil polity and international relations on moral grounds not only in theory but also in actual practice; who blended spiritualism and materialism in such a perfectly balanced and fine manner that even now it remains the same masterpiece of sagacity and astuteness as ever? Can you really consider such a personality a product of the environment of savage Arabia?
An Epoch-making Personality
He is not one of those who have been antiquated by history and who can be praised now only as a good leader of his time. Unique and most-distinguished, he is such a leader of humankind who marches on with history and looks as fresh, modern and relevant in each ensuing era as he was for the bygone era.
Not only that he does not seem to be a product of his environment, but by mulling over his accomplishment we also realize that he is free from the confines of space and time. His vision beams forth shattering the maxima of time and circumstances and cutting across the veils of centuries and millenniums. He visualises humans in every epoch and each milieu and gives for their life pattern such moral and practical guidelines that suit each situation perfectly well and in full harmony. He is not one of those who have been antiquated by history and who can be praised now only as a good leader of his time. Unique and most-distinguished, he is such a leader of humankind who marches on with history and looks as fresh, modern and relevant in each ensuing era as he was for the bygone era.
Whom you generously call the ‘makers of history’ were in fact the ‘creatures of history.’ The only ‘maker of history’ in the entire history of humankind is this person. It you cast a critical glance at the circumstances of the great revolutionaries of the world, you will realize that the factors leading to a revolution were already there in active existence. Those factors were also determining the course and direction of that revolution they sought to materialize. At this ripe moment, a revolutionary leader steps forth just to play the part of the actor for whom the stage and role had already been determined and he thus translates the diktats of times from potentiality into actuality [it is like the act of picking a fruit already ripened and mellowed by natural processes (Tr.)]. In most cases he is no more than a catalyst. But, of all epoch-makers or revolutionary leaders this ummī stands apart in that he himself generated the causes of revolution where they were non-existent, produced substance of revolution which was non-existent, and groomed people suitable to his cause where the spirit of revolution and practical revolutionary capability was non-existent. He poured into the hearts of thousands of people the spirit of his own awesome personality and moulded them the way he desired them to be. By his own personal force and willpower he himself cultivated the ground for revolution, himself determined its contours and direction, and by the force of his own conviction and determination bent the drift of circumstances and steered them the way of his choice. Can you spot any other epoch-maker of this unmatchable splendour and a revolutionary of this unparalleled grandeur in history?
His Perfect Righteousness
You say it was all the creation of his own mind. But, I say that if it was all a creation of his own mind, then he should have claimed godhead, not prophethood. If he had advanced such a claim, the world that readily accepted Rama as god; had no hesitation in recognizing Krishna as god; deified Buddha on its own; accepted Christ son of God; worshipped even fire, water and air; would never have hesitated embracing this most wonderful man of all times as God.
Now, reflect for a moment what the source might have been of generating so much knowledge, so much light, so much power, so much dexterity and so many attuned skills and massive potentialities in an illiterate bedouin living as a shepherd and trader in a remote corner of as obscure and bleak a land as Arabia, much darker than the rest the world, fourteen hundred years ago? You say it was all the creation of his own mind. But, I say that if it was all a creation of his own mind, then he should have claimed godhead, not prophethood. If he had advanced such a claim, the world that readily accepted Rama as god; had no hesitation in recognizing Krishna as god; deified Buddha on its own; accepted Christ son of God; worshipped even fire, water and air; would never have hesitated embracing this most wonderful man of all times as God. But, look what he says! He declines to take personal credit for even a single excellence of his; he says ‘I am an ordinary human just like you. Nothing I have is my own. Everything is of God’s and from Him. This discourse, the like of which cannot be produced by all humans put together, is not my own composition. It is not a product of my own mental abilities. Word for word has it been sent to me from God to Whom all praise is due. These accomplishments of mine, these laws I formulated, these principles I taught to you, none of these I have invented on my own. I hold no power of presenting anything in my personal capacity. I look up to God for His guidance in each matter. I do and say just what I get from that source.’
Look, how astounding is this integrity! What absolute veracity and trustworthiness! A liar has no scruples taking the credit for even those accomplishments of others whose original sources can be easily traced. But, this person declines to take the personal credit for even those accomplishments of his which none would have been able to challenge if he had declared them his very own, simply because none had the means to access their original source. What else could be the brighter evidence of his authenticity than this? Who else could be more veracious than the person who had access to a hidden source of excellences, inaccessible to anyone else, and yet he unhesitatingly lets others know of the original source of all his wonderful achievements? Tell us then why should we not vouch for him?
Translated from Tafhīmāt, Vol. 1, pp. 238-255
 Traditionally ‘ummī’ is translated as illiterate or unlettered, but it actually implies people holding no revealed Book in contrast to the ‘People of the Book’ like Jews and Christians [ghair Ahl al-Kitāb]. It loosely means ‘gentile’ rather than illiterate. Ummī comes from ‘umm’ in the name of their city ‘Umm al-Qurā’ (i.e. Makka); that is the inhabitants of Umm al-Qurā who possessed no revealed Book, be they lettered or unlettered. Anyhow, the author has used this term here in the traditional sense of ‘illiterate.’ [Translator]