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Full text of "The Historical Role Of Islam"

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OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 

Call No. 2-^ f/^tfjffl Accession No. Jl. 

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Author 6\0^&y ' ' ' v . 

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This book should be returned on or before the date 
last marked below. 



THE HISTORICAL 
ROLE OF ISLAM 



The phenomenal success of Islam was 
primarily due to its revolutionary sis?ii]lc- 
ance and its ability to lead the masses out 
of the hopeless situation created by the 
decay of antique , civilisations not only of 
Greece and Rome but of Persia and China 
and of India.' 

The sword of Islam, wielded ostensibly at 
the service of God, actually contributed to 
the victory of a new social force the 
blossoming of a new intellectual life which 
eventually dug the graves of all religions 
and faiths.' 

The spirit of Islam was not invented by 
the genius of Mohammad; nor was it re- 
vealed to him. It was a heritage of history 
conferred on the Arabian nation. The 
greatness of Mohammad was his ability to 
recognise the value of the heritage and 
make his countrymen conscious of it! 

M. N. ROY. 



THB 

HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

(An Essyy on Islamic Culture). 

BY 

M. N. ROY 




VORA & Co. PUBLISHERS LTD. 

8, ROUND BUILDING BOMBAY 2. 



First Edition, December, 1937, 
Second Impression March, 1938. 



FKItfTEB At 
THE "AKKAKD BHARAT* 1 MUDKANALAYA. F0BTOMfcAY, 



CONTENTS. 



Chapter I. 
Chapter II. 
Chapter III. 



Chapter 
Chapter 



IV. 
V. 



Chapter VI. 
Chapter VII. 



Introduction 1-7 

The Mission of Islam . . 9-25 

Social and Historical 

Back-ground of Islam 27-40 

The Causes of Triumph 41-55 

Mohammad -and *rfis 

Teachings . . 57-j68 

Islamic Philosophy . . 69-94 

Islam & India . . 95-106 



CHAPTER ONE, 
INTRODUCTION. 

THE apparently sudden rise and the 
dramatic expansion of Mohammedanism 
constitutes a most fascinating chapter in 
the history of mankind. A dispassionate 
study of this chapter is of great importance 
in the present fateful period of the history 
of India. The scientific value of the study 
by itself is great, and the meritorious quest 
for knowledge is sure to be handsomely re- 
warded. But with us, to-day in India, 
particularly with the Hindu, a proper 
understanding of the historical role of Islam 
and the contribution it has made to human 
culture has acquired a supreme political 
importance. 

This country has become the home of 
a very considerable number of the followers 
of the Arabian Prophet. One seldom realises 
that many more Mohammedans live in India 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

than in any single purely Islamic country. 
Still, after the lapse of many centuries, this 
numerous section of the Indian population 
is generally considered to be an 
extranuous element. This curious but ex- 
tremely regrettable cleft in the loose 
national structure of India has its historical 
cause. The Mohammedans originally came 
to India as invaders. They conquered the 
country and became its rulers for several 
hundred years. That relation of the con- 
queror and the subjugated has left its mark 
on the history of our nation which to-day 
embraces the both. But the unpleasant 
memory of the past relation has been 
progressively eclipsed by the present 
companionship in slavery. The effect of 
British Imperialism is no less painful and 
ruinous for the bulk of the Muslim popula- 
tion than for the masses professing 
Hinduism. So completely have the Mo- 
hammedans become an integral part of the 
Indian nation that the annals of the Muslim 
rule are justly recorded as chapters of the 
history of India. Indeed, Nationalism has 
gone farther in effacing the painful memory 
of the past. 

The practice of seeking consolation for 
the shame of the present in the real or 
legendary glory of the past has dressed the 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Muslim rulers of India in brilliant national 
colours. 

Yet, a Hindu, who prides in the prosperity 
of the reign of atrAkbar, or boasts of the 
architectural accomplishments of a Shah- 
jehan, is even to-day separated most 
curiously by an unbridgeable gulf from his 
next door neighbour belonging to the race, 
or professing the faith, of those illustrious 
monarchs who are believed to have glorified 
the history of India. For the orthodox 
Hindus who constitute the great majority of 
the Indian population, the Mussulman, even 
of a noble birth or high education or 
admirable cultural attainments, is a 
'mlechha' impure barbarian who does not 
deserve a social treatment any better than 
accorded to the lowest of the Hindus. 

The cause of this singular situation is to 
be traced in the prejudice born, in the past, 
of the hatred a conquered and oppressed 
people naturally entertained for the forffign 
invader. The political relation out of which 
it sprang is a thing of the past. But the 
prejudice still persists not only as an 
effective obstacle to national cohesion, but 
also as a hindrance for a dispassionate view 
of history. Indeed, there is no other example 
of two communities living together in the 
same country for so many hundred years. 



THE HISTORICAL HOLE OF ISLAM 

and yet having so little appreciation of each 
other's culture. No civilised people in the 
world is so ignorant of Islamic history and 
contemptuous of the Mohammedan religion 
as the Hindus. Spiritual imperialism is the 
outstanding feature of cur nationalist ideo- 
logy. But this nasty spirit is the most 
pronounced in relation to Mohammedanism. 
The current notion of the teachings of the 
Arabian Prophet is extremely ill-informed. 
The average educated Hindu has little 
knowledge of, and no appreciation for, the 
immense revolutionary significance of 
Islam, and the great cultural consequences 
of that revolution. The prevailing notions 
could be laughed at as ridiculous, were they 
not so pregnant with harmful consequences. 
These notions should be combatted for t&e 
sake of the national cohesion of the Indian 
people as well as in the interest of science 
and historical truth. A proper appreciation 
of the cultural significance of Islam is of 
supreme importance in this crucial period of 
the history of India. 

The great historian Gibbon describes the 
rise and expansion of Islam as "one of the 
most memorable revolutions which has im- 
pressed a new and lasting character on the 
nations of the globe/' One is simply amazed 
to contemplate the incredible rapidity with 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

which the two mightiest empires of the 
ancient time were subverted by the com- 
paratively small bands of nomads issuing 
from the Arabian desert, fired with the zeal 
of a new faith. Hardly fifty years had 
passed since Mohammad assumed the role 
of the singular Prophet spreading his Mes- 
sage of Peace at the point of the sword, his 
followers victoriously planted the banner of 
Islam on the confines 01 India, on the one 
side, and on the shore of the Atlantic, on the 
other. The first Khalifs of Damascus 
reigned over an Empire which could not be 
crossed in less than five months on the 
fleetest camel. At the end of the first 
century of the Hegira, the "Commanders of 
the Faithful" were the most powerful rulers 
of the world. 

Every prophet establishes his pretension 
by the performance of miracles. On that 
token, Mohammad must be recognised as by 
far the greatest of all prophets, .before or 
after him: The expansion of Islam is the 
most miraculou of all miracles. The Roman 
Empire of Augustus, as later enlarged by the 
valiant Trajan, was the result of great and 
glorious victories, won over a period of seven 
hundred years. Still, it had not attained 
the proportions of the Arabian Empire 
established in less than a century. The 

5 



THE HISTORICAL KOL OF ISLAM 

Empire of Alexander represented but a frac- 
tion of the vast domain of the Khalifs. For 
nearly a thousand years, the Persian Empire 
resisted the arms of Rome*, only to be subdued 
by the "Sword of God" in less than a decade. 
Let a modern historian describe the miracle 
of the rise of Islam. 

" Nowhere was there a vestige of an 
Arabian state, of a regular army, or of a 
common political ambition. The Arabs were 
poets, dreamers, fighters, traders; they were 
not politicians." Nor had they found in 
religion a stablising or unifying power. They 
practised a low form of polytheism ...... A 

hundred years later, these obscure savages 
had achieved for themselves a great world 
power. They had conquered Syria and 
Egypt, they had overwhelmed and converted: 
Persia, mastered Western Turkestan and 
part of the Punjab. They had wrested 
Africa from the Byzantines and the Berbers, 
Spain from the Visigoths. In the West they 
threatened France, in the East Constanti- 
nople. Their fleets, built in Alexandria or 
the Syrian ports, rode the waters of the Me- 
diterranean, pillaged the Greek islands and 
challenged the naval power of the Byzantine 
Empire. Their success had been won so 
easily, the Persians and Berbers of the Atlas 
Mountains alone .offering a serious resistan- 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OP ISLAM 

ce, that at the beginning of the eighth 
century it must have seemed an open ques- 
tion whether any final obstacle could be 
opposed to their' victorious course. The 
Mediterranean had ceased to be a Roman 
lake. From one end of Europe to the other, 
the Christian states found themselves con 
fronted with the challenge of a new Oriental 
civilisation founded on a new Oriental 
faith." (H. A. L. Fisher, "A History of 
Europe", pp. 137 1 8.) 

How did that stupendous miracle 
happen ? That has been one of the baffling 
questions for historians* To-day the edu- 
cated world has rejected the vulgar theory 
that the rise of Islam was a triumph of 
fanaticism over sober and tolerant peoples. 
The phenomenal success of Islam was pri- 
marily due to its revolutionary significance 
and its ability to lead the masses out of the 
hopeless situation created by the decay of 
antique civilisations not only of Greece and 
Rome but of Persia and China and of India* 



CHAPTER TWO. 
THE MISSION OF ISLAM. 

VULGAR interpreters of the Islamic 
.history lay stress upon its military achieve- 
ments either to praise or to deprecate its 
far-reaching revolutionary significance. If 
the undoubtedly brilliant military conquests 
of the Saracens were the only measure of 
the historic role of Islam, then it would 
not be a unique historical phenomenon. The 
depradations of the barbarians of Tartary 
and Scythia (Goths, Huns, Vandals, Avars, 
Mongols etc.) approximated, if not equalled 
or excelled, their military accomplishments. 
But there is a vast difference between the 
tidal waves that occasionally rolled West, 
South and East, from the border land of 
Europe and Asia, and the Arabic eruption of 
religious frenzy. Like tidal waves the former 
rolled on in their cataclysmic greatness, 
only to subside, sooner or later, having dis- 

9 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

tributed death and destruction, far and wide. 
The latter, on the contrary, was an abiding 
historical phenomenon, which ushered in a 
brilliant chapter of the cultural annals of 
mankind. Destruction was only a subsidi- 
ary part of its mission. It pulled Hown the 
played-out old, to construct a necessary new. 
It demolished the holy edifices of the Cesars 
and the Chosroes, only to rescue from their 
impending ruin the accumulated treasures 
of human knowledge, to preserve and mul- 
tiply them for the benefit of the posterity. 
'The prodigious feats of the Saracen 
horsemen are not the only distinctive feature 
of Islam, They simply captivate our atten- 
tion which must marvel at them, and impel 
us to search out and admire the causes of 
such a tremendously dynamic historical 
phenomenon. The miraculous performance 
of the "Army of God" usually dazzles the 
vision and the more magnificent achieve- 
ments of the Islamic revolution are seldom 
known to the average student of history, 
even if he be a follower of Mohammad. Yet, 
the martial victories of the followers of the 
Arabian Prophet were but the prelude to a 
more magnificent and lasting performance 
In the social and cultural fields. Tl^y_,only 
grj^^Jbt^jc^ditions ; for political jinity 
which openedTup an era of economic pros* 

10 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

perity and spiritual progress. The stupend- 
ous ruins of the Roman and Persian Empires 
had to be cleared away so that a new social 
order could rise with new ideas and new 
ideals. The dark superstition of the Magian 
mysticism, and the corrupt atmosphere of 
the Greek Church vitiated the spiritual life 
of the subjects of the decrepit Persian and 
Byzantine Empires rendering all moral and 
intellectual progress impossible. The severe 
monotheism of Mohammad wielded the 
formidable scimiter of the Saracen not only 
to destroy the profane idolatry of the 
Arabian tribes; it also proved to be the 
invincible instrument of history for freeing 
a considerable section of mankind from the 
eternal evil spirit of Zoroaster as well as 
from degenerate Christianity given to the 
superstition of miracle-mongering, to the 
deadly disease of monasticism and to the 
idolatrous worship of Saints. The amazing 
achievements of Saracen arms only prove 
that they were wielded at the service of his- 
tory for the progress of humanity .) 

/ The rich spiritual legacy of the glorious 
civilisation of ancient Greece was almost 
buried under the dreary ruins of the Roman 
Empire, and lost in the darkness of Christi- 
an superstition. The grand mission of res- 
cuing the invaluable patrimony, which 

11 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

eventually enabled the peoples of Europe to 
emerge from the depressing gloom of the 
holy middle-ages, and build the marvellous 
monument of modern civilisation, belonged 
to the Saracen arms, and to the socio-poli- 
tical structure erected on the basis of Islamic 
Monotheism. The sword of Islam, wielded 
ostensibly at the service of God, actually 
contributed to the victory of a ixew social 
force the blossoming of a new intellectual 
life which eventually dug the grave of all 
religions and faiths. } 

Islam rose rather as a political move- 
ment than a religion in the strictest sense of 
the word. In the initial stages of its history, 
it was essentially a caJJ^Jfot, the unity of the 
nomadic tribes inhabiting the Arabian 
desert. Upon its speedy realisation, the 
politic-religious Unitarian doctorine became 
the flag under which the Asiatic and African 
provinces of the Roman Empire survived the 
dissolution of the antique social order. The 
previous revolt had miscarried itself. 
Christianity had lost its original revolution- 
ary fervour becoming, on the one hand, the 
ideology of social dissolution (Monasticism) , 
and a prop for the decaying Empire, on the 
other. But the social crisis continued, 
aggravated by the degeneration of Christi- 
anity. The message of hope and salvation 

12 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

came from the Caravan traders of Arabia 
who had stood outside the corrupting 
atmosphere of the decomposed Roman 
world, and prospered by their advantageous 
position. The "Revolt of Islam" saved 
humanity. 

A famous authority on Islamic history 
writes the following about the mission of 
Mohammad: "He found a whole nation in 
the full tide of rapid improvement, eagerly 
in search of knowledge and power. The 
excitement in the public mind of Arabia, 
which produced the mission of Mahamet, 
induced many other prophets to make their 
appearance during his life time." (Okley, 
"History of the Saracens.") 

The people, for whom Islamic history is 
summarised in the exploits of fanatical 
hords, dramatically offering the dismayed 
world the choice between the Koran and the 
sword, with the blood-curdling cry of "Allah 
Akhbar", do not know, or conveniently 
overlook, that only the immediate succes- 
sors of Mohammad occupied themselves 
solely with temporal and religious conquests; 
and even they were distinguished from the 
barbarian ravishers of humanity like Alaric, 
Attila, Genserie, Chengis or Tamerlane, by 
the nobility of character, purity of purpose 
and piety of spirit. Their devoutness might 

13 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

have been fortified by superstition, but was 
not stained by hypocracy. Their fanaticism 
was softened by generosity and sound com- 
mon-sense. Their ambiticsi was remarkably 
free from selfishness. Godliness, for them, 
was not a veil for greediness. \ 

There are few figures in history more 
romantic, more devout, more sincere and 
more modest than the first "Commander of 
the Faithful'' Abu Bakr. His memorably 
injunction to the "Army of God" ran: "Be 
just; the unjust never prosper. Be valiant; 
die rather than yield. Be merciful; slay 
neither old men, nor women, nor children. 
Destroy neither fruit trees, nor grains, nor 
cattle. Keep your word even to your enemy, 
Molest not those men who live retired from 
the world/' The irresistable march of the 
"Army of God" bears testimony to that this 
remarkable injunction was uttered sincere- 
ly by the venerable chief, and obeyed 
strictly by the devout followers. 

Everywhere, the Saracen invaders were 
welcome as deliverers by peoples oppressed, 
tyrannised and tormented by Byzantine 
corruption, Persian despotism and Christian 
superstition. Fanatically faithful to the 
revolutionary teachings of the Prophet, and 
obediently acting according to the noble, 
wise and eminently practical injunctions 

14 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

of the Khalif, the Saracen invaders easily 
enlisted the sympathy and support of the 
peoples they conquered. No invader can 
establish an abiding domination over con- 
quered peoples, except with their active 
support or tacit toleration. 

The second Khalif, Omar, whose im- 
petuous horsemen had pushed their 
victorious march through the Persian 
Empire, to the distant banks of the Oxus, 
on the one side, and were masters of the 
second metropolis of the Roman world 
Alexandria on the other, made his 
triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a camel 
which also carried the entire royal provision 
and equipage a small tent of coarse hair, 
a bag of corn, a bag of dates, a wooden bowl, 
and a leathern flask of water. Gibbon offers 
the following account of the simplicity, de- 
voutness, equity, and righteousness of the 
conquerors of Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, 
Palestine and Egypt: " Wherever he halted, 
the company without distinction was invited 
to partake of his homely fare, and the repast 
was consecrated by the prayer and exhort- 
ation of the Commander of the Faithful. 
But in expedition or pilgrimage, his power 
was exercised in the administration of 
justice; he reformed the licentious poly- 
gamy, the polygamy of the Arabs; relieved 

15 



THE HISTORICAL EOLE OF ISLAM 

the tributaries from extortion and cruelty; 
aiia chastised the luxury of the Saracens by 
dispoiling them of their rich silk, and drag- 
ging them on their face in dirt." ("Decline 
and Fall of the Roman Empire/') 

Khaled, whom the Prophet called the 
"Sword of God," whose almost legendary 
valour had united Arabia, Mesopotamia and 
Syria under the banner of Islam, died in the 
possession only of his horse, his arms, and 
a single slave. The great hero is credited to 
have declared in his youth, "it is not the 
delicacies of Syria, or the fading delights of 
this world, that have prompted me to devote 
my life in the cause of religion, I only seek 
the favour of God, and his apostle". 
(Recorded by the historian Abul Feda.) 

The valiant conqueror of Egypt, Omrou, 
was distinguished by a poetic genius in ad- 
dition to martial valour. The following 
remarkable passage occurs in his report to 
Khalif Omar: "The crowds of husbandmen 
who blacken the land may be compared to a 
swarm of industrious ants; and their native 
Indolence is quickened by the lash of the 
taskmaster. But the riches they extract are 
unequally shared between those who labour 
and those who possess." That was a view 
far in advance of time. ; The idea of social 
equity was unknown in all the lands of an- 

16 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

cient civilisation. The toilers, either as 
slaves or as Sudras, were the object of legi- 
timate contempt and exploitation. They 
were hardly considered as human beings. 
The economic principle, primitively formul- 
ated in the memorable injunction of the 
first Khalif, evolved out of the interest of 
the Arab traders, revolutionised the old so- 
cial idea. A part of the wealth produced by 
the toiling masses, when left with them- 
selves, becomes a powerful impetus to trade. 
In his administration of the conquered 
kingdom of the Pharaos and the Ptolemies, 
the Arab warrior sought with success to 
mend the glaring inequities that had 
offended his poetic vision. Egypt, robbed 
and dispoiled for centuries by the Greeks and 
the Romans, prospered under the Saracens. 
There is no end of testimonies to prove 
that even in the predominently martial 
period of their history, the Saracens were 
far from being barbaric bands of fanatical 
marauders, spreading pillage and rapine, 
death and destruction in the name of re- 
ligion. Then, the period of conquest was 
short, as compared to the long era of learn- 
ing and culture that flourished subsequently 
under the patronage of the Khalifs as well 
as of the tributary and independent Empire. 
The military period terminated with the. 

17 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

establishment of the Abbassides at Bagdad 
the "City of Peace" just about a hundred 
years after the ascendancy of the Prophet at 
Medina. Since then, the military activities 
of the Arabs were essentially of the nature 
of current defensive and offensive operations 
of a far-flung Empire. 

The stern enthusiasm of the Saracen 
warriors was softened by time and prosperity. 
They began to seek riches 110 longer in war, 
but in trade and industry; fame, not on the 
field of battle, but in the pursuit of science 
and literature; and happiness, no longer in 
the fanatical worship of one God and his 
only Prophet, but in the harmless enjoyment 
of social and domestic life. yWar was no 
longer the passion and proud profession of 
the Saracens, because they had found inter- 
est and delight in a peaceful world created 
by the prowess of their forefathers. The 
progeny of the intrepid heroes, who had 
flocked to the belligerent standard of Abu 
Bakr and Omar, with the hope of paradise 
and incidentally earthly spoils, found the 
modest occupation of trade and industry 
more profitable, and science and philosophy 
more gratifying. 

(jThree hundred years of peace, prosper- 
ity and progress elapsed before the martial 
valour of the Saracens was rekindled by 

18 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Christian aggression in the deceptive form 
of the crusades. Pillage and plunder, 
tyranny and oppression came to be associat- 
ed with Muslim conquests only after the 
power of the Saracens had been overwhelm- 
ed by the Mongol barbarians from Central 
Asia; Arab learning and culture had been 
corrupted by the degenerating luxury of the 
court; and the proud standard of Islam, 
having lost its original revolutionary lustre, 
had been prostituted in the rapacious hands 
of the Turks and the Tartars.^ 

It is a gross misreading of history to 
confound Islam with militarism. Mohammad 
was the Prophet not of the Saracen warriors, 
but of the Arab merchants. The very name, 
with which he baptised his creed contradicts 
the current notion about its aim. Etymo- 
logically, Islam means to make peace, or the 
making of peace: to make peace with God 
by doing homage to his Oneness, repudiating 
the fraudulent divinity of idols which had 
usurped His sole claim to the devotion of 
man; and to make peace on earth through 
the union of the Arabian tribes. The peace 
on earth was of immediate importance, and 
greater consequence. The temporal interest 
of the Arabian merchants required it; for, 
trade thrives better under peaceful condi- 
tions. Since decayed states and degenerated 

19 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

religions bred the germs of continued wars 
and perennial revolts, their destruction was 
a condition for peace. The creed of Mo- 
hammacT made peace at home, and the 
martial valour of the Saracans conferred 
the same blessing on the peoples inhabiting 
the vast territories from Samarcand to 
Spain. 

As soon as a country came under the 
domination of the Arabs, its economic life 
was quickened by the encouragement of 
industry and agriculture. The spirit and 
interest of the Arab traders determined and 
directed the policy of the Islamic State. In 
the Roman world as well as in all the other 
lands of antique civilisation, the ruling clas- 
ses detested all productive labour, looked 
down upon trade and industry. War and 
worship were their noble professions. With 
the Arabs, it was different. Nomadic life in 
a desert had taught them to appreciate la- 
bour as the source of freedom. With them, 
trade was an honourable as well as $ 
lucrative occupation of the free man. Thus^ 
the Islamic State was based upon social 
relations entirely different from those of the 
old- Religion extolled industry, and en- 
couraged a normal indulgence of nature. 
Trade was free, and as noble a profession as 
state craft war, letter ! and science. The 

20 



THE HISTORICAL HOLS OF ISLAM 

jKhaiifs of Bagdad were not only great 
traders; the earlier ones learned, and actual- 
ly practiced some craft to purchase their 
personal necessities with the proceeds of 
manual labour. *Most of the great Arab 
philosophers and scholars came from opulent 
trading families. The culture and refine- 
ment of the courts of Bokhara and 
Samarcand, the munificence of the Fatemite 
rulers of Africa and the splendour of the 
Sultans of Andalusia were equally produced 
rather by the profits of prosperous trade 
than by taxes exorted by despotic measures. 
Under certain conditions, trade is a 
potent instrument of spiritual revolution. 
The aspiration of the Arab merchant 
produced the Monotheism of Mohammad. 
This, in its turn, inspired the nomads of a 
desert to establish one of the vastest and 
most flourishing empires of hislory. The 
laws of Koran revolutionised social relations. 
Increased production, the result of this 
revolution, quickened trade which ushered 
in an era of cosmopolitanism and spiritual 
uplift. Trade broadens the vision of man* 
Visiting distant lands, getting used to the 
sight of strange customs, mixing with peo- 
ples of diverse races, the trader frees himself 
from the prejudices and limitations born of 
the local conditions of his native land. He 



21 



THE HISTORICAL HOLE OF ISLAM 

develops the capacities of toleration, sym- 
pathy and understanding for the habits, 
views and faiths of others. Observation and 
inquisitiveness, which guide his voyage on 
the unknown sea, or direct his steps in 
lands, kill in him the comfort of credulity. 
The growth of critical faculty places him at 
the gate of knowledge. The essense of his 
occupation teaches the trader to think in 
abstraction. He is not interested in his 
merchandise as such. His mind is occupied 
with the idea of profit. It is all the same to 
him whether his camels or ships are ladden 
with wool or corn or spices. He is concerned 
with something which is neither these nor 
other concrete things he handles. These 
are simply the means to attain his end to 
make profit which is a category abstracted 
from the concrete commodity he buys or sells. 
He appreciates things, not in their intrinsic 
value, but according to their capacity to 
produce profit.) 

(Toleration for strange things, the at- 
tempt to understand them, freedom from 
^prejudice, faculty of observation, ability to 
think in abstract all these qualities acquir- 
ed by the trader, thanks to the nature of his 
occupation, go into the making of a philo- 
sophical outlook. Having seen different 
peoples cherish diverse forms of supersti- 

22 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

tioiis as divine wisdom, practise equally 
absurd rites and rituals or expressing 
devotioh, extol prejudices to the dignity, of 
eternal truth, the cosmopolitan mind of the 
travelled trader indulgently smiles upon the 
credulity of all, deplores their depravity 
equally, and respects the common element of 
faith beneath the superficial diversities of 
theological dogmas and forms of worship. 

The main arteries of international trade 
of the mediaeval world ran through the 
countries which embraced Islam and were 
united in the Saracen Empire. The 
northern routes of trade with China, which 
passed through Constantinople to Italy and 
other countries of Western Europe, had be- 
come extremely risky owing to the Scythian 
inroads and the ruinous fiscal policy of the 
Byzantine Empire. After their conquest of 
Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and the terri- 
tories across the Oxus, the Arabs captured 
the Chinese trade and diverted it to pass 
through their domain of North-Africa and 
Spain, ultimately to 'reach the markets of 
Western Eur ope V' During the eighth to the 
eleventh centuries, practically the entire 
trade between India and China, on the one 
hand, and Europe, on the other, was done 
by the Arabs. Thousands of traders travel- 
led with their Caravans, loaded with precious 

23 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

cargoes, from the remote frontiers of China 
and India all the way to Morocco and Spain. 
They were not persecuted or detested as 
their kind had been in all the countries of 
antique civilisation witii the honourable 
exception of Greece. In the Empire of the 
Saracens, they belonged to the ruling class. 
Consequently, the learning and culture, that 
thrived so luxuriantly owing to the prosper- 
ity of the Saracen Empire, bore the stamp of 
their native broad-mindedness, cosmo- 
politanism and incredulity. Under the 
leadership of a martial aristocracy and 
jealous priesthood, human ideology takes 
the form of dogmatic faith for misty 
mysticism.^ Philosophy the search for a 
rational explanation of the Universe origin- 
ates in a society ruled by an aristocracy 
engaged in trade. The city states of the 
Ionian Greeks were therefore the birth- 
places of philosophy. , 

(Islam was a necessary product of history, 
an instrument of human progress. It 
rose as the ideology of a new social relation 
which, in its turn, revolutionised the mind 
of man. But just as it had subverted and 
replaced older cultures, decayed in course of 
time, Islam, in its turn, was also overstepped 
by further social developments, and conse- 
quently had to hand over its spiritual 

24 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

leadership to other agencies born out of 
newer conditions. But it contributed to the 
forging of new ideological instruments 
which brought about the subsequent social 
revolution. The instruments were experi- 
mental science and rationalist philosophy. 
It stands to the credit of Islamic culture to 
have been instrumental in the promotion of 
the ideology of a new social revolution. 

1 Capitalist mode of production rescued 
Europe from the chaos of mediaeval 
barbarism. It fought and in the long run 
vanquished Christian theology and the 
spiritual monopoly of the Catholic Church 
with the potent weapon of rationalist phi- 
losophy. This weapon, invented by the 
ancient sages of Greece came to the posses- 
sion of the founders of modern civilisation 
through the Arab scholars who had not only 
preserved the precious patrimony, but added 
to it handsomely, ^he historic battle, begun 
by the nomads of the Arabian desert, under 
the religious flag of Islam, was fought step 
by step through a thousand years on fields 
scattered over the three continents, to be 
won finally in Europe under the profane 
standard of the eighteenth century En- 
lightenment and Bourgeois Revolution. 



25 



CHAPTER THREE. 

SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 
OF ISLAM. 

ISLAM the Religion of Peace was not 
the creation of Mohammad any more than 
other religions were of those to whom their 
origins are respectively attributed. No 
religion is the creation of any single in- 
dividual, nor does it appear all of a sudden, 
revealed to this or that Seer as it is always 
claimed. Islam, like any other religion, wa& 
the product of the conditions of the time, 
and of the surroundings in which it 
flourished.) 

Though living on the side of the fateful 
road, on which the conquering armies of the 
Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians and 
Romans had marched back and forth, the 
inhabitants of the vast Arabian Peninsula 
maintained their freedom by virtue of the 
natural aspects of their country and the mode 

27 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

of life moulded by those aspects. 
But the fierce love of freedom, 
together with the exigencies of a nomadic 
existence, had split the inhabitants of the 
Arabian desert into a 'number of tribes 
perpetually engaged in feuds and warfare. 

Separated from the rest of mankind, the 
Arabs took the stranger for an enemy. The 
poverty of his country had added to the 
growth of that spirit. These two factors 
went into the making of the codes of law 
and morality of the Arabs. They believed 
that, as descendants of the outlawed Ismael, 
they were doomed to live in a dreary desert 
while rich and fertile lands were assigned to 
the other branches of the human family. 
Consequently, they felt themselves justified 
in recovering by force a portion of the 
heritage, they believed, they had been 
deprived of. 

The Roman historian Pliny, six hundred 
years before the appearance of Mohammad, 
found the Arabs occupied with two lucrative 
professions, robbery and trade, in addition 
to their native call of sheep-raising and 
horse-breeding. In the earlier stages of 
social evolution, these two professions of 
robbery and trade are usually distinguished 
by a thin and elastic line of demarcation. 
The trader makes his profit by purchasing 

28 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

things at the cheapest price, and selling them 
at the highest. The cheaper the price he 
pays, the greater is his profit. Robbery or 
theft places him in ^ possession of things at 
the lowest price. Therefore, once the mo- 
rality of the fundamental principle of 
trading is admitted, the right of the trader 
to act so as to make the greatest possible 
profit becomes legitimate. Then, competi- 
tion keeps the price of his wares down. The 
most convenient way of eliminating competi- 
tion is to rob the rival. By that stratagem, 
not only is the competitor kept away from 
the market, but his goods go there as the 
property of the more efficient party. 
Further, robbery is an effective weapon to 
establish monopoly on trade-routes and 
markets. In its earlier stages of develop- 
ment, trade is everywhere conducted with 
these practical policies which must shock a 
modern merchant. Still, robbery was the 
weapon with which his less orthodox 
predecessors established the noble profession 
which he now carries on so righteously with 
the laudable maxim: Honesty is the best 
policy. 

Besides, robbery imperceptibly ripens 
into the manly political virtue of warlike- 
ness, so much glorified in the savage 
adolescence of mankind. Given to robbery 

29 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

by the physical aspects of their homeland, 
the Arabs were naturally destined to develop 
unusual talent in trade as well as in war. 
Their bravery and warlikeness were almost 
legendary. The famous historical work. 
"Ayam al Arab," composed in the most 
flourishing days of the Saracen Empire, 
records no less than seventeen hundred me- 
morable battles fought by the Arabs before 
the rise of the Prophet. So, if the Saracens 
distinguish themselves as warriors, they 
did not derive that virtue from their Islamic 
faith. They had been warriors before they 
were called to wield the sword in the service 
of God. The military achievements of Islam 
should be credited not so much to the religi- 
ous teachings of the Arabic Prophet as to the 
social conditions of the country in which it 
was born.) 

The wars conducted by the Arabs before 
the appearance of the Prophet were mostly 
internecine feuds, fought with savage 
fierceness, but strictly according to the 
quaint codes of honour, chivalry and nobility. 
The profuse spilling of blood did not fertilise 
the sands of Arabia, but it did, eventually, 
become prejudicial to the profitable economic 
consequences of robbery, the legitimate pro- 
fession of trade conducted by the primitive 
Arabs. /Economic necessity demanded ter- 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

mination of the proud but ruinous virtue of 
internecine wars, and diversion of the tradi- 
tional Saracen valour in more profitable 
channels. The ideas, born out of that 
necessity, eventually crystallised into the 
"Religion of Mohammad." 

Itself a vast stretch of sandy wilderness, 
Arabia, however, is surrounded on three 
sides by fruitful, populous countries-homes 
of ancient civilisations, where industry and 
agriculture thrived from time immemorial. 
On the south is the ocean on which navigated 
vessels carrying the trade of India. Thanks 
to her geographical position, Arabia was 
interested by the routes of Caravan trade 
and maritime commerce, interchanged 
among India, Persia, Assyria, Syria, Palestine, 
Egypt and Abyssinia. In earlier days, the 
trade-routes connecting Africa and Asia 
lay through the south and north of the 
Peninsula, avoiding the unknown interior 
of the sandy wilderness. But the exorbit- 
ant taxation of Byzantine despotism, 
supplemented by the endless extortion of 
its local officials, drove the traders to 
hazard the encounter of the fierce, but 
hospitable Beduin in the heart of his home. 

In the beginning, the Arab collected his 
tribute according to his peculiar code of 
law and morality. But in course of time, 

31 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

he discovered that trade would be more 
profitable than robbery. Of all the Arabian 
tribes, the Koreish were the first to ex- 
change the turbulent for a peaceful, but 
more profitable profession. They inhabited 
the coast-line of the Red Sea, and had 
commanded the Abyssinian trade long 
before the Asiatic traffic also came their 
way. In the earlier centuries of the 
Christian era, the capital of the Koreish 
tribe, Mecca, had become the point where 
the important trade-routes from south to 
north and east to west intersected. At 
Yamen, on the Arabian Sea, the Koreish 
caravans took over the commodities from 
India; at a point near modern Aden, their 
precious burden was increased by the Af- 
rican riches from Abyssinia. The journey 
northwards terminated at the busy marts 
of Damascus, where corn and manufactured 
articles were bought at the exchange of 
aromatics, pearls, precious stones, tusks etc. 
The lucrative exchange diffused plenty 
and riches in the streets of Macca. When, 
later, the east-west trade-route also passed 
through Mecca, the prosperity of the 
Koreish became unbounded, and their am- 
bition proportionately grew. 

But other Arabian tribes, jealous of 
their freedom, and envious of the prosperity 

32 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

of the Koreish, stood faithfully by their 
traditional codes of law and morality, whose 
profane origin was no longer admitted. 
They were raised to the nobility of offensive 
and defensive warfare, on the authority of 
tribal gods. The old national pastime of 
robbery which had previously been played 
at the expense of unwary strangers, turned 
out ruinous to the new national occupation 
of trade. Termination of the tribal feuds 
became an essential condition for further 
political task of establishing unity, by the 
logic of historical events, devolved upon 
those who controlled the economic forces 
making for the historically necessary goal. 
The Koreish appeared as the chosen people 
of history. 

In the midst of their ceaseless feuds, all 
the Arabian tribes worshipped and sacri- 
ficed at the temple of Caabba near Mecca. 
The Koreish had seized the control of the 
seat of national worship, and the sacredotal 
office of great power and extensive privilege 
had been captured by the Hashemites 
the most important family of the tribe. The 
Hashemites, therefore, commanded nation- 
al respect and veneration, in addition to 
the opulence derived from trade. ^Eventu- 
ally, a scion of the Hashemite family issued 
the call for unity in the form of a new 

33 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

religion which denied all gods but one. 

The severe Monotheism of Mohammad 
not only echoed the yarning for unity on 
the part of a people torn assunder by in- 
ternecine feuds; it was 'also destined to find 
a ready response from the neighbouring- 
nations, tormented by the intolerance of 
the Catholic Church. The religious life of 
the people of Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, 
Palestine and Egypt had been hopelessly 
confused by the conflicts of Magiaii Mys- 
ticism, Jewish conservatism and Christian 
bigotry. Rigid rites and rituals had taken 
the place of religion; hypocritical cere- 
monies had driven away devotion; dogmatic 
theology had prosecuted faith; and God 
had disappeared in a confusing crowd of 
angels, saints and apostles. The stringent 
cry of the new religion. "There is but 
One God" softened by great toleration, 
subject to this fundamental creed, was en- 
thusiastically hailed by the distressed 
multitudes searching for the secure anchor 
of a simple faith in the stormy sea of social 
disintegration, intellectual bankruptcy and 
spiritual chaos. The historic cry was raised 
by the caravan traders of Arabia who had 
stood outside the ruinous conflict of arms 
and beliefs, had prospered economically, 
and progressed in spirit, while their older 

34 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

and more civilised neighbours had stagnat- 
ed, decayed and disintegrated. The 
propagation of the stern belief in the 
Oneness of God prepared the ground for 
the rise of a military State which unified 
all the social functions religious, civil, 
judicial and administrative. The unitari- 
anism of the Saracens layed the foundation 
of a new social order which rose magnific- 
ently out of the ruins of the antique 
civilisation. Such a creed was sure to 
attract the attention of the multitudes 
barbarously persecuted for religious 
heterodoxy. The new faith allowed free- 
dom of conscience to all who placed 
themselves under its protection. Islam 
rose as a protection against religious 
persecution and refuge for the oppressed 

The accomodating nature, cosmopolitan 
spirit, democratic policy and the monothe- 
istic creed of Islam were the creation of 
the geographical position of the land of its 
birth .^ Surrounded with countries oppressed 
by native despotism or devastated by 
foreign invasions, Arabia maintained her 
freedom. 'The persecuted sects from Egypt 
and Persia as well as from the Christiandom 
fled to the free and hospitable desert where 
they could profess what they thought, and 
practice what they professed. When the 

35 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Empire of the Assyrians was conquered by 
the Persians, and the altars of Babylon 
subverted by the Magis, the Sataian priests 
retired to the neighbouring desert with their 
ancient faith and the precious knowledge of 
astronomy. Previously, Assyrian invasion 
had driven many a devout son of Israel in the 
same hospitable wilderness. All the Hebroe 
prophets, down to John the Baptist, lived, 
meditated and preached in the depth of 
the Arabian desert. The invasion of 
Alexander having avenged the wrong done 
to the Assyrians, the more orthodox disciples 
of Zoroaster, who did not wish to desecrate 
the purity of their faith by the toleration of 
Greek idolatry, migrated to the free atmos- 
phere of the Arabian desert to join their 
hands with Babylonian adversaries. 

(Gnosticism and Manichaeism those 
hybrids of oriental mystic cults Greek 
metaphysics and Christian Gospel, all 
thrived luxuriantly on the sandy soil of free 
Arabia. Finally, Catholic orthodoxy drove 
to the same smelting pot of Arabian hospit- 
ality the Nestorian, Jacobite and Eutycian 
heretics who preferred the simplicity of the 
Gospel to the idolatry of the orthodox 
Church. The freedom of exile brought the 
representatives of those diverse faiths into 
closer contact enabling them to see what was 

36 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLART 

common to them all. In the calm atmos- 
phere of toleration, their heterodoxy 
disappeared, fire of proselytism died out, 
and the common essence of the teachings of 
the learned guests was imparted to the 
hospitable Beduin. In short, the Barbarians 
of the desert inherited the best the religions 
of antiquity had to offer, namely, the faith 
in the existence of one supreme God who is 
exalted above all the powers of heaven and 
earth, but who had revealed himself to the 
mankind from time to time through his 
Prophets. Here is the essence of Islam 
crystallised in the spiritual consciousness of 
the Arabian people before Mohammad ap- 
peared with the mission of building a new 
religion on its basis. The spirit of Islam 
was not invented by the genius of Moham- 
mad; nor was it revealed to him. It was a 
heritage of history conferred on the Arabian 
nation. The greatness of Mohammad was 
his ability to recognise the value of the 
heritage and make his countrymen conscious 
of it. 

The Arabs had acquired the notion of 
one supreme God; but out of habit and for 
tribal interests, they still practised their old 
polytheistic worship. To be benefitted by 
the positive outcome of earlier religions, 
delivered to them as a heritage of history, 

37 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

they must change their traditional mode of 
worship. A supreme effort must be made 
with the purpose; and Mecca was the most 
strategic point to lead the attack from. 

The particularist freedom and interne- 
cine feuds of the Arabian tribes were 
mutually compromised and composed at 
Mecca. All routes of trade led there. The 
unity of the economic interest of the decen- 
tralised nation had created at Mecca a 
symbol of precarious spiritual unity. All 
the tribes from distant parts of the vast 
desert, while visiting the market of Cecca, 
worshipped in the temple of Caabba. Each 
had introduced there its own emblem of 
devotion. The temple had been adorned 
with no less than three hundred and sixty 
idols of men, eagles, lions, etc., But the 
prosperous tribe of Koreish dominated the 
trade of Mecca, and the powerful family 
of Hashim had seized control of the temple. 
It was natural that the new spirit of a rising 
faith, which would further economic interest 
through national unity, should be first felt 
consciously at the heart of the nation. So, 
it happened that a member of the Hashimite 
family began to preach the new religion. 

Once the family of Hashim and the 
tribe of Koreish were converted to the new 
faith, the whole nation would follow soon. 

38 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

All the tribes must visit Mecca for the pur- 
poses of trade. Those who controlled the 
trade of Mecca could easily dictate the faith 
and conscience of the entire nation. But 
prejudice and habit induced the Koreish to 
persecute ennovating zeal of their kinsman. 
They were afraid that trade would be driven 
away from Mecca, should the Pantheon of 
Caabba be disturbed. But there were others 
ready to assume the leadership of the revo- 
lution, when the most eligible candidate 

* J.'*'' >t t t ^ 

failed. Medina espoused the cause of the 
Prophet, and the call of unity found 
enthusiastic response in other quarters. The 
supremacy of Mecca was menaced. One 
family after another defected from the 
Koreish conservatism, and joined the 
revolutionary Hashemites. Before long, 
the Koreish capitulated before their exiled 
kinsmen, but only to capture the sceptre of 
the "Commander of the Faithful." 

As soon as the followers of tlje Prophet 
captured Mecca, a perpetual law was passed 
that no unbeliever should be allowed to set 
foot on the territory of the Holy City. The 
new religion was imposed upon the entire 
nation with the potent weapon of economic 
boycott. Caabba was cleared of its idols, 
and .became the shrine of "Mohammad's 
God." Once the standard of the new religion 

so 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OP ISLAM 

was raised, the whole nation flocked under 
it. The ground had been prepared. The 
faith had unconsciously taken hold of the 
mind of the nation before it was preached. 
Economic interest demanded its 
establishment. 



40 



CHAPTER FOUR. 
THE CAUSES OF TRIUMPH. 

ITS historical background and the social 
conditions in which it was born put on Islam 
the stamp of toleration, which, to the un- 
descerning eye, may appear to be incongru- 
ous with the spirit of fanaticism 
traditionally associated with it. But there 
Is no contradiction. The basic doctrine of 
Islam "There is but One God" itself makes 
for toleration. If the whole world, with its 
defects and deformities, the entire mankind, 
with all its follies and frivolities, is admitted 
as the creation of the selfsame God, the 
believer in this elevating doctrine may 
deplore the deformities and laugh at what 
appears to him to be absurdities and per- 
verseness; but the very nature of his faith 
does not permit him to look upon them as 
the works or worships of some other God 
of Evil, and declare war upon them as such. 

41 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Those, who worship differently, are for him 
mistaken and misled brethren, but none the 
less children of the selfsame Father, to be 
brought to the right road, or indulgently 
tolerated until they * are ready for 
redemption. 

The terrifying vision of the followers of 
the Arabic Prophet offering to the world, 
Koran or the sword, cast such an ominous 
shadow over the history of the rise of Islam 
as concealed the third alternative so freely 
offered, and generally accepted. That was 
the main cause for the triumph of Islam. As 
a matter of fact, the alternatives were very 
differently offered. It was: " Accept the 
Koran or pay tribute to the Saracen con- 
queror !" The "Sword of God" was 
Unsheathed only when neither of the 
alternatives was accepted. The economic 
interest of the Arab trader, which produced 
the monotheistic creed of Islam, was ant- 
agonistic to indiscriminate bloodshed. The 
lands through which the trade-routes lay 
must be conquered and brought under the 
domination of the unitary State. The ob- 
ject would be all the better realised, should 
the conquered peoples accept the new 
religion; for, then the Unitarian State would 
be established on a solid foundation. But 
production and consumption of commodities 

42 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

are the essential factors of trade. There- 
fore, it was not compatible with the historic 
role of Islam to massacre the artisan and 
peasant masses, or to destroy opulent cities 
for the impiety of. rejecting the Koran. 
What was necessary was their subjugation 
to the believers of the new creed. Under 
the domination of the followers of the Pro- 
phet, unbelieving peoples were allowed to 
hold their imperfect faiths, and to continue 
their perverse worships. 

When Jerusalem capitulated to Khalif 
Omar, the inhabitants of the vanquished 
city were left in possession of their worldljl 
goods, and allowed the freedom of worship 
A special quarter of the city was allotted foi 
the residence of the Christian population 
with their Patriarch and his clergy. Foi 
the protection thus granted, a nominal tax 
of two pieces of gold was imposed upon the 
entire Christian community. The pilgrim- 
age to the Holy City was stimulated rather 
than suppressed by the Muslim conquerors, 
on account of the commercial value of that 
devout traffic. Four hundred and sixty 
years later, when the Holy Land reverted to 
the Christian rule of the crusading knights 
of Europe, "the Oriental Christians regretted 
the tolerating Government of the Arabian 
Khalifs". (Gibbon, "Rise and Fall of the 
Roman Empire".) 

43 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

In contrast to the toleration of the 
Muslims, the following account of the oc- 
cupation of Jerusalem by the Crusaders is 
highly illuminating: "In the pillage of 
private and public weaitfi, the adventurers 
had agreed to respect the exclusive property 
of the first occupant. A bloody sacrifice was 
offered by mistaken votaries to the God of 
the Christians; resistance might provoke, 
but neither sage nor sex could mollify, their 
implacable rage; they indulged themselves 
three days in a promiscuous massacre. After 
seventy thousand Muslims had been put to 
the sword, and the harmless Jews had been 
burned in their Synagogue, they could still 
reserve a multitude of captives whom inter- 
est or lassitude persuaded them to spare." 
(Ibid).; 

On the testimony of a whole series of 
authoritative historians, Christian as well as 
Muslim, contemporary as well as modern, 
the critical Gibbon conclusively proves that 
"to his Christian subjects, Mohammad 
readily granted security of their persons, 
the freedom of their trade, the property of 
their goods and the toleration of their 
worship. This profitable principle of toler- 
ation was observed with more or less strict- 
ness, not only by all the immediate 
successors of the Prophet, but over the 

44 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

whole period of Arabic ascendency. It was 
abandoned only after Islam had played out 
its historic role, and its leadership has 
passed from the noble Saracens to the 
notorious barbariahs of Tartary. Even 
under the first Turkish Sultans, Islam was 
not completely divorced from its original 
spirit of toleration. 

In its days of glory, the native toleration 
of Islam not only developed into wide free- 
dom of thought and rationalism, but, from 
the orthodox point of view, even degenerated 
into positively heretical and irreligious 
notions. Most of the earlier Abbassides 
Khalifs of Bagdad were not only devoted to 
the study of profane science, and free in 
their thought; some of them, Motassen for 
example, even did not believe in the divine 
origin of the Koran. 

For centuries, the Saracen Empire 
offered hospitable asylum to the persecuted 
Jews as well as to the unorthodox Christians 
sects of the Nestorians, Jacobites, Eutychi- 
ans and Paulicians. After the consolidation 
of the Saracen conquest, the toleration of 
Islam was extended even to the Catholic 
Church. Many Christian historians them- 
selves bear testimony to this effect. The 
Ecclesiastical historian Renaudot, for ex- 

45 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

ample, informs that "the rank, the 
immunities, and the domestic jurisdiction 
of Patriarchs, Bishops, and the clergy were 
protected by the (Muslim) civil magistrates 
(of Egypt) ; the leaning of Christian in- 
dividuals recommended them to the employ- 
ment of secretaries and physicians; they 
were enriched by the lucrative collection of 
revenue; and their merit was sometimes 
raised to the command of cities and 
provinces." A Khalif of Bagdad declared 
that the Christians were most worthy of 
trust in the administration of Persia. The 
Paulicians, those valiant fore-runners of the 
Protestant Reformation, not only received 
freedom of worship in the Saracen Empire, 
tout were actively supported by the Khalifs 
in their prolonged effort to subvert the 
degenerated Catholic Church, and re- 
establish Christianity in its original form. 

The ancient religion of Zoroaster, with 
its pernicious doctrine of the dual principles 
of Good and Evil, both equally eternal, was 
particularly obnoxious to the stern worship- 
per of "One God". Yet, even the Magian 
creed did not altogether forfeit the toler- 
ation of the conquering Arab. As late as 
the third century of the Hegira, ancient 
temples of Fire stood splendourously 
overshadowing the modest Mosque by their 

46 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

side. Those proud monuments of an ancient 
faith crumbled not under the ruthless blow 
of the fanatical Sword of Islam; they were 
doomed to destruction, and fall to inevitable 
ruins in consequence of the general desert- 
Ion of their votaries. No amount of coercion 
could possibly force a whole nation to 
abandon its traditional faith with so little 
resistance, and accept that of the conqueror 
with such surprising alacrity, as did the Per- 
sians over the vast territory from the Tigris 
to the Oxus. The ancient faith was decayed. 
It no longer satisfied the spiritual require- 
ments of a cultured people. The menacing 
shadow of Khariman had eclipsed the lustre 
of the "Sun and Fire/' The Persian masses 
embraced the simple Monotheism of 
Mohammad as the message of liberation 
from the dark despotism of the eternal 
principle of Evil. 

The north of Africa, from Alexandria to 
Carthage, was the only territory where the 
Christian faith was totally obliterated by 
the spread of Islam. There again, the cause 
of the sweeping religious revolution was not 
the intolerance of the new creed, but the 
decay of the old faith, and the general chaos 
and despair caused by that decay. The faith 
of the gospel of Jesus, established by the 
talent, piety and power of Cyprian, Athan- 

47 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

asius and Augustin, had been subverted by 
Arian and Donatist heresies, and the 
Catholic fury, with which the improverished 
masses revolting under the banner of 
religious heresy were suppressed, had ruined 
the once prosperous provinces economically. 
Then, the Vandal and Moorish invader had 
devastated the ruins so mercilessly as to 
throw the people into a hopeless state of 
social chaos and spiritual morbidity which 
drove them to seek an illusive solace in the 
absurdities of Monasticism. 

In that dense darkness of social 
dissolution and spiritual despair, the virile 
and opitimistic message of the Prophet of 
Arabia flashed like an illuminating flame of 
hope. The mind of the multitude was lured 
by the temporal as well as the heavenly 
blessings offered by the new religion. The 
conquering trumpet of Islam awakened the 
despondent spirits who, defeated in the 
struggle of terrestrial life, had precariously 
entrenched themselves in the superstition 
of a divine existence. Healthy indulgence of 
nature, allowed, even encouraged, by the 
new faith, speedily overwhelmed the perverse 
notions of asceticism fomented by a degen- 
erate version of the gospel of Christ. Islam 
opened up a new vision of hope before a 
people, sunk in the depth of despondency, 

48 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

The convulsion created by it ushered in a 
new society in which every one had the 
opportunity of ascending the natural level 
of his courage and capacity. With the ex- 
hilarating inspiration -of Islam, and under 
the benevolent rule of the Saracen 
conquerors, the fertile soil and industrious 
peoples of North Africa soon recovered 
fruitfulness and prosperity. 

"It is altogether a misconception that 
the Arabian progress was due to the sword 
alone. The sword may change an acknow- 
ledged national creed, but it cannot affect 
the consciences of men. Profound though 
its argument is, something far more profound 
was demanded before Mohammadanism 
pervading the domestic life of Asia and 

Africa The explanation of this political 

phenomenon is to be found in the social 
condition of the conquered countries. The 
influences of religion in them had long ago 
ceased; it had become supplanted by 

theology How was it possible that 

unlettered men, who with difficulty can be 
made to apprehend obvious things, should 
understand such mysteries? Yet, they were 
taught that on those doctrines the salvation 
or damnation of the human race depended. 

They saw that personal virtue or vice 

were no longer considered; that sin was not 

49 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

measured by evil works but by the degrees 

of heresy What an example when 

bishops are concerned in assassinations, 
poisonings, adulteries, blindings, riots, 
treasons, civil war; when Patriarchs and 
Primats were excommunicating and anathe- 
matising one another in their rivalries for 
earthly power, bribing Eunuchs with gold, 
and courtesans and royal females with 
concessions of episcopal love, and influencing 
the decisions of councils asserted to speak 
with the voice of God by those base intrigues 
and sharp practices resorted to by demago- 
gues in their packed assemblies! Among 
legions of monks, who carried terror into 
the imperial armies and riot into the great 
cities, arose hideous clamours for theological 
dogmas, but never a voice for intellectual 
Liberty or the outraged rights of man. In 
such a state of things, what else could be the 
result than disgust or indifference? Cer- 
tainly men could not be expected to 

give help to a system that had lost all hold 
on their hearts. 

\ "When, therefore, in the midst of the 

wrangling of sects and anarchy of 

countless disputants, there sounded through 

the world the dread battle cry, 'There 

Is but One God', . .is it surprising that 

the hubbub was hushed ? Is it surprising 

50 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

that all Asia and Africa fell away? In 
better times, patriotism is too often made 
subordinate to religion; in those times, Jt 
was altogether dead." (J. W. Draper, "His- 
jory of the Intellectual Development of 
Europe", Vol. I, pp. 332 1 3.)'* 

The principle of equality, preached by 
the followers of Mohammad, originated in 
the traditional freedom of the nomadic life 
of the Arabic tribes. They had all shown 
equal valour in the national profession of 
robbery. When that modest call of the 
olden times assumed the majestic proportion 
of conquest, the individual Arab did not 
forget that his horse could speed as fast and 
his scimitar was as sharp as those of any. 
He had taken an equal share in defending 
his desert home against the conquering arm- 
ies of Sesostris and Cyrus, Alexander and 
Darius, Pompei and Ashirwan, Ptolemy and 
Trajan. He would not play a less. noble 
part in the pastime of turning the table. 
But the principle of equality proclaimed by 
Islam proved to be a factor in its spectacular 
triumph no less potent than the scimitar of 
the Saracen hero. ; It contrasted sharply 
with the oppressive laws governing the class 
and caste-ridden societies of the Roman 
Byzantine, Persian and, later, of Indian 
Empires. Islam stood for freedom and 

51 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

equality which, as a matter of fact, had long 
been forgotten in all the lands of the degen- 
erated ancient civilisation. 

The proud possession of the spiritual 
heritage of earlier civilisations having ac- 
crued to the Arabs, it became their mission 
to share it with the unfortunate multitudes 
groaning under the hideous ruins of those 
civilisations. The circumstances of the age 
were favourable to the dramatic expansion 
of Islam. It rose in the period of intellectu- 
al and spiritual decline of the ruling classes 
throughout the world of ancient civitysatjorjs. 
The dissatisfaction with the social conditions 
of decay, decomposition, and despotism had 
created in the masses of people the aspir- 
ation and striving for a better world. 
Christianity had been the first child born of 
that revolutionary spirit. The unfortunate 
triumph of having enlisted the currupting 
patronage of the old ruling class had 
transformed Christianity into an apologist 
of the established order of society. The 
Church Fathers had conveniently forgotten 
that their Prophet preached revolt against 
the Roman yoke, and had painted him as 
the meek sheep bleating the shameful in- 
junction: "Pay the Caesar his due" an in- 
junction which violated the whole tradition 
of Jewish history constituting the background 

52 



THE HISTORICAL HOLE OF ISLAM 

of Christianity. Having compromised with 
the ruling class, Christianity could not but 
betray the mission of laying the foundation 
of a new social order commensurate with 
the objective striving of the age/ It had 
refused to lead the destitute to the conquest 
of this world and had deceived them with 
the delusion of a world to come, flowing with 
milk and honey. The entrance to the 
Kingdom of Heaven was to be allowed only 
to the meek, that is, to those who would 
submit to the tyranny of the rulers of this 
world. 

The debacle of Christianity made the 
appearance of a more vigorous religion an 
historical necessity. Islam not only promised 
its votaries the blessings of a brilliant 
paradise. It also inspired them to the 
conquest of this world. Indeed, the Paradise 
of the Arabian Prophet was nothing but an 
ideal of the life of happiness and enjoyment 
to be attained in this world. : Mohammad 
not only provided his own people with a 
platform of national unity, but armed the 
united Arabian nation with a cry of revolt 
which found ready response from the op- 
pressed and destitute masses in all the 
adjacent countries.; 

(The cause of the dramatic success of 
Islam was spiritual as well as social and 

53 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

political. On this, important point, Gibbon 
testifies: "More pure than the system of 
Zoroaster, more liberal than the laws of 

Moses, the religion of Mohammad might 



seem less inconsistent with reason than the 
creed of mystery and superstition which, in 
the seventh century, disgraced the simpli- 
city of the Gospel." ("Decline and Fall of 
the Roman Empire/') 

( Still one more historian bears testimony 
to the fact that the spectacular thriumph of 
Islam was rather due to its liberating and 
equalitarian principles than to the military 
valour of its early adherents. "In almost 
every case in which the Saracens conquered 
a Christian nation, history unfortunately 
reveals that they owed their success chiefly 
to the favour with which this progress was 
regarded by the masses of the conquered 
people. To the disgrace of most Christian 
governments, it will be found that their ad- 
ministration was more oppressive than that 

of the Arab conquerors The inhabitants 

of Syria welcomed the followers of 
Mahomet; the Copts of Egypt contributed to 
place their country under the domination 
of the Arabs; and the Christian Berbers 
aided the conquest of Africa. All these 
nations were induced, by the hatred for the 
government of Constantinople, to place 

54 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

themselves under the sway of the Moham- 
madans. The treachery of the nobles and 
the indifference of the people made Spain 
and the South of France easy prey to the 
Saracens." (Finlay/ "History of the 
Byzantine Empire.") 



55 



CHAPTER FIVE. 
MOHAMMAD AND HIS TEACHINGS. 

THE founder of Islam has * been 
characterised as "the man who, of all men, 
has exercised the greatest influence upon 
the human race." (Draper, "History of the 
Intellectual Development of Europe," Vol. I, 
p. 329). There was, however, nothing very 
extraordinary about the man until he 
claimed the credit of divine revelation. The 
foundation of that dubious claim was no 
more or no less fictitious than in the case of 
the prophets, apostles and saints of all other 
religions. Christian arrogance called the 
Arabian Prophet an "Imposter". But it has 
been forgotten that he was given that name 
together with Moses and Jesus. The author- 
ship of the famous book, anonymously 
published, "Three Imposters" which creat- 
ed sensation in Europe towards the close of 
the middle-ages, was attributed to the 

57 



THE HISTORICAL HOLE OF ISLAM 

Christian King Frederic Barbarossa as well 
as to the Muslim philosopher Averroes. 

If Mohammad was an "imposter", he did 
not take up that role any more consciously 
than others who appeared' as instruments 
through which the fiction of divine revel- 
ation became a reality and carried conviction 
With the ignorant and superstitious masses. 
Having conceived the ideal of national unity, 
Mohammad realised that it could not be 
made acceptable to the warring Arabian 
tribes unless it were backed up with a 
bupernatural sanction. People enjoying the 
bliss of ignorance and thinking in terms of 
preconceived notions, could not be convinced 
with any other argument. The will of minor 
gods could be overwhelmed by the will of a 
greater and all-powerful God. The protec- 
tion against the wrath of the former should 
be found in the mercy of the latter. The 
belief in the absolute sway of one supreme 
God can alone encourage people to revolt 
against the tyranny of a whole host of tribal 
deities. If the supreme God was not there 
he had to be invented. That was the chain 
of Mohammad's thoughts. ; There was no 
imposture in it. Did not the rationalist 
Voltaire put forward the same argument 
more than a thousand years after it had 
found favour with the Arabian Prophet ? 

58 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

But in the latter case, the argument was put 
forward in defence of reaction; Voltaire 
advocated the necessity of inventing a God 
because that would be the only guarantee 
for the preservation of the decayed system 
of feudal monarchists society. At the time 
of Mohammad, and under the circumstances 
it was advanced, the argument served a 
positively revolutionary purpose. ( When 
man's mind is dominated by the belief .in^tlae 
supernatural, every progressive idea jslxould 
be formulated in the terms of thosg., beliefs 
if it were to secure popular support\Besides, 
the idea of One God was not the invention 
of Mohammad. The idea had grown out oJ 
social conditions described in the Ias1 
chapter. Mohammad's mission was tc 
discover evidence for the existence of the 
One God. And if you wish to convince 
people you must adduce only that kind of 
evidence which can carry conviction to them. 
But Mohammad's search for God was 
not inspired by cynicism as in the case of 
Voltaire. It was an honest effort on the 
part of an ignorant man inspired by a zeal. 
In quest of the God who alone could save 
the Arabian nation, he retired to the desert 
and gave himself up to meditation, fasting 
and prayer those familiar practices adopted 
by the prejudiced seeking divine inspiratioa 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

even in these days of the twentieth century. 
And the result was as usual in all such cases. 
"He was visited by supernatural appearances, 
mysterious voices accosted him as the 
Prophet of God; even the stones and trees 
joined in the whispering/' (Draper Ibid.) 
Such experiences always result from cerebral 
disorder which takes place whenever the 
prescribed practices are carried too far. 
Fixed ideas, however fantastic or imaginary, 
may appear to take concrete form if the 
mind is f ocussed on them so as to exclude the 
consciousness of other sensations. A 
scientific study of the psychology of Seers 
reveals the fact that "inspiration" or any 
other "religious experience" is the result of 
a pathological state brought about either 
accidentally or purposely through prescribed 
practices. ) 

Mohammad acted as all those of his 
kind had done before him, or did after him. 
But in his case, there was a fact which must 
go to his credit. He was too shrewd a man 
to be deluded by those psycho-pathological 
symptoms which are taken for the evidence 
of spiritual elevation. He was afraid that 
he was going mad; and might have 
abandoned his mission if his sagacious wife 
had not come to his aid in the nick of time. 
It was the rich merchant Khadija, mature 

60 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

with worldly wisdom, who was quick to 
appreciate the spiritual value of the mental 
aberrations of her husband. She persuaded 
him that his visions were not signs of in- 
sanity, but were nfessengers of God. Taking 
advantage of his psycho-pathological state 
of suggestibility, she could easily make him 
"see" an angel entering the room to deliver 
to him the Message of God. (Undoubtedly, 
the drama could be enacted only in the set- 
ting of ignorance, superstition and prejudice, 
main characters being played under delusion. 
But that is how all religions are born. There 
is no reason to think that Islam was an ex- 
ception. It was an exception in the sense 
that, except for the invention of a divine 
sanction, it contained less of religious dog- 
mas and metaphysical speculation than, 
sound political sense, progressive social 
principles and admirable codes of personal* 
behaviour.; "He did not engage in vain 
metaphysics, but applied himself to im- 
proving the social condition of his people by 
regulations respecting personal cleanliness, 
sobriety, fasting, prayer. Above all other 
works he esteemed almsgiving and charitjf. 
With a liberality to which the world had ojf 
late become a stranger, he admitted thfe 
salvation of men of any form of faith pro 
vided they were virtuous." (Draper, ibid.) 

61 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Composed by man of practically no edu- 
cation, the Koran, naturally, is not a work 
of any intellectual standard. It is full of 
crude ideas and phantastic speculations. 
These obvious defects of uhe Koran, easily 
over-shadow its great merit even as the 
source of inspiration of a great religion. 
Mohammad's religion was rigorously 
monotheistic; and as a Monotheism it was 
uncompromising, which outstanding char- 
acteristic won for it the distinction of the 
highest form of religion. The idea of God 
is the foundation of religion in the philoso- 
phical sense. That idea cannot be free of 
all fallacies unless it leads to the conception 
of creation out of nothing. The rationalism 
of ancient philosophers of Greece as well 
as of India excluded the fantastic concep- 
tion. Consequently, religions growing out 
of the background of that primitive 
rationalism could not conclusively establish 
the fundamental idea of God. The result 
was that all the great religions Hinduism, 
Judaism and Christianity eventually ended 
in some or other form of pantheism which 
logically liquidates religion as such. For 
pantheism identiying the phenomenal world 
with God puts the very idea of God under 
doubt. It disposes of the idea of creation 
and, consequently, the idea of God must also 

62 



THE HISTORICAL ROLS OF ISLAM 

go. If the world can exist, by itself, from 
eternity, it is not necessary to assume a 
creator. And, deprived of the function of 
creation, God becomes an unnecessary 
postulate. * 

Mohammad's religion cuts the Gordian 
knot. It frees the idea of God from the 
embarrassment of primitive rationalism by 
boldly asserting the highly irrational idea of 
creation out of nothing. The God stands 
out in all His glory. The ability to create 
not only the whole world but an endless 
series of worlds is the token of His all-power- 
fulness. To have thus established the idea 
of God, albeit in a dogmatic and primitive 
manner, was the credit of Mohammad. For 
that credit he has gone down in history as 
the founder of the purest form of religion. 
Because Islam as a religion is irrationalism 
par excellence, it so easily triumphed over 
all other religions which, with all their 
metaphysical accomplishments, theological 
subtleties and philosophical preterisions, 
were defective as religion, being but pseudo- 
religions. 

Monotheism, however, is a highly 
subversive theory. While being itself the 
highest form of religion, it strikes at the 
root the religious mode of thought. Placing 
God above and beyond the world, it opens 

63 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

up the possibility of doing without him al- 
together. Islam as the most rigorous 
monotheistic religion closed the chapter of 
human history dominated by the religious 
mode of thought, and by its very nature was 
open to unorthodox interpretations which 
eventually liquidated the religious mode of 
thought and laid down the foundation of 
modern rationalism. "We may compare the 
working of Monotheism to a mighty lake, 
which gathers the floods of science together, 
until they suddenly begin to break through 

the dam The third of the great 

monotheistic religions, Mohammadanism, is 
more favourable to Materialism. This, the 
youngest of them, was also the first to 
develop, in connection with the brilliant out- 
burst of Arabian civilisation, a free philoso- 
phical spirit, which exercised a powerful 
influence primarily upon the Jews in the 
middle ages, and so indirectly upon the 
Christians of the West." (F.A. Lange "The 
History of Materialism," Vol. I, pp. 174 and 
177). Being the most perfected form of 
Monotheism, Islam played that role. The 
crudities of the Koran did not prevent its 
basic idea from flourishing into all its revo- 
lutionary consequences. 

His severe Monotheism contradicted 
Mohammad's claim to the sole Prophecy of 

64 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

God. While the Koran recognised Moses, 
Jesus and other Hebrew Prophets as apostles 
of God, Mohammad's claim, if not openly 
disputed in the beginning, was secretly 
doubted even among tiis associates. Divinity 
of its founder is not the fundamental creed 
of Islam. And that distinction results from 
its strict Monotheism. Immediately upon 
the death of Mohammad, his followers were 
divided on that crucial question. When the 
news of the Prophet's death reached the 
camp of the army setting out for the con- 
quest of Syria, the devout Omar refused to 
believe that the Prophet could die, and 
threatened to strike off the head of mes- 
senger whom he suspected to be an infidel. 
Upon that, the venerable Abu Bakr admon- 
ished the impetuous younger man with the 
following words: "Is it Mohammad or the 
God of Mohammad that you worship? The 
God of Mohammad liveth for ever; but the 
apostle was a mortal like ourselves, and 
according to his own prediction, he has 
experienced the common fate of mortality." 
It should be noted that the immediate 
successor of Mohammad, at the moment of 
his disappearance, called him an apostle 
instead of the Prophet. With the less ambi- 
tious designation of an apostle, Mohammad 
was placed by his followers on the level of 

65 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

other religious teachers and law-givers. 
Denial of the divinity of the Prophet made 
Islam the purest doctrine of Monotheism. 
Once divinity is conceded to a Prophet, be- 
fore long, he assumes tjie attributes supposed 
to belong only to the Supreme Being. The 
unity of God or the absoluteness of the First 
Principle can no longer be maintained 
logically. Dubious theological devices 
endeavour to reconcile the contradiction. 
The original simplicity of faith is lost either 
in theological dogmatism or mystical self- 
deception. Without the severity of its theo- 
logy, Islam could not claim the historic role 
as creditably as it did. When the Prophet 
is deprived of divinity, or his claim to it is 
not generally admitted, the scripture cannot 
command absolute and infallible authority. 
Consequently, a lattitude is left for the mind 
of the faithful. The teaching of a mortal 
cannot have the majesty of eternal truth, 
and scriptural laws cannot claim 
immutability. 

Until the twelveth century, Islam did not 
possess a homogenous body of dogmas. Sub- 
ject to the belief in one God, the Mussulman 
had a practically unlimited latitude for his 
spiritual life. And history shows that the 
Arabian thinkers made free and full use of 
that flexibility of the new faith. In order to 

66 



THE HISTORICAL ROL OF ISLAM 

refute the Christian doctrines of Trinity, 
which they considered to be a vulgarisation 
of the sublime idea of the Supreme God, 
Muslim theologists developed the fund- 
amental idea of religion to the most abstract 
form ever conceived by human mind. (Vide 
Renan, "Averroes et Averroeism", p. 76). 
They could perform that unparallelled feat 
of theological rasiocination because "the 
Monotheism of Mohammad was the most 
absolute, and comparatively the freest from 
.mythical adulterations." (F.A. Lange, "The 
History of Materialism/' Vol. I, p. 184). The 
same authority testifies to the fact that the 
fundamental principles of religion laid down 
crudely by the founder of Islam were pregnant 
with the possibility of great development. 
And because of their rigid monotheistic 
nature, the development inevitably trans- 
cended the narrow limits of religious thought 
and culminated into a spiritual aflorescence 
which closed the age of faith. "Even before 
the communication of Greek philosophy 
to the Arabians, Islam had produced numer- 
ous sects and theological schools, some of 
which entertained so abstract a notion of 
God that no philosophical speculation could 
proceed farther in this direction, whilst 
others believed nothing but what could be 
understood and demonstrated; In the 



THE HISTORICAL ROLfc OF ISLAM 

high school at Basra, there arose, under the 
protection of the Abbassides, a school of ra- 
tionalists which sought to reconcile religion 
and faith." (Ibid., p. 177). 

During the first five or six hundred 
years of its history, Islam produced not only 
scholars who occupied themselves more with 
heavenly bodies than with heavenly beings, 
who quietly set aside the Koran and placed 
greater spiritual value on the study of pro- 
fane books, but revolutionary thinkers who 
ruthlessly sacrificed faith on the altar of 
reason. Not a few "Commanders of the 
Faithful" themselves those who reigned at 
Bagdad, Kairo or Cordova until the eleventh 
century attached greater value to positive 
knowledge than to revealed wisdom. The 
independent Empire of Bokhara preferred 
poets to the priests, doctors of medicine to 
doctors of divinity, and encouraged scientific 
research rather than the propagation of faith. 
(When we bear in mind that this line of 
intellectual development was opened up not 
only by the socio-political conditions created 
by the triumph of Islam, but originated in 
the central dogma of Mohammad's religion, 
neither the curiosities of the Koran nor the 
primitiveness of the Islamic faith should 
permit us to underestimate the historical role 
of Islam 



68 



CHAPTER SIX. 
ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY. 

THE age of Arabian learning lasted abouT; 
five hundred years, and coincided with 
the darkest period of European history 
During the same period, India also was lying 
prostrate, under the triumphant Brahmanical 
reaction which had subverted or corrupted 
Buddhism. Eventually, it was, thanks to the 
inglorious success of having overcome the 
Buddhist revolution, that India fell such an 
easy prey to Muslim invaders. 

Under the enlightened reign of the Abbas - 
sides, the Fatemites and the Omxniades rulers, 
learning and culture prospered respectively 
in Asia, North-Africa and Spain. From 
Samarkand and Bokhara to Fez and Cordova, 
numerous scholars studied and taught astro- 
nomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, 
medicine and music. The invaluable treasure 
of Greek philosophy and learning had been 

69 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OP ISLAM 

buried under the intolerance and superstition 
of the Christian Church. Had it not been for 
the Arabs, it would have been irretrivably lost, 
and the dire consequence of such a mishap 
can be easily imagined.; 

Vain piety and hypocritical holiness 
induced the Christians to spurn the science 
of antiquity as profane. In consequence of 
that vanity of ignorance, the peoples of 
Europe were plunged into the mediaeval 
darkness which threatened to be bottomless 
and interminable. The happy resurrection 
of the divine light of knowledge, lit by the 
sages of ancient Greece, at long last dis- 
sippated the depressing darkness of ignor- 
ance and superstition, prejudice and intoler- 
ance, and showed the European peoples the 
way to material prosperity, intellectual pro- 
gress and spiritual liberation. It was 
through the Arabian philosophers and 
scientists that the rich patrimony of Greek 
learning reached the fathers of modern 
rationalism and the pioneer of scientific 
research, Roger Bacon, was a disciple of the 
Arabs. In the opinion of Humboldt, the 
Arabians are to be considered "the proper 
founders of the physical sciences, in the 
signification of the term which we are now 
accustomed to give it." ("Kosmos", Vol. II.) 
Experiment and measurement are the great 

7f 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

instruments with the aid of which they made 
a path for progress, and raised themselves 
to a position of the connecting link between 
the scientific achievements of the Greek and 
those of the modern <time. 

Al Kandi, Al Hassan, Al Farabi, Avicena, 
Al Gazali, Abubakr, Avempace, Al Phetra- 
gius. (The Arabian names are so 
contracted in historical works written in 
European languages) these are names me- 
morable in the annals of human culture; and 
the fame of the great Averroes has been 
immortalised as that of the man who made 
the forerunners of modern civilisation ac- 
quainted with the genius of Aristotle, 
thereby giving an inestimable impetus to the 
struggle of the European humanity to liber- 
ate itself from the paralysing influence of 
theological bigotry and sterile scholasticism. 
The epoch-making role of the great Arab 
rationalist, who flourished in the first half 
of the twelve th century under the enlighten- 
ed patronage of the Sultan of Andalusia, is 
eloquently depicted by the well-known say- 
Ing of Roger Bacon: "Nature was interpreted 
by Aristotle, and Aristotle interpreted by 
Averroes/' 

The standard of spiritual revolt against 
the authority of the Christian Church, and 
the domination of theology, was hoisted In 

71 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The 
rationalist rebels drew their inspiration from 
the scientific teachings of the great philo- 
sophers of ancient Greece, and these they 
learned from the Arabian scholars, 
particularly Averroes. 

The bigotry of the pious Justinian, in 
the beginning of the sixth century, finally 
purged the holy world of Christian super- 
stition of the remaining vestiges of pagan 
learning. The last Greek scholars were 
forced to leave the ancient seats of learning. 
They emigrated from the Roman Empire, 
and sought refuge in Persia; but there also 
sacredotal intolerance proved equally hostile 
to profane learning. Eventually, the derelict 
science of Athenian culture found a hospit- 
able home in the court of the Abbassides 
Khalifs of Bagdad who were so impressed by 
the wisdom of those foreign infidels that 
neither Koran, nor sword was offered to 
them. On the contrary, all the remaining 
votaries of ancient learning, whose know- 
ledge ridiculed faith, and indulgently smiled 
at all religion, were invited to accept the 
liberal hospitality of the Commander of the 
faithful. 

The Khalifs not only took the exiled 
Greek scholars under their protection. They 
dispatched competent men to different parts 

72 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

of the Roman Empire with the instruction 
and the means to collect all the available 
works of the sages of ancient Greece. The 
precious works of Aristotle, Hipparchus, 
Hyppocrates, Galen and other scientists were 
translated into the Arabian language, and 
the Khalifs gave every encouragement to 
the propagation of those irreligious teach- 
ings throughout the Muslim world. Schools 
established at State expense disseminated 
scientific knowledge to thousands of students 
belonging to all classes of society, "from 
the son of the noble to that of the 
mechanic". Poor students received educa- 
tion free, and teachers were handsomely 
remunerated for their services which were 
held at the highest esteem. The Arab 
historian, Abul Faragius, records the 
following views of Khalif Al Manon regard- 
ing the men of leaning: "They are the elect 
of God, his best and most useful servants, 
whose lives are devoted to the improvement 

of their rational faculties The teachers 

of wisdom are the true luminaries and 
legislators of a world which without their 
aid would again sink into ignorance and 
barbarism. 

The current notion of the bigotry and 
fanaticism of Islam loses all historical au- 
thenticity when it is known that the men of 

73 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

learning so highly appreciated by the suc- 
cessors of the Prophet, were mostly devoid 
of any religious fervour, not a few of them 
holding views frankly heretical; and the 
general burden of their teachings was the 
assertion of the reason of man as the only 
standard of truth. History does not provide 
the critical student with many instances of 
the head of a religious order encouraging 
the "improvement of rational faculties", as 
Khalif Al Manon did. For, the cultivation 
of rational faculties is entirely incompatible 
with faith. Yet, Al Manon was but one of the 
illustrious line of Abbassides Khalifs who 
not only encouraged the propagation of 
scientific knowledge, but themselves parti- 
cipated in it. Nor were the enlightened 
Abbassides an exception. 

The Fatemites of Africa and the Om- 
minades of Spain rivalled them in political 
power, material prosperity as well as in the 
patronage and propagation of knowledge. 
The library of Cairo contained over one 
hundred thousand volumes; whereas Cordova 
boasted of six times as many. This fact 
gives lie to another calumny .which depicts 
the rise of Islam as an eruption of savage 
fanaticism, namely, the tale of the destruc- 
tion of the famous library of Alexandria. One 
must have a pious mind or credulous dis- 

74 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

position to believe that those who took 
delight in founding and supporting such 
noble seats of learning, would have callously 
set fire to the library of Alexandria; that 
those who command the gratitude of man- 
kind for having saved its most precious 
patrimony, could have possibly begun by 
contributing to the destruction of that 
treasure. When dispassionate and scientific 
study of history dissipates legends and dis- 
credits malicious tales, the rise of Islam, 
stands out not as a scourge but a blessing. 
for the mankind. 

While books written in the eleventh and 
twelvth century indignantly detail the 
shocking tale of the burning of the library 
of Alexandria, the historians Eustichius and 
Elmacin, both Egyptian Christians, who 
wrote soon after the Saracen conquest of 
their country, are significantly silent about 
the savage act. The former, a patriarch o| 
Alexandria, could be hardly suspected of 
partiality to the enemies of Christianity. An 
order of Khalif Omar has been usually cited 
as evidence of the barbarous act ascribed to 
his general. It would have been much, 
easier not to record that order than to sup- 
press any historical work composed by 
Christian prelates who had endless possibil- 
ities of concealing their composition. A 

75 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

diligent examination of all relevant evidence 
enabled Gibbon to arrive at the following 
opinion on the matter: "The rigid sentence 
of Omar is repugnant to the sound and 
orthodox precept ol the Mohammadan 
Casuits; they expressly declare that the 
religious books of the Jews and Christians, 
which are acquired by the right of war, 
should never be committed to the flames, 
and that the works of profane scientists, 
historians or poets, physicians or 
philosophers, may be lawfully applied to the 
use of the faithful." ("Rise and Fall of the 
Roman Empire"). 

Since history began to be written with 
impartial criticism, the tale of the destruc- 
tion of the Alexandrian library has either 
been discredited or subjected to grave 



In any case, at the time of the Saracen 
conquest, the library of Alexandria had 
ceased to be the repository of the valuable 
records of Greek learning. Long before 
that time, Alexandria had enshrined Christ- 
ian bigotry in the place of scientific know- 
ledge and philosophical wisdom. The 
character of the contents of the library must 
have changed accordingly. The pagan schol- 
ars, driven by Christian intolerance away 
from the seat of ancient learning, must have 
carried away the treasures they valued more 

76 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

than all other things. If the flame was 
actually lit by the order of Omar, it consum- 
ed ponderous tomes of theological 
controversy which had done immensely more 
harm than good to mankind. The fire of 
Islam might have consumed the none too 
precious records of vain and futile theologi- 
cal disputations; but the admirable ardour 
the free-thinking Khalifs collected, preserved 
and improved the valuable records of ancient 
learning which had left the Alexandrian 
library before its useless and pernicious 
contents were put to the flames. 

Byzantine barbarism had undone the 
meritorious work of the Ptolymies. The real 
destruction of the Alexandrian seat of 
learning had been the work of St. Cyril who 
defiled the Goddess of learning in the 
famous fair of Hyparia. That was already in 
the beginning of the fifth century. The 
Christian Saint would not tolerate that 
philosophical lectures and mathematical 
discourses held by a young pagan woman 
should be patronised by the elite of 
Alexandrian society, while the pious but 
incomprehensible sermons of the Archbishop 
were attended only by the rebels. If he was 
no match intellectually, he possessed the 
power to eliminate competition once for all. 
Under his instigation, the rebels, led by a 

77 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

regiment of monks burning with religious 
frenzy, attacked the seat of Alexandrian 
learning and, in the name of religion, 
perpetrated crimes too painful to be recorded 
and too shameful to be remembered. 

"Thus, in the four hundred and 
fourteenth year of our era, the position of 
philosophy in the intellectual metropolis of 
the world was determined; henceforth, 
science must sink into obscurity and sub- 
ordination. Its public existence will no 
longer be tolerated. Indeed, it may be said 
that from this period for some centuries it 
altogether disappeared. The leaden mace 
of bigotry had struck and shivered the 
exquisitely tempered steel of Greek philoso- 
phy. Cyril's act passed unquestioned. It 
was now ascertained that throughout the 
Roman world, there must be no more liberty 
of thought .... Such assertions might answer 
their purposes very well so long as the victors 
maintained their power in Alexandria, but 
they manifestly are of inconvenient ap- 
plication after the Saracens had captured 

the city For the next two dreary and 

weary centuries, things remained, until 
oppression and force were ended by foreign 
invaders. It was well for the world that the 
Arabian conquerors avowed their true 
argument, the scimitar, and made no 

78 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

pretensions to superhuman wisdom. They 
were thus left free to pursue knowledge 
without involving themselves in theological 
contradictions, and were able to make Egypt 
once more illustrious among the nations of 
the earth, to snatch it from the hideous 
fanaticism, ignorance and barbarism into 
which it had been plunged." (Draper, "The 
History of the Intellectual Development of 
Europe/' Vol. 1, p. 325). 

The works of the sages of ancient Greece 
were not only rescued, collected and pre- 
served by the Arabs. They were profusely 
commented and improved upon. Complete 
works of Plato, Aristotle, Euklid, Appolonius, 
Ptolemy, Hyppocrates and Galen were avail-^ 
able to the fathers of modern Europe at firsft 
only in Arabic versions, accompanied byj 
erudite commentaries. Modern Europ^ 
learned from the Arabs not only medicin^ 
and mathematics. The science of astrono- 
my, which widens the vision of man and 
reveals before him the mechanical laws of 
nature, was jealously cultivated by the Arabs. 
With the aid of new instruments of obser- 
vation, Arab philosophers acquired exact 
knowledge about the circumference of the 
earth the position and number of planets. 
In their hand, astronomy began to outgrow 
its primitive form, (devinations of Astro- 

79 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

logy), cultivated more or less by the priests 
of all Oriental countries, and to develop into 
an exact science. Although algebra had been 
invented by Diophantus of Alexandria, it 
did not become an object of common study 
until the age of Arabic learning. As a mat- 
ter of fact, the name of the science has given 
currency to the theory of its Arabian origin. 
But the Arabs themselves modestly acknow- 
ledged their indebtness to the Greek master. 
Botany was studied for medical purposes; 
yet the discovery of two thousand varieties 
of plants by Dioscorides represented the birth 
of a new science, Alchimy was a secret, 
jealously guarded by the priests of ancient 
Egypt. It was also practiced at Babylon. In 
a much later period, rudiments of chemistry 
were also known to the physicians of India. 
But the science of chemistry owes its origin 
and initial developments to the industry of 
the Arabs. "They first invented and named 
the alembic for the purposes of distillation; 
analysed the substances of the three king- 
doms of nature; tried the distinction and 
affinities of alkalis and acids; and converted 
the precious minerals into soft and salutary 
medicine/' (Gibbon) . 

It was in the science of medicine that 
the Arabs made the greatest progress. Masua 
and Geber were worthy disciples of Galen, 

80 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

and substantially added to what they had 
learned from the great master. Avicena, 
born in distant Bokhara, in the tenth cen- 
tury, reigned in Europe as the undisputed 
authority of the medteal science for five 
hundred years. The school of Salermo, until 
the sixteenth century, was the centre of 
medical learning in Europe. It owed its 
origin to the Saracens and taught the lessons 
of Avicena. 

The distinctive merit of the Arab 
scholars was the zeal to acquire knowledge 
through observation. They discarded the 
vanity of airy speculation, and stood firmly 
on the ground known to them. That great 
merit of Arabian learning is decisively 
evidenced in the following view of its Doyen 
Averroes: "The religion peculiar to 
philosophers is the study of that which is; 
for no sublimer worship can be given to God 
than the knowledge of his works, which leads 
to the knowledge of Mm and his reality. 
That is the noblest action in His eyes; the 
vilest is taxing, as error and vain presump- 
tion, the efforts of those who practise this 
worship, and who in this religion have the 
purest of religions." A religion which 
permitted the propagation of such irreligious 
views, though garbed in a pious phraseology, 
could not have its origin in intolerance and 

81 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

fanaticism. For this heterodox view, the 
philosopher, of course, incurred the wrath 
of the priesthood; but much more of the 
Christian than the Muslim. 

After a short banishment, Averroes was 
restituted in his position in the court of the 
Sultan of Andalusia, and his books survived 
proscription in the Islamic world. But from 
their Latin version, the above and similar 
passages were expunged. Yet, the heretic 
movements of Europe, during the twelveth, 
thirteenth and fourteenth century, drew 
their inspiration from the suppressed teach- 
ings of the Arab philosopher; and it was the 
heretic movement that shook the founda- 
tion of the Catholic Church which had held 
Europe in spiritual subordination through- 
out the middle-ages. From the twelveth 
century onwards, until the triumph of 
modern learning, Averroism was analogous 
to heresy in the horrified eye of Christian 
holiness. And it was for nothing that it 
was so. For, alone the passage quoted above 
indicated the surest point of departure for 
the quest of positive knowledge which 
eventually cleared away the debris of ignor- 
ance, sanctified as faith, and glorified as 
virtue on the authority of theological 
dogmas. } 

In this passage, Averroes stated the 

82 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

basic principle of the inductive method the 
surest way to true knowledge. On the pre- 
conceived notion of a creator is set aside, 
and of is made to know him (as distinct 
from the blind faith in his existence) in his 
reality through the empirical knowledge ol 
his works, that is, nature, the divine object 
recedes farther and farther, until it vanishes 
into nothingness, the only demonstrable 
reality about his existence; and a religion 
which promoted that singular quest for the 
knowledge of God certainly represented the 
greatest advance of human ideology under 
the garb of religion. /The latest of Great 

\ 

Religions, Islam was the greatest; and as 
such destroyed the basis of all religions. That 
is the essence of its historical significance./ 

The centre of Islam and Arabic learning 
was in those very historical regions where 
the older civilisations of the Egyptians, As- 
syrians, Jews, Persians and Greeks had 
arisen, clashed and fallen. The positive 
outcome of those earlier civilisations went 
into the making of the Arabian culture, and 
the remarkable Monotheism of Mohammad 
made its own the cardinal principles of the 
religion of those ancient peoples. It stands 
to the credit of the Arabian philosophers 
that they, for the first time, conceived the 
sublime idea of a common origin of all 

83 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

religions. Not only did they hold the view, 
singularly broad for the epoch, that all re- 
ligions were so many efforts of the human 
mind to solve the great mysteries of life and 
nature; they went so much farther as to 
make the bold suggestion that the effort 
more reconcilable with reason was the 
greater, nobler and sublimer. This ration- 
alistic view of religion attained the highest 
clarity in the mind of Averroes. 

Thus, together with the invaluable 
metaphysical and scientific teachings of the 
sages of Athens and Alexandria, the Arabs 
contributed something original to the 
foundation of modern civilisation. It was 
scepticism that powerul solvent of all faith. 
As soon as criticism challenges credulity, a 
new light dawns on the perspective of 
human progress. A curious book, anony- 
mously published with the title "Three 
Imposters", occupies a prominent place in 
the early history of scepticism in Europe. 
The credit for that scandalous composition 
was attributed either to the heretical Chris- 
tian Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, or the 
Muslim philosopher Averroes; The impos- 
ters were Moses, Christ and Mohammad. 
One of the suspected authors was a Chriis- 
tian and the other was a Mussulman. Re- 
ligion certainly had fallen in bad days. 

84 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

There had been scepticism before the 
thirteenth century, but no real incredulity. 
This doctrine and that had been disputed 
or rejected; but the foundation of Chris- 
tian faith had never been touched. It was 
this foundation which was assailed when 
the idea was conceived that all religions 
have a common ground. If all religions 
are essentially the same, then the doctrine 
and dogmas peculiair to each other should 
be discarded as pernicious obstacles to the 
realisation of the spiritual unity of mank- 
kind. But freed from doctrines and 
dogmas, religion has no leg to stand upon. 
Its rationalisation amounts to its destruc- 
tion. The revolutionary idea of the com-* 
mon origin of all religions was conceived for 
the first time by the Arab thinkers. 

Although Arabian learning reached its 
climax in Averroes, he was but the greatest 
and the latests of a long succession of great 
thinkers and scholars who flourished from 
the ninth to the thirteenth century. A brief 
reference to the substance of the teachings 
of the more illustrious of them will give* 
some idea of the revolutionary significance 
of the learning which owed its origin to the 
cardinal principle of the Mohammadan re- 
ligion, and was promoted by the stagger- 
ing achievements of the "Sword of God/' 

85 



THE HISTORICAL ROLS OF ISLAM 

Having established unity, as the terres- 
trial reflection of their spiritual Unitarian- 
ism, and* promoted economic prosperity in 
consequence thereof, the new Islamic na- 
tion devoted itself to the culture of the 
mind. For a hundred years, it modestly 
learned from others, particularly the ancient 
Greeks. Thus equipped, it began to pro- 
duce independent and original thought in 
every branch of learning. 

Al Kandi was the earliest of the great 
Arabian philosophers. He flourished in the 
capital of the free-thinking Abbassides, and 
leaped into fame in the beginning of the 
nineth century. For teaching that philo- 
sophy must be based on mathematics; that 
is, it should cease to be idle speculation: ab- 
stract thought should be guided by precise 
reasoning, based on concrete facts and esta- 
blished laws, in order to produce positive 
results. The teacher of this doctrine de- 
serves the great distinction of having anti- 
cipated Francis Bacon and Descartes by 
seven hundred years as a forerunner of 
modern philosophy. Even to-day there are 
many ''philosophers" and scholars who 
could be profited by the wisdom taught by 
the Saracen sage a thousand years ago. 

Next to be mentioned is AJJEar^bi^who 
lived In the following century,^ and taught 

86 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

at Damascus as well as Bagdad. His com- 
mentary on Ai^stotle^was studied^ for cen- 
" authoritative ^workjon _ the^ jub; 
He also excelled in the medical sci- 
ence. Roger Bacon, learned mathematics 
from him. 

In the latter half of the tenth century 
appeared Avicena. He belonged to a rich 
landowning family of Bokhara engaged in 
prosperous trade. He wrote on mathema- 
tics and physics, but went down in history 
for his contributions to the medical science. 

The famous medical school of Salermo 
was a monument to his memory, and his 
work was the text book of medicine through- 
out Europe until the sixteenth century. The 
great physician's philosophical views were 
so unorthodox that even the free-thinking 
Emir of Bokhara could not resist the pres- 
sure of the Imams who were scandalised by 
the profanity of Avicena. He had to leave 
the court of his patron, and travelled all 
over the Arabic Empire teaching medicine 
and preaching his philosophy at different 
seals of learning, 

In the eleventh century lived Al Hassan 
who deserves a place among the greatest 
scientists of all ages. Optics was his special 
subject. Having learned it from the Greeks, 



87 



THE HISTORICAL ROTE OF JSIAM 

he went farther than they, who corrected 
their mistaken notion that the rays of light 
issue from the eye. By anatomical and geo- 
metrical reasoning, Al Hassan proved that 
the rays of light came from the object 
seen, and impinged on the retina. There is 
ground for belief, held by many historians 
of science, that Keppler borrowed his optical 
views from his Arab predecessor. 

In the same century also lived Al Gazali, 
son of an Andalusian merchant. He antici- 
pated Descartes in reducing the standard of 
truth to self-consciousness. He stands out 
as the connecting link between the antique 
and modern scepticism. His memorable con- 
tribution to philosophy is better stated in 
his own words: "Having failed to get satis- 
faction from religion, I finally resolved tc 
discard all authority, and detach mysell 
from opinions which have been instilled in 
me during the unsuspecting years of child- 
hood. My aim is simply to know the truth 



of things i consequently ^nFTs 
for me to ascertain what is knowledge. Now 
it was evident to me that certain knowledge 
rafistj^ 

bemown in s^ch^a jnariner that n^doubt 

all error and 



fiius, once I have acknowledged ten to be 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

more than three, if any one were to say: 
"On the contrary, three is more than ten; 
and to prove my assertion I will change this 
stick into a serpent; and if he. actually did 
the miracle, still nty conviction of his error 
would remain unshaken. His manoeuvre 
would only produce in me admiration for his 
ability, but I should not doubt my own 
knowledge/' 

The principle of acquiring exact know- 
ledge, stated nearly a thousand years ago, 
by the Muslim savant, still holds as good as 
then; and the scientific outlook which makes 
such knowledge possible, is still comparative- 
ly rare among the Indians, who even in 
these days of the twentieth century allow 
themselves to be imposed* by feats of magid 
and "spiritual" charlatanism, and credit 
these as serious challenge to the reliability 
of scientific knowledge. 

Al Gazali held that knowledge could 
not possess such mathematical exactness, 
unless it were acquired empirically, and 
governed by irrefragible laws established by 
experience. He was of the opinion that in- 
contestable conviction could be acquired 
only through sense perceptions, and neces- 
sary truth, that is, casualty. In reason 
(self -consciousness) he found the judge of 
the correctness of the perception of senses. 

89 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

One is amazed to find such unique boldness 
of thought in the atmosphere of a religion 
generally believed to be the most intolerant 
and fanatical. Yet, Al Gazali's scepticism 
was avidly studied throughout the Muslim 
world of his time. His place in the history 
of philosophy can be judged from the opin- 
ion of the famous French Orientalist Renan, 
who thought that the father of modern 
scepticism, Hume, did not say anything 
more than what had been said by the Arab 
philosopher who preceded him by seven hun- 
dred years. The immensity of the histor- 
ical significance of Al Gazali's views is ap- 
preciated still more clearly when we remem- 
ber that it was scepticism of Hume which 
gave impetus to Kant's "all shattering critical 
philosophy" that laid a cruel axe at the root 
of all speculative thought. But Al Gazali's 
views were a long way ahead of time. Ex- 
perimental science, as he visualised, was not 
yet possible. In the absence or infancy of 
technology, the nature of objects could not 
be so mathematically ascertained as the 
philosophers wished. Therefore, in his lat- 
er years, Al Gazali fell into mysticism; but 
his fall was not more strikingly inglorious 
than of Kant, Objective drawbacks clipped 
the intrepid wings of the soaring spirit of 
the Arab thinker; whereas subjective pre- 
90 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

dilection of class interest overwhelmed the 
critical genius of Kant. 

Abubakr, who lived in the twelfth cen- 
tury, was the first astronomer to reject the 
Ptolemic notion regarding the position of 
heavenly bodies. He conceived of a plane- 
tary system, and celestial motion which 
tended towards the epoch-making discover- 
ies of Giordano Bruno, Galileo and Coper- 
nicus. It is recorded that "in his systems 
all movements were verified, and therefore 
no error resulted/' Abubakr dies before 
having set forth his theory in a complete 
treatise. His pupil, Al Phetragius, popular- 
ised his teaching that all planetary bodies 
moved regularly. Throughout the middle- 
ages, the hypothesis was valued as a great 
contribution to astronomical knowledge. 
The teachings of a Muslim philosopher, 
which upset the biblical view of the Uni- 
verse, penetrated the Christian monasteries. 
Not only Roger Bacon, but his illustrious op- 
ponent, Albertus Magnus, also acknow- 
ledged the indebtedness to the astronomical 
work of Al Phetragius in which Abubakr's 
views on planetary movement were expound- 
ed. 

The basic principle of the philosophy of 
Averroes, the greatest and the latest of the 
great Arabian thinkers, have already been 

91 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

outlined. He lived at the turning point of 
the history of the Islamic culture. By the 
twelfth century, the pinacle had been reach- 
ed, and the forces of reaction had gathered 
strength to overwhelm those of progress. 
Islamic culture was already on the decline 

The freedom of thought permitted by 
the simple faith of a nomadiic people, had 
attained such soaring heights of boldness as 
eventually clashed with the temporal inter- 
ests of the "Commanders of the Faithful.'' 
When the positive outcome of Islamic 
thought, developed so marvellously during 
five hundred years, was summarised in the 
highly revolutionary dictum of Averroes 
that reason is the only source of truth, Sul- 
tan Al Masur of Cordova, under the pressure 
of the priests, issued an edict condemning 
such heretical views to hell-fire, on the au- 
thority of religion. The denunciation of the 
noblest product of Islam naturally marked 
the beginning of its degeneration from a 
powerful lever of human progress to an in- 
strument of reaction, intolerance, ignorance 
and prejudice. Having played out its his- 
toric role to rescue the precious patrimony 
of ancient culture out of the engulfing ruins 
of two Empires and the blinding darkness of 
two religions Islam turned traitor to its 
original self, and became the black banner 

02 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

of Turkish barbarism and of the depreda- 
tions of the Mongolian herds. 

Islam disownned its own. Averroes was 
driven away from the court of Cordova the 
home of free thought for centuries. His 
books were condemned to the flames, if not 
actually of fire, to those of the more merci- 
less sacredotal reaction. Rationalism came to 
be identified with heresy. The very names 
of Averroes and his master, Aristotle, be- 
came anathema. In course of time, re- 
action triumphed so completely that for an 
orthodox Mohammadan, philosophy stood 
for "infidelity, impiety, and immoralitiy . " 
But the standard of spiritual progress, ad- 
mirably held high, and boldly carried for- 
ward by the Arabs during five hundred 
years, could not be lowered and trampled 
under the fury of vain religiosity any more 
successfully by Islamic ^intolerance than 
previously by Christian piety and super- 
stition, Averroes was diowned by his own 
people, only to be enthroned by those to 
whom belonged the future. The fierce con- 
test between Faith and Reason, between 
despotic ignorance and freedom of thought, 
which rocked Europe and shook the founda- 
tion of the Catholic Church from the twelfth 
century onwards, drew inspiration from the 
teachings of the Arab philosophers. Aver- 

93 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

roes and Averroism dominated the scientific 
thought of Europe for four hundred years. 



CHAPTER SEVEN. 
ISLAM AND INDIA. 

ALTHOUGH Islam came to India after it 
had played out its progressive role, and its 
leadership had been wrested from the 
learned and cultured Arabs, the revolutionary 
principles of the days of its origin and 
ascendency were still inscribed on its flag; 
and a critical study of history might reveal 
that the Muslim conquest of India was 
facilitated by similar native factors as in the 
case of Persia and the Christian countries. 
No great people, with a long history and old 
civilisation, can ever succumb easily to a 
foreign invasion, unless the invaders com- 
mand the syhipathy and acquiescence, if not 
active support, of the masses of the con- 
quered people. Brahmanical orthodoxy 
having overwhelmed the Buddhist revolu- 
tion, India of the eleventh and twelveth 
centuries must have been infested with 

95 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

multitudes of persecuted heretics who would 
eagerly welcome the message of Islam. 

Mohammad Ibn Kassim conquered Sindh 
with the active assistance of the Jats and 
other agricultural communities oppressed by 
the Brahman rulers. Having conquered the 
country, he followed the policy of the early 
Arab conquerors. "He employed the Brah- 
mans in pacifying the country by taking 
them into confidence. He allowed them to 
repair their temples and to follow their own 
religion as before, placed the collection of 
revenue in their hands, and employed them 
in continuing the traditional system of local 
administration." (Elliot, "History of India) 
when even the Brahmans, some of them at 
any rate, were prepared to go over to the 
side of the mlechha conquerors, the social 
conditions of the country could not be very 
normal. Evidently, society was in such a 
disintegrated and chaotic state as to make 
the position even of the most privileged class 
insecure. That is usually the result of 
counter-revolution. A revolution may be 
defeated by a combination of forces; but 
that does not enable the triumphant forces 
of reaction to remove the causes of social 
disintegration which brought about the re- 
volution. In India, the Buddhist revolution 
was not defeated; it was miscarried owing to 

96 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

its internal weakness. Social forces were 
not sufficiently mature to carry the revolu- 
tion to victory. Consequently, after the 
downfall of Buddhism, the country found 
Itself in a worse state of economic ruin, 
political oppression, intellectual anarchy and 
spiritual chaos. Practically, the entire so- 
ciety was involved in that tragic process of 
decay and decomposition. That is why not 
only the oppressed masses readily rallied 
under the banner of Islam which offered 
them social equality if not political liberty; 
even the upper classes offered their services 
to the foreign aggressor out of selfish 
motives. That shows that, while the masses 
were in a state of despair, the upper classes 
were thouroughly demoralised. 

As regards the spread of Islam in India, 
an ardent admirer of ancient Hindu culture 
like Jgasell, who cannot be suspected of any 
sympathy or even fairness to the Muslims, 
gives the following highly interesting testi- 
money: *'Those who did so (embraced 
Islam) acquired all the rights of a Musalman 
citizen in the law courts, where the Quran 
and not Aryan law and custom decided dis- 
pute in all cases^ This, method of prosely- 
tism was very effective among the lower 
castes of Hindus, specially among those who 
suffered from the severity of Brahmanical 

97 



THE HISTORICAL ROLK OF ISLAM 

law with regard to the Impure' classes/ 1 
{"Aryan Rule in India.") 

This is certainly not a very compliment- 
ary remark wrung from a firm believer in 
the perfection of Brahmginical law. In anj 
r case, it is clear that in the time of Moham- 
madan conquest, there lived in India multi- 
tudes of people who had little reason to be 
faithful to Hindu laws and the traditions ol 
Brahman orthodoxy, and were ready to 
forsake that heritage for the more equitable 
laws of Islam which offered them protection 
against the tyranny of triumphant Hindu 
reaction. 

In another place, Havell chooses to de- 
precate the spiritual^ values of the teachings 
of the Arabian Prophet. But at the same 
time makes a very significant statement 
regarding the spread of those teachings in 
India. "It was not the philosophy of Islam, 
but its sociological programme, which won 
so many converts for it in India/' Of 
course, for the masses philosophy has no 
appeal. They are always attracted by a 
"sociological programme" which offers them 
something better than the given conditions 
of their life. And a bad philosophy, that is 
to say, a reactionary outlook of life, cannot 
be associated with a sociological programme 
which secures the support of the down- 

98 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

trodden masses. If the sociological pro- 
gramme of Islam found support of the 
Indian masses, it was because the philosophy 
behind that programme was better than the 
Hindu philosophy fahich had been responsi- 
ble for the social chaos from which Islam 
showed a way out for the masses of the 
Indian people. By the above statement,, 
Havell admits that even in the thirteenth 
and fourteenth centuries, when Islam was 
winning adherence in India, it had not al- 
together played out its social-revolutionary 
role, and that it was by virtue of its social- 
revolutionary character that it struck so 
deep a root in India. That is to say even in 
its days of degeneration and decay, Islam 
represented spiritual, ideological and social 
progress in relation to Hindu conservatism. 

Havell is a famous eulogist of Indo- 
European culture which he considers to be 
the noblest product of the creative genius of 
man. On the other hand, he has bitter 
^tij^aj;hy^ His opinion 

cannot be dismissed as biassed against the 
Hindus. As a matter of fact, his bias is 
entirely on the side of the Hindus. So, if 
even a historian like him found distasteful 
things happening in India in the past, 
conditions were very deplorable indeed. He 
writes: "But the victorious progress of 

99 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Islam in India is not to be accounted for by 
external reasons. It was mainly due to the 
political degeneration of Aryavarta which 

set in after the death of Harsha The 

social programme of the Prophet gave 

every true believer an equal spiritual status 

made Islam a political and social 

synthesis and gave it an imperial mission, . 
Islam was a rule of life sufficient for the 
happiness of average humanity content to 

take the world as it is Islam reached 

the zenith of its political strength at the 
critical period when the conflict between 
Buddhist philosophy and that of orthodox 
Brahaminism was a potent cause of political 
dissension in northern India." (Ibid). 

VKing Harshavardhan died in the middle 
of the seventh century. Thus, the political 
disintegration of India was a process parallel 
to the rise of Islam. The death of a king, 
however great, does not mark the turning 
point of history. The process had been going 
on for many centuries. The Buddhist revo- 
lution arrested it for a time, only to be ag- 
gravated, accentuated and accelerated on its 
defeat. Indeed, the monastic degeneration 
of Buddhism and its disintegrating influence 
on the entire Indian society greatly helped 
the Muslim conquest just as Christian 
monasticism had done elsewhere. 

100 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Commenting on Mahmud of Guzni's 
invasions, Kavell further writes: "The 
almost invariable success of his arms added 
immensely to his prestige and brought Islam 
many adherents among the uncultured 
warrior classes of the North- Western Pro- 
vinces to whom fighting was a religion and 
victory in the field the highest proof of 
inspiration." ; (Ibid). Mahmud's exploit 
could not but deal a staggering blow to the 
faith in the divinity of the shrines where the 
Indians had brought their offerings from 
times immemorial. Consequently, the reli- 
gious feeling which found expression in the 
worship at the shrines, and the faith in their 
presiding deities were rudely shocked and 
inevitably shaken. In such circumstances, 
"religious feelings and spiritual instincts" 
induced the masses to transfer their devotion 
from the gods of demonstrated impotence to 
the more mighty one, the belief in, and 
worship for whom, incidentally, was reward- 
ed so magnificently. For ages, millions had 
i>elieved in the supernatural power of the 
gods worshipped at the famous temples of 
Thaneswar, Muttra, Somnath etc. The 
priests of those temples had amassed fabul- 
ous riches at the expense of the believing 
multitude by virtue of their pretensions to 
the ability of invoking the protection of the 

101 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

powerful divinities. Suddenly, the whole 
venerable structure of belief and tradition 
collapsed like a house of cards under the 
cruel blow of the invading infidel. When 
Mahmud's hosts approached, the priests told 
the people that the invaders would be de- 
voured by the fiery wrath of the gods. The 
people confidently expected a miracle which 
failed to happen. Indeed, it was performed 
by the God of the invader. Being based 
upon miracle, faith necessarily is transfer- 
ed to the most miraculous. Judged by all 
the traditional standards of religion, those 
who embraced Islam at that crisis were the 
most religious. 

A critical investigation of the internal 
as well as the external causes of the Musltmi 
conquest of India is of practical value to- 
day. It will remove the prejudice that 
makes the orthodox Hindu look upon his 
Muslim neighbour as an inferior being. 
Freed from preconceived ideas, the Hindus 
will be in a position to appreciate the con- 
structive consequences of the Muslim 
conquest of India. That will enable them 
to live down the hatred of the conquered for 
the conquerors. Unless a radical change of 
attitude is brought about by a sober sense 
of history, the communal question will never 
be solved.; The Hindus will never be able 

102 



THE HISTORICAL ROLB OF ISLAM 

to look upon the Muslims as integral parts 
of the Indian nation until they come to 
appreciate the contribution they made to- 
wards the emergence of Indian society out 
of the chaos caused by the breakdown of the 
antique civilisation. Besides, a proper 
understanding of history derived from a 
correct understanding of the successful 
advent of the Muslims in India will enable 
us to ascertain and stamp out the deeper 
causes of our present misfortune. 

On the other hand, few Muslims of our 
days may be conscious of the glorious role 
played on the stage of history by the faith 
they profess. Many may disown and 
repudiate the rationalism and scepticism of 
the Arabs as deviations from the teachings 
of the Koran. But Islam occupies a me- 
morable place in history thanks rather to its 
original-unorthodoxy and irreligiosity made 
evident by the Arab philosophers, than to 
the later growth of a reactionary priesthood 
or to the barbarous fanaticism of the Tartar 
converts. Islam had played out its progres- 
sive role before it penetrated India. Its 
flag was planted on the banks of the Indus 
and the Ganges not by revolutionary Saracen 
heroes, but by Persians demoralised by luxury 
and the barbarians of Central Asia who had 
embraced Islam, both had suverted the Arab 

103 



THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

Empire that magnificent monument to the 
memory of Mohammad. Still, it was wel- 
comed as a message of hope and freedom by 
the multitudinous victims of the Brah- 
manical reaction which toad overthrown the 
Buddhist revolution and had consequently 
thrown the Indian society in a state of 
chaos. Neither the Persians nor the Mogul 
conquerors of India were entirely devoid of 
the traditional nobility, toleration and 
liberalism of the Saracen heroes. The very 
fact that comparatively small bands of 
predatory invaders from distant lands could 
make themselves the rulers of a vast 
country for such a long time, and their 
alien faith found millions of converts, proves 
that they did satisfy certain objective rer 
quirements of the Indian society. Even 
when much of its original revolutionary 
fervour had been overwhelmed by reaction, 
Islam still exercised certain revolutionary 
influence on the Hindu society. iThe 
Mohammadan power was consolidated in 
India not so much by the valour of the 
invaders 1 arms as owing to the propagation 
of the Islamic faith and the progressive 
significance of Islamic laws. 

Even the fiercely fanatical anti-Muslim 
Havell grudgingly admits: "The effect of 
the Mussalman political creed upon Hindu 

104 



THE HISTORICAL ROUE OF ISLAM 

social life was twofold: It increased the 
rigour of the cas^te system and aroused a 
revolt against it. The alluring prospect 
which it held out to the lower strata of 
Hindu society was as tempting as it was to 

the Beduins of the desert " (It) made 

the Sudra a free man and potentially a lord 
of the Brahmans. Like the Renaissance of 
Europe, it stirred up the intellectual waters, 
produced many strong men, and some men 
of striking originality of genius. Like the 
Renaissance also, it was essentially a city 
cult; it made the nomads leave his tent and 
the Sudra abandon his village. It developed 
a type of humanity full of joie de vivre . . . . " 
("Aryan Rule in India"). 

To the above highly illuminating state- 
ment, it may only be added that the rise of 
reformers like Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, 
Chaitanya, etc. who evidenced a popular 
revolt against Brahmanical orthodoxy, was 
to a great extent promoted by the social 
*^ects of Mohammadan conquest. 

[ (in view of this realistic reading of his- 
tory, Hindu superciliousness towards the 
religion and culture of the Muslims is absurd. 
It insults history and injures the political 
future of our country. Learning from the 
Muslims, Europe became the leader of 
modern civilisation. Even to-day, her best 

105 



THJ8 HISTORICAL ROLE OF ISLAM 

sons are not ashamed of the past indebted- 
ness. Unfortunately, India could not be 
fully benefltted by the heritage of Islamic 
culture, because she did not deserve the 
distinction. Now, in the throes of a belated 
Renaissance, Indians, both Hindus and 
Muslims, could profitably draw inspiration 
from that memorable chapter of human 
history. Knowledge of Islam's contribution 
to human cultured and proper appreciation 
of the historical value of that contribution 
would shock the Hindus out of their arrogant 
self-satisfaction, and cure the narrow- 
mindedness of the Muslims of our day by 
bringing them face to face with the true 
spirit of the faith they profess. 



106 



National Publications Society Series 

Editorial Board : 

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, NARENDRA DEV, 
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PROVINCIAL AUTONOMY 
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FEDERAL STRUCTURE 
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Both the volumes have received excellent 
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