By Annie Besant
Adyar Pamphlets No. 162
as published in June, 1932
by The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai [Madras], 600 020, India
Lecture 1 is printed here for the first time from a type-written MS., unrevised by the author.
Lecture 2 was delivered at Junagadh on March 23, 1903
and was first printed in Junagadh at the expense of the State in 1903.
I PROPOSE to discuss today the teachings of the great faith founded in Arabia, given by the mouth of the Prophet, and now followed by many, many millions of people — to discuss them in their bearing on life, bearing on the evolution of man, and bearing on the welfare of states.
Perhaps no religion is more misunderstood than Islam, by those who do not follow it. In Europe, for instance, we find a deeply-rooted prejudice against Islam, which is based on ignorance of that which is disliked. It is the duty of the followers of Islam to spread through the civilised world, a knowledge of what Islam means — its spirit and message. They should spread a knowledge of the teachings of the great Prophet, and not allow the more ignorant to narrow down the limits of his teachings. Islam is misunderstood. because of ignorance; and I propose to preface my address with the nature of the prejudices requiring to be met:
1). The first objection against Islam is, that it was spread by the sword, is fanatical, leads to persecution and religious wars and causes blood-shed. Such accusations come from the Christians, who have been notorious for their persecutions. The Inquisition, the Crusades and various forms of persecution employed by the Christians deprive them of the right to attack another faith.
There are two ways in which this accusation may be met:
(a) When the religion was proclaimed, it was spread, in a population universally hostile, step by step, by the power of its great Teacher. For three years the religion only attracted the members of his family, and he was persecuted by the rest. The earlier Muslims took up the sword in self-defence to protect themselves against persecution. History tells us of the means adopted by the pagan Arabs to persecute the earlier Muslims, which took the form of tortures horrible, unbearable almost by human flesh and blood. They tore his followers in pieces; they thrust them through with stakes; they put them on the burning sand with faces up- turned to the Arabian sun; and with heavy rocks upon their chests. “Would you not rather that Muhammad were in your place, and you at home?" was the question put to a poor wretch suffering all these agonies. His chivalrous answer was: “As God is my witness, I would not be at home with wife and children and substance, if Muhammad were for that to be pricked by a single thorn". A man who thus wins the hearts of his disciples, must have some great qualities at least. Only great men can have such disciples.
Because of the persecution of his enemies, the Prophet had to flee with his disciples to Medina where he was received as a refugee. He had armies of assailants and enemies upon enemies. It was only then that he appealed to the God of war. Notice how over and over again, when he bids the sword to be taken up, it is for self-defence only. Al Quran distinctly says in many places: “Take up the sword against the unbelievers when they have attacked and persecuted you.
(b) But it may be urged that there are many other passages in Al Quran where this proviso does not occur, where it is merely said: “Fight and destroy the unbelievers". It is an established canon of interpretation that when once a command is given with a proviso, and it is again repeated in another place, but, without the proviso, the proviso is applicable at the latter place also. Even if we disregard the canon, we shall find, looking to the circumstances under which such commands were given, that they were given at a time when the Muslims were engaged in some holy war against odds, and it was necessary to fire their spirits. An exactly similar thing would the general of an army do, when leading his men to battle.
2). Let us appeal to the Prophet's teaching. It is said that he taught bigotry, narrowness and exclusiveness. Muhammad has said: “There is no faith but Islam, no religion but Islam, and those who believe it, will escape from Hell". But what does Islam mean, and how does he use it ? Islam means bowing to, surrendering, and religiously surrendering to the will of God. That is the one religion, says the Prophet, and truly it is so; perfect submission to the divine will. But did it begin with the Prophet of Arabia ? No, he said the very opposite.
"Verily the true religion in the sight of God is Islam; and they who had received the Scriptures dissented not therefrom, until after the knowledge of God's unity had come unto them, out of envy among themselves". [ Al Quran, Chapter 3]
Islam believes in many Prophets, and AI Quran is nothing but a confirmation of the old Scriptures. Unbelievers are those who are wicked, profligate, hypocrites and deceivers. Doing right, being charitable and worshipping God are the signs of believers.
3. Note the liberality and inclusiveness of Islam. It is declared in Europe that Islam sanctions polygamy, and leads to the degradation of woman. When Muhammad began his teaching, Arabia was plunged in the grossest licentiousness and sensual degradation; no union between the sexes was recognised; profligacy was found on every side; and so the Prophet began by narrowing down the limits within which there might be connection; so he limited the number of wives to four, but made a provision which would gradually lead to a close union; for he declared: "Take a second wife only if she could be loved and cherished as the first".
It is so very easy to try to pick holes in another man's faith, but what Westerner shall dare to speak against the limited polygamy of the East, so long as there is prostitution in the West ? There is no monogamy as yet in the world save here and there among the purer-living men. It is not monogamy when there is one legal wife, and mistresses out of sight. In thus speaking, I do not speak to attack, but to strive that men may give justice to each other.
I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches monogamy. In AI Quran the law about woman is juster and more liberal. It is only twenty years that Christian England has recognised the right of women to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times.
Says AI Quran: "Be ye kind to your wives; be just to them; if there is a quarrel, seek a reconciliation before divorce". The period of divorce is intentionally prolonged so that the parties may come to a better understanding in the interval. Muhammadan law in its relation to women, is a pattern to European law. Look back to the history of Islam, and you will find that women have often taken leading places — on the throne, in the battle-field, in politics, in literature, poetry, etc.It is a slander to say that Islam preaches that "women have no souls". AI Quran does not authorise this: on the contrary it expressly lays down:
"Whoso doeth evil shall be rewarded for it, and shall not find any patron, or helper beside God; but whoso doeth good works, whether he be male or female, and is a true believer, they shall be admitted into Paradise, and shall not, in the least, be unjustly dealt with". [AI Quran, Chapter 4]
"Verily, the Muslims of either sex, and the true believers of either sex, and the devout men and devout women, and the men of veracity and the women of veracity, and the patient men and the patient women and the humble men and the humble women, and the alms-givers of either sex, and the men who fast and the women who fast, and the chaste men and the chaste women, and those of either sex who remember God frequently; for them hath God prepared forgiveness and a great reward". [ AI Quran, Chapter 33 ]
"I will not suffer the work of him among you who worketh to be lost, whether he be male or female; the one of you is from the other". [ AI Quran, Chapter 3]
When the wives of the Prophet claimed more than other women, he said to them: "If any one of you will have worldly goods, garments and ornaments, let her leave the Prophet and go into the world. But as for the rest, they shall have a double reward for their righteousness, and their sins shall be doubly punished".
Moreover, great respect to women was inculcated by the Prophet
. “O men I fear your Lord, who hath created you out of one man, and out of him created his wife, and from them two hath multiplied many men and women; and fear God by whom ye beseech one another, and respect women who have borne you, for God is watching over you".[ Al Quran, Chapter 4 ]
“Men's souls are naturally inclined to covetousness; but if ye be kind to women and fear to wrong them, God is well acquainted with what ye do". [AI Quran, Chapter 4 ]
4). The fourth point of attack from Christendom is on the Prophet's person. This is extraordinary, as it can be clearly proved from history that the Prophet was really a great man. Ignorance and rank prejudice have contrived to throw a cloud over his greatness. The introduction to Sale's Quran is a long libel and slander. The reason of this prejudice against Islam is, that when the Saracens and the Moors conquered Europe, and brought knowledge and light into it, religious hatred against the conquerors was excited in the minds of the conquered, and this led to prejudices against them, and circulation of all sorts of false stories against their religion. The Muslims then conquered a great part of Europe, and also held Jerusalem. One duty upon Muslims now is to show up the Prophet in all the splendour of his character.
Taken as a young man travelling through Syria, Arabia, etc., he saw round him scenes of constant blood-shed, rioting, profligacy and a frightful state of society — people being merged in the rankest ignorance for want of guidance. Human sacrifices prevailed. It was by the greatest favour of God, and merely as a miracle that the Prophet's own father escaped being sacrificed in the temple of the people. His heart was stirred in him on seeing such things about him. He, married the noble Khadija, the immortal Khadija, who, though much his senior in years, remained the sole empress of his heart, till he was fifty years old. It is true, that after her death, he married other younger wives, but all these marriages were for affording protection against unbelievers or for alliances among the believers. They were political marriages and not profligate or licentious.
Wander through Arabia, and, you will find that he is known as Al Amin — the Trustworthy. This is the noblest name that can be given to a man, and implies that he was truth-telling, honourable, just and upright.
He was loved by children who clung round his knees, climbed up into his arms, and, played with him. A man who is loved by children, cannot be a bad man.
Then came the crisis of his life. He used to go to a mountain-cave, and pass the time there in fasting and prayer. He lived there as a recluse, and, remained silent for days and days together, fasting and praying. The condition of the nation and the sufferings of his people impressed his heart. He prayed aloud to God for help; he prayed and fasted and fell into agonies. No wonder then that a Heavenly messenger — the Archangel — came down in answer to the passionate pleading of the man and gave the message of the Lord: "Cry aloud".
5. It has been said that the Prophet was ambitious, and sought power and fame, and was influenced by lower motives. This accusation is hurled at him by those who cannot see his self-sacrifice, as their eyes are blinded by selfishness. When the heavenly messenger asked him to cry aloud, he said: "Who am I that I should cry! What am I to cry!" "Cry", the Angel says; and then he teaches him of the building of the worlds, and the making of man, teaches him of the unity of God and of the mystery of the Angels, teaches him of the work that lies before him. He is the most solitary of men, with a nation around him, he is to go forth and cry, and cry in the name of his Lord.
Forth he goes home, and Khadija is there. "What shall I do!" he says to her. "Who am I ! What am I !" Her golden answer was: "Thou art true and faithful, thy word is never broken, men know thy character; God does not deceive the faithful; follow the voice then; obey the call". He was thus reassured, and, never again did a doubt enter his mind about his Heavenly mission. He said to his uncle Abu Talib:
“Though the sun were on my right, and the moon on my left, and both against me, still in the name of the Lord, shall I go forward !"
A character so lofty should be better understood, and some of his followers should rise to purify his memory from unfair attacks. He was as great in prosperity as in adversity. At the first battle fought by the Prophet, his followers said:“ We are too few to go against our enemies".
The Prophet replied: “God is with us, and that is enough”
So they marched against overwhelming odds and conquered. It was the Arab custom to slay the defeated foe. When his followers asked the Prophet what was to be done with the prisoners taken in battle, he replied: “Nay, show mercy to the fallen, and shed no blood. Treat these men as brothers". The result of this teaching was that the conquerors who had with them dates and bread (the latter being considered a dainty in Arabia) contented themselves only with the dates and divided the bread among the conquered foe. What a noble example of mercy to a fallen foe ? This is the first time in history that conquerors had been feeding the conquered.
He was just but merciful; stern but kind. He put down riots with a stern hand, and punished those who betrayed him, with death. Like a wise governor, he was kind enough to forgive, but strong enough to punish, when sternness was required. Attempts were made at his life a number of times, but he never took revenge. He was always ready to forgive personal injuries.
Look at the candour of the man. When his follower said that he was infallible, he calmly and frankly replied: “I am such a man like yourself". Only one instance of his frank self-condemnation whenever a mistake was committed by him, will suffice. One day as he was talking to a rich man whom he desired to win to his cause — for to win the rich and powerful man meant life for those who followed him — a blind man came along and cried aloud: “O Prophet of God, teach me the way of salvation"; but he did not listen. He was talking to the high-born and the well-to-do, and the blind beggar, why should he interrupt! And the blind beggar, knowing not that he was engaged, cried aloud again: “O Prophet of God, show me the way". The Prophet frowned and turned aside. The next day there came a message that for ever remains written in AI Quran, “wherein he put it that all might remember". The Prophet frowned and turned aside because the blind man came to him:
“And how dost thou know whether he shall peradventure be cleansed from his sins, or whether he shall be admonished and the admonition will profit him ? The man who is wealthy thou receivest respectfully; whereas, it is not to be charged on thee, that he is not cleansed; but him who cometh unto thee earnestly seeking his salvation, and who feareth God, dost thou reject. By no means shouldst thou act thus". [ Al Quran, Chapter 80]
Ever after, when the Prophet saw the blind man he treated him with great respect, saying: “This man is welcome, on whose account my Lord hath reprimanded me"; and he made him governor of Medina twice.
He preached the doctrine of unity fully. “Say God is one God. He begetteth not, neither is He begotten; and there is not anyone like unto Him". [ Ibid., Chapter 112] People were then merged in the basest idolatry and unity was preached over and over again to bring them back from the idolatry.
The ideas of morality taught by the great Teacher were quite noble.
“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces in prayer towards the East and the West; but righteousness is of him who believeth in God, and the last day and the Angels and the Scriptures and the Prophets; who giveth money for God's sake unto his kindred, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the stranger, and those who ask, and for redemption of captives; who is constant at prayer, and giveth alms; and of those who perform their covenant when they have covenanted, and who behave themselves patiently in adversity, and hardships, and in times of violence] these are they who are true, and these are they who fear God." [Al Quran, Chapter 2 ] "Wrong not your brother, defend the weak from the injury. All things shall perish; God alone will survive". This simple, clear, definite declaration relating all actions to the source is the fabric of a simple and noble morality.
Charity is more fully enjoined in AI Quran than in any of the other Scriptures:
"Be not niggardly, but give in charity for the religion; for he who is niggardly, is niggardly to his own soul. God wants nothing; but thy own soul wants. God is high above all needs, but you profit".
"Charity enlarges the mind and expands the sympathies." And how beautiful is the following from a sermon on charity preached by the Prophet! "
Every good act is charity. Your smiling in your brother's face is charity. An exhortation addressed to your fellow-men to do virtuous deeds is equal to alms-giving. Putting a wanderer in the right path is charity; assisting the blind is charity; removing stones and thorns and other obstructions from the road is charity; giving water to the thirsty is charity".
[The Spirit of Islam, by Syed Ameer Ali, M.A.. C.I.E. p.135]
In Islam the duty of alms-giving is a definite duty. One-fifth of the spoils taken in battle should be given to God, to the Prophet and his kindred and to strangers and orphans. Every Muslim is enjoined to give a definite portion of his property] and earning in charity, and the result is that the idea of brotherhood is fully inculcated. People understand that the poor and the miserable have great claims on the wealthy. The idea of charity also serves to strengthen the bonds of religion.
Islam warned against keeping the letter and neglecting the spirit.
“It is not righteousness merely to pray, but it is righteousness to be charitable, to be generous and religious. Mere prayers are not sufficient”.
This is the refrain of Islam's moral commands.
Muhammadan Philosophy. It is as great as it is noble, as spiritual as that of any other religion in the world. Now here in modern Islam there is much to miss; but what Islam was in the days of the might of its thought, no words can be too strong to express. “Acquire knowledge", the Prophet says in one of his sermons, “because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety; who speaks of it praises the Lord; who seeks it adores God; who dispenses instruction in it, bestows alms; and who imparts it to its fitting objects, performs an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not; it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert; our society in solitude, our companion when bereft of friends; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is our ornament in the company of friends; it serves as an] armour against our enemies. With knowledge, the servant of God rises to the height of goodness and to a noble position, associates with sovereigns in this world, and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next". [The Spirit of Islam, pp. 431, 532 ]
Again: "The ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the martyr". [ lbid., p. 537]
The result of this preaching was an outburst of learning which led to the foundation of a great philosophy and of a great University. Muhammadan philosophers flourished in large numbers in Spain in the 8th, 9th and l0th centuries. Their philosophy is identical with Advaita Vedanta. Their works are in Arabic or in Monkish Latin, and are not known. There can be no nobler work for Muhammadan States than the discovery and translation of such works and the consequent spread and revival of Muslim philosophy.
The time at my disposal being over, I have to leave the consideration of the mystic side of Islam to another time. [Vide Appendix below, for the lecturer's views on this subject]
Hindus and Muhammadans should make a common cause and live in harmony if they wish to see India prosper.
What Hindu will object to the following prayer with which I close this lecture:
"Praise be to God the Lord of the Universe — the most merciful and compassionate — Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship and from Thee do we seek assistance. Guide us in the right path — the path of those Thou hast blessed, and not the way of those that have offended Thee or are led astray." [ Al Quran, Opening Chapter ]
(From a former lecture delivered at Madras]
I have said that part of a religion is mysticism, and Islam must have a mystic side. Ali was the beginner, and the followers of Ali the transmitters. In the year following the flight from Mecca, forty-five poor men bound themselves together to follow God and His Prophet, to live as a community and to observe ascetic practices. It is the seed of Sufism, the mystic side of Islam. They teach that “all is from God". They teach there is nought save God, and that all the Universe is but a mirror of Him. They teach that there is one perfect beauty and that all that is beautiful is but a ray from Him. They teach there is only one love, the love of God, and all other loves are only loves as they form part of that. They teach that He alone is True Being and that all else is non-being, and that man who is Himself can by illumination rise from non-being to Being and return whence he came. Ah ! See how they have sung of His love, the devotion which breathes in the poetry of Persia:
"Thou art absolute Being; all else is but a phantasm,
For in Thy Universe all beings are one.
Thy world-captivating Beauty, in order to display its perfections,
Appears in thousands of mirrors, but it is one.
Although thy Beauty accompanies all the beautiful,
In truth the unique and incomparable Heart- enslaver is one“ [ Jami ]
"Not-Being is the mirror of absolute Being,
Whence is apparent the reflection of God's splendour.
When not-Being became opposed to Being,
A reflection thereof was at once produced.
That Unity was manifested through this Plurality;
One, when you enumerate it, becomes many.
Numeration though it has one for its basis,
Hath, notwithstanding, never an end.
Since Not-Being was in its essence clear,
Through it the hidden Treasure became manifest.
Repeat the tradition ' I was a hidden Treasure’, That thou mayest plainly behold the hidden mystery.
Not-Being is the mirror, the Universe is the reflection, and man
Is the personality concealed in it like the eye in the reflection.
Thou art the eye of the reflection, while He (God) is the light of the eye;
By means of that eye the Eye of God beholds itself.
The world is man, and man is the world.
No clearer explanation than this is possible.
When thou lookest well to the root of the matter.
He is both the Seer and the Eye and the Vision.” [Gulshan-e-Raz]
Ant then listen how in the 13th century Sufism taught the truth of evolution which Darwin taught Christendom in the 19th:
“I died from the mineral, and became a plant.
I died from the plant, and reappeared in an animal.
I died from the animal, and became a man.
Wherefore then should I fear? When did I grow less by dying?
Next time I shall die from the man,
That I may grow the wings of the angel.
From the angel, too, must I seek advance; 'all things shall perish save His Face'.[Al Quran, Chapter 28]
Once more shall I wing my way above the angels;
I shall become that which entereth not the imagination.
Then let me become naught, naught for the harpstring
Cryeth unto me: ‘Verily unto Him shall we return' " [ The Mesnavi of Jalalud-din-Rumi]
Sufism, according to the Awarif -ul-maarif teaches how the path is to be trodden. This is divided into three stages; Shariat, the Law; Tarikat, the Way; Hakikat, the Truth. These are thus illustrated:
A man asked a Shaikh — spiritual teacher — what were the three stages. He answered: “Go and strike each of the three men you see sitting there". He went and struck the first; the man leapt to his feet and returned the blow. He struck the second; the man flushed up, made a motion to rise, clenched his fists, but restrained himself. He struck the third; the man took no notice. “The first", said the Shaikh, “is in the Law; the second in the Way; the third in the Truth". The Prophet Muhammad is, of course, recognised as the supreme authority, but to tread the Path, a Shaikh is necessary, and the Mureed, the disciple, must show him the most absolute devotion and submission; he must obey him in everything without reserve or hesitation. “If thou art bidden to drench the prayer-carpet in wine, do it, for [Page 40] the Shaikh knows all that thou knowest, and more." Prolonged meditation is enjoined, and goes up the various stages to Wajd — Samadhi — ecstasy. Rabia, a woman mentioned by Ibn Khallikan (A.D. 1211-1282) would go to the house-top at night and say: "O God! hushed is the day's noise; with his beloved is the lover. But I have Thee for my lover, and alone with Thee I joy". Only God contents the Sufi, the dervishes say: "Neither fear we hell, nor desire we heaven". Asceticism of the most severe kind is enjoined, fasts lasting many days and other austerities. But they are the most liberal of men: "The ways unto God are as the number of the breaths of the sons of men".
[Note: emphasis added--rkn]