MUḤAMMAD, BUILDER OF NATIONS
seem natural to expect that the Dispensation of the Herald of the Kingdom would
be followed in sequence by that of the King whose Herald He was. But this was
not to be. It had been already so announced in the Book of Genesis.
God foretold to Abraham that the Prophetic succession was
to run through Him and be fulfilled not only in Isaac but in Ishmael. In Genesis xii 1-2 it is written "Now
the Lord had said unto Abram, . . . I will make of thee a great nation, and I
will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:"
And again in Genesis xvii 20
"And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold I have blessed him, . . .
and will multiple him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will
make him a great nation." The narrative continues (Gen. xxi 20-21) "God was with the lad; and he grew, . . . and
he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and . . . took him a wife out of the land
He became the progenitor of the people of Arabia and the
twelve Princes which he begot are interpreted as the twelve Imams who followed
Moses confirmed this promise when He Prophesied (Deut. xviii 15) to the Israelites that
"the Lord thy God will raise up unto
thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me."
This refers not only to the
coming of Jesus Christ, as is usually thought, but more especially to
Muḥammad. Moses would have used the word "seed" if He had
meant to refer to an Israelite, whereas the word "brethren" indicates
that He alludes to Isaac's brother Ishmael. He connects Mount Paran explicitly
with the Prophetic line when, in His final blessing before His death, He
describes the Prophets who will follow Him: "The Lord came from Sinai (meaning Himself), and rose up from Seir . . . (meaning Jesus Christ); he shined forth from mount Paran
(meaning Muḥammad), and he came
with ten thousands of saints (meaning Bahá'u'lláh)." (Deut. xxxiii 2.)
On the other hand Muḥammad mentions in the Qur'án
the prophecies of His coming made in the Bible (Sura 26 verses 192-199) and
states that Abraham prayed for His coming (Sura 2 verses 118-144) and that He
was foretold by Moses and described in the Law and the Evangel.
Mankind had now had the experience of organizing the
family, the tribe and the city state. Before humanity could proceed to the task
of organizing the far superior government of the Commonwealth of Bahá'u'lláh a
preliminary lesson in the art of building a nation had to be given. This
constituted, as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith shows on pages 124-5 of The Promised Day is Come, the special
mission of the Arabian Prophet whose advent Moses had foretold. "Of old it hath been revealed: 'Love of one's
country is an element of the Faith of God"' said Bahá'u'lláh with
reference to this appointed task.
The conditions of Muhammad's life were not such as
to make this mission easy. Born in Mecca, the capital city of Arabia,
about 570, He found Himself in the midst of a
people consisting of a hundred warlike tribes, inheriting a tradition of
polytheism, who had resisted all efforts at evangelization and who regarded
battle as the only occupation fit for men. Such was the race whom Muḥammad
was to convert to monotheism and to unify into an unbreakable band of brothers,
their unity being based on their religious faith.
Muḥammad was already about forty years old when He
began to teach ethical principles similar to those of the Old Testament and to
proclaim the succession of the Prophets, including His own succession to Jesus
Christ, Whose divinity and Whose Gospel he called His believers to accept. But
after a few years He found Himself forced by severe and continuous persecution
to leave His native town for Medina where He at once began the execution of
the real mission of His life, the
building of a spiritual nation.
Western scholars seem to be at one in regarding
nationalism as Muḥammad's real and creative contribution to human
development. They all have recognized the extraordinary ability displayed by
Him in organizing and consolidating the wild tribes of Arabia. Sir William Muir
for instance wrote that ". . . he, with consummate skill, devised a
machinery, by the adaptive energy of which he gradually shaped the broken and
disconnected masses of the Arab race into an harmonious whole, a body politic
endowed with life and vigor . . . by unparalleled art and a rare supremacy of mind,
he persuaded the whole of Arabia, Pagan, Jew, and Christian, to follow his
steps with docile submission." (The Life of Mahomet p. lxxxvi).
T. W. Arnold in The Preaching of Islám writes in the
1. Smith, Elder & Co.,
London, 3rd ed. 1894.
2. Constable. London. 2nd ed. 1913.
same vein. "The Arab tribes were thus impelled to give in their submission
to the Prophet, not merely as the head of the strongest military force in
Arabia, but as the exponent of a theory of social life that was making all
others weak and ineffective. Muḥammad had succeeded in introducing into
the anarchical society of his time a sentiment of national unity, a
consciousness of rights and duties towards one another such as the Arabs had
not felt before” (pp. 40-41).
The outstanding features which distinguish
Muḥammad's system may be summarized under nine points:
- Patriotism was a part of
- Only Muslims were full
citizens; minorities, such as Christians and Jews, enjoyed freedom and
protection, but not the full brotherhood of Islám.
- There was one compulsory
language for all, the adoption of which was made a basic condition for
citizenship in the Muhammadan empire.
- There was no class
distinction, and an equality of rights among all Muslims was established.
- There was unity in ritual
and religious tradition.
- There was freedom of
thought and reconciliation of science and religion.
- There was a judicial system
with its laws and courts of justice independent of the will of the
- True and real membership in
the nation was assured to every citizen as in a modern democracy.
- It was a theocratic state.
original combination of the two contrasted but complementary theories of
theocracy and democracy
seems to be the strong base of Muhammad's system and Professor de
Santillana in his essay in The Legacy of Islám explains clearly how this
combination was effected. He shows that Muhammad swept away the former
limited loyalties of tribe and family. A believer who adopted Islám must
forget and forego his own kith and kin unless they were his companions in the
Faith. All connections depended on religion alone. The community of Islám was
different from any other. It was the chosen of God to whom was entrusted the
furtherance of good and the repression of evil. It was the sole witness for God
among the nations, the sole seat of justice and faith in the world. Instead of
the impersonal life of the tribe there emerged the personal life of the
individual which took its claims and its duties not from membership of the
community but from adherence to the Faith. Patriotism was thus the element of
"Islám is the direct government of Alláh, the rule of
God ... upon his people.... Alláh is the name of the supreme power, acting in the
common interest... between Alláh and the believer there is no mediator: Islám
has no church, no priests, no sacraments . . . Man is alone in the presence of
God, in life and in death . . . to Whom is present every action, every word . .
.; alone he will answer for his deeds, and alone will he face the judgment of
God . . . The most rigid protestantism is almost a sacerdotal religion,
compared with this personal monotheism, unbending, and intolerant of any
interference between man and his Creator" (pp. 286-287).
Quoting the Islámic principle that the object of
1. Law and Society; The
Legacy of Islám, ed. Sir Thomas Arnold and A. Guillaume. O.U.P. 1931.
Government is to lead men to prosperity in this-world and to salvation in the next,"
the Professor writes that "'the
white man is not above the black nor the black above the yellow; all men are
equal before their Maker', said the Prophet. Equal before God, members of a
great family in which there is neither noble nor villein, but only believers,
Muslims are equal before the civil law; and this equality was proclaimed at a
time when it was practically unknown throughout Christian society. This law,
equal for all rests essentially on good
faith. Muslims must keep their pledges . . . This conception of good faith
is essentially an ethical one, and is elevated to an abstract and universal
notion. It strikes us as being more akin to our mind than the feudal and
Germanic conception of good faith springing from personal fealty.” (p. 304).
It was evidently the intention of Muḥammad to make
Islám not only a model organization but a model in its international relations.
The Prophet insisted that the Muslim state was to observe its treaties as
sacred. "Ye who believe" He
writes in the Qur'án, "be not false
in your engagements, with your own knowledge . . . . Or if thou fear treachery
from any people, throw back their treaty to them as thou fairly mayest, for God
loveth not the treacherous . . . . And if they lean to peace, lean thou also to it." (Sura 8
verses 27, 60, 63). He warns his followers that if they make a treaty with
infidels and the infidels remain true to it they too must keep their
engagements "with them through the
whole time of their treaty; for God loveth those who fear Him. . . . But if
after alliance made, they break their oaths and revile your religion, then do
battle with the ring-leaders of infidelity — for no oaths are binding
with them — that they may desist." (Sura 9 verses 4 and 12).
Muḥammad Himself strictly
observed the principles of justice in His public as in His private dealings.
The wars which He waged were not like those of earthly conquerors undertaken
for spoliation or aggrandizement, but were called for by the lawless conditions
of the time. They were intended to protect the Faith and its followers and were
not pursued further than was necessary for this protective purpose.
The originality of such practical regulations and the need
for introducing and enforcing them in the anarchical international life of
those days may be judged from the following excerpt from The Spirit of
Islám, page 209:
"The Romans . . . could never realise the duties of international morality
or of humanity. They waged war for the sole purpose of subjugating the
surrounding nations. . . . The sacredness of treaties was unknown. . . . The
liberty of other nations was never of the slightest importance in their
estimation. The introduction of Christianity made little or no change in the
views entertained by its professors concerning international obligations. War
was as inhuman and as exterminating as before . . . Christianity did not profess to deal with international
morality, and so left its followers groping in the dark."
According to a tradition which is probably true and which
in the case of the Persian king is endorsed by Bahá'u'lláh Himself, Muḥammad
sent from Medina letters of friendship, proclaiming His Prophethood, to six
neighboring rulers: to the Emperor of Byzantium, the Emperor of Persia, the
King of Abyssinia, the Governor of Egypt, the King of Hira, the Duke of Yemen
in Central Arabia — and also to the Emperor of China (in 628 A.D.) which
was then under the T’ang dynasty and
1. Syed Ameer 'Alí, The
Spirit of Islám, Christophers, London, Rev. 1922.
entering a golden age. Thus did He seek kindly relationships between Himself
and the rulers of other peoples and took a bold initiative in setting
internationalism on a sound basis of law and justice.
"Let there be
in you a nation summoning unto the good" is a divine order in the
Qur'án. And in spite of dissensions and civil wars, some length of time elapsed
before the Muslim conscience countenanced any such division of nationalities as
we have seen to be characteristic of the Islám of our time; and the spread of
one language over the whole of the conquered territory was carried with far
greater success and determination than the Romans ever achieved or displayed.
For at one time the Arabic language dominated the whole Islámic area from Spain
and North Africa to Central Asia; it tolerated no rival language as Latin
Syed Ameer 'Alí sums up the contribution of Islám to
political science in the following remarkable comment:
“Islám gave to the people a code which, however archaic in its simplicity, was
capable of the greatest development in accordance with the progress of material
civilization. It conferred on the State a flexible constitution, based on a
just appreciation of human rights and human duty. It limited taxation, it made
men equal in the eye of the law, it consecrated the principles of self-government.
It established a control over the sovereign power by rendering the executive
authority subordinate to the law — a law based upon religious sanction
and moral obligations. 'The excellence and effectiveness of each of these
principles’, says Urquhart, ‘(each capable of immortalizing its founder), gave
value to the rest; and all combined, endowed the system which they formed with
force and energy exceeding those of any other political system. Within the
lifetime of a man, though in the hands of a population wild, ignorant, and
insignificant, it spread over a greater extent than the dominions of Rome.
While it retained its primitive character, it was irresistible.'"
1. Urquhart, The Spirit of
the East, vol. i, intro. xxviii; Syed Ameer 'Alí, The Spirit of Islám, p. 277.