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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 5

MUḤAMMAD, BUILDER OF NATIONS

      IT might 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 of Egypt."

      He became the progenitor of the people of Arabia and the twelve Princes which he begot are interpreted as the twelve Imams who followed Muḥammad.

      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


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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


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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).[1]

      T. W. Arnold in The Preaching of Islám[2] writes in the

1. Smith, Elder & Co., London, 3rd ed. 1894.
2. Constable. London. 2nd ed. 1913.


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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:

  1. Patriotism was a part of the Faith.
  2. Only Muslims were full citizens; minorities, such as Christians and Jews, enjoyed freedom and protection, but not the full brotherhood of Islám.
  3. There was one compulsory language for all, the adoption of which was made a basic condition for citizenship in the Muhammadan empire.
  4. There was no class distinction, and an equality of rights among all Muslims was established.
  5. There was unity in ritual and religious tradition.
  6. There was freedom of thought and reconciliation of science and religion.
  7. There was a judicial system with its laws and courts of justice independent of the will of the Government.
  8. True and real membership in the nation was assured to every citizen as in a modern democracy.
  9. It was a theocratic state.

      An original combination of the two contrasted but complementary theories of theocracy and democracy


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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 faith.

      "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"[1] (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.


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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


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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:[1]

"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.


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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 tolerated Greek.

      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 a


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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]

1. Urquhart, The Spirit of the East, vol. i, intro. xxviii; Syed Ameer 'Alí, The Spirit of Islám, p. 277.


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