100 Years Ago… – What Islam offers to the New World in the midst of Christian influence: A glance at the October 1921 issue of “The Moslem World”

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The Review of Religions [English], November 1921

Samuel Marinus Zwemer (1867-1952) was an American missionary and a scholar, who was well-known for his preaching of Christianity in Muslim countries and was thus nicknamed “The Apostle to Islam”. He wrote several books and started a magazine, “The Moslem World”. 

In 1924, SM Zwemer along with his two associates, Dr Murray T Titus (who was then in-charge of the Christian mission in Moradabad district) and Dr David Reed Gordon (who was a missionary doctor in Gurdaspur), came to Qadian and also met Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, the then head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. (Editor, Al Hakam)

The Rev. SM Zwemer leads with his editorial “The Sword or the Cross” and follows Mr Margoliouth’s “Historical Consideration of the Caliphate” with his leading article “The Illiterate Prophet” whose detailed examination we leave to some future number of this review. 

Above are the fi rst pages of the two articles mentioned in the response presented here, which The Review of Religions wrote in 1921

In fact, these are the only two articles that we shall briefly touch upon here. By what stretch of imagination has the reverend gentleman hit upon the association of sword with Islam we are not in a position to judge for nowhere does the Holy Quran lay it down that Islam is to be spread at the point of sword. On the other hand, we have a clear injunction that in the matters of faith, no compulsion of any sort was to be resorted to. لَاۤ اِکۡرَاہَ فِی الدِّیۡنِ ۟ۙ قَدۡ تَّبَیَّنَ الرُّشۡدُ مِنَ الۡغَیِّ i.e., there is no compulsion in religion inasmuch as that right from wrong has clearly been demonstrated. 

Can the reverend gentleman cite a single saying of Jesus wherein he might have prohibited the use of sword in the propagation of truth? Nay, we know it that once he even prepared for a holy war for he issued the injunction that those of his disciples who had no swords should sell their garments and buy one (vide Luke 22:36). Again he says that his ministry was not that of peace but of sword for he lays it down that he did not come to send peace but a sword (vide Matt. 10:34.) In the face of such clear ordinances of Jesus and practical application of the same by the pious Christians throughout the centuries dating from the remote times preceding even the accession of Constantine down to present day, especially during the days of the crusades that were so zealously and fervently preached by the Church of all these ages not excluding our own, is it not really strange to hear a wolf bleating a docile and gentle lamb? Yet bleat he ever so lowly, we are sure to catch him even in his subdued tones for he is no other but the old wolf who under feigned humility and humbleness is really biding his time to pounce upon the fold and take the sheep unawares. 

How insinuating are the words of this lamb of Christ may be judged from the following words of his editorial? Says he, “Western politics and statesmanship have never shown such timidity, such super-dread of offending any religion as in the case of Islam. This too is an ominous sign on the future horizon. Therefore, we do not put our trust in politics.” That means that the Rev. SM Zwemer is not satisfied with the conquests of the cross and he wants a bold, forward and aggressive policy on the part of the great Christian powers against what is left of the Islamic states. No dove could have cooed more softly, yet no more sinister cooing could be heard anywhere. 

We inform him that great though the tribulation be that Islam is passing through, yet we are not out of hope. It has outlived many such calamities and shone out with a brighter light than ever. Has not the messenger of God, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, [peace be upon him], the harbinger of glad tidings given us the gleam of hope that bright days are ahead, if we can only live up to the teachings of Islam? Our trust is not then in the sword, for it is not Islam and if ever the Moslems were permitted to take it up even in self-defence, even that we have to discard now at the bidding of the Prophet of our own day, for was he not enjoined by the Holy Prophet Mohammad, peace be with him, to forego it once for all? Neither do we have any faith in cross, for it is a mere chip of wood that we have to break rather than revere and use as a fuel rather than worship, for we are not to associate aught with God. Our trust then is in Him and Him alone. 

We now come to the leading article of the issue, “The Illiterate Prophet”. Here we have an instance of a misdirected energy on the part of one whom religious bigotry and prejudice has blinded. He does not know what he is really driving at. He thinks that, “The Mohammadans emphasise the illiteracy of the Prophet to bolster up their theory of the Koran as a miracle.” 

We are really at a loss to account for the contradictory statements the reverend gentleman makes in one and the same breath. In the same article, he cites the authority of notable Mohammadans including even the companions of the Prophet, peace be with him, as well as notable writers of the later times who in spite of the fact they do not believe in the utter illiteracy of their Prophet, peace be with him, all very reverently uphold and declare the miracle of the Quran. Yet he thinks that the Moslems only emphasise this doctrine in order to establish the miraculous nature of the Holy Quran. Knowing all the time that in spite of differences of opinion, Muhammadans all down the thirteen centuries that have elapsed since the Quran was first promulgated have scrupulously adhered to the miraculous character of the book, this learned Christian ought to have known better. Does he not say himself that illustrious Moslems have held different opinions? Then how could Moslems base the miraculous character of their Holy Book on such an hypothesis. 

Even if we were to accept all his inferences that Mohammad, peace be with him, must have known reading and writing on account of his frequently coming in contact with the learned people in his boyhood, youth and upwards and admitting the internal evidence that he tries to induce, rather manipulate, what Moslem writers have themselves educed, we are face to face with the fact that there was the man without any regular coaching and as to whose ability to read, write or decipher, there is a difference of opinion even among the authorities and that if he ever read and wrote at all, that was too meagre to produce a masterpiece in literature, in ethics and in the sublimity and purity of thought. 

The miraculous character of the Holy Quran lies in its being a perfect code of law to guide all shades of opinion in all times to come. Its uniqueness consists in the sublimity and perfectness of its spiritual teaching. In a word its matchlessness consists in the fact that it is a living book, that through all ages it promises to establish right relation between the Creator, and His creation, that in every age its perfect follower sees in himself that wonderful transformation that makes him the recipient of divine revelation and the living model and exemplar of the divine law. Such men are the living exemplars of Islam and what the other books only talk about in the stories of the past, they embody in themselves in every age. God speaks to them and reveals to them His will as He did of yore and by their examples and purity of lives, they people establish the right relation between man and God. Even this age could not be without its exemplar, in fact, one of the greatest reformers the world has ever seen, far greater than Jesus of Nazareth whom the missionary tries to extol so much at the expense of far better men than himself. A detailed examination of this article as we have already stated we leave to some future issue of this magazine. 

Before we take this cursory glance off “The Moslem World”, it would not be out of place to say one or two words about the concluding sentences of Dr Margoliouth in his “Caliphate Historically Considered”. He says, “If Western civilisation means anything, it means that no man may be subjected to disabilities because of the creed which he professes or adopts; Islam by its maxims subjects those who do not profess it to disabilities and those who abandon it to outlawry.” We are not concerned with the first part of the statement for it is beyond our province to dabble in politics, yet we know this much that what Western civilisation stands for is due not to Christianity but in spite of it, for does not history tell us that it was the church that always stood in the way of progress and reform and that science and invention were always banned by it and that the abolition of slavery in the beginning of the nineteenth century was as vehemently opposed by it as it is strongly protesting at present against the prohibition of drink? Whatever be the Western civilisation, it is not Christianity. 

As to the second part of his statement, as he has not adduced anything in support of it and which is a mere wild assertion, all that we have to say is that it is a pure invention. If by these disabilities he means the capitation tax and the Dzimmies, then in fairness it must be admitted that the learned doctor is purposely tying to hoodwink his readers. Capitation tax was only levied in lieu of the military service for all Moslems were liable to conscription and forced enlistment in case the safety of the realm required it, but be it remembered that those of the Dzimmies who preferred enlistment to the payment of this tax were free to do that and in that case no capitation tax was levied from them. Does the learned doctor mean then that the defence of the realm should fall on the shoulders of one section of the population while the major section was to go scot-free, yet enjoying all the advantages from the personal sacrifices of the minor section? But the learned doctor forgets the astounding fact that the capitation tax was nothing as compared with the legal alms or the Dzkat [Zakat] that every Moslem had to pay to the treasury in addition to his personal sacrifices. Nay, in certain exigencies the Moslems had to forego all that they had so that the Dzimmies their special objects of protection should not suffer. 

But we know that the old and deep-seated prejudice against Islam will not allow these gentry to look facts squarely in the face. They shut their eyes to these facts and they shout and cry hoarse over the so-called disabilities imposed by Islam. We wonder whether Western civilisation could over establish that fraternity and equality which Islam did among its followers. Western Europe and Western Civilisation has still to show that colour and accident of birth are no obstacles in the way of a man’s advancement, whether it be temporal or spiritual, religious or secular. Europe has still to learn that all men are equal not only in the sight of God but in the sight of men too. 

Colour, race, and creed were never a stemming block even in the temporally less civilised Moslem States. Non-Moslems could rise and reach the highest offices in state. He talks of Islamic disabilities which exist only in his heat oppressed brain, but let him clear his own conscience of what Christianity and Europe has to say in regard to the disabilities of race, colour, creed and sex that are a blot on the fair name of Western polity. Let him first take off the beam in his own eye before he points the mote in another’s.

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original in The Review of Religions [English], November 1921)

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