By Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi رحمہ اللہ
Sent by Muskan Fatima
“We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples.” (Qur’an 21:107)
The world was passing through a state of hysterics at the close of the sixth century of the Christian era. The entire human race had, it seems, taken a pledge to commit suicide. God has portrayed, in the Qur’an, the condition then prevalent in the world so graphically that no artist can draw such a true to life picture of that situation.
“And remember Allah’s favor unto; how ye were enemies and He made friendship between your hearts so that ye became as brothers by His grace; and (how) ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, and He did save you from it.” (Qur’an 3:103)
If our historians and literatures have not been able to preserve the heart-rending account of the human pagan past, they need not be blamed for it because limitations of human language and forms of expression would not have allowed them to capture in words the dreadful situation of the world. The shape of things was so horrible, so critical, that not the best word painter could have succeeded in its faithful depiction. How could any historian have drawn a picture of that horrible situation? Did the Age of Ignorance merely mean moral corruption of the Arabs and of a few other nations? Did it merely pose the problem of idolatry, depravity and decadence or else self-indulgence, inequity and exploitation of the poor, or criminal behavior of the then stronger nations? Was it simply the question of the burial of innocent newborn daughters by their heartless fathers? It was all this and much more. Only those can understand it who had themselves lived in that horrible age.
It was thus not a problem confronting any single nation or country but the destiny of the whole human race was at stake. If any artist capable of converting a vision into eternity were to paint the portrait of a good-looking young man in fine fettle, a soul shining through its crystal covering, and could somehow show him to be the vicegerent of God on earth who was bent upon taking a leap into a lake of fire and brimstone, then he would perhaps succeed in portraying the situation thus depicted in the Qur'an: "(How) ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, He did save you from it." Rasulullah صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم has also illustrated this critical situation through a simile. He says, "The mission and guidance I have been vouchsafed to deliver to this world is like this: A man made a bonfire and when it illuminated the surroundings, insects began to jump into it. You also want to take a leap into the fire in a like manner but I am holding you by your waists to save you from falling into the eternal fire."1
The whole problem was how to lead the caravan of humanity to its safe destination. All the social and developmental endeavors, educational and literally efforts were possible only after man had been brought back to a normal, sensible frame of mind. One of the greatest good the prophets have done to humanity consists of saving it from the unknown, imminent dangers threatening to destroy it from the time to time. No literature or philosophy, reformatory or constructive effort, not even the survival of man on this planet could have been possible without the merciful endeavors of the prophets of God. But so ungrateful is man that he has announced with the flourish of trumpets, time and again, that the Prophets of God had had their time, and that the world no longer needed them. Its seers and guides have repeatedly declared that the prophets had nothing new to offer, no benefits to confer to humanity. Man has, in this way, really deposed over and over again against his own right to exist in this world!
When any civilization becomes over-sophisticated, it closes its eyes to the ethical precepts. Man forgets everything save the satisfaction of his desires and replaces his loving, merciful heart by a selfish and ferocious disposition. His covetous greed takes the shape of an aching void, which can never be filled in. This is the time when man becomes mad after the world and all that it stands for and, then, the Providence moves to chasten him and to give him his deserts. The poet of the East has given expression to the same truth in one of his verses:
Fever of lunacy then overtakes the kings,
Ferule of God are all, Timor and Chinghiz.
One can replace the words 'king' and 'kingship' by civilization, for the insanity of civilization is nowadays much more dangerous and wider in scope than the madness of the kings of old. A single lunatic can make a hell of the life of all the people around him, one can very well imagine that would happen if all the people were to lose their heads.
During the era we speak of as the age of Ignorance, the entire human race had become so depraved, so cruel-hearted that it took it pleasure in the suffering of man. This is not poetic imagery but is supported by hard facts of history. Man had turned into a demon that was most enthusiastic to witness the death and suffering of his own species. He prized the spectacle of the pangs of death suffered by human beings more than the pleasure he derived from merry-making, eating and drinking.
Gladiatorial sports involving combats between men and wild beasts under the Romans displayed more vividly than any other crime against humanity, the bottomless chasm to which human nature could sink. But this was not a depravity that had captured the imagination of a few guilty consciences. Writing about the immense popularity of these performances, Lecky says in his History of European Morals that "the magnificent circus, the gorgeous dresses of the assembled Court, the contagion of a passionate enthusiasm thrilling almost visibly through the mighty throng, the breathless silence of expectation, the wide cheers bursting simultaneously from eight thousand tongues, and echoing to the farthest outskirts of the city, the rapid alteration of the fray, the deeds of splendid courage that were manifested were all fitted to entrance the imagination." The interest and enthusiasm that attended these games of inconceivable atrocity was so intense that special laws were found necessary, and, sometimes proved even sufficient, to check them.
Thus, the beast in man had taken hold of him during the age of Ignorance. He had, by his deeds, furnished the proof that he had forfeited the right to live in this world, or, rather he had himself lost the very desire to remain in this world anymore. Yet, his Lord and Master, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful had decided otherwise. He wanted to save the world and the progeny of Adam from death and destruction through a Messenger who was told that:
"And (O Muhammad) we sent thee not save as a mercy for the people."
It is plain as day that the entire duration of the world's existence since the advent of Rasulullah صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم stems from his merciful deeds. First of all he removed the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of humanity by giving it a new ideal to live for and a new zest and confidence to work for it. A new age of culture and civilization, arts and learning, material and spiritual progress—a completely new world—came into existence through his efforts.
The first and foremost service that he rendered to humanity consisted of the faith in the Oneness of God. No other creed more revolutionary, more life-giving and more advantageous could have been vouchsafed to humanity. Man had been proud and presumptuous, boastful of his creations like philosophy and poetry and the art of government; he took pride in enslaving other countries and nations; often arrogated himself even to the position of God; but he also demeaned himself by bowing his head before inanimate, lifeless objects, things of his own creation, and mountains, rivers, trees and animals; and harbored credulous beliefs and irrational fear of the demons and devils. He spent his life in the fear of the unknown and in the hope from non-existent powers which could not but foster mental confusion, cowardice, doubtfulness and indecision in him. Rasulullah Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam made him self-reliant, courageous, rational and undoubting by removing the fear of everything save that of his real Master and Lord. It was because of him that man came to recognize his Creator as the Supreme Power, the Enricher and Destroyer. This new discovery meant a world of change for him as it enabled him to free himself from the shackles of superstitious beliefs, irrational fears, dubiousness and misgivings. He could now see the unity of cause in the manifoldness of phenomena, was reassured of his pivotal position in the scheme of creation, became aware of his worth and dignity. In short, his acceptance of his serfdom to the One and only Allah made him the master of every other created being and object. It was thus for the first time that man became aware of the exalted position allotted to him by God.
Unity of Allah came to be recognized, thanks to Rasulullah صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم, as the guiding principle for all the schools of thought, philosophies and creeds. Even polytheistic religions were so powerfully influenced by it that their votaries began to fight shy of their creeds and started putting up construction to explain away their rites and observances demanding devotion to gods and demigods. The heathen belief in the worship of numerous deities began to suffer from a sense of inferiority from which it has still not recovered. This was the greatest gift bestowed on humanity by Rasulullah صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم.
(To be continued)