(Speech of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi delivered in connection with the Birthday Anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad at Lucknow on 2nd May, 1975.)
“We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples.” (XXI:107)
I have just recited before you a verse from Surah Anbiya of the holy Quran. In it God addresses the holy Prophet to tell him that he had been sent as a mercy for the whole world and all the peoples that might be born on this planet. This was, indeed, a unique declaration, or, if I could say so, a revolutionary proclamation for the entire humanity. And, this was put about by God in a Scripture which was destined to be read, after its revelation, in every age, time and clime, by billions of men in every nook and corner of the world. It was to have an unending line of exegetes, commentators and researchers who were to scan every word of it, evaluate its revelations and scrutinise the truth of its contents in the light of past and coming events. Whenever a man makes any statement or a writer comes out with a report in an article to be published in some news- paper or a journal, he has to think a hundred times lest he should be controverted by somebody. If he happens to make any unusual claim, he is extra-cautious for the fear that he might be challenged by another person or proved to be a fibster. As everyone of us knows, books last longer than the journals; they continue to be read for years together and some even live for hundreds of years. Thus, anyone putting forth an annunciation in a book has to be overcautious; he has to make sure that the reaction of his readers is not adverse and that his claim is accepted. Now, you see, the Knower of all secrets has made this declaration in a book about which He Himself says:
“Falsehood cannot come at it from before it or behind it. (It is) a revelation from the Wise, the Owner of Praise.” (XLI:42)
His edict about this book runs:
“Lo ! We, even We, reveal the Reminder, and Lo We verily are its Guardian.” (XV:9)
Since these declarations cover both time and space, they cannot be taken lightly.
The announcement made by God covers all the ages and the whole of human race that would make its debut in this world after the prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessing, of God be upon him) was announced: it encompasses all the periods of history, past and present, that this world may see after the blessed Prophet was raised as the harbinger of peace for all peoples.
This pronouncement does not exclude any corner of the world from its ambit God did not proclaim Muhammad as a mercy for Arabia, for the East or for the continent of Asia alone. He has made an unequivocal declaration that His Prophet Muhammad is to be the peace unto the whole World till the end of time.
This unique proclamation was, in truth and reality, so marvelously wonderful, so extensive in its scope and so far- reaching in its effect, and so majestic in issuing the Divine command that all the philosophers, thinkers, writers, schoolmen or rather every man should have rubbed his eyes in amazement. Of a fact, it would have not at all been surprising if every man of learning had applied him- self to explore the veracity of this unprecedented statement. You can scan the history of the world but you would not find such a lucid and clear-cut declaration, so confidently made in such an unconditional language, either in the historical records of the world religions or in the annals of reformatory and revolutionary movements; nay, not even in the histories of the nations and countries and civilisations, nor yet in the entire literature of the human race.
Judaism is one of the oldest world religions. Yet, the concept of God, the Lord of the entire universe and all the nations, is at best a notion of the Lord of Israel according to Judaism. The concept of a Lord of the worlds is not to be found in most of the Old Testament books nor is it present in the hagiographical literature of the Hebrews. It would be futile to search for an announcement declaring anybody as the mercy for all nations in the biographies of the great Hebrew Prophets like Moses and Aaron, or, their Kings, such as, David and Solomon. Judaism had never been a world religion in the sense that it had never endeavoured to spread the glad tidings of Divine mercy and blessings to the whole of humanity without any distinction of blood and race. It actually never did encourage the conversion of non-Jewish people to Judaism. (For details see ‘Islam versus Ahl Kitab, Past and Present’ by Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus) )
Christianity is rightly noted for its evangelism and preaching the message of love and compassion to the whole of human race but we find Jesus Christ telling his disciples: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt:15:24) Nobody has ever upheld the distinctions of blood and race in the healing of the sick but when Jesus Christ was asked to restore an afflicted child to health, his reply was; “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs.” (Mt:15:15-16) When Jesus Christ sent forth his disciples to preach the Gospel he instructed them thus: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter not ye: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”(Mt:10:5-6)
The attitude of other eastern religions like Hinduism is not different from that of Judaism or Christianity. As a matter of fact, we find it glorifying class distinctions and upholding a heartless caste system forbidding social inter- course between different sections of its own followers. In ancient India the untouchables were deprived of their human rights; they could neither acquire knowledge nor teach others, nor could they apply themselves to the noble pursuit of elevating themselves spiritually. Teaching of the Vedas and performance of the sacred rites before the deities, on their own behalf and on behalf of others, was a privilege enjoyed by the Brahmins alone. (Manu shastra, Chap. 1, p. 88). Vedas could be learnt only by the Kshtrias and Vaishas besides the Brahmins.(Ibid. pp. 88-89). The Sudras had but one duty according to Manu and that was to serve the three higher castes. (Manu shastra, Chap. 1, p. 89) The people of the ancient India had hardly any concept of the world beyond the Himalayas nor were they interested in the peoples and countries living outside India. It would be a labour in vain to make a search for any declaration of universal character in respect of any reformer, Rishi or a prophet, whose appearance in India cannot be ruled out according to the teachings of the Quran. For there was absolutely no concept of a Lord of the whole universe in the ancient India, it would rather be illogical to expect any man of God having been recognised as a mercy for all the nations of the world.
We normally determine the worth and merit, significance and greatness of a thing by its quantity and quality. The first denotes the property of the thing to be judged by some sort of measure while the other reflects its spirit or excellence. The Writ of God revealed in the Quran about the holy Prophet of Islam covers both these aspects. The benefits and blessings this world has had through his prophethood and his teachings, and the lease of new life it got through him are not only manifold in number and excellent in character but also unique and unprecedented in the annals of the world. Mercy is a word commonly used by us for every act of compassion or kindness shown by one man to another, but it has various degrees deter- mining the inter-se value and merit of different merciful acts. It is mercy if a traveler is told about the way he should go or is given some water to quench his thirst. If a man fans another fellow during the hot season, it is mercy; likewise, the affection of a father towards his son and the arrangements made by a man for the education of his ward, teaching of the students by a pedagogue, feeding of the poor and hungry and clothing of the naked are all different aspects of mercy. They all flow from the same noble desire to be compassionate and benevolent to others and each one of these acts deserves to be gratefully acknowledged by the beneficiary.
But, of all these manifestations of mercy, the greatest in merit would be the saving of a human life. Imagine a child on his death-bed, his unfortunate mother wailing and weeping for him and his helpless father running to the physicians who seem to have lost all hope of the child’s recovery. Suddenly, a doctor arrives as an angel of mercy. He comforts the parents with his kind words and administers medicine to the ailing child who slowly regains his health and strength. This man would undoubtedly be revered as a God-send benefactor of the child and his parents. All other types of merciful acts I have enumerated earlier would fade into insignificance before this act of supreme mercy. This doctor would be hailed as a saviour not by the parents of the child alone, but by his whole family who would ever remember him as a benefactor. Take another example. A blind man is going on a path which has a deep ditch a few steps ahead. The blind man is sure to fall into it and lose his life in a couple of seconds. Now, a man rushes up to catch hold of this poor blind man by his waist and thus saves his life. Or, suppose, there is a boy, the only child of his parents, being carried away by the swift current of a river. The boy is about to be submerged forever but a courageous young man saves him by putting his own life at stake. The parents of this boy, nay, all those who have held him dear, would express their heartfelt gratitude to the brave man and remember his kindness throughout their lives.
There is, however, a still higher degree of mercy, and it consists of the saving of entire humanity from death and destruction. But, even the destruction of humanity can be of varying degrees. It may be a temporary debacle or total annihilation. The benevolence of the prophets of God is infinitely superior to the altruism of other human beings inasmuch as the former leave indelible imprints of their mercy on their fellow beings. Time, whose tooth gnaws away everything else, is like turbulent waves of the surging ocean which wipes out not only individuals but nations also. Many a nation, country and civilisation lies buried beneath its dark waters. It treacherous waves are ever intent to devour an erring people and, therefore, the question that has ever vexed the minds of human beings is how to cross this roaring sea to reach the shore of safety. Thus, anybody who could safely pilot the sinking ship of humanity would. unquestionably, be the true benefactor of humanity. The entire progeny of Adam is, in very truth, indebted to those savants and servants of humanity who have bequeathed to it the treasures of knowledge and learning and made its life easier and richer. But, at a time when the life itself is in danger, only that man can be called a true saviour, who saves the life of human beings from the cruel jaws of death and complete annihilation.