What really was this circling wave of death and destruction threatening the existence of man? It was, as it has ever been, the ignorance of the Lord and Master of the world, of His nature and attributes, raising of the partakers of divinity with God, forgetfulness of man’s obligations to his Creator, failings of human desire and betaking the path of wickedness and iniquity. For this is the time when man insists on his rights but forgets his obligations to others, closes his eyes towards the dignity of his fellow beings and begins to behave like a monster who is at perfect liberty to devour those who are weaker than him. When man forgets these fundamental facts, the prop which supports the structure of human life on earth, he becomes a wolf, a scorpion, and a snake. Then one does not need panthers and lions for man excels every wild beast in ferocity, cruelty. He becomes a devil, the supreme spirit of evil, the enemy of God and man, a Satan incarnate in the human form. Then his fellow beings are consumed by the fire ignited by their own species. No outside agency is then needed for the extirpation of man from the face of the earth.
Such are the times when the infinite mercy of God is set afoot to succour suffering humanity from the evil of his own doings. For in such times of strain and stress only the teachers of humanity sent by God can rescue man from the destruction wrought by his own hands. Humanity is once more brought back to the path of virtue and good- ness through the efforts of these guides of mankind. The world then again becomes a place to live for and die for.
Before I tell you about the supreme benevolence of the prophets of God and the extensive scope of the task allotted to them, I would like to put before you a parable which alludes to the nature and significance of the prophets’ work. Once a few students on a pleasure trip were enjoying boating in a river with an illiterate old oarsman. The boys, in a jovial mood, thought of making merry with the poor old man, and one of them came out with the question : “Uncle, have you received some education too ?”
“No, I have not read anything,” replied the boatman. “Plying of boats has been my ancestral profession and this is the only art I know to earn a living for my family.”
Another boy promptly rejoined, “But you must have learnt some grammar or read a bit of literature, my dear?”
“It is for the first time,” replied the boatman, “that I have heard of these things.”
“But,” insisted the third boy, “you must be knowing something of geometry for it is essential for propelling boats in a correct manner. Surely, you can’t do without it?”
The boys continued to make fun of the poor man by asking about each branch of arts and sciences they had been studying at their college. Ultimately, they asked about the age of the boatman who informed them that he had crossed his fortieth year. The boys lost no time in giving their verdict : “Alas ! you have wasted half of your precious life-time for nothing.”
The old man had no explanation to offer but perhaps, Providence intended to teach a lesson to these young chaps. The cool and clear water of the river had been flowing calmly so long but suddenly a violent wind arose, as if from nowhere, causing a stir in the river. The surging waves now threatened the safety of the boat which, it seemed- would capsize in a few minutes. All the boys were seared to death, and it was now the turn of the boat- man to pose a question to the boys about their knowledge and learning.
“Boys,” addressed the boatman inviting their attention, “have you also learnt swimming.”
Terror stricken, all the boys replied in a chorus, “No, we have not learnt it.”
“Well”, retorted the old man, “I had wasted only half of my life-time, but you have. lost the whole of it. If this boat capsizes, all the sciences you have been talking about would go down to the bottom of the river with you. Would that you had learnt swimming also which would have saved your life as well your knowledge.”
The record of human life on this earth tells us that whenever the ship; of humanity has capsized owing to man’s own failings, hardly anything was left to be salvaged. All the treasures of arts and learning, palatial buildings and developmental works, philosophy and literature, in short, all that had been produced, by labour of man over thousands of years was lost with the debacle of an erring people. We also know that no civilisation has ever been destroyed because of .the lack of poetic genius of its people, or the poor standard of literature it had produced, nor yet did it go down owing to inadequate number of its educational institutions, low standards of living or lack of capital for its trade and industry. The one cause of its collapse was that man himself wanted to commit suicide. You may believe it or not, but the history of bygone civilisations tells us that there had been many an occasion when man had directed his efforts to destructive pursuits with such a zest and enthusiasm as if he were performing a constructive task beneficial to humanity. At times he had joyfully insisted on going to the gallows as it he were tired of life and its extinction was a great blessing to be sought for at all costs.
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 Quran, the condition then obtaining in the world so graphically that no artist can draw such a true-to-life picture of the then situation.
“And remember Allah’s favour unto you: 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.” (III:103)
If our historians and litterateurs have not been able to preserve the heart-rending account of the 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 then 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 have any historian drawn a picture of that horrible situation? Did the age of Ignorance mean merely moral corruption of the Arabs and a few other nations? Did it pose the problem of idolatry, depravity or decadence or else self-indulgence, inequity and exploitation of the poor or criminal behaviour of the then stronger nations? Was it similarly the question of the burial of innocent new-born daughters by their heartless fathers? It was all this and much more. It was as though the mother earth wanted to swallow its entire progeny. I have no words to describe the terrifying conditions through which the whole world was passing in those days. Only those can under- stand 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 a fine fettle, a soul shining through its crystal covering, and could somehow show him to be the vicegerent of God on earth who was ready to take a leap in the abyss of fire, then he would perhaps succeed in portraying the situation thus depicted in the Quran : “(How) ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, He did save you from it.” The holy Prophet 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 over 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.”
The whole problem was how to lead the caravan of humanity to its safe destination. All the social and developmental endeavours, educational and literary efforts were possible only after man had been brought back to a normal, sensible frame of mind. There is the least doubt that the greatest good the prophets have done to the humanity consists of saving it from the unknown, imminent dangers threatening to destroy it forever. No literature or philosophy, reformatory or constructive effort, not even the survival of man on this planet could have been possible without the merciful endeavours 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 on humanity. Man has, in this way, really deposed over and over again against his own existence in this world.
When any civilisation becomes over-sophisticated it closes its eyes to the ethical precepts. Man forgets every- thing 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, Providence moves to chasten him and give him his deserts. Poet of the East has given expression to the same truth in one of his verses:
Fever of lunacy then overtakes the kings,
Ferute of God are all, Timur and Chinghez.
You can replace the words ‘kings’ and ‘kingship’ by civilisation for the insanity of civilisation is nowadays much more dangerous and wider in scope than the madness of the kings of old. A single lunatic can made a hell of the life of all the people around him but, one can very well imagine, what would happen if the whole people were to lose their heads.