By the Late Sir. T.W. Arnold

Contract Between Christianity and Islam

To the modern Christian world, missionary work implies missionary societies, paid agents, subscriptions, reports and journals; and missionary enterprise without a regularly constituted and continuous organisation seems a misnomer. The ecclesiastical constitution of the Christian church has, from the very beginning of its history, made provision for the propagation of Christian teaching among unbelievers; its missionaries have been in most cases, regularly ordained priests or monks; the monastic orders (from the Benedictines downwards) and the missionary societies of more modern times have devoted themselves with special and concentrated attention to the furthering of a department of Christian work that, from the first, has been recognised to be one of the prime duties of the church. But in Islam the absence of any kind of priesthood or any ecclesiastical organisation whatever has caused the missionary energy of the Muslims to exhibit itself in forms very different to those that appear in the history of Christian missions; there are no missionary societies, no specially trained agents, very little continuity of effort. The only exception appears to be found in the religious orders of Islam, whose organisation resembles to some extent that of the monastic orders of Christendom. But even here the absence of the priestly ideal, of any theory of the separateness of the religious teacher from the common body of believers or of the necessity of a special consecration and authorisation for the performance of religious functions, makes the fundamental difference in the two systems.

Responsibility of the Individual Believer

Whatever disadvantages may be entailed by this want of a priestly class, especially set apart for the work of propagating the faith, are compensated for by the consequent feeling of responsibility resting on the individual believer. There being no intermediary between the Muslim and his God, the responsibility of his personal salvation rests upon himself alone; consequently he becomes as a rule much more strict and careful in the performance of his religious duties, he takes more trouble to learn the doctrines and observances of his faith, and thus becoming deeply impressed with the importance of them to himself, is more likely to become an exponent of the missionary character of his creed in the presence of the unbeliever. The would-be proselytizer has not to refer his convert to some authorised religious teacher of his creed in the presence of the unbeliever. The would-be proselytizer has not to refer his convert to some authorised religious teacher of his creed who may formally receive the neophyte into the body of the church, nor need he dread ecclesiastical censure for committing the sin of Korah. Accordingly, however great an exaggeration it may be to say, as has been said so often, that every Muhammadan is a missionary still it is true that every Muhammadan may be one, and few truly devout Muslims, living in daily contact with unbelievers, neglect the precept of their Prophet "Summon them to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning." [This is not the precept of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Peace) but a Qur'aanic injunction, XVI: 126 - Editor, YAQEEN.] Thus it is that, side by side with the professional propagandists, the religious teachers who have devoted all their time and energies to missionary work, the annals of the propagation of the Muslim faith contain the record of men and women of all ranks of society from the Sovereign to the peasant, and of all trades and professions, who have laboured for the spread of their faith, the Muslim trader, unlike his Christian brother, showing himself especially active in such work. In a list of Indian missionaries published in the journal of a religious and philanthropic society of Lahore (Anjuman Himayat-i-Islam) we find the names of school masters, Government clerks in the Canal and Opium Departments, traders including a dealer in camel-carts, an editor of a newspaper, a book-binder and a workman in a printing establishment. These men devote the hours of leisure left them after the completion of the day's labour, to the preaching of their religion in the streets and bazaars of Indian cities, seeking to win converts both from among Christian and Hindus, whose religious beliefs and controvert and attack.

Women Missionaries

It is interesting to note that the propagation of Islam has not been the work of men only, but that Muslim women have also taken their part in this pious task. Several of the Mongol princes owed their conversion to the influence of a Muslim wife, and the same was probably the case with many of the pagan Turks when they had carried their raids into Muhammad countries. The Sanusiyah missionaries that came to work among the Tubu, to the north of Lake Chad, have opened schools for the girls, have taken advantage of the powerful influence exercised by the women among these tribes (as among their neighbours, the Berbers), in their efforts to win them over to Islam. The progress of Islam to Abyssinia during the first half of this century has been said to be in large measure due to the efforts of Muhammadan women, especially the wives of Christian princes (who had been married by force - Editor, YAQEEN), who brought up their children in the tenets of Islam and worked in every possible way for the advancement of that faith. In modern China, a woman of Kashgar, who had been taken prisoner and brought into the harem of the emperor, is said to have almost induced him to embrace Islam, but the weighty considerations of state set forth by his ministers dissuaded him for openly adopting this faith and he contented himself by showing favour to his Muhammadan subjects, keeping many of them about his person and building a mosque for them in his palace. The professed devotee, because she happens to be a woman, is not thereby debarred from taking her place with the male saint in the company of the preachers of faith. The legend of the holy women, descended from 'Ali, who are said to have flown through the air from Karbala to Lahore and thereby the influence of their devout lives of prayer and fasting to have won the first converts from Hinduism to Islam, could hardly have originated if the influence of such holy women were a thing quite unknown. One of the most venerated tombs in Cairo is that of Nafisah, the great-grant daughter of Hasan (the martyred son of 'Ali), whose theological learning excited the admiration even of her great contemporary, Imama Ash-Shafi'i, and whose piety and austerities raised her to the dignity of a saint; it is related of her that when she settled in Egypt, she happened to have as her neighbours a family of dhimmis whose daughter was so grievously afflicted that she could not move her limbs, but had to lie on her back all day. The parents of the poor girl had to go one day to the market and asked their pious Muslim neighbour to look after their daughter during their absence. Nafisah, filled with love and pity, undertook this work of mercy; and when the parents of the sick girl were gone, she lifted up her soul in prayer to God on behalf of the helpless invalid. Scarcely was her prayer ended than the sick girl regained the use of her limbs and was able to go to meet her parents on their return. Filled with gratitude, the whole family became converts to the religion of their benefactor.

Muslim Prisoners as Missionaries

Even the Muslim prisoner will on occasion embrace the opportunity of preaching his faith to his captors or to his fellow prisoners. (This is true even now in the case of W.S. Prisons - Editor). The first introduction of Islam into Eastern Europe was the work of a Muslim jurisconsult who was taken prisoner, probably in one of the wars between the Byzantine Empire and its Muhammadan neighbours, and was brought to the country of the Pechenegs (between the lower Danube and the Don) in the beginning of the eleventh century. He set before many of them the teachings of Islam and they embraced the faith with sincerity, so that it began to be spread among this people. But the other Pechengegs, who had not accepted the Muslim religion, took umbrage at the conduct of their fellow-countrymen and finally came to blows with them. The Muslims who numbered about twelve thousand successfully withstood the attack of the unbelievers who were more than double their number, and the remnant of the defeated party embraced the religion of the victors. Before the close of the eleventh century the whole nation had become Muhammadan and had among them men learned in Muslim theology and jurisprudence. In the reign of the Emperor Jahangir (1605-1628) (one of the Mughal Emperors of India - Editor), Shaikh Ahmad Mujaddid (Sarhindi) who was kept in prison, converted to Islam several hundred idolaters who were his companions in the same prison. In more recent times, an Indian Mawlawi who had been sentenced to transportation for life to the Andaman Islands by the British Government, because he had taken an active part in the Wahhabi conspiracy of 1864 converted many of the convicts before his death."

(Courtesy: Yaqeen International)






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