Islam is the religion of peace. Peace cannot exist without goodwill and toleration. How is it, then, that the world has come to identify the message of the great Arabian Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) with bigotry, persecution and intolerance? It was Gladstone, an admirer of Carlyle, the author of “Hero and Hero-worship”, who said that the possibility of universal peace was totally incompatible with the existence of the Quran. “While the Koran exists in the World, there can be no peace,” were his words. And Gladstone is not a solitary example of those who hold such opinions about Islam. Why does there exist this universal misapprehension in the minds of non-Muslims? The reason is not far to seek.
The Western critic, upon whose exposition the greater part of the world depends for its knowledge of the Quran, did not, and perhaps could not approach his subject with an unprejudiced mind. Immediately after its first defeat, Christendom became hostile to Islam. All sorts of inconceivable things were said about the new creed of Muhammad (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), things which could be believed only by a credulous and priest-ridden people like the Christians of the Dark Ages. This superstitious hatred was never allowed to subside; the Crusades and the wars with the Turks provided the over zealous priest with the opportunity of “serving his God and the Church” by exciting enmity in the hearts of his flock towards the standard bearers of the new “upstart” creed.
This propaganda carried on incessantly for centuries and centuries by means fair and foul could not but affect the mentality of the West very deeply. One can easily detect the influence of this propaganda in almost the whole of Western literature. The average Westerner is so insular in his outlook that he seldom cares to find out the truth about things which do not immediately concern him. Even today, he is guided in his foreign politics by the great press lords of his country, and a really influential paper leads nations to war or peace. Now Islam has been and is a thing of even less concern to him; not only because his essentially practical mind does not care to enquire into spiritual problems but also because his own notions of religion have very often either closed the door of all rational enquiry by insisting upon more or less wholly irrational dogmas, or, by too wide an interpretation of his religion, have made it merely another name for a system of eclectic and perhaps sentimental ethics. Where there is no enquiry, there is blind prejudice, and the Westerner gets his religious prejudices from his priest and missionary. The western critics of Islam are no exception. They lack the open-mindedness of a fair critic from the very outset. Even those of them who do not criticize to revile, and who approach their work with honest motives, have not an unbiased mind. They have had their notion of a religion spread by the sword and enjoining the killing of every non-Muslim unconsciously worked into their minds since their childhood, and therefore they take solitary Quranic verses out of their context, and build theories upon them which are as unknown to Islam as polytheism itself.
To see the examples of the deliberate misinterpretation of Islam, one need not go far. Look into the missionary literature published in India and abroad, and you will be astonished at the audacity and dishonesty of many a writer. Only the other day I was reading a small book by two missionaries, one of whom is well known to me. He has come into contact with so many Muslims that he cannot be ignorant of their beliefs and ideas, yet his book contains so glaring misrepresentations that none but a missionary of a very garbled vision indeed could conceive them.
In the face of this hostile propaganda of centuries, there is little wonder if so many misunderstandings exist about Islam, specially when the efforts of the Muslims to counteract its evil influence have been so meager. It is nothing short of a miracle that we see Islam even now attracting many a soul by its simple grandeur and noble loftiness. I do not attach so much importance in this connection to the conversion of intelligent and even learned men to Islam as to the fact that no one day passes when there is not vindicated some doctrine of Islam. The Quran yet shines forth in its pristine glory, though thirteen centuries have rolled by since its revelation. The grand personality of the Prophet yet receives the homage of not only the Faithful, but also of many a disbeliever in his mission. What sword doth keep more than 400,000,000 souls under the bondage of Islam? What persecution during these days of the decadence of the temporal power of the Muslims leads to the conversion of the Negro and the White, the Mongolian and the Dravidian; and what terrorism makes the world adopt doctrines first preached by Islam? Surely the reasons for the success of Islam should be sought for somewhere else. And where can they be found except in its teachings and message? The subtle magic of its doctrines only can be responsible for the wonderful devotion of the Muslims to their faith, and their success in bringing others to their fold inspite of no material resources worth the name at their command.
There has succeeded no missionary but by kindness. The Muslim has more often than not been a successful missionary, and, therefore, he could not but have used gentle methods. Harshness repels, and creates a stubborn resistance in the heart, therefore no religion can be spread by harshness. Besides, the missionary does not want to knock off the head, he wants to win the heart; and who has ever won the heart but by forbearance and tolerance? The history of Islam is full of deeds of toleration; but this is no place to cite historical examples, nor would the time and space at my command allow it. The one vital question is: where did the Muslim get the necessary inspiration to be a successful and therefore a tolerant missionary?
In answering this question, we must remember that religion plays such an important part in the life of a Muslim that every one who believes in Islam is expected to be its missionary. And the earlier Muslims did act upon this injunction. Islam does not set apart any class of Muslims for religious work. There are no professional priests in Islam, it knows no clergymen and laymen. Its doctors of law are mere advisers, they have no authority except that of the influence they exert owing to their learning and piety. Its spiritual guides are actually despised if they are hypocrites and do not contribute to the advancement of the community. And all of these men have no religious sanction except that of their utility to the people. Hence every Muslim has always been his own priest, and as such a missionary. There was no college to train these amateurs; they had no professional experience to help them or to initiate them into the ways of successful preaching. The inspiration could not but come from the doctrines of their faith.
It will be my business in this treatise to show that this theory is justified by facts. Even a cursory glance at the pages of the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Prophet would show that the whole foundation of Islam is based upon toleration. I will quote chapter and verse to prove this contention, and I hope that it will convince the impartial reader that the charge of intolerance against Islam is wholly unfair. But I forget that it is given to no man to convince others but with the help of Allah, and, therefore, let me pray in the words of the very beautiful opening chapter of the Quran:—
“In the name of Allah, the most Merciful and the Compassionate.
All Praise be to Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe!
The most Merciful and the Compassionate,
Lord of the Day of Judgment,
Thee do we worship, and Thee do we call for help;
Lead us on the right path,
The path of those on whom be Thy blessings,
Not of those who incur Thy wrath, and go astray.”
 I would not say that this is true about the West or non-Muslims only.
 Indeed I was induced to read the book on seeing his name on the cover to see what he had to say about Islam and Muslims.
 Of course there are many noble exceptions among the missionaries. I count some of these amongst my closest friends- people whose self-sacrifice and unselfish love of truth would do credit to any man. And such men are not few, though unfortunately they are the least vocal in the community.