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chapter three

The Doctrine Of A Chosen People

            From what has already been said, it will be clear that Islam has done all that could be done to prevent the formation of a ‘superiority complex’. The respect enjoined for the prophets of all nations and all times cuts at the very root of any one nation or people thinking of themselves as the favourite nation of God. But this fact has not been left to mere conjecture. It has been clearly said:

“(All) people are a single nation.” (II:213)

None who believes in this can be arrogant, nor suffer from the mania of race superiority, colour prejudice, or religious intolerance. Sadi, the great Muslim poet, moralist and thinker drew his inspiration from this verse when he said,

“Men are the limbs of one another,
For they are of the same origin in creation.”

And it is due to this universal belief among the Muslims in the brotherhood of man that we find all Muslim nations remarkably free from racial prejudice. There has been a perfect understanding between the different races professing Islam. Besides, Muslims have never considered any non-Muslim nation despicable because of its colour or race. The Abyssinian and the Arab, the Persian and the Indian, the Turk and the Albanian have very freely intermarried. Political considerations have sometimes led individual rulers to oppress subject nations, but there never has been a systematic persecution of non-Muslim races under any Muslim Empire. The Muslim has, as a rule, left his subject nations alone and let them enjoy a full autonomy unknown under any other contemporary regime and even a modern state would not dream of allowing so much freedom to any composite minority. The existence of semi-independent non-Muslim communities in the heart of every Islamic Empire proves the truth of this contention. This the Muslim did in ages of intolerance. How could he develop a rule of government till then unknown to the world? The Quran made the Muslim nation, and the Quran only could have taught it tolerance.

How difficult does the world find it even today to understand that the essential unity of mankind is too great to be affected by small incidents of colour, race, or difference in civilization and culture? How difficult does the white man find it to be considerate to the poor Negro? And how inhuman is the treatment which the Christian Belgian metes out to the Christian native of the Congo. For how long has the Hindu Brahmin maltreated and tyrannized over the Hindu untouchable? How great are the impediments in the way of the peacemaker who wants to create a peaceful union out of the chaotic world of jealous, selfish and suspicious nations of Europe? It would seem that our differences are greater than our similarities, that our interests are more conflicting than identical: yet every thinking mind recognizes the unity of mankind, and bows down, at least theoretically, before the great truth enunciated by Islam. But the world lacks the strength to follow this ideal boldly. The reason is, that nowhere, except in Islam, does man come across that democratic teaching of the essential unity of mankind which alone can pave the path to this noble ideal of universal love and amity.

The doctrine of the equality of mankind is so inherent in the teachings of Islam that no Muslim country has had to face the problem of class war. Socialism, Bolshevism, Fascism, agrarian troubles, trade disputes and industrial upheavals are all unknown to Islamic countries, simply because a Muslim is so imbued with the spirit of equality that he is constitutionally unable to be arrogant. His poorest brother of the blackest face is on the same social standing as the all powerful shadow of God upon Earth, the Commander of the Faithful. Bilal (, Allah be pleased with him) and Umar (, Allah be pleased with him) stand shoulder to shoulder in prayers and sit at the same table to partake of a common meal. This spirit does not confine itself only to the ranks of Islam, it is met with in the dealings of the Muslim with his neighbours as well. While the Jew was despised and persecuted everywhere, he was welcome in all the Muslim countries. The untouchable was not, and is not, an untouchable to a Muslim. He meets the Negro in Africa on equal terms, and wins his love; he respects the Mongolian for his qualities; and he abhors the very notion of race superiority. Wherever he went as a conqueror, he met and mixed with the conquered as man ought to meet and mix with man. Segregated areas and watertight social divisions were unknown to him. In Persia he became a Persian and as enthusiastic about the language, traditions, and literature of the country as the sons of the soil themselves. In Bengal he developed Bengali, and at Delhi Hindi. The Punjab made him a Panjabi, and Afghanistan an Afghan. He never kept aloof; he was never obsessed with the idea of being too good to mix with the ‘despicable native’ and adopt his ‘corrupt ways.’ Surely a people which was so essentially religious, whose every phase of life was based upon the sacred teachings of his great Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and who drew his notions of right and wrong from the Muslim code of law and morals, could not but have found this lesson of toleration in the pages of the Quran, to which we should turn to see what it inculcates in the minds of its followers in this respect.

The notion of superiority is so foreign to the teachings of the Quran that those who are proud and ‘exult in the land’ are condemned in the severest terms.

“I will turn away from my communications those who are unjustly proud in the land.” (VII:146)

This verse amounts to saying that the proud will get no divine guidance and help, it is only the meek who will be guided aright and helped.

Another verse is more clear:

“And do not go about in the land exultingly, for you can not cut through the earth nor reach the mountains in height;
“All this- the evil of it- is hateful in the sight of your Lord.” (XVII: 37, 38).

Humility, on the other hand, is enjoined as a necessary virtue:

“And the (true) servants of the Beneficent God are they who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them (insolently) they say, ‘Peace.’” (XXV:63)

“And do not turn your face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land exulting overmuch; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster.
“And pursue the right course in your going about, and lower your voice; surely the most hateful of voices is braying of the asses.” (XXXI: 18, 19.)

The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) enforced these teachings by the following sayings:-

“God has revealed to me. Be humble; do not exult; nor be high handed”. (Ayaz: Mishkaat)

“ Wealth does not decrease by charity; forgiveness increases a man’s respect, and he who is humble for the sake of his Lord, Allah increases his status in life”.

“O Ayesha! be humble. Allah loves the humble and hates the proud.”

A nation should not even ridicule another:

“O you who believe! Let not one people laugh at another people, perchance they may be better than they, nor let the women (laugh) at (other women), perchance they may be better than they.” (XLIX: 11)

There is an aristocracy which Islam does recognize, but it is not the aristocracy of birth or wealth:

“O you man! Surely we have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (XLIX: 31)

It is this aristocracy of good deeds which the Muslims are required to form:

“And thus we have made you a good nation that you may be the bearers of witness to the people and that the Apostle may be a bearer of witness to you.” (II: 143)

This explains clearly that the Muslims should be ‘the bearers of witness’ to men, by their actions they should form a model for mankind. They should preach the Truth and induce others to follow it by their example. If they act upon this, they are a chosen people- a chosen people in the sense that they are to fulfill the divine mission of improving the lot of mankind both spiritually and materially, because Islam neglects neither the soul nor the body and shows us the way of success in both worlds. This is reinforced by the following:-

“You are the best of the nations raised up for the benefit of men.” (III: 109)

“And most surely it is an eminence for you and your people; and you shall be soon questioned.” (XLIII: 44)

The ‘eminence’ is for the benefit of mankind, and if a Muslim does not fulfill his responsibility, he will be questioned about it. And so it is not to be an easy honour. The Quran has it that the Muslims can attain to this position, not by lethargy or indifference but only by a hard struggle:

“And we will most certainly try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits and give news to the patient, who, when a misfortune befalls them, say: Surely we are Allah’s and to Him shall we return.” (II: 155, 156)

“Or do you think that you would enter the garden while yet the state of those who have passed away before you has not come upon you; distress and affliction befell them and they were shaken violently so that the apostle and those who believed with him said: When will the help of Allah come? Now surely the help of Allah is nigh.” (II: 214)

A learned commentator rightly says, “Entering the garden stands for success against the enemy in this life and salvation in the next.” This means that Muslims cannot aspire to any greatness either in this world or the next without good deeds. Thus it would be clear that Islam believes in deeds; any nation which acts upon the principles enunciated as necessary for success will become the exalted nation. This idea cuts at the very root of any one set of people believing that they are the chosen of God. All nations are equal in the sight of God. He has given equal opportunities to all. The nation which believes in the laws of progress and acts upon them will be successful.

The Jews believed that salvation was their monopoly and so did the followers of many a religion. It is this doctrine- this failure to see that salvation cannot be the monopoly of any one nation or creed that has led many people, benevolent at heart, to intolerance and persecution. If salvation is the monopoly of any one creed, its followers would naturally like to share it with others. And if others are blind and fail to see their own advantage, why not force them into accepting it?

Islam has no patience with these people:

“And they say: None shall enter the garden (of paradise) except he who is a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful.
“Yea! whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others), he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for him, nor shall he grieve.
“And the Jews say: The Christians do not follow anything (good); and the Christians say: The Jews do not follow anything (good); while they recite the same book. Even thus say those who have no knowledge like to what they say; so Allah shall judge between them on the day of resurrection in what they differ.” (II: 111-113)

Thus salvation is not the monopoly of one nation or people. Those who consider themselves to be favorites of Allah and as such immune from the consequences of their deeds are mistaken. No people can afford to look down upon others, because there may be good men in all nations and all creeds. Thus a Muslim cannot be arrogant, because he knows that there may be good men in other sects as well. The pride which the consciousness of the monopoly of rewards from Allah gives is totally foreign to Islam. The Quran is quite clear upon this point, as the following verses will show:

“Surely those who believe and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (II: 62)

The same thing has been repeated in almost identical words in the following:

“Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians- whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does good- they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (V: 69)

It could not be put more clearly than this that Muslims are not true to their religion, if they do not abstain from evil. If they persist in bad deeds, they cannot in any way be proud of their religion. It is the actual deed which matters in the eye of Allah, though, of course, the right belief is necessary in order to be able to distinguish the right from the wrong. The Quran lays down certain principles- any one who follows them shall have his reward. The standard of absolute good is the same; there is such a thing as abstract good, and in this world of cause and effect good deeds will produce the same good results for everyone. In the hereafter, as well, every right action will produce the necessary amount of peace to the soul. Thus a Muslim has no authority to think that he will not be questioned about his deeds because he believes in Islam. The Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

“Even if the mountain transgresses the right, it shall be broken into dust.” (Ibni Abbas: Adabul Mufrad)

Thus a Muslim cannot be obsessed with the idea that the very fact of his calling himself a Muslim will make him the favorite of Allah, and therefore he will be the last man to look down upon others as outcasts in the Kingdom of Allah, because they, as well, can do good deeds and have their rewards.

Of course, Islam recognizes certain deadly sins- sins whose magnitude is so great that their evil consequences outweigh the little good one is able to do in life and which pollute the very soul of a man from which all good actions spring. How often do we see this phenomenon in material life! All the antidotes in the world may not save the life of a man who has taken a heavy dose of some deadly poison. If a rock falls upon a man, he can not save himself by lifting his arm. But this consideration cannot lead a Muslim to intolerance, for he is as liable to fall into this deadly abyss of irredeemable sin ever yawning at his feet as the most miserable sinner who has never seen the light. He knows how frail humanity is; he can not have the heart to throw stones at those who are groping in the darkness. The example of the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would give sufficient guidance; for did not the master weep and pray for the blind men who persecuted him instead of cursing them? Did he not, time after time, excuse the inordinateness of his deadliest enemies?

Another reason for intolerance is that people do not realize that every soul has to bear its own burden, and, therefore, in all fairness, it should be allowed to choose its own way. This has been made clear in the Quran, and there are so many verses to this effect that one could go on quoting them in this book without saying anything else. The following are some of them:

“And no soul earns (evil) but against itself, and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; then to your Lord is your return, so He will inform you of that in which you differed.” (VI: 165)

“That no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; and that man shall have nothing but what he strives for; and that his striving shall soon be seen, then shall he be rewarded for it with the fullest reward; and that to your Lord is the goal.” (LIII: 38-42)

“Whoever goes aright, for his own soul does he go aright, and whoever goes astray, to his detriment only does he go astray, nor can the bearer of a burden bear the burden of another, nor do we chastise till we raise an apostle.” (XVII: 15)

“And we have made every man’s actions to cling to his neck.” (XVII: 13)

“Say: You will not be questioned as to what we are guilty of, nor shall we be questioned as to what you do. Say: Our Lord will gather us together, then will He judge between us with truth, and He is the greatest Judge, the All-Knowing.” (XXXIV: 25, 26)

“And a burdened soul cannot bear the burden of another; and if one weighed down by burden should cry for (another to carry) its burden, not ought of it shall be carried, even though he be near of kin.” (XXXV: 18)

“And whoever purifies himself, he purifies himself only for his own soul.” (XXXV: 18)

“And no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; then to your Lord is your return, then He will inform you of what you did; surely He is cognizant of what is in the breasts.” (XXXIX: 7)

“So whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul and whoever errs, he errs only to his detriment; and you are not a custodian over them.” (XXXIX: 41)

“Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against it; and your Lord is not in the least unjust to his servants.” (XLI: 46)

“Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against himself, then you shall be brought back to your Lord.” (XLV: 15)

The following verses in which the Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has been addressed, make my meaning even more clear:

“And the blind and the seeing are not alike,
“Nor the darkness and the light,
“Nor the shade and the heat,
“Neither are the living and the dead alike.
“Surely Allah makes whom He pleases to hear, and you cannot make those hear who are in the graves.
“You are naught but a warner.
“Surely We have sent you with the truth as a bearer of good news and a warner; and there is not a people but a warner has gone among them.” (XXXV: 19-24)

These verses fully express the views of the Quran on the subject of toleration. The right and the wrong ways cannot be alike, but where there is blind attachment to some fallacious and outworn creed and method of life, no preaching can do any good. Yet the preacher should not be impatient or grow intolerant, for a warner’s duty is but to preach. They who follow him should not be puffed up with pride at the idea that they are the seeing, the dwellers in the sunshine of Truth, the living who are not dead in spirit. They will get what they are earning; perhaps spiritual awakening is its own reward. But they must not come to consider themselves a chosen people, for where has there been a nation which has not been given, at one time or another, the truth from its Lord?