Fourteen years after Thomas Carlyle had delivered his lecture on his Hero Prophet, a Frenchman by the name of Lamartine wrote the history of the Turks. Incidentally, the Turks being Muslims, Lamartine touched on some aspects of Islam and its founder. Like our Jules Wasserman of current times, who had conceived three objective standards for discovering greatness of leadership; Lamartine had over 2 century ago thought of three other objective standards for conferring “Greatness”. We must give credit to the Westemer for this type of insight. Lamartine opines:
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhummed?” (lamartine ends his lengthy segment of literary masterpiece with the words):
“…philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhummed. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater then he?” (Lamartine, “Historie de la Turquie,” Paris 1854)
The answer to his question, “Is there any man greater than he?” is reposed in the question itself. By implication he is saying … “there is no man greater than Muhammad. Muhammad is the greatest man that ever lived!”
“And have We not raised high the esteem (in which) thou (O Muhammad are held)? most certainly thou hast, O my lord!” (Quran 94:4)
Before we absolve Lamartine of any favouritism, partiality, or of the charge of being bribed, we will scrutinize his three standards, and whether they can be justified in the case of Muhammad.
a) Greatness of purpose History of the time will tell you that it was the darkest period in the history of mankind when Muhammad was commanded to declare his mission. The need was for the raising of prophets in every corner of the world, or the sending of one Master Messenger for the whole of mankind, to deliver them from falsehood, superstition, selfishness, polytheism, wrong and oppression. It was to be the reclamation of the whole of humanity. And God Almighty in His wisdom chose His prophet from the backwaters of Arabia as His universal Messenger. Thus He records in His Noble Book: “And we sent thee not (o Mubammad), but as a mercy unto the worlds.” (Quran 21:107)
“There is no question now of race or nation, of a “chosen people” or the “seed of Abraham,” or the “seed of David”: or of Hindu Arya varta; of Jew or Gentile. Arab or Persian, Turk or Tajik, European or Asiatic, White or Coloured; Aryan, Semitic, Mongolian, or African: or American, Australian, or Polynesian. To all men and creatures who have any spiritual responsibility, the principles universally apply.” Abdulbh Yusut Ali – The English Meaning of the Quran.
Jesus discriminates Muhammad’s immediate predecessor advised his disciples, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs” (meaning non-Jews), “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (meaning non-Jews, Matthew 7:6). The Gospel writers are unanimous in recording that Christ lived by the precepts which he preached. In his lifetime he did not preach to a single non-Jew. In fact he spurned a gentile woman who sought his spiritual blessings (“the woman was a Greek” Mark 7:26).
Then during the “Passover” season in Jerusalem when the master with his disciples had congregated for the occasion, certain Greeks hearing of his reputation sought an audience with him for spiritual enlightenment, but Jesus gave them the “cold shoulder” (Means a deliberately unkind or unfriendly treatment; a slight; a snub.) as narrated by St. John: “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip … and desired him saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.” (John 12:20-22)
Self glorification The verses that follow do not even record the courtesy of “Yea, yea;” or “Nay, nay;” (Yes, yes or no, no of Matthew 5:37). They continue with his own praise “And Jesus answered them (Andrew and Philip), saying, The hour is come, that the son of man (referring to himself) should be glorified.” (John 12:23)
Highest standards Muhammad could never afford any such latitudes. Remember, how the Almighty reminded him of the highest etiquette required from him. Even the thought of being ruffled by the untimely intrusion of a blind man, was not accepted from him (‘He frowned’). As a universal Messenger, God set for him the most lofty standards: “And Most Certainly, Thou (O Muhammad) Are of most sublime And Exalted Character.” (Quran 68:4)
And his diocese, his field of mission? The whole of mankind! “And We sent thee not (O Muhammad), but as a mercy unto all the worlds.” (Quran 21:107)
Universal messenger These are not mere platitudes; beautiful sentiments bereft of action. Muhammad practised what he preached. Among his first companions and converts, beside the Arabs can be counted Bilal the Abyssinian, Salman the Persian and Abdullah Bin-Salaam the Jew. The sceptics may say that his outreach was simply incidental but what can they say about the historical fact that before his demise, he sent out five epistles, one to each of the five surrounding countries, inviting them to accept the religion of Islam:
1. The Emperor of Persia 2. The King of Egypt 3. The Negus of Abyssinia 4. The Emperor Hiraclius at Constantinople, and 5. The King of Yemen
Thus he set the example for the fulfilment of his impelling mission, his “greatness of purpose,” the reclamation of the whole of humanity into the Master’s fold. Is there another example of such universality in another religion? Muhammad was not out to set or to break any records, he was simply carrying out the trust that was reposed in him by the Lord of Creation!
b) Smallness of means Muhammad was born with no silver spoon in his mouth. His life begins with infinitesimal support. His father had died before he was born. His mother dies by the time he was six years old. He was doubly- orphaned at this tender age, his grandfather Abdul-Muttalib takes charge of the child, but within three years he also died. As soon as he was able, he began to look after his uncle Abu-Talib’s sheep and goats for his keep. Contrast this poor, double-orphaned Arab child with some of the great religious personalities that preceded him, and you must marvel at what Destiny had in store for him!
Abraham the spiritual father of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (May the peace of God be upon them all), was the son of a very successful businessman of his time. Moses was reared in the house of Pharaoh. Jesus though described as “a carpenter and the son of a carpenter,” was well endowed with learning as well as material means. Peter, Philip, Andrew, etc. all downed tools and followed him to be at his beck and call, not because he had any halo (Halo.- An imaginary luminous ring or disc surrounding the head of saintly men and women in religious paintings.) on his head; there was no such thing, but because of his affluent attire and princely bearing.
He could command mansions in Jerusalem for himself and his disciples even during the height of the festive season; and have sumptuous suppers arranged; and you could hear him reproach the materialistic Jews – And when they found him (Jesus) on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them and said, “most assuredly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw the signs, (The veracity of the Messiah’s message and his mission.) but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:25-26)
Nothing to offer Muhammad had no bread nor meat to offer, no sugar-plums of any kind, in this world or the next! The only thing he could offer his bedraggled, poor shepherd people was trial and tribulations and the strait- jacketing of their lives here on earth and the good pleasures of God in the Hereafter. The life of the Prophet was an open book before them. He had shown them as to what he was; the nobility of his character, his integrity of purpose, his earnestness and fiery enthusiasm for the truth he had come to preach revealed the hero; and they followed him.
Mr. Stanley Lane Poole’s estimate of our hero is so beautiful and yet so truthful that I cannot resist the temptation of quoting it here:
“He was an enthusiast in that noblest sense when enthusiasm becomes the salt of the earth, the one thing that keeps men from rotting whilst they live. Enthusiasm is often used despitefully, because it is joined to an unworthy cause, or falls upon barren ground and bears no fruit. so was it not with Mohammed. he was an enthusiast when enthusiasm was the one thing needed to set the world aflame, and his enthusiasm was noble for a noble cause. he was one of those happy few who have attained the supreme joy of making one great truth their very life-spring.
He was the messenger of the one god, and never to his life’s end did he forget who he was, or the message which was the marrow of his being. he brought his tidings to his people with a grand dignity sprung from the consciousness of his high office, together with a most sweet humility, whose roots lay in the know-ledge of his own weakness.”
It may easily be conceded that Muhammad was blessed with the flimsiest of human resources. In fact the odds were loaded against him. But what about his fortune towards the end of his earthly sojourn? He was the overlord of the whole of Arabia! What about the endless means at his disposal then? We will allow a Christian missionary to answer that:
He was caesar and pope in one, but he was pope without the pope’s pretentions, and caesar without the legions of caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue; if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammad, for he had all the powers without its instruments and without its supports.” (R. Bosworth Smith -Mohammad and Mohammadanism”, London 1874, p. 92)
His handicaps His “weakness” was his strength. The very fact that he had no material means of support made him to put his entire trust in God, and God the Merciful did not forsake him. His success was all the more staggering. May not the Muslims justly say, the entire work was the work of God? And Muhammad his Instrument?
c) Outstanding results In the words of Thomas Carlyle – “One man against all men,” to a hundred and twenty four thousand at the Farewell pilgrimage alone. How many were left behind of men, women and children, believers all?
On the 12th of Rabi I., in the 11th year after the Hijra, (Hijra literally means Migration.) approximating to the 8th of June 632 of the Christian Era, whilst praying earnestly in whisper, the spirit of the great Prophet took flight to the “blessed companion-ship on high” (Ibn Hisham).
Omar al Farooq (second khalif), on receiving the sad news of the demise of the Holy Prophet, lost his bearings. He was so shocked that he blurted out “if anyone says that Muhammad is dead, I will chop off his head!” Abu Bakr (The first Khalif) presently verified that the Master had indeed departed from this world; and coming out from the Prophet’s apartment announced to the gathering throng outside, that, “Muhammad had indeed passed away. Those that worshipped Muhammad,” he said, “‘Let them know that Muhammad is dead, but those who worship Allah, let them know that Allah lives for ever!”
This brought Omar al Farooq back to his senses. Could this man who was to become the second great Khalif of Islam at this moment imagine that fourteen hundred years later there would be more than thousand million followers of Muhammad at one time? Could he have visualized that the religion of the Prophet would be the fastest growing religion in the world?
Christianity had a 600 year start on Islam. Numerically the Christians claim to outnumber the followers of any other faith; this is true but let us look at the picture in its true perspective:
There are more professing Christians in the world than professing Muslims, but there are more practising Muslims in the world than practising Christians. (R.V.C. Bodley (the American) in “The Messenger: The Life of Mohammed.” U.S.A. 1969)
I understand from the above that Mr. Bodley is trying to tell us that there are people in the world who, when filling their census forms, will tick off the term Christian under “Religion.” It is not necessarily that they believe in the dogmas of Christianity. They could actually be atheists or bush-Baptists, (Bush-Baptist: There are forty different Baptist Churches in the United States of America. But bush-Baptists are people with strong religious feelings yet will not go to any Church; and will not affiliate with any sect or denomination.)as opposed to being a Jew or Hindu or Muslim; coming from a Christian background they would for the purpose of convenience label themselves “Christian.” From that point of view, and from the point of view that a person who practises what he believes, there would be more Muslims in the world than Christians.
Chronologically, Islam is six hundred years behind Christianity, but amazingly it is at least a very close second, and is catching up fast – the fastest growing religion in the world today. “One Billion!” The figure is outstanding and the sincerity and practise of the Believers astonishing!
Taking into account his own three objective standards: a. Greatness of purpose; b. Smallness of means and c. Outstanding results. Does Lamartine dare to produce another candidate greater than Muhammad? He further awes his readers with the multifarious roles of Muhammad in which he excelled, ie. Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Warrior, Conqueror of Ideas, the Restorer of Rational Beliefs, of a Cult without Images, the Founder of twenty Terrestrial Empires and of one Spiritual Empire, that Is Muhammad.
As regards all standards (I repeat “all”) by which Human Greatness may be measured, we may well ask, “Is there any man greater than he?” .
No! Muhammad was the greatest man that ever lived! According to Lamartine the French historian. And God Almighty questions – “And Have We not raised high the esteem (in which) thou (O Muhammad) are held? Most assuredly thou hast, O my Lord!” (Quran 94:4)
The quality of mercy The Christian propagandists make the wild boast that there is nothing in the history of mankind to compare with the merciful and forgiving cry of Jesus on the cross … “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Amazing as it may sound, of the four writers of the Canonical Gospels, only St. Luke was inspired by the Holy ghost (?) to pen these words. The other three – Matthew, Mark and John never heard these words or they felt them to be too insipid or not important enough for recording. St. Luke was not even one of the twelve disciples selected by Jesus. According to the revisers of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, these words are not in the most ancient manuscripts which by implication means that they are an interpolation.
In “The New King James Version,” (Copyrighted by the Thomas Nelson Publishers Inc 1984), we are told that these words are “not in the original text” of the Greek manuscripts of St. Luke. In other words they have been fabricated by some pious gentleman. Although the quotation is unauthentic, we will still entertain it because it demonstrates great piety of loving one’s enemies and of unsurpassed forgiveness as preached by the Master himself.
For forgiveness to be of any worth, the forgiver must be in a position to forgive. If the victim of injustice is still in the clutches of his enemies; in that helpless position and he would cry out, “I forgive you!” it would be meaningless. But if the aggrieved party had turned the tables on his enemies and was in a position of taking revenge or exact retribution, and yet say “I forgive you!”, only then would it mean something!
Muhammad’s Clemency Contrast the alleged forgiveness from the “cross” with the historical bloodless conquest of Mecca by Muhammad at the head of ten thousand “saints” (A fulfilment of another prophecy in Muhammad. “…He came from mount Paran (that is in Arabia), and he came with ten thousand saints…” (Deuteronomy 33:2.) (his companions).
“The city which had treated him so cruelly, driven him and his faithful band for refuge amongst strangers, which had sworn his life and the lives of his devoted disciples, lay at his feet. His old persecutors relentless and ruthless, who had disgraced humanity by inflicting cruel outrages upon inoffensive men and women, and even upon the lifeless dead, were now completely at his mercy. But in the hour of his triumph every evil suffered was forgotten, every injury inflicted was forgiven, and a general amnesty was extended to the population of Mecca” (Sayed Amir Ali in “The Spirit of Islam”).
Calling before him the populace of the vanquished city, he addressed them with “What do you expect at my hands today?” His people had known him too well, even from his childhood so they replied, “Mercy, O generous brother and nephew!” Tears came into the eyes of the Prophet, and he said, “I will speak to you as Joseph spoke unto his brethren, I will not reproach you today: go you are free!”
And now a scene was enacted of which there is really no parallel in the history of the world. Hosts upon hosts came forward and adopted the religion of Islam. God Almighty testifies as to the lofty and exalted behaviour of His Messenger: “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct” (Quran 33:21)
How well has Lamartine unknowingly echoed these sentiments – “As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?”
In reply, we too can say once more, “No! there is no man greater than Muhammad. Muhammad was the greatest man that ever lived!”
So far, our hero has earned the unsolicited and ungrudging tributes from many non-Muslims of different religious persuasions and from varying intellectual fields of endeavour. But all this still remains incomplete without the Master’s verdict; Muhammad’s predecessor – Jesus Christ,. We will now apply his own standard for evaluating greatness.
John the Baptist John the Baptist, (“John- not to be confused with John the disciple of Jesus) a very common name among the Jews and Arab was a contemporary prophet of the Messiah. They were also cousins. Here is what the Master has to say of him: “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11)
Every son of man is “born of women.” By this very fact John the Baptist is greater than Moses, David, Solomon, Abraham or Isaiah; none of the Israelite prophets excluded. What gives John this ascendancy over every other prophet? It could not be any miracle, because the Bible records none to his credit. It could not be his teachings, because he brought no new laws or regulations. Then what makes him the greatest? Simply because he was the heralder, a pre-cursor, a harbinger of the happy news of the coming of the Messiah. This is what made John the greatest, but Jesus claims that he himself was even greater than the greatest (ie. John). Why?
But I have greater witness than that of John (the Baptist): “For The Works which the Father hath given me to finish” (John 5:36)
It is the “witness,” the commission which God Almighty had entrusted him with, which makes Jesus greater than even John. Applying these very standards as enunciated by the Master, we find that:
1. John the Baptist was the greatest of all the Israelite prophets, because he heralded the mighty Messiah (Jesus). Similarly Jesus would be greater than even John because he heralded “The Spirit of Truth, the Comforter,” who was to guide mankind into all Truth (of the Gospel of St. John, chapter 16). ( For a detailed explanation about this prophecy, read “Muhammad the Natural Successor to Christ”.
2. The diocese, the mission of Jesus, or “the works which God had given him to accomplish,” was limited to the Lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24), whereas the mission of Muhammad was universal. He had been told – “And we have sent thee not (O Muhammad), but as a Mercy unto the worlds.” (Quran 21:107)
In keeping with his grand commission, Muhammad consistently delivered his Message to one and all who would hear, irrespective of race, class or creed, He welcomed them all in the religion of God, without any discrimination. He had no thought of dividing the creatures of God into “dogs and pigs” (Matthew 7:6) or into “sheep and goats” (Matthew 25:32). He was the Messenger of the One True God, who was sent as a Mercy unto all mankind, nay, unto the whole universe. And, he never forgot this mission even right up to his dying day.
Towards the end of his earthly sojourn, when he could look back to a hectic and dangerous past, now crowned with success; he now feels that he could sit back and enjoy the fruits of his toil; he dreams of a life free from turmoil and full of satisfaction and relaxation. Not for him! There is no time to rest or relax. There is work still to be done. God Almighty reminds him: “We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) but to the whole of mankind. As a giver of glad tidings and as a warner, but most of mankind still do not know.” (Quran 34:28)
How was he to respond to this new challenge in his ripening old age? There were no electronic gadgets of modern communication methods at his disposal; there were no telex and fax machines which he could exploit. What could he do? Being unlettered, he called the scribes and dictated five letters, one each to the Emperor at Constantinople, the King of Egypt, the Negus of Abyssinia, the King of Yemen and to the Emperor in Persia. He called forth five of his companions with five Arab steeds and set them out in five different directions inviting the nations of the world to the universal religion of God.
I had the good fortune of seeing one of those holy epistles in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul (old Constantinople) Turkey. That letter is collecting dust! Materially the Turks have preserved the parchment. But the Message is collecting dust, as I have said. The letter begins, “From Muhammad the Messenger of God, to Heraclius the Emperor at Constantinople: Accept Islam and be benefited.” followed by this exhortation from the Book of God:
“Say: O people of the book! (“people of the book,” stands for the Jews and the Christians) come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God.” if then they turn back, say ye: “bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to God’s will)” (Quran 3:64)
After the above Quranic insertion in the letter, it is concluded with felicitation in the Prophet’s own words, ending with a seal on which is inscribed – “There is no other object of worship but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.”
The letter in Turkey arouses our curiosity; and interest with regards to its preservation, but the preservation itself is lost upon the sightseer. The same Quranic Message is in almost every Muslim home; being read and re-read a thousand times over without the reader being moved to deliver its Message to the addressees!
Glance once more at the above verse. It is addressed to the People of the Book, the Jews and the Christians. But, for over a thousand years we have utterly ignored that great directive at our own peril. We are sitting on that Message like a cobra on a pile of wealth, keeping the rightful heirs at bay. This utter neglect will continue to inflict untold suffering to the Muslim nation for generations to come.
After over fourteen hundred years of our reading, and chanting the Quran in every rhythmic style, we still hear this poignant cry: “But Most of mankind still do not know.” (Quran 34:28)
This is the concluding phrase of the verse revealed fourteen hundred years ago. It was the factual situation of the then religious world. The question which must be asked is if it is any different today? Not at all! There are today more disbelievers in the world than there are believers in the One True God.