Posted by Zia Shah
Is it possible to conceive, we may ask, that the man who effected such great and lasting reforms in his own country by substituting the worship of the one only true God for the gross and debasing idolatry in which his countrymen had been plunged for ages; who abolished infanticide, prohibited the use of spirituous liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity), who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy which he found in existence and practice—can we, we repeat, conceive so great and zealous a reformer to have been a mere impostor, or that his whole career was one of sheer hypocrisy? Can we imagine that his divine mission was a mere invention of his own of whose falsehood he was conscious throughout? No, sorely, nothing but a consciousness of really righteous intentions could have carried Mohammed so steadily and constantly without ever flinching or wavering, without ever betraying himself to his most intimate connections and companions, from his first revelation to Khadijah to his last agony in the arms of Ayesha. John Davenport
“Is it possible to concoive, we may ask, that tho man who directed such great and lasting reforms in his own country by substituting the worship of tho one only true God for tho gross and debasing idolatry in which his countrymen had boon plunged for ages; who abolished infanticide, prohibited the use of spirituons liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity), who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy which he found in existence and practice—can we, we repeat, conceive so great and zealous a reformer to have been a mere impostor, or that his whole career was one of sheer hypocrisy? Can we imagine that his divine mission was a mere invention of his own of whose falsehood he was conscious throughout? No, surely, nothing but a consciousness of really righteous intentions could have carried Mohammed so steadily and constantly without ever flinching or wavering, without ever betraying himself to his most intimate connections and companions, from his first revelation to Khadijah to his last agony in the arms of Ayesha.
Surely a good and sincere man, full of confidence in his Creator, who makes an immense reform both in faith and practice, is truly a direct instrument in the hands of God, and may be said to have a commission from Him. Why may not Mohammed be recognized, no less than other faithful, though imperfect servants of God, as truly a servant of God, serving him faithfully though imperfectly? Why may it not be believed that he was, in his own age and country, a preacher of truth and righteousness sent to teach his own people the unity and righteousness of God, to give them civil and moral precepts suited to their condition.”
The Muslims, however, believe that the Prophet Muhammad did serve his God perfectly. Having said that, any Muslim cannot but help being grateful to John Davenport for his eloquence in the defense of Islam.
In another place John Davenport beautifully explains that the religion of Islam is a continuation of the religion of all the previous prophets:
“It has also been objected that Mohammed, while pretending not to deliver any new religion to the Arabians, but only to revive that old one which God had revealed to Abraham, and Abraham had delivered to Ishmael, the founder of their nation, actually did found a new religion, and, consequently, spake that which was false. But, if that only be a new religion which differs from the former in the object of its worship, and the moral duties imposed by it, then, certainly neither that of Moses, nor that of Jesns Christ, nor that of Mohammed, were new religions. That of Moses was no more than the renewal and enforcement by laws of that religion which Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael professed, and which was to adore the one only God, and Him to love and obey with their whole soul, and to practise those moral duties which the necessity of human society as well as the will of God imposed upon mankind. Thus, Jesus Christ tells us that to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves was the whole law and the prophets, that is, that Moses and the prophets taught the Israelites a religion which entirely consisted in the love and adoration of one eternal God, and an extensive love of one another; and hence the doctrine of Jesus Christ himself was not new, but the same that Moses had taught before, with this only difference, that our moral duties to one another were commanded with more force than before, and tais admirable and divine rule set down, by which the meanest and most ignorant of mankind might know with almost certainty when he offended against these moral duties and when not, as the precept ‘do unto others as you would they should do unto you’ clearly shows.
At the appearance of Jesus, the Jews inhabiting Judea were extremely corrupt in their morals, and a criminal selflove and egotism having been long spread among them, both priests and people, there was nothing to be found but avarice, rapine, injustice and oppression, for, placing their righteousness in the rigid observance of some ceremonies and formulas of religion, they had entirely lost its real substance. To restore this seems to have been the whole aim, drift and design of the mission of Christ, for to that all his doctrines plainly tend—a consideration sufficient to show that the Christian religion in its foundation was but the renewing of that of Moses. The business of Mohammed was not only to enforce moral doctrines, but also to establish the adoration of one God, for the people among whom it was his lot to be cast were gone vastly astray in both; it was, therefore, his intent to revive tbe religion of Ishmael the founder of his nation—namely, the worship of one God; and this is enough to prove that Mohammed did but speak the truth when he told the Arabians that he did not preach to them a new religion, but only the ancient one which their forefather Ishmael had proposed many ages before.”
“Mohammed, then, was doubtless fully convinced of his own mission, as well as that in the name of God, and in the character of his Apostle he wrought a great, albeit perhaps an imperfect reform, in his own country. Nor was his belief in his own mission ill founded. Through mockery and persecution the Prophet kept unflinchingly his path; no threats, no injuries hinder him from still preaching to his people the unity and the righteousness of God, and exhorting to a far better and purer morality than had ever up to his time been set before them. He claimed no temporal power, no spiritual domination, he asked but for simple toleration, free permission to win men by persuasion into the way of truth. He required that men should do justice and love mercy, and walk humbly before their God, and, as the sanction of all, he taught that there will be a resurrection of the dead as well of the just and the unjust.
Compare Mohammed with his own degenerate followers, with Timour at Ispahan, and Nadir Shah at Delhi, with the wretches who, in our times, have desolated Chios and Cyprus, and Kassandra. The entry cf an Eastern victor is ordinarily the signal for murder and massacre alike of the armed and unarmed, of the innocent and the guilty. Mohammed had his wrongs to avenge, but they are satisfied by a handful of exceptions to a general amnesty, and the majority, even of these, are ultimately forgiven. It is the temple of God desecrated by idols, which he had come to ransom. With the sublime words, ‘Truth is come, let falsehood disappear,’ he shivers, in succession, the 360 abominations which were standing erect, in the holy place, and his work once accomplished, he did not, like his victorious namesake, in later times, fix his throne in the city he had won. He reared no palace for his own honour by the side of the temple which he had recovered to the honour of God. The city of his fathers, the metropolis of his race, the shrine of his religion, was again deserted for his humble dwelling among those who had stood by him in the day of trial.”
The back cover of her book, an interpretation of Islam states:
The Prophet Muhammad at God’s behest, called men to the worship of one God and proclaimed that, by responding to this call, mankind would achieve true dignity, honour, prosperity and happiness. Within an astonishingly brief period, and over vast areas which were in the grip of ignorance, darkness and confusion were finally dispelled, order was established and all manner of beneficent institutions sprang into life, a high moral order was set up and the blessings of knowledge, learning and science began to be widely diffused. The strength of this message was its crystal clear simplicity and marvelous easiness, for Islam reached out to the soul of the people without having recourse to long explanations and involved sermons. Thanks to this message, bringing the ideals of tauhid, resalat, peace and harmony, paganism in its various forms was defeated, and human dignity finally became a reality.
Islam taught right thinking, proper action and honest speaking, and for these reasons it found its way, without any difficulty, into both the minds and hearts of men.
She also wrote about human equality in Islam in this book. She states:
Islam, which has never made any distinction of race or colour among men, which considered the white and the black, the nomad and the settled farmer, the ruler and the subject as all alike, not only in theory but also in practice (and as a matter of fact in the tent, in the palace, in the mosque, in the market, they all mingled together without reserve and with no sign of contempt or arrogance towards each other), never countenanced any humiliating treatment for slaves. Is it not fitting to remember here, while talking of the social equality imposed by Islam, the beautiful episode of King Jabale, who, having become a Muslim, went in great state to Makkah. While he was making the ritual tour around the Ka’bah, he struck a Bedouin who had accidentally trodden on his rich mantle. The Caliph Umar ruled that he was to receive a similar blow from the Bedouin because in Islam all men are alike. Jabale refused to submit to this and that very night he left with his five hundred knights and went straight to Byzantium where he became a Christian. Many years later, in the midst of honours and riches, the memories of Islam still filled his eyes with tears.
History furnishes many examples of slaves to whom high and honourable positions were given (among others, Bilal, who, because of his beautiful voice was accorded the high honour of being the first muezzin in Islam) and of freedmen who occupied high government positions, even rising to the Caliphate.
A pioneer of Arabic and Islamic studies in Italy, Veccia Vaglieri served as professor at the Naples Eastern University and was the author of books on the historical and institutional analysis of the Arab and Muslim world. Her works include
and a number of articles on the early Islam. She also contributed several articles to the Encyclopaedia of Islam.