British Muslim Heritage

One never knows where human nature may break out and he ought not to be surprised at any development it may take. There are no two of us constructed exactly alike, either physically or mentally. The most of us, however, prefer to take things as we find them, and least of all to bother our heads with the abstruse mysteries of a faith that is not the faith of our own people; and even when doubts and perplexities come our way, we deliberately relegate them to the background and go on as we were going before. That is probably in the majority of cases the wisest course to pursue. But although we do elect to be creatures of the “status quo,” that is no reason why we should not respect other people who explore the ethical of the religious faith for themselves, or why we should not hear what they have to say for their independent departures. It may be news to a great many of my readers that Ayrshire has a Scotch Mussulman, a Moslem poet, the vice-Sheikh of the British Muslims, in the person of Mr. John Parkinson – or to give him his full designation, Yehya-en-Nasr Parkinson – of Kilwinning. Mr. Parkinson is not a dreamer of dreams in the sense that he spends his hours in the writing of Turkish romance, or the turning of Moslem history into verse; like the most of us he must needs work for his living; and his working hours are another man’s. But his mind is his own, and he finds his solace and his refreshment in the Mohammedan faith which he has embraced, in familiarising himself with the chivalry of the Moslem warriors, and in the contemplation of the creed of Islam – “Allah illa Allah, Mahommed resoul Allah,” God is God, Mahommed is the Prophet of God.”

A few years ago Mr. Parkinson published his “Lays of Love and War”, a collection for the most part of chivalric poems and ballads not all, by any means, of the Moslem order, but Islamic enough to demonstrate where his sympathies may be found; and many of them characterised by the true poetic feeling and the swing that give life to battle pieces and to romance. Two years ago, while on a visit to Constantinople to attend a meeting of the Council of the Empire, His Excellency Abdullah Quilliam Bey, the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles and Hon. Consul-General for Turkey at Douglas, Isle of Man, took the opportunity of bringing to the notice of H.I.M. the Sultan the “Sons of Islam,” in which Mr. Parkinson sings of

“Chiefs who lived in days of old
When first the Tekbir’s soundng music rolled,
And when the lordly Arab battle-shod
Upon the neck of prostrate nations trod,”

And His Majesty was so highly pleased that he accepted in gift a copy of the book and ordered it to be rebound in morocco and gilt-edge and interspersed with blank leaves on which a Turkish translation was to be written to assist him with any difficult terms, and the work to be placed in his library for his own private use. Further, he ordered the Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Bey to take with him to Great Britain the decoration of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh of the fourth class. The word “Medjidieh” means “glorious”. There is nothing in Great Britain exactly analogous to this Order. Probably the nearest approach to Mr. Parkinson’s decoration is the Order of the Bath. Mr. Parkinson was commanded to send a copy of the book to each of the eight Pashas of the Imperial Divan. The decoration ceremony took place in the Liverpool mosque.

These are interesting details, and when I read them they set me wondering how it was that a Scotsman like Mr. John Parkinson, a level-headed and a matter-of-fact man in his way, albeit a poet, ever came to be attracted to Islamism, a creed that has certainly no magnetic or attractive influence for the ordinary Christian; and I took occasion on the receipt of his book and of various literary contributions more or less abstruse in which he dealt with present-day Mohammedan problems, and with Turkish literature generally, to ask him a few plain questions; among others, how he came to be attracted to Islamism and wherein he regarded it as better than Christianity. Mr. Parkinson has in reply furnished me with his views. “Religion” is to him the basis of conduct. Everything is religion which supports man in the vicissitudes of life and regulates his actions. That being so, religion broadens out into the enthusiasm for applying the knowledge of the truth of which we are convinced to practical life, sanctifying the struggle for existence and consecrating every individual to a purpose higher than himself. Life is a struggle, and what makes it alone worth living is the aim we pursue. It has no value in itself, it is an opportunity for creating actions, and its value consists therefore in our filling it with worthy actions. To this definition of religion Mr. Parkinson thinks Islamism adapts itself more than does Christianity. Mohammed was more than a Prophet; he was a Messenger charged with a message to deliver to mankind, the greatest of all the world’s teachers, the man who laid down the clearest rules of guidance, the most worthy of acceptation, and the best suited to men of different mental attainments. Mr. Parkinson objects to Christianity because he thinks it contains doctrines detrimental to the progress of humanity, such as led to the persecutions in the days when it was in what he called the zenith of its power. It was Christianity, he holds, that civilised Europe, but Europe that civilised Christianity. “The Renaissance and the Reformation were due not to Christianity but to western contact with Saracen culture, through Cordova, Cairo, and the intermediary of the Crusades”; and if you want to see it where culture is low, then look at Abyssinia, and remember the degradation and stagnation of the extinct Byzantine Empire. The old civilisations of the world did not ‘decay’; they were wiped out by violence.” To this reasoning Mr. Parkinson adds more regarding the Founder of Christianity, into which I need not enter.

The Kilmarnock Standard, March 2, 1907. | British Muslim Heritage