British Muslim Heritage
Sermon delivered by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall
on the occasion of “Eid-ul-Fitr”, on the 29th June, 1919

‘O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah with the care which is due to Him, and do not die without submitting to Him utterly.

            ‘And hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah, and do not separate. And remember Allah’s goodness to you, how you were enemies and He united your hearts so that you became brothers. And how you were on the brink of an abyss of fire and He rescued you from it. Thus Allah makes clear His revelations to you, in order that you may be rightly guided.’

‘The cable of Allah!’ In another chapter of the Book it is written: ‘There is no compulsion in religion. The Right Direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who discards vain superstitions and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will not give way.’ Everything else gives way and fails us except the tie which binds the sons of men by duty to Allah. And in that tie, that cable joining us to God, is the one certain and unfailing hope of human progress, the one sure way of human brotherhood, the one way to success in that which hitherto has been a failure – the progress of mankind as a whole to peace and happiness. Self-sacrifice is the proof of true religion. But some people when they speak of self-sacrifice mean the sacrifice of one human being for another. That may be anti-social, anti-human. It may happen that a worthy, useful, good person sacrifices himself or herself for a worthless, useless, wicked person. The only self-sacrifice which has real human – and therefore religious – value, is the sacrifice of the self to Allah, the surrender of our selfish and ambitious aims to Allah’s universal purpose.

            In the same way love of children, friends, relations, and the desire to serve them; love of country, love of creed, are admirable in their way; but without the thought of Allah, and the higher purpose, they become detrimental to humanity at large. Allah is the Creator and Sustainer alike of all mankind, no matter what their race, or creed, or colour. His mercy and His purpose are for all alike. If we serve our friends, or our relations, or our country, or our religious community without that personal adherence to Allah which is the duty of every one of us, without the thought of Allah’s universal purpose, we exalt our relations, or our country, at the expense of other men’s relations, other people’s countries, and we are really doing harm instead of good, in terms of humanity. And as objects of devotion, all these things must fail and disappoint us. ‘All men die. All men must meet the judgement of their Lord. Be not of those who forget.’

Our closest intimacy with a fellow-creature is not perfect intimacy. No human being really comprehends another. We touch each other only externally at certain points, and the attempt to get to closer intimacy leads to disappointment, pessimism and despair. There is in every one of us an inner self, which was old when we first woke to consciousness and will be young when all our faculties are smitten with decay. If that inner self surrenders to another human being there is tragedy, for no human being has the power to satisfy its yearnings. In Allah only can it find contentment. In Allah only can all our various personalities find fulfilment and really reach communion with each other. There is no such thing as a perfect communion of two human souls. The inmost soul of every man and woman is solitary from the cradle to the grave, unless and until it surrenders to Allah, and then it is never solitary any more. It is at one with Allah’s purpose in the universe, reconciled to the conditions of existence, content with life and death, happy to strive in the way which Allah has appointed, leaving the results to Him. That is Islam. It is not, as some suppose, a state of ecstatic lethargy, but a state of ecstatic energy, of glad fulfilment of the laws of God. And the laws of Allah in the Qur-án are not negative; they are positive; not merely, Thou shalt not do so-and-so; but, Do so-and-so, and so-and-so with all your might. At the time of the coming of Muhammad religion was a thing apart from daily life. It was bound up with vain ideas of the miraculous. A phenomenon to be regarded as divine had to transgress the natural order in a glaring way. The men of Mecca said: ‘What is the matter with this Prophet? He eats food and walks in the streets. Why has not an angel been sent down to support him in his admonitions? Why has not a heavenly treasure been bestowed on him? Why has he not a paradise from which to eat?’ They had such legends of the former prophets. The Qur-án informs them of the truth: ‘We have not sent any messengers before you but they did assuredly eat food and walk in the streets.’ In other words the former prophets, whom they deified, were only men.

            Islam brought back religion to the light of every day. It proclaimed the phenomena of every day to be signs of Allah, bearing testimony to His power and majesty more truly than any miracle that ever was related. And it placed a goal of true religion in this world. Allah is the king of this world. We are all in His hands, helpless against laws we never made – the laws of nature, which are laws of God. Man is His Khalifah (viceroy) in this world. But Allah is not an absent king. ‘Allah is the protecting friend of those who believe. He leads them out of darkness into light.’ His evidences are around us. He is here. ‘And do not die without submitting to Him utterly.’ Do not die without becoming Muslims in the inward sense.

            But do not think of that submission as the end of spiritual life. It is not an end at all, it is a state of being, and a very active state of being in obedience to the law of God – a law above the laws which men have made – and that law is the service of humanity as a whole. It covers not only personal conduct, but social relations, commerce and finance, politics and international relations. ‘Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you.’ The laws of Allah as revealed in the Qur-án are simply that maxim extended to collective as well as individual human conduct, codified and reasoned out in detail in such a way that the ignorant and the intelligent, the nation and the individual, alike can know for certain what their duty is in given circumstances.

            Usury is anti-social, gambling is anti-social, drunkenness is anti-social. The ideal of property as belonging absolutely to the individual to do exactly what he likes with it, and leave it in his will to whom he likes, is anti-social. All property is a trust from God, and held upon conditions clearly laid down in the sacred law. A certain portion of the income must be given to the poor, a certain portion to the community every year. And when a man dies his property must be divided among certain relatives, women as well as men, in fixed proportions.

Aggressive nationalism is a crime in the Kingdom of Allah. Patriotism, as Europeans generally understand it – my country right or wrong – is anti-human. The Muslim has no business with such errors. Obedience to the law of Allah as revealed in the Qur-án is, in my belief, the only way to reconcile the claims of rich and poor, of governors and governed, of slave and free. When once the law of Allah is accepted all those troubles disappear. I believe it is the only way out of the dilemma in which civilization is now placed; and it is interesting for a Muslim to note how nearly the most enlightened European thinkers approach to it in their suggested remedies. They little guess that what they deem the latest thing in human thought was first propounded by an unlettered Arab thirteen hundred years ago as part of the divine law governing all human progress. When you hear the Muezzin calling, ‘Come to success! Come to success!’ what do you suppose is meant? Not selfish success. Spiritual success! Yes, for only through the service of humanity can we attain the sense of Allah’s protecting friendship in this world, and to attain that is the purpose of our being. For thirteen hundred years that cry has been going forth from every mosque in the world by night and day. ‘Come to success! Come to success!’

            Success in that which hitherto has been a failure – the progress of mankind as a whole! Success within the Muslim world there has been, and there is. Nationalism has been abolished. Patriotism has been replaced by the spirit of brotherhood. Black and white and brown and yellow people mix in Islam upon a footing of complete equality, holding fast, all of them together, to the cable of Allah: the sacred law. There was no police for centuries within the Muslim empire, and no need of one. There is no need of a police for happy people. Oh, we Muslims have great cause to remember Allah’s goodness to us: ‘how we were enemies and He united our hearts and we became brothers; and how we were on the brink of an abyss of fire and He saved us from it.’

            But what of the world outside Islam? Have Muslims thought sufficiently of that? Have they not been content with their own happiness, and neglected their duty as a community to do good to others, to mention Allah’s goodness to them so that others too might come to knowledge of it? And so it has happened that the tortured peoples of the earth, made energetic by their misery, attacked the happy peoples. They overcame the Muslim empire, bit by bit, till now they stand above the last heroic remnant of it in the attitude of executioners. They know no law of God – nor even any law of man – where conquered peoples are concerned.

            But is that their fault? Is it not the fault of Muslims in the past? It is thirteen hundred years since the Divine laws regulating war and conquest for the welfare of mankind were revealed. How comes it that the rulers of the world to-day have never even heard of them?

            But is the Kingdom of Allah destroyed? Is the Kingdom of Allah at anybody’s mercy? No, indeed! The Muslims had become distracted; in their bewilderment they scattered, going this way and that. Now, praise to Allah, they are once again united, holding fast, all together, to the cable of Allah, no longer separate. The Kingdom of Allah can never be defeated while Muslims keep that spirit, while our men in high positions are ready to resign, while every Muslim is prepared to give up everything and die if necessary, in order to secure an act of justice. The Muslim empire has been conquered once before; and then what happened? The conquerors themselves were conquered. They embraced Islam. Is that impossible to-day? No, it is not; if by Islam we mean what the Prophet and the Qur-án mean by it: not necessarily our own form, but the great principles of our religion, acknowledgement of Allah’s kingship over earth and acceptance of that law of universal brotherhood and tolerance which Muhammad (may God bless and keep him) preached to men. It is what the tortured nations of the world are longing for. The one thing needed is a good example from the Muslims. Strive to do good to everyone with whom you come in contact; avoid all evil and degrading habits; stand up for good, wherever you perceive it, not only among Muslims but in all the world; oppose evil wherever it appears; call upon everyone who believes in a higher law than that of men, and looks for a higher judgment than that of men, who believes in abstract right and wrong according to the measure of Allah, whether he call himself a follower of Jesus (on whom be peace) or of Moses (on whom be peace) or of any Prophet or of no Prophet, to join with us in a great effort after righteousness. Let us hold fast, all of us together, to the cable of Allah, and never separate! | British Muslim Heritage