By Syed Abul A’lā Maudūdī,
Translated by Prof Syed Asim Ali.
Founder of the Modern Era
The list of the accomplishments of this greatest of is not yet exhausted. To assess his status accurately, you have to cast a glance at the world history. You will realize that this unlettered bedouin of the Arabian Desert, born in the dark ages of fourteen hundred years ago, is in fact the founder of the modern period and leader of the whole world. He is not the leader of those alone who accept him as their leader, but also of those who don’t recognize him as such. The latter have no sense of the fact that how the guidance of the one who they decry has got embedded in their ideas, in their thoughts, in their principles of life, in their norms of action and in the very spirit of the modern period they belong to.
Those who deified every mighty human were made to realize by him that a human is just a human and nothing else. No one has come to this world with the birth right of holiness, kingship or overlordship, nor does anyone carry the stigma of unholiness, subservience and servitude from the mother’s womb. This was the teaching that promulgated in the world the concepts of the unity of mankind, equality, democracy and freedom.
This is the man who altered the intellectual orientation of the world from superstition, wonder-worship and monasticism to rationalism, realism and upright worldly life. He cultivated a taste for appreciating rational miracles and holding them alone as the standard of truth in a world which demanded miracles to testify the truth. He opened the eyes of those who looked for the signs of divinity in preternatural and uncanny phenomena and made them accustomed to see the signs of God in the natural phenomena. He dissuaded those given to building castles in the air from speculative tendencies and instated them on the path of rationality, contemplation, observation and research. He explained to humanity the distinctive boundaries between reason and senses, worked out compatibility between materialism and spirituality, and interlinked religion with knowledge and action and vice versa. He generated the scientific spirit with the strength of religion and true religiosity from scientific spirit. He eradicated polytheism and creature-worship root and branch and with the power of knowledge established the monotheistic faith so firmly that even the polytheistic and idolatrous religions found themselves helpless to don monotheistic hue. He changed the basic concepts of ethics and spirituality. He showed a new way to those who had believed renunciation and self-denial to be the essence of morality and considered spiritual progress and salvation impossible even while fulfilling the demands of one’s body and self and participating in the affairs of the world. To them he showed the way of attaining moral excellence, spiritual progress and salvation within the cultural and social life and normal human action. It is he who told those unwilling to accept anyone as their leader and guide other than a superhuman, a reincarnation of God or a son of God. It is he who stressed that an ordinary man, just like them, could also be a representative of heavenly kingdom and an appointee of God. Those who deified every mighty human were made to realize by him that a human is just a human and nothing else. No one has come to this world with the birth right of holiness, kingship or overlordship, nor does anyone carry the stigma of unholiness, subservience and servitude from the mother’s womb. This was the teaching that promulgated in the world the concepts of the unity of mankind, equality, democracy and freedom.
Now, step ahead of concepts! You will notice the practical consequences of the guidance of this unlettered leader reflected in the laws, ways and general affairs of the world so profusely that you will lose count of them. A vast number of principles related to the issues of ethics, culture, refinement, purification and cleanliness practised throughout the world actually sprang up from his teachings. How immensely the world benefited from the principles he laid down for the social life and is still doing so is out there for anyone to see. How many movements sprang up throughout the world from the principles of economics he preached, and the process is still on! How many revolutions took place in the political ideologies of the world based on the ways of governance he adopted, and the process has not stopped yet! How massively the principles he laid down for justice and legislation impacted the world legal system and judicial concepts and are still doing so quietly! One who practically civilized the affairs of war and peace as well as international relations is in fact the same unlettered man of Arabia. Otherwise, before him the world was simply ignorant of the fact that even war could be subjected to some civilized conduct, and affairs could be settled among different nations on the basis of common humanity.
A Perfect Versatile
Against the backdrop of human history, the personality of this amazing man appears so towering that all those, from first to last, recognized by the world as celebrated ‘heroes’ in history look no more than dwarfs when placed beside him. None of the so-called ‘greats’ of the world could be presented as an example whose accomplishments could relate to more than one or two areas of human life. Of them, someone is the master of theories, but devoid of practical calibre; someone is a man of action, but lacks thought; someone’s talent is limited to political acumen; someone manifests only military genius; someone’s attention is so focused on one single aspect of social life that the other aspects just disappear from his view; someone is focused on morality and spirituality so exclusively that he ignores economics and politics and someone ignores morality and spirituality in his contemplation of economics and politics. In sum, we meet but single-dimensional heroes all over in the pages of history. This personality alone is the unique example of being perfectly versatile in all dimensions of life. He himself is a philosopher and a sage and himself an implementer of his ideology in the practical life. He is a statesman, army commander, law-giver, moral teacher as well as a religious and spiritual guide. His vision embraces human life in its entirety, assimilating even the minutest details. He issues instructions about each and every thing ranging from matters as commonplace as the etiquette of eating and drinking and body purification to matters as critical and complex as international relations. He proves himself by bringing into existence a civilization based on his own ideology. He establishes such an equipoise among all the various dimensions of life that it knows no imbalances as each part is in perfect harmony with the other. Have you ever known any other person of this versatility and perfection?
Above his Environs
Not one of the great personalities of the world was, more or less, but a product of his immediate circumstances. But this person remains a bewildering exception. His environment seems to have played no part in his rise. Nor can it be proved by any argument that the contemporary circumstances of Arabia historically necessitated the inevitable appearance of such a personality.
Not one of the great personalities of the world was, more or less, but a product of his immediate circumstances. But this person remains a bewildering exception. His environment seems to have played no part in his rise. Nor can it be proved by any argument that the contemporary circumstances of Arabia historically necessitated the inevitable appearance of such a personality. The most you can say here is just this that the contemporary historical forces in Arabia probably asked for the rise of a leader who by eliminating or downplaying the tribal differences could unify Arabs into one nation and by conquering other lands secure their economic future. That is, he would be a nationalist leader, an embodiment of all the contemporary Arabian characteristics, who by resorting to any means whatsoever, including brutality, callousness, bloodshed, deception and treachery, would work for the prosperity of his nation and, thus, build an empire to be inherited by his descendants for sustainable dynastic rule. Other than this no other demand of the contemporary history could be proved. From the point of view of Hegelian philosophy of history or Marxian materialistic interpretation of history, the maximum you can assert is that in those circumstances a builder of a nation or empire should have arisen or could possibly arise. But how on earth would the Hegelian or Marxian theories explain and justify the rise of such a person at that time and in those circumstances who proved to be the best moral teacher, reformer of humanity, purifier of the souls and eradicator of biases and superstitions and whose vision crossing the barriers of nation and homeland encompassed the whole of humankind; who laid down the foundation of moral, spiritual, cultural and political system for the entire humankind rather than for his own nation alone; who established the economic affairs, civil polity and international relations on moral grounds not only in theory but also in actual practice; who blended spiritualism and materialism in such a perfectly balanced and fine manner that even now it remains the same masterpiece of sagacity and astuteness as ever? Can you really consider such a personality a product of the environment of savage Arabia?
An Epoch-making Personality
He is not one of those who have been antiquated by history and who can be praised now only as a good leader of his time. Unique and most-distinguished, he is such a leader of humankind who marches on with history and looks as fresh, modern and relevant in each ensuing era as he was for the bygone era.
Not only that he does not seem to be a product of his environment, but by mulling over his accomplishment we also realize that he is free from the confines of space and time. His vision beams forth shattering the maxima of time and circumstances and cutting across the veils of centuries and millenniums. He visualises humans in every epoch and each milieu and gives for their life pattern such moral and practical guidelines that suit each situation perfectly well and in full harmony. He is not one of those who have been antiquated by history and who can be praised now only as a good leader of his time. Unique and most-distinguished, he is such a leader of humankind who marches on with history and looks as fresh, modern and relevant in each ensuing era as he was for the bygone era.
Whom you generously call the ‘makers of history’ were in fact the ‘creatures of history.’ The only ‘maker of history’ in the entire history of humankind is this person. It you cast a critical glance at the circumstances of the great revolutionaries of the world, you will realize that the factors leading to a revolution were already there in active existence. Those factors were also determining the course and direction of that revolution they sought to materialize. At this ripe moment, a revolutionary leader steps forth just to play the part of the actor for whom the stage and role had already been determined and he thus translates the diktats of times from potentiality into actuality [it is like the act of picking a fruit already ripened and mellowed by natural processes (Tr.)]. In most cases he is no more than a catalyst. But, of all epoch-makers or revolutionary leaders this ummīstands apart in that he himself generated the causes of revolution where they were non-existent, produced substance of revolution which was non-existent, and groomed people suitable to his cause where the spirit of revolution and practical revolutionary capability was non-existent. He poured into the hearts of thousands of people the spirit of his own awesome personality and moulded them the way he desired them to be. By his own personal force and willpower he himself cultivated the ground for revolution, himself determined its contours and direction, and by the force of his own conviction and determination bent the drift of circumstances and steered them the way of his choice. Can you spot any other epoch-maker of this unmatchable splendour and a revolutionary of this unparalleled grandeur in history?
His Perfect Righteousness
You say it was all the creation of his own mind. But, I say that if it was all a creation of his own mind, then he should have claimed godhead, not prophethood. If he had advanced such a claim, the world that readily accepted Rama as god; had no hesitation in recognizing Krishna as god; deified Buddha on its own; accepted Christ son of God; worshipped even fire, water and air; would never have hesitated embracing this most wonderful man of all times as God.
Now, reflect for a moment what the source might have been of generating so much knowledge, so much light, so much power, so much dexterity and so many attuned skills and massive potentialities in an illiterate bedouin living as a shepherd and trader in a remote corner of as obscure and bleak a land as Arabia, much darker than the rest the world, fourteen hundred years ago? You say it was all the creation of his own mind. But, I say that if it was all a creation of his own mind, then he should have claimed godhead, not prophethood. If he had advanced such a claim, the world that readily accepted Rama as god; had no hesitation in recognizing Krishna as god; deified Buddha on its own; accepted Christ son of God; worshipped even fire, water and air; would never have hesitated embracing this most wonderful man of all times as God. But, look what he says! He declines to take personal credit for even a single excellence of his; he says ‘I am an ordinary human just like you. Nothing I have is my own. Everything is of God’s and from Him. This discourse, the like of which cannot be produced by all humans put together, is not my own composition. It is not a product of my own mental abilities. Word for word has it been sent to me from God to Whom all praise is due. These accomplishments of mine, these laws I formulated, these principles I taught to you, none of these I have invented on my own. I hold no power of presenting anything in my personal capacity. I look up to God for His guidance in each matter. I do and say just what I get from that source.’
Look, how astounding is this integrity! What absolute veracity and trustworthiness! A liar has no scruples taking the credit for even those accomplishments of others whose original sources can be easily traced. But, this person declines to take the personal credit for even those accomplishments of his which none would have been able to challenge if he had declared them his very own, simply because none had the means to access their original source. What else could be the brighter evidence of his authenticity than this? Who else could be more veracious than the person who had access to a hidden source of excellences, inaccessible to anyone else, and yet he unhesitatingly lets others know of the original source of all his wonderful achievements? Tell us then why should we not vouch for him?
Translated from Tafhīmāt, Vol. 1, pp. 238-255
—————————————————– Traditionally ‘ummī’ is translated as illiterate or unlettered, but it actually implies people holding no revealed Book in contrast to the ‘People of the Book’ like Jews and Christians [ghair Ahl al-Kitāb]. It loosely means ‘gentile’ rather than illiterate. Ummī comes from ‘umm’ in the name of their city ‘Umm al-Qurā’ (i.e. Makka); that is the inhabitants of Umm al-Qurā who possessed no revealed Book, be they lettered or unlettered. Anyhow, the author has used this term here in the traditional sense of ‘illiterate.’ [Translator