(Sir William Muir’s Life of Muhammad agitated Sir Syed Ahmad Khan for its distortions. Syed Ahmad wrote in 1868. “ These days I am in a bit of turmoil. I have been reading the book William Muir wrote on the life of the Prophet. It has burned my heart and its injustices and prejudices have roasted my heart. I have resolved to write a biography of the Prophet just as I had earlier in tended, even if I have to spend all my money and become like a beggar, begging for alms.” Ahmad went to Britain to consult European literature on Islam and wrote a reply to Muir in the form of ‘A Series of Essays on the Life of Mohammed’. In his own opinion, this was his greatest service to the Muslim community and would guarantee his place in paradise. Here I am presenting an excerpt from the preface of the book written by Syed Ahmad Khan)

Cover-page of ‘A Series of Essays on the Life of Mohammed’ written by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (Published 1870)

 

When William Muir’s Life Of Muhammad appeared, the curiosity it excited among the reading public was only equalled by their impatience to persue it, but no iooner was it found that the simplest and plainest facts connected with Islam and Mohammed had been strained and twisted and diatorted, in short, subjected to the Procrustes’ process in order to make them the indices or exponents of the author’s prepossesions and prejudices, than the interest created by the announcement of the work fell, instanter, to zero. As to the young Mohammedans ‘Who were pursuing their study of the English literature, and were perfectly ignorant of their own theology, the perusal of the work under consideration raised in their youthful mind the question, if what Sir Wm. Muir has written is a misrepresentation of plain and simple facts, what are those facts in reality?

 

The effect which the perusal of the work in question produced upon my own mind was, to determine me to collect, after a critical examination of them, into one systematic and methodical form, all thG18 traditions concerning the life of Mohammed that are considered by Mohammedan divines to be trustworthy, genuine, and authoritative; and, at the same time, to bring together, in a separate volume, all those traditions that are in any way connected with the life of the Prophet, but which are spurious, puerile, apocryphal, and utterly unworthy of credit, specifying at the same time the reasons for so considering them. From this purpose I was however deterred by various causes, among which may be more particularly mentioned the time-engrossing avocations of official life, and the want of many MSS. which were indispensable for the successful accomplishment of my undertaking. But, nevertheless, I continued, at various times, writing essays on different subjects relating to Islam, and of which the following twelve are now presented to the public in their digested form, and which constitute the first volume of the work I am now engaged upon, namely, the Life of Mohammed, the illustrious Prophet of Arabia. The remaining Essays, making the second volume, will (D.V.) be also laid before the public in a like digested form. 

 

It being indispensable that the reader should know something respecting the works connected with the present production, all of which are in the English language, and will materially assist him in forming a correct opinion of my humble efforts; and as, moreover, the work was specially intended for the use of those Mohammedan youths who are pursuing their English studies, it has been written in that language; but being myself wholly ignorant of that splendid tongue, so as to be unable even to construct a single sentence in it, I here publicly and sincerely express my deep obligations to those friends by whose literary assistance I am now enabled to submit to the attention of an indulgent and intelligent public this first volume in its complete and digested form. 

 

Having given, in the preceding pages, a· short and oursory notice of those European authors who have written anything upon Islam or Mohammed, I cannot in justice pass over unnoticed the names of those able and learned English writers who have taken a correct view of the above named subjects, and who have well defended them from prejudiced and illiberal antagonists. The gentlemen now alluded to, and for whose talents I shall ever cherish high esteem and respect, are Edward Gibbon, the celebrated historian, Godfrey Higgins, Thomas Carlyle, and John Davenport.

 

I shall conclude this preface and introduction by quoting a few of the remarks of the above mentioned authors.

 

John Davenport writes: “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 spirituos liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity); who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy which he found in exiatence and in 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 sheer hypocrisy? No, surely nothing but a consciousness of real righteous intentions could have carried Mohammed so steadiIy 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 recognised, 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 ?”

Edward Gibbon expresses himself as follows :-” The creed of Muhammad is free from suspicion or ambiguity; and the Koran is a glorious testimony to the unity ot God. The prophet of Mecca rejected the worship of idols and men, of stars and planets, on the rational principle that whatever rises must set, that whatever is born must die, that whatever is corruptible must decay and perish. In the author of the universe his rational enthusiasm confessed and adored an infinite and eternal being, without form or place, without issue or similitude, present to our most secret thoughts, existing by the necessity of his own nature, and deriving from himself all moral and intellectual perfection. These sublime truths, thus announced in the language of the Prophet, are firmly held by his disciples, and defined with meta-physical precision by the interpreters of the Koran. A philosophic theist might subscribe to the popular creed of the Mahometans: ” creed too sublime perhaps for our present faculties” What object remains for the fancy, or even the understanding, when we have abstracted from the unknown substance all ideas of time and space, of motion and matter, of sensation and reflection ? The first principle or reason and revelation was confirmed by the voice of Mahomet: his proselytes, from India to Morocco, are distinguished by the name of Unitarians ; and the danger of idolatry has been prevented by the interdiction of images.”     

Thomas Carlyle remarks thus: “Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming impostor, a falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity; begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies which well-meaning zeal had heaped round this man are disgraceful to ourselves only. When Pococke inquired of Grotius, where the proof was of that story of the pigeon, trained to pick peas from Mahomet’s ear, and pass for an angel dictating to him, Grotius answered, that there was no proof ! It is really time to dismiss all that. The word this man spoke has been the life-guidance now of one hundred and eighty millions of men these twelve hundred years. These hundred and eighty millions were made by God as well as we. A greater number of God’s creatures believe in Mahomet’s word, at this hour, than in any other word whatever. Are we to suppose that it was a miserable piece of spiritual legerdemain, this which so many creatures of the Almighty have lived by and died by? I, for my part, cannot form any such supposition. I will believe most things sooner than that. One would be entirely at a loss what to think of this world at all, if quackery so grew and were sanctioned here. Alas, such theories are very lamentable. If we would attain to knowledge of anything in God’s true creation, let us disbelieve them wholly! They are the product of an age of scepticism; they indicate the saddest spiritual paralysis, and mere death-life of the souls of men : more godless theory, I think, was never promulgated in this earth. A false man found a religion! Why, a false man cannot build a brick house ! If he does not know and foIlow truly the properties of mortar, burnt clay, and whatever else he works in, it is no house that he makes, but a rubbish heap. It will not stand for twelve centuries, to lodge a hundred and eighty millions; it will faIl straightway. A man must conform himself to Nature’s Iaws, be verily in communion with Nature and the truth of things, or Nature will answer him, No, not at all ! Speciosities are specious. Ah me ! Cagliostro, many Cagliostroes, prominent world leaders, do prosper by their quackery for a day. It is like a forged bank-note; they get it passed out of their worthless hands; others, not they, have to smart for it. Nature bursts up in fire-flames, French revolutions, and such like, proclaiming with tenible veracity that forged notes are forged.”

 

SYED AHMED