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the Message Continues ... 8/123
Newsletter for November 2011
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A Shavian and a Theologian
An Illuminating Conversation between George Bernard Shaw
and His Eminence Mohammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, al Qaderi
His Eminence Maulana Mohammed
Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, Al-Qaderi,
When His Eminence arrived at the
bungalow of the Magistrate, on
As His Eminence, a venerable
figure in his dignified Arabic
The conversation which followed
was very interesting, though
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW:
I regret, I was not able, on
account of a
This is a common
As a matter of fact, I entertain
the same conviction regarding
The method that Islam teaches
for its propagation, and to
History bears testimony to the
fact that Christ was declared
They instigated the credulous
mediaeval Europe to wage the
Obviously, therefore, these
Church dignitaries alone can be
held liable to
In this connection, I happen to
have made certain remarks
recently, in one of
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: There is no doubt that the Roman Church
fanatics were, to a great extent, responsible for the sad events, and the pure
teachings of Christianity have no concern with their occurrence. It may also
be admitted, that a great many misunderstandings prevail regarding Islam,
and that it is being widely misrepresented, but do the Muslim masses agree
with your interpretation, and do they believe that Islam was not, and should
not be, spread by force?
HIS EMINENCE: Every Muslim is bound to endorse it, for whatever I say
is precisely what the Qur'an says, and my own views or conceptions have
nothing to do with it. Many books have been written on this subject, and
Syed Amir Ali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Shibli and other learned
Doctors of Islamic Theology have exhaustively dealt with all aspects of this
problem in their books.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: I know that there is a considerable amount
of concord between Islam and Christianity!
HIS EMINENCE: The concordance is not merely nominal or superficial,
for the Qur'an expressly predicates that when the ultimate source or origin of
an inspired or revealed and Divine religion is the Being of God, unanimity in
such revelations is indispensable. Islam has been conceived as a new
religion, but according to the Qur'an itself, the religion preached by it is the
same that was promulgated by all the true Prophets and, from Abraham right
up to Jesus, God deputed them, one and all, for the dissemination of much
the same teachings.
It was only because their original teachings were tempered with and
corrupted, and their authenticity became dubious, that the Almighty God
sent the last Prophet, and the last Book, to re-state, confirm and complete
His Original Message. The Holy Qur'an has made this quite clear by saying
"We ordained for you the religion with which We commanded Noah,
and which We have revealed unto thee (0 Muhammad!), and with which We
commanded Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying Observe this religion
and be not divided therein."
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: The translations of the Qur'an, which I have
read, certainly go to substantiate your statements. I very much prefer the
translation made by one who has adopted a different variation of the
arrangement of the verses to that which is generally followed by other
translators. I had it always with me during my tour of Morocco and Algeria,
and my occasional references to its contents proved to be a perennial source
of diversion and curious amusement to the Muslims of those lands. It is one
of the editions of "Every Man's Library", and I have commended its wider
publicity to some of the publishers.
HIS EMINENCE: The translation you allude to is that of Mr. Rodwell?
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: Yes.
HIS EMINENCE: There is no doubt that Mr. Rodwell has expended a great
deal of energy and industry in translating the chapters of the Qur'an in their
chronological order, but as his knowledge of the Arabic literature and
Islamic history was not sufficiently wide and profound, a considerable
number of translated passages are so misleading and contain such flagrant
mistakes, (which I by no means attribute to a deliberate intent on his part,
but as I have already said, they may be the result of his limited knowledge in
the said spheres) that they are likely to create wrong impressions about Islam.
As far as the translations of the Qur'an are concerned, I would recommend
you to read "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran" by Mr. Marmaduke
Pickthall, and I am sure that its perusal will enable you to appreciate
considerably more the exquisite beauty, the sublime transcendence and the
appealing and impressive style of the Qur'an's perspective. However, I do
not imply that it is a perfect version of the original, for you yourself can
aptly judge, being an admittedly splendid writer, that in spite of the
translator being the ablest and the best, he can never transmit the force and
brilliance of your original writings into his translations.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: It is quite true that the spirit of the original
cannot be transplanted into its translation in another language, and the same
is the case with the translation of the Bible, but they have now achieved a
very high standard, and the process of raising it still higher is being
HIS EMINENCE: Although the translations of the Bible may attain the
highest stage of perfection from the standpoint of language, one cannot say,
under any circumstances, that they contain the original message of
Christianity, or are the genuine versions of the teachings of Jesus Christ, for
the original message, as you know, in its unalloyed purity, as delivered by
Jesus, is no more extant. The result of the numerous sections of the Bible,
and the absence of the original manuscript, is confusion worse confounded,
and a seeker after truth cannot quench his thirst at its hydroid font, whilst the
Qur'an, in contrast, has been preserved in such a manner that there has not
been the slightest change, not even to the extent of a letter or a dot. Hence, if
we want to know the real teachings of Christianity, we must look for them in
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: Has there been really no alteration in the
Qur'an, and is it absolutely preserved in its original form? Did Prophet
Muhammad know how to write, and is his writing in existence?
HIS EMINENCE: There is a complete and authentic record of each and
every chapter, nay, even of every verse, or I might say, of every word of the
Qur'an. The Prophet, immediately following the revelation of a verse or
verses to him, used to send for the special scribes appointed for the purpose
and dictate the same to them. When transcribed, he would ask them to recite
what they had written, and, after listening to and verifying it, would explain
to them its meaning.
The manuscripts in the handwriting of one of the most honoured and trusted
among the scribes, by the name of Zaid bin Sabit, are preserved intact in the
archives of Constantinople and Medina, and all the editions of the Qur'an in
the world are their exact copies, not differing among themselves even in
point of a comma or a dash.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: What! are there punctuation marks in the
HIS EMINENCE: The punctuation marks, in the English language merely
comprise commas, colons, semi-colons, full-points [periods], etc., but the
principles of Quranic elocution comprehend numerous signs of a different
kind. For instance, a stop is compulsory in certain places, whilst it is
optional in others; some endings are to be fully pronounced, whilst others
are quiescent, etc. The correct accent, pronunciation, accurate halts, etc., are
so intricate and difficult of acquisition that the Quranic elocution has been
evolved into a distinct art, and copious volumes have been written on its
theory and practice.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: All this is rather astonishing and new to me.
I was also surprised to learn that you delivered a speech on "Islam and
Science" at Nairobi. What I find difficult to understand is how you can
possibly present the picture of Heaven and Hell, which is portrayed in the
Qur'an, in a manner convincing to persons conversant with science, whose
minds are inured to accept nothing without visible or palpable proof.
I hold the Prophet of Arabia in great esteem and I can quite understand that
it would have been impossible to restrain and wean that illiterate and
perverse race, sunk in the miasma of utter moral depravity, from committing
the most heinous of crimes, and imbue its people with enthusiasm to strive
after righteousness and assimilate high morals and virtues, without
projecting such a terrible and intensely awe inspiring spectacle of Hell and
an equally captivating and enticing image of a land flowing with milk and
honey to represent Heaven before their vision.
I also very much admire the forcible and striking diction of the Qur'an. What
elegant grace and beauty characterizes that passage which depicts the
dreadful scene of the doomsday field, and, when dealing with infanticide,
dramatically leaves off at the question:
"For what crime were thou slain?"
to the innocent child that was buried alive or put to death. In my opinion, it
is the most effective way of the people. But I am afraid I am digressing, for I
would very much like to know how the problem of Heaven and Hell can
possibly be elucidated in the light of science.
HIS EMINENCE: You are a master of the art of writing, and your
enchanting and novel literary productions with your magical pen
revolutionize the mentality of the readers. I am sure you will agree with me
on this point, that material language cannot possibly act as an apt vehicle for
the accurate conveyance of the significance and reality of spiritual problems
and phenomena without the help of metaphors and similes, and these at best
can serve to frame analogies.
One must therefore, bear this fact in mind and make due allowance for the
mode of expression in describing Hell and Heaven in the Qur'an.
Simultaneously, however, with such illustrations that confine their appeal to
physical senses, God Almighty stipulates in the clearest terms not to be too
inquisitive regarding the true nature of the blessings of Heaven:
"So no one knows what is in store for them of that which will refresh
And, according to the Traditions, we should, under no circumstances, think
of them in any way comparable to the objects of this world:
"The reality of their constitution has been neither witnessed by any
human eyes, nor have the ears listened to words capable of expressing it; it
is, indeed beyond the pale of human imagination, and even a perfunctory
surrogate of it cannot be visualized."
How can it be asserted in the face of this pronounced explanation that the
blessings of Heaven resemble in any way, whatsoever, the things that please
us or contribute to our happiness in this world. The truth of the matter, on
the contrary, is that just as a consequence of compliance with natural or
physical laws, material progress and comfort, commensurate with the degree
of comprehension and execution, follow as a matter of course, so in
proportion to allegiance or adherence to moral and spiritual laws and their
translation into practice, one attains the utmost possible spiritual bliss and
beatitude, and likewise their violation entails spiritual torture and tribulation.
Now if, according to the law of progress, everything is heading for
advancement, there must naturally be a zenith of it, and beyond that there
must be no point of further progress. Comfort or happiness and grief or
suffering are two states which a person experiences in this life; hence there
must be an extreme point of both these states. This very extreme point of
pleasure or bliss is called Heaven, and the extreme point of pain or sorrow,
Just as there are material media that are either conducive to happiness or
instrumental in inflicting suffering in this world, so must there be some kind
of media to procreate that state of bliss or generate pain and suffering in the
other world. A metaphorical word-picture of the former has been sketched to
portray Heaven, and the tremendously appalling and dreadful portrait of
torments has been drawn to symbolize Hell. Now this other world which we
can call spiritual or celestial is neither like this material world, nor is it
purely spiritual, having no connection, whatsoever, with matter, and where
there are only souls utterly free from matter.
The human being, body and soul together, is responsible or accountable for
his activities. Hence the soul in partnership with the quintessence of this
very physical organism will meet with the kind of happiness or grief suitable
to the conditions obtaining in that world.
Now it only remains to define matter, but as you know, this is not possible
even at the present stage of scientific progress. For, what matter really is, is a
conundrum that has not been solved in spite of the attempts made by the best
human brains. Far from succeeding in analysing it chemically, the greatest
scientists have not been able even to picture its reality. The culminating
point of scientific research up to date is the establishment of the Theory of
Protons and Electrons, according to which the wave radiation of these are
the basis of the universe, and every physical body in its solid form is the
result of those very radiations.
This is what the magazine 'The World of Wonder' says about matter: "Matter
seems very solid, but men of science tell us that if all the spaces in the atoms
that make up our bodies were done away with, and the nucleus and electrons
of the atoms were concentrated into a mass, the whole matter of a grown
man's body would be so small that it could not be seen with the naked eye."
Hence, if it is possible for a scientist to accept without positive proof that an
average electron flies round its nucleus several thousand million times every
second, and base the formation of solid physical organisms on their wave
radiations, there should be no difficulty for him to imagine the soul and body
in a form suitable to the conditions of the kind of happiness or grief to be
met with in the great Beyond. A very hazy picture of those states can be said
to reflect itself in those weird experiences of ours which we call dreams.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: This is really a very beautiful, eloquent and
gratifying explanation, but will the present day Muslims be prepared to
HIS EMINENCE: This description is by no means a concoction of my
brain, but, as I have already said, it is propounded by the Qur'an. I cannot
claim any credit, even for the manner of description, because my great
predecessors, Imams Fakhruddin Razi, Ghazzali, and Mohiuddin-ibn-Arabi,
when addressing enlightened philosophers like you, expressed themselves in
similar terms. If I may say it in the original style, I have only gathered a few
crumbs from their tables of magnificent feasts.
All the teachings of Islam are rational; there are no mysteries and dogmas.
They only require to be explained in a proper light to transfuse their correct
sense. It is difficult to understand the literature of any art with which we are
not conversant. Hence, in order to grasp and assimilate the problematical
points related to any art, we must first acquire knowledge and cultivate
intimate acquaintance with that particular art. If we then seek their solution
in the light of this knowledge, we shall easily understand them.
(At this stage Mr. Shaw's hostess came in, and Mr. Shaw introduced
His Eminence to her. Addressing Mr. Shaw, she said that it was almost time
for him to leave for the docks. Mr. Shaw said he must certainly make a move
then and, turning to His Eminence, said:)
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: Your conversation is so very interesting and
informative, that I would like to have the privilege of enjoying your
company for years, but unfortunately, I have to leave now.
HIS EMINENCE: I also ardently desire to have the benefit of exchanging
views with such a cultured and learned scholar as yourself, particularly when
I find that an inadequate acquaintance with the teachings of Islam from
inauthentic and perhaps tainted sources has evoked such a positive and
optimistic statement from you regarding Islam, that:
"The future religion of the educated, cultured and enlightened people
will be Islam."
I would like to speak to you about the profound philosophy and
psychological truths the Qur'an expounds, so that a gifted and erudite savant
of your parts and genius, perfectly familiar with the tastes and mental
tendencies of the civilized world, can present them to it in an effective and
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: I am really very sorry that I could secure
such a short time for speaking to a learned sage like yourself.
HIS EMINENCE: I am, however, grateful even for this opportunity and
avail myself of the occasion to present to you the printed copies of two of
my Lectures on "Religious and Scientific Progress of the World", and
"Spiritual Culture in Islam", which I recently delivered at Durban. I also
give you this booklet on "Islam" by my friend, Mr. Elias Burney, M.A., a
Professor of Economics at the Osmania University, Hyderabad, Deccan,
[India] who has made a classified collection of the Quranic verses under
various heads with explanatory notes. You will, please, read them and
communicate to me on any point from these or any other book connected
with Islam, and I shall try my level best to elucidate them and meet your
criticisms, if any, in the light of Quranic teachings.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: I have been very pleased to make your
acquaintance, and it will be the most precious of all memories of this trip of
(Bidding farewell to each other, His Eminence wishing George Bernard
Shaw a bon voyage, they parted and George Bernard Shaw was seen
standing on the veranda waving his hand till the car went out of sight.)
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