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the Message Continues ... 8/123

 

 

Newsletter for November 2011

 

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12

 

 

 

 

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, the eminent Muslim divine, who was on a visit to Mombassa, [Kenya, Africa] interviewed George Bernard Shaw, the world-renowned Irish savant, who was passing through on his way to South Africa on a holiday. The Union Castle Liner, Linlithgow, by which he was traveling, stopped for three days at the Island, and George Bernard Shaw was a guest of the Resident Magistrate of Mombassa, a distant relative whom he had never met before.

When His Eminence arrived at the bungalow of the Magistrate, on Wednesday morning, the 17th of April 1935, George Bernard Shaw at once came out to receive him. George Bernard Shaw, a well-built, medium-statured, erect and imposing figure, a gentleman of noble mien, was smiling . . . not the smile of the sceptic that flickers round the corners of the lips, but one of real welcome suffused his face, and there was nothing Shavian [an admirer or devotee of G.B. Shaw or his theories ... in this case "conceited"] about him, if the phonetic pun be permissible, for even his chin was not shaved, and a long flowing beard, on the contrary, imparted a serene dignity to his falsely represented Freudian features. Full of vim and vigor, if it were not for the grey colour of his hair, beard and eyebrows, he could scarcely be credited with the four score years, which strange to say, he carried with almost youthful buoyancy.

As His Eminence, a venerable figure in his dignified Arabic robes, comparatively very young, for he was only forty-three, although his grey hair due to chronic catarrh and unceasing intense mental strain made him look much older, stepped out of the car, there was a hearty exchange of greetings, after which His Eminence expressed his great pleasure at meeting him. The Grand Old Man immediately rejoined that having heard about his missionary exploits and his novel way of preaching Islam, he himself was eager to know him, and it was indeed a very happy coincidence that they had met there that day.

The conversation which followed was very interesting, though devoid of Shavian shafts and sarcasm, perhaps because the usual roles of interviews with George Bernard Shaw were reversed in this case: for it was George Bernard Shaw who asked the question of the interviewer, and listened attentively to the prompt lucid and informative replies of His Eminence. As an indirect account the lively discussion might rob it of its personal touch, it is preferable that the stalwarts are made to speak for themselves.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: I regret, I was not able, on account of a previous engagement, to attend your lecture last night, although I was very keen on doing so. You spoke on Philosophy of Peace, but as a Muslim, it would have been more appropriate if you had delivered a lecture on the Philosophy of War, for Islam doubtless, was spread at the point of the sword.

HIS EMINENCE: This is a common misunderstanding regarding Islam. I was dealing with this problem only last night, and I am really surprised that this myth which has been thoroughly exploded by now should receive any notice from a scholar of your calibre. However, I may briefly tell you now that the literal meaning of every word "Islam" is peace. An authentic record of the teachings of Islam in their pristine purity has been preserved intact in the Qur'an and the Traditions. They go to establish beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Islam permits the use of the sword only when wantonly attacked and compelled to defend itself. Besides, there is an explicit injunction in the Holy Qur'an that: "There is no coercion in religion," thus clearly forbidding the use of force or compulsion in matters of religion.

As a matter of fact, I entertain the same conviction regarding the teachings of genuine Christianity, for our sense of reasoning tells us that if they be revelations and their source of emanation be consequently Divine they cannot but emphatically veto any manner of violence in respect of belief and enjoin its inculcation by means of arguments and rational discourses. As far as Islam is concerned the Qur'an distinctly says: "So that he who perisheth thereafter may perish after demonstrative evidence, and that he who liveth may live by the same evidence."

The method that Islam teaches for its propagation, and to which its acceptance by all reasonable men and its spread to all corners of the world in the past and the present is due, consists of the Quranic dictum: "Invite people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation, and dispute with them in the most conciliating manner."

History bears testimony to the fact that Christ was declared consubstantial [of the same substance] with the father by the Council of Nice, convened by Constantine in Bithynia in the year 325 A.C., and to enforce the belief in the Divinity of Christ, there followed a most horrid and inhuman slaughter of thousands of innocent people who refused to accept the dogma, not only in Europe, but in the sacred city of Jerusalem as well; but in spite of it all, I can never hold the real Christianity responsible for it. Of course, those representatives of the Church who wanted to impress the hearts of the people with their power and greatness and perpetuate their priestly authority, ensuring the people's submission to their will, can be rightly saddled with all the blame. Similarly, the sanguinary wars, known as Crusades, were the outcome of the Machiavellian machinations of such interested ecclesiastical groups of men, who realizing that the uncompromising preaching of the Oneness of God by Islam was a great obstacle in their path and their self-fabricated Divine authority was at stake, launched an unscrupulous campaign against Islam and Muslims.

They instigated the credulous mediaeval Europe to wage the so-called "holy wars" against Islam and Muslims, by circulating blood-curdling tales of imaginary atrocities by Muslims on Christians, describing the Muslims as infidels and inveterate enemies of their religion, property and persons.

Obviously, therefore, these Church dignitaries alone can be held liable to account for those cruel, protracted, futile wars, and not the original teachings of Christianity or Islam and the Muslims. Further, if we grant as a supposition, that some Muslim rulers and tribes, actuated by the lust of conquest, became aggressors, long after the advent of Islam, and let slip the dogs of war for self-aggrandizement, we can, in fairness, condemn those individuals for the reprehensible acts, and surely not Islam.

In this connection, I happen to have made certain remarks recently, in one of my speeches at Durban, and, as they are very pertinent, I would like to repeat them to you. (So saying, His Eminence read out the following passage from a booklet which he was carrying with him:- "If certain nations, immersed in paganism and superstition and ignorant of the real teachings of religion, wage wars in its name, the crime is theirs, and no blame can be ascribed to religion. Were not millions of human beings killed during the Great War in the name of peace, justice and the laudable object of safeguarding the rights of weaker nations? Should we then condemn these humane and noble qualities because some statesman abused these terms and sanctioned the inhuman slaughter for the attainment of their own selfish ends?"

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

that:

"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

continued.

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

the Qur'an.

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

Qur'an?

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

the eyes."

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,

Hell.

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

accept it?

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

desirable manner.

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

mine.

(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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