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Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s assessment of prospects of propagation of Islam in the West, 1913
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Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s assessment of prospects of propagation of Islam in the West, 1913

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din wrote a report in January 1913, published in Badr, 6 March 1913, on his assessment of the prospects of the propagation of Islam in the West, particularly with reference of course to England. It is translated below from Urdu.

Propagation of Islam in the Western world

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu

When departing from India, I announced through the newspapers Akhbar and Zamindar the purpose of my journey. I neither made any promise to anyone about the propagation of Islam nor raised any hopes. However, Muslim brethren connected me with the subject of this article, directly or indirectly, and expectations of me were expressed in Islamic journals, of which I had never considered myself worthy. I was at least pleased to see, by these writings, that our community is alive and interested in the propagation of Islam. I have not come here on behalf of any Anjuman nor has any merchant of Bombay has sent me here for the propagation of Islam by paying the costs. I am against that as a principle. Thus, as Dr. Iqbal’s visit to Japan was proposed by an Anjuman, I was against it. The tree of Islam has been watered by personal sacrifices and this is what is required now as well. It is my own inner pain and compulsion and my crying and imploring at the threshold of the Almighty that has brought me to the Western world. Today I do not consider my journey to be a waste by any standard. I knew that the way of working and speaking here is entirely novel, so I did not proceed in haste. It would have been all too easy to hire a hall and give lectures in it or make my presence known in newspapers, creating a false impression of success back home and pleasing my fellow-countrymen by this illusion. This is especially easy to do in this city [London] where one can buy the highest honour, good name and favourable opinion as a commercial commodity. I seek no fame nor, except from Allah, any reward from anyone, nor yet to discharge my duty to any Anjuman or merchant of Bombay. Therefore I have started to study the conditions here from the perspective of the propagation of Islam. It is now the fifth month since I left India. Although this is a short duration, but for information of Muslim brethren I write down the conclusions I have reached in this period. Only Allah the Most High knows whether these conclusions are right or wrong.

These people live in a cold climate and are not impetuous in making decisions. Being liberal-minded, yet they are also traditionalist who do not accept new ideas, ways and religions quickly.They are very proud with a high self-regard. Continuous success, power and wealth have created a feeling of superiority in them. They do not consider the thoughts of an Asian mind to have any value at all, and believe the source of every good thing to be Western. Even though their God [meaning Jesus] came from the East, they do not consider any principle, idea or view originating from the East to be worthy of attention, due to being from the East. They have very little free time. Leaving their homes before 8 a.m. to go to work, they do not return till 6 p.m. Tired after a day’s work, they indulge in various forms of entertainment. If they come to any lecture, it is merely for amusement and pleasure. This is why lectures here are at most half an hour or three-quarters of an hour in duration. People cannot sit for longer than this. Politics is the religion here. If some well-known, learned man gives a lecture, and that too on politics, then thousands gather. To attend such gatherings is regarded as a requirement of freedom. At all the lectures on religion that I attended, even though on some occasions the speaker was very famous, yet in this populous city only an audience of some 70 to 100 was present. People are not interested in religion. I have often been to see inside churches. The trend here is that women come to the places of worship, and accompanying them are some men related to them. No one else bothers.

The misconceptions about Islam that I have found since coming here are so terrible that I had absolutely no idea about them in India. The worst possible picture that can be portrayed of a religion or an institution is the picture of Islam here. Those responsible for this are not only the Christian clergymen, but also the politicians. Fifty years ago the Liberal Party decided that the Turks should leave Europe. In Europe war is in the hands of the bankers and the general population. The present Balkan war is a result of the collusion between bankers and newspapers. As the Liberal Party wanted to remove the Turks from Europe, it had to create public opinion against them. Accordingly, all kinds of false allegations and baseless accusations of atrocities were published against them in newspapers, novels and books, and during the past fifty years all Western nations and their masses were turned against the Turks. Today too there is a kind of conspiracy among all newspapers in England to not print even one line in favour of the Turks. I do not understand what we had thought in India because here everyone is against the Turks. However, these are political matters, with which I have no concern. My purpose is to say that the dark picture of the Turks spread in the West for political reasons, especially over the past fifty years, has brought Islam into disrepute because ‘Turk’ and ‘Muslim’ are synonymous here.

The style of life here and what are considered to be harmless entertainment or pastimes contain what I regards as elements of obscenity. I went to Paris, known as the Palace of the Devil, and by way of information saw some courts of that devilish place. Then I came here and observed various types of pastimes in this country. On such occasions a Muslim is compelled to call for the forgiveness of Allah, but from the point of view of the propagation of Islam I am often bewildered and perplexed and ask: O God, are these the people who will accept Islam? I have said that they are not interested in Christianity itself or religion. They consider religious matters a waste of time. They greatly detest Islam, which they regard as an obstacle to progress and flowing entirely against the grain of the times. Besides this, their involvement in their worldly affairs is so dominant that they have no time for anything else. This is the state of the majority of the people. The others are the affluent, who cannot understand where to throw their money. In such a carefree country full of wonders, there are plenty of sources of play and amusement for them, so they cannot be interested in anything like religion.

This is the negative side of the prospects of the propagation of Islam that I have explained. In view of these circumstances I did not like to waste time and money delivering lectures. However, there is a bright side which is very pleasing and encouraging. The ordinary individuals here are generally most definitely not persons of their own, independent mind as they are thought to be abroad. In certain matters they only get an understanding after reading newspapers. Early in the morning they read the newspaper that they trust, then whatever they read in that newspaper, it becomes their belief and opinion. This is why the press is so powerful here. One of the reasons for the progress of this nation is that once they accept someone as an opinion leader, anything he says is regarded as set in stone. In wars their soldiers act on this. In religious, social, national, political matters etc. if an opinion former declares some view, they all agree with him. I think this is a good quality because every individual is not capable of having an independent opinion in every matter. This is why a great man can write a book presenting some new concept, and he makes the country agree with him in his lifetime. If I have conceived of any way of the propagation of Islam up till now, it is because of these opinion leaders, and not the masses. I have spoken to some famous church figures here about Christianity, and met some wealthy persons interested in intellectual matters. This gave me great pleasure. When I put to them in a polite way certain criticisms of Christian doctrines, they acknowledged these without hesitation. When I showed them that certain modern social and cultural trends of this country were literally stated in the Quran, they were even more surprised, some saying that they did not realise the high calibre of the thinking of Muhammad (may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him). They wished to be given further authentic knowledge about Islam, which may be a source of pleasure as well as further reflection and consideration for them. The last generation in Europe, as also the present generation, have produced a group of famous thinkers who are greatly disenchanted with the present-day civilization and culture of Europe. Some believe that Europe has reached the last days of the Roman civilization, the result of which will be the end of its present greatness. These great men are proposing new principles of civilization in opposition to the existing ones, and my friends will be very surprised to hear that some aspects of this new thinking are close to Islam and some are exactly Islamic, which our Western-educated Muslim brethren have departed from.

It appears from the report of the divorce commission here that the proposed relaxation of the divorce laws are exactly in accord with Islam. I have said that the ordinary people here do not hold their own independent opinions, while those who are their masters are moving towards Islamic principles in cultural, social and political matters. We must explain to this latter class of people, in an intelligent and gentle manner, that some parts of the new modes that they are proposing were taught by the Quran thirteen centuries ago, while other parts have certain drawbacks which can be corrected by Islam. For example, on the questions of the connection between the soul and the body, the birth of the soul, and philosophy of thought, Imam Ghazali and Bu Ali Sina have much influenced Europe. But Henri Bergson, the present-day French philosopher, has explained the nature of the soul in a way which defies the previous philosophy. But the summary of his views is the verse of the Quran ending with the words: “then We cause it to grow into another creation” [23:14]. Professor Huxley is disenchanted with Christianity, and a chief aspect of his philosophy is based on the verse “Surely man is in loss” [103:2], it being the duty of culture and civilization to emerge from this state. According to him, religion has not taught the remedy for this state, but by religion he means Christianity. Some remedies proposed by him, although incomplete and greatly defective, are tending towards the golden principle taught in the next verse of Sura Asr: “Except those who believe and do good deeds and exhort each other to truth and exhort each other to patience” [103:3].

The philosopher [Herbert] Spencer, believing in the First Cause, cannot find in the Christian scriptures any means given by which man can attain knowledge of this First Cause. In other words, he does not want to believe in revelation. Does not the Sura Naml of the Holy Quran put forward philosophical arguments from the testimony of this very Nature that is the teacher of this philosopher? Socialism is popular in Europe today. Its virtues are to be found in Islamic teachings, while the Holy Quran has also mentioned its flaws and proposed a middle path. The golden principle of rationalism, which Professor Leakey believes has demolished Christianity, is in my view only one half of the reality of human existence. In its full and perfect form it is to be found in Sura Tin. The philosopher [John Stuart] Mill sets forth the principles of mental independence. A much greater measure of this independence is found in the lives of the Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The concept of personal sacrifice, which some European philosophers deeply lament as disappearing from Europe, is indicated in the word Islam itself and is created in man by acting upon its pillars.

The followers of the philosopher Nietzsche are looking for causes. From the point to which their mentor has taken them, the Quran can further guide them. The Suffragette Movement demands rights for women, but these are far below the rights given to women in the Quran. There is deep anxiety in England about the “White Slave Trade”, but if there is any remedy for it, it lies in polygamy.

These are a few issues which are a cause of concern to the thinkers and opinion leaders of Europe. To send a missionary here as a lecturer to propagate Islam is not a way for which this country is ready yet. Of course, if someone becomes famous and renowned then people may pay attention to him. It is pen and paper which is overwhelmingly powerful here. If books or standard journals from India are sent here, they will be consigned to waste paper baskets here, if for no other reason than the quality of printing and typesetting in India. These ways are utterly futile. If work is done from here by pen and paper, with perseverance and determination, that would be highly useful. From here the propagation of Islam can be done not only in England but also in Europe and America, and in particular in that dark continent where the hearts of the people are ready to accept the light of Islam, but there are powerful movements afoot here in Christian clergy circles, for political ends, to keep their hearts in the dark. The people there know English and are Christians who are disillusioned with Christianity and prefer Islam. By this I mean the continent of Africa, about which I will write later in detail.

Europe is in fact ruled by ideologies and principles. We cannot conquer Europe by sword and canon, but if we show them that the principles that they are following are found in a better form in the Quran there is no reason why they should not accept the supremacy of the Quran. Read the writing of any European philosopher and you will see that, being disenchanted with the culture and civilization of Europe, he is proposing a new culture that is very close to the Holy Quran. The reason why their attention does not go towards the Holy Quran is that its followers are bereft of all those qualities that, in my view, are attained by following the Holy Quran. A tree is recognised by its fruit. The non-Muslim world mistakenly considers us to be the fruit of the Holy Quran, whereas the Quran is not responsible for our deeds and actions.

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din
c/o National Bank of India
26 Bishop’s Gate, London, England
16 January 1913

Related links:

Badr, 6 March 1913, pages 12–14
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