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Paper by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din at 6th Congress of Religions, Paris, July 1913
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Paper by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din at 6th Congress of Religions, Paris, July 1913

Reproduced below is the text of the paper presented by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din at the 6th Congress of Religions in Paris in July 1913. It was published in The Review of Religions, October 1913 on pages 397–410, and also later in the collection of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s lectures in the book Islam to East and West (first published, 1935; A.A.I.I.L., U.S.A., reprint, 1997). Both these sources have been consulted in preparing the text below. No translation is involved as the original sources are, of course, in English.

The Congress of Religions in Paris was organised by the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). A list of its congresses is available on its website at this link, which shows for the year 1913 the ‘International Congress for Religious Progress – Progressive Christians and Free Religious Believers’.

See also: IARF: Minutes and scrapbooks, 1900-1952, at Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

Special Features of Islam

A Paper read by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, of the “Islamic Review”, at the Sixth Congress of Religions, in Paris, on July 19, 1913.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, —

Allow me, once more, to express my sincere thanks for the privilege and the honour you have conferred upon me to say here a few words on behalf of my religion. That Islam admittedly was the torch-bearer of learning and light in the West in days when Europe was enshrouded in ignorance and darkness, and that the followers of the Holy Prophet were undoubtedly among the very few factors in creating the conditions which led to the present culture and advancement here, are in themselves cogent reasons which should strongly appeal to your sense of duty and justice towards Islam and the Muslims. What a pity that with all the outpouring of learning and literature, no proper efforts are made to clear off that cloud of misrepresentation and want of knowledge which still envelops the religion of Arabia in the West. You can afford, ladies and gentlemen, to explore dead and dull regions of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans at the expense of inestimable human lives and resources, but you do not care to fathom that great religious ocean which deeply affects physical, moral and spiritual regions of a vast number of humanity. It is a happy sign, however, to find plans of Universal Religion discussed in your programme, and a desire to create a better understanding amongst the adherents of the various denominations and persuasions of the world; but in order to find out a via media between different religions, and to create harmony among the conflicting elements in religious opinion, is it not necessary that first-hand information should be obtained at least of a religion, which at present is a living force and a co-worker with other factors in humanizing millions of men still living on the planes of ignorance and barbarity? It is absolutely inconsistent with your advanced culture that your information on Islam should come through adulterated channels and from the hands of propagandists hostile to Islam; and in this respect, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to assure you that misconception, misconstruction or even misinterpretation of Islam and its tenets is not our complaint, it is Misrepresentation and Misinformation by which we are the chief sufferers here. Things having no existence whatsoever in our teachings and polity have been imputed to us, and baseless charges advanced against Islam; nay, the very beauties which we account amongst our exclusive possessions have been denied to us, and the very evils which Islam came to eradicate, and did succeed in so doing, are ascribed to it. Do not monotheistic ideas pervade all your deliberations today in this Liberal Congress, and is not, therefore, your everlasting gratitude due to the religion which alone in the most unequivocal way taught the Unity of God and the Equality of Man!

The shortness of the time at my disposal, ladies and gentlemen, disables me from giving you even a bird’s eye view of my religion, but availing myself of the courtesy awarded to me, allow me to give you a few features of Islam which, to my mind, as a student of religion for the last twenty years, appeal as its special and exclusive acquisitions.


The very first words in the Book of Islam inculcate the most generous views which a Muslim must entertain towards the other religions of the world. Almost all pre-Islamic religions while claiming Divine revelation for their origin, denied that privilege to the others, as if the adherents of the latter were the step-children of God, or the Universal Father forgot them after they were created. This narrow-mindedness created contempt and hatred between nations, and caused disintegration among the various members of God’s family, resulting in wars and fighting, which devastated everything noble and high in humanity. But Islam uprooted this very idea; it taught that every nation had been blessed with a teacher from God. The Divine origin of every religion was admitted, and subsequent innovations by man, if any, were pointed out. “All praise and glory is due to Allah (God), Who is Creator, Sustainer and Nourisher of all the races of mankind,” are the opening words of the Quran. Is not physical sustenance open to every man, white or black; why not, then, spiritual? If the various components of Nature have been created to meet equally the physical needs of all the nations of the world, nourishment of soul is equally needed. And therefore the Final Word of God in the Quran declared that all the prophets of various nations of the world came from God, and brought light from one Divine source. Nay, Islam did not assume and claim a new position for itself as a religion. It came to complete that old, old religion, The Gospel of Obedience to Divine Laws, which was gradually revealed to the blessed race of the prophets from Adam to Jesus. As the Quran says in this respect:

“Say (ye Muslims): We believe in God, and what has been sent down to us (through the Holy Prophet), and what has been sent to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, and Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord. We make no difference between them, and to Him are we resigned.”
The Quran 2:136

This verse not only makes a Muslim a follower of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, but infuses in him a spirit of allegiance and reverence to Moses, Jesus, and all other prophets of the world. The Quran is his sacred book, no doubt, but the sacred scriptures of other nations are also his common property with them.


The second special feature which I claim for Islam is the different conception of religion which it presents to its followers. Islam does not believe in rituals and ceremonials as essentials in religion, nor does it inculcate any dogma or sacrament. It is neither monasticism nor absolute prudentialism. It makes religion a simple, practical life. In every deed and action, and in every thought and conception, a Muslim has to observe his religion. Hence Islam provides various laws and regulations for observance in one’s life. And does not our daily life exert deep influence upon our soul and morals? One who regards spirituality as something different from what may be called “an outcome of balanced morals and passions” has hardly understood human nature. Hence the Muslim’s spirituality does not begin to work when he goes into the four walls of his sanctuary, nor has he to wait for certain periods of time in a week or a month for the edification of his soul. Everything, even of the least magnitude and intensity, whether good or bad, he has been taught has a deep effect upon his life in every respect, and he stands responsible for it before God, Who is believed to be Omnipresent and Omniscient. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, when questioned, defined Islam in one word. Islam, he said, consists in “obedience to God and benevolence to His creatures”; a religion which alone, in my humble judgement, can be and ought to be the coming religion of the world. No doubt Islam also teaches certain beliefs and enjoins certain practices, but lest they be confused with what constitutes real religion, they have been named Pillars of Islam and not Islam in themselves; but they are indispensable, as beliefs lead to human actions and practice makes man perfect. That rituals are of little value if unattended with virtuous actions and good beliefs has been elucidated in the following verse from the Quran:

“There is no piety in turning your face towards the East or the West, but he is pious who believeth in God and the last day, and the angels, and the scriptures, and the prophets; who for the love of God disburseth his wealth to his kindred and to the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and those who ask, and for ransoming; who observeth prayer, and payeth the legal alms, and who is of those who are faithful to their engagements when they have engaged in them, and patient under ills and hardships, and in time of trouble; these are they who are just and these are they who fear the Lord.”
The Quran, 2:177.


It would not be out of place to give here the Islamic notion of the worship of God and His glorification, which has been considered to be the main object of religion in the world. Under the teachings of Islam God is much too Great to be pleased in seeing man bow down at His Altar. Man’s submission or disobedience to Him, according to the Quran, neither adds to nor detracts from His Divine glory, as God is self-sufficient. Edification of God under Islam consists in the edification of man. Similarly, glorification of God simply means regeneration of man. The very word Ibadat, which in the Arabic text stands for worship and adoration of God, is very suggestive. Literally, it also means to open and work out what is latent in one. To convert our high and noble potentialities into actualities is therefore the chief object of our Ibadat, i.e. worship; but to do so we need certain laws and regulations revealed to us by Him Who is Creator of all our faculties.Thus, in the second place, worship of God comes to mean obedience to such laws and regulations. Again, certain beliefs and practices are necessary to create in one a disposition to obey and submit, in order to make him observant of Divine Commandments which are conducive to his final regeneration. Thus, in common parlance, saying prayers, fasting, and doing other things, come to mean worship. Real worship and true glorification of God, however, are really meant to cause edification and evolving of man. One who fails to edify himself has failed to realise the object of worship. Similarly, if Islam lays special stress on the Unity of God and destroys all polytheistic tendencies in man, it is not to satisfy a certain passion of “Jealousy in God,” Who cannot suffer to see any other deity on the same altar with Him. It is in order to accept one and the only one source of the law that the Unity of God is so emphatically preached in Islam. God, the Creator of our faculties as well as the Author of all other things in the Universe created to help human development, can alone know and show us the way of our evolution and give the law. But if I have got more than one God to worship, my sense of obedience to His law must suffer. Hence to believe in one and the only one God is essential for the proper growth and moulding of my real character. Besides, the very idea of the Unity of God establishes two things which are the only basis of all our civilization and culture: the equality of man and the subservience of Nature. The first opens chances of progress equally to everyone, and the other leads to all scientific researches; and the Quran in explicit terms mentions these two things as the necessary fruits of our belief in the Unity of God.


If religion or the worship of God is, therefore, so closely connected with our own regeneration, are we not in need of laws and regulations to guide us? Our physical conditions produce a deep effect upon our morals, which when exercised with high character work out our spirituality. Our ethics and polity have also to play a great part in our spiritual growth. Besides, we are subject to our environments. Those surrounding us affect us, and are in their turn affected by us. We cannot do without them; thus we need a complete code of laws regulating our mutual relations, suiting all our walks of life, and helping us in all our endeavours. Without such training and regulation the attainment of spirituality is impossible. Those who speak of it as independent of all our social and communal bonds, hardly understand the signification of their own utterances.

It is, however, to meet this natural demand that Islam has another special feature. It provides rules and laws suiting all conditions of humanity. Man in every position and capacity finds something in the Quran to guide him. Religion is not the monopoly of one class or section of humanity; and men differ from each other in degree of culture and taste. Those who live in Central Africa are poles apart intellectually, morally and socially from those in Europe. But Islam claims to furnish rules and regulations for them all. If it gives ordinary and initial laws of sociality to Central Africa to better their physical conditions and improve their social relations, it teaches sublime morals and high spirituality to men of advancement and culture, and brings them to that highest goal of human soaring which brings man into union with God. It is in this connection that Islam teaches: The sinlessness of man.

It does not believe in the inheritance of sin. Sin, according to Islam, is not in man’s nature, but an individual’s acquisition after his birth. We are therefore named Muslim — i. e. obedient to the law. And what is sin? Simply disobedience. Hence one who is a true Muslim is sinless. Sin is an acquired thing, and can be purged off. I am surely a son of God, and the beginning words of the Lord’s Prayer teach me to believe so. I may become a prodigal, but I can claim my heritage, and become His ‘begotten’; and how can I be in union with God if sin is my nature? If I cannot be free from it, to be at one with the Great Sinless is not a compassable thing. It is in this respect that the Book of Islam conferred the highest boon on the human race. It was to create in man the consciousness of possessing the highest capabilities and to open before his eyes a prospect of unlimited progress.

The holy words of our Book in this respect are as follows:

“Verily We (God) created man with the best fabric, endowed him with the best faculties, then brought him down to be the lowest of the low (i.e., he is also prone to go to the lowest ebb), save those who believe in truths and do the things that are right, theirs is the unlimited reward.” The Quran, 95:4–6.

Is not this very idea, that man is equipped with the highest capabilities and can make unlimited progress, the chief attraction and pride of Rationalism? “This idea of continued and uninterrupted development is one that seems absolutely to override our age. It is scarcely possible to open any really able book on any subject without encountering it in some form. It is stirring all science to its very depths; it is revolutionizing all historical literature.” [note 1] But who should claim the credit of bringing out this golden rule of advancement into the world? In most clear terms it has been existing in the Quran for the last 1,300 years, while Rationalism is admittedly of modern growth. Nay, the text in the Quran is in a much improved form, giving us a complete insight into every phase of human nature. We no doubt are equipped with the best faculties, but we are not free from the reactionary elements in our nature. Potentialities do exist on both sides. We have a bright as well as a dark side of our character. “We created man,” the God of the Quran says, “with the best fabric, but We also bring him down to be the lowest of the low, if he fails to observe good laws and do right things.” What a truism! and we observe it in our daily life. Men equally circumstanced and born with equal environments, run different ways in their course of life: one ascends to the top of the ladder and the other lies at the bottom. Scrutinize their modes of life, and the truth revealed in the Quranic words comes home to us. One accepted the right path, and the other fell into error and went astray. Rationalism gives us only an energizing factor, but the Book of God adds to it the necessary check and caution. The latter gives us a perfect code, while the former takes a partial view. In order to keep this golden rule of life always before our eyes, we have been taught to repeat the following in the concluding portion of our daily prayer which may be said to be the analogue of the Lord’s Prayer with us Muslims:

“Guide us, O Lord, into the right path which leads us to Thee, and let it be so that, remaining firm in the footsteps of persons upon whom have been Thy blessings and favours. Save us, O God, from the path of the people upon whom has been Thy wrath, and of those who, having fallen into error, have gone astray and not reached Thee. Be it so, O God!”

Those who tread the right path and remain firm in it, “continued and uninterrupted” development comes to them; all their noble and high potentialities become actualities, and these are the blessings of God, but those who fall into error and go astray, they become “the lowest of the low” which in the Book of Islam has been named as the ‘Wrath of God.’ The words “Thy blessings and favours” are worthy of note. They have the widest signification and encompass everything good and noble; everything necessary and desirable. The words speak for themselves and do not require further explanation. But I would say one word about that highest blessing which God conferred on man, a Divine gift which, according to the Quran, is open to all mankind. It is: To be at one with God, and to be in union with Him; to talk to, and be talked to by, Him. And this is not an impossibility. The Divine Attributes have never been and cannot be in abeyance. If God spoke to man in days gone by, it is blasphemy even to think that He has become dumb now. On the other hand, if man has once shown the capability of being spoken to by the Most High in ancient days, we have not lost any of the faculties we inherited from Adam.

If the world in its material progress can produce every now and then, say, Newtons, Herschells, and Edisons, where lies the impossibility of seeing Jesuses, Krishnas, and Buddhas again? Are we not endowed with same constitutions; and does not physical equality demand spiritual equality? That it is possible, we find in the Quran. Nay, we have been given similar promises elsewhere. Did not Jesus, as well as Krishna and Buddha, promise their re appearances? Jesus also explains how this re-appearance will take place. It is not the coming of the former man, but the appearance of the new with the spiritual semblance of the old. If John the Baptist was Elias, and we should accept the words of Jesus to be true, the re-appearance of these great men will be in the same way. Therefore, when I pray to God that I may be shown the path, by treading which I may attain what was given to those blessed by Him, it is not kingship or commandership, or any other high worldly position, that I pray for. That is not my ambition. These are ordinary human achievements. A Muslim claims the heritage of the Prophets. The words “Guide us into the right path” in the Muslim prayer are very instructive. We do not beg of Him to “give” us something, but to guide us; we invoke guidance, and if our prayers meet His acceptance, we are sure to receive inspiration or Divine revelation according to our deserts.


Another special feature of Islam is the rational basis on which it explains all truths it inculcates. What makes the hold of religion looser and looser on the modern mind? There is a great dearth of such bases. Every religion requires its adherent to believe in certain things as truths — Godhood, angels, revelation, prophethood, the day of judgement, the resurrection, life after death, and our reaping the fruits of our actions in that life, which means heaven or hell. These are the various things taken as truths, and preached in different forms by different religions. We may diverge in our conception of them, but we converge on basic lines. But do we not possess reason? Has not God equipped us with various faculties, and has not His Providence supplied us with means to satisfy their respective cravings? I have feelings, I have passions, but I have also reason. If the cravings of my heart can be satisfied, why curb the demands of my reason? If you gratify my emotional side, why thwart me on my rational side?

The above mentioned articles of faith have been taught by almost all religions as postulates and axioms; but how to make them acceptable to a skeptic mind? In the Quran, however, everything has been explained on a logical basis, and cogent reasons given in proof, with apt illustrations from Nature. Besides, the complete word of God should not need the advocacy of its followers. Let not the preacher, but the Book itself, explain to me my difficulties. The Book of Islam, however, not only appeals to the heart, feelings and sentiments, but also to the mind and reason. The former Scriptures, though of the same Divine origin as the Quran, could not do so, as the people immediately concerned lacked the intellectual development to appreciate truths explained on a rational basis. Jesus had to speak all the things “in parables, and without a parable spake he not unto them,” because they were “without understanding.” [note 2]


Another improvement which the Book of Islam has made on the previous ethical writings of the world is the distinction between the natural qualities of man and his moral conditions. We are equipped with various passions and qualities such as affection, meekness, mercy, humility, and so forth. But, according to the Quran, they do not fall under the heading of moral conditions, unless they are guided by the dictates of reason and conscience. They are mere natural and instinctive impulses. For instance, the affection and docility which a dog or a goat, or any other domestic animal, shows towards its master cannot be designated as courtesy or refined manners, nor can the fierceness of a wolf or a lion be classed as rudeness or misbehaviour. Mere possession of a few qualities which are the outcome of natural impulses does not bring about spiritual life. For instance, meekness of heart, peace of mind, and avoidance of mischief are only so many natural qualities, and may be possessed even by an unworthy person who is quite ignorant of the true fountain of salvation. Not a few animals are quite harmless and more sinned against than sinning. When tamed they are not offensive in the least, and being lashed they do not resist. Yet, notwithstanding all this, no one can have the foolishness to call them man much less as good as man. A goat is more meek of heart than many a man. Similarly, persons guilty of the blackest deeds sometimes manifest qualities worthy of advanced morality. [note 3] Robin Hood must rob the rich to feed the poor. Europe, with all her love for dogs and mercy for dumb animals, did not find her humanitarian sense injured by the recent slaughter and strangulation of the various Muslim races. Thus a teacher who reads to us homilies on morals approving certain qualities and belittling others, simply appeals to our natural impulses, which still need moderation and restraint. It is another special feature of Islam that its Holy Book made a distinction between our instinctive cravings and high morals. It did not give us only a list of moral qualities, but showed us the occasion of their use. Do not our actions change in their results with the change of scene and environment? Does not the same action become virtue and evil under diverse conditions? To punish a culprit is simply to show mercy to society. The peace of a community would suffer seriously if at the trial of an offender the magistrate acted according to the wish of the offender. In connection with this I may point out another common mistake of the so-called moralists. The tender qualities, in their opinion, exhaust the whole list of morals, as if our Creator was unwise in endowing us with certain stern qualities, such as anger, vengeance, and jealousy. They should know that it is vengeance which, when properly administered by the magistrate, guarantees protection of life and property and becomes a necessary virtue. Jealousy or envy, used on a proper occasion, creates in us high aspirations and actuates us to achieve excellence. To curb these natural propensities is no morality, it is their balanced condition which makes them indispensable rational virtues. Hence the Quran does not simply say that charity, courage, justice, mercy, kindness, truth, high-mindedness, are high excellent morals, but it shows that all the other qualities with which man’s mind is endowed, such as politeness, modesty, honesty, generosity, jealousy, perseverance, chastity, anger, devoutness, moderation, compassion, sympathy, courage, forgiveness, vengeance, patience, fidelity, etc., become virtues when they are manifested on their proper occasion. The Holy Book makes mention of all of them, defines their occasions, and shows their right use. It teaches us also the means to be adopted for perfecting these high morals. It may be said here also that as, under the teachings of the Quran, our natural impulses when balanced and properly regulated are converted into moral qualities, similarly no hard and fast lines can be drawn between the spheres of both moral and spiritual status. [note 4] All our conditions — physical, moral and spiritual — are interwoven and affect each other. No one can achieve a high stage of spirituality without training his physical conditions and moral qualities, hence the necessity of observing the various laws and regulations given in the Quran concerning our dally life. The subject requires complete elucidation, and the time hardly allows it.


I am afraid I have already trespassed much upon your courtesy and patience. One word more, and I will conclude my paper. It is the raising of the status of woman that Islam claims as amongst its chief merits. Woman was given a position by Islam which she never enjoyed before. She had no distinct individuality until then. Islam came to give her personal rights. Nay, I would go further, and say that the most cultured nations of the present day have still to make strides to reach that state of civilization which in the words of the Quran would say:

“Women have similar rights to men, the same is due from them (women) as to them.” [note 5]

If she is under certain duties and obligations towards man, he also is under similar obligations and duties towards her. Thus, Islam nearly restores equality between man and woman. It opens to her equal possibilities with man of intellectual, moral and spiritual progress. It gives her a separate and distinct individuality, and raises her from the debasement to which she had been reduced by wrong beliefs and dogmatic tenets based on ignorance.

Notes by Website Editor

Note 1. These words are given as a quotation in The Review of Religions, and there is a reference in a footnote giving the source as: History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe by Lecky, edition 1910, p. 168. In Islam to East and West these words are not within quotation marks.

Note 2. The Review of Religions article has a footnote here referring to Matthew 13:34 and 15:16 for these quotations.

Note 3. The Review of Religions article indicates in a footnote here that the preceding text is taken from The Teachings of Islam by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Note 4. The Review of Religions article here also indicates in a footnote that the preceding text is taken from The Teachings of Islam by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Note 5. The Review of Religions article here gives the reference to the Quran, 2:228.

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