It is necessary to enter into some explanation as regards the contents of this work. It does not fall in with its plan to enter into an account either of the life of Muhammad or of the wide and rapid spread of the system founded by him. The first has been done by able writers in England, France and Germany. I could add nothing new to this portion of the subject, nor throw new light upon it. The political growth of Muslim nations has also been set forth in various ways.
It seems to me that the more important study at this time is that of the religious system which has grown out of the Prophet's teaching, and of its effect upon the individual and the community. What the Church in her missionary enterprise has to deal with, what European Governments in the political world have to do with is Islám as it is, and as it now influences those who rule and those who are ruled under it.
I have, therefore, tried to show from authentic sources, and from a practical knowledge of it, what the Faith of Islám really is, and how it influences men and nations in the present day. I think that recent Fatvás delivered by the 'Ulamá in Constantinople show how firmly a Muslim State is bound in the fetters of an unchangeable Law, whilst the present practice of orthodox Muslims all the world over is a constant carrying out of the precepts given in the Qurán and the Sunnat, and an illustration of the principles I have shown to belong to Islám. On this subject it is not too much to say that there is, except amongst Oriental scholars, much misconception.
Again, much that is written on Islám is written either in ignorant prejudice, or from an ideal standpoint. To understand it aright, one should know its literature and live amongst its people. I have tried faithfully to prove every statement I have made; and if, now and again, I have quoted European authors, it is only by way of illustration. I rest my case entirely upon Musalmán authorities themselves. Still more, I have ascertained from living witnesses that the principles I have tried to show as existing in Islám, are really at work now and are as potent as at any previous period.
I have thus traced up from the very foundations the rise and development of the system, seeking wherever possible to link the past with the present. In order not to interfere with this unity of plan, I have had to leave many subjects untouched, such as those connected with the civil law, with slavery, divorce, jihád or religious wars, &c. A good digest of Muhammadan Law will give all necessary information on these points. The basis of the Law which determines these questions is what I have described in my first chapter. Ijtihád, for example, rules quite as effectually in a question of domestic economy or political jurisprudence as on points of dogma. It was not, therefore, necessary for me to go into details on these points.
When I have drawn any conclusion from data which Muhammadan literature, and the present practice of Muslims have afforded me, I have striven to give what seems to me a just and right one. Still, I gladly take this opportunity of stating that I have found many Muslims better than their creed, men with whom it is a pleasure to associate, and whom I respect for many virtues and esteem as friends. I judge the system, not any individual in it.
In India, there are a number of enlightened Muhammadans, ornaments to native society, useful servants of the State, men who show a laudable zeal in all social reforms, so far as is consistent with a reputation for orthodoxy. Their number is far too few, and they do not, in many cases, represent orthodox Islám, nor do I believe their counterpart would be found amongst the 'Ulamá of a Muslim State. The fact is that the wave of scepticism which has passed over Europe has not left the East untouched. Hindu and Muslim alike have felt its influence, but to judge of either the one system or the other from the very liberal utterances of a few men who expound their views before English audiences is to yield oneself up to delusion on the subject.
Islám in India has also felt the influence of contact with other races and creeds, though, theologically speaking, the Imán and the Dín, the faith and the practice, are unchanged, and remain as I have described them in chapters four and five. If Islám in India has lost some of its original fierceness, it has also adopted many superstitious practices, such as those against which the Wahhábís protest. The great mass of the Musalmán people are quite as superstitious, if not more so, than their heathen neighbours. Still the manliness, the suavity of manner, the deep learning, after an oriental fashion, of many Indian Musalmáns render them a very attractive people. It is true there is a darker side—much bigotry, pride of race, scorn of other creeds, and, speaking generally, a tendency to inertness. It is thus that in Bengal, Madras and perhaps in other places, they have fallen far behind the Hindus in educational status, and in the number of appointments they hold in the Government service. Indeed, this subject is a serious one and deserves the special attention of the Indian Government. In Bengal the proportion of Musalmáns to Hindus in the upper ranks of the Uncovenanted Civil Service in 1871 was 77 to 341. In the year 1880 it had declined to 53 to 451. The state of affairs in Madras is equally bad. Yet an intelligent Muslim, as a rule, makes a good official.
Looking at the subject from a wider stand-point, I think the Church has hardly yet realised how great a barrier this system of Islám is to her onward march in the East. Surely special men with special training are required for such an enterprise as that of encountering Islám in its own strongholds. No better pioneers of the Christian faith could be found in the East than men won from the Crescent to the Cross.
All who are engaged in such an enterprise will perhaps find some help in this volume, and I am not without hope that it may also throw some light on the political questions of the day.
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