"We may well believe that heathen religions so far from having arisen, as some have vainly imagined, out of the soil of lofty aspiration after a God unknown, are devices more or less elaborate for shutting out the thought of God as He is from the minds and hearts of men. The Gospel meets its greatest triumphs not among those who have the most finished, but among those who have the crudest systems of religion. Elaborateness, completeness, finish, here seem to be elaborateness, completeness, finish of escape from the consciousness of God." - Rev. E. N. Harris (of Burma)

"Whoever desires an introduction to Allah - Islam's absentee landlord, who, jealous of man, wound the clock of the universe and went away forever - is referred to Palgrave." - Frederick Perry Noble.

MOHAMMED'S doctrine of the Unity of God is at the same time his doctrine of Providence and his philosophy of life. The existence and character of God not only, but his relation past, present, and future to the universe are latent in the words La ilaha illa Allah, There is no god but God.


It was not a theologian nor a philosopher who first called attention to this fundamental idea in Islam as the key to a proper understanding of the Moslem mind, but the Arabian traveller, William Clifford Palgrave, who knew Islam not from books as much as from long and close contact with the Arabs themselves. Whatever may be the opinion concerning Palgrave's accuracy as a geographer, there is no doubt that he was a capital observer of the people, their manners and religion. It is, therefore, without apology for the length of the quotation that we give here Palgrave's famous characterization of Allah.1

"There is no god but God - are words simply tantamount in English to the negation of any deity save one alone; and thus much they certainly mean in Arabic, but they imply much more also. Their full sense is not only to deny absolutely and unreservedly all plurality whether of nature or of person in the Supreme Being, not only to establish the unity of the Unbegetting and the Unbegot, in all its simple and uncommunicable Oneness, but besides this the words in Arabic and among Arabs imply that this one Supreme Being is also the only Agent, the only Force, the only Act existing throughout the universe and leaves us to all beings else, matter or spirit, instinct or intelligence, physical or moral, nothing but pure unconditional passiveness, alike in movement

1 Narrative of a Year's Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia, 1862-63, by W. S. Palgrave, Vol. I., pp. 365-367.


or in quiescence, in action or in capacity. The sole power, the sole motor, movement, energy and deed is God; the rest is downright inertia and mere instrumentality, from the highest archangel down to the simplest atom of creation. Hence in this one sentence, ‘La ilaha illa Allah,’ is summed up a system which, for want of a better name, I may be permitted to call the Pantheism of Force, or of Act, thus exclusively assigned to God, who absorbs it all, exercises it all, and to Whom alone it can be ascribed, whether for preserving or for destroying, for relative evil or for equally relative good. I say relative because it is clear that in such a theology no place is left for absolute good or evil, reason or extravagance; all is abridged in the autocratical will of the one great Agent: 'sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas;' or more significantly still, in Arabic, 'Kama yesha,' 'as He wills it,' to quote the constantly recurring expression of the Koran.

"Thus immeasurably and eternally exalted above, and dissimilar from, all creatures which He levelled before Him on one common plane of instrumentality and inertness, God is One in the totality of omnipotent and omnipresent action, which acknowledges no rule, standard or limit, save His own sole and absolute will. He communicates nothing to His creatures; for their seeming power and act ever remain His alone, and in return He receives nothing from them; for whatever they may be, that they are


in Him, by Him and from Him only.1 And secondly, no superiority, no distinction, no preeminence can be lawfully claimed by one creature over another in the utter equalization of their unexceptional servitude and abasement; all are alike tools of the one solitary Force, which employs them to crush or to benefit, to truth or to error, to honor or shame, to happiness or misery, quite independently of their individual fitness, deserts or advantage and simply because He will it and as He wills it.

"One might at first sight think that this tremendous Autocrat, this uncontrolled and unsympathizing Power would be far above anything like passions, desires or inclinations. Yet such is not the case for He has with respect to his creatures one main feeling and source of action, namely, jealousy of them, lest they should perchance attribute to themselves something of what is his alone, and thus encroach on His all-engrossing kingdom. Hence He is ever more ready to punish than to reward, to inflict pain than to bestow pleasure, to ruin than to build. It is his singular satisfaction to make created beings continually feel that they are nothing else than His

1 Note the distinction between this and the New Testament phrase: "Of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things." The fact that a Moslem never thanks the giver, but only God, for alms or kindness is a capital illustration of what Palgrave asserts. There is much thanksgiving to God, but no gratitude to man, in Moslem lands.


slaves, His tools, and contemptible tools also, that thus they may the better acknowledge His superiority, and know His power to be above their power, His cunning above their cunning, His will above their will, His pride above their pride; or rather, that there is no power, cunning, will or pride save His own. But He himself, sterile in His inaccessible height, neither loving nor enjoying aught save His own and self-measured decree, without son, companion or counsellor, is no less barren for Himself than for His creatures; and his own barrenness and lone egoism in Himself is the cause and rule of His indifferent and unregarding despotism around. The first note is the key of the whole tune, and the primal idea of God runs through and modifies the whole system and creed that centres in Him."

That the notion here given of the Deity, monstrous and blasphemous as it may appear, is exactly and literally that which the Koran conveys or intends to convey, I at present take for granted. But that it indeed is so, no one who has attentively perused and thought over the Arabic text (for mere cursory reading, especially in a translation, will not suffice) can hesitate to allow. In fact, every phrase of the preceding sentences, every touch in this odious portrait has been taken to the best of my ability, word for word, or at least meaning for meaning, from 'the Book,' the truest mirror of the mind and scope of its writer. And that such was in reality Mahomet's


mind and idea is fully confirmed by the witness-tongue of contemporary tradition. Of this we have many authentic samples: the Sahech, the commentaries of Beidhawi, the Mishkat-el-Misabili aud fifty similar works afford ample testimony on this point."

The only criticism which the student of Islam can offer on this masterpiece of word-painting on the Moslem idea of God is that it applies more particularly to the Wahabi sect than to other sects of Islam. But this criticism only adds force to Palgrave's argument, for the Wahabi revival was nothing else than an attempt to return to primitive Islam and to go back to Mohammed's own teaching. After living in Arabia for over thirteen years, I have no hesitation in saying that, to my mind, the Wahabi sect is more orthodox (i.e. closer to the Koran and earliest tradition) than any other sect of Islam both in their creed and their practice.1 What Palgrave states regarding Allah’s relation to His creatures can be best proved and illustrated by treating first the Moslem doctrine of Creation and then that of Providence. We will find in this study that orthodox Islam is at once deistic and pantheistic. Theologians and philosophers have pantheistic views of Allah, making Him the sole force in the universe; but the popular thought of Him (owing to the iron-weight of the doctrine of fatalism) is deistic. God stands aloof from

1 See a paper on the Wahabis in the Journal of the Victoria Institute, Vol. XXXIII., pp. 311-333. London, 1901.


creation; only His power is felt; men are like the pieces on a chess-board and He is the only player.

Creation itself was not intended so much for the manifestation of God's glory or the outburst of His love, as for a sample of His power. The following are the Koran texts that speak of creation (Surah 50:37): "Of old we created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six days, and no weariness touched us." (Surah 41:8.) "Do ye indeed disbelieve in Him who in two days created the earth? Do ye assign Him equals? The Lord of the world is He. And He hath placed on the earth the firm mountains which tower above it, and He hath blessed it and distributed its nourishments throughout it (for the cravings of all alike) in four days. Then He applied Himself [went] to the heaven which was but smoke; and to it and to the earth He said, 'Come ye in obedience or against your will?' And they both said, 'We come obedient.' And He completed them as seven heavens in two days and in each heaven made known its office and He furnished the lower heavens with lights and guardian angels. This is the disposition of the Almighty, the all-knowing One." Again in Surah 16:3: "He created the heavens and the earth to set forth His truth. High let Him be exalted above the gods they join with Him. Man hath He created out of a moist germ, etc." Surah 13:2: "It is God who hath reared the heavens without pillars, thou canst behold; then


seated Himself on His throne and ('compel1ed to service') imposed laws on the sun and moon; each travelleth to its appointed goal. He ordereth all things." Surah 35:12: "God created you out of dust, then of the germs of life, then made you two sexes."

The first thing that strikes one is the evident contradiction in these texts regarding the number of the days of creation. (Cf. Surahs 50:37 and 41:8.) But such disagreement of statement is common in the Koran. Beidhawi's commentary tries hard to reconcile the discrepancy, but finally gives it up. On Surah 41st he remarks: "Allah did not command the heavens and the earth to come in order to prove their obedience, but only to manifest His power." He explains the two days of creation thus: "He created the heavens on Thursday and the sun, moon, and stars on Friday." According to the table-talk of the prophet (Mishkat-el-Misabih 24:1, part 3) God created the earth on Saturday, the hills on Sunday, the trees on Monday all unpleasant things in Tuesday, the light on Wednesday, the beasts on Thursday, and Adam, who was the last creation was created after the time of afternoon prayers on Friday.

In this orthodox tradition, Mohammed's idea that Allah is the author of evil crops out. The idea occurs also in Surah 113:2: "I seek refuge in the Lord of the daybreak from the evil he did make." Zamakhshari


comments thus: "The evil of its creation and of His creatures, both those who are responsible and those who are not responsible," etc. The common Moslem idea, undoubtedly taken from the Koran and Tradition, is that Allah created hell and created Satan such as they are. He is the creator of evil Jinn as well as of the good Jinn; and He made them evil in the same sense as He made the scorpion poisonous and arsenic deadly. Why did Allah create hell? To fill it with infidels. In describing creation Moslem theologians take pains to establish the fact that the universe is not infinite; God alone is that and to believe two infinites possible, is shirk, polytheism. A Persian Mullah, in recent years, offered to give an English traveller logical proof of the fact as follows: "Let us suppose that the Universe is infinite. Then from the centre of the earth draw two straight lines diverging at an angle of 60 degrees and produce them to infinity. Join the terminal points by another straight line to form the base of a triangle. Since one of the angles is 60 degrees and the two sides are equal, the remaining angles are 60 degrees each and the triangle is equilateral. Therefore, since the sides are infinite, the base is also of infinite length. But the base is a straight line joining two points (viz., the terminal points of the sides), that is to say, it is limited in both directions. Therefore it is not infinite, neither are the sides infinite, and a straight line cannot be drawn to infinity.. Therefore, the Universe is


finite."1 Such argument needs no comment; but it is a sample of Mohammedan logic.

El Buchari gives the following tradition of the prophet regarding the order of creation:2 "The first thing which God created was a pen, and He said to it, Write. It said, What shall I write? And God said, Write down the quantity of every individual thing to, be created. And it wrote all there was and that will be to eternity." In Surah 13:2, seq. (quoted above), there occurs an expression which has given rise to much discussion among Moslems: "It is God who hath reared the heavens without pillars, then seated Himself upon his throne." The word used for seated (istawa)2 has given rise to endless disputatious. Even the last Mohammedan reform under Mohammed bin Abd-ul-Wahab, made this word the shibboleth of their theology. Most commentaries interpret the word deistically, "Then he made for the throne," i.e., left the world entirely and absolutely. Zamakhshari escapes the dilemma by silence and Beidhawi says, "He betook Himself to the throne, i.e., to preserve and to direct." Husaini, the commentator, remarks on Surah 9:131: "The throne of God has 8,000 pillars and the distance between

1 E.G. Browne's A Year among the Persians, p. 144.

2 Hughes' Dict. of Islam, p. 472.

3 From the root sawa, to intend, to be equal; VIII. conjugation istawa, to be equal, to ascend, intend, to sit firm and square upon. See Penrice's Dictionary of the Koran.


each pillar is 3,000,000 miles." Others make the throne more spiritual, but all are agreed that Allah is now on the throne and that He rules the world by means of angels and jinn and men, all subject to His will and decrees. One Moslem author settled the matter of Allah's sitting in the famous dogmatic phrase, often quoted, - "That He sits is certain; how He sits only He knows and why He sits it is infidelity to ask."

Why He sits it is infidelity to ask - that is the orthodox Moslem reply to the questions that arise in the human heart concerning the Divine government of the world and the problem of evil. When the Mu'tazilite sect (the only school of Moslem thought that ever dared to give human reason a place of authority) in Bagdad attempted to answer questions they were gagged by the orthodox party. Renan says:

"Science and philosophy flourished on Musalman soil during the first half of the middle ages; but it was not by reason of Islam, it was in spite of Islam. Not a Musalman philosopher or scholar escaped persecution. During the period just specified persecution is less powerful than the instinct of free enquiry, and the rationalistic tradition is kept alive; then intolerance and fanaticism win the day. It is true that the Christian Church also cast great difficulties in the way of science in the middle ages; but she did not strangle it outright, as did the Musalman theology. To give Islam the credit of Averroes and of so many other illustrious thinkers, who passed half their life in prison, in forced hiding, in disgrace, whose books were burned and whose writings almost suppressed by

theological authority, is as if one were to ascribe to the Inquisition the discoveries of Galileo, and a whole scientific development which it was not able to prevent."1

The relation of Allah to the world is such that all free-will not only but all freedom in the exercise of the intellect is preposterous. God is so great and the character of His greatness is so pantheistically absolute that there is no room for the human. All good and all evil come directly from Allah. In twenty passages of the Koran, Allah is said "to lead men astray." (See Sir William Muir's Selections From the Coran, p. 52.) Still worse, God is said to have created a multitude of spirits and of men expressly for torture in such a hell as only the Koran and Tradition can paint. (Surahs l6:180 and 32:13.) "The Word must be fulfilled. Verily, I will most surly fill up hell with jinns and men together." Even for the true believer there is no sure hope. One celebrated verse in the Koran (Surah Miriam, vs. 72) says that every one of the believers must enter hell too! Hope perishes under the weight of this iron-bondage and pessimism becomes the popular philosophy. Islam saw only one side of a many-sided truth. As Clarke puts it, "Islam saw God, but not man, saw the claims of Deity, but not the rights of humanity; saw authority, but failed to see freedom - therefore, hardened into despotism, stiffened into

1 In Report of Asiatic Society of Paris.


formalism, and sank into death."1 Elsewhere the same author calls Mohammedanism "the worst form of monotheism in that it makes of God pure will - will divorced from reason and love." Islam, instead of being a progressive and completed idea, goes to a lower level than the religions it claims to supplant. "Mohammed teaches a God above us; Moses teaches a God above us and yet with with us Jesus Christ teaches God above us, God with us and God in us." God above us, not as an Oriental despot, but as a Heavenly Father. God with us, Emmanuel, in the mystery of his Incarnation, which is the stumbling block to the Moslem. God in us through His Spirit renewing the heart and controlling the will into a true Islam, or obedient subjection by a living faith.

1 James Freeman Clarke's Ten Great Religions, Vol. II., p. 68. Although he is a Unitarian, he has no praise for Mohammedan monotheism.

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