Understanding Islam – Abul Al\’a Maududi
If one were to close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in the world of 1400 years ago, one would find that it was a world completely different from ours, having not even the least semblance to the rough and tumble that we find around ourselves. How few and far between were the opportunities for the exchange of ideas! How limited and undeveloped were the means of communication! How little and meager was man’s knowledge! How narrow was his outlook! How enveloped was he in superstition and wild and sophisticated ideas!
Darkness held the sway. There was only a faint glimmer of learning, which could hardly illumine the horizon of human knowledge. There was neither wireless nor telephone, neither television nor cinematography. Railways and motor cars and airplanes were undreamed of, and printing presses and publishing concerns were unknown. Hand-written books or copyists alone supplied whatever scanty literary material was there to be transmitted from generation. Education was a luxury, meant only for the most fortunate, and educational institution were every few and between.
The store of human knowledge was scanty, man’s outlook was narrow, and his ideas of man things were confined to his limited surroundings. Even a scholar of that age lacked in certain respects the knowledge possessed by a layman of today, and the most cultured person was less refined than our own man in the street. Indeed, humanity was steeped in ignorance and superstition. Whatever light of learning there was seemed to be fighting a losing battle against the darkness prevailing all around. What are considered to be matters of common knowledge today could hardly be acquired in those days even after years of calculated thought and patient research. People used to undertake hazardous journeys and spent a whole lifetime in acquiring that modest information which is everybody’s heritage in the present age of learning. Things, which are classed as \’myth\’ and \’superstition\’ today, were the unquestionable truths of that age. Acts, which we now regard as heinous and barbarous, were then the order of the day.
Methods which appear obnoxious to our moral sense today constituted the very soul of morality, and one different way of life also. Incredulity had assumed such mighty proportions and had become so wide- so read that people refused to consider anything as lofty and sublime unless it the garb of the supernatural, the extraordinary, the uncanny, and even the untenable. They had developed such an inferiority complex that they could never imagine a human being to possess a godly soul and the saint to human. ARABIA-THE ABYSS OF DARKNESS In that benighted era, there was a territory where darkness lay heavier and thicker. The neighboring country of Persia, Byzantium and Egypt possessed a glimmer of civilization and a faint light of learning. But Arabia could receive no share from their cultural Influences. It stood isolated, cut off by vast oceans of sand. Arab traders plodding great distances, which took them months, carried their wares to and from these countries, but they could hardly acquire any grain of knowledge on their journeys. In their own country, they did not have a single educational institution or library. None seemed to be interested in the cultivation and advancement of knowledge.
The few who were literate were not educated enough to have anything to do with the existing arts and sciences. They did possess a highly developed language capable of expressing the finest shades of human thought in a remarkable manner. They also possessed a literary taste of high order. But the study of the remnants of their literature reveals how limited was their knowledge, how low was their standard of culture and civilization, how saturated were their minds with superstitions, how barbarous and ferocious were their thoughts and customs, and how uncouth and degraded were their moral standards and conceptions. It was a country without a government, every tribe claimed sovereignty and considered to be an independent unit. There was no law except the law of the jungle. Loot, arson, and murder of innocent and weak People was the order of the day. Life, Property, and honor were constantly at stake.
Different tribes were always at daggers drawn with one another. Any trivial incident was enough to cause blaze out in ferocious fury, which sometimes even developed into a countywide conflagration ceaselessly continuing for several decades. Indeed, a Bedouin could not understand why he should let off a person of another tribe, whom, he thought, he had every right to kill and plunder. Whatever nations they had of morals, culture, and civilization, were primitive and uncouth. They could hardly discriminate between pure and impure, lawful, and unlawful, civil, and uncivil. Their life was wild, their methods were barbaric.
They reveled in adultery, gambling, and drinking. Loot and plunder was their motto, murder, and rapine their very habits. They would stand stark naked before each other without any qualms of conscience. Even their womenfolk would become nude at the ceremony of circumambulating the Ka\’ba. Out of sheer foolish nations of Prestige, they would bury their daughters alive lest anyone should become their son-in-law, they would marry their stepmothers after the of their fathers. They were ignorant of even the rudiments of everyday routine of eating, dressing, and washing. As regards their religious beliefs, they suffered from the same evils, which were playing havoc with the rest of the world.
They worshipped stones, trees, idols, stars, and spirits: in short, everything conceivable except God. They did not know anything about the teaching of the Prophets of old. They had an idea that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefathers, but they know next to nothing about their religious preaching and about the God Whom they worshipped. The stories of ‘Ad and humbled were to be found in their folklore, but they contained no traces of the teachings of Prophets Hud and Sail. The Jews and the Christians had transmitted to them certain legendary folktales relating to the Israelite Prophets. They presented a harrowing picture of those noble souls. Their teachings were adulterated with the figments of their own imagination and their lives were tarred black. Even today, an idea can be had of the religious conceptions of those people by casting a cursory glance at those Israelite traditions which Muslim commentators of the Qur\’an have conveyed to us. Indeed, the picture which has been presented there of the institution of prophethood and of the Israelite Prophets is the very antithesis of all that those noble followers of truth had stood for.