There was a time when superiority of blood and clan was accepted as a matter of fact. The Holi Qur’an quotes the belief then held by the Jews and Christian in these words: “The Jews and the Christians say: We are the children of God, His loved ones.” (Surat Al-Ma’ida: 18). The Pharaohs of Egypt claimed themselves to be the incarnation of Ra, the Sun god, while India had several ruling families who arrogated themselves as the progeny of the sun (suryavansi) or the moon (chandravansi).
The Emperors of Iran called themselves Kesra or Chosroes meaning that Divine blood flowed in their veins. Chosroes II (Khosrau Parvez) even lavished himself with the grandiose title: "The Immortal soul among the gods and peerless God among human beings; glorious is whose name; dawning with the sun-rise and light of the dark-eyed night."
The Caesars of Rome were called ‘Augustus’ meaning majestic, venerable, since they were entitled to receive divine honours.
Chinese rulers deemed themselves to be the sons of Heavens. They believed that the Heaven was their God, who, with his spouse, the goddess earth, had given birth to human beings and Pau Ku, the Chinese Emperor, was the first born son of Heaven enjoying supernatural powers. The Arabs were so proud of their language that every nation besides their own was an ‘ajami or dumb to them.
Likewise, the Quran’sh of Makkah, conscious of maintaining their superiority, claimed a privileged position even during Hajj. They never went to the Plain of ‘Arafat with others. They stayed in the Mosque at Makkah or went to Muzdalifa claiming that privilege on the grounds that they belonged to the House of God. They also claimed themselves to be the elite of Arabia.
The most glaring peculiarity of the religion-social structure of India of the olden days was the all-powerful caste system.
This rigid social order having the sanction of religion behind it allowed no inter-mixing of races for it was meant to protect the privileged position of Brahmins.
It classified the population of India into four classes with reference to the vocation followed by a particular family in which an individual was born.
The system which covered the whole gamut of social life in India divided people into four castes, namely, (i) the Brahmin or the learned and priestly class, (ii) the Kshattriyas or the fighting and ruling class, (iii) The Vaisyas or trading and agricultural people, and (iv) the Sudras or the lowest caste, created from the foot of God, in order to serve the other three classes.
This law of caste distinction gave to the Brahmin the distinction, superiority and sanctity not enjoyed by any other caste.
He was both sinless and saved, even if he destroyed the three worlds; no impost could be levied on him; he could not be punished for any crime; while the Sudra could not accumulate wealth or touch a Brahmin or a sacred scripture.
The Vaisyas, or the working classes like weavers, boatmen, butchers etc. and Sudras like scavengers were not allowed to live in a city. They came into the town after day-break and left before sun-set. Not allowed to enjoy the amenities of urban life, they lived in rural slums.
The most precious gift that the Muslims brought to India was the concept of human equality which was completely unknown to India.
Muslim society was not divided into castes and trade was not allocated to any particular class. The Muslims mixed freely, lived and dined together, all were free to read or write and carry on any occupation.
The Muslim social order posed a challenge to that obtaining in India, but it was also proved a blessing for it. The rigours of caste distinction were weakened and social reform movements were able to concentrate on the shortcomings of Hindu society and, consequently, untouchability was to a large extent removed.
Jawahar Lal Nehru, the former Prime Minister of India, has acknowledged the debt India owes to Islam. He writes in the Discovery of India:
The impact of the invaders from the north-west and of Islam on India had been considerable. It had pointed out and shown up the abuses that had crept into Hindu society— the petrifaction of caste, un-touchability, exclusiveness carried to fantastic lengths.
The idea of the brotherhood of Islam and of the theoretical equality of its adherents made a powerful appeal, especially to those in the Hindu fold who were denied any semblance of equal treatment.
The impact of Islam on Hinduism can be seen in the Bhakti (love and devotion) movement which began in South India during Muslim rule and spread to the whole country. Describing this phenomenon Dr Tara Chand writes:
Along with them marched a goodly company of saintly men who addressed themselves to the common people.
The spoke the common people's dialects and in the main imparted their message through word of mouth.
Many of them were endowed with the gift of poetry and their homely memorable verse went direct into the heart of their listeners.
Their avoidance of learned jargon, their simple teachings stressing the love of God and of man, their denunciation of idolatry and caste, of hypocrisy, inequality and the externalia of religion, their sincerity, purity and dedicated life appealed to wide circles among the masses.
Their utterances gave shape to modern Indian languages.
Their enthusiasm stirred the springs of life and moved men to high endeavour and unselfish behaviour.
There is a strange exaltation in society in every region during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which cannot be accounted for without taking into consideration this sudden outburst of spiritual energy. These centuries are filled with voices— at once warning and encouraging— of truly noble and large hearted men in surprisingly large numbers.
Yet most of them were of humble origin and they destroyed the myth of aristocracy based on birth.
The spirit of human brotherhood built up by Islam is not hampered by concept of racialism or sectarianism, be it linguistic, historic, tradionalistic or even of a dogmatic nature. Its power to unite different races and nations in one brotherhood has always been recognised. A noted orientalism, H.A.R. Gibb, says:
But Islam has yet a further service to render to the cause of humanity... No other society has such a record of success in uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity and of endeavour so many and so various races of mankind.
The great Muslim communities of Africa, India and Indonesia, perhaps also the small Muslim community of Japan, show that Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition.
If ever the opposition of the great societies of the East and West is to be replaced by co-operation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition.
The British historian, A.J. Toyabee, agrees with Gibb that Islam alone can efface race consciousness:
The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue...
Though in certain other respects the triumph of the English-speaking people may be judged, in retrospect, to have been a blessing to mankind, in this perilous matter of race feeling it can hardly be denied that it has been a misfortune.
Islam was the first religion which preached and practiced democracy. The well-known Indian freedom fighter and poetess Sarojini Naidu witnessed and affirmed this quality of Islam. She writes:
It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy; for in the mosque when the call from the Minaret is sounded and the worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim, "God alone is great." I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes a man distinctly a brother.
When you meet an Egyptian, an Algerian, an Indian and a Turk in London, what matters that Egypt was the motherland of one and India the motherland of another.
Malcolm X was a racist for whom the ‘devil white man’ was a Satan.
However, he shed all his prejudices on coming into contact with Muslims. He recounts his own experience:
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim World, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) — While praying to the same God— with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were bluest of the blue, whose hair was blondest of the blond, and whose skin was the whitest of the white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana. We were truly all the same (brothers) — because their belief in one God had removed the ‘white’ from their minds, the ‘white’ from their behaviour, and the ‘white’ from their attitude.
I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man—and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their ‘differences’ in colour.
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