History Of Religion And Superstition


























INDIAN RELIGION            16





























IS THERE A TRUE RELIGION? We know that most members of present monotheistic religions regard their own respective faiths as the only fully true faith in an exclusive sense. We Muslims also believe that way.  But is religious truth so totally subjective? Are there no criteria to distinguish one monotheistic faith from another as the truest one?


We also know that polytheistic religions do not claim exclusive truth but regard other polytheisms as their equals and in fact they at times adopt gods and beliefs from each other. Gods beginning as tribal or town gods are simply added together when these tribes or towns unite in an empire.  At this higher level a chief god is chosen by the emperor who now becomes the chief priest and represents the chief god. We often call this stage paganism.


But polytheistic religions are a middle stage between the animistic (many spirits and small gods worshipping) religions and the monotheistic; in their semi-developed state they inherit the petty animistic traditions of the primitive religion while at the same time imply and prepare for monotheism.  We shall insha Allah see how in due course.


We see such monotheistic aspirations appear in all pagan theologies.  Middle Eastern as well as Indian and Chinese religions are examples; We find in both Sumerian and Egyptian religions hymns to a top god and in fact in one instance an Egyptian pharaoh acts like a Semitic prophet and condemning polytheism entirely and breaking idols declares the god of the sky as the only god. And again like a prophet he emphasises high and puritan morality and despite being an emperor lives a simple and charitable life.


In India the Buddha comes close to declare Unitarianism when he dismissed all pagan gods as convenient myths and implied the existence of an unknowable supreme being. Later Hindu theologians identified this God with their Brahman and similarly spiritualised him beyond all perception. 


The first proper monotheism known to us is Judaism which traces its ancestry all the way back to the first man Adam.  The most prominent prophet of the True and Only God in Judaic faith is Noah and the founder of the Judaic tradition is the grandfather of the Israelites Abraham. But the Old Testament, especially in its earlier parts is not very clear about the singularity of Yahweh as the Jews called their god. Initially he seems to be content with being one of the tribal gods among many and only gradually claims to be the exclusive and true god of all. Eventually all other gods are reduced to superstitions and idols which idols are then broken wherever found.  Abraham appears as a true Unitarian from the beginning and Moses seals the matter forever in favour of monotheism. 


Judaism produces two descendants, a ‘daughter’ in Christianity and a ‘son’ in Islam. We are calling Christianity a daughter because in its earliest sources it has no trace of manly qualities like assertion of rights or the right to fight for rights. Instead it prescribes meekness to the extreme almost whatever the cost. It utterly condemns the world and looks exclusively to heaven for fulfilment. As such it encourages any extreme extents of ascetic living.  Islam strikes a middle point between the terribly extroverted Judaism and again the terribly introverted Christianity- with this master stroke it wins its first claim of being the best of the three. Although in practice many Muslims did fall prey to either extreme asceticism or extreme worldly pursuit the theory remains solidly in the middle.

What is more, among all three theologies Islam’s is simplest and most rational and reasonable.  Its Law (Shariah) also comes out as the best.  The Judaic theology retains a tribal bias while the Christian makes a slight fallback to paganism. The Judaic Law is the most severe while the Christian is the most spurious and promiscuous; like a chameleon it absorbs and re-projects the colours of its times and environment; it makes minimal use of the Biblical precedents while drinking in whole gulps the laws of pagan Rome and even its rituals.  It seems to be oriented to survive at all cost by adopting all demands on it by a current mainstream culture. Nowadays its still evolving (or rather twisting and bending) values mimic the Western secular degeneration of personal morality and as an example it is preparing itself to an embrace with homosexuality.  It also gives some signals of contemplating atheism as tolerable; one recent major bishop was a declared atheist and nobody could denounce him.


As for the justification of Islam in classical religious terms we need only to compare the three monotheisms as regards the authenticity of the legacies of their initiating teachers. No Jew who is not blind to historical realities is saying that the Old Testament and particularly the Pentateuch (loosely regarded as the Torah) can be reliably traced to Moses; even Moses is not a historical figure by the standards of scientific history-  no mention of him is found in Egyptian documents surviving nor in any other records elsewhere. The present Torah can not be trusted either; it was composed centuries after Moses its ostensible author. As a result Jewish theological or legal claims cannot be traced to Moses and therefore to God! At best the present Torah may be regarded as a rough and approximate rendering of the part of the legacy of Moses; like a dubious document presented to a court of law it is inadmissible as evidence when it comes to stricter matters.

The same applies even more to Jesus and the Gospels (not of but) about him. He is very scantily mentioned in documents about a generation after him and many scholars suspect that the two mentions by Josephus and Tacitus may be later insertions. We only accept the veracity of his existence on the authority of the Qur’an, which is a matter of faith. He is said to have ‘preached the Gospel’ but the four books calling themselves as Gospels are seriously variant and are not so much about what he personally preached but are his brief biographies rich in myth. What passes as Christianity is not even his alleged teachings in the Gospels but doctrines which gradually and fitfully evolved over centuries after him which doctrines keep having their variants and deniers to this day.


But we must also add objective criteria to judge Judaism and Christianity. These are facts which we can rationally and reasonably argue for or against a faith by the standards of utility and decency.  Before we do that we propose to begin with Islam’s standards for utility and decency: Islam protects five things- life, progeny, property, chastity and honour. A Muslim’s life cannot be taken without sound legal reason like committing a murder which is proven, children, once formed in the womb cannot be killed without sound medical reasons like posing a danger to mother’s life and after being born can not be killed at all;  property can only be taken in part by way of consensual exchange with a commodity or service or in taxation;  his chastity can never be taken away and marriage obligations do not  constitute a breach of it; and lastly he cannot be defamed or slandered or else the culprit is punished.


Christianity falls when it frowns upon marriage and encourages celibacy whereby new generations are curbed and in fact the looking down on marriage offends the honour of married people.  It again falls on the protection of property grounds when the remission of sins comes at a cost to the penitent who must pay the church a sum for it. The church has in fact over the generations enriched itself at the expense of its subjects in return only for imaginary benefits. In Islam forgiveness may be sought by simply offering private repentance to God and if felt like it giving alms privately to the poor.

There are also theological grounds for comparison. Islam’s creed puts the nature and status of God most simply, rationally and universally suffering no racial prejudice like Judaism or logical absurdities like Christianity.  All men are born equal whatever their race and remain equal in principle. Inequalities come in only in the form of natural differences like more or less intelligence or  personal choices like doing good or bad acts. Allah addresses all as His actual or potential believers and worshippers and once a man embraces Islam not a single doubt remains about his equality to all other Muslims no matter who or of what rank. Even kings and most learned scholars may not see themselves possessing legal or prejudical privileges  above the humblest Muslims.


But to give their deserved due, both Judaism and Christianity are far superior to paganism. In all paganisms, for example, human life is not necessarily sacred but often profane and wantonly expendable. To give just two examples, one, all pagan traditions accept human sacrifice to gods and this may take forms like offering a man to gods as a burnt sacrifice, and two, abandoning young children to certain death if the father thinks it is not wanted for any reason. From China in the East to Greece in the West all pagan national traditions did have this scant regad for human life and in India and at some time and place China wife and servants had to follow the chief of the household the husband to burial or cremation.

Islam more than shares this high regard for human life with Judaism and Christianity; We are saying ‘more’ because Judaism had no high regard for non-Jewish lives and for example allowed if not totally and always encouraged the massacre of a defeated nation with no regard for age, sex or disability. Christianity in practice if not in theory sanctioned both torture and execution by burning or otherwise of religious deviants and no mercy was shown to Jews or Muslims when they were in the power of Christians in an extraordinary situation. The Crusaders began by exterminating as many Jews as possible who happened to be on the path of advance of the Christian hordes and once in Muslim lands no opportunity was missed for massacring Muslims, Muslim-protected Jews as well as Eastern Christians all the way to Jerusalem which town was totally cleansed of non-Catholics. What is more, all such barbarities had the sanction and blessing of the Church, except when some merciful bishops hid some potential victims in their quarters.     


From where does come the superiority of Islam over the rest?  It comes from the singular and conclusive fact that Muhammad sws did exist as certainly I and you do and that he was revealed a Divine teaching called the Qur’an which, unlike any other alleged Divine revelation was not obscured and corrupted but remained the same since its revelation. If one does not believe in God and His revealing things to men or if one does not believe the claims of Muhammad sws what can we do? That is a matter of personal conviction. But if one does believe in God and in Muhammad as God’s Messenger then he may be sure that what he finds in the Qur’an is fully from God, the Qur’an simply survived intact. This cannot be said of either Judaism or Christianity because both Moses and Jesus did not survive the obscuring effects of time while the teachings attributed to them are palpably spurious to very serious extents. Their believers can only believe heroically in the face of the huge uncertainties and often also illogic and even scandal afflicting the traditions of both religions. 


When one puts both these internal facts like logic in theology and benefits to believers, Islam comes top by a huge margin and that entitles it to adoption by all persons who want to be objective, fair and responsible.


Lastly, to put any atheists and deniers of prophetic may scientifically speculate how a man can become the mouthpiece and envoy of the Creator of the universe.



Men are created with different abilities and potentials and rarely it may so happen that an exceptional combination and constellation of genes can produce a man just a genuine prophet would have to be-  A man of extremely exceptional intellectual and spiritual genius. Just like epoch- making inspired discoveries can come to an very exceptional scientist like Newton, Maxwell or Einstein an irresistible and mind-blowing spiritual explanation of existence and human perfection and destiny may occur to a man ready to be a prophet. We know for sure that all his adult life before his mission Muhammad distinguished himself as a model citizen as well as a family man and a few years before he was forty years of age he was instinctively drawn to solitary long and deep contemplation over many fasts and prayers. In the end the brewing inevitable happened and he was given a momentous spiritual vision which eventually met all his requirements and millions after him. As briefly explained and fewly exemplified above, he came up with the simplest and best theology, the most realistic and just of laws and lived and taught a way of life which could not be more morality as well as legitimate and responsible material success and welfare oriented. Short of being an atheist no sensible and conscientious man can bring himself to deny the genuineness of Muhammad sws and if really unprejudiced, accept him as the last grandmaster of all men.  Despite the passage of a millennium and a half none appeared and stood up to do better than him; in fact all claimants basically made fools of themselves.






History is a very inexact science and only the most general and persistent observations made with a fair mind can deliver us lessons worthy of the name.  Details are often deceptive since the partiality of most reports and scarcity of data introduce many uncertainties.  If we read about, for example, a battle between two powers as reported and commented upon from the two sides involved we uniformly find that each boast of the higher moral ground,  conceal their culpable defects and failings as much as they can, exaggerate their valour and the means of the enemy as they also exaggerate (or invent) the treacheries the other side resorted to.  It is the duty of the historian to weigh the evidence, discount most usual partisan pleadings and from more objective and enduring evidence work out a more realistic and informative picture. 


For example, if a chronicler attached to the attackers of a fortified town reports that the height and width of the walls were so many cubits or yards while archaeological evidence shows that they were much less, then that should settle the issue. Another tradition of partisan chroniclers and partisan historians drawing on them has been the exaggeration of all quantities they think will show them in a better light whether or not we agree with them that those figures and their subjects are as much valuable for us as they are to them.  The usual exaggeration factor is about ten; we modern historians get a fairer picture of the scope of events when we divide the figures given by ten!  For example one party boasts of killing a hundred thousand of the enemy and carrying away booty worth a hundred ‘talents’ (a measure by weight for gold and silver, about 50 lb) of gold the actual figures are more likely to be ten thousand killed and ten talents and respectively.  If an ascetic boasts or is reported by his admirers as surviving for a year on an ounce of bread the likelier figures are 36 days with 10 ounces of bread each day. In general things are not as rosy or as bad as parties to a dispute or contest mutually claim and this includes the claims which we Muslims make about our own historical record except the Prophet’s sws era for which the accounts are remarkably realistic.  The numbers quoted concerning the Prophet’s sws battles, like casualties and booty are quite moderate and therefore ring very true.  After especially the Abbasid times the numbers swell a bit but not too much- Muslims had already been modern even by today’s standards then.

With this admitted, in our analysis of our accounts we shall try to be more fair than usual if for nothing else in order to really extract valid lessons from our experience as Muslims.

In the course of our mental journey we shall see to what heights of nobility or depravity each person or party to a dispute could rise or descend and again this applies equally to us Muslims and others.  It will become clear to us, I hope, that religions are mixed blessings; depending on the personal qualities, agendas and interests of their votaries they can be as equally abused as they can be positively used.  We shall also see that all religions as survived or reported leave something to be desired, at  least when considered perhaps not so much as the theory as the practice. In final analysis Islam’s theory proves perfect while in practice a lot remains to be desired. Why we are saying that Islam’s theory is perfect? Are we not being prejudiced? I am sure we are not and to make this point in advance of everything else we are summarising the merits of Islam. 

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