My learned friend started to scratch the top of his head. He was, evidently, thinking hard to find a pitfall what would finish me off this time. He began to speak slowly and deliberately:
Very well, what can you tell me about the fate of a person whom the Quran or, for that matter, any other revelation or prophet did not reach? What fault can you lay at him? What in your creed will be his fate on the Day of Judgment? I have in mind, for example, an Eskimo in far away Polar Regions or a Negro deep in the jungle. What will befall such a person at the hands of your God on Doomsday?
- I began my answer to him at once:
Let me; first of all, correct your view of the issue involved here. You have based your questions on a false premise. God informed us in the Quran that he deprived no one of his mercy, revelation, words, or signs:
"For there is no nation that has not been warned by a messenger."
"We raised a messenger in every nation."
The Bee, 36
The prophets mentioned in the Quran are not all whom God sent. There are thousands of others about whom we know nothing. Concerning those messengers, God says to his prophet Muhammed:
"Of some you have already heard, of others we have told you nothing."
God in fact, sends intimations to everything; to bees, for instance:
"Your God inspired the bees, saying:
Build your homes in the mountains,
In the trees, and in the thatching men
Make." Al nahl, 68
This inspiration may be a revelation, a book delivered by Gabriel, or an illumination caused by God in a person's heart. It can be a state of 'relief' in mental disposition, an insight into truth, or an understanding of things. Again, it can take the shape of reverence towards and fear of God as well as an attitude of piety. Indeed, no one that ever 'tunes up' his heart and sense will be deprived from receiving a favor from God.
Those, however, who block their ears and hearts will not benefit from any number of books, messengers, or miracles.
God says that he blesses whomever he wills of his creatures with his mercy and that he is accountable before none for his deeds. For a wisdom known only to him, he may send warnings to some but not to others so that these latter may be excused in his sight and the slightest indication of faith accepted from them.
We can really never know. A mere fearful glance at the sky by that primitive Negro may be more redeeming with God and acceptable to him than our prayers. Nevertheless, a closer consideration of the creeds of such primitive Negroes reveals that they had messengers and revelations like our own. We know, for instance, that the Mau Mau tribe believers in a God it calls 'Mogabe' and describes him as a single being that was neither begotten nor begets and that has no equal or like.
This divinity is invisible and only known by his deeds and effects. He is a creator, a donor of livelihood, a bestower, and compassionate being who heals the sick, relieves the distressed, sends the rain down, and hears prayers. According to tribal lore, lightning is that deity's dagger and thunder the sound of his football.
Isn't this 'Mogabe' almost the same as our own God? From what quarter did those tribesmen receive such conception unless a messenger and a revelation came to them at some period of their history? As usual, this message must, with the passage of time, have fallen victim to superstitions that corrupted its original purity.
We similarly know that Niam Niam people believe in a single divinity they call 'Mbole' who, according to their sayings, moves everything in the jungle, visits the evildoers with thunderbolts, and rewards the virtuous with livelihood, blessing, and security. The shylock tribe, we also know believes in jok, a single deity whom they describe as both invisible and manifest. He abides in the sky and everywhere and he is the creator of everything. The denkas believe in a single God, Mialok, whose name literally means 'he who is in the sky' or the sublime. By what name other than Islam can we call such creeds? What else can they be but messages delivered by prophets who came to those peoples?
"Believers, Jews, Christians, and sabaeans-whoever believes in God
And the last day and does what is right-shall be rewarded by their lord
They have nothing to fear or to regret."
Al baqara, 62
Even the sabaeans (or those among them who worshipped the sun as one of god's signs and believed in the oneness of God, in resurrection, in judgement, and performing good deeds) will have their wages from God.
It is well-known that god's mercy varies in how it is bestowed. There are those born blind and others who enjoy sight. Some have lived in the age of Moses and saw him with their own eyes parting the sea with his staff; others have lived in the time of Jesus and witnessed how he raised the dead. As for us, we only know of these miracles by hearing about them. Receiving a report of something is surely not equal to seeing it with the eye; for to see is other than to hear of a certain event' nevertheless, belief and disbelief do not hinge upon miracles. Obdurate non-believers witness wonders from the prophets sent to guide them but have no more to say of these miracles than describing them as 'fabricated sorcery'.
It is certain that our learned friend, who has just returned from France, has known three books-the Torah, the bible, and the Quran-in his own language. These revelations, it seems, only exacerbated his indulgence in disputation. To evade the entire subject he shifted the discussion to a hypothetical primitive in the jungle unreached by any revelation and went on to ask us the following question:
"Why does God's mercy vary? Why should God reveal his signs to some while others know of them only through reports?"
We reply to him by observing that revealing miracles to some may not be a blessing but a temptation. For didn't God warn the companions of Christ who asked for a table to descend among them from heaven?
"God said: 'I am sending one to you. But whoever of you disbelieves
Hereafter shall be punished as no man has ever been punished."
The reason for this warning is that the coming of miracles is always accompanied by an increase in the severity of punishment for those who disbelieve after seeing them. Happy indeed are those who believe from hearing of revelation without witnessing any miracles. And woe to those who see them but persist in disbelieving.
The Quran you have with you is a witness against you and a warning for you. On the day of Reckoning it will not be a mercy but the contrary. Sparing the Eskimo of the Polar Regions such an irrefutable witness may be a sign of mercy, pardon, and alleviation on the Day of Judgment. A look at the sky from this ignorant Eskimo even once in his life may be sufficient for God to accept him as a sincere believer.
As for the reason why God shows more mercy to some than to others, it is a dispensation he bases upon his knowledge of hearts:
"He knew what was in their hearts.
Therefore he sent down peace upon
Them and rewarded them with a speedy victory."
God's knowledge of us and of our hearts precedes our creation in the wombs; it goes back to when we were spirits around his throne. Some of us were attracted to his light and were completely absorbed in it, while others directed their attention away from him to enjoy the spectacle of the universe (malakoot) shunning the splendor of their creator.
Ever since that time immemorial the latter have deserved the lower degree and were predestined to perdition. Thus said those who 'see' (Ahl el-Moshahada).
What we experience in our short life on earth is not everything that there is. Knowing the wisdom behind every suffering and privation is something that belongs only to the Omniscient. If I were asked why god created the pig in that shape we know, I can only reply that God chose for it a 'piggish' form because its nature or 'self' is swinish. It was right and just that this animal be created in that shape we are familiar with.
All the dispensations we see around us are just but realizing the all-encompassing wisdom and discovering that hidden justice is a task that is not within our ken. It is for this that the last day was decreed; when the "scales" will be set up and the Omniscient tell us of everything we disputed about.
And now, my friend, I shall set your heart to rest with the decisive argument in this question. God said in his book that he will punish only those whom he warned beforehand through his messengers:
"Nor do we punish a nation until we have sent forth a messenger
To warn them." Al-Esra'a, 15
Have I thus quieted your fears? Allow me further to add that the most peculiar aspect of your questions in this connection is their deceptive pretense of belief and pity for the poor negro deprived of the light, mercy, and guidance of the Quran. In truth, they indicate your disbelief in the Quran or its light and guidance. They are designed more for inveiglement And subterfuge.
They run contrary to your own inner conviction and I can only describe this attitude as perversity in its quintessence. You are endeavoring to persuade us of an argument of which you personally do not have any proof. Don't you agree with me that your reasoning is in need of mending?