A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim

The doctrines of the Islamic faith were first proclaimed to the people of Arabia in the seventh century, by a prophet under whose banner their scattered tribes became a nation;

and filled with the pulsations of this new national life, and with a fervor and enthusiasm that imparted an almost invincible strength to their armies,

they poured forth over three continents to conquer and subdue.

Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and Persia were the first to fall before them,

and pressing westward to Spain and eastward beyond the Indus, the followers of the Prophet found themselves,

one hundred years after his death, masters of an empire greater than that of Rome at the zenith of its power.

Although in after years this great empire was split up and the political power of Islam diminished, still its spiritual conquests went on uninterruptedly. When the Mongol hordes sacked Baghdad (A.D. 1258) and drowned in blood the faded glory of the ‘Abbasid dynasty,—when the Muslims were expelled from Cordova by Ferdinand of Leon and Castile (A.D. 1236), and Granada, the last stronghold of Islam in Spain, paid tribute to the Christian king,—Islam had just gained a footing in the island of Sumatra and was just about to commence its triumphant progress through the islands of the Malay Archipelago. In the hours of its political degradation, Islam has achieved some of its most brilliant spiritual conquests : on two great historical occasions, infidel barbarians have set their feet on the necks of the followers of the Prophet,—the Saljuq Turks in the eleventh and the Mongols in the thirteenth century,—and in each case the conquerors have accepted the religion of the conquered. Unaided also by the temporal power, Muslim missionaries have carried their faith into Central Africa, China and the East India Islands.

At the present day (written in 1913) the faith of Islam extends from Morocco to Zanzibar, from Sierra Leone to Siberia and China, from Bosnia to New Guinea. Outside the limits of strictly Muslim countries and of lands, such as China and Russia, that contain a large Muslim population, there are some few small communities of the followers of the Prophet, which bear witness to the faith of Islam in the midst of unbelievers. Such are the Polish-speaking Muslims of Tatar origin in Lithuania, that inhabit the districts of Kovno, Vilno and Grodno; the Dutch-speaking Muslims of Cape Colony; and the Indian coolies that have carried the faith of Islam with them to the West India Islands and to British and Dutch Guiana. In recent years, too, Islam has found adherents in England, in North America, Australia and Japan.

The spread of this faith over so vast a portion of the globe is due to various causes, social, political and religious : but among these, one of the most powerful factors at work in the production of this stupendous result, has been the un-remitted labors of Muslim missionaries, who, with the Prophet himself as their great ensample, have spent themselves for the conversion of unbelievers.

The duty of missionary work
The duty of missionary work is no after-thought in the history of Islam, but was enjoined on believers from the beginning, as may be judged from the following passages in the Quran,—which are here quoted in chronological order according to the date of their being delivered:

“Summon thou to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning : dispute with them in the kindest manner, (xvi. 126.)

“They who have inherited the Book after them (i.e. the Jews and Christians), are in perplexity of doubt concerning it.

“For this cause summon thou (them to the faith), and walk uprightly therein as thou hast been bidden, and follow not their desires : and say : In whatsoever Books God hath sent down do I believe : I am commanded to decide justly between you : God is your Lord and our Lord : we have our works and you have your works : between us and you let there be no strife : God will make us all one : and to Him shall we return.”(xlii. 13-14.)

Similar injunctions are found also in the Medini Surahs, delivered at a time when Muhammad was at the head of a large army and at the height of his power.

“Say to those who have been given the Book and to the ignorant, Do you accept Islam ? Then, if they accept Islam, are they guided aright: but if they turn away, then thy duty is only preaching; and God’s eye is on His servants. (iii. 19.)

“Thus God clearly showeth you His signs that perchance ye may be guided;

“And that there may be from among you a people who invite to the Good, and enjoin the Just, and forbid the Wrong; and these are they with whom it shall be well. (iii. 99-100.)

“To every people have We appointed observances which they observe. Therefore let them not dispute the matter with thee, but summon them to thy Lord : Verily thou art guided aright :

“But if they debate with thee, then say : God best knoweth what ye do!” (xxii. 66-67.)

The following passages are taken from what is generally supposed to be the last Surah that was delivered.

“If any one of those who join Lords with God ask an asylum of thee, grant him an asylum in order that he may hear the word of God; then let him reach his place of safety.”(ix. 6.)

With regard to the unbelievers who had broken their plighted word, who “sell the signs of God for a mean price and turn others aside from His way,”and “respect not with a believer either ties of blood or good faith,”… it is said :—

“Yet if they turn to God and observe prayer and give alms, then are they your brothers in the faith : and We make clear the signs for men of knowledge.”(ix. II)

Thus from its very inception Islam has been a missionary religion, both in theory and in practice, for the life of Muhammad exemplifies the same teaching, and the Prophet himself stands at the head of a long series of Muslim missionaries who have won an entrance for their faith into the hearts of unbelievers. Moreover it is not in the cruelties of the persecutor or the fury of the fanatic that we should look for the evidences of the missionary spirit of Islam, any more than in the exploits of that mythical personage, the Muslim warrior with sword in one hand and Quran in the other, —but in the quiet, unobtrusive labors of the preacher and the trader who have carried their faith into every quarter of the globe. Such peaceful methods of preaching and persuasion were not adopted, as some would have us believe, only when political circumstances made force and violence impossible or impolitic, but were most strictly enjoined in numerous passages of the Quran, as follows:—

“And endure what they say with patience, and depart from them with a decorous departure.

“And let Me alone with the gainsayers, rich in the pleasures (of this life); and bear thou with them yet a little while. (lxxiii. IO-II.)

“(My) sole (work) is preaching from God and His message. (lxxii. 24.)

“Tell those who have believed to pardon those who hope not for the days of God in which He purposeth to recompense men according to their deserts. (xlv. 13.)

“They who had joined other deities with God say, ‘Had He pleased, neither we nor our forefathers had worshipped aught but Him; nor had we, apart from Him, declared anything unlawful.’ Thus acted they who were before them. Yet is the duty of the apostles other than plain-spoken preaching? (xvi. 37.)

“Then if they turn their backs, still thy office is only plain-spoken preaching, (xvi. 84.)

“Dispute ye not, unless in kindliest sort, with the people of the Book; save with such of them as have dealt wrongfully (with you) : and say ye, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and hath been sent down to you. Our God and your God is one, and to Him are we self-surrendered.’ (xxix. 45.)

“But if they turn aside from thee, yet We have not sent thee to be guardian over them. ‘Tis thine but to preach. (xlii. 47.)

“But if thy Lord had pleased, verily all who are in the world would have believed together. Wilt thou then compel men to become believers ? (x. 99.)

“And we have not sent thee otherwise than to mankind at large, to announce and to warn.” (xxxiv. 27.)

Such precepts are not confined to the Meccan Surahs, but are found in abundance also in those delivered at Medina, as follows :—

“Let there be no compulsion in religion. (ii. 257.)

“Obey God and obey the apostle; but if ye turn away, yet is our apostle only charged with plain-spoken preaching. (lxiv. 12.)

“Obey God and obey the apostle : but if ye turn back, still the burden of his duty is on him only, and the burden of your duty rests on you. And if ye obey him, ye shall have guidance : but plain preaching is all that devolves upon the apostle. (xxiv. 53.)

“Say: O men! I am only your plain-spoken (open) warner. (xxii. 48.)

“Verily We have sent thee to be a witness and a herald of good and a warner,

“That ye may believe on God and on His apostle; and may assist Him and honor Him, and praise Him morning and evening. (xlviii. 8-9.)

“Thou wilt not cease to discover the treacherous ones among them, except a few of them. But forgive them

and pass it over. Verily, God loveth those who act generously.” (v. 16 )

To be Continued