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ISLAM: The Arab National Movement

NATIONALISM, The Basic Element of Prophethood

Islam is an offshoot of the Semitic culture, which is an expression of man's aggressive behaviour.

Semitism, as a culture, describes the way of life associated with the peoples fathered by Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Originally, the expression Semite included the Babylonians, Assyrians, Aramaeans, Canaanites and Pnoenicians but now it refers to the two major groups: the Jews and the Arabs, who have a common ancestry and cultural traditions though religious differences depict them in different colours, which give them ethnic distinction based on mutual dislike, destruction and derogation. This might not have happened but the Jewish sense of racial superiority coupled with their brilliant success in worldly affairs, has ignited the flame of jealousy provoking most nations to bruise, bash and batter them during the course of history.

Paradoxically, what unites the Jews and the Arabs culturally also serves as the foundation-stone of their ethnic animosity. This happens to be the doctrine of Revelation, which is the oldest tradition of the Semitic lands. It has a deeper meaning than what is usually understood. The concept of revelation is the pivot of the Semitic culture and governs the entire life of its people.

Revelation means that the universe has been created by God who loves to be worshipped. He reveals His will to mankind through his agent, called the prophet, who happens to be the divine interpreter. Salvation is not possible unless people obey the prophet who is God's messenger, however, customarily, it meant that every locality, city and country, such as Sumer, Babylon, etc., had a God as its head, who was represented by the local or national priest-ruler. It was God who made laws and revealed to the ruler, and gave him instructions regarding the government and morality, that is, how people should talk, walk, eat, drink, sleep, wake up, etc. The ruler was supposed to be God's servant, who had no power of his own; he was there just to execute God's will. The Islamic principle that government belongs to God and must be conducted according to His law, is an extension of this old Semitic tradition.

Since this tradition forms the cornerstone of the Semitic culture, I may give a few examples to emphasise its significance: An inscription of Shalmaneser 111 (858-824 B.C.) states how he fought an alliance of twelve kings who wanted to destroy him. Shalmaneser, "the mighty king of Assyria," describes himself as "the priest of Assur, the great lord, king of all great gods" who gave him "the exalted might" to annihilate his enemies at Karkar including 10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite.

A still better example is that of Marduk, the chief god of the city of Babylon and the national god of Babylonia. He had fifty names, each referring to a different attribute of his. It was believed that he created all nature including man, and it was he who controlled the destiny of kings and their subjects. The rulers of Assyria and Persia also honoured Marduk.

Marduk was the son of Ea. He attained chief godhead by slaying Tiamat, the monster. The famous rivers Tigris and Euphrates flowed forth from the eyes of the monster when he pierced them. The chief god had under him an array of minor gads, who were entrusted with various functions. For example, Utu, the sun-god, was also the judge of the gods and controlled justice and righteousness. As a result, when people had complaints against demons, they went to the law courts against the evil spirits to seek recourse before Utu to obtain judgement against them, and not from the presiding judge.

Similarly, the famous Babylonian code known as the laws of Hammurabi, were the legal decisions of this king. They were collected during the end of his reign and inscribed on a diorite stela set up in Babylon's temple of the god Marduk. These man-made laws were promulgated to have been revealed by Marduk, and Hammurabi was shown in various statues, as receiving them directly from the local deity.

This custom of the Semitic dignitaries acting as God's viceroys was maintained masterfully; firstly, the deity was assigned incredible powers and attributes to frighten people into submission. Here is a hymn to the God, Merodach ( Marduk ), which is the translation of an Akkadian Psalm. The author claims that it was composed 3000 B.C.

    Who shall escape from before thy power?
    thy will is an eternal mystery!
    Thou makest it plain in heaven
    and in the earth.
    Command the sea
    and the sea obeyeth thee.
    Command the tempest
    and the tempest becometh a calm.
    Command the winding course
    of the Euphrates
    and the will of Merodach
    shall arrest the floods.
    Lord, thou art holy!
    Who is like unto thee?
    Merodach thou art honoured
    among the gods that bear a name.
Secondly, these priest-kings, the early equivalents of prophets and messiahs went a long way to express that they had no desire to rule; they did so under the command of the god and acted as his vicar; they were only performing their duty as laid upon them by the Lord. Thus, they made their government look impersonal, yet it was their government in the cloak of revelation. They did what they liked but without much danger of rebellion because God was always on hand to be blamed. The innovation of acting as God's servant under duress is the fulcrum of the device of revelation, which I ought to explain with reference to two major prophets, namely Moses and Muhammad. Jesus Christ is yet another man in this category but as the details of his life are minimal and highly controversial, it will serve no purpose to describe him here.

A closer study of the doctrine of revelation shows that a prophet has two ambitions: personal and national. Personally, he despevately wants to be loved and worshipped as God but without being called so.

Nationally, he adores his nation and strives for its superiority and preservation. It is quite natural for him to use his leadership qualities for the amelioration of his racial group with which he is connected culturally i.e. he speaks their language, dresses like them, practises their customs, manners and rites, belongs to the same country with similar patriotic feelings and possesses a temperament and psychological attitude verisimilar to those of his countrymen. He is usually a refined man, wiser than most and endowed with leading qualities. Thus, he knows that there is no such thing as a leader without the led, and the greatness of the leader depends upon the quality of his followers. Therefore, he is also a national leader of great virtue who is dedicated to the elevation of his own country and people.

Let us take the Jews first, and see how these facts apply to Moses:

Moses, the founder of Judaism, was the son of Amram and Jochebed. By a quirk of history, he ended up on the lap of Pharaoh's daughter and was brought up in the Egyptian court as a prince. He was trained in the noble arts of Egypt such as law-making, scribing, religion, civil administration and warfare. Moreover, as Egypt ruled Palestine and a part of Syria, he knew the history and geography of these countries from the court records.

Originally, the total numher of Jews or Israelites, who went to live in Egypt (including Joseph) was seventy-one. The Egyptians were extremely cruel to them, and they had to leave Egypt after an abode of four hundred and thirty years. The size of the exodus has been put as high as 2,000,000 though scholarly criticism has reduced it to 15,000. However, I estimated it at half a million in my book: Eternity.

Though at that time, the Jews were a loose ethnic group, almost all of them came from the conquered territories of Canaan (Palestine) and Syria. This is evident from the fact that Amenhotep ll (1450-1425 B.C., took during his nine- year campaign 89,600 prisoners, who were used as slaves to build Egyptian temples.

These Hebrews or Jews were a rabble of slavish habits, psychologically depressed and having hardly any cultural attainment. Moses was a great man; he identified himself with the Hebrews. Having been raised as a prince, he wanted to maintain his dominant position and needed a nation to remember him and spread his name. Thus, he chose the ancient Semitic tradition of revelation to project himself as a prophet to unite his nation behind him. The superstitious mind of the Hebrews was receptive to such an idea to give them self-confidence and protection against the uncertainties of life.

On the Semitic model of a prophet mediating between God and man, he narrated the story of the burning bush ( Exodus 3: 2 ) and to give it supernatural character, he emphasised that the bush though burnt, suffered no consumption at all. It was the genius of Moses which realised that the introduction of the God of Israel, who happened to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, must be accompanied by such an uncanny event.

At the same time, he remembered to tell his people that he did not want to be their leader but was acting under duress. Moses told God (Exodus 4: 10; Exodus 3: 8) that he was not willing to be the divine viceroy owing to his stammer and lack of eloquence. However, he agreed to carry the yoke of authority because his attitude infuriated the Lord. Thus. Moses had no choice but to become God's viceroy and announce that God had sent him to His people. One can see the old Semitic tradition at work here: first, Moses finds a God for the people and then appoints himself as God's messenger to enforce certain commands in the name of God. This God is the God of Israel. He is called Yahwe, who, following the Hittite manners, does not reveal his name and declares "I Am That I Am."

Of course, according to the Semitic believers, it is a great honour to be appointed as god's messenger but it is not like a postman. God's messenger is God's servant in name only. In practice, he is God's superior. This exposes the nature of revelation because it makes this device the tool of dominance. Here is an example from the Old Testament:

As the story goes, worship of the molten calf by the Jews kindled Yahwe's jealousy. He appears in His divine glory and intends to consume the Children of Israel with His boiling wrath. Here is a chance for Moses to establish his superiority over God. He tells Yahwe impolitely that He is about to do a wicked thing against His own people and shames Him by asserting what the Egyptians would say if He destroyed them. After all, Yahwe had gone out of the way to secure the release of the Jews from Egypt.

Moses commands the Lord to refrain from this evil and repent. (Exodus 32: 12-14). What an event it becomes; God surrenders to man! Yet the Jews call their faith strictly monotheistic.

This is not the only occasion when Moses, the Prophet, humiliates God in front of everybody. There is yet another episode of similar nature when the Jews denigrate the Promised Land and want to return to Egypt. Yahwe's wrath reaches boiling point and He threatens to kill them all. Moses steps in and shames Him publicly. God Yields to Moses as usual ( Numbers 14: 1 1 - 20 ).

A prophet's urge of dominance is much stronger than that of a secular suzerain; when a suzerain dies, his urge of dominance dies with him but a prophet's urge of dominance, on the contrary, becomes immortal; he wants to command people from the grave, and desires to be worshipped exclusively because he warns people that he was the last prophet and anyone declaring himself to be the God's apostle after him, would be nothing but an imposter. However, to be remembered and worshipped after one's death, is not possible unless one i.e. the prophet leaves behind a devoted, dedicated and determined band of followers. Such a band of followers without a national character and sense of unity is just a rabble, liable to disperse with the first sign of resistance. This is the reason that a prophet has got to be a national leader, openly or discreetly.

Moses, the Prophet, was an overt national leader. First of all, he planned to secure for them a homeland, which he called the "Promised Land." This was not possible without indulging in warfare. His people, after a severe bondage of over four centuries, suffered from an extreme slavish mentality which could prove a great hurdle to self-confidence and independence. So he subjected them to a severe miiitary discipline. For no fewer than forty years, he toughened and trained them in a certain way of life which eventually came to be known as "Judaism." As the third generation of the wandering Jews emerged, Moses decided to settle his followers in Canaan through a policy of fire and genocide. The children of Israel rose to the occasion. They fought to win and became a proud nation. They have followed, not only the law of Moses, but have also made a generous contribution to the world's civilisation.

As we can see, every person who seeks dominance as a prophet through the device of revelation creates a god of his own, and when another person aspires to be a prophet or messiah he has to demolish the god of his competitor and erect the image of a new god to establish his own prophethood to operate the device of revelation. This truth is well illustrated by the examples of Assur, Marduk and Yahwe. Yet nationalism is the most important element of prophethood because it creates an organised group of national fanatics to perpetuate his name by stratagem and force.

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