Spirituality is at the core of our being, and men have felt the pull of it at all times and in all countries. Freud perverted the truth when he claimed that religion was a private form of neurosis; a far truer diagnosis is that neurosis is a private, incomplete and distorted form of the religious consciousness which must dawn in a man before he can say, as many mystics have said, that the riddle of life has been solved and that unbroken inner peace and happiness have been found.
Mohammed called himself a “messenger” (rasul). He did not claim that his message was original or that he was giving it any special twist:
We believe in Allah and what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaca and Jacob, what has been given to Moses and Jesus, and what has been given to the Messengers from the Lord; we make no distinction between any of them. (Koran).
There had been many messengers before Mohammed and God would send many after him:
And there is not a people but a messenger has gone among them. (Koran).
An important corollary is that, while no one is obliged to listen to the message, no one can evade responsibility for refusing to heed it by pretending that there has never been an opportunity of hearing it:
The truth is from your Lord so whoever will, let him believe and whoever will, let him disbelieve. (Koran.)
There is no compulsion in religion. (Koran).
We have shown man the way. He may be thankful or he may be ungrateful. (Koran).
Mohammed’s presentation of the truth was, naturally enough, suited to the needs of Arabs living in the seventh century CE and, as had been the practice of messengers before his time, he diluted the elixir for all but his most intimate disciples whose self-abnegation was complete. The pure doctrine was passed down, it is said through Ali, to the Sufi orders and included the practices of meditation and mantra which are found in traditional schools of Yoga. For the message of Mohammed can be read also in the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospels, the Prajnapara- mita Sutra, the Tao Ta King and the writings of Wang Yang Ming. It is Yoga. The Arabic letters Aliph lam min which precede certain chapters in the Koran are recognizable as the holy symbol AUM which occurs in the earliest classics of Yoga.
God moves in a mysterious way. The hidden preparations for Mohammed’s mission must have appeared outwardly as singularly unpropitious. Mohammed’s father died before Mohammed was born, his mother died when he was 6, he could neither read nor write, he had no special advantages of wealth or status, and the milieu was a thoroughly decadent and strife- torn society. His first vision, in the cave of Hira in 610 CE, came when he was already 40 years old and his response to the call at once aroused fanatical opposition and persecution even from some of his closest relatives. And yet he lived to see Arabia unified in Islam and the beginnings of one of the greatest empires ever known, which brought civilization and a spirit of brotherhood at a time when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages.
Such an outcome would not have been possible unless true, that is to say Divine, inspiration had been vouchsafed to Mohammed and he had been suited to receive and transmit it.
From his earliest childhood this unpretentious orphan had demonstrated a noble, selfless and high moral character. One of his first nicknames was Al-Amin (the trustworthy) because he was never known to tell lies, even the ‘white’ variety which society often condones as a convenience. When, after the vision of Hira, Abu Bakr was told that Mohammed claimed to have had a revelation from God, he said: “It must be true. A man who has never uttered a falsehood against men could never utter a falsehood against God.”
As a young man Mohammed was a member of a group of Meccans who took a pledge to stand by the poor and the oppressed and when, some years later, the Koreish demanded that his uncle should give him up to face execution, the latter refused, partly on the grounds that Mohammed had been well known as a protector of widows and orphans.
Mohammed abstained from gambling, an almost universal pastime, and remained celibate in a notoriously profligate age until he married Khadija at the age of 27. His life remained always simple and ascetic, an example which was followed by the early Caliphs despite the riches and luxury which were at their disposal.
Mohammed’s upright nature was nourished by a deep inner spring of spirituality. When still a child of 5, and living with a foster-mother outside Mecca among the nomads, he had a vivid dream that two angels were searching for something in his stomach and trying to release it. As he grew up, he delighted in meeting the holy men of all faiths; at the fair of Okaz near Mecca, he was able to hear the famous Christian Bishop Kuss Ibn Saida preaching from the back of a camel as well as the discourses of Jews, Zoroastrians and others.
At the age of 12 he travelled in his uncle’s caravan to Bosra in Transjordan, a centre of trade between Arab and Greek; there in a monastery just off the market place, one of the Nestorian monks named Bahira had a long talk with him, and saluted him as a Messenger of God. This meeting made a profound impression on Mohammed. He often used to retire to the desert and pray, and periodically took temporary jobs as a shepherd. One of his sayings is: Verily there have been no messengers who have not performed the work of shepherds.
It was after he had spent several days alone in meditation in a small cave in the side of Mount Hira a few miles from Mecca that he received his first revelation. He was told that he was to be God’s Messenger ‘to warn the people and call them to God and His worship’. The revelation was immediately accepted as genuine by his wife, Khadija, her old and learned cousin, Waraka, and Mohammed’s closest friend, a rich cloth merchant usually known as Abu Bakr (“father of the young camel”) or As Siddiq (“the upright”) a soubriquet descriptive of his truthful character, since he always walked with a bit of a stoop. As Muir writes in his biography:
It is strongly corroborative of Mohammed’s sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were not only of upright character but his own bosom friends and people of his household who, intimately acquainted with his private life, could not otherwise fail to have detected those discrepancies which ever more or less exist between the professions of the hypocritical deceiver abroad and his actions at home.
What, then, was the message which at once struck a chord in the hearts of Mohammed’s closest companions, and which ultimately won over to Islam even his most bitter enemies and persecutors?
In a sentence it was that there is only one reality, God, and that the object of life should be to surrender the personality to Him and live for Him. Hence the way was called Islam (‘submission to God’) and its followers were known as Moslems (‘they who surrender themselves to the will of God’).
Classical Yoga sums up the truth in the phrase:
Brahma Sattyam Jagan Mitthya Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah. (God alone is real, the world is unreal, the soul and God are identical).
Mohammed used virtually the same expressions:
La ilaha ilia ‘Hah (There is no God (reality) except God)
He is God alone, God the eternal. He begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is no other like unto Him.
Everything perishes save His countenance (i.e. the world of manifestation passes away and only the underlying Reality is permanent).
He who knows his Self knows God.
Allah is called ‘fard’, which means one without a second, single and having no like. It implies the unreality of the name and form of manifestation, called Maya in the school of Advaita philosophy, although such manifestation must of necessity rest on the unchanging Divine ground; God is everywhere in His creation:
Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah.
It was Mohammed’s emphasis on the oneness and indivisibility of God which made him reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which seemed to make some concession to a dualistic view. He called Jesus ‘the greatest of God’s Messenger’s,’ believed that He was the Word made flesh and had miraculous powers and that He was a Messiah who would come a second time and usher in universal peace. Nevertheless he maintained that Jesus never said that He should be worshipped and that this was done after His lifetime through ignorance and superstition. In Mohammed’s view, since God alone is real, He alone is worthy of worship; worship of anything other than God is ‘idolatry’ and to be shunned. Neither Mohammed nor his followers would ever have referred to Islam as ‘Mohammedanism’. One of his last requests was:
O God, let not my tomb ever be an object of worship.
Of course the ban on idol-worship applied not only to persons. Wealth is an idol, success is an idol, comfort is an idol, health is an idol; to worship them as if they were real transforms them inevitably into sources of suffering.
Mohammed also taught the doctrine of Yoga that God was the true Self of each and everyone and could be ‘known’ if the correct techniques were used and the devotion and self-surrender of the disciple were perfect. Such are those who ‘drink directly from the fountains of Paradise’; the rest of the faithful for the time being have their drink only flavoured from the fountains of Paradise. One of his sayings is:
Heaven and earth contain Me not but the heart of my believing servant contains Me.
Mystically speaking, God expresses Himself as beauty and love in the creation, and also plays a game of hide and seek with Himself which is ended by rediscovering Himself as the Self of man. Creation is the mirror which He holds up to Himself, according to the tradition:
I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known. I created the world in order to be known.
Things are best shown off in contrast with their opposites; hence the Self is reflected in the not-Self, Allah in the creation, Brahman in Maya.
Mohammed’s message for the individual was that he should make every effort to turn to God within his being and to ‘meet’ Him there:
O man, thou must strive to attain to Thy Lord, a hard striving until thou meetest Him.
They are losers indeed who turn away from the meeting with Allah. And seek divine help through patience and prayer, and surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones, who know that they shall meet their Lord and that they shall return to Him.
This last verse provides the key of Mohammed’s method of turning and returning to God, namely seeking divine help through patience and prayer in humility. Prayer for the sincere Moslem had at first to be frequent and ultimately to become continuous in the form of constant remembrance of the Lord.
Mohammed instituted at Medina a ritual prayer to be said five times a day (on waking, at lunchtime, after work ended in the afternoon, at sunset and before going to bed); thus prayer was interwoven in the daily routine and fostered constant remembrance of the Lord, the feeling of His presence and support at all times. Mohammed himself associated prayer with every aspect of his daily life and many of his prayers are recorded; one is:
O God, grant me to love Thee and to love those who love Thee, and whatsoever brings me nearer to Thy love, and make Thy love more precious to me than cold water to the thirsty.
He likened the ritual prayer to a stream passing the door of the house in which the devotee could wash away all taint through bathing in it five times a day. But it is not so much the ritual prayer as the burning and continuous remembrance of Allah, characteristic of the Moslem mystic, which produces the passing away of the lower self of man and the filling of the vacuity by God. The ‘passing away’ (fana) seems to be what Christ meant by ‘losing your soul’, what Patanjali meant by ‘restraint of the modes of the mind’ and what the Buddhists described as ‘making the mind no mind’; it is symbolized in the ritual prayer by placing the hands in prostration.
The revelation of God in the soul, called baqa, is implied by perfect fana, and vice versa as indicated in the lines of Hafiz:
So full is my soul’s horizon of the Beloved,
All thought of self has gone from my mind.
There is a saying of Mohammed:
So that he sees by Me, and his hand so that he grasps by Me.
When I (Allah) love a servant, I the Lord am his ear so that he hears by Me, and his tongue so that he speaks by Me, and his eye so that he sees by Me and his hand so that he grasps by Me.
The acts of such men are divinely inspired, though they appear often to be so human to their contemporaries.
They are God-men, those liberated-in-life, called walis in the Yoga of Arabia and jivanmuktas in the Yoga of India. Allah, or the Divine Self, is reflected in them, and, through them is revealed to others.