Recently there has been a noticeable sense of despair in the comments and posts on social media about the state of the world. The American evangelical fringe promotion of “the end of times” is getting some credibility amongst otherwise level-headed people, as there is so much depressing news being reported.
What is encouraging is the awareness that evil has never been able to overcome the right and justice. It is always only temporary.
Muslims know that at the time of Musa (a), one of the two perfect women in history, Asiya the wife of Pharaoh, came from the very household of perhaps the worst oppressor in history.
Asiya after witnessing the meeting between her husband and the Prophet Musa (a) was able to stand up to the power of the one who thought he was a living god.
“And God sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong.” [Quran 66:11].
Her name has been honoured for thousands of years.
In more recent times, from the depths of the then centre of world oppression, the British Empire, three great Muslims emerged, who have made a major contribution to the spread of the knowledge of Islam and awareness of the nature of imperialism.
In 1887, the conversion of William Quilliam to Islam and the establishment of the Liverpool Muslim congregation commenced the process of establishing Islam in England at a time when anti-Ottoman propaganda was high.
There were hostile demonstrations against the mosque but the Muslims, mainly English converts, knew their rights and their place in society and returned insults with the truth.
An insight into their tactics is provided in a recent Al Jazeera article, 15 December 2017, “How did Victorian Muslims celebrate Christmas?”
As Timothy Winter explained: “This reminds us there was an earlier generation of Muslims, looking to spread the word of Islam through finding points in common rather than things to argue about.”
Another two English Muslims who emerged from the highpoint of imperialism were Marmaduke Pickthall, who publicly accepted Islam in 1917, and Harry St John Philby who wanted to accept Islam in 1924 but was dissuaded by Abdul Aziz. He became Muslim in 1930.
Pickthall’s translation of the Quran is still well known, as is his stance in defence of the Ottomans and later the Committee for Union and Progress.
In his novel “Said the Fisherman” he wrote his famous account of the defence of Syrian nuns from a fanatical Muslim crowd by Abdul Cader.
Philby became a close friend of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud and a committed Wahhabi.
Today most Muslims have developed interpretations of the role of the CUP in Turkey and the Wahhabis in the Kingdom of the Hejaz which might differ from these men, but that does not detract from the influence they exerted.
Pickthall was under surveillance by military intelligence during the First World War because of his Ottoman-CUP sympathies, but he was not intimidated.
Philby was in a different situation. He worked with British intelligence to bring the Saudi leader into the British camp and to have him attack the allies of the Ottomans.
He opposed the way the British betrayed their promise of Arab independence and their imposition of a king on Iraq in 1921.
He resigned from his position as chief British representative in Transjordan in January 1924, citing his inability “to work with the present High Commissioner who, being a Zionist Jew, cannot hold the scales even between Zionist and Arab interests.”
Philby did an effective job of exposing the machinations going on to establish the basis of what was to become Israel.
An interesting account of the careers of both men is given in “Brave Hearts, Pickthall and Philby: Two English Muslims in a Changing World.” By M A Sherif, published by Islamic Book Trust.
Humayun Ansari “The Infidel Within: Muslims in Britain since 1800” Hurst and Company, London.2004 is a useful reference for those interested in this period.