A Westerner’s Unprejudiced Views on Islam
- 1 Who was Arthur John Byng Wavell?
- 2 Arthur John Byng Wavell’s knowledge about Islam
- 3 Arthur John Byng Wavell – after all – was a non-Muslim
- 4 Arthur John Byng Wavell on Prophet Muhammad
- 5 Did Islam spread by the sword?
- 6 Women in Islam
- 7 Islam and slavery
- 8 Building bridges between Islam and the West
- 9 Prophet Muhammad’s grave
- 10 Islamic penal code
Arthur John Byng Wavell (1882-1916), a British military officer, Arabist and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, secretly visited Makkah and Madinah as a pilgrim in 1908-9. His undertaking was ground-breaking, in that he arrived in Madinah via the historic Hijaz railway that had just become operational. He was the first non-Muslim to do so. His visit illustrated, and his narrative vividly documented, the onset of modernity in the holy cities.
Indeed, what Ludovico di Varthema (d. 1517) was for the genesis of the general custom of Western Christians in disguise visiting the holy pilgrimage places, Wavell was for the initiation of the custom’s new phase. Wavell was fully aware of his feat. Hence, the book that resulted from his clandestine visit-cum-pilgrimage he titled “A Modern Pilgrim in Mecca and a Siege in Sanaa”.
Who was Arthur John Byng Wavell?
Wavell was born in London in 1882 to a family where the religious and military tendencies dominated. His father was a colonel in the Welsh regiment and his mother was a daughter of a reverend. Following in his father’s footsteps, “Wavell spent three years at Winchester College before going to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the Welsh regiment in 1900, and saw service in the South African War before he was nineteen, being awarded the queen's medal, with three clasps. Afterwards he was specially employed by the War Office to travel and make maps and report on practically the whole of Swaziland, Tongaland, and northern Zululand. In 1905 he was again employed by the War Office to cross the Kalahari Desert and report on the protectorate of Bechuanaland.”
In 1906 Wavell resigned from his assignments. He then went to British East Africa to “indulge in big-game shooting”. In Mombasa, a city in southeast Kenya, he acquired a vast tract of land in Nyali as the city’s prominent residential area and sub-county. “In Mombasa he learned Arabic and Swahili, and interested himself in Islam.” From this latest experience of his grew a desire to explore Arabia, including the cities of Makkah and Madinah plus some vital parts of Yemen, which he did in 1908-9. Disguised as a Muslim named Ali bin Mohammed, from Zanzibar and aged twenty five, he “performed” the hajj pilgrimage using a fake Turkish passport.
After his “pilgrimage” to Makkah and Madinah and his visit to Yemen, Wavell returned to his estate at Nyali where he composed his book of travels. The book was published in London in 1912 by Constable and Company LTD. He “was still there at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Although he had already joined the special reserve of his old regiment, the Welsh, he was retained in British East Africa because he was regarded as necessary to its defence. At this time there were no coastal forces in Mombasa, but two so-called reserve companies were soon formed, one from former askaris of the King's African rifles, and one from Hadhramis and other Arabic speakers. This latter unit, created and inspired by Wavell's unique personality, was widely known as ‘Wavell’s own’.”
Wavell was soon promoted to the rank of Major and was “put in charge of the South Coast, near the border with German East Africa. On 8 January 1916, he marched out against a German column but was caught in a well prepared German ambush.” He was killed in action the following day. He was buried in a local cemetery before being reburied at Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England after the First World War (http://mepsoldboys.weebly.com/uploads/4/7/1/4/47142011/arthur-wavell.pdf).
Wavell “performed” his pilgrimage in 1908-9, which corresponded to 1326 AH. The day of Arafat was on January 2, 1909. Wavell embarked on his adventures because of two reasons: out of curiosity, and to expand the frontiers of modern knowledge, in particular in the scientific fields of geography, geology, ethnography and biology.
He alluded to the latter when he said that he desired to get accustomed to Arab ways with the intention of undertaking future journeys into the unexplored interior of the Arabian Peninsula. There was much more to be explored. Modern science was dissatisfied with mere observations and superficialities. The contributions of earlier Western explorers fell short of the standards of the modern ever-expanding scientific enquiry. The previous scientific enterprises were old-fashioned, as it were; modern times insatiably demanded more.
Arthur John Byng Wavell’s knowledge about Islam
Wavell was rather knowledgeable about Islam. He learned about it firstly out of curiosity and perhaps to understand better the circumstances that surrounded him in East Africa, triggering off a religious genetic material he should have inherited from his mother’s ancestral line. On deciding to perform the hajj pilgrimage, his interest in Islam and the affairs of Muslims dramatically increased.
At the outset of his book “A Modern Pilgrim in Mecca and a Siege in Sanaa” Wavell dedicated a 25-page introduction to acquainting the readers with the geography of Arabia and “the tenets of one of the most widely-spread religions of the world.” His justification for doing so was that although the knowledge of both was supposed to denote a part of a general education, such a thing unfortunately was not the case. He gleaned the subject from his own experience. He knew how much people were either ignorant or misinformed. Therefore, before presenting a comprehensive and credible picture about the hajj and its geographical setting, Wavell felt compelled to put forth a general account of the fundamental matters relating to Islam and the region’s natural features. He devoted some space to the consideration of those topics “for the benefit of such of my readers as have not found time to study Oriental subjects.”
Immediately noteworthy was an attempt of the author not just to educate the public, but also rectify some of the prevalent misconceptions, for so widespread and predominant Islam and Islamic civilization were worldwide that it was impossible to remain oblivious to their presence. Either conceptions or misconceptions prevailed. However, inasmuch as the former was conspicuously absent, the latter became common currency. That his intentions were sincere in having a scholastic introduction in a book whose focus was a travelogue, regarding it as a necessity, supports the fact that the first thing Wavell articulated in the introduction were the words of apology. As if he begged his readers to trust him, as he knew what he was doing. The benefits of his approach were long-term rather than instantaneous. They were not related solely to sheer knowledge, but as well to the multi-tiered concerns of everyday life. Certainly, there was more in Wavell’s statement to the effect that he was not without hopes that the narrative of his own journey may help other travellers to go farther and accomplish more, than it seemed. The words ought to be understood as much in empirical as in pure intellectual and ideological terms.
Wavell acknowledged the primary sources on which he depended the most. He stated explicitly that for much of the geographical information he was indebted to David George Hogarth’s “The Penetration of Arabia” (published in 1904). And for his historical facts he was indebted to Professor D.S. Margoliouth’s “Mohammed and the Rise of Islam” (published in 1905), Washington Irving’s “Mahomet and His Successors” (published in 1849), and several Arab (Muslim) writers.
Wavell knew that for having balanced views and for arriving at scientific judgements, depending solely on Western often-biased authors was inappropriate. Yet, it was scientifically dishonest. Because much scrutinising, comparing and contrasting was needed, relying both on Muslim and non-Muslim sources was the best option. In respect of methodological appropriateness and some major ethical considerations, it was unfair to judge Islam and Muslims without consulting Muslim authors. Wavell did not want to repeat the blunders of many of his Western predecessors. This methodological scientific moral of Wavell stands out and is, in actual fact, on a par with any other affirmative contribution of his.
The results of Wavell’s proper methods, coupled with his general broad-mindedness and objectivity, were obvious. His views, by and large, were unprejudiced and objective, even though once in a while he still displayed that he belonged to the orb of Western Christendom from whose deep-seated influences he could not completely recoil.
Arthur John Byng Wavell – after all – was a non-Muslim
As regards the latter, for example, Wavell repeatedly called the Ka’bah “the celebrated temple”, failing thus to draw a line between the holy mosque’s pre-Islamic polytheistic times and the subsequent Islamic monotheistic ones. Moreover, he said that when Prophet Muhammad proclaimed that the city of Makkah and its holy mosque (temple) were of so highly sanctified a character that no unbeliever should dare thenceforward to set foot in this sacred territory, he actually did not mean to exclude the Jews and Christians on account of them being the People of the Scripture, which elevated them over the status of out-and-out unbelievers and polytheists. The Prophet was very much more broad-minded than any of his successors who later (mis)construed his ban and included the Jews and Christians as well in its fold. As a result, strange as it may seem, no instance is on record of a Jew or a Christian who had transgressed openly the inviolability of the sanctuaries of Makkah and Madinah and had returned to tell the tale.
Wavell’s most “un-Islamic” views concerned the nature of Prophet Muhammad’s prophet-hood. Just like many Christian anti-Islamic polemicists he believed that Muhammad was fond of listening to interreligious disputations in which particularly the Jews and Christians participated. Those disputations took place in Makkah at a certain time every year during a sort of fair or carnival that was held in the city, “to which many foreign merchants brought their wares. Among them came frequently Jews and Christians, who seem to have been fond of discussing their rival creeds after business hours with anyone who cared to argue with them.” “Having plenty of spare time”, Muhammad listened to those debates and “no doubt acquired therefrom much of the philosophy and knowledge of the outside world that he afterwards displayed.” This was bolstered by Muhammad’s emotional temperament and a tendency to asceticism. A combination of these eccentricities caused Muhammad at the age of about forty to begin to see visions which he called revelations from God. However, these revelations were mere hallucinations and delusions which may or may not have been the outcome of epileptic seizures.
Apart from these inaccuracies – which, in the main, issued from the strong anti-Islamic disposition of the Western sources which Wavell had recourse to, specifically D.S. Margoliouth’s “Mohammed and the Rise of Islam” and Washington Irving’s “Mahomet and His Successors” – Wavell’s standpoints were fairly impartial. At times they yet proved apologetic and defensive, not seldom to a surprising degree, as if intending to cleanse Islamic traditions of the sediments of lapses that the Western intellectual and political consciousness, deliberately or otherwise, has been amassing for ages.
Wavell was driven to adopt this approach, first and foremost, for the sake of establishing the academic truth and the truth for its own sake. He often seemed prepared to go wherever facts were able to take him. He by way of example was ready neither to accept nor reject the validity of Prophet Muhammad’s “claims to divine inspiration” for the reason that such claims were not demonstrable. If Muhammad allowed himself to be convinced and if he irrefutably believed in them, Wavell too seemed open to any possibility as could establish itself as credible and conclusive.
Wavell’s travels, it stands to reason, were additionally in pursuit of the ultimate truth. They connoted a fact(truth)-finding mission. When analysing some of his principal views, one wonders how come Wavell was not a Muslim. Or, to be more exact, how come he was yet to become a Muslim. He died very young, but there are more than a few indicators that point out that he might have been on the way – or on the verge – of embracing Islam and becoming a Muslim. By exploring and discovering places, he was exploring and discovering himself. The only thing that was needed was a tipping point of self-consciousness where the biggest discovery would have been made, which is the discovery of self, then the truth.
Arthur John Byng Wavell on Prophet Muhammad
The following are some of Wavell’s opinions that are clearly in favour of the world of Islam and are, at the same time, against Western fabrications and propagandas incessantly waged against the former. He said about Prophet Muhammad that he was a man of sound common-sense, personal bravery, and gentle disposition. His life was consistent with the ethical code he preached. He had great breadth of mind and a sense of humour too. He detested hypocrisy in any form, and had no liking for pomp and ceremony. At the height of his power he lived the life of an ordinary citizen of Madinah. He was always accessible and willing to discuss matters with, and explain things to, anyone who cared to come to him. He was good to the poor and very fond of children. He constantly enjoined on his followers kindness to animals. He did not claim the power of working everyday miracles. The Qur’an itself, he said, was a miracle sufficient to convince the most stubborn.
As one could deduce, positively, Wavell did not subscribe to the regular Western canon that Muhammad was an “absolute impostor”. He dismissed the theory as “untenable”. Who Muhammad was and what he did was irreconcilable with the prospect of him being an outright fraud and deceiver. The matter remained debateable and open-ended.
Moreover, Wavell summed up the major successes of Islamic civilization when he said that the courts of the Muslim rulers (caliphs) were centres of light and learning at the time when the rest of the world was suffocating in the dark ages. Science and art prospered under their rule, as many splendid monuments are able to testify. At the peak of their power, Muslim rulers wielded more absolute power over a greater number of human beings than any rulers before or after them. Europe experienced a fair share of Islam’s fortitude and the valour of its people. Influences were huge. Citing Gibbon and his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” Wavell said that France almost came to share the fate of Spain, which came under the Muslim rule in 711. “The issue hung on a single battle, in which the Moslems were worsted. Had the result been otherwise, the conqueror would probably have been an Arab and England today a Moslem instead of a Christian country.”
Wavell next raised some of the Islamic subjects that were most contentious in the eyes of the Christian West, defending them and at the same time criticising the myopia and double standards of his co-religionists. In reality, this was one of his chief goals all along. The way Islam and Muslims were treated by Christian authors was grossly unfair. It was plain wrong and unjust, hence the record needed to be set straight. According to Wavell, since Islam “has fared very badly at the hands of Christian writers, both ancient and modern, it will be more interesting to look at that question from the other side – if only for a change.” Needless to say that the immediate targets were Wavell’s primary references, in particular the works and ideas of D.S. Margoliouth and Washington Irving.
Did Islam spread by the sword?
The first and, by all accounts, favourite accusation levelled against Islam is that it had been propagated and spread solely by the sword. Which is a paradox because “the Moslem sacred law states that no one shall be compelled to accept Islam.” This law is so compelling and so straightforward that no religious, scientific or political authority was needed to elucidate it. In the same vein, nobody could misconstrue or manipulate it. It was a common weapon against oppression and tyranny. It was a heavenly gift. Thus, as stated by Wavell, the law had been more than once invoked by the Christian Church and its clergy against certain inappropriate acts of the temporal authority in the Ottoman Turkey. The law likewise could be invoked by anybody, Muslim or non-Muslim, against the cruelty of any form of authority.
To Washington Irving - for illustrative purposes - the sword was Muhammad’s and his successors’ instrument of faith. In his book “Mahomet and His Successors” there is a chapter titled “The Sword Announced as the Instrument of Faith”. Accordingly, Islam evolved from a religion of meekness and philanthropy to one of violence and the sword. It turned into the religion of the sword only.
Nonetheless, Wavell begged to differ. He was unequivocal that Islam was as innocent of such a baseless allegation as the Christians and Europe were guilty of mass hostilities and forceful at once religious and civilizational proselytization crusades worldwide. Records spoke for themselves. Even at the moment of Wavell’s writing of his thoughts some Christian European powers were having blood on their hands.
Wavell elaborated: “The Arab Caliphs enjoined on their generals respect, not only for the persons, but for the property and religious edifices of Christians. We ourselves have not been entirely guiltless in the matter of forcing our civilization on peoples who did not want it, and at the time of writing a war is in progress declared by a Christian on a Moslem power for that avowed purpose. The history of Islam is a record of bloodshed and debauchery, but not more so than that of Christendom. Fanatical religious sentiment has been the cause of much suffering and strife in the case of the former, but it is doubtful if a parallel for the treachery of St. Bartholomew’s Eve or the cruelties of the Inquisition can be found in Moslem annals.”
Women in Islam
The next controversial subject was the position and role of women in Islam. Wavell pointed out that the Westerners often perceived the matter as an evil inherent in the religious system of Islam. However, the author was quick to mention that neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet’s Sunnah could be held responsible for the present-day seclusion of Muslim women. In other words, the issue was cultural, rather than religious, and thus should be handled as such. It was not even of Arabian origin, but derived from the Far East.
As regards polygamy - Wavell continued - “which, though not enjoined, is permitted within certain limits by the Koran, it must be remembered that in the world as it then was, and even today in countries like Arabia, there is bound to be a great numerical preponderance of women over men, for the reason that the former are so much more exposed to the accidents of life - war principal among them. A monogamistic system would have involved a great hardship to this surplus of women and a very serious decline in the birth-rate – a matter of supreme importance to a community when death by violence is the most probable termination to a man’s career. Such a system would have destroyed the whole social fabric of the day, and however excellent in principle was clearly impossible in practice.”
Islam and slavery
Furthermore, the third question that was highly problematic in the mind of a Westerner was that of the slavery institution. Consistent with his earlier explanations, Wavell simply said that the most that could be done was to regulate a necessary evil, which Islam had actually done since its inception. “The Koran abounds in injunctions that slaves are to be well treated and states that no act is more pleasing to God than their manumission (liberation).” Declining to call attention to the dismal human rights record of the West, and so, to open a real can of worms, Wavell swiftly winded up the discussion by saying that “it must be remembered that Moslem ideas on certain points are based on a conception of human life totally different from our own.”
Wavell later added that to Muslims, freedom after slavery means bona fide freedom. No revulsion or stigma whatsoever is attached to a person who has been once a slave - which by no means was the case in Europe. “In history we often find ex-slaves in command of armies, acting as ambassadors, or even on the throne itself.”
The author furthermore accentuated his point by saying with regard to female slaves that could be found at the slave-market in Makkah, which was of the few places remaining where the trade was carried on openly, that the matter was resembling legalized concubinage. Young women were sold by their parents. As a matter of principle, the practice, doubtless, was wrong. Nonetheless, it was merely the practical outcome of the socio-political systems under which people lived and institutions operated in Arabia and in many other places worldwide. Even so, Wavell underlined, “Islamic society is based on a conception of the relations that should exist between the sexes fundamentally different from, and entirely foreign to, Western ideas on the subject.” Slavery too was evolving and was impacted significantly by modernity. It was slanting towards more equitable relationships and partnerships.
Such is the human nature that there will always be people bent on exploiting the conditions of the poor, vulnerable and helpless ones. That is why Islam constantly stood at the forefront of safeguarding human dignity, self-worth and the rights of all the vulnerable groups. It did not ban slavery completely because it was impractical, in that slavery signified national systems that touched the core of countries’ economic and social existence. The problem was an effect whose causes resided in the realm of beliefs, principles and moral codes. Islam, therefore, declared a war against those causes, knowing that reforming them will inevitably lead to improvements (reforms) in human dealings and relations at all levels.
It stands to reason that the problem was not slavery per se, but people’s personal and collective propensities for egocentrism, self-indulgence, injustice, aggression and exploitation. Without the latter the former as a repulsive scheme will never exist. It is actually the latter hat truly exists and reigns supreme. The former’s existence is conditional and relative. Yet, it is virtual. As for example, what is the use of talking about and combatting slavery in modern times when such is done only partially and on the surface, while at the same time the cultures of human trafficking, economic slavery (the darkest outcomes of capitalism and materialism as twins), colonialism and neo-colonialism (modern economic, political and cultural modes of subjugation and control, not of individuals or small groups, but entire communities) are rampant and are the face of the modern world (modern civilization)?
Wavell was surprisingly well-aware of these permutations. The truth was his fascination. He thus said that slavery in the sense of forced, unpaid labour can hardly be said to exist in these days, for the reason that the slave, if dissatisfied with his lot, can so easily run away. Wavell also looked as if he was somewhat uncomfortable with the Western entrenched vanity and two-facedness. He nailed it when he further mentioned that slavery was by no means encouraged by Islam (by the Mohammedan religion). It was barely tolerated, and only in accordance with certain very strict regulations. Slaves enjoyed many rights and their honour remained intact. They were better off as slaves than some people in many other countries as freemen. The revealed Islamic law (Shari’ah) painstakingly protected their many rights and, concomitantly, at great length supervised their masters’ discharging of their yet greater responsibilities. Islam’s slavery, it follows, was better than certain forms of freedom.
Wavell wrote that “a slave having to complain of ill-treatment is sure of immediate redress at the hands of the qadhi (judge) – in serious cases freedom may be given from the offending master. The law looks after slaves very much better than it does after ordinary servants in other countries. Of course, abuses occur; but they are less the fault of the law than of its administration. The one idea of every slave in the market is to find a buyer as soon as possible.” Due to the unique treatment of slaves Islam guarantees and due to a great many rights slaves are bound to enjoy in Muslim environments, many children were brought to Makkah every year from Africa and sold in slavery, notwithstanding “all endeavours to prevent it, and the stringent regulations in force at Egyptian and Sudan ports.”
Building bridges between Islam and the West
Indeed, Wavell’s inferences exuded the ideal that Islam and Muslims were two different things. The latter’s glaring imperfections and defects were not to be used for undermining the distinction and for tainting the purity of the former. “The fact that Moslem communities find religion an obstacle to their progress in civilization is not, as has been pointed out, entirely the fault of the former.”
It seems as though Wavell’s intention was to emphasize that as a result of modern times, whereby communication and interactions between Islam and the West grew in regularity as well as intensity, both sides should have reconsidered their positions. It was a time for better understanding and more productive cooperation, by all manner of means. Such could be done out of expediency, not principle, which was set to benefit all. Dialogues and conciliations, instead of perennial distrust and confrontations, were the key. Building bridges and even resorting to marriages (alliances) of convenience was more promising than constant alienations and conflict cultures.
Overcoming ideological differences was indispensable for setting off the overcoming of those out in the field. And that is exactly where Wavell’s balanced views on Islam and Muslims chipped in. What the Westerners truly knew about Arabia as an epitome of the entire Muslim world - and by extension about Islam and all Muslims – was inadequate. Wavell hoped that the narrative of his journeys and his remarkable experiences would help other Western travellers to go further and achieve more, and to thus bring the ubiquitous spectacle of the culture and civilization of Islam closer to home. The provisos of the advent of modernity were all out to facilitate such a progress, inviting both Muslim and Western stakeholders to embrace and fully capitalize on them.
Prophet Muhammad’s grave
In addition – as the fourth subject - Wavell disclosed that some people expressed doubts as to whether Prophet Muhammad had really been buried in his grave at all. Most sceptics were Westerners. Their suspicions were part of a wider current whereby many fallacies flourished pertaining to the Prophet’s death and his grave. One of them was the centuries-old myth in Europe according to which the Prophet’s coffin had been hung up by the attractive virtue of a loadstone to the roof of his mosque and it remained suspended there. The earliest non-Muslim European travellers to Makkah and Madinah instinctively looked forward to either verifying or rebutting the myth.
As for Wavell, he maintained the obvious, and further pouring scorn on the unfounded doubts of the Westerners he said it was to the last degree unlikely that there was anything credible in the alleged evidences supporting the view that the Prophet had not been buried in his grave. Wavell concluded: “The Prophet lived to see his religion supreme in Arabia, and at his death was practically an emperor. It is inconceivable that his grave could have been forgotten in a place like Medina, which has always been a bulwark of the faith.”
Islamic penal code
Finally, Wavell spared a few words for the penal code of Islam as a stumbling block for making Europeans truly understand and appreciate the civilizational proficiency of Islam and its people. Wavell wrote that while in Makkah he saw a party of nineteen thieves chained together. Of them six were shot, and the remainder had their right hands cut off. He then said that this latter method of punishment was sometimes considered barbarous by Europeans, but was endorsed by all reasonable people in these (Muslim) countries. “Violent remedies are necessary when dealing with dangerous diseases”, was Wavell’s ultimate reasoning.
To Wavell, the European stance was at once biased and groundless. What was barbarous and what was not, normally, was a cultural construct and issued from ethical relativism. In a nutshell, penal code was about laws concerning crimes and offenses and their punishment. It was about addressing and overcoming various ailments and disorders. It was about dealing with objective realities with which neither idealism nor subjectivism was compatible.
However, some diseases were so severe and in so advanced stages of bother that nothing but drastic procedures could help, in accordance with the norm that extreme situations (desperate times) called for extreme (desperate) measures. Penal code is about justice and mercy as much for the victims as for the perpetrators. The edifice of subtly interwoven interests of entire societies are to be mindful of as well. Accordingly, no step should be undertaken through which an aspect of the justice-mercy dualism and the individual-versus-society matrix is to be contravened. The terrestrial relativism of justice and mercy is to be counterbalanced by the appeal of their divine absolutism, for worldly disorders can be fully remedied only by otherworldly (spiritual) orders (standards).
Indeed, when it comes to justice and integrity, universals preside over particulars, and developing big picture thinking paradigms overrides drowning in muddled details. Punishments are deterrents, lessons and portents. They are “enlightening” and blessings in disguise. In no way are they ends in themselves, nor do they feature any ulterior or myopic motives. These tenets have been intimated by the contents of the holy Qur’an, the supreme source of the Islamic law, against the backdrop of some of its fundamental edicts.
For illustrative purposes, the Qur’an says that in qisas (retaliation in kind, legal retribution) there is (saving of) life for you “O you (people) of understanding, that you may become righteous” (al-Baqarah, 179). In other words, qisas was the law of equality and based on it, “taking lives” meant “saving lives”, and “losing” or “harming” in fact meant “obtaining” and “benefitting”, regardless of how paradoxical things may appear to humankind bestowed with limited mental capacities. Moreover, the Qur’an instructs concerning the law of flogging the woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication: “Do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment” (al-Nur, 2). And finally, relating to the amputating of the hands of thieves, the male and the female, the Qur’an lays emphasis on the fact that doing so is “a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power” (al-Ma’idah, 38). That is also a lesson for thieves – and others - so that they, before long, could understand, repent and reform their ways: “But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, indeed, Allah will turn to him in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (al-Ma’idah, 39).
Wavell’s apologetic attitude vis-à-vis the law of amputating the hands of thieves, classifying it as justifiable and reasonable, might have been dictated by certain incidents he himself had witnessed first-hand. Within the framework of the magnitude of the hajj, where unforgettable memories and ground-breaking experiences are attained, he saw how much material and immaterial damage thieves could cause to the innocent and unsuspecting pilgrims. So much so that the success, or otherwise, of some people’s hajj could depend on how far thieves were allowed to operate.
Wavell said that he and his companions were robbed of some of their valuable possessions in a tent at Mina. The incident served to illustrate the daring of the robbers. To break into a tent where three armed men were sleeping in the middle of a well-guarded camp and abstract their belongings was no mean feat. “As a matter of fact”, Wavell said, “we probably came well out of it, for had one of us stirred while the thief was in the tent a knife-thrust would probably have prolonged his sleep to the Day of Judgment.” That is to say, if a victim happened to wake up during the stealing act, a scuffle would unavoidably have ensued and some deaths would have been the final outcome. Without question, uncompromising remedies were necessary when dealing with extremely hazardous ailments.
Topics: Arthur John Byng Wavell, Understanding Islam