On 15th August 1969, India’s Independence Day was being celebrated in the Mughal Gardens of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India. Mohammad Hidayatullah was, at that time, Acting President of the country. In his book of memoirs My Own Boswell, (pp. 245-246), he recalls the impressiveness of the occasion, with the escort of the Military Secretaries, aid-de-camps and the President’s Body Guard, all in their splendid uniforms. “We made a glittering sight,” he writes, and he admits, “I felt a little pride.”
But then, immediately, he was reminded of the entry of Caliph Omar into Syria. When Islamic forces had conquered Syria and Palestine, the Romans offered the surrender of the city of Damascus if the Caliph came to receive it in person. Omar ibn Khattab, the second successor of the Prophet Mohammad, set off from Madinah with one camel and one servant. Near Damascus, at Jabiya, he was met by his generals Abu Ubaidah ibn Al-Jarrah and Khalid ibn Al-Walid. He stayed there for a few days, and after discussion with the Romans, terms were agreed upon.
Islam teaches one never to be proud, and to live among one’s fellow men in a humble manner, even if one attains some high worldly position.
After completion of the agreement with the Romans, Omar set off for Jerusalem. He was wearing rough, simple clothes and riding on a lean camel. People presented him with brand new clothes and insisted that he should forsake his camel for a fine horse of Turkish pedigree. The horse moved off majestically, but Omar alighted after travelling a few yards, and asked for his camel back. “Pride is entering my soul,” he said, “and the Prophet said that if a man has pride the size of a mustard seed, he will not enter paradise.”
When Mohammad Hidayatullah remembered this incident, his attitude changed. The pride, which he had felt, immediately deserted him. He describes his feelings in these words: “I felt ashamed of myself and put aside the feeling at once and began thinking of other things.”
Islam teaches one never to be proud, and to live among one’s fellow men in a humble manner, even if one attains some high worldly position. Islam has not only taught this simply as an attractive theory: it has also provided a flawless example of it in history. Thus Islamic teachings can always be seen to be practical; they are not just fine words.