Alexander Russell Webb
Speech by Nadirah
Florence Ives Osman
New York, 1943
Alexander Russell Webb (1846–1916) was an American journalist, newspaper
owner, and sometime Consul-General of the U.S.A. in the Phillipines,
who embraced Islam in 1887 and started an Islamic missionary movement
in the U.S.A. in the 1890s.
Webb had some correspondence with Hazrat Mirza
Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadiyya Movement about Islam and its propagation, and was much influenced by them, although
he was never a member of the Ahmadiyya Movement. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam
Ahmad is, thus, associated with the start of the spread of Islam among
Westerners in the U.S.A., just as he is also associated with the start
of the spread of Islam in Europe through the Woking (England) and Berlin
Muslim missions of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement.
Given below is the text of a speech on the life of Webb made by Nadirah
Florence Ives Osman at a meeting of Muslims held in Steinway
Hall, New York, in November 1943 under the auspices of the Webb
The speech appeared in the issues of The
Light, Lahore, English organ of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, in its issues for 8th and 16th April 1944. Images of the pages from the original magazine have been collected together as a pdf file at this link.
On a separate page we have provided supplementary information relating to two places in this speech, and at each place we have given a link to the relevant item on the Supplementary Information page.
We are commemorating, as Muslims, at this meeting, the birthday of Muhammad
Alexander Russell Webb. It was easily within a possibility
that he could have lived to share this occasion with
us, who are strangers to him, for he would only
have been 96 years of age, today. He is still closely
linked with the generation of most of us, and we
can easily understand him, for the intellectual
rebirth of the world in which he took his part,
is even yet only in the stage of its throes. What
he tried to accomplish, he has left for us as his
contribution, for us to study.
I could give you simply an array of facts relating to his life. To me, however, this would
seem inadequate to explain him, and you should
still be left, puzzled over the phenomenon of his
appearance on the American scene. I am, therefore, forced to be arbitrary, even though I might
make some minor mistake in my interpretation,
but this will be rectified either by the speakers
who follow me, or by future historians. I can
only tell you what 1 believe. I must attempt to
place him in his contemporary times, albeit
briefly, otherwise I think we cannot properiy
sympathise with him, or appreciate his true
Muhammad Webb says of himself :
“I was not
born, like some boys, with a fervently religious
strain in my character. I will not even assert
that I was a good boy. I was emotional in later
years, but not mawkishly sentimental, and always
demanded a reason for everything. I attended
the Presbyterian Sunday school of my native town, when I could not avoid it, impatient to get out
into the glad sunshine and hear the more satisfying sermons preached by God himself through the
murmuring brooks, the gorgeous flowers, and the
joyous birds. I listened incredulously to the story
of the Immaculate Conception and the dramatic
tale of the vicarious Atonement, doubting the
truth of both dogmas.”
November 9th, 1846, this very human little boy
was born, at Hudson, New York. His father, Alexander Nelson Webb, was
the proprietor and editor of the Hudson Daily Star for over a period of
From the center of a rich family life, which he shared with two sisters
and three brothers, Alexander went forth to the public schools of the
town. He was later sent away to boarding school, the “Home School”,
at Glendale, Massachusetts, but completed his higher education at Claverick
College, which was then in existence near his home town.
Before the boy had reached sixteen, his literary tastes were made evident
by his writing numerous essays and short stories. The Civil War came to
a close, while he was still at his schooling. Fifteen years earlier, Horace
Greely, the head of American journalists, born on a rocky New Hampshire
farm, had thundered the advice which still echoed to our own times, “Go
West, young man, and grow up with the nation,” in his Hints toward
Reform. It is not surprising, therefore, that this son of another editor
should leave for Chicago when he finished college. His departure was typical
of all the children of the family: one brother became a prominent physician
in San Francisco; others settled in St. Louis or Unionville, Missouri.
Only Alexander was to return east in later life.
In Chicago, the young man with a writing itch first turned to trade.
We will see that he
was always eminently practical, as well as idealistic.
He engaged in the jewelry business.
Buys a paper
Is it not the lot of man, that when the Ruler
of this world wishes to quicken the mind, purify
the soul and prod its potentialities, that misfortunes are sent?
In 1871, Webb was burned out by the Chicago fire. He returned to New York
City, connecting for a time with Tiffany and Company. Then he returned
to Chicago, to represent another large jewelry concern. Two years later
he had enough capital to purchase The Missouri Republican at Unionville,
Mo., which he conducted for nearly three years. Moving on to a more active
field, he became city editor of the St. Joseph, Mo. Gazette, associating
for years, intimately, with a beloved poet of America, Eugene Fielde,
and still he kept climbing to more responsible newspaper posts. We find
him, at last, on the editorial staff of the Missouri Republican of St.
Louis, the second oldest and one of the largest daily newspapers in the
Before Webb had gone into the newspaper business, and following the Chicago
fire, the young man had disowned Christianity for himself. He was too
honest to remain a hypocrite. He tells us that he then drifted into materialism,
and for several years had no religion at all except the Golden Rule, which
he declared he followed “about as closely as the average Christian.” “Firmly materialistic,” he continues, “I looked at first
to the advanced schools of materialistic science, and found that it was
just as completely immersed in the darkness of ignorance concerning spiritual
things as I was.” But something happened to this materialist after
he entered the newspaper game.
But life itself had first beaten upon our
nation. Two years following the Chicago fire, the
very year Webb bought his first newspaper,
and a year after he gave up Christianity,
came the Panic (or Depression) of 1873. For five
years, the nation was purged, while political unrest and corruption occupied the foreground. A
true psychic, Webb had known things were
wrong. The Republicans lost Congress to the Democrats, even in Massachusetts, by 1874, and the boom of the reconstruction period was at an
end. There was nothing discussed but reform, everywhere, and social unrest. If one looked to
England, one saw the fierce struggles of advancing socialism, and liberalism in religion: William
Morris was revolting against the tyranny of the
Machine Age; unemployment riots made headlines. In St. Louis, the local picture for Alexander Webb, the transientness of this life could be easily discerned in the superseding of river
traffic by the introduction of rail. “Change and decay, in all around I see.”
In 1875, during the height of the Panic,
Madame Blavatsky created a furore in New York City by founding
the New York Theosophical Society. Two years later, she published Isis
Unveiled, which was at least a national curiosity and stimulus. In 1881,
Webb commenced the study of Oriental religion. He had not found Christianity
any more attractive after returning to study it more carefully and truly,
he tells us. He found its moral ethics most commendable, but not different
from those of every other system. Its superstitions, grave errors and
inefficiencies caused him to wonder why any thoughtful, intelligent person
could accept it seriously. Oriental religions and spiritual philosophies
now engaged his time. He had access to a library of about 13,000 books
where he spent four to seven hours a day, taking time that he really needed
for sleep, in his search to find God and to solve the riddle of the universe.
He began with Buddhism, then he joined the Theosophical Society.
In 1886: There were twice as many strikes as in the previous year. Socialistic doctrines were spreading, we are told, even among western farmers.
President.Cleveland sent the first labour message to
Consul General at Manilla
Craving yet more time to study and experiment in religion, Webb decided
to terminate his journalistic activities, which did not give him enough
free time to do all that he desired. He was fortunate to secure an appointment
from President Cleveland to the post of Consul General at Manilla, the
chief of the Philippine Islands. This was in 1887.
The Philippines were then in the hands of Spain, but they had become
a centre of extreme mental activity. Public schools had been authorized in 1863. After the building of the Suez
Canal, six years later, ambitious Phillipinos were
going to Spain and other countries, to study. Since 1872, there were shoutings for, independence, as well as insurrections.
To Webb, now 41 years of age, it
was the threshold to the new world of the East. Our business there, however, could not have been very extensive.
In the meantime Webb
had married, in the West, a widow from Cincinnati, Ohio, who had a little
girl. Their family was then increased by the births of two daughters
and a son. Mr. Webb took them along with him to Manilla.
Before a year had passed, the American Consul General made the discovery
of certain books and documents which he had not seen in the United States,
and which had been written by Muslim authors. He tells us that they aroused
his most intense interest in the Islamic system. He at once gave himself
up, entirely, to the study of Islam, so far as his official duties would
permit. All by himself, from books, without ever having seen a Muhammadan,
Alexander Russell Webb became a Muslim. Looking back over his quest, Webb
described it, in later years:
“I began to compare the various religions, in order to
ascertain which was the best and most efficacious, as a means of securing
happiness in the next life.”
Unconsciously, he was already fulfilling the 46th verse of the 38th Chapter of the Holy Quran: “Surely, we purified them by a pure quality, the keeping in mind of the Home in the Future Life.” This explanation discloses to us the exalted quality of his thoughts.
[See Supplementary Information 1]
Contact with India
A Parsee gentlemen from Bombay happened to pass through Manilla and met
Mr. Webb. This was just four years after the latter had taken up his duties
as United States Consul. Returning to India, the Parsee searched a Muslim
correspondent for the Consul General, and interested a certain Badruddin
Abdullah Kurr, who was also a member of the Municipal Council of Bombay,
and also, to Mr. Webb’s delight, a scholar. His new friend showed the
American’s letters about, and even had some published in a local newspaper.
Through these printed specimens of Webb’s correspondence, the attention
was attracted of a wealthy Indian merchant of Medina, Arabia, one Hajee
Abdullah Arab, who possessed business interests as well in Bombay, Jeddah,
Calcutta and Singapore. Before long, Arab came to visit Webb in Manilla.
Resigns to become missionary of Islam
The Hajee (that is a Muslim who has made
the pilgrimage to Mecca) was very much pleased,
we are told, to see Mr. Webb and his little
family. He found. “the good-natured wife” of
Mr. Webb, and his three children, also Muslims.
A plan for the propagation of Islam in America was discussed by the two
men. Hajee Abdullah was to take it upon himself to collect the necessary
funds. Webb was to resign his post as Consul General of the United States
to become the leader of an Islamic mission in America. These plans were in direct accordance with
Quranic teaching: “Why should not a company
from every party from among them go forth, that
they may apply themselves to obtain understanding in religion, and that they may warn their
people, when they come back to them, that they
may be cautious.”Before setting
out upon his missionary work, Webb made an extended tour of India, Burma,
China, Egypt, Arabia and Turkey.
Webb in India
There is in existence at the New York Public Library, a very interesting
little book containing three of Muhammad Webb’s addresses which he made
in 1892 before large audiences at Madras, Hyderabad Deccan and Bombay.
In the introduction, Maulvi Hasan Ali, who accompanied Mr. Webb as translator
in Urdu, has written:
“Mr. Webb is not a dry rationalistic Moslem, but his
heart is full of the love of God and His Prophet. God has been pleased
to open his heart to the secret philosophy of Islam. He knows the spirit
(Hasan Ali has here underlined the word “spirit”.)
“To him has been opened
the sacred treasure of our religion, the treasure
which was possessed by Imam Al Ghazzali and Maulana Room.)
Before Muhammad Webb left
India, a testimonial was presented to him from the Anjuman Taide Musulmanan-e-Jadeed,
of Bombay, printed upon green silk. It welcomed him to Bombay and expressed
confidence in him, both as a Muslim convert, and as the future missionary
of Islam to New York City or Chicago. “The fact”, it declares,
“that you have voluntarily sustained a serious loss, by resigning
your honourable and lucrative post of Consul General at Manilla, conclusively
proves the deep interest you take for establishing a mission on the American
[See Supplementary Information 2]
Founds Islamic Journal
February 16, 1893, Muhammad Webb returned to America, via London. Had things improved
with our nation, since his absence for many
years? I regret to say that matters had grown
instead worse. We are told that farms were
covered with mortgages, business was prostrate.
Before Cleveland could begin his second term,
the panic of 1893 had swept the nation and prosperity did not return for over four years.
months after his arrival in New York City, this year of the Panic, May 12, 1893, the first number
of the “Moslem World” appeared, a weekly printed by the “Moslem World Publishing
Company” of 458 West 20th Street, with Muhammad Webb as editor.
intended that this really splendid Muslim periodical should open up new
fields throughout the country —
“to teach the intelligent masses who and what Muhammad
was, and what he really taught, and to overturn the fabric of falsehood
and error that prejudiced and ignorant writers have been constructing
and supporting for centuries against Islam.”
Webb further explained:
“The Review of Religions,” a monthly magazine of Islamic
propaganda printed in English, had appeared in India for the first time
a year before. “The Islamic Review” was to be published in England 20 years later. “The Moslem World” only survived seven months, but it is still of interest,
and alive. Webb never minced his words but wrote clearly, trenchantly
and nobly. He valiantly went to the aid of a maligned and misunderstood
Islam, undertaking even to defend the Sultan of Turkey himself from unprincipled
moral attacks. He distributed his magazine far and wide over the United
States, especially to editors of leading newspapers and periodicals, with
many of whom he was on intimate terms. Many interesting comments and reviews
were the result, which were recorded in the Moslem World, the majority
being highly favourable.
“The plainly apparent decay of Church Christianity and
the defection from that system of the most intelligent and progressive
people, in nearly all large American cities, seem to encourage the
belief that the time has now arrived for the spread of the true faith
from the Eastern to the Western hemisphere. Less than five years ago,
it began its progressive march in England, with a small following
in Liverpool.… The number of English Muslims is rapidly increasing.”
Wants to translate Quran
But not only were Mr. Webb’s writings to be published by the Moslem World
Publishing Co. in magazine and book form, but translations were proposed
from Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Gujerati etc. Instructions on Namaz or Muslim
prayer were printed. One day a Greek
priest visited Mr. Webb, who produced an
original manuscript entitled “Islam is the True
Faith with God.” When Mr. Webb learned that
he was really a Muslim convert, he published
the manuscript, which was sold for 25 cents. But most important of all, it was arranged that a
translation of the Quran was to be undertaken into English by the Anjuman
Himayat Islam, “perhaps,” Mr. Webb stating, “to be completed by the end of the year, and to
be printed in a cheap form, so as to bring it within the reach of the
“There is no religious system,” he explained, “so little
known among English-speaking people, as the Islamic.” As explanation
of this, he put forth three causes:
It was not until 16 years later, however, that Maulana
Muhammad Ali of Lahore, India, commenced the translating of
the Quran into English, a Muslim labour that consumed seven years of hard
work. The first edition was not published until 1917, the year following
Muhammad Webb’s death.
- The natural aversion of Muslims to the English language and
- The unwillingness of Muslims to have their literature translated
into our own.
- The strong prejudice, for the past 8 or 9 centuries, of Christians
Opens a Lecture Hall
A lecture campaign was inaugurated. The Lecture Hall has been fondly described
in the “Moslem World” for us by Mr. Webb. We
Muslims of New York, can fully sympathise with
“It is probably one of the cosiest and most
attractive assembly rooms of its size in New York.
It is fitted with neat and comfortable folding
chairs, of polished oak and walnut. There is a
platform at the south end, that is two feet high,
and seven feet wide, carpeted with green tapestry
and with a woolen fringe of the same colour.
There is an adjustable reading desk of black
walnut and an oak chair for the speaker.
The room is lighted by a handsome brass
chandelier, with a pearl-shaded drop light
of four burners, over the reading desk. At each
end of the hall is a green flag, with a red star and
a crescent in the counter. On the walls are a
number of artistic half-tone engravings, representing some of the most beautiful mosques and tombs
in India. In the rear of the platform is the library
shut off from the lecture room by glass doors. In
it are a long table, for newspapers, and periodicals,
and chairs. At the west end are numbers of
“In the ‘Moslem World Building’, will be a free library and reading room where all
honest, thoughtful men and women will be welcome, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.”
At the opening of this library, introductory remarks were made by Mr.
Emin Nabakoff, a Russian Muslim. Prof. Leon Landsberg followed him. Webb always advertised a long list of books
on Islam, in his magazine, but he added however: “Not endorsed in full the statements and opinions
of the authors of works.”
The Lecture Hall was open to the public every Friday evening
at 8 o’clock and every Sunday afternoon, from 2 to 5 p.m. The first public
meeting was held on Friday, October the 6th, 1893, with a large attendance.
The previous month the “Moslem World” had reported the celebration of
the annual Mohammedan festival of Bakrid “at the beautiful mosque
of Woking, England, where among the worshippers were Indians, Egyptians
and Turks.” Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was not to come to England as
a missionary to this mosque until 1912, just 19 years later. The first
prominent convert, in the British Isles as a result, was to be Lord Headley
At the “Moslem World Building” of New York City, lectures on
Islamic doctrines and customs were given on Friday evenings. Brief addresses
and replies to questions concerning Islam and its tendencies were arranged
for the Sunday afternoons. It was not planned that Muhammad Webb should
be the sole speaker. Several local Muslims assisted him, notably Mr.
Emin Nabakoff, to whom I have just referred. Indian, Turkish and Egyptian
missionaries were to be summoned as time went on.
Country-wide lecture campaign
Mr. Webb also made “parlor addresses” at homes in the vicinity
of New York City, and he filled public engagements elsewhere and throughout
the country. I shall give you one sample month, to let you judge of his
activity in these out-of-town engagements.
||So. Charleston, O.
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His out of town lectures were booked by “The Oriental Literary
Bureau” of 1122 Broadway, New York City. There are recorded in his magazine
notices of his personal appearances in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania,
Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas and “some
of the eastern and southern states.” We read that he spoke at Chickering
Hall, New York City, on “The Spirit of Oriental Religions” and that
he also appeared at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, and before the
New York Theosophical Society.
Dr. Tunison is to tell you later how he represented Islam at
the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
Islamic Study Circles
But what was to result from all this activity? It was desired
that circles should be established in all the cities and towns of the
United States for the study of Islamic literature, with careful investigation
of historical facts relative to the life and character of the Prophet
of Islam. The parent society in New York would furnish the branches
with such literature and information as they might stand in need of.
Some books would be furnished
free, others would be supplied at the cost of publishing and postage. Each society would select its
own officers and arrange its own system of dues, if
these were needed. Their report would be registered at Bombay, India, by the secretary of. the
Indian Committee, to be given its charter and
numbered in the order of its organization. In the
meanwhile, a document was circulated throughout
India, Burmah, Turkey and Egypt, asking for contributions to funds, to be placed with the committee in Bombay.
American Muslim Brotherhood
The American Muslim Brotherhood was started with its primary object the
study and full comprehension of the life, character, purposes and teachings
of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus the convert would unite in a bond of brotherhood
with the vast Muhammadan population of the globe, and use his talents and
energy to propagate the true faith wherever he could. Webb declared:
“The moral force of these communities will, in
time, purge our whole social system and bring us, as a nation, to a
more perfect understanding of the glory and power of God, and the necessity
of moral development.”
No member would be required to subscribe to any religious doctrine whatever,
or to accept any creed or tenet not in harmony with his or her reason
and common sense. It was declared: “The first aim and purpose is
the education of the members in Islamic historical and doctrinal literature.”
Webb’s great desire was to present “the Islamic system in its purity, freed from the
gross and materialistic ideas which had been engrafted upon it by misguided
Muslims. The sole view of the study was to understand what it was that the
Prophet Muhammad taught, what he intended to accomplish, and what he did
An English society of the Muslim Brotherhood was established
in London. The first circle of the Muslim Brotherhood in America was
named “The Mecca Circle No. 1 of New York City.” The credit for its
organization was given to one A.L. Rawson, Esq., Woodcliff, New Jersey.
Five men were chartered members. Mr. Rawson was a man
well-known in Masonic Circles throughout the
United States, whohad travelled extensively
in the East. He had visited Mecca and Medina, and had been “the
first American to secure a picture of the tomb of our prophet.”
He also organized two more circles of 11 men in New York City. “Capital
Circle No. 4” of the Muslim Brotherhood was organized in Washington
D.C. with five as chartered members, of which one was a professor and
two were M.D.’s.
These derails may be a
little boring to some members of our audience, but
I have felt they would be extremely interesting to
In an early edition of the paper, Muhammad
Webb had announced that he hoped soon to
greet, in New York, Maulvi Hassan Ai, the interpretor of his speeches in India. Later, he disclosed that his previous announcement about this has
been premature. “The Moslem World” appears as
a Moslem periodical, for the last time, November,
1893. There was no warning of its discontinuation.
All these personal facts which I have given you, with the exception
of the brief reference to Mr. Webb’s family, together with the Bombay
testimonial, I have culled from Webb’s own writings, available in the
New York Public Library. Events of the latter period of his life, I
have obtained either from Mr. Webb’s obituary, which occupies a prominent
place on the front page of the Rutherford Tribune, of Rutherford, New
Jersey, of Saturday, October 7, 1916, or from his daughter, Mrs. Alyea
who has so kindly cooperated with us and come to share her memories
of him with us, today, or from my personal knowledge.
In 1898 Mr. Webb removed to Rutherford News (a Democracy paper). He edited
this for nearly three years, then sold it to Capt. Addison Ely, who merged
it into the Bergen County Herald of Hackensack (the Captain of Bergen
Co., N. J.) Mr. Webb continued to
edit these combined journals for six months. His interest in Islam, however,
had never abated. In 1901 he left for Turkey after having served that
government as Honorary Consul General in New York City. The letter is
still in Mrs. Alyea, his daughter’s possession, written upon the letter-head
of the Turkish Legation in Washington, which expresses gratitude:
“not only for the enumeration of your services,
but for your strong efforts to build a mosque in America, as well as
a cemetery for the benefit of Islam, to which you have converted many
In Constantinople, Muhammad Webb was given the decoration of the third Order of
Medjidie and the Medal of Merit. He is the only American ever given the
latter decoration. He was also given the title of Bey.
Serves his country
Mr. Webb took a keen interest in public affairs as an American citizen.
“I am an American of the Americans,” he had affirmed at the
same time that he had declared himself a Muslim. In 1898, the year he had removed to Rutherford
and bought the Rutherford News,
his name had
been presented by the “Bergen County Delegation to the 8th District Democratic
Congressional Convention” at Hackensack for nomination to Congress. Webb
had withdrawn, however, in favour of the Honourable William Hughes. He
served six years on the Rutherford Board of Education, as clerk of the
Board, upon his return from Turkey. He was foreman of the Bergen County
Grand Jury for four months in 1912, as well as President of the Rutherford
Campaign Club and President of the Democratic Society. At the time of
his death, he headed the Martindale Mercantile Agency of New York City.
Wife: A Christian
It is my great regret that the rich, inner life of
this man, during his sunset hours, which had burst
forth previously into such a brilliant flowering of
moral and spiritual thought, should today still be
obscured from me. I do know that he attended
a kind of auxiliary circle, which was connected
with the local Unitarian Church, together with his
wife, although he himself never become a member
of this denomination. Back in 1893, he had written:
“I have seen the masses of intelligent people,
drifting away into free-thought societies, ethical
culture societies, non-sectarian societies. Besides
these, there are the Spiritualists, the Theosophists
and an infinite number of other smaller bodies.
Then, too, there are the Unitarians who, I am satisfied, will adopt Islam when they really know what
Perhaps some such idea still persisted in the
back of his mind; or he attended the meetings to
please his wife; or to meet, occasionally, with spiritually-minded, emancipated, congenial friends. He
was also still an enthusiastic member of the Knights
of Pythias, a past Commander of the order, and one
of the prominent members of the Rutherford
Lodge. This was most likely a society in which he
had continued from his early manhood, a society
that had been formed in Washington, D.C. during
the early, trying Civil War days.
Mr. Webb had been subject to diabetes for years. Of a Saturday morning,
at the age of 70 years, Mr. Webb went to New York City on business. Upon
his return, he complained of being ill. He continued to grow worse, until
the end came the following morning, the 1st of October 1916. The funeral
services were private. He was survived by his wife, and son and two daughters.
It should be explained that Mrs. Webb did not continue to share her husband’s
interest in Islam in her later years. The Rev. Elizabeth Padgham, pastor
of the Unitarian Church, officiated. We are told in the obituary that
her address was most impressive, although no record of what she said can
be remembered. The “Rutherford Republican” wrote as tribute:
“Mr. Webb had passed through a prominent career.
He was an ardent Democrat and took an active part in the work of his
party, while a resident in Rutherford, and possessed many warm, personal
and social friends aside from politics.”
Assisted Maulana Muhammad Ali
When I was in Turkey in 1931, I first learned of Muhammad Webb. A book
was mailed to me there from India entitled “The Teachings of Islam” by Mirza
Ghulam Ahmad. In the Preface, dated 1910, I read:
“I cannot close this short note without an acknowledgement
of the valuable assistance rendered to me in the revision of the English
translation by Mr. Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb (New Jersey, U.S.A.),
Maulvi Sher Ali, B.A. and Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, B.A., to whom my best
thanks are due.
No one can imagine how joyful I was to see this reference to an American
convert to Islam from New Jersey, for I had been born in that state myself,
and many of my relatives were still living there. The state is large, and Muhammad Webb seemed lost to
me in it, but none the less,
it comforted me, far
away in a distant land, as though he were approving the position I had
taken, as a convert to Islam. It is always remarkable, even to myself,
why I did not write immediately, or even later, directly to Muhammad Ali
to enquire about him. However, 1910 was a long way removed from 1931.
A whole war lay between. I had the feeling that he must be dead. It was
only later, when I met Dr. Tunison, that I found in his enthusiasm again
the echo of Muhammad Webb’s name.
But there were
always so many more immediate things I had to do
or to think about so that I never wrote myself to
enquire, I recommended this, however, to others.
Since then I have found, with Dr. Tunison, the simple stone that
marks his grave, and seen the vine of ivy that swards his resting place.
I have been touched by the sight of his last photograph, taken shortly
before he passed away, a likeness that displays his shining, resigned
face, crowned with snowy hair, as he stands in the midst of his family,
his beard still uncut in the shaven America of 1916.
Died a Muslim
We have been assured that Muhammad Webb died a Muslim. There is such a
thing that one has been born too early or too late. Webb died at the height
of the period of an almost universal materialism. His writings, however,
remain today fresh and advanced, a witness and an inspiration to our and
to future generations. What he desired, an English translation of the
Holy Quran by a Muslim, was completed two months before his death. He had
known it was in preparation. Since
then we have had several Muslim translations produced.
Webb lived to prove his theory: “In these days, it is intolerable
that the observance of the religious customs of any sect should furnish
a cause for public anxiety.” By his absorption in an American community
on successful terms and there is nothing more provincial than a small
town within commuting distance of New York City, especially in New Jersey,
the strange, the odd, the remote, lost their terrors by contact. His
sympathies and affiliations were no secret. But, then, Webb
had found a haven in a state which fostered a
leader for the existing Democratic Party, to which
he belonged, in a college president, Woodrow
Wilson, of the near-by university of Princeton.
Churchianity: A Danger to America
Webb continually was explaining
away misunderstandings about Islam. “The freedom of this country,” he had written, “is not in half as
much danger from the influx of foreigners, as it is from that spirit
of selfishness, bigotry and intolerance, that was such a prominent feature
of Church Christianity a few centuries ago.” The tide was too great, in the affairs of men, for him to have made the
progress that he desired. He could only accomplish what Allah willed.
He did what he could. Today he remains for us like an embedded monument
that we can search and find, as we brush aside, with our hands, the dust
and sand of his generation.
(End of Speech)
Notes by the compiler
1. The Review of Religions was founded
by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. It actually started publication in 1902,
and was edited from then till 1914 by Maulana Muhammad Ali. In the statement
made here, that it appeared “a year before”, i.e. in 1892, the
speaker is probably confusing the time when Hazrat Mirza first proposed
the plan for this journal with the date of its actual commencement.
2. The Islamic Review was founded in 1913
by Khawaja Kamal-ud-Din, a prominent follower of Hazrat Mirza and also
founder of the Woking Muslim Mission in England.
3. An association of Muslims which was based in Lahore,
founded in 1884..
4. The reference is to Maulana Muhammad Ali’s