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Toynbee’s Allegations Refuted

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful

We glorify Him and call down His Blessings on His Holy Messenger

Arnold Toynbee was a famous British historian who enjoys much support in America, although in Britain his English critics have subjected him to scathing criticism. Many people consider him to be a leading authority in his field. The main reason for his fame is his thirteen volumes `A Study of History’. There is no doubt that he has accomplished a very great literary and historical feat. In these thirteen volumes, Toynbee has written on the philosophy of history and covered the rise and fall of 26 civilizations. This book was completed over a period of thirty years stretching from 1931 to 1961. Several of Taynbee’s contemporaries and prominent religious leaders of his time have studied his book in great depth. They generally express the view that as far as the recording of historical details is concerned, Toynbee has, to a great extent, executed the task faithfully. On the other hand, wherever he has expressed his own views his personal prejudices are prominent. Indeed, some critics of Toynbee’s historical research have expressed the view that his treatment of historical personalities is not only redundant, but also reflects personal enmity. For example:

“Toynbee has been severely criticized by other historians. In general, the critique has been leveled at his use of myths and metaphors as being of comparable value to factual data and at the soundness of his general argument about the rise and fall of civilizations, which relies to much on a view of religion as a regenerative force. Many critics complained that the conclusions he reached were those of a Christian moralist rather than of a historian.” (The Encyclopedia Britwnica, Vol. Il, page 880 (Chicago, Encyclopedia Brittanica Inc. 1988)).

“The work provoked criticism from many quarters for its arbitrary hypotheses, factual errors, and over reliance an religion as a regenerative force.” (The Encyclopedia Americana Vol. 26, page 889 (Danbury Connecticut, Grolier Inc. 1988)).

These critics have also stated that his comments and criticisms regarding Muhammad, the Holy Prophet of Islam, are hostile, malicious, and contrary to the facts. It is essential for an authoritative and world renowned historian to keep in view, and take into full account, all the facts when expressing his own views. It appears as if Toynbee did not adequately study the religion of Islam. It also appears that he did not draw from any of the original biographies on the life of the Holy Prophet of Islam.

Toynbee’s statements give the impression that his comments are based almost entirely on a book entitled Mohammadanism’ written by a well known and hostile orientalist, D. S. Margoliouth. Toynbee has made references to Margoliouth in his book. It seems that Toynbee followed the footsteps of other prejudiced and hostile Christian historians. Apparently he did not do any independent research on his own part. Mr. Toynbee has thus made the Holy and blessed personage of the Holy Prophet of Islam, the target of his criticism and fault finding.

In Appendix II of the third volume of his famous book, under the title The Political Life of Muhammad, he writes: “Down to the thirteenth year of the mission, when Muhammad finally withdrew from Makkah to Madinah and abandoned the purely prophetic for the politico-religious career, …(A Study of History, Vol. III, Page 469)

“Instead of sealing his prophetic message with his blood by becoming Caesar’s victim, it was Muhammad’s ironic destiny to compromise and debase his prophetic message by becoming an Arabian Caesar himself.” (bid, p. 470)

“Muhammad … embraced the opportunity, when it came his way, of arming himself in the panoply of political power and using this power as an instrument for imposing Islam upon Makkah by force.” (Ibid. p. 471)

“The truth, then, seems to be that, in the invitation to Madinahh, Muhammad was confronted with a challenge to which his spirit failed to rise. In accepting the invitation, he was renouncing the sublime role of the nobly honoured prophet and contenting himself with the commonplace role of the magnificently successful statesman.” (Ibtd 471-472)

The essence of Toynbee’s criticism, comments, and impressions is that during the stay at Makkah (the historic city of Arabia where the Holy Prophet was born) the Holy Prophet continued discharging the great duties and obligations of a Prophet. When he arrived in Madinah, he became a Caesar and a King. He abandoned the high status of a Prophet and freed himself from the conduct of a Prophet. He adopted the ways and means of a King, and appeared to the world as a political personality. On the strength of his power, he forced Islam on the people of Makkah.

In refuting these criticisms, it seems appropriate to reproduce here the comments of eminent scholars and authorities on this subject, in particular, and about the character of the prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him), in general. These scholars, after diligent and fairminded research, have forcefully rejected and refuted the hostile criticism and faultfording of Toynbee. They have disproved Toynbee on the basis of irrefutable proofs and arguments, and presented facts and realities in support of their stance. They have written that the statement that the Holy Prophet became a political figure and a worldly king upon arriving in Madinah, and gave up the role of a Prophet, is completely contrary to the facts. It will become clear from the following opinions of these eminent authorities, how superficial and totally inaccurate Toynbee’s views are about the Holy Prophet.


Margoliouth was an extremely prejudiced, hostile, and antagonistic orientalist opposed to Islam. In his book Mohammadanism, published in 1911, has made several allegations against the Holy Prophet. Nevertheless, he totally rejects the idea that upon arriving in Madinah, the Holy Prophet no longer remained the preacher, and the prophet. Margoliouth writes:

But amid all the duties of general, legislator, judge, and diplomat, the Prophet did not neglect those of a preacher and a teacher.” (Muhammadanism)


Sir Thomas Arnold enjoys a special fame as an authority among the orientalists. Rejecting the criticism and faultfinding of Toynbee and his ilk, he writes in his book: The Preaching of Islam (1896):

“It has been frequently asserted by European writers that from the date of Muhammad’s migration to Madinah, and from the altered circumstances of his life there, the Prophet appears in an entirely new character. He is no longer the preacher, the warner, the apostle of God to men, whom he would persuade of the truth of the religion revealed to him, but now he appears rather as the unscrupulous bigot, using all means at his disposal of force and statecraft to assert himself and his opinions.

But it is false to suppose that Muhammad in Madinah laid aside his role of preacher and missionary of Islam, or that when he had a large army at his command, he ceased to invite unbelievers to accept the faith. Ibn Sa’d gives a number of letters written by the Prophet from Madinah to chiefs and other members of different Arabian tribes, in addition to those addressed to potentates living beyond the limits of Arabia, inviting them to embrace Islam; and in the following pages will be found instances of his having sent missionaries to preach the faith to the unconverted members of their tribes, whose very ill-success in some cases is a sign of the genuinely missionary character of their efforts and the absence of an appeal to force.” (The Preaching of Islam, p.28, published in London)


Opposing the views expressed by Toynbee, Reverend Bosworth Smith comments on the events and circumstances of the blessed life of the Holy Prophet as follows: “Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one, but he was Pope without the Pope pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a body guard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to rule by a right divine, it was Muhammad for he had all the power without the instruments and without its supports.” (Muhammad and Muhammadanism)


Major A. Leonard stated that “If ever any man on this earth has found God; if ever any man has devoted his life for the sake of God with a pure and holy zeal then, without doubt, and most certainly that man was the Holy Prophet of Arabia.” (Islam, its Moral and Spiritual Values, p. 9; 1909, London)


The opinions of Toynbee’s contemporary French historian, Lamartine are also worth mentioning here. These opinions are decisive testimony and provide clear proof of the fact that the views of Toynbee ate bigoted, hostile and completely contrary to the facts. This French historian writes in his book: Historie de la Turque:

“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and outstanding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, and empires only. They founded, if any at all, no more than material power which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man merged not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties but millions of men in one third of the inhabited world, and more than that, moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls on the basis of a Book, every letter of which has become law. He created a spiritual nationality of every tongue and of every race.” (Historie de la Turque, Vol. 2, page 76-77)


Dr. Michael Hart, who considers the Holy Prophet to be the greatest man who ever lived, writes:

“I find in his character such diverse and manifold qualities as it would be impossible to find in any other man whose biography has been preserved by history. He is a king having a whole country under his control, but never claiming mastery even on his own self, ever taking pride in his being the serf of God.” (The 100, A Ranking of the  Most Influential Person in History).


A modern research scholar of Islam Karen Armstrong, wrote in her book:

“Muhammad had to start virtually from scratch and work his way towards the radical monotheistic spirituality of his own. When he began his mission, a dispassionate observer would not have given him a chance. The Arabs, he might have objected, were just not ready for monotheism: they were not sufficiently developed for this sophisticated vision. In fact, to attempt to introduce it on a large scale in this violent, terrifying society could be extremely dangerous and Muhammad would be lucky to escape with his life.

Indeed, Muhammad was frequently in deadly peril and his survival was a near miracle. But he did succeed. By the end of his life he had laid an axe to the root of the chronic cycle tribal violence that afflicted the region and paganism was no longer a going concern. The Arabs were ready to embark on a new phase of their history.” (Muhammad – A Biography of the Prophet page 53-54)


Pringle Kennedy has observed (Arabian Society at the Time of Muhammad, pp.8-10, 18-21):

“Muhammad was, to use a striking expression, the man of the hour. In order to understand his wonderful success, one must study the conditions of his times. Five and half centuries and more had elapsedwhen he was born since Jesus had come into the world. At that time, the old religions of Greece and Rome, and of the hundred and one states along the Mediterranean, had lost their vitality. In their place, Caesarism had come as a living cult. The worship of the state as personified by the reigning Caesar, such was the religion of the Roman Empire. When Christianity conquered Caesarism at the commencement of the fourth century, it, in its turn, became Caesdrised. No longer was it the pure creed which had been taught some three centuries before. It had become largely de-spiritualised,  ritualized, and materialized . …..

How, in a few years, all this was changed, how, by 650 AD a great part of this world became a different world from what it had been before, is one of the most remarkable chapters in human history …. This wonderful change followed, if it was not mainly caused by, the life of one man, the Prophet of Mecca …. Whatever the opinion one may have of this extraordinary man, whether it be that of the devout Muslim who considers him the last and greatest herald of God’s word, or of the fanatical Christian of former days, who considered him an emissary of the Evil One, or of certain modern Orientalists, who look on him rather as a politician than a saint, as an organizer of Asia in general and Arabia in particular, against Europe, rather than as a religious reformer; there can be no difference as to the immensity of the effect which his life has had on the history of the world. To those of us, to whom the man is everything, the milieu but little, he is the supreme instance of what can be done by one man. Even others, who hold that the conditions of time and place, the surroundings of every sort, the capacity of receptivity of the human mind, have, more than an individual effort, brought about the great steps in the world’s history, cannot well deny, that even if this step were to come, without Muhammad, it would have been indefinitely delayed.”


J. H. Denison writes in his book, Emotions as the Basis of Civilization, pp. 265-9:

“In the fifth and sixth centuries, the civilized world stood on the verge of chaos. The old emotional cultures that had made civilization possible, since they had given to man a sense of unity and of reverence for their rulers, had broken down, and nothing had been found adequate to take their place . It seemed then that the great civilization which had taken four thousand years to construct was on the verge of disintegration, and that mankind was likely to return to that condition of barbarism where every tribe and sect was against the next, and law and order were unknown. The new sanctions created by Christianity were creating divisions and destruction instead of unity and order …� Civilization like a gigantic tree whose foliage had over reached the world stood tottering rotted to the core. Was there any emotional culture that could be brought in to gather mankind once mare to unity and to save civilization? It was among the Arabs that the man was born who was to unite the whole known world of the east and south.”

10. S.P. SCOTT

S. P. Scott writes in, History of the Moorish Empire in Europe, p. 126:

“If the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect, if the performance of good works will avail in the great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Muhammad was indeed an Apostle of God”.


W. Montgomery Watt, the well-known Orientalist, has said the following about his personality in general (Muhammad at Madinah, pp 335):

“The more one reflects on the history of Muhammad and of early Islam, the more one is amazed at the vastness of his achievement. Circumstances presented him with an opportunity such as few men have had, but the man was fully matched with the hour. Had it not been for his gifts as a seer, statesman, and administrator and, behind these, his trust in God and firm belief that God had sent him, a notable chapter in the history of mankind would have remained unwritten. It is my hope that this study of his life may contribute to a fresh appraisal and appreciation of one of the greatest of the sons of Adam. ”

Such is a testimony of a biographer who is not favorably disposed towards the Holy Prophet.


The following description of the Holy Prophet’s moral character and simplicity is taken from Sir William Muir (Life of Mohomet, pp. 510-13):

“If he turned in a conversation towards a friend, he turned not partially, but with his full face and his whole body. In shaking hands, he was not the first to withdraw his own; nor was he the first to break off in converse with a stranger, nor to turn away his ear. A patriarchal simplicity pervaded his life. His custom was to do everything for himself. If he gave an alms he would place it with his own hands in that of the petitioner. He aided his wives in their household duties, mended his clothes, tied up the goats, and even cobbled his sandals. His ordinary dress was of plain white cotton stuff, made like his neighbors.”

All these renowned authorities express opinions that speak very highly of the prophet Muhammad. The character, features and inclinations of all these testimonies are in sharp contrast to the baseless assertions of Toynbee. These historians, in general, admit that the Holy Prophet had to take the role of a statesman after coming to Madinah. Yet, he remained completely pure of all those worldly traits and characteristics of pomp, show, pride, glory, arrogance, and pretense that is normally associated with kingship. He never allowed this role to color him in a manner that would indicate that he had moved away from his real mission of a prophet in the very least. Neither did the daily routine of his life become empty of spirituality after he became a king. All the blessings which are the hallmark of a prophet, and a friend of God never stopped being manifested through him.

From all these comments and opinions, it is clear that Tonybee’s allegation that “Muhammad . . . embraced the opportunity. “hen it came his way, of arming himself in the panoply of political power and using this power as an instrument for imposing Islam upon Makkah by force” is completely contrary to the facts. His contemporaries and many other authorities have admitted openly that when the Holy Prophet conquered Makkah, he had full power and authority over the Makkans. In Madinah, he exercised total power, and was granted kingship from day one. Yet, not one person was ever forced to accept Islam in any of these cities. Sir William Muir. the well known orientalist, states in his famous book “Life of Mohomel” that from among the thousands of Muslim in the city of Madinah, not one had been made to accept Islam by force.

Historians and biographers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad have openly admitted that the Quraish and the members of the other tribes living in Makkah accepted Islam due to the Holy Prophet’s kind treatment. They were attracted by his display of high moral qualities, general pardon and extraordinary display of forgiveness after the fall of Makkah. No historian has identified a single case of a person who could be said to have been forced or coerced into adopting Islam. Further details shall be provided in the following pages.

It is clear from the statements of these non-Muslim orientalists and authoritative historians that after arriving in Madinah the Holy Prophet had been granted full power and leadership and was acknowledged as the Head of State. Yet, he remained completely and absolutely free of all those worldly displays, and trappings: trademarks that normally develop in worldly kings after they have successfully obtained and secured great powers.