The Conquest of Hearts
Speech delivered at the Berlin Mosque Convention in July 1991
by Dr. Zahid Aziz
The Light & Islamic Review (US), November/December 1991 Issue (Vol. 68, No. 4, pp. 7–10)
When I mention to friends that our Movement has a mosque in Berlin, they assume that it is a recent building, and that it was built like the other mosques in Western Europe to cater for the needs of the Muslims who migrated to this continent in the last few years. They are quite surprised to learn that it was built in about 1925, when hardly any Muslims lived here. People, both Muslims and non-Muslims, cannot see why a mosque should have been built where there were no Muslims. The idea that Islam can be spread among non-Muslims, particularly those in Western countries, is just unimaginable to most people even today. In the early years of this century, it was utterly inconceivable.
The reason is clear. The image of Islam, as projected in modern times, is such that its teachings appear to be primitive, indeed abhorrent, and against progress and civilisation. And the lamentable condition of its followers, their societies and their countries, only strengthens the impression that Islam belongs to the unenlightened past and prevents its followers from making progress. Thus, the Western people recoil from the very name of Islam, and cannot imagine how anyone in modern Western civilisation could accept it. The Muslims, too, have a wrong image of Islam in their minds, which, on many key points, is somewhat similar to the West’s concept of Islam. It fails, therefore, to inspire them to work for its propagation. Moreover, having lost worldly power and glory to the West, the Muslims feel that they have no means with which they can convince others of their beliefs.
When such is the situation and such are the prevalent ideas, how could anyone think of presenting Islam in Western countries, so much so that a small community, as the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement is, can make great sacrifices to build a mosque here? The inspiration to perform such unparalleled acts must be very deep, and faith in ultimate success must be very strong. I wish to address the questions of where did that great inspiration arise from, and how did it come to be so strong.
It was not, and could not have been, due to the human reasoning and judgment of a person’s mind. It was due to the knowledge bestowed by God Almighty on a Reformer of the Muslims who arose in this age, namely, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). On the one hand, God disclosed to him what the actual teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad were, as contrasted with the very widely prevailing, and very deeply rooted, wrong impressions of what Islam stood for. On the other hand, it was intimated to him that the time had now arrived for the fulfilment of the prophecies regarding the final, worldwide spread of Islam. These two things are inter-related. It is because the true teachings of the faith fulfil the needs of the modern world so perfectly, and are so captivating and attractive, that people in these countries will incline towards them, despite their history of malice against this religion.
A Religion for Humanity, of Harmony and Justice:
Let me now deal with just three of those teachings. Firstly, Hazrat Mirza stressed that Islam is an internationalist (not just international) religion. It teaches that wherever there are to be found people following any scripture, that religion was originally revealed by God, and therefore at its source it must have been a true faith. The ancient founders of such religions deserve not only respect from Muslims, but should be accepted as prophets of God. It may be noted that all Muslims already believed in the prophets mentioned in the Bible, since many of them are clearly accepted by the Quran by name. But the principle given in the Quran, that prophets arose among all nations, and that there are prophets who are not named in the Quran, is general. Hazrat Mirza applied this principle to nations other than the Israelites as well, such as Hindus and Buddhists. This means that in the propagation of Islam to other faiths, we do not denigrate or speak disrespectfully of the revered founders of other religions. We present Islam as a completion and fulfilment of the original missions of the other faiths, not as a total negation and dismissal of them. In today’s world, with people of different beliefs living side by side more and more, this attitude and approach produces harmony between Muslims and others.
There are other aspects, too, of Islam being internationalist which Hazrat Mirza particularly stressed. God treats all human beings with the same standards of justice, irrespective of the race, nation, country, or even the religion to which they belong. He treats people according to their practical deeds, and not according to the labels attached to them. There is no favouritism for Muslims. A person does not receive salvation because he is born a Muslim, or because he calls himself a Muslim. In God’s judgment, a virtuous person will not be denied due reward for good, because he was not a Muslim, nor will a wrong-doer escape punishment just because he happened to be a Muslim. The same applies in the Islamic code of conduct relating to worldly affairs. Muslims are told that they must always side with those who are truthful and honest, and to dissociate themselves from the unjust and the wicked, regardless of what religion they may belong to. The Quran clearly instructs Muslims not to side with their own people in committing sin, and also not to let hatred for an enemy people stand in the way of doing justice to them.
A Peaceful Religion:
The second teaching of Islam which Hazrat Mirza brought to the fore is to do with its peaceful and tolerant nature. Islam is usually considered, both by non-Muslims and by un-informed Muslims, wrongly as an intolerant faith which seeks to expand by coercion and pressure, through political or military force, and cannot tolerate any difference of belief and opinion, whether internally among its own followers or externally with others. This is a deeply ingrained notion, which is hard to dislodge. Violence has somehow come to be associated with the name of Islam. Non-Muslims who entertain this false idea find it confirmed when they hear of the actions and pronouncements of various Muslim leaders around the world. But, according to the Quran, just because some leaders of a religious community assert that a certain thing is taught by their religion, does not mean that that is actually its teaching.
This image of Islam has, on the one hand, been doing an enormous amount of damage to the reputation of Islam among the thinking people of the world, and on the other hand it has been detrimental to the moral condition of the Muslims as well as distorting their concept of human rights. In Hazrat Mirza’s time, the situation was even worse than now, because these ideas were held more widely and more strongly at that time. Therefore, he laid the greatest stress on the actual teachings of the Quran, and the practice of the Holy Prophet, which show Islam to be a religion of unequalled tolerance and peacefulness. Hazrat Mirza showed that Islam does not require Muslims to be in a state of constant warfare with non-Muslims, to hate them, or to coerce them into becoming Muslims. It wishes Muslims to live peacefully with others. It requires Muslims to live as law-abiding citizens of any country, including a non-Muslim one, which grants them freedom of religion. And if there is Muslim rule, non-Muslims would have freedom to practise their own religion, and have all civil and human rights. The wars fought by the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] came about after Muslims had suffered years of persecution, and were attacked by their oppressors with the aim of annihilating them. Only under these terrible circumstances did the Muslims take up weapons. Otherwise, for a Muslim to harm a fellow human being, merely on account of difference of faith, or even to withhold help and sympathy from such a person when he needs it, is a crime and a sin in the religion of Islam.
Another tragic misconception which cast Islam in a very bad light was the view that if a Muslim, living in a state under Islamic law, should change his religion, then he should be sentenced to receive the death penalty. This notion is entirely opposed to the teachings of the Quran and the practice of the Holy Prophet, and arose through a misunderstanding of events in early Muslim history.
Living Spiritual Experience:
The third teaching of Islam greatly stressed by Hazrat Mirza is concerned with the broader religious questions relating to man’s spiritual experience, its nature and its continuation. The great prophets of God are mentioned in the Bible as well as the Quran as communicating with God, both as receiving revelation from Him and having their prayers heard and accepted. They also received extraordinary assistance and help, above and beyond human power, in the accomplishment of their missions. It generally came to be believed by the followers of religion, including Muslims, that such phenomena only occurred in the past, and had ceased to be experienced after the times of the prophets. This gradually led people, by the middle of the last century, to deny that such things had ever at all occurred. If we find religious books recording that such superhuman, wonderful and amazing events took place many centuries ago, but we see no practical evidence for them, then ultimately our faith will become hollow and we may start doubting if those things ever happened.
Hazrat Mirza reminded the world that the Quran promises that spiritual experiences will continue among those Muslims who reach the highest grade of righteousness. They acquire a close connection with God, reaching the stage where He speaks to them, gives them a deeper understanding of the faith, reveals to them matters of the future, and answers their prayers. Their lives show that God is with them all the time. A glimpse of the lives of the prophets is to be seen in their lives. This acts as evidence for others that indeed prophets did experience and show the super-natural matters that are recorded about them.
In no age, previous to Hazrat Mirza’s time, had there been such widespread doubt and denial regarding spiritual phenomena. Man’s great strides in the realms of science, technology and physical discovery, had deceived him into thinking that everything could be explained in material terms, and that spiritual matters were mere myths accepted by people in times of ignorance. Denial of communication with God led to denial of the existence of God, and hence the very basis of religion was rejected. Hazrat Mirza presented his own experiences of revelation, prophecy of the future, and extraordinary help from God, to show that these were matters of reality and not fiction. Just arguing theoretically in favour of these beliefs is nothing like as effective as giving practical evidence. It will be seen that Hazrat Mirza dealt with issues concerning the most basic and fundamental aspects of religion, and not matters of small details of religious law or interpretation.
By this means, Hazrat Mirza showed that spiritual experiences and phenomena are something real and objective. He thus answered the greatest objection and question raised against religion in modern times, namely, that religious experience has no real existence, and is merely myth and imagination.
Hazrat Mirza was careful to add, repeatedly, that prophethood itself and the revelation of religious teachings came to an end with the Holy Prophet Muhammad. After the Holy Prophet, it is only saints, and not prophets, who appear as guides. And their revelation is only intended to show that God is a living reality who speaks to man. Hazrat Mirza writes:
“The return of Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Quran, but the ending of prophethood is mentioned perfectly clearly. To make a distinction between the coming of an old prophet [i.e., Jesus] and a new prophet is mischievous. Neither the Hadith nor the Quran make such a distinction, and the negation contained in the hadith report ‘There is no prophet after me’ is general. What audacity, boldness and insolence it is to depart from the clear meaning of the Quran, in pursuit of one’s feeble conjectures, and believe in the coming of a prophet after the Khatam al-anbiya!” (Ayyam-us-Sulh, p. 146)
Hazrat Mirza stands unique among the Muslim Ulama [clerics] in proclaiming that no prophet whatsoever can come after the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Inspiration to Action:
Hazrat Mirza not only presented this inspiring picture of Islam, free from the blemishes wrongly ascribed to its teachings, but he also explained the prophecies given by the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad about the final success of Islam in the world, and announced that that age had arrived. This filled his followers with the unshakeable conviction and faith that they must propagate their religion throughout the world, and to the modern world in particular, and ultimately success will be attained.
A unique contribution he made in this regard was to prove that Islam does not stand in need of any worldly power or force in order to succeed, and has never stood in any such need. It is by the weapons of convincing arguments, the natural attraction and beauty of its principles, and examples of virtuous character by its followers, that Islam shall conquer the minds and hearts of mankind.
In your neighbouring countries, you have seen the communist system collapse because it had not conquered the hearts of the people. As a matter of passing interest, this is foretold by Maulana Muhammad Ali in his book The Religion of Islam, while discussing the solution of national economic problems. Writing in the 1930s, when it was generally believed that communism was solving the economic inequities in Russia, the Maulana said:
“Whether in Russia it [i.e., communism] has come to stay is a question which only time can decide. But there is one thing that strikes one as very strange. Bolshevism, which had come in to liberate the people, is as much of a bondage as capitalism. The autocracy of Czardom has only given place to the autocracy of the Soviet. … Who knows that the people entrusted with the carrying out of the [economic development] scheme, the state-agents, may not tomorrow degenerate into an oligarchy similar to the oligarchy of capitalism? … The rigid system of doling out the necessaries of life to all alike, to the indolent and the diligent, the stupid and the intelligent, will undoubtedly foster conditions which must soon become unbearable for humanity; for it is going directly against nature and nature’s recognised laws. But its evil results cannot be seen in a day” (Zakat, under Problem of distribution of wealth).
This has all now come true in front of your eyes.
To conclude, the mosque in Berlin is a living testimony to the fact that a man arose among the Muslims, living in a backward village in India one hundred years ago, who believed that Islam would spread by the power of its truth and its beauty, and he inspired an entire movement to march forward in this belief.