Ahmadiyyat in the Service of Islam
Speech at the Ahmadiyya Convention at Columbus, Ohio, USA (1–2 August 1992)
by Dr. Zahid Aziz
The Light & Islamic Review (US), September/October 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 5, pp. 7–11)
The greatest service which anyone could render to Islam is to show the real aim and purpose of this religion. And this was what lay at the root of the work done by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. It had come to be thought, by non-Muslims as well as by most Muslims, that the mission of Islam is to establish its rule and government over states and countries. This view is deeply ingrained in people’s minds, and indeed the very name Islam is considered synonymous with gaining political power and rule in some country.
Hazrat Mirza corrected this notion, and explained that the real purpose of Islam is to create true faith in the hearts of people, a faith that is based on objective reality and which is strengthened by one’s experiences. It is not blind belief or inherited belief, because such belief is hollow and will not stand the test of trials and tribulations. This is faith borne out of knowledge, and is so strong that it enables you to reform and amend your life and ways for the better.
Political and materialistic philosophies teach that human problems can be solved by means of some kind of external system of law, economics and government. Unfortunately, many Muslim movements look at Islam in the same light, i.e., as a system of laws regulating various aspects of life which will solve all problems, and the establishment of which is the goal of the Muslims’ efforts. But erecting such outward structures, even if done in the name of Islam, does not bring about reform of human beings or give them control over their base desires. Therefore, we find that the leaders of these political movements are only using the name of the religion for their own ambitions of gaining power.
But a religion is something more than a social, economic and political system. It seeks to show us what our physical senses and intellect and reasoning cannot reach due to their limitations. It aims to develop the hidden faculties of the human soul, enabling it to find contact with God, and feel joy in doing deeds of goodness and loathe acts of evil.
How True Faith is created:
The question which then arises is: how is such a true faith to be generated in the hearts? It is for this purpose that in Islam there arise saints who have a close relation with God, and who are themselves persons of experience in this domain. In the Holy Quran, the Prophet Muhammad is told to say:
ہٰذِہٖ سَبِیۡلِیۡۤ اَدۡعُوۡۤا اِلَی اللّٰہِ ۟ؔ عَلٰی بَصِیۡرَۃٍ اَنَا وَ مَنِ اتَّبَعَنِیۡ ؕ
“This is my way. I invite to God through sure knowledge, I and those who follow me” (The Holy Quran, 12:108).
In other words, the Holy Prophet as well as those among his followers who call people to faith do so through having attained certainty of faith and insight themselves. The certainty they have is then passed on to their followers. Other teachers and scholars of religion can impart knowledge about religion, but that is only at the intellectual or academic level. The inspired saints can make the truth of the religion penetrate deep into the hearts and souls. They are not just teachers, but physicians who heal the doubts and the diseases that arise in the soul.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad regenerated faith in a number of ways. Firstly, he showed the excellence of Islamic teachings on the most fundamental questions of religion. These were questions such as: the existence and oneness of God, the meaning of salvation, and how it is attained, the position of the great Founders of religions, what is the highest station a human being can attain by following the path of the faith, etc. Hazrat Mirza also refuted the mass of charges laid against Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and he corrected certain misconceptions about Islamic teachings prevalent among non-Muslims and many Muslims themselves. In doing all this work, he unearthed truths and knowledge from the Holy Quran, thus showing that this Book discloses its treasures in accordance with the needs and challenges of the time. The Quran itself says about God:
اِنۡ مِّنۡ شَیۡءٍ اِلَّا عِنۡدَنَا خَزَآئِنُہٗ ۫ وَ مَا نُنَزِّلُہٗۤ اِلَّا بِقَدَرٍ مَّعۡلُوۡمٍ ﴿۲۱﴾
“There is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We send them down only in a known measure” (The Holy Quran, 15:21).
So, the treasures of knowledge contained in the Quran are made known gradually, in accordance with the needs of the age. Before time, they are not known. It is when they are disclosed exactly at the time required, as happened at the hand of Hazrat Mirza, that one’s faith in God and the Divine origin of the Quran is strengthened and deepened.
I could give many specific examples, but will briefly refer to just one. Christian missionaries were using certain Muslim misconceptions about Jesus, such as the misplaced belief that he is still alive, to argue that he was more than a mortal human being, and therefore superior to any prophet, particularly the Prophet of Islam. This mischief reached its height in the time of Hazrat Mirza. Just at that time, he was guided by God to show from the Quran, clearly and conclusively, that Jesus had lived and died like other mortals and prophets of God. The verses of the Quran he put forward had been there all the time, but their real significance had not occurred to anyone. But when that real meaning was required for the defence of Islam, it was disclosed to the Mujaddid [Reformer] of the time.
Prayer in True Sense and Spirit:
The second way in which Hazrat Mirza revived true faith was to present the Islamic acts of worship, particularly prayer, in their original spirit as means of attaining nearness to God. Worship and prayer had become mere rituals, performed meticulously in their outward form, but lacking inner feeling altogether. All discussion of, for example, prayer, in Muslim religious literature and by the religious leaders, revolved around questions like: which parts of the body needed washing before prayer, and how and how often, the precise bodily positions during prayer, the clothing to be worn, what was to be recited and at what point and how often, etc. Hazrat Mirza laid stress on the purpose and spirit of prayer as taught in the Quran and by the Holy Prophet. He emphasized that the real prayer is with the heart and the inner feelings, not with bodily movements and the repetition of memorized words. Acts of worship like prayer and fasting are the only ways that exist of attaining contact with, and having experience of, God. Those followers of Hazrat Mirza who were fortunate enough to act on these teachings found that their prayers became completely transformed. They felt real joy and ecstasy in their prayers, and would become totally engrossed in them, entirely oblivious to everything else, presenting a scene of being in communication with God. But this was not just a subjective experience: it is an actual fact that their prayers were accepted by God, and they received intimations from God about future matters.
Fulfilment of Prophecies:
The third way in which Hazrat Mirza’s work generated true faith in people’s hearts was through the fulfilment of the Divine promises relating to the success of Islam. In the Quran, God promised that He had revealed the Quran and He Himself was its Guardian (15:9). In Hazrat Mirza’s time, Islam was under the heaviest external attacks, as regards its teachings. Its followers were in a most helpless position to defend it, not just because they had been subjugated politically, but really because the knowledge they possessed left them very ill-equipped to meet the assault against Islam. It was at such a time of utter hopelessness that the promise of God came into play and rescued Islam through the extraordinary knowledge that was granted to the Mujaddid of the time. This is not just our claim. Upon the death of Hazrat Mirza, prominent Muslims paid tributes to his work. One of them, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (later a famous Indian statesman and politician) wrote in his newspaper:
“That time cannot be forgotten when Islam was besieged by attacks on all sides, and the Muslims, who had been entrusted by God with the defence of Islam, were lying flat, sobbing in the aftermath of their shortcomings, doing nothing for Islam or not being able to do anything … Then began that counter-attack from the side of the Muslims in which Mirza sahib had a part … This service rendered by Mirza sahib will place the coming generations under a debt of gratitude.”
This was another way in which faith in the hearts was restored — by seeing the promises of God relating to the rescue of Islam fulfilled.
Work continued by Maulana Muhammad Ali:
While Hazrat Mirza presented the basic principles and teachings of Islam in their pure, original form, which had become obscured, and also unearthed certain treasures of knowledge from the Quran to meet the challenges and needs of the present times, it was left to his followers to apply his principles to produce a complete picture of Islam, and to present it systematically in standard works of Islamic literature. The formidable task of producing this interpretation of Islam, and then expressing it in literary form, fell to Maulana Muhammad Ali.
He translated the Holy Quran, into English and Urdu, with comprehensive commentaries. Then he wrote a book on all aspects of the doctrines, principles and practices of Islam, entitled The Religion of Islam. He also wrote a life of the Holy Prophet and a history of the early caliphate. As regards Hadith, he produced in Urdu a complete translation and commentary of Bukhari, and in English the briefer work A Manual of Hadith. I will mention only these here, because they cover the chief subjects dealt with in classical Islamic literature, i.e., commentary of the Quran, exposition of the doctrines of Islam, explanation of Hadith, life of the Holy Prophet, and Islamic history. While this literature covers the same subjects, it follows the principles highlighted by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Maulana Muhammad Ali himself acknowledges the debt he owed to his mentor, in the Prefaces of most of his works. In the English translation of the Quran, he writes:
“Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian has inspired me with all that is best in this work”.
In the Preface to The Religion of Islam, he mentions that it was Hazrat Mirza who had directed him to write a comprehensive book on Islam.
Therefore, as a result of the work of Hazrat Mirza, and then his disciple Maulana Muhammad Ali, a complete structure has been built of an Islam which is both true to its original sources and also meets the needs of the modern times. For Islam to be shown to be the faith for all times, both these conditions have to be satisfied. If, in order to meet changed conditions, we deviate from or distort the teachings contained in the original sources, then the faith we put forward will not be the Islam revealed by God but one made by us. Conversely, if we adhere to what might be called the traditionally-prevailing view of Islam, then we have a faith which does not satisfy the needs of the times, and we would fail to prove that Islam is a religion for all times.
Relations with Fellow Human-beings:
Apart from dealing with man’s relation with God, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Maulana Muhammad Ali have also made a unique contribution to the very important subject of our relations with fellow human beings: with non-Muslims, with Muslims in general, and within the Ahmadiyya movement itself.
Living peacefully with non-Muslims:
Unfortunately, our relations with people of other faiths had come to be dominated by the assumption that the two sides were always at war with each other, or that the Muslims were ruling over the non-Muslims. The classical Islamic jurisprudence seems to deal largely with just these two possibilities, probably because at that stage in history, one or two centuries after the coming of Islam, that was the prevailing situation. The Ahmadiyya Movement has pointed out that the Holy Quran makes clear statements referring to circumstances in which Muslims are living peacefully with others. It says:
لَا یَنۡہٰىکُمُ اللّٰہُ عَنِ الَّذِیۡنَ لَمۡ یُقَاتِلُوۡکُمۡ فِی الدِّیۡنِ وَ لَمۡ یُخۡرِجُوۡکُمۡ مِّنۡ دِیَارِکُمۡ اَنۡ تَبَرُّوۡہُمۡ وَ تُقۡسِطُوۡۤا اِلَیۡہِمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ یُحِبُّ الۡمُقۡسِطِیۡنَ ﴿۸﴾
“God does not forbid you, as regards those who do not fight you on account of your religion, nor drive you out from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them with justice. Surely God loves those who do justice” (The Holy Quran, 60:8).
This subject has become very important in modern times when, with much greater movement of population, and travel, than ever previously, people of different faiths have found themselves living alongside each other to an extent unparalleled in world history.
The decisions and rulings contained in the classical Islamic jurisprudence make it almost impossible for Muslims to live under a non-Muslim government: they are required either to rebel against the authorities or to emigrate to some Islamic land. The Ahmadiyya Movement has shown that, according to the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, Muslims can, and indeed must, obey the law of the land, except if they are compelled to disobey their religion. Islam gives the highest regard to the fulfilment of any pact or obligation that one enters into. With any state, a Muslim citizen has entered into a commitment of observing its worldly laws, in return for the protection of his life, property and honour by the state. He must meet that commitment honestly and sincerely.
The stand-point that a Muslim can only obey an Islamic government, opens the door to complete anarchy and chaos, particularly in Muslim countries themselves, because in every instance of a government claiming to be Islamic, there is considerable disagreement among Muslims as to whether it is actually Islamic or not.
Relations with Muslim Fraternity:
Coming to the question of our relations with other Muslims, the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement has made a great and unique contribution to the cause of Muslim fraternity. Muslim sects devote their energies to fighting each other on trivial differences, and condemn one another as kafirs [non-Muslims] and outside the fold of Islam. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad created a movement to present to the world the most fundamental and basic truths that are taught by Islam, and therefore he did not wish to indulge in sectarian squabbling among the Muslims. He refused to brand any Muslim as kafir on the grounds that he did not follow him. Maulana Muhammad Ali further elaborated upon this outlook and attitude of Hazrat Mirza, and wrote a great deal about it. He has explained most forcefully that Islam strictly prohibits us to denounce fellow-Muslims as being outside the fold of the faith, and it requires us to regard as Muslim anyone in whom we see the broad and basic indications of being a Muslim; for example, someone who proclaims the Kalima as his creed, or who regards the Kabah at Makka [Mecca] as the centre of his faith and the direction of his prayer. No one is entitled to expel such a person from the Islamic religion on the basis of a difference of belief or interpretation on some issue. I may say that it is only the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement which lays emphasis on the importance of adhering to this principle, namely, that Muslims must strictly refrain from branding their fellow-Muslims as kafir.
Similarly, we attach no importance to the petty controversies which have divided the various Muslim sects, such as differences in the manner of saying prayers, etc., and other matters of religious law. The cases in which the Ahmadiyya Movement has differed from the generally-held Muslim views, such as whether Jesus died or is still alive in heaven, are those where the wrong interpretation was causing great harm to the progress and the standing of Islam.
Tolerance within Movement:
Thirdly, there is the question of our internal relations, within the Movement. Here again, Hazrat Mirza made a great and unique contribution by reviving true Islamic democracy and brotherhood. In Muslim spiritual movements, after decay and degeneration had set in, the practice had come to be that the head had absolute power over the followers, and the latter were taught to render him utter, blind obedience, amounting to worship, even if it meant violating clear teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet. Hazrat Mirza did not want his movement to be ruled over by autocratic and despotic spiritual leaders who would use it for self-glorification, and as a power base for political ambition. So, about 3 years before his death, he instituted a supreme committee (Sadr Anjuman), consisting of 14 members, charged with the management of the movement after him. And he laid down that that committee would decide affairs by a majority of opinion of its members. This committee he termed as his successor.
Apart from this, Hazrat Mirza fostered within the movement an atmosphere of freedom of thought and interpretation, and of expression of views. By the grace of God, these characteristics have been preserved in the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement mainly through the efforts of Maulana Muhammad Ali. What greater services could be rendered to Islam in this age than those described above?