The Need of the Holy Quran
by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (The Promised Messiah)
The Review of Religions (English), May 1903 Issue (Vol. 2, No. 5, pp. 159–172)
The great object of Islam being to teach the doctrine of the Unity of God, the question has often been asked what was the need of the Holy Quran when the doctrine of Unity had already been revealed to the world in the Taurat (the book of the Law of Moses). In answer to this question, it should be borne in mind that Judaism no doubt originally taught the doctrine of Unity, but Judaism at the time of the revelation of the Quran was itself corrupt, both in practice and doctrine. The pure religion of the Unity of God had been departed from by the Jews, and the doctrine of Unity contained in their books had no practical effect upon their lives. The grand aim for which man is created and the Word of God revealed had been utterly lost sight of. The recognition of the Divine Unity consists in a firm belief in the existence of God and His oneness attended with an implicit obedience to Him, complete submission to His will, and lasting one’s self in His love. The Jewish books taught Unity indeed, but the inner life of the Jews was not governed by the noble principle of conduct which underlies the doctrine of the Unity of God, and their hearts were totally devoid of the deep impression of the grandeur and glory of God. Outwardly and formally, they recognised Unity but their hearts were turned away from purity and under the control of Satan. Their lives were characterised by every form of iniquity, such as worldliness, impure thoughts and affections, deceit and falsehood. The honour and greatness due to God was given to priests and hermits, and disgraceful deeds were done. Hypocrisy and deceit were predominant in the hearts of those who affected to be the teachers and reformers of the people.
Moreover, a mere formal recognition of the Unity of God is of no avail if the heart bows down in submission before a thousand different idols. The person who assigns the glory and greatness which is due solely to God to the means, plans and stratagems which he employs for the realization of an object, or trusts in aught but God, or gives a share of the majesty and power of God to his own-self or to any other creature is also an idol-worshipper though he may outwardly confess the Unity of God. Idols are not only images made of stone, brass, gold, silver or any other substance, but every object of the reverence and passionate devotion which is due to God is an idol in the sight of God. The Jewish sacred books, however, did not teach this noble significance of the doctrine of Unity and the Quran was, therefore, needed for its revelation to the world. The doctrine of the absolute Unity of God precluding faith or trust in everything else besides God was not known to the world until the Holy Quran revealed it. The adoration and reverence of senseless images is an act to which none but the most ignorant and superstitious would resort, but the most dangerous form of idolatry is that which cannot be easily discovered and which affects and vitiates the whole system like an imperceptible but obstinate disease. This lamentable disease prevailed among the Jews, and the Bible did not prove an effectual remedy for it, for the Bible did not teach the great truth underlying the Unity of God. The general prevalence of this disease, moreover, required a perfect living exemplar whose life, being governed by this practical principle of the absolute Unity of God, should have been a guidance and a direction to mankind and a powerful remedy for destroying the disease.
What is the true doctrine of the Unity of God which the Holy Quran requires us to believe in and which is the only way to salvation? It is to believe in God as One and alone in His person, and above every rival or partner whether it is an idol, or a human being, or a heavenly body or one’s own-self or one’s resources, plans or means, not to regard anyone as powerful against Him, not to consider anyone as the sustainer, the exalter, the abaser, the helper or the supporter as against the will of God, to love Him alone, to worship Him alone, to submit to Him alone, to fear Him alone, and to centre all one’s hopes in Him alone. There are three requirements for a complete adherence to the doctrine of Unity. Firstly, a man must believe in Unity in the person of God, that is, he must regard everything as vain and naught before God. Secondly, he must believe in Unity in the attributes of God and consider Divinity and Lordship as the attributes of none besides God, looking upon all those who seem to have an authority as having it from Him. Thirdly, there must be unity in the love, sincerity and devotion which he bears to God; in other words, nothing else must have a share of his love and devotion towards God and of the other aspects of his adoration, and he must be completely lost in Him. These three aspects of the Divine Unity had not been taught by any book before the Quran, and that which had been taught by Moses and the Israelite prophets was not acted upon by the Jews and the Christians. The iniquity and gross immorality in which these people indulged at that time is a clear testimony to the truth of the statement that they admitted the existence of God with their lips, but their hearts were utter strangers to this exalting and noble faith. It is for this reason that the Quran condemns both the Jews and the Christians and says that if these people had acted upon the teachings of Moses and Jesus, they would have been granted sustenance both from heaven and from earth. The heavenly sustenance indicates the spiritual blessings which are granted to the righteous and faithful in heart, such as heavenly signs, acceptance of prayer, visions and inspiration. Here they are also declared as having been deprived of earthly sustenance because they did not obtain it by just and righteous means but by bending low upon the earth and making use of vile means.
Israelite Law, no doubt, taught the Unity of God, but the doctrine of Unity taught by it fell far short of the sublime Unity revealed by the Holy Quran. This defect of the teaching in itself called for a new revelation, while the necessity was further enhanced by the spiritual death of those who professed to inculcate this doctrine. The Jewish doctrine of unity, imperfect as it was, was in their books and not in their hearts. They, therefore, needed a heavenly teacher who should have breathed the soul of Unity into their hearts and a warm devotion in place of the dull and vapid utterance of formal words. The Jews were dead and life had departed from them on account of the hardness of their hearts and their numerous transgressions. No spark of love for God and not the slightest trace of inclination to spirituality was left in them. Their books on account of their defective teachings and the numerous alterations in their letter and spirit could not inspire a new life into, and furnish a perfect guidance to, their votaries or to the world at large. Therefore, Almighty God sent down His living Word like fresh and timely rain, and to this Word which gave life did He invite them that they might find life and salvation being purified through it of their former errors and iniquities. The Holy Quran was, therefore, needed in the first place to teach a living Unity to the lifeless Jews; secondly, to inform them of their errors; and thirdly, to throw full light upon all matters relating to eschatology [the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul] which had been but barely alluded to in the Israelite law.
It is true that the seed of truth was sown with the revelation of Moses while that of Jesus gave the glad tidings of a future when that revelation was to be made perfect. As the seed that grows in a healthy condition gives the glad tidings of good fruits and ears, the Gospel of Jesus gave the glad tidings of the revelation of a perfect law and unerring guide fulfilled in the Holy Quran. The seed which Moses had sown, therefore, ripened with the Quran. The Holy Book brought with it the perfect blessing which made a clear distinction between truth and falsehood and perfected the religious truths and spiritual verities. This was the purport of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 33:2:
“The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran.”
In fact, the different phases of law were made perfect only by the Quran. Its two great divisions, the one treating of the relation of man to God, and the other of that of man to man, found complete and full development only in the Quran. The object of the Quran was to make the savage a man, to teach the man the highest moral qualities, and to make him godly last of all. This function the Holy Book performed with such a success that every other law is a total failure in comparison with it.
The Holy Quran was also needed to settle the differences between the Jews and the Christians relating to Jesus. This it has done in various places. A very important point of difference is that in relation to which the following verse occurs in the Holy Quran [3:55]:
یٰعِیۡسٰۤی اِنِّیۡ مُتَوَفِّیۡکَ وَ رَافِعُکَ اِلَیَّ وَ مُطَہِّرُکَ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا
The Jews asserted as against the Christians that their prophet, that is, Jesus, had been crucified and that, therefore, according to the Law of Moses he was accursed and his soul did not rise to heaven. This argument they advanced as conclusive proof that Jesus was a false prophet. The Christians admitted the curse but said that he had been cursed for their sake, and that subsequently the curse being removed, he rose to heaven where God seated him on His right hand. The verse quoted above condemns both views as serious errors. It states that Jesus did not suffer either a permanent or a temporary curse but that his soul rose to heaven, the happy abode to which the souls of the righteous rise, immediately after his death, which did not take place on the cross. The Mosaic Law makes curse the consequence of a death upon the cross and not of a mere suspension on it which does not result in death. The Quran plainly negatives the death of Jesus upon the cross and consequently his subjection to curse and asserts in clear words that his soul, like the souls of the righteous, rose to heaven after death. Therefore, the Holy Quran refutes both the Jewish and the Christian doctrines and asserts that he was not accursed, as his enemies and erring friends would have him, but died a pure death and was raised to heaven after his death like all other prophets. Thus did the Holy Quran settle the much vexed question of Jesus’ death, but the Christians do not still admit the need of the Quran. The Quran brought the pure doctrine of the absolute Unity of God, it produced harmony between reason and religion, it carried the doctrine of Unity to its perfection, it furnished clear and conclusive arguments for the Unity and attributes of the Divine Being, it gave reasons based on intellect, history and revelation for the existence of God, it dressed religion, which had up to that time no more value than can be given to a story, in scientific clothing, it clothed every doctrine with true wisdom, it brought to perfection the chain of religious truths which was hitherto imperfect, it took away the curse from Jesus, and it gave evidence of his being a true prophet and of his soul having risen to heaven to live with the righteous. In the face of these facts, no sensible person would assert that the Quran was not needed.
It should be borne in mind that the Quran has itself clearly proved its need. Thus, it says:
اِعۡلَمُوۡۤا اَنَّ اللّٰہَ یُحۡیِ الۡاَرۡضَ بَعۡدَ مَوۡتِہَا
“Know it that the earth had been dead, and God is now going to restore it to life again” [The Holy Quran, 57:17].
History bears evidence to the fact that immediately before the revelation of the Quran every nation had depraved itself and all the people were sunk deep in vice. Pfender, notwithstanding his determined enmity to, and blind prejudice against Islam, also bears testimony to the fact that the Jews and the Christians at the advent of our Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] were corrupt to the core and led grossly immoral lives, though he adds to explain away the appearance of the Holy Prophet that the coming of a false prophet at the time of a general corruption was a warning to the Christians and Jews who had gone astray to reform themselves. Anyone having an ordinary share of intelligence will clearly see that this explanation is simply an absurdity and an impertinence. Put in plain words, it means that finding the people of the earth in gross errors and turpitude, God intentionally led them into greater errors and brought about circumstances which led millions of human beings further away from the right path instead of doing something to bring them back to the truth. Is it true that when God sees the people gone astray, He intentionally leads them to greater destruction, and sends them misleaders and false prophets when they need true guides and reformers? Do the Divine laws as revealed in external nature lend support to this conclusion, and is it thus that God visits the people when sufferings and adversities are unbearable? This is the most blasphemous charge against Divine justice and mercy. To what extreme does the love of this world lead! A weak human being is first called God and then an accursed person! The righteous prophet of God who delivered the world when it was plunged in evil and restored it to life when it was dead is denied!
What stronger evidence of the need of the Quran is needed? It came at a time when error raged in the world. It found the world blind and gave it light, it found it in error and gave it guidance, it found it dead and gave it life. The fact that the doctrine of the Unity of God had already been revealed does not in any way affect the need of the Quran, for as already shown the doctrine of Unity as taught in previous books was very imperfect and did not aim at the high standard revealed by the Holy Quran. Moreover, even in that imperfect condition, it was only upon the lips and not in the hearts of its adherents, and the Holy Quran was, therefore, needed to impress it upon the hearts, and to make it a living principle for action instead of a formula for repetition. The doctrine of Unity had in fact been quite lost and the Quran brought it afresh to the memory of mankind. The reason why the Holy Quran has been termed ذکر or remembrance is that it brought back to the memory that which had been forgotten.
The argument against the need of the Quran, moreover, applies, if there is the least weight in it, with equal force to the Mosaic Law itself, because the doctrine of Unity was not unknown before the revelation of the Law of Moses. Do even the Jews and the Christians not admit that this doctrine had been first revealed and taught to Adam, then to Seth, Noah, Abraham, and the other prophets that went before Moses? The revelation of Moses is, therefore, open to the same objection, viz., that it was not needed when the doctrine of Unity was revealed and known before it. The same eternal and unchangeable God Who revealed Himself to Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, revealed Himself to Moses, and Moses taught the same Unity which the earlier prophets had taught.
The truth is that the doctrine of the unity and existence of God was not originally taught by the Law of Moses but is of ancient origin. We must, therefore, seek the principle which governs its repeated revelation in the world. A cursory glance at the world’s history will show that there have been periods in it when the teaching of Unity has been in its wane and men having left to act upon it, the principle has been held in contempt and disregard. Almighty God has on such occasions raised prophets and vouchsafed fresh revelation to the world in order to deliver people from the evil and shirk [polytheism] into which they have fallen and to bring them back to righteousness and the Unity of God which they have lost. Thousands of times has the doctrine grown rusty and as many times has it been polished and restored to its original purity. With its rustiness its true worth is hidden from the human eye and accordingly for a time it appears to be quite forgotten. A prophet of God, therefore, again appears to manifest its beauty and light and to dispel the darkness from its face. Thus have light and darkness been gaining the supremacy alternately in the world. The most unfailing test that can be applied to judge the claims of a prophet is to see the time when he appears and the transformation which he works. This is the safest method which a seeker after truth should adopt. He should consider with an unprejudiced mind the condition, both as to principles and actions, of the people among whom a prophet appears, before his appearance, and after he has done his work. If he comes in time of need and leaves them when that need is satisfied, this is an irrefutable argument of his truth. A prophet is needed to deliver those who are involved in sin in the same manner as a physician is needed to cure the sick.
If anyone were to apply this sound test to the claims of our Holy Prophet and compare the pre-Islamic Arabs with the companions of the Holy Prophet, he would be convinced that the Holy Prophet far excelled all other prophets in his sanctifying power, in the wholesomeness of his influence, and in the abundance of his blessings, and that the need of the Quran and the Holy Prophet was far more clear and easy of demonstration than the need of any other prophet or book. What great need did Jesus, for instance, satisfy and what is the proof that he actually did satisfy any need? Did he work any great transformation in the faith, morals and customs of the Jews? Or was he successful in purifying the lives of his chosen apostles? Both questions, we are sorry to note, must be answered in the negative. All that can be proved is that Jesus had gathered about him a number of avaricious men who were guilty of treachery and faithlessness to their master. Was this the effect of teachings which are boasted as unequalled in their sublimity?
It should also be borne in mind that the Gospel teachings have no superiority over the teachings of the earlier prophets. The teachings contained in the Gospels have on the other hand been all taken from earlier sources, including the Talmud. The Jews have always forcibly asserted that there is no originality in the Gospel teachings but that they are only plagiarisms from Jewish sacred books. One Jewish author has traced whole passages of the teachings of Jesus in the words of earlier sages. But the Christians, while admitting this charge of plagiarism, would say that the object of Jesus’ mission was not to teach morality but to offer his blood as an atonement for the immoralities of the world and to be subjected to curse. This is, however, a serious error into which they have fallen. They think that the Law was consummated in the Mosaic Law and that, therefore, the Law revealed in the Quran was not needed. The truth is that since men are apt to forget and be remiss in acting upon moral injunctions which are revealed to them through a prophet, a new prophet is required after some time to re-establish the same principles and make men act upon them. Every new age stands in need of a new reformer and a new magnetiser. But the Quran was not needed only to satisfy these two needs; it was also needed to bring the teachings of the earlier books to completion and perfection. To take one instance only, the Mosaic Law laid stress upon vengeance only in all cases, while Jesus taught unconditional forbearance and non-resistance. Both these teachings were required by the special circumstances of the time when they were taught, but being one-sided they could not furnish rules for all ages. As the teaching of the extreme vengeance of the Mosaic Law was abrogated by the Gospel, the Gospel teaching of extreme forbearance itself required to be modified. Hence the need of the Holy Quran which teaches the middle path in which the punishment of the offender or forbearance ought to be resorted to as the occasion requires. Thus, both the Mosaic Law and the Gospels take the extreme course while the Quran teaches the golden mean in all cases. The essence of the teaching in all three books is the same, but the first two laid stress only upon one side of the question owing to the peculiar requirements of the time and the circumstances when and under which they were revealed, and the third, meant as it was for the whole future, led men into the mean path to which they could for ever stick. The Mosaic Law takes one extreme and the Gospel the opposite, the one requiring vengeance in all cases and the other unconditional forbearance, but the Holy Quran reveals the wise path of acting according to the occasion. The teachings of the Mosaic Law and the Gospel are thus clothed with true wisdom in the Holy Quran. If the Holy Quran had not come, the law revealed in the Mosaic Law and the Gospel would have been like the arrow shot by a blind man which, if it hits the mark once by chance, goes wide a thousand times. In short, the Pentateuch contained law in the form of stories, and the Gospel taught it in the form of parables, while the Holy Quran presented it to seekers after truth clothed in true wisdom.
The excellent teachings revealed in the Holy Quran are, thus, far above those contained in the Bible. Nay, the whole of the Bible cannot stand against a single short chapter of the Holy Quran entitled the Fatihah, which contains only seven verses and which discloses such vast treasures of spiritual wisdom, excellent religious truths, and the highest and most precious verities arranged in natural order and methodical succession of parts as are not to be met with in the books of Moses and Jesus though one should waste his whole life in turning over their pages. The Word of God shows its Divine origin by the Divine power which lies hidden in it just as His handiwork shows His wonderful skill. It should be further remembered that the Holy Quran contains all the directions which are necessary for the perfection of man. The Bible is like an inn which once afforded lodging and rest to wayfarers but after a time heavy storms and violent earthquakes levelled it with the ground. The great building which had once separate apartments for different functions lay in such waste and total disorganization that the whole was nothing but a heap of bricks. The Lord of this inn took pity on the travellers, and, therefore, prepared a new inn, more spacious than the first and providing every sort of accommodation and all necessaries for the comfort of the travellers. In its preparation the Lord of the house, while making use of some of the bricks of the old building that lay in ruins, added a great deal of fresh material in order to provide for every requirement of the travellers. This second inn is the Holy Quran; let everyone who has eyes behold.
In connection with the perfection of the teachings revealed in the Holy Quran and the imperfection of those revealed to Moses and Jesus, it is necessary to remove an objection. The incompleteness of the earlier teachings is due not to any defect in the Divine revelation but to a defect in the capability and capacity of those for whom these teachings were meant. The Israelites to whom the mission of Moses was directed had passed about four hundred years in the slavery of the Pharaohs of Egypt, and under this long subjection to the cruelty and tyranny of their masters, they had become as it were utter strangers to principles of justice and equity. As a general rule, the principles to which the masters of a country adhere find their way into the subject people. People who are in subjection to a tyrant must after a time grow tyrants in private, while those who are under a just ruler must grow just in private. The king is, as it were, a teacher of his people. The Israelites had for many generations been in the bondage of foreign tyrants and their constant subjection to the tyranny and cruelty of their masters fostered in them a spirit which was quite inconsistent with principles of justice and equality. It was, therefore, the first and primary duty of Moses to indoctrinate them in the principles of justice and hence his teachings laid great stress upon this point. The Pentateuch of Moses is not wholly devoid of the teachings of forbearance and mercy, but the vein of justice runs through its pages, and its object is also to put a restraint upon undue cruelty and vindictiveness. Such is not the object of the Gospel. It lays stress upon forgiveness and forbearance. The reason of this is not far to seek. The Jews had carried to excess the doctrine of retaliation taught by the Mosaic Law, and instead of kindness and fellow-feeling, rancour and spite had grown up in their hearts. The teaching of Jesus in the Gospels is evidently addressed to a people whom the speaker knows to be men of a rancorous and vindictive nature and whom he wishes to instruct in the high moral qualities of kindness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness, to which they are utter strangers. Hence the propriety of the teachings of Moses and Jesus is unquestionable though it cannot be denied that both doctrines were like special or local laws, and from their very nature unsuitable for permanent and universal adoption. The true and universal law was revealed in the Holy Quran which abrogated all previous laws. Anyone who enters into the spirit of the Holy Book and goes to the depth of its true significance will clearly see that the Quran has neither laid stress upon strict vengeance, as the Mosaic Law did in its doctrine of retaliation and its battles, nor has it gone to the opposite extreme by emphasising absolute and unqualified forgiveness of all injuries, but adopts the middle path by enjoining that which is right and forbidding that which is wrong. It requires us to do that which is right both according to reason and law, and to refrain from doing what reason and law do not permit. The laws and injunctions of the Quran do not, therefore, relate to particular actions but lay down general rules for a right course of conduct. It does not, for instance, tell us to take an eye for an eye in every case or to forgive every injury, however evil its consequences may be, but tells us to apply our reason and judgment to the circumstances of every case and act in a manner which is likely to produce the greatest good. By enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, the Holy Quran has given us general laws for our guidance and thus introduced scientific principles in religious injunctions. Before proceeding to take any step, we are required to consider what will actually be the right way. Whether it is right to forgive or punish, or to give in charity or not to give, is a question of circumstances in each case. According to the Quranic teachings, therefore, our primary consideration in every case should be the propriety of the occasion.
We have so far discussed every side of the question relating to the need of the Quran. One point only remains to be considered. Did Islam wage war with the Jews and the Christians to compel them to accept its doctrines? This asserted compulsion has no basis at all. Islam never took the initiative in the battles which it had to fight. It was compelled to take up the sword against those who had either aggressed on it or assisted the aggressors. The jealousy of God was, therefore, moved to punish the offenders. But His mercy still saved from the deserved punishment such as accepted Islam or paid the jizya [tax levied on non-Muslims]. This favour was also in accordance with the Divine laws, for whenever there is a visitation of God such as a famine or a plague, the hearts of men are naturally turned to humbleness, repentance, prayers and charitable deeds to avert the Divine punishment. This shows clearly that God Himself inspires into the hearts of men a remedy for averting the evil. The ardent prayers of Moses averted many a time the punishment of the Israelites. In short, the Islamic fights were a punishment from God to the aggressors, in which the way was still open for repentance and obtaining the mercy of God. It cannot be denied that the early Muslim wars were not undertaken to compel the Jews and Christians to accept the doctrine of Unity preached by Islam. Wars were resorted to at the express command of the Almighty as a punishment for the offenders who either took up arms against the holy faith for its extirpation or assisted the aggressors or laid obstructions in the way of Islam intending to hinder its progress. These three causes necessitated a severe chastisement of the offenders, and Almighty God willed that it should be effected by means of the sword. Another unjust and unwarrantable charge against Islam is that it preached peace during the first thirteen years under the most cruel tortures and persecutions of its enemies because it lacked force at that time, but that as soon as it had sufficient force to make its appearance in the field of battle it declared war. Such a charge would have had some foundation if the opponents of the Holy Prophet had not committed the heinous deeds of cruelty and innocent bloodshed or plotted to take away his life as they did at Mecca, and the Prophet had left Mecca of his own accord and not on account of their evil designs. The slightest acquaintance with the circumstances of the Prophet’s life at Mecca would convince every sensible person of the unreasonableness of such a supposition. Even the enemies of Islam cannot deny—nay, they have borne testimony to the fact—that the Holy Prophet met the rejection and persecutions of his enemies with great fortitude and strictly enjoined forbearance and non-resistance of evil upon his companions. There was no end to the severe persecutions of his enemies. They shed the blood of many an innocent person and inflicted wounds and injuries upon whomsoever they could lay their hands on. An attack upon the Prophet himself was at last plotted to bring the whole movement to an end. At this critical moment, Almighty God led His messenger out of all danger to Medina and gave him the glad tidings that those who had taken up the sword against Islam would perish by the sword. Do these circumstances lend the least support to the cruel charge that the Prophet was from the very commencement bent upon war and that this cherished idea took a practical shape when he found himself at the head of an army at Medina? Is it not true that when the Meccans advanced towards Medina, and were met by the Moslems [Muslims] at the famous field of Badr, the ranks of the Muslims contained no more than three hundred and thirteen men, of whom very few had any experience of war and the majority were young men who had never fought a battle before? Nay, among these three hundred and thirteen were also boys who had not yet grown to manhood. Could this small number of raw young men be relied upon as a sufficient force to meet the sturdy warriors and Bedouin hordes of the whole idolatrous Arabia and the thousands of Jews and Christians who were bent upon extirpating the new faith? Could a general ever make his appearance in the field with such scanty material to deal destruction to innumerable foes? Does it not clearly prove that the Prophet was obliged to take the sword in obedience to the commandment of God and not to fulfil any plan which he had concerted? Had it been his plan he would have first collected a force of thirty or forty thousand strong and then made his appearance into the field of battle.