Criticism of Religion (Part 4)

The Irreligious Spirit and Causes of its Spread

by Maulana Muhammad Ali, M.A. (Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Lahore)

The Young Islam, 15th July 1934 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 2, 4)


The third objection against religion is very important. It may be summed up as follows. Religion asks man to rely on prayer and thus cuts at the very roots of the princi­ple of strife and struggle. When a man be­lieves that his object can be achieved through mere praying, there is an end to his endeavours.

Prayer no doubt is one of the pillars on which the superstructure of all religions is built. But here again we are confronted with the same difficulty. It is a totally wrong interpretation of the spirit of prayer which is the cause of misunderstanding. An utterly dis­torted perspective of a principle cannot lead to correct results. Let us examine this prob­lem by the tests applied in the above cases. The questions then before us are:

  1. The Quran is a Book laying an unbounded stress on the efficacy of prayer. Is the principle of struggle and endeavour alien to its teachings?
  2. What does the example of the great religious personalities such as prophets and saints teach us? These personalities no doubt place the greatest reliance on prayer. But did they ever mean that they were to sit still?

As regards the teachings of the Quran, side by side with the principle of prayer is laid down the grand idea of jihad. Jihad denotes an incessant strife and struggle. As is so commonly misunderstood, jihad is not a term which stands for fighting and killing the unbelievers. Jihad is a ceaseless war which man has to wage against evil. The first place to eradicate evil is one’s own self. A Muslim must also struggle against evil forces outside him. In this external struggle a Muslim must not employ physical force except in circum­stances demanding self-protection. Sacrifice and suffering are the main posts on which he must rely for establishing truth and guidance.

If the two conceptions of prayer and of action were so utterly opposed as is mistaken, how is it possible for a Book such as the Quran to combine them both so wonderfully in one and the same breath? Do we not meet almost in each section of Quran a phrase pur­porting to mean,

وَ اللّٰہُ خَبِیۡرٌۢ  بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۱۵۳﴾

“And Allah is aware of what you do”? [The Holy Quran, 3:153]

Even to opponents of the Prophet, it says,

اعۡمَلُوۡا عَلٰی مَکَانَتِکُمۡ  اِنِّیۡ عَامِلٌ ۚ فَسَوۡفَ تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ

“You continue to exert in your direction, I am acting in my own. So you would soon come to know” [The Holy Quran, 6:135, 39:39].

Elsewhere the Quran has:

وَ اَنۡ  لَّیۡسَ لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ  اِلَّا مَا سَعٰی ﴿ۙ۳۹﴾ وَ اَنَّ سَعۡیَہٗ  سَوۡفَ یُرٰی ﴿۪۴۰﴾

Man shall have naught except for what he has exerted, and his efforts will certainly be rewarded” [The Holy Quran, 53:39–40].

In fact the truth is that the stress laid by Quran on man’s exerting to an end is unprecedented.

True Muslims Were Great Worshippers as Well as Great Mujahids:

Taking this problem from the practical aspect we find that the true religious personalities have been the greatest promoters of active movements of their day. Take the familiar example of Muhammad [pbuh] and his associates. Believing in the efficacy of prayer as he did and spending quite a considerable portion of his time in worshipping, did Muhammad actually sit still with folded arms? In the pages of history Muhammad is seen discharging so many duties that it makes us wonder how a single hand was able to do so much. Now he is in his home attending to his family needs, milking his goats or mending his clothes, etc. Again, we see him in the public as a judge deciding disputes. On the one hand he is seen leading his people spiritually and acting as Imam in the five daily prayers, and on the other, he is leading armies into the battlefield looking to every minute detail himself. At one time he is directing the affairs of the state of which he is the head, and at another he is seen fulfilling his duties as a commoner. It is difficult indeed to understand how one man could perform the multifarious duties which we find the Prophet performing, and yet he stood up praying to God not only five times a day but also spending one-third, one-half, and some­times two-thirds of the night in prayer.

The Holy Prophet was not alone in combin­ing prayers with other numerous activities. He gave birth to a nation which was up and doing. The Arabs, a disintegrated and neglected nation, were fired through his personality with the love of incessant toil. They conquered great empires in an incredibly short lime. They spread far and wide in different countries. They were the torchbearers of light and learning in the four corners of the globe. And yet with all this go and run they were the greatest worshippers of the Divine Being that the world has ever seen. How can we then in all fairness come to the conclusion that the spirit of true prayer leads to stagnation and standstill?

Prayer is the Greatest Promoter of Action:

A critical mind will however ask how is it that prayer changes the natural course of events. The laws operating in the spiritual world are parallel to those in the physical realm. In the material world we know that the course of events is affected in one way or the other through human interference. The course of a malady is often dependent upon the line of treatment adopted. The will and knowledge of man have a distinct bearing upon the turn of events. If then in the physical world we experience the effect of man’s knowledge and efforts, why should it be unintelligible to grasp a similar state of affairs in the spiritual world? Prayer is another name for the endeavour of man in the domain of the spiritual sphere, and its effects are as much a matter of experience as that of man’s effort in the material world. Moreover, the physical and the spiritual worlds, though distinct by themselves, are not altogether disconnected. Actions in the one have a corresponding repercussion in the other world. It therefore happens that the events created in the spiritual world have a moulding effect in the physical one. In fact, a man who denies the efficacy of prayer is one who does not believe fully in human effort. A mate­rialist relies on his efforts in the material sphere only. He depends on it far beyond the right limit. But he totally refuses to accept the effect of human endeavour in the spiritual sphere. On the other hand, a spiritual man has a double source of help. He explores the physical world to the best of his ability and finds out a solution of his difficulties, if possible, through it. But his efforts do not end here. He regards the matter as subject to the spirit. Therefore, his real efforts are spent in soliciting aid from spiritual sources. It is thus evident that prayer is not a negation of human endeavour. Far from it. It is the other way round. Prayer is a belief in the efficacy of human effort in the domain of the physical as well as the spiritual world. A materialist after having explored all means in the realm of matter sits down disappointed and disheartened, while a man of spirit knows no such dejection. Where the materialist ends his efforts, a spiritualist begins them. Who then of these two is stagnant and backward?

Efficacy of Prayer in Practical Life:

It should not be mistaken that prayer is meant only as a psychological factor to en­courage man. The testimony of all the prophets and saints of every clime and country appear­ing in all ages is not such evidence as can he brushed aside lightly. All these people bear witness and do actually experience the beneficial effects of prayer. The observation of these experts cannot be set aside by the mere assertion of men who have no spiritual experience. And the door of experiment and experience is not closed to anyone. Anybody desirous of testing the accuracy of the problem is welcome at any time to follow the line of experiment as laid down by those great men of all ages and all countries who have had spiritual experience.