True Conception of the Ahmadiyya Movement
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
The Fourth Distinction: Islam is an Intellectual and Scientific Religion
From among the sacred scriptures, the Quran is perhaps the only Book that has laid emphasis on the application of reason and intellect. The principles of religion have been undoubtedly taught by Divine revelation. Human intellect does not discover them as their discovery is beyond its reach; these principles are according to the nature of man and are also in conformity with man’s intellect. That is why the Quran has enjoined the use of intellect in understanding whatever has been revealed therein. To discover God and His attributes is above the human faculties; because whatever is discovered by intellect is also subjected to it. If man was capable of discovering God and also His attributes, he was also capable of overpowering Him which is, however, not possible. Man can discover the laws of nature and the properties of matter and can overpower and utilize them for his own benefit but God is far above from him. It is God Who is his Lord and Master and it is He Who manifests Himself to man. This manifestation is done in the form of revelation, which is one of the sources of man’s knowledge and is superior to his intellect. Nevertheless it is true also that matters which are revealed to man by God are not, and naturally should not be, against human intellect, because intellect after all is also a God- given power in man. Therefore, whatever is unacceptable to man’s intellect and his nature cannot be meant for him. Now if we think over it a little carefully we find that the existence of God, His unity, His attributes of Rabubiyyat (Lordship), His Beneficence and Mercifulness, His promise of reward and threat of punishment for man’s actions, etc., all these are understandable. But belief in the Trinity, i.e., Three in One and One in Three, or in the Atonement, i.e., the taking of all the sins of humanity by one person on his shoulders, or transmigration of souls cannot be accepted when judged on rational grounds.
As the principles of Islam are in harmony with man’s intellect, therefore it has been enjoined on its followers that they should also apply their intellect for understanding the details of these principles. This is indeed what is called the exercise of judgement (ijtihad). Islam is thus a rational religion in respect to its principles and its details. For this reason there was no priestcraft, monkhood or papacy in Islam, but unfortunately in imitation of other religions a privileged class of the Mullas also came into existence among Muslims. If the use of intellect was encouraged, the authority of such people could not be maintained, therefore they prohibited the use of intellect in religious matters. Anybody who raised an intellectual question was dubbed as kafir and atheist. In the progress of Islam this again was a great obstacle which was removed by Ahmadiyyat. Thus it was shown to the world that Islam was, in fact, the rational religion and its teachings and beliefs were open to intellectual criticism.
Intellect and knowledge go side by side. When man applies his intellect to a matter he advances in his knowledge too. Thus, when Islam enjoined its followers to make use of their reasoning faculties and even in matters religious its use, unlike other religions, was not forbidden, the result was that the Arabs who were an illiterate people became the torch-bearers of scientific knowledge to mankind and the light that was shown in Arabia illuminated the whole world. The Holy Quran itself is a source of great knowledge and wisdom, that is why it has been named al-Quran al-Hakim, i.e., the Quran full of wisdom, for it has set up the very foundation of religion on science and has given a rational basis to the principles of religion. All the baffling problems of religion such as existence of God, His Unity, Divine revelation, reward and punishment of actions, conception of hell and heaven, etc., have been explained in a philosophical way. It is not only the religious truths that have been explained rationally but also attention has been drawn to material sciences. By the use of this knowledge man can overpower the forces of nature and utilize them for his own benefit. Whatever is between heaven and earth is subservient to him. It has been repeatedly mentioned in the Quran that man can control the seas, mountains, winds and other forces of nature.1 At one place such persons have been called
“men of understanding”2
in the Quran, that is the possessors of wisdom who both remember Allah and also reflect on the creation of heaven and earth. It is evident that the starting-point of all the material sciences is the reflection on God’s creation.
Religious narrow-mindedness has often stood in the way of scientific progress, several examples of which can be met with in Christian history. When Western scholars opened new avenues for scientific discoveries, after getting light from the Islamic sources, the priestly class declared them the worst kind of infidels, followers of Satan and heretics, and tortured them in every possible way. Contrary to this, in Islam, with the progress of spiritual and religious teachings, Muslims did not lag behind in scientific and philosophical knowledge. We find historians, philosophers and scientists working along with religious teachers, Imams and jurists. It is a curious fact of history that when Muslims gave up Islam for worldly gains their material progress also came to a halt. Disgrace, illiteracy and ignorance followed in its wake and their condition became like those Christians who once declared scientific progress to be a great heresy. This brought on their heads all sorts of miseries and misfortunes, and ignorance prevailed on a large scale among them. Ahmadiyyat once more established a healthy relation between intellectual and spiritual truths to combat the false conception that knowledge and human intellect were incompatible with religion and spirituality.