The Review of Religions [English], October & November 1922
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra MA (1893-1963)
I intend to discuss in the following pages the chief points of difference between the Ahmadiyya Movement and the [other Muslims] of the present age. But before beginning the subject proper, it seems necessary to mention briefly the claims of Ahmad[as], the holy founder of the movement, in order to clear the attitude of the Ahmadiyya Movement towards the [other Muslims] and vice versa.
It must never be forgotten that Ahmad, peace and the blessings of God be on him, did not found any new religion, but as he himself has repeatedly and clearly asserted, the main object of his advent was to restore the Muslims to their pristine purity and bring them back to the good old ways of the Companions[ra] of the Prophet[sa]. But the lives of the Muslims could never be purified unless Islam was restored to the same shape and form as it had when the Holy Prophet[sa] taught it to the world. On account of passing through ages of ignorance and irreligion, not only had the Muslims fallen away from the teachings of the Holy Founder of Islam, but Islam itself had been disfigured to no small extent. False doctrines had crept in and made its glorious figure look ugly and loathsome. Under such circumstances, it was simply impossible to purify the lives of the Muslims without giving Islam its old lustre by polishing away the rust that had settled on its bright surface. This was the work of the Mahdi, the rightly guided.
But this was not all. There was one more obstacle. Finding the Muslims in such a bad plight and Islam in so helpless a condition, the different religions had thought it a golden opportunity to crush Islam which was therefore zealously attacked on all sides by the followers of all the religions of the world. The Christians, of course, took the lead and so many objections were hurled against Islam that the Muslims, finding none to refute them, began to doubt the very truth of their religion. Thousands actually recanted and entered the fold of Christianity. This called for the Messiah, the breaker of the cross, as the Prophet[sa] called him, who could refute these objections and show heavenly signs to establish the truth of Islam over other faiths.
Now, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad[as] of Qadian claimed to be the Promised Mahdi and Messiah, for as already stated, he came with a two-fold purpose. He was to settle the internal differences among Islamic sects on the one hand and remove the external danger on the other by proving it to be the only true religion for the whole of mankind through cogent reasons and powerful heavenly signs. The new teacher threw himself, heart and soul, into his work and before his death, which took place in May 1908, he had gathered around him a large following of men who were sincerely and devotedly attached to him.
It must not, however, be supposed that Ahmad[as] was given warm support by the [other] Muslims. On the contrary, when he announced himself as the Promised One from God, he raised such a storm of bitter opposition against himself that from one end of the country to the other he was unanimously declared to be an infidel deserving to be put to death with all possible torments. These were not empty threats from the Mullahs. There were men in the country who thought that the greatest service they could render to the cause of Islam was to kill Ahmad[as]. Attempts were actually made to take away the life of the Reformer. He was dragged to court as a would-be murderer, a disturber of the peace, and whatnot. His followers were also tormented in diverse ways, but thanks to the British Government, whose powerful hand maintained peace in the country, no actual violence took place in British India.
But in Afghanistan, it was otherwise. The followers of the new teacher were hunted out like hares and put through barbarous tortures. The two most prominent among them were cruelly murdered – one stoned to death and the other strangled in his bed. By such measures, it was designed to nip the ‘evil’ in the bud, but the steel wedges of Ahmad[as] steadily pushed forward and now, thanks to the Almighty, his followers count by thousands in the land of the two martyrs.
In India too the movement made slow but steady headway in the face of bitter opposition from the [other] Muslims till, as already stated, on the death of its holy founder the movement claimed a following of no less than half a million men, who entered the fold of Ahmad[as], not only from the different sects of the Muslims, but also from the Christians, the Hindus, the Parses and from various other communities. With this introductory note, I pass on to the subject at hand.
The first, and to me, one of the most important points of difference between the teachings of Ahmad, blessings be on him, and the [other] School of Islam of the present age is about Divine revelation. Ahmad[as] believed and taught that all the attributes of God are eternal and have been manifesting themselves from times immemorial to the present age and will continue to do so in future. It is highly absurd, so he argues, to think that whereas all the Divine faculties are intact, God’s power of speech has suffered of late and the All-powerful God cannot now speak as He used to do in times gone by. The attributes of God are co-eternal with Him, as are all the other Divine attributes which are ever manifesting themselves in His creation and not a moment passes without experiencing them. So must be the case with His faculty of speech. But the opponents of Ahmad[as] hold that the door of revelation is closed forever and no one after the great Prophet[sa] of Arabia can hear the Word of God. They add, however, that this is not due to the loss of the power of speech in God, but rather due to the fact that as the Divine law has found its perfection in the Holy Quran so there is no need for any future revelation. To this the answer of Ahmad[as] is as follows:
No doubt, says Ahmad[as], the Quran is the last dispensation, and there is no law after it till the last day, yet it is wrong to suppose that the door of revelation is closed after the Prophet[sa]. The completion of the law does in no way imply the end of Divine revelation. For the Israelites who lived before the Great Teacher of Arabia, the Mosaic dispensation was quite complete and yet history tells us of hundreds of prophets who appeared after Moses[as] and received clear revelations from the Almighty.
As a matter of fact, the primary object of revelation is none other than to establish man on the firm rook of certainty as to the existence of God, for unless man attains to the stage of certainty, he is not safe from sin. Nothing can be proof against sin except a perfect knowledge of God, attained through brilliant signs of His existence. It is not to believe simply that there is a God, but to know God and see God. And surely, this stage can never be reached unless the inspired ones of God appear in the world from time to time. If Almighty God has willed to give perfect knowledge of His own self to the seekers after truth, He cannot be expected to have shut the door through which they may be illumined by His word and revelation. In the Quran, the followers of the Prophet[sa] are called “the best of peoples.” Now if the door of revelation is closed for the followers of the Prophet[sa], they can, in no way, be styled as the best of peoples. For as the Quran itself tells us there were hundreds of men among the followers of Moses[as] who were inspired by God and consequently if this door were to be shut upon the Muslims, the Jews are beyond doubt the better of the two. In another verse, speaking of the faithful, the Quran says:
Good tidings are granted to the lovers of God through His word and inspiration in this life as well as in the next. (Ch.10: V.65)
Ahmad[as] laid the greatest stress, as the reader may have observed from the above, on the point that unless God speaks to His chosen servants, and shows His own self to them by letting them hear His sweet accents, it is impossible for man to get a perfect knowledge of Him and His attributes, which is absolutely necessary for entire freedom from sin.
Ahmad[as] went so far as to assert that the religion which does not vouchsafe to its adherents this stage of communion with God and teaches that the door of revelation is now shut, cannot be the true religion, for it denies the existence of the thing on which rests the spiritual edification of man. Often did Ahmad[as] liken Divine revelation to rain which is yearly needed to grow crops. The rain that fell last year cannot be expected to water the crops of this year, and unless this year is blessed with new rains, the crops will fail, and there will be famine in the country. So is with Divine revelation. The idea that God spoke in times past can never quench the spiritual thirst of a seeker after truth. The soul of man naturally soars towards its Maker. If the door to God’s glorious presence is shut, imagine the misery of the poor little thing.
The same difference holds good between the Ahmadiyya Movement and other religions of the world, with Christianity not excepted. To Ahmad[as] revelation was one of those things which alone could prove the superiority of Islam over other faiths. If man strives after God all his life, but never hears His sweet voice calling on him, “In thee I am well pleased for thou treadest on the right path,” he is sure to get bewildered in the end and is very likely to think that all the deeds he has done in the way of righteousness and truth may have been nothing but as so many acts of disobedience to God. For where was His confirming word? Such a man will enter his long resting place with a heart full of doubts and misgivings as to his following the right path in his earthly life. But think of the man whose way to God is lit up with bright signs from Him and who at all the parting of roads hears the clear, unmistakable words of his Lord saying to him, “Thou wilt go this way and not that!” The face of God is hidden in a thousand veils from mortal sight and nothing but His own powerful voice can set at rest the doubting heart of man. Many people say that they believe in God, but there is a wide difference between a mere belief in God as a matter of faith and a perfect knowledge of God obtained through His own soothing voice that dispels all doubts and establishes man on the firm rock of certainty. “The one actually sees what the other does not reject on grounds of probability.” Hence the claim of Ahmad[as], that save Islam, all the religions of the world are dead.
Someone may object here that even if it be admitted that God speaks to His chosen ones then, too, the vast majority of mankind must need fall short of that high stage of certainty about God which is alleged to be so necessary for the purification of the soul of man. But this view is equally erroneous for though it is right that God’s clear voice reaches the ears of the chosen few only, the masses are also thereby saved for one that attains to the stage of communion with God begins to reflect the attributes of God just as a mirror reflects the form of the thing that is brought before it. Surely such a one is not God, but there is no doubt that he is one with God and his soul is in constant and close communion with Him. He becomes the fountainhead of the Divine powers and rare and hidden manifestations of the powers of the Almighty are revealed through him. Such a one is also endowed with the power of drawing and electrifying other persons and may well be called a spiritual magnetiser. Now, whenever there appears a magnetiser, all the people are forcibly drawn towards him, save those who, by leading wicked lives, have wholly sapped their spiritual faculties.
Thus, though the masses are really not so spiritually advanced as to reach the stage where God reveals Himself to his servant and speaks to him in sweet loving accents yet by coming in contact with such a one, they may be able to gain a perfect knowledge of Him and His attributes. This certainty about God is further strengthened when besides being silently attracted to the spiritual magnetiser they also witness powerful heavenly signs working in his favour. God speaks to his servant words containing deep secrets of the future which when they come to pass just as the chosen one of God had predicted enable those who follow him to establish their belief in God on the firm rock of certainty. The existence of God does not remain only a matter of faith with them, but they actually begin to feel the presence of God about them. In short, though Divine revelation comes only to the chosen few, the masses are also benefited from it as explained above.
So far, I have been discussing the question from only one point of view. But it must be remembered that the opponents of Ahmad[as] are divided among themselves on the subject of revelation. Those who believe the door of revelation to be wholly shut after the Prophet[sa] have been already mentioned. There is another class of men who believe this door to be still open, but they define Divine revelation in such a way that it becomes quite an ordinary thing and loses its sublime character. It is in answer to these that Ahmad[as] writes:
“Ilham (inspiration) does not mean that an idea is infused into the mind of a person who sets himself to think about a thing. A poet is not inspired in the theological sense when brilliant ideas flash upon him as he sits down to make verses. In this case, there is no distinction between good and bad. When the mental powers are applied to a subject, new ideas will flash upon the mind according to the genius of the thinker without any regard to the good or bad nature of the subject. If the word Ilham means the occurring of new ideas on a particular occasion, a thief or a dacoit or a cut-throat may as well be called the inspired one of God on account of the ingenious plans which suggest themselves to his mischief-devising mind for perpetrating evil deeds. Such a view of inspiration is held by men who are quite ignorant of the true God, who with His word, gives peace and consolation to hearts and knowledge of spiritual truths to those who are not aware of them. What is Ilham then? It is the living and powerful Word of God in which He speaks or addresses one of His servants whom He has chosen or intends to choose from among all people.” And again, “It often happens that the Servant of God prays to Him and immediately receives an answer from Him and this occurs not once or twice, but the process may continue to twenty, thirty or fifty times, and sometimes a whole day or a whole night passes in this verbal intercourse. The answers are always in the most eloquent and sweet words and sometimes in words and language quite unknown to the supplicant. Along with it, there is an outpouring of heavenly signs and miracles and a profusion of Divine favours and assistance.” Speaking of his own revelations, Ahmad[as] says:
“The word which is revealed to me comes with a majesty, affords a bliss to, and makes an impression upon my soul. It enters into my heart with the firmness of a nail of iron and dispels every darkness. With its entrance, I feel an unalloyed bliss; Ah! that I had the power to describe it.”
An anecdote will make the point clearer. Once an Englishman met Ahmad[as] on a public road at Ludhiana, “Does God speak to you?” he asked. “Yes,” was the ready answer. “How does He do so?” Ahmad[as] replied, “Just as you are talking to me.” “Great God” gasped out the simple inquisitor and slowly walked away.
(To be continued …)
(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original in The Review of Religions, October and November 1922)