The Review of Religions [English], October & November 1922
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra MA (1893-1963)
The difference about revelation sketched in the previous pages [i.e. Part I of this article] developed into another very important and extremely interesting point of contest between Ahmad[as] and his Muslim opponents. Can the world receive any prophet after the great law-giver of Arabia, [the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa]?
Ahmad, peace be with him, holds that though undoubtedly the law has found its completion in the Quran which is consequently meant for all peoples and all ages to come, even now one can attain prophethood by closely following in the footsteps of the Seal of the Prophets[sa] just as Ahmad[as] had done.
But the opponents of Ahmad[as] flatly reject the coming of any prophet after the great Prophet[sa] of Islam, for “is not the Quran a perfect book?” Quite so, says Ahmad[as], but that does in no way concern the point in question. For the Israelites that lived before the Prophet[sa] of Islam, the Mosaic dispensation was quite perfect and yet they received scores of prophets after Moses[as]. Thus, the whole controversy centres around one point.
What is a prophet? Is it necessary that every prophet should bring a new book with him? Let Ahmad[as] speak first:
“The true significance of the term prophet has not been comprehended by my opponents. A prophet is none other than the one who is the recipient of Divine revelation and is in constant and very close communion with the Almighty. He may or may not be a law-giver. Similarly, it is not necessary for him to be not among the followers of any other greater prophet.”
But his opponents would not accept this definition, holding that every prophet must need make some changes in the teachings of the one who has gone before him or at least must have an independent position. Thus, anyone who claims to be a prophet after the Holy Founder[sa] of Islam is an infidel in their eyes deserving to be treated as an enemy of Islam.
Ahmad[as] sounded his loudest note to clear his position and repeatedly said that he had no independent position but was raised by God to serve the cause of Islam only. He wrote no book, published no handbill and made no speech in which he did not refute this objection in his usual eloquent way. But the very idea of the advent of a prophet after the seal of the prophets was alien to the minds of the Mullahs that Ahmad[as] had to deal with, and the masses, of course, were with the Mullahs.
The spirit of opposition can well be imagined from the fact that anyone who shook hands with Ahmad[as], nay, one who knowingly looked at him, was declared an outcast. Ahmad[as], however, was not to be baffled by such measures. He sharply turned on his assailants. Did they not themselves expect Jesus Christ to appear among them as a reformer of the latter days? What was Jesus, but a prophet that appeared among the Israelites nineteen centuries ago? Surely, if Jesus could come as a prophet after the Great Prophet[sa] of Arabia, why not Ahmad[as]? The more so when we see that Jesus got his prophethood independently of the Prophet[sa] of Islam, while Ahmad[as] was a servant of Muhammad, peace be with him, and was raised to the rank of a prophet only by closely following in his footsteps.
This was surely a home thrust. But the opponents of Ahmad[as] at once shifted ground. If prophethood only meant close communion with God, and anyone who received clear revelation from Him containing secrets of the future was a prophet, then the number of the Muslim prophets must have been pretty large. Ahmad[as] had a ready answer. A single pice [a unit of currency formerly used in the subcontinent, equal to 1/64 of a rupee] is no doubt wealth, but the possessor of it is never called a wealthy person. So, with the point in question. It is true there have been many who dreamt true dreams and heard the voice of God revealing to them some secrets of the future, but they cannot be called prophets for they did not enjoy so close a communion with Him nor were they the recipients of such an extraordinarily large number of Divine revelations containing deep secrets of the future, which alone could entitle one to prophethood. This is why none save Ahmad[as] ever laid claim to that exalted rank after the Holy Founder of Islam.
The matter, however, was not to be settled so easily. The opponents of Ahmad[as] quoted passages from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet[sa] which clearly said that Muhammad, peace be with him, was the last of the prophets. The Quran says, “Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets,” which, they argued, evidently means that there is no prophet after him. But Ahmad[as] would not accept this explanation of the verse. Muhammad[sa] was the Seal of the Prophets, not in the sense that he was the last of the line, but in the sense that after him no one would attain to prophethood unless he had his impress attesting to his credentials. The seal was the verifying seal and not the closing one, as is amply borne out by the context. The whole verse runs thus: “Muhammad is not the father of any male among you, but he is an Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets.” Now there are two kinds of offspring, spiritual and of the body. In the above verse, the absence of the male heirs of the body is clearly mentioned. Now if the word ‘seal’ means the last, the verse would mean ‘Muhammad[sa] is the last of his line physically but the last of his line spiritually,’ which is absurd and does not make any sense. Hence, the seal is none other than the seal of verification. In this sense, Muhammad, peace be with him, is also a seal for those that lived before him. We have no proof of the truth of Abraham[as], Moses[as], David[as] or Jesus[as] or any other of the previous prophets save that they are mentioned as true prophets in the Quran. If we were to start independent inquiries about the truth of the previous prophets, setting aside Muslim literature on the point, we would surely find many among them that will fall too short of the true measure of truth on account of the ugly figures in which they are mostly represented in older scriptures. It is the Quran alone that shows them in their true colours and hence the epithet.
Ahmad[as] also quoted other verses from the Quran which supported the meaning he put upon the verse discussed above. In the Quran, we read, “Those who follow the Prophet of Islam are among those on whom God showered His blessings, i.e., the prophets, the siddiqs [i.e. the truthful], the martyrs, and the righteous.” Now, this verse clearly opens the door of prophethood for the followers of the Prophet[sa] of Islam. And again, in the very first Surah of the Quran, the most Merciful God teaches the faithful to pray to Him for the favours and blessings that He showed to those that have gone before them. Now if Muhammad[sa] was to be the last of the prophets in every sense of the word, the prayer taught by God becomes useless, for how can he pray [for this when] the door to prophethood, the greatest of the Divine favours, is closed upon the Muslim! How extremely derogatory is this view to the Holy Founder[sa] of Islam! Minor prophets came and opened the doors of Divine favours to their followers, but here comes the greatest of the line, shutting those that were previously open as if he were a scourge of God sent to chastise those that happened to follow him. God forbid!
Then there is the hadith, i.e., the saying of the Prophet[sa]. But before viewing the problem from that point of view, it seems necessary to describe Ahmad’s attitude in regard to the traditions. I quote Ahmad[as] himself:
“The Book of God, (i.e., the Quran) is the most authenticated of all the literature of Islam. When any saying of the prophet is interpreted in accordance with the spirit of the Quran, it also becomes binding on every Muslim. But such of the traditions, as run counter to the clear verses of the sacred book, will have absolutely no weight. We will try as far as lies in our power to interpret such traditions in accordance with the spirit of the Quran, but if we fail, we will reject them as forged ones, though they may be quite genuine according to the traditionists.”
And again, “Even at their best, the sayings of the Prophet[sa] carry with them a tincture of doubt as to the genuineness of their origin. How can we then look upon them as equally authentic with the Book of God to which no such doubt attaches itself?” This Ahmad[as] wrote in answer to those who, while discussing his claims, clung to a few sayings of the Holy Quran. I may mention also that Ahmad[as] distinguished Sunnah from Hadith which are very often confused together and treated as one while, as a matter of fact, they are two entirely different things.
Sunnah is the practical ritual of the Prophet[sa] handed down to us not in the form of some written book or oral teaching but by the constant practice of the faithful. The sayings of the Prophet[sa] were collected more than a century after his death, but sunnah had its existence since the very days of the Prophet[sa]. An illustration will clear the point. In the Quran, the faithful are enjoined to say prayers. The number and the time of the prayers are not clearly mentioned. But by his practice, the Prophet[sa] showed to his immediate Companions[ra] that the number of the prayers enjoined was to be five and the times such and such. Those who came after them followed the example of their predecessors and so on. Thus, we see that sunnah is the theological practice of the Muslims handed down from age to age. It is true that sunnah also forms a part of the books of hadith, but the purely hadith portion is that which consists of those sayings of the prophet which have no practical bearing on the Islamic ritual.
Now to return to the subject. The Prophet[sa] is reported to have once said, “There is no prophet after me.” The sentence is too simple to have any hidden meaning and hence, anyone who claims to be a prophet after Muhammad, peace be with him, is an impostor. This is how the opponents of Ahmad[as] argue.
But Ahmad[as] says that the words of the above tradition only mean that there is no independent prophet after Muhammad, blessings of God be upon him, or else why does Muhammad[sa] himself call the reformer of the latter days by the name of prophet in another well-known saying of his?
Moreover, there is a saying of Ayesha[ra], the favourite wife of the Prophet[sa] which determines the meaning of the tradition in question. It runs thus, “Say ye that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets but say not that there is no prophet after him.” This also determines the meaning of the word ‘seal’ used in the Quranic verse discussed above. In one sense, however, Muhammad[sa] was really the last of the prophets, and Ahmad[as] though himself claiming to be a prophet of God often calls him as such. Because after Muhammad[sa] there can be no independent prophet which means that after him none can attain to prophethood unless he so closely follows him in his footsteps, that like a mirror he begins to reflect in full the excellences of his master and merges himself into the person of Muhammad[sa] so completely as to lose his independent individuality and thus become one with him.
It is obvious that such a one will, along with his other excellences also, inherit the prophethood of his master and thus be called a prophet. His prophethood, however, will be no new prophethood but the same old one mirrored in a new form.
In this sense, it makes no difference, if we take the word ‘seal’ used in the Quran in the sense of a closing seal, for surely such a prophethood will not break that seal as explained above. “Yes, if Christ were to appear in person,” Ahmad[as] would often humorously remark, “then indeed the seal will be broken, for Christ was an independent prophet and so his prophethood can never be called a reflex of that of Muhammad, peace be with him.”
The readers will remember that the [other] Muslims expect Christ to descend in person from the heavens to the earth as the Promised Reformer of the Latter Days which Ahmad[as] claimed to be.
Then there is another saying of the prophet which runs thus, “If the door of prophethood be open after me, Omar would be one.” In this, the opponents of Ahmad[as] see clear proof of Muhammad’s being the last of the prophets in every sense of the word.
But if we consider this tradition carefully and interpret it in the light of history, it will not be difficult to see the weakness of the argument. It is not unknown to the students of Islamic history that Omar[ra] was a great statesman. This fact eminently appears in the period of his caliphate, but even in his early life, when he was only in the background as a disciple of the Prophet[sa], we see clear instances of this natural gift of law-making in him. It sometimes happened that Omar[ra] gave his opinion on some important matter and while the Prophet[sa] still hesitated to act, he received the Divine revelation that told him that Omar[ra] was right. It was this that led the Prophetsa to say that if the door of the prophethood be open after him, Omar[ra] would be a prophet of God. This shows that in the tradition mentioned above, the word prophet is used in the sense of a prophet with a law and surely, in this sense, the Prophetsa of Islam is absolutely the last.
I conclude this subject with a quotation from Ahmad[as], “All the doors of prophethood are closed save one, i.e., that of completely losing one’s individuality in that of the Prophet[sa]. One that approaches the Almighty through this door begins to reflect the same old prophethood of Muhammad[sa]. He becomes a prophet, but we cannot call him a new prophet, for he is one with his master.”
And again, “I am a prophet because I am one with Muhammad[sa]. I got this rank by losing myself in the person of the Prophet[sa] and hence the seal remains intact, but Christ cannot descend to the earth without breaking it.”
(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original, published in The Review of Religions, October and November 1922)