The Review of Religions [English], June, July & August, 1922
The spread of a religion and its distinctive characteristics depend upon two things, its external features and its internal condition. By the internal condition I mean the relationship that a people as a whole can establish with God and by the external features, I mean the morals of a people as evidenced by their dealings among themselves as well as with others, the outsiders.
As to the first nobody can say for certain what spiritual affinity exists between the people and God. It is only by the moral character of a person or persons that others will judge of them. Be certain, it is quite beyond the scope of a people’s reason to judge of the spiritual relationship unless God of a set purpose reveal it of Himself, which to be sure finds expression only in such rare cases where that relationship is of an exceptionally high order. It is a high mental and spiritual state where few can find access. A man may really love God, yet he may be quite reticent about it, while another may quite be vociferous about it, yet his love of God may not have passed beyond the ceremonial stage. Very naturally, the public at large may be attracted by the pharisaical show of piety and neglect. The real lover would not parade of virtue. Therefore, the stage where the love of God manifests itself is almost beyond the ordinary human comprehension and is seen on rare occasions. When a man attains to that stage, his friends become the friends of God and his enemies incur the divine vengeance. Such a one becomes of the elect ones of God Who favours him with His grace, removes all his difficulties, stands up in his behalf and destroys everyone who elects to stand in the way of His chosen one. In short, God shows His love for His elect in various ways, but until and unless God Himself manifest His signs of approbation, it is beyond human scope to find it out. Very often has it happened that the vociferous vaunting of an empty brain has caught the fancy of the unguarded public to the utter discarding of a real man of God on account of the latter’s maintaining utter but discreet silence.
But what can be seen on the very face of it and which no amount of casuistry can conceal is the moral condition of an individual or a people. Divine love may take years to show itself but moral regeneration becomes apparent in a day. Inner refinement and spiritual uplift cannot be accomplished in a day, not even in a short span of years. It is a very lengthy process during which a man has to be on his utmost guard lest his beliefs should swerve a hair’s breadth from the right line of thought, while he has to spend years upon years to see that he scrupulously and with meticulous care fulfils each and every divine ordinance. It is as a matter of fact a process of development which until carried up to the maximum does not unfold the potentialities lying dormant in human nature, though in certain exceptional cases unfoldment comes a little earlier, but even there, the old saw that exception proves the rule is quite applicable. But moral transformation comes easier and sooner.
This moral transformation may be sorted again into two distinct categories. The one form may satisfy his coreligionists but without the other a person outside his own denomination will hardly credit him with any good motive. For instance, Islam is a true faith; for through Islam alone can one maintain relationship with God. Therefore, if a person accepts Islam and enters into the fold of Ahmadas, he would, of course, have to perform his daily prayers and keep fast in the month of fasts. If before his conversion to Ahmadiyyat or Islam, for both mean the same thing, he used to go out for a walk at a time which for a Moslem is the time for prayer, he now gives up this walk-taking and outgoing and devotes himself at that time to the performance of prayer. This indeed is a sudden change and he will get his due credit for it from his coreligionists, for they can say with truth if it is not a spiritual transformation, what makes the man forego his daily airing and pleasure walks for the needless repetition of these seemingly meaningless genuflections. But, when will the real internal transformation be brought about, God only knows. Now this apparent change will satisfy the Moslem, but to an outsider it may all sound meaningless; he will only call it a ritual, the outward expression of a ceremonious spirit which implies no corresponding change in the heart.
But what can force admiration and admission from a non-believer is the transformation that comes over the moral behaviour of a person. If he was given to telling lies and now he always speaks the truth; if he had been depriving others of their due rights, but now he is very scrupulous in conceding everyone his due; if he was unfair and fraudulent in his dealings but now he is quite equitable and just; or if he stinted the measure or overquoted the market or undersold before this but now he is quite fair; then even a Hindu will have to admit that there has been some rectification and improvement for the better. Yet it must be realised that such a transformation does not require much effort, though the finer shades and subtle aspects of this transformation may require a lengthy practice, but the principles underlying all this can be easily understood and consequently easily acted upon. That is such a one as is minded to act upon them will not knowingly and conscientiously tell a lie, deprive others of their rights, or otherwise deal fraudulently, and if ever he does it that may be quite unknowingly or inadvertently. An insight into the finer shades of these virtues, however, will come by long practice.
Now the question arises, what of those who can show no such improvement in their outward behaviour? There are those who say that they have accepted the truth, but no sign of improvement in their general behaviour is apparent. They tell lies for nothing; they trespass upon the rights of others; they are guilty of violence and transgression without any cause and hence they can show no improvement. I am not talking here of those finer shades of a virtuous life; I am not dealing here with the subtle aspects of dishonesty and fraudulence and violation; for they are out of the question. They cannot be acquired in a day. But common virtues must not and do not need a long time. For instance, it was only after the fifteenth year of his advent that the Holy Prophet of God, peace be with him, received the commandment for the prohibition of wine, but the giving up of lying was enjoined by him from the very day he began to preach. Similarly, laws of marriage and inheritance took some time to promulgate but none can venture to assert that lying was prohibited after a lengthy period. The fact is this that such virtues as are of everyday use such as truth, honesty and faithfulness are to be taken up and acted upon the very day a man makes a confession of the truth of a certain religion. Had it been so, one could have argued that lying, etc., could not be given up in a day as their promulgation took so many years. I have said of wine already. Even in Islam it was not forbidden at first. Moreover, there were certain backward people who, on account of climatic troubles and want of a sufficiency of warm clothing, could not give it up so easily. They had to drink to warm themselves against the rigours of cold. You cannot cite the instance of any prophet who might have delayed this aspect of the general behaviour of his followers, for as I have said it does not require any great effort; it is only a question of a will to do a thing.
There are some people who are very slack in living up to this standard of faith. They will even assert that they are Ahmadis. But it is impossible for one to have a whole eye and yet be unable to see. There may, of course, be degrees of clearness of vision. One may be able to see more or better than others, yet it is wholly impossible that a person with sound sight may be altogether unable to catch sight of anything. So long, therefore, as you possess this moral sense, it cannot but be that you should show immediate improvement in your general behaviour. As long as this change is not forthcoming, the world cannot bear witness to your faith. Personal defects may take long to eradicate, but so far as you are concerned with others this transformation needs must come soon.
I see my people lacking in this respect. I have repeatedly called their attention to this shortcoming. We say we are a chosen people but it cannot be denied that there is much trampling of rights which is really distressing. Slackness and unfairness in dealing with others is really blameworthy. It seems, if I can judge aright, some of us at least do not know what honesty is. Some people come to me and talk as if they were quite honest in their professions but I am constrained to think that their behaviour is anything but honest. What they call compassion and kindliness I interpret as quite the reverse. Real transformation should as a matter of fact force an adversary to confess that it is really so. It is not for a friend to decide and adjudge; for a friend is sometimes partial and consequently he overlooks the fault of a friend. It is for your foe who is apt to misjudge your moral nature to decide. But what is quite undesirable is that even your friend does not see any good in you. If there is any change it must be prominent. Your sympathy and kindliness of behaviour should be general and wide, encompassing all, and not narrow and restricted. Your equity and fair dealings should be markedly superior to the general run of mankind. You should be honest and trustworthy in your pecuniary dealings.
The moral tone of our community as a whole I admit is fairly good and there is no cause to feel alarmed, but it is not a matter of self-congratulation unless it is much more improved. Of course, a person who can see is better than a blind man so far as the question of seeing is concerned, but he has no reason to be elated at the fact that his eyesight is as unimpaired as that of another. Therefore, it is not a thing to be proud of that comparatively we are better off than others. Some of you, as I have already stated, have not as yet fully realised what honesty and decency is. What they take for honesty and integrity is really fraud and duplicity. Unless they understand the real significance of these qualities, how can they be expected to live up to them?
Therefore, improvement in the moral tone is the only thing with which the worldly-minded can pronounce judgment in your favour. Lacking this you lack everything. Argue as you may your adversary will remain cold to your blandishments. If you can speak well, that will have no offset upon the hearer. He will think you a clever man and as such all that he needs, he will think, is his own Pundit or Mulla to counter your arguments.
But if he finds your life cast in a righteous mould, it will give him plenty of food to think for. He may have his own misgivings about his own priests or lecturers; your righteous conduct will help only to confirm them and thus draw him nearer to the truth. Your right mode of living will come as an eye-opener for him. He will realise that his own priests and clergymen lack this healthy moral tone which he will begin to associate with a superior spiritual atmosphere and teaching. Yet if you lack this moral tone, your preaching will all fall on deaf ears and whatever good we may try to point out from the Holy Quran he will bodily transplant it and apply it to his own scriptures. Whatever the Promised Messiah[as] has tried to establish in regard to the beauties of Islam he will also claim for his own book or books. If he were to plagiarise, who is going to decide on the spot? But if you lead a righteous life, that in itself will be a proof positive of the fact that there is something in your religion which your adversary lacks.
I draw the attention of my friends to this improvement in their general behaviour and to their dealings with others. It is the first of the many hundred rungs of the ladder leading directly up to God. There is one thing very peculiar in this upward movement which is the first step in the right direction and which smooths as it were our whole way up. It puts us on the right track and practically decides our future course of life. It is only necessary that we should be well-intentioned. If our motives are right then with the magic key of the old fiction books all the doors shall be opened to us and all obstacles in our way removed, and the whole journey traversed without any let or hindrance.
Therefore, our first duty should be to be honest and well intentioned, right conduct as a necessary corollary will follow. You yourself will be surprised to find an immediate and wonderful change. Even the erstwhile impossible will appear to be possible. Difficulties always loom large at first, but they only appear huge and monstrous like the fluffed-up heap of cotton. One is merely frightened by the enormity of size. But no sooner you touch it and only attempt to lift it up, you are able to take it up without the least difficulty.
Some people think that one can never pull through his daily needs unless one has recourse to worldly cleverness. We cannot succeed unless we can impose upon someone and make him the dupe of our clever practices. But if they give up these deceitful courses and fraudulent swindling of others, they will find that peace of mind can only be attained in this way.
The sweetest thing in the world they will find is truthfulness, and the real content of mind. It is not a very difficult thing but very few care for it. But the only difficulty is that for generations, worldliness has been their byword, hence they are afraid of the only course that can lead them out of the dirty rut of wicked tradition. Is it impossible then to expect of the Ahmadiyya Community to make up their minds once and for all that they would not tell lies? For nobody can compel them to speak the untruth, it is all an imaginary fear, a bugbear they have learnt to fear but which has no actual existence. This change for the better will lead to the lengthening of their days, and make for that peace of mind and that happy life of contentment and serenity that will draw them nearer to God. I wish God, they understood it!
(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original published in The Review of Religions, June, July & August, 1922)