Dr Bilal Rana, USA
Reflecting on the marvellous life of the Promised Messiahas, there are landmark events which shine bright and this year sees the anniversary of one of those moments – the penning of the greatest essay of our time, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam.
Nearly 125 years ago, in December 1896 in Lahore, India, The Conference of Great Religions was held asking the great philosophical questions which loom large in the modern age.
The organiser, Swami Shivgan Chandra, was himself a broad-minded seeker of truth who, some years or so prior to the conference, heard of the Promised Messiahas and travelled to Qadian in search of wisdom. It was during a morning stroll together with the Promised Messiahas that the idea of holding the interfaith conference first entered the Hindu Swami’s mind.
The Indian subcontinent was, and remains, a confluence of world religions and cultures where Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, Theosophists, Free Thinkers, atheists, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all flourish in one location.
You might say the global village we experience today through the Internet already existed there in an early form during that time. Leading clerics of all these faiths were called upon in what was later described as a “tournament of religions”.
In the days preceding the conference, the Promised Messiahas fell ill. Nevertheless, he continued without hesitation and while in a state of writing, received the following revelations:
1. “Mazmoon bala raha”, meaning, “This essay will be victorious”
2. “Allahu Akbar, kharibat Khaybar” – meaning, “God is great, Khaybar has fallen” (“Allahu Akbar, Kharibat Khaybar!” was the devotional slogan raised by the Holy Prophetsa himself after the Fort of Khaybar was captured by Muslims having defeated Jewish forces. This victory was foretold through prophecy too.)
3. “God is with you and God stands where you stand. This is a metaphor conveying the assurances of Divine support.” [Arabic]
The Promised Messiahas boldly printed these prophecies on posters made to advertise for the lecture, under the heading A Wonderful Glad Tiding, For Seekers After Truth. In it, he stated that “Khaybar has fallen” represents his victory over religion adulterated by paganism and falsehood.
Khawaja Kamaluddin Sahib was tendered responsibility to post these advertisements throughout the city. However, given the publicity and high stakes, Khawaja Sahib grew apprehensive and afraid. He waited until the day before the conference to post them and only in poorly lit, low traffic areas. This displeased the Promised Messiahas who later admonished him that had he only followed instructions, many more would have witnessed the magnificent sign of his truth.
Though he was unable to travel to Lahore due to illness, the Promised Messiahas deputised Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karim Sialkotira to read out the lecture on his behalf. This was a splendid choice because Maulvi Abdul Karim Sahibra had a gifted and melodious voice which was compared to the likeness of Prophet Davidas. (Hazrat Bhai Abdur Rahmanra gives this description in his autobiography.)
The resplendent wisdom flowing from the Promised Messiah’sas pen harmonised with the cadence of Maulvi Abdul Karim’sra oratory to spellbind listeners who feel into a trance. Listeners were gliding from epiphany to epiphany and shouted encores and ovations.
Time expired before the reading could be finished, but the next speaker, Maulvi Mubarak Ali of Sialkot, stood and announced that his time should be given to the Promised Messiahas too. The audience lauded in agreement and the organisers obliged. Yet even this time soon expired and so in response to overwhelming appeals, the conference organisers made yet another exception and extended the conference an entire day to hear the second half of the speech.
The next morning, people arrived early, braving the bitter cold morning to secure seats, but many were still left standing. The hall was described in newspapers as being “filled from top to bottom” with people coming “from far and near”.
The Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, a British Government founded English-language newspaper, published the official reports of the conference. One journalist wrote “The audience was captivated … every sentence met with applause … At times the audience requested that sentences be repeated over and over again … We have never before heard such a pleasing lecture.” (Testimony of Chaudhwin Sadi, Rawalpindi, published 1 February 1897, page xxvi, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam)
An eyewitness said he heard utterances of “Subhanallah!” (Holy is Allah!) left and right, not just from Muslims, but from the mouths of Hindus, Sikhs, orthodox Arya Samajists and even Christians. Whenever God raises a prophet, He gives him power according to the might of their age.
The might of the age of Mosesas was magic and so he confounded the magicians. The might of the Jews was medicine and Jesusas astonished them with healing. The might of the Arabs was the art of poetry, but they were silenced by the grace and majesty of the Holy Quran. And the might of this philosophical age is the pen, whose mastery the Promised Messiahas displayed in this miraculous essay. His pen was named Dhulfiqar of Ali (The sword of Ali) by God Himself.
“God the Exalted has named this humble one Champion of the Pen and has named my pen the Dhulfiqar of Ali” (Revelation published in Al Hakam, Vol. 5, no. 22, 17 June 1901, p. 2).
This is an indication that his pen would do the work of the sword of Alira.
Western academics in awe of the Dhulfiqar of Ali wielded at Khaybar have described it as “the Muslim Excalibur”, only this tale is no folklore.
This, too, recalls the events of the Battle of Khaybar which was won by the sword of Hazrat Alira. God told the Promised Messiahas in a state of revelation that Khaybar was a metaphor, so one should analyse history for wisdom to understand its symbolism.
After a night of prayer during the Battle of Khaybar, the Holy Prophetsa woke and handed the flag of the Muslim army to Hazrat Alira, announcing that God had decreed Alira would win this battle for them.
During Khaybar, Hazrat Alira performed great feats of valour, including an epic sword-to-sword combat with the Jewish general, Mehrab, an armourclad giant and undefeated warrior who had killed many. But Hazrat Alira was undaunted and heroically killed him with his sword, and his forces gallantly stormed Fort Khaybar capturing it for the Muslims.
Similarly, with this essay, the Promised Messiahas slew false religion and the mighty “Fort of Khaybar” fell, by the inkstand and the pen (Surah al-Qalam, Ch.68: V.2).
Furthermore, historians remark the victory at Khaybar was significant because it propelled the Muslims from a community of want and poverty to one of wealth and prosperity.
According to rules, speakers of the conference were to answer these five questions:
1. What are the physical, moral, and spiritual states of man?
2. What is the state of man after death?
3. What is the true purpose of man’s existence on earth and how can it be achieved?
4. What are the affects of one’s deeds in this life and the afterlife?
5. What are the sources of divine knowledge?
Among those invited to speak was also an atheist. (Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat, Vol. 1, p. 561)
There is a global movement away from religion altogether; to be “good without God”. This idea is popularised by today’s New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins – who, by the way, was given a copy of The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa but refused to read it – and others promoting a so-called “spiritual atheism”.
We may be able to be good without God to a limited degree, but ultimately, accountability before God is needed, otherwise standards of morality will slowly begin to recede.
Secondly, morality is relative without an outside reference point. Much the way a magnetic field gives a compass its direction for north, so must morality have an absolute reference point defined by God and not be left to the whims of man.
The atheist philosopher is only left deluded by his repeated hypotheses, false starts, errors and revisions. Ultimately, he cannot guide himself, much less the nation. If man created this world it would make sense for man to explain it.
But a prophet who is sent by God is the only one capable of articulating the true nature of God, His creation, its purpose, and how to achieve it. This is how and why the Promised Messiahas was the only one able to successfully answer these questions above at this conference.
It is interesting that famous thinkers have tried and failed at describing the inner states of man. European philosophers and psychologists in feeble and conjectured attempts popularised terms such as “Mensch” and “Übermensch”, or “Id”, “Ego” and “Superman”, but the Promised Messiahas in this essay settles the matter of the soul and conscience in a lucid and complete manner, taken directly from the Holy Quran; viz., Nafs-e-Ammarah (the animal self), Nafs-e-Lawamma (the reproving self) and Nasf-e-Mutma‘innah (the soul at rest).
The Promised Messiahas relied on the revelation given in the Holy Quran and their explanations taught to him by Allah along with logic, which is the common denominator of all faiths and all mankind. While it is not a comprehensive book and nor does it claim to be, it is, nevertheless, endless in its philosophy and can be drunk from repeatedly without exhausting its wisdom.
British Ahmadi missionary, author and pioneer, the late Bashir Ahmad Orchard, read The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam more than 50 times. The fame of the lecture reached far and wide, not just in India, but also abroad. Even the famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy comment that “The ideas are very profound and very true”, and its favourable reviews even reached across oceans to newspapers in America – The Milwaukee Journal remarked its faithfulness to the Holy Quran, and The Spiritual Journal of Boston described it as “Pure Gospel”.
The book has since been translated into many languages. As the Promised Messiahas wished to see the tract shared widely, it was rendered into English during his own lifetime.
It was published in instalments in The Review of Religions, from years 1903 to 1904 and first published in book form under the auspices of Khalifatul Masih I, Hazrat Hakim Maulvi Nuruddinra in 1910, by his English-speaking companions and with editorial assistance from an American diplomat and journalist, Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb of New Jersey, USA who is credited in the preface of the first edition, published by Luzac & Co., London, 1910.
This book stands out in the corpus of Jamaat literature as one that is particularly effective at winning the hearts of converts to Islam. An audience of over 7,000 people in attendance came to listen to the Promised Messiahas (A Brief History of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community).
This was described as a record attendance (The Teachings of Islam, Ahmadiyya Foreign Missions, West Pakistan) for a conference of this kind, and the venue had to be shifted from Lahore Town Hall, to the newly built Islamia College to accommodate more seating. Six people were chosen as the moderators of the essay contest, including the judge of the Chief Court of Punjab and the former governor of Jammu.
At the conclusion, it was decided that of all the lectures presented, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian’sas was the best. The Promised Messiahas later wrote, “Reflect upon how God Almighty caused Islam to triumph and made you witness His sign. God Almighty had revealed from before to His servant that his essay would be declared supreme and indeed this promise was fulfilled. Furthermore, the blessed impact of this essay had left everyone in awe of it. Was this the work of God or then someone else?” (Ayam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 14, pp. 325-327)
In nearly 125 years, this masterpiece, however, remains to be fully recognised and appreciated in its own time. The Promised Messiahas came to distribute spiritual wealth, but the world would not accept it according to the Holy Prophetsa, who said:
“The son of Mary will soon appear among you. He will administer justice. He will break the cross, kill the swine, abolish war and distribute wealth, but no one will accept it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Anbiya, Bab Nuzul Isa bin Maryam.)
As his helpers in this time, we possess this wealth and to carry on his mission of distribution, we must pick up this book ourselves.
Like many great prophets, their achievements are not celebrated by all in their own time. But like after the fall of Khaybar, the world will soon follow.