Upholding true faith: A wake-up call for Ahmadi Muslims

Iftekhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre

My following remarks are founded upon the following verse from a poem of the Promised Messiahas, in which he exhorts us to two principles:

قرآں کو یاد رکھنا، پاک اعتقاد رکھنا

“Pay heed to the Quran and maintain pure beliefs (i‘tiqad)”. (Mahmud ki Amin [2021], Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 12, p. 324)

The term i‘tiqad is a complex one, and the society in which we have been socialised often struggles with Islamic theological concepts. Therefore, I deem it appropriate to analyse this term within the context of our lived realities, to uncover the profundity of the Messianic call, so that we may arrive at a more self-assured relationship with our identity as Ahmadi Muslims.

The meaning of i‘tiqad is multifaceted. It can be translated as belief, conviction, and faith, but also as principle and opinion. It encapsulates every form of image – self-image, the image of the world, the image of humanity, the image of God, and so on. When we speak of i‘tiqad in English, the term worldview, or the pejoratively charged concept of ideology, inevitably comes to mind.

The battleground of ideology and the roots of secularism

In contemporary societal discourse, religions with a connection to God – in other words, religions proper – are repeatedly accused of being ideological in nature. Islam, in particular, is accused of being not a religion at all, but an ideology through and through. This is a classic category error, for a religion is necessarily also a worldview. And while we are on the subject of worldviews, it seems significant to note that the notion of being free from ideology is a dangerous self-delusion. The accusation that Islam is an ideology serves only one purpose: to present oneself as free from ideology.

This is a manipulative ploy employed by those who harbour ill will toward religions, especially Islam. At the forefront of this assault are the adherents of Western modern secularism. The allegation that Islam is an ideology is solely intended to replace it, as has largely occurred with Judaism and Christianity, with a homogenised and diluted version – one that no longer poses a threat to the supremacy of modernity’s atheistic ideal. This agenda of liberation from ideology is then cloaked in ideologically charged buzzwords like liberalisation and reformation. One example suffices: a method known as historical-critical has become established in faith-led Christian Biblical exegesis, which presupposes a methodological atheism – that is, all explanations of a divine nature for any phenomena are excluded from the outset, and any indication of divine intervention is explained as if purely human action were involved.

The dialectic of enlightenment and the critique of instrumental reason

Today, we are confronted with a vast array – I would even say an overwhelming surfeit – of life concepts, schools of thought, and intellectual edifices. And it is far from trivial that the overwhelming majority of the contemporary, secularly influenced worldviews of the Western world are the offspring of the Western mind. By secular, I explicitly mean worldviews that lack a connection to God. This can only be explained historically.

There was a time when religions began to be viewed as human-made systems. The divine core of religions was denied, and an attempt was made to separate from religious modes of thinking or to banish them from the everyday world. When this occurred, a vacuum was created at every conceivable level. This vacuum could be filled with nothing other than belief principles once again. Thus, the choice was never between adhering to an ideology or not, having a worldview or not, or having faith or not; the only question was which ideology, worldview, and faith one would embrace.

Since Christianity, unlike Islam, as we learn from the Bible and the Quran, was intended only for a specified space and a specified time and therefore had to become obsolete according to its purpose, it was inherently incapable of meeting the challenges of modernity. A glance at historical developments reveals that the former Western conception of existence rooted in Christianity and the dominant contemporary conception of existence represented by the sheer multitude of isms stand diametrically opposed on a plethora of central issues. It was inevitable that the once long Christian-influenced mentality of the Western world would ultimately culminate in massive religious scepticism and a turning away from God. In addition to the fact that the emergence and spread of these phenomena are due to the spatiotemporal conditioning of Christianity, they are also a consequence of the confessional conflicts emanating from it – one need only think of the Thirty Years’ War – as well as Christianity’s inadequate articles of faith, alienated from the realities of life.

Historically, with regard to the concept of worldview, one must know that this word arose only with the “disappearance of the divine reference point.” (Karl Mannheim, Ideologie und Utopie, 1995, Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, p. 65) It was a term that served anti-religious forces as an instrument of ideological struggle. They labelled Christianity as the old worldview and saw themselves as the torchbearers of a new worldview. Ostensibly, this new worldview was based on reason, championed equality and individual rights, and was secular, scientifically grounded, and politically democratic. Moreover, the adherents of this new worldview claimed that all these attributes were reserved exclusively for them and belonged neither to the old worldview nor were reconcilable with it – that is, the new worldview was irreconcilably opposed to the old. This then led to upheavals, revolutions, and the so-called Enlightenment.

Islam’s dynamic worldview and the need for reflection

The same line of thinking, this aversion to Christianity, was projected onto Islam without further reflection, although Islam cannot be equated with Christianity. Those distortions of Christianity that the Enlightenment had justifiably denounced in the first place, such as irrationality or hostility to science, are not found in Islamic belief systems.

We Muslims, who grow up here in the West, find ourselves in a state of apparent contradiction. On the one hand, we live in an environment that indulges in materialism and measures the success of human life solely by material standards. An environment in which the main focus is on the subject, in which man perceives himself as the centre of worldly reality and has rejected God as the spiritual centre of the world. On the other hand, however, we ourselves are still shaped by a way of thinking that is profoundly determined by the Divine. Are we able to resolve this contradiction? Yes and no.

If the torchbearers of the new worldview presuppose that a fruitful dialogue between them and Christianity is impossible, this by no means implies that such a dialogue is equally impossible with Islam. The Holy Prophetsa once said:

الْكَلِمَةُ الْحِكْمَةُ ضَالَّةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ فَحَيْثُ وَجَدَهَا فَهُوَ أَحَقُّ بِهَا

“The wise word is the lost treasure of the believer. To accept it is his due, wherever he finds it.” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-‘ilm, Hadith 2687)

Accordingly, the Islamic worldview is not rigid, but dynamic. Since its worldview, unlike the Christian one, is not designed for a specific time and place, but for all times and places, the constant exchange of insights of all kinds is inherent in the very essence of Islam. Thus, contemplation, the acquisition of knowledge and the attainment of insights about the workings of creation are among the acts of worship.

It is not only presumptuous but, upon closer inspection, a lie to live by, when the adherents of this new worldview adorn themselves with concepts such as democracy, freedom, reason, tolerance, and human rights, while discrediting Islam with terms like oppression, despotism, injustice, intolerance, and irrationality.

One of our problems is that we are usually not aware of parts of our worldviews in our daily lives. This unconscious part of our worldviews is as fundamental to our thinking as it is invisible to us. We use it to think, perceive, and act habitually and unconsciously, but we rarely reflect upon it. But is it appropriate for us not to reflect on it, to merely believe what we have been told, how we were raised, and how our environment has shaped us? In the Holy Quran, this very attitude is criticised of the opponents of Islam:

وَاِذَا قِىۡلَ لَہُمُ اتَّبِعُوۡا مَاۤ اَنۡزَلَ اللّٰہُ قَالُوۡا بَلۡ نَتَّبِعُ مَاۤ اَلۡفَىۡنَا عَلَىۡہِ اٰبَآءَنَا ؕ اَوَلَوۡ کَانَ اٰبَآؤُہُمۡ لَا ىَعۡقِلُوۡنَ شَىۡئًا وَّلَا ىَہۡتَدُوۡنَ

“And when it is said to them, ‘Follow that which Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘Nay, we will follow that wherein we found our fathers.’ What! even if their fathers had no sense [at all] and followed not the right path?” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.171)

On the one hand, their forefathers lacked insight into the true meaning of life. But on the other hand, they had also not understood the basic reasons for their own beliefs. They had not reflected on them. They had no ultimate justification for their thinking. Rather than leaving it at stating that it is not enough reason to blindly follow one’s ancestors, the Quran goes a step further and bases its argument on the fact that the forefathers had no valid grounds for thinking the way they did. There is a direct connection in this verse between following (ittiba‘) and understanding (‘aql). In short, one must have understood why one subscribes to any idea.

What this lack of reflection on our worldview can lead to, moreover, is the syncretisation of elements of thought that are inherently incompatible with an entirely new worldview. For us, this means that the attempt to distort genuinely Islamic beliefs beyond recognition, solely to conform to today’s zeitgeist and to adopt the predominant ideas, convictions, and notions of today by hook or by crook into the Islamic worldview, is fatal.

Secularism’s flawed epistemology and the limitations of reason

When it comes to convictions and opinions, we are also dealing with the question of knowledge. In Western secular thinking, reason was placed in the position of God. This absolutisation of reason is incompatible with Islam. In this respect, Islam’s epistemological position is very clear, and it stands diametrically opposed to the Western secular position. According to Islam, human beings are incapable of perceiving and knowing everything essential and necessary through reason alone. The Quran states:

وَمَاۤ اُوۡتِىۡتُمۡ مِّنَ الۡعِلۡمِ اِلَّا قَلِىۡلًا

“[A]nd of the knowledge [thereof] you have been given but a little.” (Surah Bani Isra’il, Ch.17: V.86)


وَلَا ىُحِىۡطُوۡنَ بِشَىۡءٍ مِّنۡ عِلۡمِہٖۤ اِلَّا بِمَا شَآءَ

“[A]nd they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.256)

Hence, the Promised Messiahas has explained at length in many places that human reason or intellect can at best reach the realisation that there ought to be a God, that there should be a God, but not that God actually exists. (Tafsir Hazrat Masih-e-Mau‘ud [2015]Vol. 4, pp. 159ff)

The Holy Prophetsa said:

مَنِ ازْدَادَ عِلْمًا وَلَمْ يَزْدَدْ هُدًا لَمْ يَزْدَدْ مِنَ اللّٰهِ إِلَّا بُعْدًا

“Whoever increases in [worldly] knowledge but does not increase in [divine] guidance, increases only in distance from Allah.” (Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum ad-Din, Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, Vol. 1. p. 59)

This means that the acquisition of mere outward, worldly knowledge, if not paired equally with the acquisition of inward, spiritual knowledge, leads one away from Allah. Accordingly, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad,, Khalifatul Masih IIra, explained in his book Taqdir-e-Ilahi (“The Divine Decree”):

“It should be considered that there are also some such aspects of the question of predestination that even great and significant people could neither elucidate, nor attempted to elucidate. For there are some subtle matters that one can only become intuitively aware of. By intuitive awareness, I do not mean what is commonly understood by it, that is, those things that are without argument and have no reality, but rather I mean those things that a person cannot discover unless he himself tastes them. Neither could people before me elucidate these matters, nor can I elucidate them.” (Taqdir-e-Ilahi [2008], Anwar-ul-Ulum, V. 4, pp. 561f.)

Furthermore, some verses from one of his poems drive the point home:

عقل کو دىن پہ حاکم نہ بناؤ ہر گز

ىہ تو خود اندھى ہے گر نىرِ الہام نہ ہو

جو صداقت بھى ہو تم شوق سے مانو اس کو

علم کے نام سے پر تابعِ اوہام نہ ہو

“Never appoint reason as the ruler over faith,

“For it is blind itself, if not for the light of revelation.

“Whatever truth there may be, accept it with longing.

“But do not become adherents of illusions in the name of knowledge.” (Lawh-ul-Huda [2008], Anwar-ul-Ulum, V. 5. p. 191)

There is, therefore, a sphere that lies beyond what can be grasped through pure reason and thus beyond what can be said. Western thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein were of the opinion that we are simply incapable of comprehending what lies outside of language and that only the natural sciences are able to utter true propositions. This positivism, as this mindset is called, is incapable of creating values and morality.

The highly influential philosopher Theodor W. Adorno wrote: “Enlightenment is totalitarian.” (Theodor W. Adorno; Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, 2002, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 4) What he meant by this is that the Enlightenment, in view of its dissecting rationality, behaves towards things the way a dictator behaves towards human beings – that is, it only knows them insofar as it can manipulate them. This instrumental reason of the modern Enlightenment was the necessary cause and critical component of genocide, the destruction of culture and community, environmental destruction, and countless other forms of catastrophe and atrocity. Postmodern thinkers such as the Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, as well as philosophers of Critical Theory such as Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, have provided sufficient evidence that the Enlightenment and its basic ideas were the necessary cause of fascist ideologies and the genocides they caused, such as the Holocaust. Bauman writes about Western enlightened society:

“Without it, the Holocaust would be unthinkable. It was the rational world of modern civilisation which made the Holocaust thinkable. […] The Holocaust was not an irrational outflow of the not-yet-fully-eradicated residues of pre-modern barbarity. It was a legitimate resident in the house of modernity; indeed, one who would not be at home in any other house.” (Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 1989, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 13, 17)

Western secular principles vs Islamic principles and biased critiques of Islam

The attempt to unite Western secular principles and Islamic principles also runs counter to the Quranic self-conception on another level. For example, the poststructuralism that dominates today’s zeitgeist presupposes that there is no truth and that anyone who thinks they have recognised truth has merely fallen victim to a misanalysis. However, one of the fundamental attributes that the Quran claims for itself is to be al-Furqan, which means to have the ability and mandate to distinguish truth from falsehood, especially with regard to i‘tiqadat, that is, beliefs. According to the Quran, then, there are false beliefs and true beliefs, a false faith and a true faith, and false worldviews and correct worldviews. And the Quran presents itself in Islam as that guideline by which beliefs, teachings, and worldviews must be oriented in order to separate the true from the false.

Outwardly, it may seem that many ostensibly very different life models exist today, among which there appears to be a free and lively competition. However, the Islamic model is denied dialogue on an equal footing. There is not even a thought of seriously engaging with the Islamic counterproposals to the dominant beliefs of today. A testimony to the fact that Islam is not met on equal terms is a methodical mendacity. Allow me to explain what I mean by this:

When proponents of the Western secular modern world subject everything Islamic to criticism, they carry out their critique of Islam according to the methodology of the Western secular modern world; they criticise Islam, as it were, not from within Islam itself. There is nothing inherently objectionable about this. However, when these same people purport to criticise the Western secular modern world, they do not step outside of the very thought patterns of Western secular modernity, but even use the very tools that secularism itself provides them. Formulating a critique of the Western secular modern world based on its own modes of thought is a like trying to get blood out of a stone. Trapped in the thought patterns of the secularist modern world, any critique of it will inevitably end up affirming that very system. We, too, are afflicted with thinking in Western secular terms. However, if one does not step outside of the framework of a system in thought, instead of considering it critically and fairly, one will fall into a vicious circle and ultimately only reaffirm that system.

Reductionist views of humanity and the threat of liberal Islam

The conception of humanity that the Enlightenment has produced is excessively reductionist and bleak. Friedrich Nietzsche postulated, “God is dead,” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 2001, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 120), thereby assenting to the nihilistic consequence. That is, he declared any real answer to the question of why to be impossible and thus robbed a large part of humanity of any meaning in life and any concrete values that could elevate them above the mere enjoyment or suffering of their existence. Consequently, a true appreciation of life became impossible, paving the way for an unbridled hedonistic concept of life. Charles Darwin reduced human beings by postulating that humans are an accidental product, a whim of nature in the form of mutations and random adaptations to nature. This resulted in human beings being regarded not as humans, but merely as another animal in the animal kingdom. Karl Marx reduced human beings to products of their social and economic circumstances. Sigmund Freud reduced human beings by saying that they are dominated by their psychic apparatus, which they can never fully control. Thomas Hobbes did not assume that human beings are fundamentally good, but that humans are wolves to one another. And Niccolò Machiavelli advised rulers to separate morality from politics.

In spite of that, so-called liberal Muslims are seriously of the opinion that concepts of the Western secular modern world can be reconciled with Islam. This is one of the reasons why the Promised Messiahas, appeals to us, “Pay heed to the Quran!”

Allah says in the Quran:

وَقَالَ الرَّسُوۡلُ ىٰرَبِّ اِنَّ قَوۡمِى اتَّخَذُوۡا ہٰذَا الۡقُرۡاٰنَ مَہۡجُوۡرًا

“And the Messenger will say, ‘O my Lord, my people indeed treated this Quran [as a thing] to be discarded.’” (Surah al-Furqan, Ch.25: V.31)

This criticism will be levelled by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa on the Day of Judgement. He himself prophesied:

يأتي زمان لا يبقى من […] القرآن إلا رسمه

“A time will come upon the people when nothing will remain […] of the Quran except its written form.” (Ibn Abi ad-Dunya, al-‘Uqubat, 1996, ed. Muhammad Khayr Ramadan Yusuf, Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, p. 23.)

These prophecies have been fulfilled in two ways. On the one hand, there is a host of Muslims today who, outwardly, still give the impression of adhering to the Quran with zeal and passion, and seem to be convinced of it themselves. However, what they lack is an interpretation that is free from contradictions, that is faithful to the Quranic text, and that reflects the essence of the Quran. On the other hand, there are people in our times, especially in our regions, who ostensibly profess Islam but do not accord the Quran any essential role. They call themselves adherents of a liberal or contemporary Islam and claim, in unison with Islamophobes, that the status accorded to the Quran by Muslims as the literal, unadulterated Word of God is the very root of the ongoing decadence of Muslims.

Upholding the true teachings of Islam and being steadfast in faith

We too sometimes find ourselves being tempted to describe ourselves as liberal Muslims. However, if one wishes to remain true to one’s Muslim identity, one can only go as far as the aforementioned prophetic saying about wisdom being the lost treasure of the believer permits, for anything else leads us to gradually shed our fundamental principles and become absorbed into a system of delusion and meaninglessness.

Therefore, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa said on the occasion of the Peace Symposium of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in Canada in 2016:

“Hence, the first point I wish to make clear is that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community should not be considered a ‘liberal’ or ‘reformist’ sect of Islam. Rather, we are following the original teachings of Islam, as prescribed by the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.”

He further stated:

“It is absolutely true that we, Ahmadi Muslims, are peace-loving and seek to build bridges of love and hope between different religions and different communities. However, this is not because we have deviated from Islam or modernised it in any shape or form. Rather, it is because we follow Islam’s authentic teachings.” (Justice – The Prerequisite to a Peaceful Worldwww.alislam.org)

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