Translated by Zafir Mahmood Malik for The Review of Religions
On 5th March 1921, a few college students in Lahore had an audience with His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, the second worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In the meeting they made the following statement:
‘There is no need for religion and it serves no purpose. Indeed, if people wish to derive certain superficial benefits by believing in a religion, then there is no harm.’
In response to this His Holiness Hazrat Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra said:
‘There are two kinds of needs; firstly, in a certain thing there can be benefits that are personal to man. One assumes that there are benefits to be gained by adopting it. The second kind of need is one in which man does not consider any personal gain, rather the inherent quality of the recourse attracts one towards it. An example of this is the relationship one has with their parents. Once one reaches adulthood, they serve their parents without the expectation of any reward. They would have acquired any benefit from them prior to that. At that point in life, one does not serve them for any personal gain. On the contrary, one serves them merely for the reason that they are his or her parents and in certain circumstances, the moral upbringing of the child warrants that this take place.
Now, let us turn to religion and find out firstly, what benefit do we derive from religion? And secondly, is there a charm on a personal level that would attract an individual towards it? Pondering over these points, we learn that both these aspects are found within religion in that it contains benefits for us that we require at present, but also everything we will require in the future. Secondly, it contains such allure and benefits for man, on a personal level, that one is attracted towards religion.
The Reason for Negligence Towards Religion
In my opinion, the reason why people become disengaged from religion is that when they ponder over faith, they do so with a limited sense of understanding. People choose to work in those areas where they see the potential to acquire wealth. However, they do not see this gain acquired through religion. Hence although they do accept religion, it is merely on the behest of their parent’s beliefs. Furthermore, many times people have to make great financial sacrifices for the sake of religion. Since the disposition of people in the world is leaning heavily towards materialism, people are becoming averse to religion. However, this does not prove that there is no benefit to religion. Rather, the truth of the matter is that people are not truly practising religion, or if they are following religion, then they adopt the wrong practices. Thus, if one does not even follow the principles of faith, and through their own heedlessness and ignorance abandons it, then how can one expect to derive any benefit from religion?
If one perceives benefit in a certain recourse, then wisdom dictates that they ought to certainly adopt it. We observe in the world that people abandon certain practices or remedies. However, when science proved the benefits in those practices, man adopted them again. For example, we find in the medical field, psyllium had been prescribed by Greek physicians for centuries, as it proved beneficial in treating dysentery. However, other doctors rejected these benefits. Later on, when they learnt of the benefits of psyllium, they began to use it once again. When people practise a religion, but find that the results of their deeds are unfruitful, then it means that their method of practising the religion are flawed. If they then abandon their faith, it can be said regarding them that at the very least they abandoned it after an attempt from their part. However, such people are undeserving of respect who consider their religion as erroneous, yet are unable to outright reject it. If one deliberates over this, they will find many followers of religion who belong to this category.
Deliberating Over the Correct Methodology
One should analyse whether the manner in which something is used is correct or not. If one uses the correct method to achieve something, yet the results are negative, then that entire system is flawed. However, if one uses an incorrect method and attains negative results, then that system in itself is not necessarily flawed. For example, the medicine quinine is beneficial in treating malarial fever; however, if someone administers it to a person suffering from typhoid fever, and then denies the benefits of quinine, then that individual would be incorrect. We can see that in our country [the Indian subcontinent] we consider many things to be useless and discarded, yet Europeans have derived benefit from these same things. For example, in India there are entire jungles of bamboo trees, many of which go to waste. However, Europeans have sought to use it in the best manner possible and have even made paper using bamboo.
The Order in the Universe Warrants a Creator
Pondering over the condition of man we find that humans are similar to the bubbles in the ocean, which are of different colours, but vanish instantly. Aside from this many other worlds exist. Although there is inconclusive evidence for other planets, it is said that there is a possibility of life on Mars. If we then turn to mankind, we learn that man has not been created without a purpose. Furthermore, the provisions available for man are most befitting and perfect. Only recently, an American astronomer predicted that a comet would collide with the earth, causing it to shatter into fragments. Upon hearing this prediction, many people across Europe committed suicide. Others predicted that although it would not collide with the earth, certain gases would be produced as a result of which people would die due to suffocation. However, the much anticipated day came and passed by. It turned out that they were such small fragments, they had no effect on the earth. It has also been witnessed that when other celestial objects have come close to the earth’s orbit, they have immediately altered their trajectory. These changes indicate that these are not mere coincidences; rather, these changes must be controlled by the Will of a higher Being. For example, if one sees a brick lying on the floor, one may assume that it may have fallen itself or it may have been dislodged due to a strong wind; however, when one sees a building they would never assume that it came into existence by itself. Similarly, if ink falls onto a canvas, it is quite possible for it to form the shape of a human eye, but it is impossible for an ink spill to turn into a complete picture of a human, complete with eyes, ears, nose and a face; and also for that character to display emotions of despair and happiness through that portrait. If someone sees a painting like this, one can only assume that it was the work of an expert painter.
Observe that man has been bestowed with eyes and in order to use them, the sun has been created hundreds of thousands of miles away. In the same way, if man has been created with a stomach, then those provisions have also been created that the stomach can digest. All these arrangements point to the fact that the universe is regulated by a being Who governs by His Will and these mechanisms have not developed coincidentally. Thus, the creation of this world warrants a Creator and it is clear that it has been created for a purpose. It is not the case that the Maker created this world and left it to exist by itself. Coincidence means an event has taken place that has no order or arrangement. However, it cannot be said that a system that has a clear order and arrangement has been created as a matter of chance or accident.
How Can One Perceive the Need for Religion?
Hence, man has been created for a purpose; and although religion is beneficial for man, there are many things that man does not naturally perceive to be beneficial. For example, before the invention of the train, we could not perceive its need. Now that trains have been invented, whichever government does not have a railway system, the country in question is said to lack a basic necessity. Similarly, in the period before our current postal system was in place, we did not perceive the need for such a postal system. However now that such a system has been implemented, any area that is devoid of this system is frowned upon. On the same principle, until one discovers God, they will neither understand nor perceive the need for God. However, when one establishes a connection with God, then that individual can never be in denial, nor will they be able to live their life without this truth. Thus, the question of the need for religion is dependent upon the existence of God. If God exists, then one is in need of religion.
Proof of the Existence of God
The question then arises that what is the proof that God exists; and if He does exist, what influence does He have over us? It is an established fact that everything exerts a certain influence, and the same applies to God. An American scientist has written that if God exists, then owing to Him being more compassionate than a mother and a father, He should demonstrate this sense of compassion and speak to us. This demand of the scientist is in complete accord with man’s true nature. Thus, if God exists and He is the one that has created us, then we should find evidence for this, because if God has no connection with man, then worshipping Him would be a futile act. This is a reality. As I have mentioned earlier, God does exist and He does so in a manner whereby He rewards those people who develop a connection with Him and punishes those who disobey His commands. God is not mute; rather He manifests His attributes and shows His servants the paths that lead to His pleasure.
All the religions claim that God spoke to their respective founders. The Sikhs state this regarding their Gurus and other religions present the saints of their religion, however all of them present personalities of the previous eras. Muslims also believe that God Almighty would converse with the Holy Prophetsa and that God would speak to His chosen ones. Nonetheless, in recent times, they too have erred in this matter, believing that God Almighty does not speak anymore.
The Superiority of Islam Over Other Religions
All followers of religion who claim that God would speak when their respective religion was established, but that He does not speak anymore, indicates that those religions are not practised in accordance with their original teachings. However, even to this day, Islam declares that the essence and hallmark of religion – i.e. divine communion – is found within this faith. Thus, in this era, God expressed His divine communion through the Promised Messiahas and after his demise, this communion has not ceased; rather, by the Grace of God it continues to this day.
One Example of Divine Communion
I shall relate a personal experience. A short while ago, a doctor by the name of Matloob Khan was sent from medical college to Iraq. According to official reports, and also information from his colleagues, it was announced that he had died. His very elderly father had just visited Qadian prior to receiving this news. I was worried for him and thought that Matloob Khan was the only son; however, I found out later that they were seven brothers in total. Nonetheless, I was deeply perturbed by the thought that he was the only son of his parents and also that his parents were elderly. I was also disconcerted with the lack of courage on the part of the medical students, who on hearing of Matloob Khan’s demise, vowed to refuse military service. With all this in mind, I prayed and I saw a vision in which I was informed that I should not worry since Matloob Khan was still alive. In the morning I informed my brother of this vision, who in turn informed the relatives of Matloob Khan and eventually this news became common knowledge. A few days after this incident, news was received that he was indeed alive. He was captured by the enemy and therefore it was wrongly presumed that he had died.
Can the human brain conjure up such accurate information? If one considers this to have happened through one’s imagination, this would be impossible because the mind usually portrays one’s own thoughts. If through a dream a person learns of something, which is in complete contrast to the current situation and contrary to what is commonly believed – and that dream is fulfilled – this in turn proves that God reveals knowledge to those who form a connection with Him, and saves them from their sorrow and grief. The pain and grief I felt deep down in my heart was removed by my Lord in this manner. In our community there are so many people to whom God speaks. He grants them honour and disgraces their adversaries and has fulfilled the promise of divine succour. Even if the entire world unites in opposition to them, they fail and God’s servants succeed.
The Prophecies of the Promised Messiahas are Proof that God Exists
When the Promised Messiahas made the claim to be the appointed one of God and that God Almighty spoke to him, everyone – friend and foe alike – opposed him. In this very city of Lahore, people threw stones at him. On one occasion even in Amritsar a crowd of people threw stones at him. Furthermore, the Christian clergy filed a lawsuit against him for attempted murder and everyone tried their utmost to scheme against him. However, God Almighty informed the Promised Messiahas about these trials before they even came about and assured him that they would come to pass, but he would not be harmed in any way. By the grace of God Almighty, the events unfolded just as they had been foretold. The world contrived to annihilate the community of the Promised Messiahas, however nothing transpired, and instead the community continued to grow with the passing of each day.
The Promised Messiahas stated that he was an ordinary man; he did not desire fame or eminence, nor did he have worldly power and influence. However, the Promised Messiahas said that God Almighty had informed him that he would be granted honour and that his followers would spread throughout the world. Now, ponder over how this is being fulfilled. Similarly, he was informed of the outbreak of the plague throughout the country, which would also spread to Qadian. But the Promised Messiahas stated that his house would be safeguarded. Hence, the plague spread to the houses on either side of his house, but the home of the Promised Messiahas remained safe from the plague. These are just some of the worldly benefits that one can attain by adopting religion. The benefits of the next life, which one will attain in the hereafter are endless and innumerable. All of you study today so that it will benefit you in the future. It is not the case that your present study is a futile exercise. Thus, it is evident that there is a need for religion and if one adopts the correct path as outlined by Islam, it can lead one to God. Whosoever forms a connection with God in this life and derives full advantage of its benefits, will also reap the reward in the hereafter.
The second kind of need is when something possesses inherent qualities. We declare the unique qualities of Islam are so numerous that no other religion can ever compare. In current times, the consequences of the evil deeds committed by those who call themselves Muslims does not signify that the blame lies with Islam, because all of this is taking place due to contravening the recourse outlined by Islam.’
After this, the following two points were raised to His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra:
1. ‘There are certain adherents of other religions who also make prophecies. Therefore, this distinction cannot be attributed to Islam alone.
2. The spread of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib’sas community is not proof of his truthfulness, because in Russia, even Lenin achieved great success.’
The Difference Between the Prophecies of the Promised Messiahas and Other Individuals
His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra stated:
‘In answer to the first point, it is evident that certain followers of other religions reject the authenticity of prophecies outright, whilst there are others who publish prophecies from time to time. Yet, they never claim that the prophecy is based on the teachings and prophecies specific to their religion. Rather, they say that the prophecy is based on their personal knowledge. All astrologers make predictions based on their knowledge and never attribute it to knowledge granted to them by God. Expert astrologers of Europe do not associate themselves with any religion; rather, when they make a prediction they say it is based on their own knowledge. They say that whoever learns this skill and excels in this discipline, irrespective of whichever religion they belong to, will also be able to make similar predictions.
Furthermore, those people who make predictions which are fulfilled are based on circumstances which already exist. For example, if a relative of an adept student who studies every day predicts that he will pass his exams, and indeed, he passes all of them, then this is not something extraordinary. This is a mere presumption, and presumptions can often come true. However, it is a different matter to make a prediction about something of which there are no established circumstances, on the contrary, it goes against any pre-existing circumstances. For example, a child does not even attend school, yet it is said that he will pass all his exams. If this proves to be true, then this is a prophecy. Similarly, if an individual makes a prediction which has three or four different variables and they specify one exact aspect which then turns out to be true, then this would be a prophecy. Sometimes there are hundreds of aspects of a prophecy. For example, if one hundred people enter a race and it is said that such and such would win the race, if that person does win the race, this would be an example of a prophecy with one hundred different variables, which has been fulfilled.
The predictions made by astrologers or astronomers do not contain different aspects nor can they say for certain that if this prediction proves to be true, what effect it will have on themselves. Occasionally, they can foretell an impending earthquake or epidemic, yet they themselves can perish by these very means. The prophecies made by prophets on the other hand are free from this and are often contrary to established circumstances. Their prophecies contain multiple layers and variables. Furthermore, those prophecies contain a grandeur and an authoritative command. Ponder over the prophecy of the Promised Messiahas regarding the splitting of Bengal. When the [British] Government confirmed that they would uphold their decision to split Bengal, the Bengalis had all but lost hope. At that time, the Promised Messiahas was informed by God Almighty the following:
‘Concerning the order that had been issued with regard to Bengal, they will now be consoled.’
The Bengali community were so astonished and bemused by this prophecy that a Bengali newspaper wrote that the government had repeatedly confirmed that the decision was binding and that there would be no amendment in the decision to split the Bengal, yet a senseless individual in the Punjab claims that the Bengalis will be consoled. Nonetheless, despite all the previous statements, God’s Will came to fruition and the Bengalis were consoled through an amendment in the decision.
Likewise, some prophecies contain complex aspects. For example, when a son of Hazrat Maulvi Nooruddin Sahibra passed away, the opponents [of Ahmadiyyat] mocked him for this. At that time, it was revealed to the Promised Messiahas by God Almighty that Maulvi Sahib would be bestowed a son, who would reach the age of between 13 and 18. Regarding that son the word ‘Ghulam’ was used and his other attributes were also revealed, such as he would be of heavy build with large eyes; he would be of fair complexion and there would be certain marks on his legs resembling boils. At the time of the prophecy, Maulvi Sahib was approximately 60 years of age. One aspect of this prophecy related to the age of Maulvi sahib. Another aspect of this prophecy was that usually Maulvi Sahib’s children would not survive for long and would remain slender in weight. In contrast, this child would be strong and healthy, and would reach a mature age. Thus, a son was born to Maulvi Sahib and all the aforementioned characteristics were fulfilled in him.
Another prophecy was regarding an earthquake in which it was foretold that as a result of this earthquake, the Community would make progress. The resulting earthquake destroyed the town of Dharamshala. In this town a false lawsuit had been brought against an Ahmadi. He would write to the Promised Messiahas for assistance through prayers and the Promised Messiahas would pray for him. When the earthquake struck, the magistrate, the prosecuting lawyer and the accuser all perished in the earthquake, but the Ahmadi remained unharmed. Was this not the work of God? Then to say that since others have had success, the success of Hazrat Mirza Sahibas is not proof of his truthfulness is completely false. The reason is that those who have achieved relative success have never claimed before the time that they will most certainly succeed. Had they not succeeded in their endeavours, it would not have affected their own person. However, the claims of the Promised Messiahas were announced well before time and the success he received was in complete accordance with those claims. Aside from the Promised Messiahas, the example of other people who achieved success is like a few people who compete in a race. In a race it is inevitable that one of the participants will win the race. In contrast to this, the example of the Promised Messiahas is as if a group of people compete in a race and among those people, one of them claims that he will win the race, and despite all the circumstances against him, he wins the race. One actual example of this is that during the Conference of Great Religions in Lahore, a paper of the Promised Messiahas was read out. Prior to the event, the Promised Messiahas announced through an advertisement that his paper would be declared supreme. Thus, from all the papers that were read out, the Promised Messiah’sas was unanimously declared to be unparalleled and even his opponents accepted this fact. Is it within the power of any individual to make such an announcement? How can one purport that despite the fact that each faith had a representative, they would not be able to succeed?’
—Al Fazl, 14th March 1921
Anwarul’ Ulum, Vol 6. pp 3-10
Originally delivered in Urdu in 1921, this speech has been translated into English for the first time and published here for the benefit of our readers.