This series sets out, in the words of the Promised Messiah(as), Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a summary of his exposition of four outstanding topics: ISLAM; ALLAH, THE EXALTED; THE HOLY PROPHET(saw) and THE HOLY QUR’AN. The original compilation, in Urdu, from which these extracts have been translated into English, was collated with great care and diligence by Syed Daud Ahmad Sahib, Allah have mercy on him and reward him graciously for his great labour of love. Amin. The English rendering is by the late Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, may Allah be pleased with him, and is quoted from The Essence of Islam, Volume I1. All references throughout, unless otherwise specifically mentioned, are from the Holy Qur’an.
The Function of Reason
It is true that reason is also a lamp which God has furnished to man, the light of which draws man towards truth and saves him from a variety of doubts and suspicions and sets aside different types of baseless ideas and improper conjectures. It is very useful, very necessary and is a great bounty. Yet, despite all this it suffers from the shortcoming that it alone cannot lead to full certainty in the matter of the understanding of the reality of things. The stage of perfect certainty is that man should believe that the reality of things exists as it in fact does exist. Reason alone cannot lead to this high degree of certainty. At the outside, it proves the need of the existence of something, but does not prove that in fact it exists. This degree of certainty that a person’s knowledge should proceed from the stage of ‘should be’ to the stage of ‘is’, is acquired only when reason is joined by a companion which, confirming its conjecture, converts it into fact, that is to say, regarding a matter concerning which reason says it ‘should be’ that companion informs that in fact it ‘is’. Reason only establishes the need of a thing; it cannot establish its existence, and these are two distinct and separate matters. Thus, reason needs a companion which should supplement the defective ‘should be’ of reason with the affirmative ‘is’ and which should give information of facts as they truly exist. So, God Who is most Compassionate and Generous and desires to lead man to the stage of utmost certainty, has fulfilled this need and has appointed several companions for reason and has thereby opened the way of perfect certainty to it, so that the soul of man, whose total good fortune and salvation depends upon perfect certainty, should not be deprived of its desired good fortune and so that it should quickly cross the delicate and dangerous bridge of ‘should be’ which reason has constructed over the river of doubts and suspicions, and should enter the grand palace of ‘is’ which is the house of peace and satisfaction.
Those companions of reason, which are its helpers, which come into operation on different occasions, are not more than three. If the operation of reason relates to that which can be felt or observed, for instance, which can be seen or heard or smelt or touched, its companion, which can lead it to certainty, is true observation which is called experience. If the operation of reason relates to those occurrences which take place at different times and places, the companion of reason in such a case is history, or newspapers, or letters, or communications. These also, like experience, so clear up the smoky light of reason that to doubt it thereafter is folly or insanity. If the operation of reason relates to matters which are metaphysical, which cannot be seen by the eye, or heard by the ear, or touched by the hand, nor can they be inquired about through history, then the companion that helps reason is revelation.
The law of nature also demands that, as relating to the first two matters imperfect reason is furnished by two companions, a companion should also be furnished to it in respect of the third category of matters. There can be no discrimination in the law of nature. When God has not desired to leave man in a defective condition with regard to worldly knowledge and arts, an error in respect of which is not of any great consequence, it would be an ill-thought that He desired to leave man in a defective condition regarding the full understanding of matters, complete certainty concerning which is a condition of salvation and any doubt concerning which would push man into eternal ruin, In such a case man’s knowledge concerning the hereafter would be reduced to pure conjecture. He would not have available any means which should bear witness to that which is and should bestow contentment and satisfaction upon the heart that in fact and in truth that which reason conjectures as existing does indeed exist. The need that reason establishes is not fictitious, but is real. When it is known that in matters Divine perfect certainty can be obtained only through revelation, and that man is in need of perfect certainty for his salvation and that without perfect certainty faith cannot be safeguarded, then it becomes obvious that man is in need of revelation. (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.1, pp.78-80, footnote 4)
The ideas of reason do not suffer only from the defect that they lack certainty and cannot comprehend the finer points of matters Divine, but they also suffer from the defect that discourses based upon reason alone are largely ineffective in persuading the heart. The reason is that for any discourse to affect the heart it is necessary that its truth should be so well-established in the mind of the hearer that no room should be left for doubt and the heart should believe that what it is being told is not subject to the possibility of error. We have just shown that reason alone cannot lead to perfect certainty. It is thus obvious that the effect that is produced on the heart by perfect certainty cannot be expected from reason alone and this is confirmed by daily experience. For instance, when a person returns home from having sojourned in a distant country then everyone inquires from him about that country and they are all deeply affected by what he relates out of his personal knowledge provided he is not suspected of telling lies; rather he is a respected and truthful person. Why are his words so effective? They are effective because he is known to be a righteous person and it is believed that whatever he relates of the circumstances of that country he has observed with his own eyes. Therefore, his discourse affects the hearts and his statements appeal to the hearers as if they had seen those events that he describes with their own eyes. Sometimes it happens that when he relates a pitiable tale it so affects the hearers that their eyes are filled with tears as if they had witnessed the event themselves.
But if a person who has not moved beyond the four walls of his house and has never been abroad, nor has heard anyone describe the circumstances and conditions of another country, were to begin to discourse upon the circumstances and conditions of another country out of his imagination, it would produce no effect upon the hearers. In fact, they would charge him with madness and insanity in that he relates that which is beyond his observation and experience and is above his imperfect knowledge. It is like the story of a foolish person who was praising wheaten bread and when he was asked whether he had ever eaten it, he replied that he had not eaten it but that his grandfather used to say that on one occasion he had seen someone eating it.
Unless someone in the estimation of his hearers comprehends any event fully, his discourse would produce, no effect upon their hearts and he would make himself a laughing stock. That is the reason why the discourses of worldly-wise people have never attracted the attention of anyone to the hereafter. Their hearers continue to think that, as the speaker was talking from conjecture, they could oppose him with their own conjectures, as neither side had witnessed the reality. This is the reason that when some wise people expressed themselves in support of the existence of God, other wise people opposed them and wrote books in support of atheism. The truth is that the thinking of even those who express themselves to some degree in support of the existence of God was not altogether free from atheistic ideas, nor is it free now. Consider the Brahmus. Do they ever regard God as possessing perfect attributes? Do they believe that He possesses the attribute of speech as a living being should? Do they regard Him as Controller and Sustainer? Do they believe that God is Ever-Living and All Sustaining and that He can speak to righteous hearts? On the contrary, they consider Him as fictitious and like the dead who has been invented by human reason through its own imagination. No voice is ever heard from him. In fact, he is not God, but an idol lying in a comer. I wonder how these people are pleased with such childish ideas and what fruit do they expect from their fictitious thinking? Why do they not search like true seekers for the God Who is Powerful and Ever-Living and is capable of affirming His own existence and can revive the dead in an instant by the call: I am Allahh? When they know that the light of reason is smoky then why do they not seek Perfect Light? They admit that they are ill, but they do not seek a remedy. It is a pity that they do not open their eyes so that they might see the truth. Why is not the covering lifted from their ears so that they can hear the Divine voice? Why are their hearts so twisted and why is their understanding so warped that the objection to which they have laid themselves open they advance against the followers of true revelation? ….
The Brahmu Samajists entertain another illusion that revelation is a restriction and that they are free from every restriction and thus they are better off as a free person is better than a prisoner. We admit this criticism and confess that revelation is a restriction without which true freedom cannot be achieved. True freedom is that a person should be delivered from every type of error, doubt and suspicion and should arrive at the stage of perfect certainty and should behold his Lord in this very world. This true freedom is achieved in this world by perfect and God-loving Muslims through the Holy Qur’an and is not available to anyone besides them whether Brahmus or others ….
Another objection of the Brahmu Samajists is that to follow revelation is contrary to the law of nature for the clear and straight way of finding out the reality of anything is to approach it on the basis of reason. For instance, the true reason for theft being a vile act which satisfies the soul is that it is a wrong and trespass, which reason condemns as improper and not permissible. The real reason is not that any revealed book condemns it as a sin. Again arsenic should not be swallowed because it is a fatal poison and not because its eating is forbidden in Divine revelation. Thus, they argue that it is reason that indicates the true reality and not revelation. They are unconscious of the fact that their argument is refuted when it is proved by strong and cogent arguments that reason is imperfect and unreliable. What a pity! Is it proper to continue to harp with such cheek on the same dead thought which has already been demolished by an array of powerful arguments? .. It is true that the reality of things is disclosed to some degree by arguments based on reason, but reason does not complete all stages of certainty. The instance cited by them refutes their proposition. The fatal quality of arsenic, is not established by reason acting by itself, but this quality was determined as a certainty when reason through proper experimentation discovered the hidden quality of arsenic. This is what we desire to make clear, namely that to determine as a certainty the lethal quality of arsenic reason had to have recourse to a companion, namely proper experimentation. In the same way, in order to determine as a certainty Divine matters and the reality of the life after death, reason needs the help of Divine revelation and without its help reason cannot arrive at firm conclusions in matters of faith, as in other matters. Without the help of an appropriate companion, reason is helpless, imperfect and incomplete. Within its own limits, reason cannot determine anything as a certainty unless it has the help of a companion. Without such help it cannot escape error, especially in matters of Divinity in which the reality is hidden behind veils and no sample of it is available in this world. In these matters, imperfect reason cannot lead one to perfect understanding, let alone escape all possible error.
The difficulties that we encounter in matters relating to that unseen world, and the surprises with which we are met in imagining the conditions of that unseen and hidden world, compel us to confess that in order to discover correctly the circumstances of that world, and to believe in them with certainty, we are in need of many times more historians and record-makers and experienced people than we need in matters of this world. The historian and record-maker of that world cannot be anyone except the Word of God and the vessel of certainty is likely to founder without the help of that recordmaker, and the cold wind continues to consign the arc of dubious faith to the whirlpool of death. In such a case, no wise person would turn away from revelation relying entirely upon the guidance of defective reason. His safety in such case depends upon revelation, the contents of which do not comprise conjecture, but in addition to arguments based on reason, they inform us of the facts of the second world like a true historian and give an eyewitness account of them. (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khazai’in, Vol.I, pp.327-335 footnote 11)
Consider well that without revelation it is not possible to arrive at complete certainty, or to escape error, or to base oneself on the true Unity of God, or to overcome one’s passions. It is revelation through which we are able to affirm that God ‘is’ and the whole world calls on Him because He ‘is’. It is revelation which from the beginning has inspired the hearts with the assurance that God ‘is’. It is through revelation that worshippers find delight in worship and the faithful are satisfied with regard to the existence of God and life after death. It is revelation which has enabled millions of the righteous to leave this transient world with great steadfastness and with the eagerness of the love of the Divine. It is revelation the truth of which has been attested by the blood .of thousands of martyrs. It is revelation through whose power of attraction kings put on the garment of beggars and many wealthy people preferred poverty to riches, and by its blessings millions of unlearned old women departed this world with eager faith. It is the one vessel which has so often carried numberless people through the whirlpool of creature-worship and doubt to the safety of the Unity of God and perfect certainty. It is revelation that is the friend of last moments and is the helper in serious conditions.
The harm that has been done to the world by pure reason is not a hidden matter. What made Plato and his followers deny that God is the Creator? What made Galen doubt the immortality of souls and the reality of Judgement? What made philosophers deny that God has knowledge of all particulars? What made great philosophers worship idols? What led to the sacrifice of roosters and other animals before idols? Was it not reason unaccompanied by revelation?
It is not correct to state that many people became pagans even when following revelation and fashioned for themselves new gods. This was not the fault of true revelation, but was the fault of those who mixed falsehood with truth and preferred the worship of their passions to the worship of God. Yet, Divine revelation did not neglect their reform and did not forget them. Fresh revelation reformed the matters which had led them astray. (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khazaain, vol. 1, pp. 163-164 footnote 11)
Of course it is true that reason is not without its use and its benefit, nor have we so alleged, but we cannot escape the obvious verity that through reason and conjecture alone we cannot arrive at that perfect certainty which can be achieved through the combination of reason and revelation, nor can we escape mistakes and errors and self-approval and self-right-eousness. Our self-conceived ideas cannot overcome our passions like the forceful and majestic and prestigious commandments of God. Our self-conceived concepts, idle thoughts and baseless superstitions cannot furnish us with that joy, delight, satisfaction and contentment which are conveyed to us by the delicious words of the True Beloved. Then shall we, by relying on reason alone, subject ourselves to all the losses and disadvantages and misfortunes, and subject ourselves to thousands of calamities? No wise person can accept that He Who has created in us the thirst for perfect understanding has refused to furnish us with the full cup of such understanding, and that He Who has drawn the hearts to Himself has shut upon us the door of true understanding and has confined all stages of the recognition of God to the contemplation of our fictitious need. Has God created man so unfortunate that he is to be wholly disappointed in obtaining in this world the full satisfaction that his soul desires and his heart longs for in the matter of the recognition of God, and eagerness fills his soul and heart? Is there no one soul out of thousands of you which can realize that the doors of understanding which can be opened only by God cannot be opened by human power and that human imagination cannot equal the assurance of God: I am present? God’s affirmation of His Own Being in a manner manifests God to us, but man’s conjecture has no such effect. As our conjectures based on reason alone cannot equal God’s word that confirms His Existence, then why is not His word needed for the perfection of certainty? Are your hearts not awakened by observing this clear disparity? Is there nothing in that which we have set forth which can affect your hearts?
There is no difficulty in understanding that human reason cannot be the instrument for ascertaining that which is hidden. Which of you can deny that whatever we are to encounter after death is all hidden? For instance, reflect whether anyone knows how the soul departs at the time of death and where it goes and with whom and where is it detained and through what experiences it passes. How can human reason pronounce conclusively on these matters? A conclusive pronouncement would be possible if a person had died once or twice and had become familiar with the paths along which he reached God, and he had a recollection of the places where he had dwelt for some time. But as it is, we have only conjecture to fall back upon. No one has seen these things and to be satisfied with baseless conjecture is not true satisfaction. If you were to assess the matter with the eye of research, you would testify that human reason and conscience cannot discover these matters as a certainty and that no page of the book of nature points to them with sureness.
Leaving aside other matters, reason is perplexed at the very first stage and is unable to determine what the soul is, how it enters the body and how it departs. No one has observed anything entering or departing. If you were to enclose an animate at the time of its death inside a glass chamber you would not observe anything departing from it, and if in the glass chamber any germs were produced it cannot be determined how they obtained entry into the chamber. The hatching of an egg furnishes an even greater wonder. How does the soul fly in, and in case of the young dying inside, by what way does the soul escape? Can any wise person resolve this puzzle through the use of his reason alone? There can be various conjectures but through reason alone nothing certain can be established. That being the case at the very first step then what can this defective reason discover about the other matters of the life after death? (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khazia’in, Vol. 1, pp.336-338, footnote 11)