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Islamic Principles on Education and Serving Humanity

Address by the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France

Introduction: The Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifah(Caliph), His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) delivered ahistoric keynote address on 8th October 2019 at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris.The event was attended by over 80 dignitaries and guests, including diplomats, politicians, academics and therepresentatives of think tanksas well as business leaders and various other professions. Before the keynote address, several distinguished speakers took to the stage and spoke of their admiration of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its efforts to propagate Islam’s message of peace across the world, as well as its commitment to serving humanity.The guest speakers included: Ambassador Oumar Keïta, Delegate of Mali to UNESCO, Religious Advisor of Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Jean Christophe Auge, Director of the Central Religion Advisory Board to the Interior Ministry of France, Mr Clément Rouchouse, Mayor of Eaubonne, Mr Guillaume Dublineau, President of the NATO Memorial, Mr Willy Breton. An introduction to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was given by the National External Affairs Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in France, Mr Asif Arif. The official transcript of keynote address delivered by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) on this occasion is presented below.

Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Fifth Khalifah (Caliph) said:

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem– in the Name of Allah, the Gracious, Ever Merciful.

All distinguished guests, Assalamo Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatohu– peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the UNESCO administration for graciously permitting us to hold this event today. 

I would also like to place on record my sincere gratitude to all the guests who have accepted our invitation and have come to listen to a person, who is neither a politician, nor a political leader nor a scientist, but rather is the head of a religious community – the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. 

The founding objectives of UNESCO are excellent and praiseworthy. Amongst its objectives are fostering peace and respect, promoting the rule of law, human rights and education across the world. 

UNESCO also advocates for press freedom and protecting different cultures and heritages. Another of its stated goals is to eradicate poverty, to promote sustainable global growth and development and to try to ensure that humanity leaves behind a positive legacy, from which future generations can benefit. 

You may be surprised to learn that Islamic teachings require Muslims to work towards fulfilling these same objectives and to continually strive for the progress of humanity. Such service is based upon the very first chapter of the Holy Quran, which states that Allah the Almighty is the “Lord of all the worlds.”

This verse is central to the Islamic faith, whereby Muslims are taught that God Almighty is not just their Lord and Provider, but He is the Provider and Sustainer of all humankind. He is the Gracious and Merciful and so, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, God Almighty fulfils the needs of His creation. Given this, true Muslims firmly believe that all humans are born equal and that regardless of differences of belief, the values of mutual respect and tolerance must be firmly embedded within society.  

A beautiful Islamic principle given in chapter 2, verse 139 of the Holy Quran, is that Muslims should seek to follow the ways of Allah the Almighty and adopt His attributes. As mentioned, Allah’s Grace is all-encompassing and He is the Provider and Sustainer for all people, including those who deny His existence. His Grace and Mercy remains even with those who continually speak ill of Him or who conduct cruelties in the world.  

In Islam, the philosophy of punishment or sanction established by God Almighty is weighted more towards the hereafter, whilst in this life, Allah the Almighty continues to manifest His Grace and Mercy upon the world. By instructing Muslims to adopt His ways, Allah the Almighty has instructed them to show compassion and sympathy to their fellow creation. In light of this, it is a religious obligation on Muslims to fulfil the requirements of other people, irrespective of religion, culture or ethnicity and to always be kind and empathetic to the emotions and needs of others.  

Moreover, the Holy Quran has pronounced that the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent to the world by God Almighty as a source of unparalleled mercy and benevolence for all humanity. He was the practical manifestation of the compassionate teachings of Islam. After he founded Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his followers were subjected to brutal and inhumane treatment by the non-Muslims of Makkah, which they endured with patience and restraint. 

Finally, after suffering years of relentless persecution, they migrated to the city of Madinah where the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) formed a covenant of peace between the Muslim migrants, the Jewish people and other members of society. According to its terms, the divergent groups pledged to live peacefully, to fulfil the rights of one another and to foster a spirit of mutual sympathy, tolerance and cooperation.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was elected as the head of state and under his leadership, the covenant proved to be a magnificent charter of human rights and governance and it ensured peace between the different communities. The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established an impartial judiciary for dispute resolution. He made it clear that there would be one law for the rich and powerful and for the poor and weak and all people would be treated equally according to the law of the land. 

For example, on one occasion, an affluent lady committed a crime and many people suggested that, given her high standing in society, it was better to turn a blind eye to her crimes. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) rejected their advice and made it clear that even if his daughter committed an offence, she too would be subject to the law and no favouritism or nepotism would occur.  

In addition, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established an excellent education system, through which the intellectual standards of that society were raised. Literate and well-educated people were instructed to teach the illiterate. Special measures were put in place to provide education to orphans and other vulnerable members of society. This was all done so that the weak and powerless could stand on their own two feet and advance.  

A taxation system was established, whereby taxes were levied on wealthier members of society and the proceeds were used to provide financial aid for disadvantaged members of society. According to the teachings of the Holy Quran, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established a code of business and financial ethics to ensure that trading was fair and honest. 

In an age when slavery was rampant and slave-owners treated their slaves mercilessly, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) sought to bring about a revolution in society. Slave-owners were ordered to treat their slaves with compassion and respect and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) repeatedly urged them to free them. 

Also, under the leadership of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), a system of public sanitation was developed. A city cleaning programme was implemented and people were educated about the importance of personal hygiene and physical health. The roads of the city were expanded and improved. A census was conducted to collect data and to identify the needs of the citizens. 

Thus, during the 7th Century, under the government led by the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), astonishing progress was made in Madinah to advance the cause of individual and collective rights. Indeed, for the very first time amongst the Arabs, an orderly and civilised society was established. 

In many ways, it was a model society, in terms of infrastructure, services and more importantly, in terms of the unity and tolerance displayed in what was a multicultural society. The Muslims were immigrants, yet they integrated smoothly into the local society and contributed to its success and development. 

Moving on, in terms of the teachings of Islam, it is a cause of profound sadness that in today’s world, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has been grievously mischaracterised. He has been branded as a belligerent leader, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

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The reality is that the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) spent every moment of his life championing the rights of all people and through the teachings of Islam, he established an incomparable and timeless charter of human rights. For example, he taught that people should respect the beliefs and feelings of one another. They should abstain from criticising what others held sacred. 

Once, a Jewish person came to him and complained about the conduct of one of his closest companion. The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) summoned him and asked what had transpired. He said that the Jew had claimed that Moses (peace be upon him) was superior in rank to the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and he could not tolerate this. He had strongly refuted it and said that the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was of a higher rank.  

Upon this, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) expressed his displeasure with his closest confidant and said that he should not have argued with the Jew and should instead have respected his religious sentiments. These were his peerless teachings and in my view, it is deeply regrettable that the principle of mutual respect, which is the means of establishing love and unity, has been sacrificed in the modern world in the name of so-called freedom and even in the name of entertainment. 

Even the founders of religion are no longer spared mockery and contempt, even though their derision causes anguish and pain to millions of their followers around the world. On the other hand, the Holy Quran goes as far as saying that Muslims should not even speak ill of the idols of others, because it will cause them distress and in turn, they may speak ill of God Almighty and consequently, the peace and unity of society would suffer. 

In terms of fulfilling the rights of the weak and poor, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established various schemes and projects to raise their standards of living and to ensure that they were not deprived of their dignity. He said that whilst most people afforded a high status to those who were wealthy and powerful, a poor person who was moral and considerate had far greater value, than a rich person who cared not for the feelings of others and merely lived off his name.

Even in small matters, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) paid great attention to ensuring that the feelings of underprivileged people were protected. For example, he instructed Muslims to always invite the poor and needy to their dinner parties or social gatherings. If less affluent people were exploited by the rich or powerful, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) instructed his followers to help the weaker party attain justice. 

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) always sought to eliminate slavery. In this regard, to his own followers, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) repeatedly advocated the freeing of slaves and instructed that if it was not immediately possible for them to release them, then at the very minimum, they were to feed and clothe them, in the same way they fed and clothed themselves.  

Another issue often raised is of women’s rights and it is often alleged that Islam denies women’s rights. Nothing could be further from the truth! Rather, Islam established the rights of women and girls for the first time. At a time when women and girls were discriminated against and often looked down upon, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) instructed his followers to ensure that girls were educated and respected. 

Indeed, he said that if a person had three daughters, whom they educated and guided in the best way, they would be sure to enter paradise. This is contrary to the extremist’s claim that a violent Jihad and the slaughter of non-Muslims will take a person to heaven.The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught that the way to enter heaven was by educating and instilling moral values within girls. 

Based upon these teachings, Ahmadi Muslim girls across the world are educated and are excelling in various fields. They are becoming doctors, teachers and architects and entering other professions through which they can serve humanity. We ensure that girls are given equal access to education as boys. Hence, the literacy rate of Ahmadi Muslim girls in the developing world is at least 99%. Besides education, Islam was the religion that first gave women the right to inheritance, the right to divorce and many other human rights.  

Furthermore, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) emphasised the rights of one’s neighbours and said that Allah the Almighty had placed such great emphasis upon their rights, that he came to think that neighbours would be classed amongst a person’s rightful heirs. Thus, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established universal human rights that were due to each individual, irrespective of their beliefs, social status or ethnicity. 

I have just spoken about how the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) focused a great deal on the importance of education. This was reflected in the aftermath of the first battle in the history of Islam. Despite being extremely ill-equipped they were able to defeat the much stronger Makkan army with the help of Allah the Almighty. 

Thereafter, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) offered to release those prisoners of war who were literate, on condition they first taught illiterate members of society how to read and write. In this way, many centuries ago, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) established a very successful model for the rehabilitation and re-integration into society of prisoners, which benefitted society at large. 

It is often alleged that Islam is a religion of violence or warfare but the truth is and is stated in the Holy Quran that permission to fight back was granted to establish and preserve the principles of freedom of belief and freedom of conscience for all mankind. The Quran states that if the Muslims did not defend themselves against the Makkan army then no church, synagogue, temple, mosque or any other place of worship would be safe, because the opponents of Islam were determined to eliminate all forms of religion. 

In reality, if the early Muslims engaged in warfare it was always defensive and fought for the sake of establishing long-term peace and to protect the right of all people to live with freedom. 

If today there are Muslims who have adopted extremist tactics or who preach violence, it is because they have abandoned Islam’s teachings or are wholly ignorant of it. Where individuals or groups conduct terrorism, it is to gain power or to enrich themselves. Similarly, where countries adopt unjust and extreme policies, their goals are invariably linked to gaining geo-political benefit and asserting their dominance over others. Their conduct has nothing to do with Islam. 

The Holy Quran states very clearly that there should be no compulsion in matters of faith. Islam prohibits Muslims from aggression and so the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his four rightly guided Caliphs never sought war or violence, and, at all times, sought peace and reconciliation and made countless sacrifices in its cause. 

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Another allegation levelled against Islam by certain critics is that it is a backward and archaic religion or one that does not promote intellectual advancement. This is a lazy stereotype that is based on fiction rather than fact. It is a baseless allegation.The Holy Quran itself has signified the importance of education by teaching the prayer: “O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.” 

Where this prayer is a source of great help to Muslims, it also inspires them towards learning and advancing the cause of human knowledge. 

The truth is that the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) inspired the works of generations of Muslim intellectuals, philosophers and inventors in the Middle Ages. Indeed, if we look back more than a millennium, we see how Muslim scientists and inventors played a fundamental role in advancing knowledge and developing technologies, which transformed the world and remain in use today. 

For example, the first ever camera was developed by Ibn Haytham and his revolutionary work was recognised by UNESCO, when he was declared as a ‘pioneer of modern optics.’ It is also interesting to note that the word ‘camera’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘qamara’.

In the 12thCentury, a Muslim cartographer produced what was regarded as the most extensive and accurate world map of the medieval times, which was used for centuries by travellers. 

Furthermore, in the field of medicine, many Muslim physicians and scientists made great discoveries and pioneered many inventions that remain in use today. Many of the surgical instruments were pioneered by the Muslim physician Al-Zahrawi in the 10thCentury. 

In the 17thcentury, an English physician, William Harvey famously carried out what was considered as ground-breaking research regarding blood circulation and the functioning of the heart. However, it was later discovered that more than 400 years before Harvey’s research, Ibn Nafees, an Arab physician, had already detailed the basics of pulmonary circulation in an Arabic textbook. 

In the 9thcentury, Jabir ibn Hayyan brought about a revolution in the field of chemistry. He invented many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today. 

The principles of Algebra were first developed by a Muslim, as was much of the theory of Trigonometry. 

In the modern world, algorithms are the basis of modern computing technology and they too were first developed by Muslims. 

The contribution of Muslims to intellectual enlightenment is still recognised. 

For example, a New York Timesarticle, published by their Science Reporter, Dennis Overbye, mentions the role of the Muslim polymath Al-Tusi. The author states:

“Al-Tusi published many great works on astronomy, ethics, mathematics and philosophy, marking him as one of the great intellectuals of his age…Muslims created a society that in the Middle Ages was the scientific centre of the world. The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for 500 years, a golden age that can among its credits for the precursors to modern universities…”

Hence, from the outset, Islam emphasised the immense value of learning and pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. 

Since it was founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has always promoted education amongst its members. With the Grace of Allah, the very first Muslim Nobel Laureate was an Ahmadi Muslim, Professor Dr Abdus Salam, an eminent physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. Throughout his life, Professor Salam spoke of how Islam, and the Holy Quran in particular, was the inspiration and guiding light behind his work. In fact, he used to say that there were around 750 verses in the Holy Quran directly related to science and which enhanced our understanding of nature and the universe. 

Furthermore, the Third Caliph of our Community desired for a new dawn of great Muslim scientists and academics to emerge and so, within our Community, he started a tradition of awarding gold medals for academic excellence. Each year, hundreds of Ahmadi Muslim boys and girls or men and women are awarded gold medals. 

Certainly, we believe that access to education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty that has plagued economically weak countries for generations. We learn this from the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who urged Muslims to fund the education of vulnerable members of society, such as orphans. 

He taught that spiritual advancement was intrinsically linked to serving humanity and so a Muslim could not attain the love of God Almighty just through worship and prayer, rather the love of God Almighty required Muslims to serve humanity. Thus, in chapter 90, verses 15 to 17 of the Holy Quran, Muslims are instructed to work to eradicate hunger and poverty, to fulfil the needs of orphans and to educate vulnerable and poor children, so that opportunities open up for them to develop. 

In all parts of the world, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community acts upon these noble teachings to the best of our abilities. We believe that Islam is a religion of love and compassion and so we serve humanity without making any distinction based on the religion or ethnicity of those who we help. 

Therefore, in remote and poverty-stricken parts of Africa, we have established primary and secondary schools and we have also opened hospitals and clinics. We are providing clean running water in remote villages, which mean that children are free to go to school, instead of spending their days travelling for miles seeking to collect pond-water for their domestic family use. 

We have also set up a project of building model villages, which include community halls, access to clean water, solar energy infrastructure and various other facilities. All of these services are provided to the local people, irrespective of their background or beliefs and are motivated entirely by our religion.  

Where, out of human sympathy, we seek to eradicate poverty and destitution, we also consider it to be the key to developing sustainable peace in the world. Only if people have food to eat, water to drink, shelter, schooling for their children and healthcare will they be able to live in peace and escape the deadly clutches of frustration and resentment that lead people towards extremism. 

These are all basic human rights and so until we help people flee poverty and destitution, we will not see true peace in the world.  

At the end, I pray with all my heart that mankind forsakes greed and forgoes the pursuit of narrow self-interests and instead focuses on relieving the pain and anguish of those who are suffering in the world. 

With these words, I would like to once again thank you for joining us here this evening. 

Thank you very much.”