Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi
The Promised Messiah (as) wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. Here, the Promised Messiah (as) describes the three stages of doing good deeds and explains what transforms these natural states into moral states.
Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. III, 20-28. This is the third part of a multi-part series.
Moral Qualities Related to Doing Good
Of the moral qualities that are related to doing good, the first one is ‘afw, or forgiving people’s sins. Forgiving someone who causes harm and deserves to be punished, imprisoned, fined, or handled directly, provided such forgiveness is appropriate, would amount to doing him good. In this context, the teaching of the Holy Qur’an is:
وَٱلۡكَٰظِمِينَ ٱلۡغَيۡظَ وَٱلۡعَافِينَ عَنِ ٱلنَّاسِۗ
جَزَـٰٓؤُاْ سَيِّئَةٖ سَيِّئَةٞ مِّثۡلُهَاۖ فَمَنۡ عَفَا وَأَصۡلَحَ فَأَجۡرُهُۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِۚ
This means that: ‘The righteous are those who control their anger when the occasion so demands and pardon sin when the situation requires.’
‘The recompense of an injury is a penalty in proportion thereto, but whoso forgives – and effects thereby a reform in the offender and no harm is apprehended, that is to say, he exercises forgiveness on its proper occasion – will have his reward with Allah.’
The above verse shows that the Qur’an does not teach non-resistance to evil on all occasions, or that mischief-makers and wrongdoers should never be punished. What it teaches is that one must consider whether the occasion demands forgiveness or punishment and to adopt the course which would be in the best interest of both the offender and the community at large. At times, an offender might repent if he is forgiven, but at times he may become even more daring. Therefore, God Almighty says: Do not cultivate the habit of forgiving blindly; consider carefully wherein lies the real good – in forgiveness or in punishment – and do what is appropriate considering the time and the circumstances.
A study of the human race reveals that some people are by nature highly vindictive: they preserve in their minds all the wrongs done to their fathers, and there are others who carry forbearance and forgiveness even to the extent of shamelessness and are guilty of condoning and forgiving such shameless acts as are contrary to self-respect, honour, dignity and chastity, and tarnish the image of good morals. As a result, the entire society is outraged. That is why the Holy Qur’an has enjoined the condition of proper time and occasion for the exercise of every moral quality and does not approve of such moral quality as is not in keeping with the prerequisites of the occasion…
We have repeatedly stressed that the difference between a moral quality and natural state is that a moral quality is always in keeping with the requirements of the place and time and a natural state finds expression regardless of such conditions.
—Islami Usul ki Philosophy (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam), Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 10, pp. 340-352
All scholars are agreed that the highest moral station is not merely dependent on exercising forgiveness and forbearance on every occasion. Had man been told merely to exercise forgiveness and forbearance, hundreds of moral acts that depend upon indignation and retribution would have become impossible. Human nature, which makes man what he is, is that God has invested man as much with the faculty of forgiveness and forbearance as with the sentiment of indignation and revenge. God has placed reason over all these faculties as the arbiter. Therefore, man realises his true humanity when both these types of faculties are exercised under the control of reason. That is to say, these faculties should be like the subjects and reason should, like a just ruler, be occupied with fostering them, enhancing their beneficence, settling their conflicts and resolving their difficulties.
For instance, on occasion one gets angry whereas it is gentleness that is really called for. On such occasions, reason intervenes to restrain the anger and activates gentleness. And at times the occasion demands anger but gentleness takes hold instead. On such an occasion, reason rouses anger and quells gentleness. In short, in-depth research shows that man has been sent into this world well-equipped with a variety of faculties; perfection of his nature lies in exercising every faculty on its proper occasion; there should be anger when anger is called for and mercy when mercy is needed and not that there should be only gentleness and all other faculties should remain suspended and inactive. The display of gentleness on its proper occasion is an excellence, but the tree of man’s nature which has many branches would not be considered perfect by the flourishing of only one branch. It would only be considered complete when all its branches flourish and no branch exceeds or falls short of its appropriate norm.
Reason undeniably shows that to condone the wickedness of a wicked person always and on all occasions cannot possibly be considered moral. The law of nature too exposes the defect of such a notion. We observe that the True Planner has so ordained that in the order of the universe sometimes tenderness is required, and severity is required at others; sometimes forgiveness is required and sometimes punishment is required. Tenderness alone or severity alone would upset the system of the universe. Therefore, it proves that to forgive always and on all occasions is not a true virtue and that to consider such teaching as perfect is an error which is being committed by those whose insight into human nature is not deep enough and whose eyes remain closed to all the faculties that have been bestowed upon man for use on appropriate occasions. A person who continues to exercise the same faculty on all occasions, allowing all other faculties to fall into disuse, seeks, as it were, to change his God-given nature and, on account of his short-sightedness, declares the act of the All-Wise God to be objectionable. Would it be commendable if we were to keep overlooking the offences of the offenders all the time, regardless of the requirement of the situation and propriety, and were never to have such sympathy with the offender that, by remedying his mischief, we should reform him?
Clearly, just as it is objectionable and unethical to punish or take revenge over trifles, it is likewise contrary to goodwill to make it a point always to forgive whenever a person commits an offence. Whoever allows an offender to go unpunished is as much an enemy of law and order as he who is always ready to malign and take revenge. The ignorant would like to condone and forgive at every occasion. They just do not realise that forgiveness on every occasion disrupts the order of the world. Also, it is against the best interests of the culprit, for he becomes more and more hardened in his evil ways and the tendency to do mischief gets even more entrenched. Let a thief go unpunished and see what he does the next time! That is why God Almighty said in His book, which is full of wisdom:
وَلَكُمۡ فِي ٱلۡقِصَاصِ حَيَوٰةٞ يَـٰٓأُوْلِي ٱلۡأَلۡبَٰبِ
مَن قَتَلَ نَفۡسَۢا بِغَيۡرِ نَفۡسٍ أَوۡ فَسَادٖ فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعٗا
This means that: ‘O men of understanding! Your life lies in killing the killer; and award punishment proportionate to the crime.’
‘Whosoever kills a person unjustly and without cause is virtually guilty of killing the whole of mankind.’
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأۡمُرُ بِٱلۡعَدۡلِ وَٱلۡإِحۡسَٰنِ وَإِيتَآيِٕ ذِي ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ
That is: ‘God enjoins that you must exercise justice, benevolence, and ita’i dhil qurba [graciousness towards all as between kindred] on their proper occasions.’
Let it be known that the teaching of the Gospels is inferior to and falls short of the perfection that sustains and regulates the order of the universe; rather, it is a grave error to regard this teaching as perfect and complete. Such a teaching can never be perfect. It belongs to the period in which the Children of Israel had been left with the minimal sentiment of compassion, whereas ruthlessness, cruelty, brutality, hard-heartedness and maliciousness had exceeded all limits. Since they were excessively given to vengefulness, God so willed that they should be made to incline towards compassion and forgiveness. But this teaching of mercy and forbearance was not a teaching that could stand forever, as it was not based on an absolute value. Instead, it was like a local law, which was expediently designed, with a view to reforming the headstrong Jews, and it was meant for a limited duration.
Jesus (as) was only too well aware that God would soon abolish this provisional teaching and would send the perfect book for the guidance of mankind, which would invite the whole world to real virtue and open the door of truth and wisdom to the servants of God. This is why he had to say that there were so many things which still remained to be taught which they were unable to bear at the time, and that someone else would come after him who would explain everything and raise religion to perfection. Consequently, Jesus (sa) was seated in heaven leaving the Gospels incomplete, and it was the same incomplete book that remained with the people for such a long time. Then, in keeping with the prophecy of the same innocent prophet, God sent down the Holy Qur’an and revealed a comprehensive law, which neither – like the Torah – laid down that the principle of ‘tooth for a tooth’ be practised in all circumstances, nor did it ordain – like the Gospels – that one must be always ready to be hit by an aggressor. Instead, the perfect book has abolished all the provisional injunctions. It invites us to true virtue, and enjoins that which results in genuine benefit, be it hard or soft.
The Holy Qur’an says:
وَجَزَـٰٓؤُاْ سَيِّئَةٖ سَيِّئَةٞ مِّثۡلُهَاۖ فَمَنۡ عَفَا وَأَصۡلَحَ فَأَجۡرُهُۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِۚ
This means that: In principle, the evildoer deserves retribution proportionate to his crime, but he who forgives in order to reform, provided forgiveness does not result in further mischief, will have his reward with Allah.
—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 1, pp. 409-434, subnote 3
The second moral quality for doing good is ‘adl [equity], the third is ihsan [benevolence] and the fourth is ita’i dhil qurba [graciousness towards all as between kindred.] In this context, Allah the Glorious says:
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأۡمُرُ بِٱلۡعَدۡلِ وَٱلۡإِحۡسَٰنِ وَإِيتَآيِٕ ذِي ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ وَيَنۡهَىٰ عَنِ ٱلۡفَحۡشَآءِ وَٱلۡمُنكَرِ وَٱلۡبَغۡيِۚ
This means that: ‘Almighty Allah enjoins you to return good for good, and should the occasion call for benevolence, to be benevolent, and if the occasion calls for spontaneous graciousness for all, quite like the next of kin, then to be gracious with natural compassion. However, God forbids that you should exceed the proper limits in one direction or the other and should be benevolent contrary to reason and should fail to be benevolent when the occasion demands or that you should fail to be gracious when the occasion demands or should be over gracious beyond that is needed. This noble verse discusses all the three stages of doing good.
The first stage is that we should do good in return for good. This is the lowest level and even an average person can attain it by doing good to those who do him good.
The second level is relatively more difficult to attain. It consists of taking the initiative in doing good to someone ex gratia, when he is not entitled to it. This moral quality is of an intermediate grade. Most people are benevolent towards the poor, but there is a hidden deficiency in such benevolence. The person who acts benevolently is conscious of it and at least desires either gratitude or prayer in return. If on any occasion the beneficiary should turn against him, the benefactor dubs him ungrateful. Sometimes, he puts too heavy a price on the beneficiary on account of his benevolence or reminds him of his kindness. God Almighty warns the benevolent as follows:
لَا تُبۡطِلُواْ صَدَقَٰتِكُم بِٱلۡمَنِّ وَٱلۡأَذَىٰ
That is: ‘O benevolent ones! Render not vain your charitable acts, which should be based on sincerity, by reminding the recipients of your generosity and hurting their feelings.’
The term sadaqah [charity] is derived from sidq [sincerity], and thus if the heart is devoid of sincerity and integrity, charity ceases to be charity and becomes ostentation…
The third level of doing good, according to God Almighty, implies that at this stage, the good action is done spontaneously and without consciousness of doing good or expecting gratitude in return. Instead, the good action is done under the upsurge of spontaneous emotion, quite like to the next of kin, for instance, a mother does good to her son out of pure sympathy. This is the highest grade of doing good, which cannot be surpassed.
God Almighty has made all these categories of doing good contingent upon the demands of time and occasion and has clearly laid down in the above verse, that if these good acts are not done on their proper occasion, they will become vices. ‘Adl [fairness] will become fahsha [foul], or in other words, crossing limits will result in an undesirable situation. And ihsan [benevolence] would become munkar [wrong] which reason and conscience reject. And ita’i dhil qurba [spontaneous compassion] will turn into transgression; that is, this ill-placed sympathy would create an ugly situation. Actually, baghi means such excessive rain as destroys the harvest; hence exceeding the appropriate limits is also baghi.
In short, any of these three qualities, exercised out of place, would deteriorate in character; that is why these are made contingent upon the due observance of occasion and place. Here it should be remembered that justice, benevolence or graciousness as between kindred are not by themselves moral qualities. These are man’s natural states and faculties, which are found even in children before their reason is developed. To become moral, the exercise of reason is the condition precedent. Another requirement is that every natural faculty should be exercised in its proper occasion and place.
—Islami Usul ki Philosophy (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam), Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 10, pp. 353-354
- The Holy Qur’an, 3:135.
- The Holy Qur’an, 42:41.
- The Holy Qur’an, 2:180.
- The Holy Qur’an, 5:33.
- The Holy Qur’an, 16:91.
- The Holy Qur’an, 42:41.
- The Holy Qur’an, 16:91.
- The Holy Qur’an, 2:265.