This series, The Essence of Islam, sets out in the words of the Promised Messiah Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), a summary of some outstanding topics. 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(ru). The English rendering is by the late Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan(ra). The text below is quoted from The Essence of Islam, Volume 2. All references throughout unless otherwise specified, are from the Holy Qur’an.
Man, having arrived in this house of darkness, cannot attain salvation unless being himself honoured with the converse of God, or keeping company with someone who is the recipient of sure revelation and who has witnessed clear signs, he arrives at the certain knowledge that he has a God Who is All-Powerful, Benevolent and Ever Merciful. Also, that Islam which is his faith, is in fact true and that the Day of Judgement, heaven and hell are all realities. As a matter of tradition all Muslims believe in the existence of God and in the truth of the Holy Prophet(saw), but this faith has no sure foundation. Through such weak faith it is not possible to be deeply affected and to cultivate a true hatred for sin. [Nuzul-ul-Masih, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.18, pp.485-486]
True Meaning of Salvation
It is a pity that most people are unaware of the true meaning of salvation. According to Christians, salvation means deliverance from the punishment of sin. This is not the true meaning of salvation. It is possible that a person may not commit adultery or theft, or bear false witness, or kill anyone, or commit any other sin so far as he knows, and yet be unacquainted with salvation. This is because salvation means the achievement of that eternal prosperity for which human nature hungers and thirsts. It is achieved only through the personal love of God after His full understanding, and the establishment of a perfect relationship with Him, and its condition is that love should surge up on both sides….
For a seeker after truth the only question is how to achieve this true prosperity, which should be the means of eternal joy and happiness. The sign of a true religion is that it should move one to that prosperity. Through the guidance of the Holy Qur’an we learn that this eternal prosperity is found in the true understanding of Allah Almighty and His holy, perfect and personal love, and in perfect faith which should create a lover’s restlessness in one’s heart. These are only a few words, and yet even a volume cannot set forth a complete exposition of them. [Chashmah-e-Masihi, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.20, pp.359-360]
What the Holy Qur’an says in this context is summarised below:
O My servants, do not despair of Me. I am Ever Merciful and Benevolent and cover up sins and forgive them and am more Merciful towards you than anyone else. No one will have mercy on you as I have. Love Me more than you love your fathers for I am greater in love than they are. If you come to Me I shall forgive all your sins and if you repent, I shall accept your repentance. If you advance towards Me slowly, I shall run to you. He who seeks Me shall find Me and he who turns to Me shall find My door open. I forgive the sins of a penitent even if they are more than mountains. My mercy upon you is great and My wrath is little because you are My creatures. I have created you and therefore My mercy comprises all of you. [Chashmah-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.23, p.56]
The Cause of Spiritual Decline
After deep reflection and the receipt of constant revelation from God, I have come to know that though there are a large number of religious sects in this country and religious differences surge like a flood, the cause of all these contentions is that most people suffer from a decline of spiritual faculties, and of the fear of God. The heavenly light by means of which man can distinguish between truth and falsehood has disappeared from most hearts. The world is taking on the colour of atheism and though the tongues utter the words ‘God’ and ‘Parmeshwar’, the hearts are more and more inclined towards denial. This is verified in the practice of man by an absence of good actions. I do not question the integrity of anyone who practises righteousness in secret, but the general condition is that the true purpose of religion is ignored. Most people pay little attention to purity of heart, true love of the Divine, true sympathy with His creatures, gentleness, mercy, justice and meekness. Also, all other pure moral qualities like righteousness, cleanliness and truth which are the spirit of religion are ignored. It is a matter of regret that religious contentions are on the increase, but spirituality is declining.
The real purpose of religion is to recognise God Who has created the universe, and to arrive in His love at a stage where the love of everything else is burnt up, and to have sympathy with His creatures, and to put on the garment of true purity. I observe however, that this purpose is neglected in this age and most people adhere to some branch of atheism. The recognition of Allah Almighty has sadly declined and for this reason boldness in committing sin is increasing. It is obvious that that which is not recognised is not followed by the heart, nor is there any love for it or any fear of it. All types of fear and love and appreciation are created by recognition.
This shows that the prevalence of sin in today’s world is due to lack of understanding. One of the great signs of a true religion is that it should present many means of acquiring the recognition and understanding of God Almighty. Thus, man might be able to restrain himself from committing sin and becoming aware of Divine beauty he should partake of perfect love, so that he should regard cutting asunder from God as worse than hell. To avoid sin and to be devoted to the love of God Almighty is a grand goal for man, and is that true comfort which can be described as heavenly life. All desires that are opposed to the pleasure of God are the fires of hell, and to spend one’s life in their pursuit is to lead a hellish life.
But the question is how can one be delivered from such a life? The knowledge that God has bestowed upon me in this context is that deliverance from this house of fire depends upon true and perfect understanding of the Divine. Carnal passions that pull people to themselves constitute an irresistible flood which is flowing fiercely to destroy faith, and it is impossible to stem that which is irresistible, except through that which is perfect and over-whelming in itself. For this reason perfect understanding of the Divine is required, for the attainment of salvation. [Lecture Lahore, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.20, pp.147-149]
O my dears! It is a true and tried philosophy that to escape sin, man needs perfect understanding and not any type of atonement. I tell you truly that if the people of Noah(as) had attained the perfect understanding which creates perfect fear, they would not have been drowned; if the people of Lot(as) had been bestowed that understanding, they would not have been subjected to a rain of stones; and if this country had been bestowed that recognition of the Divine Being which makes one tremble with fear, it would not have suffered ruin from the plague as it did. But deficient understanding yields no benefits, nor can its result- which is fear and love, be perfect. The faith that is not perfect is useless and the love that is not perfect is useless, and the fear that is not perfect is useless, and the understanding that is not perfect is useless, and the food and drink that are not perfect are useless. Can your hunger be satisfied with a grain of food, or can your thirst be quenched by a drop of water?
Then O ye who have little resolve and exercise little effort in the search for truth, how can you hope for great Divine grace in return for a little love and a little fear? To purify a person from sin and to fill his heart with love of the Divine is the work of the All-Powerful One, and to establish the fear of His greatness in any heart is dependent upon His will. The eternal law of nature is that all this is bestowed after perfect understanding.
The root of fear and love and appreciation is perfect understanding. He who is bestowed perfect understanding is bestowed perfect fear and perfect love, and he who is bestowed perfect fear and perfect love, is delivered from every sin which arises from fearlessness.
For such deliverance we need no blood and no cross and no atonement. We need a sacrifice of self, such a need which is felt by our nature. This sacrifice is in other words Islam. The meaning of Islam is to stretch forth one’s neck for slaughter; that is to say, to place one’s soul at the threshold of God with complete willingness. The name Islam is the soul of all law and is the life of all commandments.
To stretch forth one’s neck for slaughter willingly and cheerfully demands perfect love and devotion, and perfect love calls for perfect understanding. The word Islam indicates that for true sacrifice perfect understanding and perfect love are needed and nothing else. This is indicated by Allah the Exalted in the verse:
Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches him… (Ch.22.V.38)
This means that the sacrificial meat you offer cannot reach Me, nor can its blood. On the contrary, the only sacrifice that reaches Me is that you shall fear Me, and be righteous for My sake. [Lecture Lahore, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.20, pp.150-152]
Faith Without Understanding is not Enough for Salvation
It may be asked that if the blood of Jesus(as) cannot purify from sin, as indeed it cannot, then is there any way of being purified from sin, for a sinful life is worse than death? My answer to this question, which I set forth with full force from my personal experience, is that from the time that man was created up to today there has been only one means of escaping sin and disobedience. That means is that through convincing arguments and shining signs a person should arrive at the understanding which truly makes God manifest, and through which one realises that God’s wrath is a consuming fire, and which proves through a manifestation of Divine beauty that every perfect delight is in God. In other words, through such understanding all veils are lifted from glory and beauty. This is the only way by which passions are restrained and man experiences inner change.
On hearing this answer many people will exclaim: “Do we not believe in God?; do we not fear God and love Him?; does not the whole world with few exceptions, believe in God?”
Then why is it that they commit all manner of sins and appear involved in diverse forms of wickedness? The answer to this is that faith is one thing and understanding is another. I do not mean that a believer avoids sin, but I mean that a man of perfect understanding avoids it, that is to say a person who has tasted both the fear of God and the love of God.
Someone might ask: “Why is Satan disobedient though he possesses perfect understanding?” The answer is that Satan does not possess that perfect understanding which is bestowed upon the fortunate ones. It is part of human nature that man is necessarily influenced by perfect knowledge, and that he does not place himself in the way of ruin when he beholds its terrible countenance. Faith only means to believe as the result of thinking well of a thing; but understanding means to behold that in which one has put one’s faith. Thus, understanding and sin cannot exist together in a heart just as day and night cannot co-exist simultaneously.
It is one’s everyday experience that when something proves to be useful one is immediately attracted to it, and when something is proved to be harmful one begins to fear it. For instance, if a person does not know that what he has in his hand is arsenic, he might swallow a large dose of it deeming it to be some useful medicine. But he who knows that it is a fatal poison will not swallow even the smallest quantity of it, for he would realise that by consuming it he would leavethis world. Similarly, when a person knows with certainty that God undoubtedly exists, and that every type of sin is punishable in His estimation, all sins automatically fall away from him.
Why Sins are Committed and How they can be Avoided
Someone might raise the question that while we know that God exists and we also know that sins will be punished, yet we commit sins. This shows that we need some other way of avoiding sin. Our answer would still be that which we have already given. It is not at all possible that with the full realisation on committing a sin, that its punishment would fall upon you like lightning, you would yet dare to commit it. This is the philosophy that is not open to any objection or exception. Reflect well that when you are quite certain of being punished for a sin, you will not act contrary to this certainty.
Would you thrust your hand into the fire? Would you jump down from the top of a mountain? Would you jump into a well? Would you lie down in front of a running train? Would you thrust your arm into the jaws of a tiger? Would you present your foot to a rabid dog? Can you stay somewhere where lightning is striking repeatedly? Would you not quickly run out of a room from which the roof was about to fall down? Is there any one of you who would not jump out of bed on perceiving a poisonous snake in it? Is there anyone who would not run out of the room in which he slept, in which a fire had broken out? Tell me, why do you do this and run away from all these harmful things, but not from the sins to which I have drawn your attention? The only answer that a wise person can give after full reflection is, that there is a difference of knowledge in the two cases.
In the matter of sins the knowledge of most people is defective. They consider sins as evil, but do not look upon them as they look upon a tiger or a serpent. Hidden in their minds is the concept that the punishment of sins is uncertain. They even doubt the existence of God, and if they believe in His existence they doubt whether the soul survives after death; and if it survives death, they do not know whether there is any punishment for these sins. They may be unconscious of it, yet most of them have these notions hidden in their minds. But with regard to those occasions of danger of which I have cited instances which they avoid, it is their certainty that if they did not move away they would be destroyed, and so they run. Even if they encounter any such dangers by chance, they run away terrified.
Thus, the truth is that with regard to these things man has certain, tangible knowledge that they are fatal, but with regard to religious commandments their knowledge is uncertain and only speculation. One is a case of seeing and the other is only a story. Sins cannot be avoided by stories. I tell you truly that even if a thousand Jesus(as) rather than one, were to be crucified, they would not procure you true salvation, for it is only perfect fear or perfect love that rescues from sin. The death of Jesus(as) upon the cross is in itself a fiction, and in any case it had nothing to do with stemming the tide of sin. This is a claim which is all darkness. Experience does not support it, nor is there any correlation between the suicide of Jesus(as) and the forgiveness of other peoples’ sins.
The philosophy of true salvation is that man should be delivered from the hell of sin in this very life. Consider then whether you have been delivered from the hell of sin by these tales, or has anyone been so delivered through tales which have no truth behind them and no connection with true salvation. Search in the East and the West and you will not find any people who have through these stories achieved such true purity whereby God became visible. They have not attained a state in which one is disgusted with sin, and one begins to enjoy the heavenly delights of truth, where one’s soul flows like water, and falls on the threshold of God, and a light descends from heaven and dispels all darkness of the ego.
If on a bright day you open all the windows of your room, the light of the sun will enter your room by the laws of nature, but if you keep your windows shut the light will not come in merely by virtue of a tale or story. To obtain light you will have to get up and open your windows, and then light will enter and illuminate your room. Can anyone quench his thirst by thinking of water? Indeed not. A thirsty person must somehow arrive at a spring of water and apply his lips to it. His thirst will then be quenched. Thus, the water that will satisfy you and will remove the burning sensation of sin is certainty. There is no other means under heaven of getting rid of sin.
No cross can deliver you from sin. No blood can restrain your passions. These things have no connection with true salvation. Understand reality and reflect over verities. As you try things of the world try this also, and then you will soon understand that there is no light beside true certainty which can rescue you from the darkness of self. Without the clear water of perfect insight, nothing can wash out your inner filth. Your burning cannot be assuaged without the refreshing water of beholding the Divine. False is the person who proposes other remedies to you, and ignorant is the one who desires to subject you to other treatment. These people cannot bestow light upon you, but push you into the pit of darkness. They do not give you sweet water, but increase your burning sensation. No blood can be of any benefit to you but the blood which might be generated inside you by the nourishment of certainty, and no cross can deliver you but the cross of the straight path; that is to say steadfastness in the way of truth. Then open your eyes and see whether it is not true that you can only see with the help of light and by no other means, and that you can arrive at your goal by following the straight path and in no other way. Worldly things are close to you and the things of faith are distant. Then reflect on that which is close and understand its law and then apply it to that which is far, for it is the same One Who has framed both these laws.
(Part 2 will follow next month)