An Introduction to The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam
With the renewed public and media interest in Islam, The Review of Religions is reprinting, in serial form, the well-known essay The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as). This essay presents the deep meaning and intellectual sophistication behind true Islamic principles. It offers Islamic arguments that take into account the psychology of human psyche, and represent the true Islamic model as taught by the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw).
Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian(as), the Promised Messiah, was the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and originally wrote this as an essay in Urdu, Islami Usul Ki Philosphy. It was presented at the second Conference of Great Religions in Lahore. Organised by a Hindu named Swami Sadhu Shugan Chandar. The purpose of the conference was to gather learned representatives from many of the world’s leading religions in order to discover the true religion. Each representative was asked to present to the audience the beauties of their own religion based upon its source, proving that it was the true religion.
The idea behind the conference was that, having listened to proofs and arguments from a variety of religious faiths, the audience would be better informed to make its religious choice. To this end, each participant was asked to answer the following five questions published in advance by a committee, to be answered by each speaker using his religion’s holy book:
What are the the physical, moral, and spiritual states of man?
What is the state of man after death?
What is the true purpose of man’s existence on earth, and how can this be achieved?
What are the affects of one’s deeds in this life and the after life?
What are the sources of divine knowledge?
The conference was widely attended and brought together representatives from a variety of faiths, including Hinduism, Christianity, Free Thinkers, and Sikhism, as well as scholars, lawyers, doctors and thousands of other professionals and academics. While the Promised Messiah(as) was unable to attend, he sent one of his Companions, Maulvi Abdul Karim(ra), to read out the essay. Six people were chosen as moderators, including the Judge of the Chief Court of Punjab and the former Governor of Jammu.
Before the conference had even begun, the Promised Messiah(as) publicly declared that his was no ordinary manuscript: “God, the All-Knowing, has revealed to me that my paper will be declared supreme over all other papers.”
Indeed, the events of the conference amply proved his claim. While each speaker was allotted two hours to present on the five questions, when Maulawi Abdul Karim’s first two hours had finished, he had not yet gone through even half of the paper. But the audience was so captivated by the essay that the moderators agreed to extend the conference in order to finish the reading of the paper. Moreover, in reports of the conference, various newspapers declared the superiority of this essay. For example, The Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore, declared that it “was an expert and flawless defence of Islam,” while the newspaper Chaudhawin Sadi reported, “by far the best lecture at the conference was the one written by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.”
Given the significance of this essay then, it is essential reading for anyone who wants to gain a deeper insight into the principles and meaning behind the teachings of Islam.
The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam
Translated from Urdu by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
Grand news for those searching the truth
In the conference of Great Religions which will be held in Lahore Town Hall on the 26th, 27th and 28th of December 1896, a paper written by this humble one, dealing with the excellences and miracles of the Holy Qur’an, will be read out. This paper is not the result of ordinary human effort but is a sign among the signs of God, written with His special support. It sets forth the beauties and truths of the Holy Qur’an and establishes like the noon-day sun that the Holy Qur’an is in truth God’s own Word and is a book revealed by the Lord of all creation.
Everyone who listens to this paper from the beginning to the end, to my treatment of all the five themes prescribed for the conference, will, I am sure, develop a new faith and will perceive a new light shining within himself and will acquire a comprehensive commentary on the Holy Word of God. This paper of mine is free from human weakness, empty boasts and vain assertions. I have been moved by sympathy for my fellow human beings to make this announcement, so that they should witness the beauty of the Holy Qur’an and should realise how mistaken our opponents are in that they love darkness and hate light. God, the All-Knowing, has revealed to me that my paper will be declared supreme over all other papers. It is full of the light of truth, wisdom and understanding which will put to shame all other parties, provided they attend the conference and listen to it from beginning to end. They will not be able to match these qualities from their scriptures, whether they are Christians or Aryas or those of Sanatan Dharm or any others, because God Almighty has determined that the glory of His Holy Book shall be manifested on that day.
I saw in a vision that out of the unseen a hand was laid on my mansion and by the touch of that hand a shining light emerged from the mansion and spread in all directions. It also illumined my hands. Thereupon someone, who was standing by me, proclaimed in a loud voice: Allahu Akbar, Kharibat Khaibar (God is Great, Khaibar has fallen). The interpretation is that by my mansion is meant my heart on which the heavenly light of the verities of the Holy Qur’an is descending, and by Khaibar are meant all the perverted religions which are afflicted with paganism and falsehood, in which man has been raised to occupy the place of God, or in which divine attributes have been cast down from their perfect station.
It was thus disclosed to me that the wide publication of this paper would expose the untruth of false religions and the truth of the Qur’an will spread progressively around the earth until it arrives at its climax. From this vision my mind moved towards the reception of revelation and I received the revelation: “God is with you, and God stands where you stand. This is a metaphor conveying the assurances of Divine support.” I need write no more. I urge everyone to attend the conference in Lahore even at some inconvenience and listen to these verities. If they do so their reason and their faith will derive such benefit as is beyond their expectation. Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.
Qadian, 21 December 1896.
Essay by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), read out by Maulana Abdul Karim in Lahore in the Conference of Great Religions Dharam Mahutsu on 27th December 1896
Bismillah Hir-Rahman Nir-Raheem
(In the Name of Allah, the Gracious the Merciful)
Nahmaduhu wa Nusalli ‘Alaa Rasulihil Kareem
(We praise Allah and send salutations upon His noble Prophet(saw))
It is necessary that a claim and the reasons in support of it must be set forth from a revealed book. In this auspicious Conference the purpose of which is that those who have been invited to participate in it should expound the merits of their respective religions with reference to the questions that have been formulated. I shall today set forth the merits of Islam. Before I proceed to do so I deem it proper to announce that I have made it obligatory upon myself that whatever I state will be based upon the Holy Qur’an, which is the Word of God Almighty.
I consider it essential that everyone who follows a book, believing it to be revealed, should base his exposition upon that book and should not so extend the scope of his advocacy of his faith as if he is compiling a new book.
As it is my purpose today to establish the merits of the Holy Qur’an and to demonstrate its excellence, it is incumbent upon me not to state anything which is not comprehended in the Qur’an and to set forth everything on the basis of its verses and in accord with their meaning and that which might be inferred from them, so that those attending the Conference should encounter no difficulty in carrying out a comparison between the teachings of different religions. As all those who believe in a revealed book will also confine themselves to statements comprised in their respective revealed books, I shall not make any reference to the traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw), inasmuch as all true traditions are only derived from the Holy Qur’an which is a perfect book comprehending all other books. In short, this is the day of the manifestation of the glory of the Holy Qur’an and I humbly beseech God Almighty to assist me in this undertaking – Amin.
The Physical, Moral and Spiritual States of Man
In the first few pages of this paper I have set forth certain introductory matters which might at first sight seem irrelevant, and yet it is necessary to have a clear concept of those matters for the proper appreciation of the reply to the quest on that has been set out above.
Three Types of Human Actions
The first question relates to the natural, moral and spiritual states of man. The Holy Qur’an has indicated three separate sources of these three states. In other words, it has pointed out three springs out of which these respective states flow.
First Source: The Self that Incites to Evil
The first spring, which is the source of all natural states is designated by the Holy Qur’an the Nafsi Ammarah, which means the self that incites to evil, as it says:
…the soul is surely prone to enjoin evil…(Ch.12:V.54)
This means that it is a characteristic of the human self that it incites man to evil and is opposed to his attainment of perfection and to his moral state, and urges him towards undesirable and evil ways. Thus the propensity towards evil and intemperance is a human state which predominates over the mind of a person before he enters upon the moral state. This is man’s natural state, so long as he is not guided by reason and understanding but follows his natural bent in eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, anger and provocation, like the animals. When a person is guided by reason and understanding and brings his natural state under control and regulates it in a proper manner, then these three states, as described, cease to remain the categories as natural states, but are called moral states.
Second Source: The Reproving Self
The source of the moral state of man is designated by the Holy Qur’an as Nafsi Lawwamah, as is said:
….and I do call to witness the self-accusing soul…. (Ch.75.V.3)
That is, I call to witness the reproving self; that is to say, I call to witness the self that reproves itself for every vice and intemperance. This reproving self is the second source of human state from which the moral state is generated. At this stage man ceases to resemble the animals. Calling it to witness is for the purpose of doing it honour, as if by advancing from the state of the self that is prone to evil and arriving at the state of the reproving self, it has become worthy of honour in divine estimation.
It is so called as it reproves man on vice and is not reconciled to man’s submitting to his natural desires and leading an unbridled existence like the animals. It desires that man should be in a good state and should practise good morals, and no kind of intemperance should be manifested in any aspect of human life, and natural emotions and desires should be regulated by reason.
As it reproves every vicious movement, it is called the reproving self. Though it reproves itself in respect of vices, yet it is not fully effective in practicing virtue and occasionally it is dominated by natural emotions, when it stumbles and falls. It is like a weak child who does not wish to stumble and fall but does so out of weakness, and is then remorseful over his infirmity. In short, this is the moral state of human self when it seeks to comprehend within itself high moral qualities and is disgusted with disobedience, but cannot achieve complete success.
The Third Source: The Soul at Rest
The third source which should be described as the beginning of the spiritual state of man is called by the Holy Qur’an Nafsi Mutma’innah, that is to say, the soul at rest, as is said:
And you! O Soul at peace! Return to your Lord well pleased with Him and He well pleased with you. So enter you among My chosen servants, And enter you My Garden. (Ch.89-Vs.28-31)
That is, O soul at rest that has found comfort in God return to thy Lord, thou well pleased with Him and He well pleased with thee. Now join My chosen servants and enter into My garden.
This is the stage when the soul of a person being delivered from all weaknesses is filled with spiritual powers and establishes a relationship with God Almighty without Whose support it cannot exist. As water flowing down from a height, on account of its volume and the absence of any obstruction, rushes with great force, in the same way the soul at rest flows towards God. That is indicated by the divine direction to the soul that has found comfort in God to return to its Lord. It undergoes a great transformation in this very life and is bestowed a paradise while still in this world. As this verse indicates in its direction to such a soul to return to its Lord, it is nourished by its Lord and its love of God becomes its nurture, and it drinks at this fountain of life and is thus delivered from death. This is indicated at another place in the Holy Qur’an where it is said:
He indeed truly prospers who purifies it. And he who corrupts it is ruined. (Ch.91:Vs.10-11)
That is, he who purifies his soul of earthly passions shall be saved and shall not suffer ruin, but he who is overcome by his earthly passions should despair of life.
In short, these three states may be called the natural, moral and spiritual states of man. As the natural urges of man become very dangerous when they are roused and often destroy the moral and spiritual qualities, they are described in God’s Holy Book as the self that incites to evil. It may be asked what is the attitude of the Holy Qur’an towards the natural state of man, what guidance does it furnish concerning it and how does it seek to control it?
The answer is that according to the Holy Qur’an the natural state of man has a very strong relationship with his moral and spiritual states, so much so that even a person’s manner of eating and drinking affects his moral and spiritual states. If the natural state of a person is subjected to the control of the directions of divine law it becomes his moral state and deeply affects his spirituality, as is said that whatever falls into a salt mine is converted into salt. That is why the Holy Qur’an has laid stress on physical cleanliness and postures, and their regulation in relation to all worship and inner purity and spiritual humility.
Reflection confirms that physical conditions deeply affect the soul. For instance, when our eyes are filled with tears, even if the tears are artificially induced, the heart is immediately affected and becomes sorrowful. In the same way, when we begin to laugh, even if the laughter is artificially induced, the heart begins to feel cheerful. It has also been observed that physical prostration in prayer induces humility in the soul. As a contrast when we draw ourselves up physically and strut about with our neck raised and our breast pushed forward, this attitude induces a mood of arrogance and vain glory. These instances establish clearly that physical conditions certainly affect spiritual conditions.
Experience also shows that different types of food affect the intellect and the mind in different ways. For instance, careful observation would disclose that people who refrain altogether from eating meat gradually suffer a decline of the faculty of bravery; they lose courage and thus suffer the loss of a divinely bestowed praiseworthy faculty. This is reinforced by the evidence of the divine law of nature that the herbivorous animals do not possess the same degree of courage as do carnivorous ones. The same applies to birds. Thus there is no doubt that morals are affected by food. Conversely those who are given to a diet consisting mainly of meat and eat very little of greens suffer a decline of meekness and humility. Those who adopt the middle course develop both types of moral qualities. That is why God Almighty has said in the Holy Qur’an:
…Eat and drink but do not be immoderate…. (Ch.7:V.32)
That is to say, eat meat and other foods but do not eat anything to excess, lest your moral state be adversely affected and your health might suffer.
As the soul is affected by physical conduct, in the same way sometimes the soul affects the body. For instance, when a person experiences sorrow his eyes become wet, and a person who feels happy, smiles. All our natural actions like eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, moving about, resting, bathing etc., affect our spiritual condition. Our physical structure is related intimately to our total humanity. If a certain part of the brain is injured, memory is immediately lost. An injury to another part of the brain causes loss of consciousness. Poisonous air affects the body and through it the mind, and the whole inner system, to which the moral impulses are related, is impaired and the unfortunate victim passes out quickly like a madman.
Thus physical injuries disclose that there is a mysterious relationship between the soul and the body which is beyond the ken of man. Reflection shows that the body is the mother of the soul. The soul does not descend from outside into the womb of a pregnant woman. It is a light that is inherent in the sperm which begins to shine forth with the development of the foetus. The Word of God Almighty conveys to us that the soul becomes manifest from the framework that is prepared in the womb from the sperm, as is said in the Holy Qur’an:
…Then We develop it into a new creation. So blessed is Allah, the Best of Creators. (Ch.23:V.15)
This means that God bestows a new creation on the body that is prepared in the womb and that new creation is called the soul. Greatly blessed is God Who has no equal as a creator.
The affirmation that a new creation is manifested from the body is a mystery that reveals the reality of the soul and points to the strong relationship between the soul and the body. We are also instructed thereby that the same philosophy underlies the physical acts and words and movements when they are manifested in the cause of God, that is to say, all these sincere actions are charged with a soul as the sperm is charged with a soul. As the framework of those actions is developed, the soul with which they are charged begins to shine and when that framework becomes complete the soul inside it shines forth in its full manifestation and discloses its spiritual aspect. At that stage those actions become fully alive. This means that when the framework of actions is completed, something shines forth from it suddenly like a flash of lightning. This is the stage concerning which God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an:
So when I have fashioned him in perfection and have breathed into him of My Spirit, fall you down into submission to him. (Ch.15:V.30)
That is, when I have completed his framework and have set right all his manifestations of glory and have breathed into him My spirit, then fall down in prostration all of you, on his account. This verse indicates that when the framework of actions is completed, a soul shines forth in it, which God attributes to Himself inasmuch as that framework is completed at the cost of worldly life. Thus the divine light which is dim in the beginning suddenly shines forth, so that on the beholding of this divine manifestation, it becomes incumbent on everyone to fall into prostration and to be drawn to that Light. Everyone perceiving that light falls into prostration and is naturally drawn to it, except Iblis who loves darkness.
Here it would be useful to mention that the human foetus shows signs of life almost four months and ten days after its conception, that is, at the inter-medial stage of its existence in the womb. The same laws of nature that cause the foetus to evolve from the vegetative to the animal state are also operative in spiritual birth. In other words, just as a foetus spends half the span of its existence in the privacy of the womb and then starts showing signs of animation and life, the same condition obtains in the birth of spiritual life as well.
The better part of a person’s life, before the onset of senility, can be measured at approximately eighty years, half of which is forty. Here the number forty correlates with the first four months the foetus spends in the womb prior to its first physical movements. Experience tells us that when man has lived half of his productive life – the first forty years which bear a strong likeness to the first four months of a foetus’ existence – his soul awakens and shows nascent signs of spiritual life, provided he is blessed with a pure disposition.
It is no secret that before he is forty a man’s life is mostly obscured by ignorance. The first seven or eight years of his existence are passed in infancy, and the following twenty-five or so years are mostly spent in the pursuit of learning or frittered away on libertine pleasures. Afterwards, he is married or is otherwise beguiled into chasing wealth and honour and exceeds all bounds in doing so. At this stage, even if man turns towards God his quest is somewhat tainted with material desires. His prayers are mostly for worldly gains and his cries and supplications are sullied by worldly desires. Thus, what little faith he has in the hereafter is offset by the fact that death appears only as a distant possibility. Just as when a dam bursts its banks and destroys whatever lies in its path, so does the flood of carnal passions imperil human life. In this state, how can he ever believe in the subtleties of the hereafter? Instead, he mocks and derides religion and parades his own dry logic and sophistry. Of course, if he is good by nature, he may believe in God, but does so without full faith and sincerity and that too is conditional upon his own success. If his desires are fulfilled he turns to God, if not, he turns to Satan. In short, youth is a critical period of one’s life and without Divine grace one might well land in the pit of hell. The fact is that this part of one’s life is the root of all evil. It is at this time that one contracts most physical ailments and some unmentionable diseases. The mistakes made in the callowness of youth often cause man to turn away from the True and Immutable God. Thus, at this age he fears God but little and is driven by carnal passion and dominated by his baser self. He pays little heed to the advice of others and suffers the consequences of this age for the remainder of his life.
As man approaches forty, he starts shedding the vagaries of his youth and ruefully looks back at many of his follies from which his counsellors had failed to dissuade him. The ebullience of his youth naturally begins to subside, for his physical condition declines with advancing age. The rebellious blood is no longer there, nor is there any more physical vitality and recklessness of youth. The time of deterioration and decay approaches fast.
At this stage, he also witnesses the passing away of his elders and even the untimely death of younger people whose loss leaves him stricken with grief. His parents too are probably no more and the world begins to betray its transience in a number of ways. It is as if God places before him a mirror and says, ‘Look, this is the reality of life of which you are so fond.’ It is then that he recalls his past mistakes with regret and undergoes a radical transformation ushering in a new life, provided he is well-meaning by nature and is one of those whom God has summoned. It is in this context that Allah, the Almighty, says:
And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents. His mother bears him with pain, and brings him forth with pain. And the bearing of him and his weaning takes thirty months, till, when he attains his full maturity and reaches the age of forty years, he says, ‘My Lord, grant me the power that I may be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do such good works as may please You. And make my seed righteous for me. I do turn to You; and, truly, I am of those who submit to You.’ (Ch.46:V.16)
That is, we enjoined on man [saying to him:] “Be good to your parents. You should realise what agony your mother suffered for you! During your pregnancy she suffered pain for a long period of time and with pain she brought you forth. For thirty months she remained in discomfort during gestation and breastfeeding you. Again, He says that when a good person reaches forty and matures he recalls Divine exhortations and says, ‘My Lord, let me be grateful for the favours You have bestowed on me and on my parents and grant me the opportunity to do such good works as may please You, and make my seed righteous for me. That is to say, if I failed in my duty to my parents, let not my children do the same. If ever I strayed from the right path, let them not follow suit. My Lord, I repent and turn to You and am of those who submit’
Thus, God has made it clear that the fortieth year is a blessing for those who are righteous and it is then that the spirit of truth awakens in them. Most of God’s Prophets were raised in the fortieth year of their lives. For instance, our Lord and Master, the Holy Prophet(saw) was also raised for the reformation of mankind in his fortieth year.
Continues in the next edition