Religious Concepts

Faith, Certainty and Insight – Part 1


Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), The Promised Messiah and 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) explains what faith is and how it can be of benefit to mankind.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. III, 43-59.

As far as the belief in God Almighty, the question of metaphors, and the phenomena of here and the hereafter is concerned, the approach of philosophers is very different from that of prophets.

Faith in the Unseen Taught by Prophets

The main principle followed by the prophets is that faith proves fruitful only if the unseen is accepted as unseen, and the self-evident testimony of physical senses and absolute mathematical proof is not insisted upon inasmuch as all spiritual merit and worthiness of nearness to the Divine depends upon righteousness, and he alone possesses true righteousness who safeguards himself against the extremes of investigation, multiple denials, and testing every little detail, and is prepared to accept a way that appears safer and preferable to other ways as the truth, out of a sense of precaution. This is faith, and this is what helps open the door of divine grace and becomes the means of acquiring good fortune here and in the hereafter. When a person establishes himself firmly on faith and then seeks to foster his knowledge through prayer, worship, reflection and observation, God Almighty Himself becomes his Guardian, and, taking him by the hand, leads him from the stage of faith to that of ‘ain-ul-yaqin [certainty by sight.] But all this is achieved only through steadfastness, striving, effort and purification of the ego. He who seeks clarification of all details at the very first stage, and is not prepared to abandon his false doctrines and evil ways before such clarification, prevents himself from treading upon the path of righteousness and achieving merit. Faith demands belief in certain matters which are still unseen to some degree, that is to say, they are still in a condition which is not established fully by reason, nor has it been perceived through spiritual vision, but is accepted on the basis of probability.

This is the true philosophy of the prophets by following which, millions of God’s creatures have procured heavenly blessings and countless people have arrived at the stage of perfect understanding and many more continue to do so. The perfect certainties which the philosophers sought to achieve hastily and daringly, and failed to achieve, have not only all been achieved with the utmost ease by the faithful ones, but they have reached the stage of that perfect understanding which has not been heard or seen or conceived by any philosopher. As against this the false and deceptive philosophy, of which the newly educated are so fond, and the ill consequences of which have ruined so many of the simple-minded, demands, that until the root and branch of everything is fully established and is clearly revealed, it should never be acknowledged, whether it be God or anything else. The greater philosophers among them who held fast to these principles, called themselves research scholars, and they are also known as atheists. The doctrine of these great philosophers, resulting from their basic principle, is that whereas the existence of God cannot be established undeniably through reason, nor is the Being of God visible to the eye, belief in such a God is utterly contrary to the established philosophic doctrine. Thus at the very first step they set God Almighty aside, and repudiate the angels as they too, like God Almighty, are not visible. Then these philosophers turned their attention to the existence of souls and expressed the view that there was no satisfactory proof that the soul survives death, for it cannot be seen, nor does it disclose its existence in any perceptible manner. On the contrary, souls, after their separation from the body, leave no sign behind, nor do they produce any effect, and belief in their existence is equally contrary to reason. Thereafter, the penetrating sight of the learned philosophers discovered that the limitations of the law and the distinction between lawful and unlawful are contradictory to the basic philosophical principle and express the view that there is no philosophical reason to support the distinction between mother and sister and wife, or the distinction between that which is lawful and that which is unlawful, except in cases in which the harmfulness of something is established by the harm it does. They also opine that nudism is not in any way opposed to reason, and is hygienically beneficial in some respects.

These philosophers have set forth other doctrines also but the sum or the substance of their philosophy is that they do not accept anything without conclusive proof. In their philosophical view no type of misconduct need be discarded, unless it is proved to be hygienically harmful or socially disturbing. These are the superior philosophers. But those of a lower degree, being apprehensive of condemnation by the community, have, to some degree, softened their principles and profess a somewhat doubtful acceptance of God and the hereafter and other concepts of this kind. The superior philosophers regard them as utterly foolish and cowardly, and a source of disgrace, since they claim to be philosophers but do not adhere strictly to the basic principles of philosophy. Therefore the superior ones do not consider them worthy of the honourable appellation of a philosopher.

—Surmah Chashm-e-Arya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 2, pp. 83-88, footnote

I desire to lead these theoretical philosophers, who are unaware of the love for the Divine and are negligent in their appreciation of His Exalted Being, to the straight path through such persuasive arguments as I am capable of. I have observed that their spiritual condition has become very weak, and unwarranted freedom and weakness of faith have seriously undermined their sincerity, religious resolve, and spiritual condition. They have confused truth with falsehood in an odd manner. The roots of the blessings of religion are faith, confidence, goodwill, obedience of true spiritual guides, and the divine word, but these people misunderstand religion on account of their wrong philosophy.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon them to discard prejudice and self-approval, and reflect in a simple way upon the question: What is faith and why is it expected to confer any benefit?

Faith and Certainty

Be it known, therefore, that faith means a sincere declaration of the acceptance of the message of a prophet, out of righteousness and as a matter of wise precaution, purely on the basis of goodwill. That is to say, to proclaim acceptance whole-heartedly, finding that certain reliable factors point in that direction, without waiting for perfect and conclusive proof. The stage when perfect reasons and conclusive arguments become available in support of the truth is designated the stage of certainty through knowledge. When God Almighty, out of His special bounty, should in an extraordinary manner bestows the lights of guidance, and should acquaint a creature of His with His favours and bounties, and should bestow reason and knowledge from Himself, and opening the doors of visions and revelation should disclose the wonders of divinity, and should reveal His beauty as the Beloved, that stage is designated understanding, or in other words, certainty by sight and is also called guidance and insight.

When, in consequence of the profound effect of all these experiences, the heart of a lover of God is surcharged with love and devotion to a degree where his whole being is saturated with delight, and heavenly light totally envelops his heart and excludes all darkness and constraint, so that, on account of the perfection of his love and devotion and the climax of his sincerity and loyalty, misfortunes and calamities become a source of delight and sweetness for him, that stage is designated as the stage of being at rest. It is also called salvation, deliverance or certainty by realisation.

All these ranks are granted after arriving at the stage of faith. One who is firm in one’s faith progressively achieves these ranks. But one who does not adopt the way of faith and demands conclusive, certain, and patent proof of every verity before accepting it, has no relationship with the way of faith and can never become the recipient of the grace of that Almighty and Self-Sufficient Being.

It has ever been the way of Allah—and this is a fine point of the appreciation of the Divine over which the fortunate ones should reflect—that merit and heavenly grace follow only upon faith. The true philosophy of this way is that in the primary stage of faith a person should avoid a long series of doubts and denials regarding the acceptance of the Absolute Self-Sufficient One, and His power and His promise, and His warning, and His revelations, and His mysteries. For the maintenance of the condition of faith, on which all merit depends, it is necessary that God Almighty should not display all matters of faith as plainly as other realities become apparent to everyone.

—Surmah Chashm-e-Arya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 2, pp. 70-80

Faith means acceptance at a stage when knowledge is not yet complete, and the struggle with doubts and suspicions is still in progress. He who believes, that is to say, has faith, on the basis of probability and likelihood and despite weakness and the lack of perfect means of certainty, is accounted righteous in the estimation of the Supreme One. Thereafter, perfect understanding is bestowed on him as a bounty, and he is given to drink of the cup of understanding after partaking of faith. When a pious one, on hearing the call of a messenger, a prophet or a commissioned one of God, does not just go about criticising, but takes that portion which he can recognise and understand on the basis of clear proof the means of acceptance and faith, and considers that which he is unable to understand as metaphorical or allegorical, and thus removing all contradiction out of the way, believes simply and sincerely, then God Almighty, having pity on him and being pleased with his faith, and hearing his supplications, opens the gates of perfect understanding for him and leads him to perfect certainty through visions, revelation and other heavenly signs.

—Ayyam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, p. 261

The Word of God directs us: Have faith and you will be delivered. It does not tell us: Demand philosophical reasons and conclusive proofs in support of the doctrines that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has presented to you, and do not accept them until they are established like mathematical formulae. It is obvious that if the teaching of a Prophet is to be accepted only after being tested by the canons of current knowledge, that would not be faith in the prophet; inasmuch as every verity when it is established clearly, becomes binding, whether it is set forth by a prophet or by anyone else. Even if expounded by a vicious person it has to be accepted. That which we would accept by putting our trust in a prophet, and by affirming his righteousness, must be of a nature which possesses a probability of truth in the estimation of reason and yet leaves room for a foolish person to incline towards its rejection as false; so that by taking the side of truth and affirming the righteousness of a prophet we may be rewarded for our well-thinking, penetrating intelligence, respectfulness and faith. This is the purport of the teaching of the Holy Qur’an that we have set forth. But thinkers and philosophers have never followed this way and have always been heedless of faith. They have always been in search of the kind of knowledge which is demonstrated to them as being immediate, incontrovertible and certain.

It should be remembered that God Almighty, by demanding faith in the unseen, does not wish to deprive the believers of certainty of understanding the Divine. Indeed, faith is a ladder for arriving at this certainty of understanding, without which it is in vain to seek true understanding. Those who climb this ladder surely experience for themselves the pure and undefiled spiritual verities. When a sincere believer accepts divine commands and directions for the only reason that God Almighty has bestowed them upon him through a righteous bearer, he becomes deserving of the bounty of understanding. That is why God Almighty has established a law for His servants that they should first acknowledge Him by believing in the unseen, so that all the problems they face may be resolved through the bounty of true understanding. But it is a pity that a hasty one does not adopt these ways. The Holy Qur’an contains the promise of God Almighty that if a person, who accepts the call of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) on the basis of faith, seeks to comprehend its reality and strives after such comprehension, the reality will be disclosed to him by means of visions and revelations and his faith will be elevated to the stage of the understanding.

—A’ina-e-Kamalat-e-Islam, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 5, pp. 251-253, footnote

Salvation Depends on Faith

I affirm repeatedly and emphatically that if religious doctrines had been self-evident like philosophical propositions and mathematical equations, they would certainly not have been considered the basis for achieving salvation. Dear brethren, rest assured that salvation depends upon faith, and faith is related to the unseen. If the underlying reality of things had not been concealed, there would have been no faith, and without faith there would be no salvation. It is faith alone which is the means of winning divine pleasure. It is a ladder for achieving nearness to God, and a spring for washing away the rust of sin. We are dependent upon God Almighty, and it is faith that discloses this dependence. We are dependent on God Almighty for our salvation and our deliverance from every ill. Such deliverance can be achieved only through faith. The remedy for the torments of this life and the hereafter is faith. When, through the power of faith, we find that a difficulty is not impossible of resolution, it is resolved for us. It is through the power of faith that we are able to achieve that which appears to be impossible and contrary to reason.

It is through the power of faith that miracles and extraordinary events are witnessed, and what is considered impossible happens. It is through faith that we are convinced of the existence of God. He remained hidden from philosophers, and thinkers could not discover Him; but faith leads to God even a humble one who is clothed in rags, and enables him to converse with Him. The power of faith is the means of contact between a believer and the True Beloved. This power leads a poor humble one who is rejected of mankind to the palace of holiness, which is the throne of Allah and, gradually removing all intervening obstructions, reveals the countenance of the Eternal Beloved.

Arise then, and seek faith and burn the dry and useless tomes of philosophy; only through faith shall you achieve blessings. One particle of faith is better than a thousand volumes of philosophy. Faith is not only the means of achieving salvation in the hereafter, but also provides deliverance from the torments and curses of this life. We find deliverance from soul-melting sorrows through the blessings of faith. It is faith through which a perfect believer finds comfort and joy in the midst of anxiety, agony, torment and sorrow, and when he is confronted with failure in all directions and all the familiar doors appear locked and barred. Perfect faith removes all feeling of distance and separation. There is no wealth that can be compared to faith. In this world everyone, with the exception of the believer, is overwhelmed with grief. In this world everyone is afflicted with the agony of loss and unfulfilled desires, except a believer.

Faith! how sweet are your fruits and how fragrant are your flowers; praise be to Allah, how wonderful are your blessings and what beautiful lights shine in you. No one can reach the Pleiades unless he is inspired by you. It has pleased God Almighty that now you should arrive and philosophy should depart. Nothing can stop His grace.

—A’ina-e-Kamalat-e-Islam, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 5, pp. 270-273, footnote

Progressive Stages of Faith

It is obvious that the primary task and important step we have to undertake is to recognise God. If our recognition of God is defective, doubtful and befogged, our faith cannot be bright and shining. So long as we have no true experience of the recognition of God, through His attribute of Rahimiyyah, we cannot drink the fresh water of the spring of true comprehension. If we do not deliberately deceive ourselves, we will have to confess that we need our doubts and hesitations to be removed through the divine attribute of Rahimiyyah, and we need our hearts to be so powerfully affected by the experience of divine mercy, grace and power, as to rescue us from the passions that overpower us on account of the weakness of our faith, and turn us to the opposite direction. Is it not true that on arriving in this fleeting world, man becomes involved in a dangerous darkness because his heart is not illumined by the powerful rays of divine recognition? He is not inspired by the search for the joys of the hereafter and of true prosperity as much as he is attracted to the world and its appendages: wealth, powers, and governance. If he were to find some prescription that would enable him to abide in this world forever, he would be ready to affirm that he has no desire for heaven and for the bounties of the hereafter. What is the reason for this? Is it not that there is no true faith in the existence of God Almighty, His power, His mercy and His promises?

Thus it is necessary for a seeker after truth to continuously occupy himself with the search for true faith and not to deceive himself by thinking that he is a Muslim who believes in God and His Messenger, and reads the Holy Qur’an, and shuns associating anything with God, and observes prayer and avoids evils and improprieties.

In the hereafter, only that person will achieve perfect salvation, true prosperity and real happiness who has gained in this life that living and true light which turns a person, together with all his faculties and capacities and designs, towards God Almighty and whereby his lower life dies altogether, and his soul undergoes a righteous change. What is that living and true light? It is the divinely bestowed capacity, which is designated certainty or perfect comprehension. This is the power that pulls a person with its strong hand out of a dark and fearful pit and places him against a bright and peaceful background.

Before this light is acquired, all righteous actions are by way of habit, and a person is likely to stumble when confronted with the least trial. Without perfect certainty no one’s relationship with God is duly adjusted. He who is granted certainty flows like water and rushes like the wind towards God. He consumes everything else like fire and, in trials and misfortunes, displays a firmness like that of the earth. Recognition of God renders a person insane in the eyes of the world, but sane and wise in the estimation of God. This drink possesses a sweetness which renders the whole body sweet; it is a delicious milk, which relieves him who drinks it of all desire for other bounties. It can be achieved only through such prayers as are offered at the risk of one’s life. It is not acquired through the sacrifice of another’s blood but through true sacrifice of the ego. How difficult is this task. Ah! how difficult!

—Ayyam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, pp. 244-246

Blessings of Divine Recognition

Those who truly seek God know well that comprehension of God can be achieved only through God Himself, and God alone can bestow full recognition of Himself. This is not a matter of man’s own choice. By no contrivance can man discard sin and achieve nearness to God unless he is granted full comprehension. No atonement can be of help, nor is there any way of being purified from sin, except through that perfect comprehension which generates perfect love and perfect fear. These two alone provide a barrier against sin. When the fire of the love and fear of Allah is set ablaze, it reduces all causes of sin to ashes. This holy fire and the foul fires of sin can never coexist. Man cannot desist from evil, nor can he advance in love, until he is blessed with full comprehension, and that does not happen until God Almighty sends down living blessings and miracles.

—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyyah, part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 21, p.7

Humbleness is like a seed for faith. By discarding all that is vain, faith begins to sprout. When one spends one’s wealth in the cause of Allah, the plant of faith brings forth shoots which strengthen it to a degree. By exercising control over carnal passions, these branches acquire strength and firmness. By safeguarding all branches of one’s trusts and covenants, the tree of faith is enabled to stand firm on its trunk. Then, at the time of bringing forth fruit, the grace of a new capacity is bestowed on it, without which it can bring forth neither fruit nor flowers.

—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyyah, part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 21, p. 209, footnote

Remember, it is never possible to get rid of sin without the certainty of faith. Without certainty, it is not possible to live the life of angels; without it, it is not possible to discard debauchery; without it, it is not possible to undergo a holy change and to be drawn towards God in an extraordinary manner; without it, it is not possible to leave the earth and climb to heaven; without it, it is not possible to have perfect fear of God; without it, it is not possible to tread along the delicate paths of righteousness and to purify one’s conduct of all traces of ostentations. Similarly, it is not possible without this certainty to reject worldly riches and honour, and be heedless of the favour of kings and to believe in God alone as one’s treasure.

—Nuzul-ul-Masih, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 18, pp.469-470

Three Categories of the Faithful

Those who submit to God are, in fact, of three types. First, those who, on account of the obstruction of worldly means, are not able to see God’s beneficence clearly, and are not inspired by that eagerness which is generated by an appreciation of the grandeur of divine beneficence; nor are they moved by the love which is inspired by a concept of the greatness of the Benefactor’s favours. They casually acknowledge God Almighty as the Creator, but do not contemplate the details of divine beneficence which would impress a true concept of the Divine Benefactor upon their minds, inasmuch as the dust of exaggerated regard for material means creates a veil which prevents them from observing the full countenance of the Creator of the means. They are thus unable to appreciate the full beauty of the Bountiful. Their defective comprehension is confused by their regard for the means, and, as they are not able to estimate duly the bounties of God, they do not pay as much attention to Him as would be generated in their minds by a proper appreciation of His favours. Thus, their comprehension is somewhat misty because they put their trust in their own efforts and in the means that are available to them. They also acknowledge formally their obligation towards God on account of His being the Creator and the Provider. As God Almighty does not require of anyone that which is beyond the limits of his intellectual capacity, He only requires of them an expression of gratitude for His favours. In the verse:

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأۡمُرُ بِٱلۡعَدۡلِ[1]

‘justice’ implies only this kind of obedience.

But above this there is another grade of comprehension which is reached when a person, disregarding the means, clearly observes God’s gracious and beneficent hand and emerges completely out of the veils of material means. At that stage, he realises the futility and falsity of expressions like: ‘I obtained this success through proper irrigation of my fields;’ or ‘I obtained this success through my own efforts;’ or ‘I achieved my purpose through the favour of X;’ or ‘I was saved from ruin by the care of Y.’

Rather, he beholds only one Being and one Power and one Benefactor and one Hand. Then he views the favours of God Almighty clearly without the least obstruction resulting from associating means with the Benefactor. This view is so clear and certain that in his worship of the true Benefactor he does not contemplate Him as being absent but conceives Him as being present. Such worship is designated by the Holy Qur’an as ihsan. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has himself attributed this meaning to ihsan, as reported in Bukhari and Muslim.

There is yet another grade above this, which is:

إِيتَآيِٕ ذِي ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ [2]

It means that when a person continues to view divine favours, without the association of material means, and worships God conceiving Him to be present and to be the direct Benefactor, he begins to have personal love for God.

The continuous contemplation of beneficence necessarily generates in the heart of the beneficiary love for the Benefactor, Whose unlimited favours surround him on all sides. In such a situation he does not worship the Benefactor merely out of an appreciation of His bounties, but out of personal love for Him like the love of an infant for its mother. At this stage he not only views God at the time of his worship but is also filled with delight like a true lovers. This is the grade which God Almighty has designated to be like beneficence between kindred, and this is the grade which is indicated in the verse:

 فَٱذۡكُرُواْ ٱللَّهَ كَذِكۡرِكُمۡ ءَابَآءَكُمۡ أَوۡ أَشَدَّ ذِكۡرًا [3]

which throws light on the verse:

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأۡمُرُ بِٱلۡعَدۡلِ وَٱلۡإِحۡسَٰنِ وَإِيتَآيِٕ ذِي ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ [4]

Here God Almighty sets out the three grades of comprehension of the Divine. The third grade is that of personal love, at which all personal desires are consumed, and the heart becomes so filled with love as a crystal vial is filled with perfume. This grade is also referred to in the verse:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشۡرِي نَفۡسَهُ ٱبۡتِغَآءَ مَرۡضَاتِ ٱللَّهِۚ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفُۢ بِٱلۡعِبَادِ [5]

This means that: ‘Of the believers there are some who sell their lives in return for the pleasure of Allah. These are the ones upon whom Allah is Most Compassionate.’ Again it is said:

بَلَىٰ مَنۡ أَسۡلَمَ وَجۡهَهُۥ لِلَّهِ وَهُوَ مُحۡسِنٌ فَلَهُۥٓ أَجۡرُهُۥ عِندَ رَبِّهِۦ وَلَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يَحۡزَنُونَ [6]

That is: ‘The truly delivered are those who commit themselves wholly to God and, recalling His favours, worship Him as if they behold Him. Such have their reward with God and they have no fear, nor do they grieve.’

That is to say, God and His love become their whole purpose, and their reward is divine favours. At another place it is said:

وَيُطۡعِمُونَ ٱلطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِۦ مِسۡكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا  *إِنَّمَا نُطۡعِمُكُمۡ لِوَجۡهِ ٱللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمۡ جَزَآءً وَلَا شُكُورًا [7]

That is: ‘Believers are those who, out of their love for God, feed the needy, the orphans and the captives saying: We feed you in order to win the pleasure of Allah; we do not desire anything in return or any expression of gratitude from you.’

These verses show clearly that the Holy Qur’an has described the highest grade of divine worship and righteous action as that which is inspired by true love of God and sincere seeking of His pleasure. This excellent teaching, which is set out so clearly in the Holy Qur’an, is not explained with such clarity and detail in the Gospels. God Almighty has designated this religion as Islam, so as to indicate that man should worship God not out of selfish motives, but out of spontaneous eagerness.

Islam means discarding all desires and submitting to divine will. In this world, no religion other than Islam lays down such objectives. There is no doubt that for the demonstration of His mercy God has promised the believers diverse types of bounties; but He has instructed those believers who are eager to achieve the highest grade that they should worship Him out of spontaneous personal love.

—Nur-ul-Qur’an, No. II, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 9, pp. 437-441

[1] ‘Verily Allah enjoins justice.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 16:91.

[2] ‘Giving like kindred.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 16:91.

[3] ‘Celebrate the praises of Allah as you celebrated the praises of your fathers, or even more than that.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 2:201.

[4] ‘Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others and giving like kindred.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 16:91.

[5] The Holy Qur’an, 2:208.

[6] The Holy Qur’an, 2:113.

[7] The Holy Qur’an, 76:9-10.