Religious Concepts

Faith, Certainty and Insight – Part 4


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. In this series, the Promised Messiah (as) describes the different stages through which one must pass through in order to attain spirituality.

This is the fourth part of a multipart series.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. III, 78-90.

Stages of Spiritual Fulfilment

The word aflaha is repeated six times in these verses.[1] In the first verse its use is explicit as is said:

[2] قَدۡ أَفۡلَحَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ * ٱلَّذِينَ هُمۡ فِي صَلَاتِهِمۡ خٰشِعُونَ

In the other verses it is expressed through the conjunctive. In the lexicon the meaning of aflaha is أُصِيْرُ إِلَى الْفَلَاحِ i.e., one was turned towards his object of success and made to move towards it. According to this meaning, the first move of a believer towards achieving his objective is humility in his prayer, an act that involves the abandonment of pride and arrogance. The objective attained thereby is that the self adopts the habit of humbleness and becomes ready and attuned to establishing a relationship with God.

The second step towards fulfilment is the abandonment of vain thinking and pursuits, for until a believer acquires the strength to abandon vain pursuits for the sake of God, which is not a difficult matter, it is unreasonable to expect that he will be able to turn away from such pursuits from which he derives some benefit or pleasure, and which are difficult to abandon. This shows that after the abandonment of pride the next step is the giving up of vain pursuits in consequence of which some relationship is established with God Almighty and, as a result, faith becomes stronger than before. This relationship is feeble because the relationship with vain pursuits is also feeble and by discarding a weak relationship, one is rewarded with a relationship which is also weak.

The third step towards spiritual fulfilment is to spend one’s wealth in the cause of Allah, which is a greater sacrifice than turning away from vain pursuits, as wealth is earned with effort and is something useful, and is also a source of prosperity and comfort. This sacrifice requires stronger faith than the giving up of vain pursuits. Consequently, faith is strengthened further and the relationship with God is likewise fostered. This purifies the self because the sacrifice of wealth for the sake of God is not possible without such purification.

The fourth step is the restraint of passions against unlawful indulgence, which is a stronger attachment than attachment to wealth, for wealth is spent in the pursuit of one’s passions. To control passion for the sake of God is a greater sacrifice than the sacrifice of wealth. Consequently, the abandonment of the pursuit of passions strengthens relationship with God, for whatever a person gives up for the sake of God, he is granted something better in its place.

لطف او ترک طالبان نہ کند            کس بہ کارہش زیاں نہ کند

[3] ہر کہ آن راہ جست یافتہ است         تافت آں رو کہ سر نتافتہ است

The fifth step is to discard the ego altogether in the cause of God. This means to render back to God that which has been committed to one as a trust. At this stage, a believer is required to modify his relationship to everything that is bestowed upon him as if all of it were a trust to be devoted to the cause of God. This is the meaning of the verse:

[4] وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمۡ لِاَ مٰنٰتِهِمۡ وَعَهۡدِهِمۡ رٰعُونَ

A person’s life and wealth and all his sources of comfort are trusts committed to him by God; rendering them back is obligatory on the trustee. The sacrifice of the ego, therefore, means that the trust should be rendered back to God Almighty, and also that one’s covenant of faith with God should be duly fulfilled and the obligations that one owes to his fellow beings should be fully discharged as a true sacrifice, inasmuch as the complete fulfilment of all aspects of righteousness also amounts to a type of death. In this context, fulfilment means that when a believer spends his life in the cause of God and carries into effect all aspects of righteousness, divine lights envelop his being and invest him with spiritual beauty, as the bones are rendered beautiful by being clothed in flesh…Both these states have been described by God Almighty as garments. Righteousness too has been described as a garment, as Allah says:

[5] لِبَاسُ ٱلتَّقۡوَىٰ

The flesh with which the bones are clothed has also been described as a garment, as Allah says:

[6] فَكَسَوۡنَا ٱلۡعِظَٰمَ لَحۡمًا

…It should be remembered that the fifth stage is the final stage of the spiritual journey. When that stage reaches perfection, it is followed by the sixth stage, which is a pure bounty, and is bestowed upon the believer without any further effort or toil. Effort has nothing to do with it. In other words, just as the believer forsakes his self for the sake of God, and is granted a new soul…; in the same way, a believer who dedicates his life to the cause of God out of personal love for God, is honoured with the spirit of God’s personal love which is accompanied by the Holy Spirit. God’s personal love is a spirit and the Holy Spirit is not something apart from it; there is no separation between God’s love and the Holy Spirit. That is why we have mostly mentioned God’s personal love without mentioning the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as the two are essential to each other. When this spirit descends upon a believer, worship ceases to be a burden, and he is invested with such strength and pleasure that it prompts him to worship and remember God out of the eagerness of love and not through conscious effort. Such a believer continuously attends upon the threshold of God, like the angel Gabriel, and is granted permanent nearness of the Lord of Honour, as God Almighty has said:

[7] وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمۡ عَلٰى صَلَوٰتِهِمۡ يُحَافِظُونَ

That is: ‘The perfect believers are those who are ever present before God and themselves guard their prayers.’

At that stage a believer deems his prayer essential for nurturing his spiritual life without which he cannot survive. This stage cannot be achieved without the spirit which descends from God Almighty upon a believer. When a believer discards his life for the sake of God Almightyو he deserves to be given a new life.

All this shows that according to sane reason, these are the six stages which have to be traversed by a believer who seeks the perfection of his spiritual being, and even cursory reflection would show that a believer must pass through six conditions during the course of his spiritual journey. The reason for this is that until a person succeeds in establishing a perfect relationship with God, his imperfect ego loves five vicious conditions, and the discarding of the love of each condition requires a motive which should enable him to overcome that love so that a new love may take its place.

The first condition which a person loves is one of heedlessness in which he is at a distance from God Almighty. His ego is in a sort of disbelief, and he is drawn towards arrogance and hard-heartedness and does not at all partake of humility and meekness and lowliness. He loves this condition and regards it as the best for himself.

When divine favour designs his reform, some event or calamity impresses the grandeur and fear and power of God Almighty upon his heart, in consequence of which he becomes humble and his love of pride, arrogance and heedlessness is altogether wiped out. It is often observed that when the whip of divine terror strikes in a fearful manner, it bends down the necks of even daring evildoers; it awakens them from the slumber of heedlessness and makes them humble and meek. This is the first stage of turning to God available to a fortunate one through observing divine grandeur and awe or through some other means. Although he loved his heedless and unrestrained life, he has to give it up as it yields to a stronger and opposite influence.

The second condition is that though such a believer does turn towards God Almighty in some measure, this change is still affected by the impurity of vain talk, actions and pursuits that he loves. He sometimes experiences humility in prayer but vain pursuits and associations and indulgences continue to preoccupy him. In a sense he oscillates between two states.

واعظاں کیں جلوہ بر محراب و ممبر مے کنند

[8] چوں بخلوت مے روندآں کار دیگر مے کنند

Thereafter, if divine favour wishes to save him from ruin, another greater manifestation of divine grandeur, awe and power descends upon his heart which strengthens his faith and consumes all his vain thoughts and tendencies. It generates in his heart such love for the Lord of Honour as overcomes his love for vain pursuits and preoccupations and displaces them with the result that his heart becomes disgusted with such deeds. A third evil condition which still afflicts the believer and which is dearer to him than the second, is his natural love of wealth, which he considers the support and comfort of his life and which he conceives as having been achieved through his own effort and striving. For this reason, he finds it very difficult and bitter to part from his wealth in the cause of God.

When divine favour desires to rescue him from this tremendous involvement, he is given knowledge of the providence of God and the seed of trust in God is sown in his heart. This is supplemented by the awe of the Divine, and these two manifestations of beauty and glory take possession of his heart; in consequence the love of wealth departs from his heart and the seed of the love of the Bestower of wealth is sown in its place. Thereby his faith is further strengthened beyond the degree of faith which he enjoyed in the previous stages, inasmuch as at this stage he not only discards all things vain, but also gives up the wealth on which he thinks his present life depends. If his faith had not been strengthened with the support of trust in God, and his eyes had not been directed towards the True Providence, he could not have been cured of the malady of miserliness. Thus this power of faith not only rescues him from indulgence in all vanity, but also creates a strong faith in the providence of God and illumines the heart with the light of trust in God. He can now spend his wealth, of which he had been enamoured, very easily and cheerfully in the cause of God, and the weakness which results from the despair of miserliness is totally replaced by eager hope in God Almighty; and the love of wealth is overcome by the love of the Bestower of wealth.

This is followed by the fourth condition which is so dearly loved by nafs-e-ammarah [the self that incites to evil] and which is much worse than the third condition in which only wealth had to be discarded. In this condition, the unlawful passions of the ego have to be eschewed. The sacrifice of wealth is naturally easier for a person than the discarding of his carnal passions. Therefore this condition is more terrible and dangerous than the previous one. Witness the verse:

[9] وَلَقَدۡ هَمَّتۡ بِهِ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوۡلَآ أَن رَّءَا بُرۡهٰنَ رَبِّهِ

This means that carnal passion is so fierce an urge that its restraint needs a strong sign. Thus it is obvious that the power of faith in the fourth stage is much stronger than it is in the third stage, and the manifestation of divine grandeur, awe and power is also greater. At this stage it is also necessary that the prohibited pleasure should be substituted by a spiritual pleasure. As strong faith in the providence of God Almighty is needed to cure miserliness, and a strong feeling of trust is required when the pocket is empty so that miserliness may be repelled and hope may be fixed on the opening of hidden sources, in the same way, for deliverance from carnal passions and the extinguishing of the fire of lust, it is necessary to have strong faith in the fire which affects both body and soul with severe torment. Also needed is a taste of the spiritual delight which renders these murky pleasures unattractive and dispensable.

A person who is in the grip of carnal passion is, as it were, caught in the mouth of a most poisonous serpent. Thus, as the malady of miserliness is graver than the malady of indulgence in vain pursuits, in the same way being caught in the grip of carnal passions is graver than the malady of miserliness, and is a severer calamity than all other calamities, and needs the special mercy of God Almighty to be delivered from it. When God Almighty designs to deliver someone from this calamity, He visits him with such a manifestation of His grandeur, awe and power, as grinds down all carnal passions and invests his heart with eagerness for His own love along with a manifestation of beauty. Just as a suckling baby, on being weaned, passes a restless night or two, and soon forgets its mother’s milk and turns away from suckling even if the mother presents her breast to him, in the same way, a righteous one is disgusted with carnal passions when he is weaned away from the milk of desire and is granted spiritual nourishment in its place.

This is followed by the fifth condition, the disorders of which are dearly loved by the self that incites to evil. At this stage only one struggle is left and the time approaches near when the angels of God would conquer the whole territory of the ego and would bring it under their complete control, and, disrupting the whole system of the ego, would ruin the territory of carnal faculties and humiliate its chieftains and destroy their kingdom. For that is what happens when a kingdom is destroyed, as it is said:

[10] إِنَّ ٱلۡمُلُوكَ إِذَا دَخَلُواْ قَرۡيَةً أَفۡسَدُوهَا وَجَعَلُوٓاْ أَعِزَّةَ أَهۡلِهَآ أَذِلَّةٗۚ وَكَذٰلِكَ يَفۡعَلُونَ

This is the last trial for a believer and is the last struggle with which all stages of his journey come to an end. His progress, through his effort and striving, arrives at its climax and human effort completes its operation up to its last limit. Thereafter, there is only bounty and grace, which is described as a new creation. This fifth condition is even more difficult than the fourth. In the fourth condition the believer has to discard unlawful passions but in the fifth condition he has to surrender his self altogether and to restore it to God Almighty as a trust which had been committed to his care. Devoting himself wholly to the work of God, he should make his ego serve on His behalf, be determined to spend it in the cause of Allah, and strive to negate his self altogether, for, as long as the self persists, sinful tendencies also continue – a condition which is inconsistent with righteousness. Besides, so long as the self persists, it is not possible for man to tread along the finer paths of righteousness or to discharge fully the trusts and covenants of God and His creatures. But as miserliness cannot be discarded without trust in God and faith in His providence, and deliverance cannot be achieved from illicit passions without the supremacy of divine awe and grandeur and the substitution of spiritual delights, in the same way this grand rank where the self is discarded and all trust restored to God Almighty, cannot be attained until a fierce wind of the love of God begins to blow and renders a person madly devoted to the cause of Allah. These are, in truth, the preoccupations of those who are inebriated with the love of God. These are not the pursuits of the worldly wise.

آسماں بار امانت نتوانست کشید

[11] قرعۂ  فال بنام من دیوانہ زدند

Almighty Allah points towards this, saying:

[12] إِنَّا عَرَضۡنَا ٱلۡأَمَانَةَ عَلَى ٱلسَّمٰوٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱلۡجِبَالِ فَأَبَيۡنَ أَن يَحۡمِلۡنَهَا وَأَشۡفَقۡنَ مِنۡهَا وَحَمَلَهَا ٱلۡإِنسٰنُۖ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

‘We presented Our trust, which must be rendered back to Us, to all those who dwell in the earth and in heaven but all of them refused to accept it, out of apprehension lest a default should ensue, but man accepted this trust as he was zalum [firm] and jahul [oblivious of consequences.]’

The two terms (zalum and jahul) are used for man as a compliment and not in a derogatory sense. They signify that man had been endowed with the capacity of being harsh upon his own self for the sake of God and could incline towards Him and be oblivious of his own being. Therefore, he accepted the responsibility of treating his entire being as a trust to be expended in His cause.

The requirement laid down for the fifth stage in the verse is:

[13] وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمۡ لِأَمٰنٰتِهِمۡ وَعَهۡدِهِمۡ رٰعُونَ

This means that: ‘The believers are those who are watchful of their trusts and covenants.’ That is to say, in discharging their trusts and covenants they spare no effort in exercising righteousness and watchfulness.

This is an indication that man and all his faculties, the vision of his eyes, the hearing of his ears, the speech of his tongue, and the strength of his hands and feet are all but a trust committed to him by God Almighty, and He can take them back whenever He so wills. Being watchful of these trusts means devoting all the faculties of the spirit and the body to the service of God Almighty while observing all the requirements of righteousness as if they all belong not to man but to God and their movement and operation is not directed by his will but by the will of God. One should have no design of one’s own, and only God’s will should work through all his faculties. His self in the hands of God should be like a corpse in the hands of the living. His own will should be excluded and the complete control of God Almighty should be established over his being, so much so, that by Him should he see, and by Him should he hear, and by Him should he speak, and by Him should he move or remain passive. The minutest impurities of the ego, which cannot be observed even through a microscope, should be removed, leaving only the pure spirit. In short, the guardianship of God should envelop him and should isolate him from his own being. He should cease to direct his being and all direction should come from God. His personal desires should be wiped out and should be replaced by divine designs. The previous governance of his being should be totally displaced by another. The habitation of the ego should be destroyed and the camp of the Divine should be established in its place. Divine awe and power should uproot all the plants that were watered from the foul spring of the ego, and replant them in the pure soil of the pleasure of God. All his desires and designs should be subordinated to God, and all the structures of the self that incites to evil should be demolished and laid in the dust, and a palace of purity and holiness should be erected in the heart which should become the habitation of the Lord of Honour. Only then could it be said that a person has restored those trusts that the Bountiful has committed to him, and has fulfilled the purpose of the verse:

[14] وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمۡ لِأَمٰنٰتِهِمۡ وَعَهۡدِهِمۡ رٰعُونَ

At this stage a framework is prepared and the spirit of divine manifestation, which means the personal love of the Divine, enters into the believer together with the Holy Spirit and bestows a new life and a new power upon him. All this happens under the influence of the spirit which, at this stage, establishes a relationship with the believer but does not yet take up its abode in his heart.

This is followed by the sixth spiritual stage in which the personal love of the believer reaches its climax and draws to itself the personal love of Allah the Exalted. Thereupon the personal love of God Almighty enters into the believer and envelops him, in consequence of which he is granted a new and extraordinary power. That power generates such life in his faith as a soul creates in the lifeless body. All faculties are illumined by it, and the believer is so inspired by the Holy Spirit, that he is given access to matters and to knowledge that are above normal human conception. At this stage the believer, having traversed all stages of the progress of faith, is designated in heaven as the vicegerent of God, on account of the excellences with which he is invested and which partake of divine qualities.


[1] The reference is to the opening verses of Surah al-Mu’minun, the twenty-third chapter of the Holy Qur’an. [Publisher]

[2] ‘Surely, success does come to the believers, who are humble in their Prayers.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 23:2-3.

[3] ‘His grace does not forsake the seekers;

In His path no one suffers loss.

Whoever seeks this path, finds it;

Bright becomes the face that does not turn away from Him.’

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 23:9.

[5] ‘Raiment of Righteousness.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 7:27.

[6] ‘Then We clothed the bones with flesh.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 23:15.

[7] The Holy Qur’an, 23:10.

[8] ‘The preachers who put up a great show on the pulpit;

Indulge in different kinds of activity in privacy.’

[9] ‘And she made up her mind with regard to him, and he made up his mind with regard to her. If he had not seen a manifest sign of his Lord, he could not have shown such determination.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 12:25.

[10] ‘Surely, kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and turn the highest of its people into the lowest. And thus will they do.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 27:35.

[11] ‘The heavens could not bear the burden of the trust;

It fell to my lot to carry it, for I cared not of the consequences.’

[12] The Holy Qur’an, 33:73.

[13] The Holy Qur’an, 23:9.

[14] Ibid.