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QUESTION & ANSWER: Distortion of Religion

49Review of Religions – Jan 2002 H a d h rat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: From an Ahmadiyya point of view and that is, as I have explained before, from an Islamic point of view as we understand Islam, religion in its essence is seen as one entity – as one entire, undivided domain. With such a view of the religious domain, a general condemnation of a part of religion or a form of religion would create other problems as this would point to the notion that God has been revealing himself differently to different people at different times on this planet. [This could also lead to the view that there exist different gods] and that, in turn, would imply that there have to be at least two gods or as many as the number of differences. On the other hand, it may be that, (heaven forbid), there is a god who has lost control of his faculties completely and, as a result, one day he is thinking one Distortion of Religion Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, from time to time offers to people of all nationalities, faiths and beliefs the opportunity of raising questions and issues that are of interest to them. Presented below are answers to some questions raised in a session held in 1988 for students at Cambridge University. Prepared by Amatul Hadi Ahmad In most of Africa and possibly in most of the world there exist tra d – itional beliefs that are condemned as ‘heathen’ and ‘pagan’. What would be your view or the vi e w of the Ahmadiyya Community regarding such traditional religions that still exist in various parts of the world, particularly in Africa. QUESTIONER 50 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 thing and another day something else which is completely different. In other words he is inconsistent about the world he has created. This is the reason why, as I stated earlier, according to the Ahmadiyya philosophy there has to be a single entity of religion not a divided one. It should be the case that religions should basically approve of each o t h e r’s fundamental views but this is what we do not see. This is the dilemma that needs to be resolved instead of condemning other religions. Once this dilemma has been resolved, the need for condemnation disap- pears automatically as one begins to see the real nature of this issue. According to the philosophy presented by the Holy Qur’an, every religion on earth was originally revealed by God. God came into contact with His chosen servants and a light was given to them and there was fundamentally no difference between that light – all the Prophets came with the same fundamental message that had two aspects. One was to bow to the authority of Allah the Almighty God, and not to bow to the authority of anyone else other than God and secondly, to discharge one’s duty to others and to treat others kindly, justly and mercifully. According to the Holy Qur’an these are the two fundamentals that are to be found in every message given to all the Prophets. Hence, it was only Prophets who came [with a message for mankind] and never gods or manifestations of gods. What we see, however, is different. What we observe everywhere on earth, in every region we investigate, is that either sons of god, brothers of gods or partners of god and sometimes thousands of gods appearing as manifestations of god. The Holy Qur’an further explains how it is that this comes to be. The explanation it offers is as follows: Initially, when a Messenger of God proclaims himself to be from God and gives the message he has received from God to his people, he is vehemently opposed by the majority of those people and they wish to destroy him and annihilate him. That is the first trait of hatred found in the majority of people, that is expressed and manifested in the first stage of a Pr o p h e t ’s declaration of his appointment by God. After going through a long 51 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 period of sacrifices, the Messengers of God eventually gain wider and wider acceptance and, it is usually some time after their demise that they ultimately achieve widespread acceptance. Once accepted, a different process of distortion begins to takes place and that is one of raising the status of a Messenger of God from humanity to some sort of ‘super humanity’. This, according to the Holy Qur’an, occurs everywhere and the same phenomenon continues to repeat itself. In short, what happens in the first stage is hatred, distorting the person and the reality of the Messenger, declaring him to be something less than human and yet, later on, human beings with the same human psychology try to raise his station beyond his reality and elevate him to the level of ‘super human’. This, in brief, is how all the distortions creep into religion and instead of Prophets you begin to see gods and sons of god, brothers of god and relatives of god and other manifestations of God. This is what we believe to be the philosophy of religious development and hence if we see a distorted face of any religion, we do not condemn that religion at all. What we condemn is the trait in human beings of ultimately distorting whatever message they are given through a Messenger of God and all people are guilty of this and, therefore, condemnation of one group by another does not resolve anything. We all share this common trait and such has been the history of man. A deeper analysis would reveal that the forces working within human psychology are exactly the same – both the forces of hatred and the forces of elevating the Prophets of God to a super human level. At one level the nature of the two forces are the same – we do not wish to be harnessed by another power. We do not want anyone to meddle with our affairs and to tell us what to do and what not to do. However, once the phenomenon of Pr o p h e t h o o d takes shape, initially they are opposed and people try to achieve their objective by hate. They try to find fault in the Messenger by pointing, for instance, to his birth that it is lowly or not legitimate, and so on. Their argument being how was it that such a lowly and 52 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 ‘unfit’ person became so close to God. Hence, he has absolutely no jurisdiction over them and he has no right to tell them what to do and what not to do. However, after his demise, he gains wider and wider acceptance as a person of God and once he has gone people now wish to create barriers in the way of the next Messenger of God. This occurs for the same reason – people do not want to listen to a voice other than their own. This time the barrier is created through love – not because the person from God was a man but because, in their eyes, he stood much higher than a man did and they bow to him not as a man but as a ‘super human being’. Consequently, next time a Messenger of God appears, the majority of the people are prepared to accept him only if he is like the image they have created for themselves of the previous one having endowed him with divine powers. They are not going to bow to a man even though he may claim to be a Messenger of God. The basic phenomenon, therefore, is the same – man’s non-acceptance of authority from God. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: This is a very pertinent question and you have understood me correctly that the fundamental role of the Messiah is to rectify attitudes and the rest is simply a matter of time. Attitudes have to be fundamentally rectified. It is, in fact, the case that the Prophets have repeatedly rectified attitudes and then they are repeatedly distorted. This is the high and low of religious development as observed in h i s t o r y. However, we are travelling from a regional concept of religion to one encompassing larger and larger You were speaking just now of a basic ‘defect’ in man’s personality which produces these tenden- cies. I now want to ask if you think whether at some stage in the future there will be a time when, as a result of the activity of one religion, this ‘defect’ will be solved. I ask this because, as I see it, this is one of the most important roles of the coming Messiah to fulfil. QUESTIONER 53 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 areas as man travels from tribal life to state life and now he is conceiving a life of global government. Similarly, religion has gone through the same course of evolution and we see that the meaning of concept of the ‘Messiah’ for the man of today is this that ultimately he would be the person who would usher in the new era of one humanity under one religion. The rationale and logic of such a development will gradually penetrate the minds of the people who hitherto had a distorted vision and ultimately they will begin to think differently. The process of change in attitudes has been further aided by the spread of knowledge in the world today and the progress of general enlightenment. The man of today is much more enlightened than the man of the past. Although the task of bringing the whole world under the sway of new attitudes is very difficult, there are natural forces created by God which are assisting in this process and we see that people generally are displaying signs of discontent with the ‘orthodox’ views of religion that have been handed down to them for generations. Hence, we see signs of revolt all around us. The present age is a stage in the history of man where instead of being ready to accept a new positive value, they are being weaned away from the older inadequate values. Consequently, we see an increase in interest in new movements such as the Hippies, the Sufis, Hari Krishna, etc. Even the Americans are turning to sects such as the Moonies and S c i e n t o l o g y, etc. These are symptoms of an unrest within. They sense that there is something wrong with their views – they feel what they have been given is wrong and they must escape. This desire to escape is creating that psychological atmosphere which will ultimately pave the path for the new philosophy based on truth. Until that path is paved we cannot hope for the world to be saved from an ultimate catastrophe. One further thing that I must add here is this that the radical change in attitudes based on true values is not going to occur without a global catastrophe. Man today is in a paradoxical state of mind but at the same time he is not strong enough to wean himself away from the 54 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 pleasures to which he has become accustomed and addicted. Hence, there has to be a great jolt before he can really have the power or strength enough to change, to totally wean himself away from the past thoughts and practices and accept a new era and such a jolt can only come from a world wide calamity. I would like to recount here an interesting conversation I once had with an English businessman while travelling from Dacca to Calcutta which is a very short journey, about half an hour or so. We were exchanging views about matters of religion and although the travel time was very short, we began to agree so quickly that I was surprised. However, when the journey nearly came to its end, he said, there is one last thing he must say and that is that although he agreed with my philosophy – he thought that it was right – but if I thought that he was going to become a Muslim and change his way of life or that his people were going to do that, then I was living in a fool’s paradise or some words to that effect – that is not going to happen. I said that I totally agree with him on that point but added that he would also agree with me that there was a phase in the history of Japan similar to our present phase, before the Second World War, when all the efforts of the Christian missionaries failed to interest Japan in Christianity but once the Second World War broke out the pride of the Japanese was broken. The war also broke their attachments with the past and from then on it was just plain sailing. It is reported by some Christian scholars that within ten years, 25% of the Japanese population had con- verted to Christianity. Later on many of them drifted away but a radical change in their attitudes had occurred. I pointed out to my fellow traveller that this is what will happen again to which he responded, light-heartedly, that he would wait until the Third World War! I wonder if you are suggesting that this calamity becomes an inevitability or do you see it as a secondary course because people refuse to listen to the Message? QUESTIONER 55 Distortion of Religion Review of Religions – Jan 2002 Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: The fact is that whichever way you look at it you cannot avoid the calamity because such has been the case in the past – the pattern of mankind’s behaviour never seems to change. People generally do not accept the truth without paying the cost. First they extort the ‘cost’ from those people who are following the truth and then they have to pay the ‘cost’ themselves and without ‘cost’ you cannot gain a commodity. This is exactly what is going to happen again. It has happened before so many times that I cannot force myself to choose a different course for humanity today. The inevitability of such a course of events is further supported by the fact that the controlling forces of power are immoral – a fact that is not hidden from any one. You can say they are atheists, Russians, Americans or give them any other name, fundamentally the politics at the top has become totally immoral – what they pursue is their own selfish ends and this is the ‘morality’ that controls their decisions. What is morality, after all? Apart from other things, it is religious application. Morality gives you the power to steer and the faster the ‘machine’, the greater must be your moral command. Should this not be the case, you are bound to be involved in some accident somewhere. Should the moral force not keep pace with the ‘machine’ it steers, that is the changing form of political, social and economic structures, then the ultimate course towards a great calamity is unavoidable. The ‘morality’ at the top of politics that is almost ‘machiavellian’ in its character, controlling such great forces as the H bomb, the neutron bomb and the nuclear bomb, is steering mankind unavoidably towards a catastrophe. This seems a very grim outlook that I have described but in my view it is inevitable.