Ahmadiyya History

Four Spiritual and Secular Ranks

(English Translation of Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), the Promised Reformer and Second Caliph of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; Friday, 7th August 1931; Shimla, India. Translated by Mansoor Dahri for The Review of Religions translation team.)

Four Spiritual and Secular Ranks

After reciting Tashahhud, Ta’awwudh and Surah Al-Fatihah, His Holiness said:

‘Last Friday, I mentioned that Allah the Almighty has taught us the prayer:

ٱهۡدِنَا ٱلصِّرَٰطَ ٱلۡمُسۡتَقِيمَ

‘O God! Guide us in the straight path’. [1]

But how is this path defined? It is defined as the path of the people on whom God has bestowed His favours:

أَنۡعَمۡتَ عَلَيۡهِمۡ

[on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings[2]]

The above phrase is explained further in depth elsewhere:

فَأُوْلَـٰٓئِكَ مَعَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنۡعَمَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيۡهِم مِّنَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَٱلصِّدِّيقِينَ وَٱلشُّهَدَآءِ وَٱلصَّـٰلِحِينَۚ

[‘(It is they who) shall be among those on whom Allah has bestowed His blessings – the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs, and the Righteous.[3]’]

In other words, following the straight path means belonging to a group of people on whom God has bestowed His blessings, such as a group of Prophets, a group of the Truthful, a group of Martyrs, or a group of the Righteous.

I have previously stated that, just as there is a spiritual definition of the ‘Righteous’ [Salih] there is also a secular definition of salih and that is someone who has adapted to the era in which they live. But this only applies to positive adaptations and not negative ones. A salih person rejects all that is evil in their age and adopts what is good or beneficial, such as by learning modern science and acquiring an understanding of new fields of knowledge. You should reject anything that is flawed or inaccurate in these theories and ideas, but you should also welcome anything that is true or accurate.

Just take a look at the students that study in this country’s schools and universities; although they learn about the latest research in natural and social science, all the while trying to adapt to the modern era, the fact nevertheless remains that the books they read and study were written by Western scholars who tried and failed to prove the divinity of a human using modern knowledge. Therefore, when our students observe that reputable scholars have failed to reconcile religion with modernity, they naturally grow disillusioned and reject the existence of God altogether.

They even profess that the theory of evolution contradicts the existence of God Almighty when, in fact, they seem to be wholly unaware that people have believed in the theory of evolution, in some form or another, since time immemorial; all that Darwin did was shed some extra light on certain hidden aspects of it. The truth is that, even before Darwin, people have always observed that a child develops gradually over a period of 9 months and that a seed takes a very long time to grow into a tree. The gradual development of things can be seen everywhere in the processes of nature, but people did not assume that this principle contradicted the existence of God.

In addition to this, Darwin has also proposed the theory of Adaptation, which states that the success of an organism depends on how well it adapts to its environment. But over 1300 years ago, Islam had already provided its believers with a superior definition of ‘adaptation’ for them to apply practically in their day-to-day lives; the Arabic root “Sa-la-ha” (صَلَحَ) or “righteousness” means to adapt yourself to your environment in the best possible way. Thus, a salih or righteous person is not someone who fails to keep up with the times but instead is someone who adapts to an era while safeguarding themselves from each and every one of its vices.

The second rank is that of a martyr (Shaheed), which in the Arabic language has the basic meaning of ‘witness’. Apart from the spiritual rank, shaheed or ‘witness’ can also signify a secular rank. The first stage of development for a person living in this world is to acquire knowledge; the second stage of development is to pass on this knowledge to other people as a teacher.

So what Allah the Almighty is essentially saying in this verse is that a true believer should not only be thorough in acquiring up-to-date knowledge, but should also become so adept and accomplished that they can teach it to others. Concerning this matter, you can see for yourselves whether today’s Muslims have truly upheld the responsibility of a shaheed and whether they care about spreading religious and secular knowledge.

Now take a look at the nations of Europe which spread and teach religious and secular knowledge all over the world. In places where there was previously a complete lack of knowledge, they have opened up schools and universities for the propagation of secular education. In addition, European missionaries go to faraway places like Africa and Australia in order to spread their religion, despite the fact that it is Islam that lays emphasis on the method of preparing a groups of people well-versed in religious and spiritual knowledge and then sending them off to teach others.

The third rank is that of a siddiq or ‘truthful’ person. A siddiq is someone who comes very close to the rank of a prophet and, while their basic essence is the same, they can only ever be like friends rather than close brothers. A prophet can only share the bond of deep brotherhood with another prophet because prophets directly receive knowledge through revelation from God Almighty, Who is like a Father to all prophets. But a siddiq does not share the same gift of revelation that is given to prophets and instead has to independently struggle and strive and put effort into attaining any sort of parity with a prophet, with whom a siddiq can then be united in friendship. This is the rank of a siddiq in spiritual terms. In secular terms, a siddiq is someone who keeps making progress in knowledge and learning until they reach such a degree of proximity to the designer of an invention or the founder of a field of science or technology that they begin to resemble them. We can observe that, although a spiritual siddiq does not acquire knowledge directly from God, they can nevertheless very accurately explain and expound upon the knowledge acquired through prophets. It is exactly the same with a secular siddiq. Allah the Almighty therefore states in this verse that a believer should make progress in knowledge and learning to such an extent that they are viewed by people as having an incredibly deep and inextricable association with those inventions or fields of science or technology even if they themselves are not the original inventors or founders.

The fourth rank is that of a prophet. A spiritual prophet receives revelation from God in the form of actual words and directly learns spiritual knowledge. By analogy, there are also secular prophets of scientific progress who do not, of course, receive revelation in the form of actual words but do, in fact, receive sudden insights from God and then spread their new knowledge around the world. Edison used to say that he would, at times, just be sitting around and then suddenly, the idea for a new invention would strike him like lightning. Since such prophets are prophets of science, the revelations that flash into their minds are purely of a scientific or technological nature. An idea is placed in their mind and they make new discoveries every day and bring hidden knowledge out into the open and astound the world with their amazing inventions.

The bare minimum that Almighty God desires from believers in worldly terms is that they should strive to acquire secular knowledge. The step above that is that they should obtain excellence in knowledge so that they can teach others. Then the next step is that they should make such remarkable progress that they resemble the original inventor of a device or the first person to make a discovery in the field of science or technology. The intellectual commitment of a true believer should be so great that their name invariably comes up in a discussion where people are talking about the original inventor or visionary. But there is a step even above this and that, of course, is for true believers themselves to discover new fields of knowledge and design new inventions. If enough of humanity reaches one of these lofty ranks, then chaos and disorder will finally cease, because chaos and disorder are caused by a lack of knowledge.

There is no sin or vice or evil thing that ignorance did not spawn and there is no virtue or piety or good that knowledge did not bring to this world. If all Ahmadis cultivate a high level of knowledge and learning in themselves then people will begin to see a kind of paradise in this very world. We obviously cannot make the spiritual paradise of the hereafter literally appear in this world but we can at least build a metaphorical paradise or utopia that people will be eager to join. Because so many people only seem to see hell wherever they look in this world, they commit suicide as a result. But if they could only have caught a glimpse of heaven on earth then they would never have taken their own lives. If Ahmadis build such a paradise, then the people of the world will quickly join us. However, such a great accomplishment seems further out of our reach when certain members of this community quarrel for the pettiest of reasons. God establishes a kind of paradise through a prophet, but quarrelling with your fellow human beings is like cutting down the trees of that carefully cultivated paradise with your very own hands. No one should ever say that it would make no great difference if they only cut down one tree. Because if everyone starts thinking like that then fairly soon there will no longer be any trees left in the former paradise. Then God will send another prophet to cultivate another paradise.

The most basic of the four ranks is that of salih which also carries the meaning by implication that a person should live peacefully in the social environment that God has cultivated for them. It is therefore incumbent on all of our dear members to uphold the rank of salih and treat their social environment responsibly and appropriately through their words and actions. If someone finds that they cannot do this, then they should at least try to develop the capability in themselves because God also takes effort into consideration. I cannot, under any circumstances, accept the idea that a person who dies whilst still fighting against their evil nature might not be deemed victorious and that God would not extend His forgiveness to such a person. The dear members of this community should therefore, at the very least, struggle and strive to develop the capability of being a salih. I pray to Allah the Almighty that He grants the whole of this community the ability to strive for these four ranks and that He grants everyone a place in at least one of them.”


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 1:6

[2] The Holy Qur’an, 1:7

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 4:70

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