The following is the text of address delivered by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad (rh), the Third Supreme Head of World Ahmadiyya Muslim Organisation (1965-1982), at Mapo Hall, Ibadan, before a mixed audience of intellectuals, university students and members of the Ahmadiyya Community on 13th April, 1970.
‘Great sons of a great land,
Assalamu Alaikum, greetings of peace to you all.
I cannot tell you how happy I am to be with you and in your great country. West Africa generally and Nigeria especially arose in my consciousness when I was ten or eleven, about fifty years ago. It was then that the first Ahmadiyya Muslim Missioner and educator set foot on your soil. Travel was then difficult and distances very long. The enterprise of a solitary visitor coming here to set up schools and mosques and community centres seemed so romantic. Since then, as many of you would know, more and more people, out of our part of the world, have come to work here in your midst. Our contacts have increased. So have mutual knowledge and confidence. The accounts of your country and people we received and read in the 1920s fired our imagination and I for one have ever longed to see things for myself and meet the people whose hospitality and kindly interest we have enjoyed since those days. Finding myself here I find a dream fulfilled. I have become aware of your history, of your culturally rich past. But I foresee for you as indeed many people do now – an even richer future. A strange wind blows today, promising change and hope, inducing a new awareness, new enterprises, and, if I may add, pointing to new evidences of divine involvement in your destiny. How much, therefore, should all this mean to me and to you, and how very welcome should this occasion be – of a meeting with you – to me:
Your richer future which I can foresee is in the hands of youth, and as I have worked with young people through the greater part of my life, you need not be surprised – as indeed I am not surprised – at my own special urge to say something that will move young hearts.
And what could I wish to say but what is uppermost in my own mind and heart? It is to explain to you, if I may, how important it is to pursue knowledge and what is the Islamic way of pursuing it.
Everybody today is talking of science and technology and I am not indifferent to this. How can I be when I know that Allah – Almighty Allah – has created the heavens and the earth for subjugation by man and how can they be subjugated except by knowledge patiently gathered and wisely applied to the betterment of human life and the fulfilment of purposes prescribed by Allah?
So I must, first of all, wish you well in the pursuit of your studies. It may be natural science that you study. It may be social science. It may be history or literature. It may be some branch of applied or professional science, or it may be, as I hope, theological science. The pursuit of knowledge is the special prerogative and privilege of the youth of the world. But what I wish to tell you is that truth is knowledge and that there is an Islamic way of pursuing it. I would suggest that you experiment with it to make sure if this is not the best way of the pursuit of knowledge.
The Islamic way is the way of prayer. I will tell you presently what exactly I mean by prayer and why I commend this to you while you are engaged in your enterprise of study and research. My view is that all the crucial accessions to knowledge have come through prayer. Great discoverers and inventors and great men of science tell us this. But you will point to scientists who are indifferent to faith in Allah and to praying to Him. True, there are scientists of that kind. But even they have had to knock at the door of the great unseen, to implore it to yield some of its secrets to them. This is not very different from the solicitations of a believer in Allah, a believer who has had experience of divine grace and mercy, who has prayed to Him often and whose prayers have been heard as often. The believer and unbeliever both turn to the unseen for help. Both receive this help. Only, the unbeliever does not know and the believer knows that this help – which they both seek and find – comes from Almighty Allah, Lord, Creator and Sustainer of us all. The unbeliever and believer both sustain themselves with prayer, with the hope of help from somewhere. The unbeliever does not know that he prays, nor to Whom he prays, nor Who receives his prayer and rewards it with acceptance. The believer out of long experience knows that he prays and prays to his Lord and Master, Who opens for him the door to knowledge and discovery. The unbeliever prays in ignorance, the believer prays with knowledge and confidence. Both have their prayers heard. But how different are the two prayers!
It is this difference I invite you to grasp. The difference is that if you pray with knowledge and confidence and trust and conviction, you have far more chance of being heard and rewarded. And how relevant is this to our present predicament. You and me and many others in Asia and Africa are charged with backwardness. But neither you nor we were backward always. We had our day, the day on which we led the world not only in our knowledge of Almighty Allah but with His grace and mercy – in our knowledge of the world. That day is going to dawn on us again. Once again you and me are going to become the torch-bearers of knowledge, knowledge of God, knowledge of nature, knowledge of man. But those who will combine natural means and methods and these have been given to us as to others by Allah Almighty – those who will combine natural means and methods with prayer and trust and confidence in the power, grace and mercy of Allah, will go forward and march to progress with greater speed. What is more, they will have no delusions about their own powers. They will not become arrogant, attributing everything to themselves. They will have due humility. They will not march nor lead others to destruction. On the other hand, they might save others from the disasters into which the blind, unguided pursuit of knowledge is certain to lead us.
There are other things I wish to invite you to consider. Allah Almighty, we learn from the Holy Qur’an, wants us, again and again, to view and view with care whatever there is in the heavens and the earth. Allah wants us to view ourselves, our humble origin, our growing aspirations, our life and death here, and our limitless life hereafter. All of which means that whatever our special interests, our special lines to study and discovery, we must not become indifferent to the rest of our environment which may be men or animals or birds or material things. The key to knowledge is curiosity. We must not become indifferent to the interests and aspirations of fellow human beings. We must ever remain aware of the obligations and duties we owe to one another, to the human community to which we belong and to the Maker of us all, our Allah. If we take care of this simple matter, we will steer clear of dangers – dangers to a full, happy and purposeful living – which lie in wait for modern civilisation. We will place ourselves in the grand cosmic context. For, after all, what are we but creatures endowed with limited freedom and will, who, if they really knew, ought to bend humbly to their Creator in fulfilment of His purpose? If we become aware of our environment, our total context, our Maker, we should go about, not oblivious of the existence of other people, nor of fields of knowledge other than our own, nor of the ultimate purpose of our birth and being viz., our peace with God. Even a superficial acquaintance with modern scientific pursuits is salutary. All sciences impress upon us the wisdom and meaningfulness of Allah’s creation. Even so, there is difference between science and science – one difference is that some sciences are relatively more specialised, some relatively more general. The most general sciences are those which deal with man as whole. These, I suggest, should have more charm, more appeal for you. For, these will take you nearer to that ultimate goal and purpose which makes our life important and meaningful. Such fields of study, therefore, should have a special charm for you. Let us not be over-impressed by the conventional divisions of modern knowledge. Let us look at them in our own special way. Let us prefer – if we have the chance – to choose studies which involve acquaintance with man as a whole, his capacities, interests, aspirations, obligations, duties and so on. Let us prefer even studies which produce in us a concern with life hereafter. Maybe, if we modify our attitude to the pursuit of knowledge in this way, we will realise and realise sooner than we think, that our life here is a small – very small – segment compared with our life hereafter. How differently we should then treat our passing life-interests, our squabbles, our competitive living, our mutual fears and our hates: With this faith, the pursuit of knowledge – the distinctive occupation of youth in the universities of the world – should acquire a new quality, a new dimension, a new edge.
At present, we are not so well aware that all things in this world have unlimited possibilities, unlimited properties. If we happen to have fallen back in the race for knowledge and discovery, therefore, we need not feel discouraged. We need not think that everything of importance has been discovered and there is nothing very much more for us to discover. The true scientist who has seen something of the vastness of nature and limitlessness of the properties with which all things in nature are endowed, will not say or think so. But lesser students of science would think or say so. The lesser scientists need to know and remember that our Lord’s creation is infinite in its vastness, that the properties of all things in His creation are also infinite, and that is but a reflection of the infiniteness of the powers and attributes of our Lord, Allah. The voyage of discovery, therefore, can never come to an end. My message, therefore, is: Pull yourselves together. There is much more left for you to discover than has been discovered in the past. There may be much more – very much more – in store for you than you imagine. Maybe the knowledge you will now acquire is not only more extensive but more meaningful and more relevant to the purpose of existence, therefore, more pleasing to Allah, our Lord, Creator and Master.
Give serious thought to my plea for prayer in the pursuit of knowledge. Remember, prayer does not acquire its full character unless it is accompanied by a proper awareness of Allah as our Lord, Creator and Sustainer, Lord of all that is in the Heavens and the Earth. Turn to Him, it may be, only half-believing. He will turn back and answer your prayer and enter all the tasks you undertake for His sake and for the sake of His creatures. This is an attitude more appropriate to the pursuit of knowledge.
There is something more you may do; and this is to try and offset the cramping influence of specialisation which has become such a feature of modern knowledge and modern education. Specialisation I know is inevitable, even useful. There is so much to know in every field, and there are so many more fields which keep cropping up that nobody can afford to apply himself to more than one or two fields of knowledge. Even so, I feel something can and should be done to correct the present situation in education and research. A proper attitude, again, can make all the difference in the world. The attitude I advocate is the attitude which makes you curious about fields of knowledge other than your own. This is the attitude which helps you eventually to view Allah’s entire creation as a whole with its beauty, grandeur and purposefulness. We can promote this attitude by instituting courses in religious education at all levels and for all denominations and all functioning in an atmosphere of freedom. Religious education should exercise a steadying influence on those undergoing modern education. It may turn the minds of future generations of educated men and women to Allah, our Lord, Creator and Sustainer. Just think, what it would mean. It will accelerate the speed of discovery. It will set the search of new knowledge in directions relevant to our well-being: physical, moral and spiritual. It may set us thinking of one another – and of all peoples of the world – as creatures with an equal right to live and prosper, as creatures with duties towards themselves, towards their fellow-beings and towards Allah. Such an attitude will put our pursuit of knowledge in its proper places. So placed, our pursuit of knowledge should make us humble. It should make our lives more significant, more useful to ourselves, and to all others. Knowledge we may have but know- ledge which fails to do this, fails outright, fails basically.
I pray that our Gracious and Merciful Allah may give a proper direction to our efforts for a better life. May He save us from mistakes we are liable to make and forgive the mistakes we nevertheless happen to make. May He bless our good intentions and our little deeds. And whether we deserve or not, may He favour us with His approval and His pleasure. May He re-enter the minds and hearts of those who have forgotten Him and driven Him out of their thoughts and may He save them from the folly of relying only on themselves and the means at their disposal.
God of Power and Might; Creator of all things and of all their properties; Our Guide and Help! The doors to true and useful knowledge have ever been opened through Your grace and mercy. Open these doors to those of us who have been left behind in the quest. Open these doors to us, to our generations. So that we may have insight into the nature of everything You have created: So that we may become aware of what is pleasing to You; and so that we may walk the ways that lead to the fulfilment of purposes for which You have created us. Our Lord, make us love one another, make us serve one another. Above all, make us love You, make us Your true servants, and bind us ever in gratitude to You, and may we become worthy of the quest for knowledge and discovery with which out of Your wisdom and grace – You have endowed us and may the knowledge we acquire and the discoveries we make, help to bring us nearer to one another and bend us all to Your purposes, Your wishes, Your will. Amin.’