Distinctive Features of Islamic Teaching

Distinctive Features of Islamic Teaching (Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad) The Islamic teaching is fully consolidated and strengthened on a rational basis, which has planted the roots of Islamic tasawwuf (mysticism) in the holy book itself: here there has been no need for any other Prophet to draw attention to those aspects, as happened in the case of the Jews. The earlier Scriptures set down the teaching generally without stating the rational basis, The Holy Quran on the other hand fully states the rational basis of its teaching, dwelling convincingly on the benefit which would accrue if the teaching was observed, as well as on the harm that would result if it was not duly observed. Islamic mysticism thus has come to rest on the Holy Quran itself, unlike the case of the Jews among whom the deeper and finer aspects of the Mosaic teaching remained unexpounded until the need was met by the mystic movement started by Jesus Christ which came to be known as Christianity. The second great point which establishes the superiority of the Islamic teaching is that it carefully avoids the extremes and picks out a middle course, maintaining an elasticity which fully meets the requirements of changing human faculties from individual to individual, and from time to time. Thirdly, Islam eliminates the priestly class. There is no ordained clergy, no highborn pundits, as among the Hindus, to stand as a link between God and man. In the days of both Moses and Jesus the important role of the priest was greatly emphasised, but not so in Islam where any private individual can officiate at a prescribed ritual prayer, a wedding, a funeral, or any other occasion where among the Jews and Christians the participation of an ordained priest is essential. This too was indeed a far reaching revolution, since, by taking this stand, the Holy Quran at one stroke broke the chains which had kept humanity bound for thousands of years and ruled that for worship of the Divine Being no intermediary was needed. This aspect of the Islamic teaching so astonishes the Christians that they are found wondering how the Muslims can worship when there are no priests among them to officiate on these occasions. 32 REVIEW OB RELIGIONS Fourthly, Islam broke away completely from the former practice which tied down acts of worship to particular premises: In Islam the only role of any locality for the purpose is confined to the requirements of organisation for occasions when worship best fulfilled its purpose if done as a corporate act by an assembly of people of the same way of thinking. Prior to the time of the Holy Prophet worship to be performed at the synagogue, the church or the temple, the Holy Prophet said: “The whole earth for me has been made into a. mosque, so that I can worship anywhere and everywhere when the time comes for worship.” One might say that since the earlier teaching were confined to certain periods or localities, the act of worship too had to be performed in certain specified localities; but when in the Islamic dispensation the order came for the whole surface of the earth to be purified as embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Muslims were directed to sanctify every inch of the ground with their acts of adoration. Fifthly, all the revelations came to the Holy Prophet in specific precise words, which not only had to be preserved as they stood, but God Himself guaranteed their preservation in the fullest sense. This, for the future, made great difference for the purpose of discussion and research. Formerly the question had to be answered as to whether a certain phrase or expression was to be attributed to Moses or to God, and the corresponding difference in the value of the two had always to be kept in mind. In the case of the Scripture brought by the Holy Prophet Mohammad, however, the question no longer stood, since every word and vowel in it came from God as it stands, so that the utmost reliance can be placed on it for the purpose of inference and deduction. I once saw in the course of a dream that some one was asking me why there was so much repetition in the Holy Quran. I replied that there was no repetition at all — that not to speak of there being no repetition of words, there was no repetition even of the vowel points each repeated word and vowel point yielding some different or additional shade of meaning. No other Scripture can match the Holy Quran in this respect. Sixthly, the Islamic teaching contains the fullest and finest exposition of the Divine attributes, in comparison with which even the Jewish teaching fades into insignificance. Undoubtedly the Jewish Scriptures mention the divine attributes in great detail; but their interplay is rarely brought out. As I mentioned earlier, once when I studied this question with attention I did not find even one attribute mentioned in the Holy Quran which had not been mentioned in Jewish Scriptures. There is however, one thing which we find in the Holy Quran but do not find anywhere in the Jewish Scriptures. The Holy Quran goes into the question as to where the field of one divine attribute, for instance Rahmaaniyyat, commences, or where that of another ends, and how these attributes work in interrelation. In other words, the Holy Quran contains a full exposition of the manner in which the various categories of DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF ISLAMIC TEACHING 33 divine attributes act and react, while in the case of the Torah the various categories are mentioned, but nothing is said about their interplay, restricting thus the benefit one can draw. This is a very weighty argument in favour of the superiority of the Holy Quran. The seventh exclusive advantage which belongs to the Holy Quran is that it discusses questions of metaphysics connected with the spiritual life of man on a philosophical and highly intellectual basis, while the same cannot be said in regard to the Jewish or other Scriptures. So much so that among the Jews those who denied the possibility of the final Day of Judgement predominated, there have been only a few who believed in it. The Holy Quran is the first book that has discussed these questions in detail; and it has thrown such a flood of light on them that after listening to its arguments one can deny the truth of the Day of Judgment only from sheer cussedness and perversity of mind, not on any rational basis. The eighth advantage which the Holy Quran enjoys over the other Scriptures is that it has opened a new door for the clarification of human thought on spiritual and religious matters by establishing a terminology that facilitates thinking. Concepts which previously were embedded in lengthy discourses, the Holy Quran has embodied in expressions and terms which can easily be picked up to facilitate discussion of and penetration into spiritual truths. It has invested these terms with precise meaning and content which leaves no room for doubt on the points involved. For instance the Holy Quran uses the word “Nabee” commonly rendered as prophet in English, which it defined very precisely, explaining when nabees are raised, the signs by which to know them, their function in society, the connection between them and the rest of the people, etc. There are scores of such questions which the Holy Quran discusses in full, but in regard to which the earlier Scriptures have had nothing to say, this being a distinctive feature of Islam which even enemies and hostile critics cannot deny. I once wrote to a number of the religious leaders of other religious communities such as Christian Bishops, Sikh Gurus, Hindu Pundits and Jewish Scribes asking them how their Scriptures described and defined a Nabee (Prophet). From some, I got no reply at all, while some replied that in their religious literature there was no specific teaching bearing on the point, this being also the answer returned by a well known Bishop. Similarly there are a host of other problems. What are angels? What is their function? and so on. All these are questions on which the earlier Scriptures throw no light. Islam on the other hand has coined the word “Malaaikah” for certain spiritual beings and proceeds to define them, their being and their work. Similarly in regard to the Divine Being, His attributes, prayer, qaza-o-qadr, hashro-o- nashr, heaven and hell, life in heaven, etc., the Holy Quran has set up specific expressions and terms which help one to grasp the idea, and has thus given light and guidance to the human mind to enable it to understand these subtle things with almost as much ease as it can pick up concepts in the field of the 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS material sciences. By doing this the Holy Quran has safeguarded knowledge against being dissipated for lack of a proper vehicle, on the one.hand, while on the other it has saved the human mind from the strain of a great deal of confused thinking. Ninthly, the Islamic teaching embraces all aspects of human life more thoroughly and comprehensively than was the case ever before, knitting up a properly interrelated system of life. Though in the dispensation of Moses politics, worship and culture on the secular side were all brought into the purview of the law, Islam took the matter much further and has flung its guidance so far afield that now no conceivable activity of the human mind or body can overflow the circle of light created by the Islamic teaching. Tenthly, the Holy Quran, by placing the word of God as represented by religious teaching vouchsafed to man, and the act of God, as represented by the universe in its widest sense, on a parallel basis of mutual support, has brought religion to a point where it stands on the plane of observation and experiment. Formerly religion was taken as something metaphysical. The Holy Quran says that the universe represents the act of God, while religious teaching represents his word, it being impossible that one should clash with or contradict the other. This point yields the golden principle for the guidance of man that when he confronts a situation which perplexes him he should try to harmonise the act and the word of God to ensure that a religious or a scientific theory was correct. It should be carefully grasped that the age old struggle between religion and science completely disappears at this point. Whenever we come across any contradiction between a scientific view and the teaching of a religion, we should always understand that either we have misunderstood the religious teaching or the scientific truth which appears to contradict it. This point of view is of tremendous importance for the future of mankind for it removes religion from the field of philosophy and places it in the field of observation. The eleventh great advantage of the Holy Quran over other Scriptures is that its message is not meant for this or that nation, but for all mankind as a whole. The Holy Quran says: “We have not sent thee except as a universal Messenger for all the people, to give them glad tidings and to warn them, but of course most men do not understand.” Here we have a most staggering revolution indeed. Formerly every Prophet was raised for his own specific national or geographical group; Krishan in India, Zoroaster in Iran, Confucious in China. Some owed allegiance to Moses, others to Jesus. But then at one stage Gpd said that henceforth there would be only one religion for all mankind, being all the children of the same father, now risen to a point of mental culture where they could take in this stupendous concept which smashed geographical and racial barriers to unite the whole human race. The Holy Prophet has himself referred to this characteristic which distinguishes him from all other Prophets of God.