Featured History

The Golden Mean

The Golden Mean (Bashir Ahmad Orchard) Four thousand years ago the tribes of Israel laboured In captivity under the iron rule of the Pharaohs. They were employed in the building of the pyramids which stand as monuments of Egypt’s ancient rulers. It is said that one hundred thousand men were engaged for thirty years in the construction of the great Pyramid of Cheops; and some idea of the sweat and labour put into the construction of this massive memorial may be realised from the fact that two million, three hundred thousand blocks of stone weighing two and a half tons each were used. In addition, fifty-six gigantic blocks of granite with an average weight of fifty four tons each were used for the roofing of the burial chamber; and they had to be brought from distant quarries. Suppression permeated the dynasty of the Pharaohs; but while man proposes, God disposes. The decline of the might of the Pharaohs and the freedom and rise of the Israelites awaited only the decree of God. It was near at hand. God then bestowed upon Moses the mantle of prophethood and commanded him to go to the Royal Court and demand the release of the Israelites; but Pharaoh was derisive and obstinate; he would not hearken to the solicitations of God’s Messenger; thereupon God manifested His displeasure in the form of terrible visitations that scourged the land. Famine, plague and death followed one upon the other until Pharaoh, shaken and tremulous, reluctantly conceded to Moses’s demands. And so the great exodus from Egypt began. For forty years they wandered and dwelt in the wilderness before they beheld the Promised Land; and it was during that period that the Law of Commandments was revealed to Moses for their guidance. The Israelites had been living in bondage for hundreds of years; but now a promising future lay before them. Almighty God showered His blessings upon them and showed them the way of salvation. It must, however, be borne in mind, that the Law of Moses is not a universal one; nor was it intended to serve the Israelites for all ages. It was revealed for the guidance of the Israelites only and in accordance with the peculiar exigencies of that epoch. That is why some of the commandments are extreme in nature: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Deutr: 19:21). 30 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Fourteen hundred years later God raised up from among them the Prophet Jesus; and although he did not bring a new law (Matthew 5:17), he permitted a temporary relaxation on certain precepts which the Jews had abused. This was to curb their excessive, revengeful and unjust infractions of the Law. Thus the opposite extreme was taught by Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38, 39). Now, both Moses and Jesus foretold the coming of a greater prophet than themselves who would bring a complete law; and he was the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him) to whom was revealed the Holy Quran which contains a perfect, complete, universal and everlasting law. The following prophecy was revealed to Moses regarding the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him): “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deutr. 18:18, 19). This prophecy refers -to the coming of a prophet who would resemble Moses; and the most distinctive mark of Moses was his being a prophet bearing a new law. It is, therefore, wrong to believe that the prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus because he categorically stated that his mission was only to fulfil the Law of Moses and not to change it: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus stated that he had not conveyed all truths necessary for the spiritual development of man; and that after him another would come: “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:12, 13). The one to come was the same one about whom Moses had spoken. The prophecy does not refer to the Holy Spirit which is one of the three Christian gods; rather it refers to the noblest and best of all men—the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of God be upon him). THE GOLDEN MEAN 31 One of the beauties of Islam is that it presents a middle path of conduct. It does not teach either of the two extremes promulgated by Moses and Jesus: “And the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and his act brings about reformation, his reward is with Allah. Surely, He loves not the wrongdoers.” (42:41). The teaching neither insists upon retaliation nor upon unconditional forgiveness. Both may be meritorious acts if they befit the occasion. If forgiveness might result in the reformation of the offender then it would be all for the better; but if the adoption of such magnanimity is likely to encourage the offender to continue his misconduct then he should be punished appropriately. The poised mind Islam is the most tolerant and broad-minded religion in the world. It has been revealed for all ages; therefore it guides mankind along a middle path, and as an outcome the mind of a Muslim should be poised; and if the mind is poised, the actions of the body are also poised, because man is what he thinks. The body obeys the mind. Unclean thoughts crystallise into unclean habits and physical degradation; righteous and uplifting thoughts crystallise into noble habits and physical purity. Likewise a poised mind crystallises into composed and dignified habits and physical control. The mind of a Muslim should be open and flexible. The obstinate and closed mind is never in poise; but this is the mental condition of the great majority of Muslims to-day. Islam is the elixir of life but on account of Muslims giving paramount attention to worldly interests, they have failed to absorb the bright essence of their faith. They do not enjoy the delightful experience of an open and peaceful mind; and this mental defect is as prevalent among the learned and religious leaders as it is among the others. The poised mind is more precious than the largest pearl or the finest gold. It is cool, serene and calm. It is never indifferent, vindicative or frustrated; nor is it controlled by the emotions; instead it is master over both the body and the nerves; and it is a force of tremendous magnetic power. Who is not attracted towards the tranquil yet energetic mind? It does not matter what inconveniences or misfortunes beset the possessor of such a mind. He is always composed, patient and courageous. Light always brightens his face. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah possessed a poised and heavenly temperament regarding which one of his closest disciples Maulvi Abdul Karim has penned his observations: “One day he said, ‘I have such control over my passions and God has made myself so submissive to me that even if a man goes on abusing me in 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS my face for one year, he would at last himself feel ashamed and will have to admit his failure to move me even a little.’ . . . His steadfastness and strength of will, like those of the Great Prophets (may peace and the blessings of God be upon them) are not affected at all by threats or by any fearful spectacle. No awful incident or painful disaster can distract his attention or make him forgetful of his duty. I know from personal experience and from the testimony of others that the composure of mind and coolness of temper and gentle behaviour which characterise him during his health also characterise him during his illness. The Holy Quran says: ‘Allah establishes those who believe with an established word in this world and in the world to come.’ The establishment spoken of in this verse is the very stability of temper possessed by the Promised Messiah. The perfect man whom the fire of this world-—-the fire of the misfortunes and hardships of this life—cannot affect, is the very believer whom the hell says, ‘O believer pass on for thy light has extinguished my fire’.” The mind which is closed and obstinate is always out of poise; while the mind which is open and flexible is an indication of poise. The see-saw mind which is always running the gamut from one extreme to the other is never in poise. It is the mind that rules from the point of balance which is in poise. The mind of the savage is never in poise; and when the mind is not in poise, the impulse of the savage and pre-historic man begins to take control. Only a thin thread separates these two conditions of mind; a little pressure and the thread snaps. Poise escapes as fast as gushing Water rushes out of a breached dam. Then the inherent savage impulses manifest their courseness and brutality. The seed of man contains the physical history of his ancestors as well as the physical history of his offspring. Embedded in that seed are the traits of his parents; and the traits of his parents are coloured with the traits of his grand-parents; there is in fact an unbroken chain of seeds tracing back to his pre-historic relatives who were characterised with wild and cruel dispositions Which have lain latent in the seed of mankind ever since; and they will continue to lie latent in the seed of all of mankind to come. Poise of mind will prevent them from being roused into physical manifestation. Here is a highly respected preacher who has devoted his life to the service of God and humanity. His inspiring expositions of the Good Life and his charming personality win the general admirations of his flock. One day, while he is sitting at home preparing a sermon, the children of the house create an uproar and their strident voices scatter his thoughts to the wind. The muscles of his face harden into an expression of vexation; he commands them to be THE GOLDEN MEAN 33 quiet. There is a hush for a brief moment; but no sooner has he returned to the preparation of his sermon, pandemonium again breaks out. This is more than he can tolerate; he jumps up with blazing eyes and cuffs a child across the head sending it sprawling on the floor; and he utters words that shock his wife. In this case he lost his poise and the head-strong impulse of the savage was roused and took possession of his himd; and it was an exhibition of the normal tendency of his ancient ancestors who roamed the forests and dwelt in caves. The characteristics of the savage reveal themselves to a greater or lesser extent in the lives of 99% of human beings. The purpose of life demands that man should prevent these latent impulses from being roused into savage action; and he who developes a poised mind, masters himself. This is therefore as good an occasion as any to quote the golden maxim: “He who is unable to master himself is unable to master others.” A transformation may be brought about in the life of a person by constantly holding in mind the characteristics of holy men; and if the preacher who struck the child had made it a practice of frequently focussing in mind mental pictures of poised persons, then in all probability he would have mastered the savage impulse which caused him to stumble. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah, always maintained a cool demeanour amidst the constant noise and disturbance created by the children in his home. Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karim has rendered an immense service by sketching some beautiful descriptions of the heavenly heart of the Promised Messiah; “He possesses wonderful coolness of temper, composure of mind and extraordinary serenity and forbearance. However great tumult and noise there may be — tumult which distracts the mind and compels everyone to turn his attentions to it —• he will not even feel it and his mind will not be disturbed by it in the least. It is this very state of mind which the servants of God hanker after and pray for with tearful eyes. “I have seen the Promised Messiah engaged in writing on difficult subjects and even composing Arabic works of unparalleled linguistic elegance in the midst of a great tumult and uproar. Reckless children and simple-minded women are quarrelling all around him, screeching and screaming and even grappling with one another and performing all the follies which little children and foolish women are apt to do and he goes on writing as if he were sitting in a place of solitude. It is in such noisy rooms that all the great and unparalleled works in Arabic, Persian and Urdu have been written.” There is no doubt that the Promised Messiah was favoured with an abundance of Grace. He and God were one in the sense that he reflected the attributes of God; and they shone through him more brightly than through any 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS other person since the life-time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him). He was the Chosen One of God; he was purified by Divine Grace; his heart was free from the taint of sin; and his whole being imparted the fragrance of the bloom of heaven. Man can advance forward but can not reach the state of perfection solely by his own efforts. It is the Grace of God which crowns his endeavours with success and casts around him the mantle of absolute purity and righteousness. In the eyes of the sinner a devoted servant of God may appear to be as pure as an angel; but if Divine Grace has not lifted him up into the earthly realm known as “Heaven on earth” then he is aware of his impurities. Whoever yearns for this spiritual condition on earth should know that he should prove himself worthy to be the recipient of this divine blessing through sincere endeavour to obey all the commandments of God and to live a righteous life. The Promised Messiah enjoyed the protective Grace of God and regarding this precious gift he has written: “Many are the chains and fetters with which a man is bound, and his own exertions, however hard, are not sufficient to liberate him from them. He desires that he may become purified, but his efforts without the helping hand of God are of no avail, and sometimes he does stumble. To purify one from sins is the work of God only and there is no other power on the earth’s surface which can bring about that object.” Great heights of advancement may be attained within the spiritual sphere when the desire and will to progress are intense and indomitable. Those who at one time may be living in the lowest condition of ignorance and degradation are not denied access to these spiritual heights. When the light of Truth dawns upon them there is nothing to hold them back; and it may well be that they will overtake their teachers on this Royal Road. History contains many instances of virulent enemies of God’s Laws and Messengers whose spiritual faculties later became awakened and they died in the bosom of God. Their lives altered for the better from one etreme to the other. Although we are advocating the avoidance of extremes, there is an exception to the rule in the cultivation of love for God. It should be understood and appreciated that the desire to outstrip one’s fellow beings in virtue is a commendable urge. If the feeling is absent then it is an indication that little or no spiritual force throbs within the heart. This competitive spirit has been encouraged in the Holy Quran: “. . . Vie, then, with one another in good works.” (2:149). In the affairs of this world there is a principle which leads men to the top rungs of success. It is the fire of desire and resolution; the fight to outstrip THE GOLDEN MEAN 35 their competitors in their fields of endeavour. The same principle is efficacious in the affairs of the spirit and it is a healthy and fruitful one in every respect. Mr. Henry Ford who founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 is considered to be one of the most powerful industrial magnates who has ever lived; yet he had only an elementary education and his early years were passed in poverty. He left school at the age of fifteen and became an apprentice in a machine shop working ten hours a day for two dollars fifty cents a week. His board and lodging alone cost three dollars fifty cents a week so in order to make up the deficit he earned an extra two dollars a week working from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the employment of a jeweller. Such was the humble beginning of Mr. Ford’s life. By 1940 the motor company which he had founded in 1903 had produced twenty eight million vehicles! And when he died in 1947 his personal estates were valued at two hundred and fifty million dollars. If men can rise from the lowest to the highest rungs in worldly achievements, men can also rise from the depths of spiritual degradation to the state of holiness. The savage can become a saint; and let it not be supposed that savages only live in the jungle. Today there are thousands of savages living in all the great cities of the world; and rare indeed is the person who is not from time to time ruled by one or more of the savage impulses of his forefathers. These inborn tendencies come to the surface of life even in the lives of those who are deemed, and even deemed by themselves, to be righteous men. Progress has no room for those weak-minded persons who make no serious effort to master their savage impulses and who excuse themselves on the plea that they are irrevocable traits of their nature. Here is a man who is constantly irritable and impatient and one of his friends endeavours to defend his weakness with the apology: “It is his nature to be so. There is nothing that can be done about it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. If a person is in real earnest to improve himself in any field of endeavour, there is absolutely nothing whatsoever to prevent his progress. Students of psychology, the science of the mind, know that the art of positive thinking can totally transform a person of bad habits into a person of good habits. In fact a person is what he thinks. The person who is continually souring his and other people’s lives with his irate temper, has the capacity within himself to develop a tranquil and sweet-tempered demeanour; but, of course, if he allows himself to drift through life without endeavouring to master himself, then he is what he is because he makes no effort along the right lines to shake off his shackles. Life is a battle ground. Everyone can become the general of his own destiny; and if at the same time he seeks the help of God he will have a resounding victory. 36 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Islam is the path of peace; it directs one along the central road of life; so one who is truly imbued with the light of his faith, should be impregnated with the power and charm of a well-balanced poised temperament. Not only should he be charged with the spirit and power of Islam but he should manifest it through controlled channels. The zealous and enthusiastic Muslim who talks on and on without a break and who is not a patient listener, is out of poise; so is the zealous defender of Islam who becomes irritated and excited in the presence of his critics; also may be included those preachers and speakers who shout and make more noise than a good impression. The descriptive sketches which now follow have been written to awaken the mind to the beauty of poise. The satellite The earth is a satellite of the sun and it travels at a speed of eighteen and a half miles per second on its annual circuit. What is the subtle power which keeps it in orbit? It is the precise speed at which it travels whereby it is able to resist the magneticpull of the sun and also the pull of centrifugal force. If it travelled at a slower speed, it would be drawn into the sun and destroyed; and if it travelled at a greater speed it would fly off its orbital course and disappear into the depths of space. The earth orbits the sun in perfect poise; any digression would destroy all life. Queen of the ocean Poise is seen in every movement of the luxuriant liner from the moment she sets sail to the time she docks at her port of destination. The gangway is removed; mooring ropes unfastened, and the engines begin to purr in the depths of her frame. Slowly and steadily, inch by inch she moves away from the wharf and with majestic grace silently moves down the estuary towards the open sea. Onlookers by the water’s edge and peasants on the grassy slopes gaze with awe and admiration upon the stately vessel. There is no noise, no effort, as she glides through the water. There is only an indescribable presence of power and grandeur in perfect repose. Now she is in open sea encircled by the distant sky line. The sky is grey and the water rough. Large waves smash against her sides and spray falls across her decks. But the great ship ploughs ahead seemingly unconsious of the efforts of the turbulent sea to disrupt her progress. On and on she goes while below deck all is calm and quiet. At last land is sighted and the features of a coastal port become clearer and clearer as the ship draws nearer. A little pilot boat rushes out over the choppy sea to meet her and a rope ladder is lowered for the pilot to clamber aboard and guide her into port. As the great monarch THE GOLDEN MEAN 37 of the ocean moors besides her berth, a church clock chimes the hour heralding her arrival on schedule. The state express The powerful locomotive stands on the line awaiting the signal to pull her dozen coaches out of the station. The signal falls, the whistle blows and slowly and steadily she edges forward as her pistons smoothly rise and fall. She does not shake or rattle; nor is any of her pent up power wasted; that which is not required at the outset is conserved for the gathering of speed. Soon the city is left far behind and she is speeding across the plains and through the valleys. She runs so smoothly that her passengers are gently lulled to sleep. She is a wondrous spectacle of energetic power in perfect control; and this is the secret of real poise. Patience is a cardinal virtue of Islam which requires the exercise of a balanced temperament at all times. The Holy Prophet of Islam never allowed adverse conditions to get the better of him. On all occasions he conducted himself with composure and decorum even when a child. He was an orphan and brought up in the home of his uncle Abu Talib whose wife would sometimes direct prior attention to her own children than to Muhammad (peace be on him) in such matters as serving meals and other household affairs. Muhammad (peace be on him) never showed any indication of grievance. His face always reflected pleasure and contentment. Later in life, accompanied by his friend AbuBakr, he took refuge in a cave a few miles outside Mecca while being hunted by his enemies who were intent upon killing him. When the enemy approached the entrance to the cave Abu Bakr became perturbed but was consoled by the Prophet who said “Fear not, God is with us. We are not two in this cave. There is a third — God.” The enemy decided not to search the cave and moved off. On another occasion the Prophet was asleep unguarded and awoke to find one of the enemy standing over him with a drawn sword. “Who can save you now?” he mocked. Quite unflustered the Prophet replied “Allah.” whereupon the sword dropped from the hand of his enemy. Grief gives rise to feelings which can play havoc with emotions. The Prophet once passed a woman who was wailing loudly over the loss of a child and he gently admonished her. She retorted that he would feel and understand her heartache were he himself to lose a child. The Prophet replied that he had lost seven children then proceeded on his way. Islam is not a religion of extremes but guides along the middle path; and the characteristic of a practising Muslim is that he comports himself with calm and dignity on all occasions never deviating to extremes in practical conduct. 38 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “And as for those who strive to meet Us—We will, surely, guide them in Our ways . . .” (29:70). It is evident from the Quran that Jihad does not consist in killing and being killed but, rather, in striving hard to win the pleasure of God. Devotion of time and spending money in the service of Islam is also Jihad: “Make Jihad with your wealth and your lives in the cause of Allah . . .” (9:41). “And strive in the cause of Allah as it behoves you to strive for it . . .” (22:79). Another proof that Muhammad (peace be on him) did not propound that Jihad and war are synonymous is that whereas he was advised to make Jihad against the disbelievers and hypocrites yet he never did fight against the latter. The use of force in the propogation of one’s faith is forbidden in Islam: “There is no compulsion in religions.” (2:257). Real faith cannot be imposed by force. The most it can do is to turn a disbeliever into a hypocrite and according to Islam a hypocrite is worse than a non-believer. As already established, the Quran forbids conversion by coercion: “And if thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force men to become believers.” (10:100). “And We have pointed out to him the two highways of good and evil.” (90:11). The Arabic word “Al-Najdain” used in the second verse above means the two highways of good and evil, of truth and falsehood, of spiritual and material progress. God has provided man with all those means by which he can find out the right path and sift right from wrong and truth from falsehood. He is free to choose the course he likes. The Rev. O. Leary, D.D. does not share the views of the detractors of Islam concerning this matter. He has written: “History makes it clear, however, that the legends of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon the conquered races, is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”