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The Purpose of Religious Differences

27Review of Religions – August 2002 On 1st March 1903 a gentleman by the name of Kashi Ram Ved came from Lahore to pay his respects to the Pr o m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ). Some other people were also present after Zuhr prayers when (in the course of conversation) the Pr o m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ) addressed Mr Kashi Ram Ved and said: Religious difference is a fine thing. God in His wisdom has intended it to be there. It sharpens the human intellect. In the world even if there is agreement on some matter, it is still difficult to get to the finer details and many other minor matters continue to raise their heads. Making speeches in large gatherings for the purpose of exchanging ideas is also a good thing but in our country, up to now, such civilised people have been very few in number who would sit and listen to the views of their opponent in silence. The Purpose of Religious Differences Presented below, in translation, are two conversations of the Promised Messiah(as) with non-Muslims. The Urdu text of both conversations is contained in Malfoozat, Vol.5, pp .151-154 and pp.141-146 respectively. (Translated by Amatul Hadi Ahmad) The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) In 1891, Hadhrat Mirza Ahmad claimed, on the basis of Divine revelation, that he was the Promised Messiah and Mahdi whose advent had been foretold by the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) and by the scriptures of other faiths. His claim constitutes the basis of the beliefs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I myself wished and it was my intention that we should make available a place in Qadian where people of different religions could gather and freely express the truth and qualities of their religion. I know that if there were debates and discussions for the expression of truth it would be a very good thing but experience has proved that they contain elements of mischief and disorderliness and therefore such discussions have not been pursued. It is possible that there may be a handful of people who would listen to their opponent’s views with patience and kindness but the majority is made up of ordinary people who are not able to listen to even one word against their own religion no matter how gentle it is. But if a person of a different religion is to speak then it is very possible that there may be some things which are said which go against another religion and as a result of this people’s emotions are aroused. In such a gathering there can be peace only when the speaker and the listeners can sit together just as when a father sees something bad in his son and he advises the son who listens with patience and kindness. The attraction of such love proves beneficial. To hope for any benefit to ensue from a state of anger and viciousness is an idle thought. The difficulty these days is that not only is there the religious difference, but what has com- pounded the problem is the fact that it is no longer the concern of the people to concentrate upon the basis of the truth but animosity and ill feeling against each other has developed to such an extent that to refer to the opponent’s religion with respect 28 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 THE DIFFICULTY THESE DAYS IS THAT NOT ONLY IS THERE THE RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCE, BUT WHAT HAS COMPOUNDED THE PROBLEM IS THE FACT THAT IT IS NO LONGER THE CONCERN OF THE PEOPLE TO CONCENTRATE UPON THE BASIS OF THE TRUTH BUT ANIMOSITY AND ILL FEELING AGAINST EACH OTHER HAS DEVELOPED TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT TO REFER TO THE OPPONENT’S RELIGION WITH RESPECT OR HONOUR IS CONSIDERED A SIN. or honour is considered a sin. I see that people speak with much disrespect and rudeness. Earlier on relations between Hindus and Muslims were so good that they lived as one community. Now there is such division that the earlier positive feelings which existed between them no longer exist. Enmity and prejudice have taken hold of them instead. So, when there is no element of attachment or attraction left and all that is looked for (in debates) is winning or losing, how can there be an expression of truth? For the expression of truth it is important that a person does not possess any inner prejudice and there should be no enmity or ill feeling. I also believe there is another error in which people have fallen. Before attacking a religion they do not consider whether (that which they are using for an) attack is in fact to be found in that book or not. They leave the actual book to one side and pick up on some person’s personal opinion and attribute it to that religion. In a number of things we are against the Arya religion and we do not consider them to be right. But I do not attribute the (aspects criticised) to the Vedas. I do not know what is in them. But, we do attribute them to Pundit Dayanand and he has accepted this. We ourselves speak against such beliefs and have publicised that this is the belief of the Arya Samaj. Similarly, if the Aryas have an objection to make, they should make it either against the Holy Qur’an or against a belief which I have stated and published as my belief. It is not appropriate that something which we do not believe is pronounced to be our belief. As numerous sects (of different religions) have come into being, therefore, any objections against a belief should be levelled only against the sect which has accepted that belief. Hence, at the time of discussion the relevant book should be mentioned. It can be seen from the various versions and commentaries (available) how much difference there is. If this principle is kept in mind the audience can benefit. How can a person who has neither read nor understood a book, have the right to raise objections 29 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 against it? In matters of religion it is necessary that the debate should be about the commonly accepted original principles though it is not necessary that one should have read all the books for which more than a whole lifetime would be needed. Debate should be undertaken according to the principles of debate. Those who are experienced in the art of debate have written that it is totally useless to become involved in minor subsidiary matters the example of which is like an army which is headed by principles as its officers. When there is a decisive outcome amongst the officers, a similar outcome amongst the soldiers follows. For example, when a commanding officer is killed, the soldiers surrender. I don’t say anything until God Almighty permits me to do so. If I wished to participate in (verbal) debate I would not have published this book (N a s e e m e – D a w a t). Usually, in gatherings (for religious discussion) truth is kept hidden and people work with prejudice and stubbornness. I have, therefore, made a promise with God that I would abandon this practice.1 I have written this book (Naseeme-Dawat) with a view to the rules of debate and in it I have stated my argument in accordance with the principles I have presented. I do not respond to those who throw abuse at me because God Almighty has taken from me the capacity to respond with abuse. Besides, which of these people is one to respond to? (There are so many)! (When the Aarya gentlemen left, some others came and in answer to questions, the Promised Messiah(as)gave the following brief answer): Adhering to the truth despite the difference of opinion, this you can see in the book Naseeme- Dawat. God has taken away from me the capacity to utter abuse neither am I able to make answer to each and every one (who has given abuse). Millions of people are uttering abuse, which one of them am I to answer? I take issue with the Aarya Samaj and not with the Vedas because I am not familiar with the Vedas. On the evening of 28th February 1903, some Aarya gentlemen came to pay their respects to the Promised 30 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 Messiah(as) who asked them if they too had come to attend this meeting. They replied that they had only come as they had heard that the Promised Messiah(as) w o u l d also speak at that meeting. Otherwise, they said, they had no wish to come here. The Promised Messiah( a s ) replied:2 We know that in reality there are some decent people in every nation, people whose aim is not to unnecessarily abuse other people and view them with prejudice or to speak disre- spectfully of their honoured leaders. But whatever I do, I do it only with the permission of and at the indication and command of God Almighty. He has not permitted me to indulge in this type of (abusive) verbal debate. Hence many years ago I published this promise in my book An j a a m e – A t h a m and I have made a promise with God that I would not join the gatherings for such verbal debates. You are aware that in such gatherings many different types of people attend. Some are totally ignorant and attend merely for the purpose of joining the crowd. Others come so that they can throw abuse at the respected figures of the opponent group and they gain a sense of satisfaction from this. There are yet others who are of an extremely harsh nature. To go to gatherings made up of such people and to enter into religious debate then becomes a very delicate matter. Because you know that when two people stand opposite each other with the sole purpose of proving that the o t h e r’s religion is completely wrong and has no share in truth or s p i r i t u a l i t y, and is in fact dead and has no connection with God, until such time as they prove this of the other person’s religion, they find it difficult to show the beauty of their own religion. The errors of the other religion have to be pointed out. If the faults which exist in it are not mentioned then there can be no expression of truth. But some people get over-excited by this and they cannot bear to listen and their emotion erupts into violence and they are ready to fight. Hence, to go to such gatherings is against good sense because for religious analysis it is essential that people come to a religious gathering with a cool heart and with a nature which is fair and just. It is better if they don’t 31 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 have any inclination towards quarrelsomeness or violence. Then, in such an atmosphere one person can describe the qualities of his religion and speak as much as he can and then someone from the other group can stand up and in a similar civilised, gentle manner can describe the qualities of his religion. This can be repeated many times but, unfortunately, in our country up to now such patient and gentle (religious) analysts do not exist. Such a time has not yet come. But, yes, it is hoped that God will soon bring such a time. I even intended that we should prepare a building here in which people from various religions could speak freely (about their religion). In truth if a matter is not heard with a cool heart and a fair mind and with an inclination towards tolerance then it is extremely difficult to get to its true reality. Take a small case in the courts, for instance, where the judge listens with a cool head to the evidence and excuses from both sides and, after much thought and careful analysis, he makes a decision. Sometimes this takes many years. When such is the case with worldly matters, how can matters of religion be resolved in two or four, or ten or twelve minutes. It is easy for the enquirer to put the question but the difficulties faced by the person responding are not easy to imagine. If a person puts the question that tells me about the solar system and the stars and the earth and (also states that) answer me in the time that I have taken to put the question – give me the answer within that time otherwise you are a liar. Now, the predicament of the person who has to give the answer is quite evident. What can he do? Until he writes a book made up of many chapters, the answer will not be complete! In short, these are the types of difficulties I face. These are the reasons which prevent me from attending such gatherings. If, however, the questioner takes the stance that this is my question and I will listen quietly until you have completed the answer, then the person replying would enjoy giving the answer. In truth that which is spoken for God and the heart which does so for the sake of attaining God’s pleasure and is full of righteousness, such a person would never do this (i.e. indulge in the use of bad language). But these days tongues are like 32 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 knives and objections are raised one after the other (for no real purpose). When it is done (i.e. questions are asked) for the sake of God then the style is different and the language used is different. That which comes from the heart reaches the heart! I can smell the scent of the question which comes from a sincere seeker of truth. Even harshness when it comes from a seeker of truth has a certain element of enjoyment. It is his right that he persists until he finds satisfaction (in the answer given) and until all the evidence is provided he can certainly continue in his questions. I don’t mind this at all. On the contrary, such a person is worthy of respect. Words which are for God have no comparison with deceiving utterances of the baser self. I have repeatedly explained to my community that they should not be hasty in objecting to others. Every ancient religion was, in fact, from God but the long passage of time has caused errors to develop. These should be removed gently and softly. Don’t present anyone with the stone- like gift of an objection. We see that if today we buy some material and have it made up into a garment, after a short time it becomes old and undergoes change so much so that it becomes something very different (from its original shape). Likewise, ancient religion too contains the root of truth within it. God is with truth and the true religion contains within it living signs. A tree is recognised by its fruit. Even within governments which are a kind of a shadow of that Being which is the most hidden, even there we see how the truthful are respected by them and are dear to them. The officers and workers whom the Government itself has appointed, s a y, as a Governor of some place, how they work with courage and 33 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 I H AV E R E P E AT E D LY E X P L A I N E D TO M Y C O M M U N I T Y T H AT T H E Y S H O U L D N O T B E H A S T Y I N O B J E C T I N G TO O T H E R S. E V E RY A N C I E N T R E L I G I O N WA S, I N FA C T, F R O M GO D B U T T H E L O N G PA S S A G E O F T I M E H A S C A U S E D E R R O R S TO D E V E L O P. TH E S E S H O U L D B E R E M O V E D G E N T LY A N D S O F T LY. D O N’T P R E S E N T A N Y O N E W I T H T H E S TO N E-L I K E G I F T O F A N O B J E C T I O N. do not like anonymity. But the fraudulent Deputy-Commissioner or a Police Inspector, etc. who cheat people by becoming such officers themselves, could they come before the Government? When the Government finds out it will humiliate them and they would go hand-cuffed to prison or have some other punishment meted out to them. The same is true of religious truthfulness. He who is truthful in the sight of God, possesses God’s signs and has the mark of courage and truthfulness. In reality, he who fears God faces tremendous difficulties. A person becomes pure only when he abandons his own wishes and purpose and becomes totally engrossed in his efforts to attain the pleasure of God. Selfishness, pride and haughtiness are thrown out from his inner self. His eye should look only in the direction in which God commands. His ear should pay attention only to what God says. His lips should open only for the statement of truth and wisdom, and otherwise should remain closed until God commands. His eating, dressing, sleeping, drinking, being with his wife, should all be done because God has so commanded. He shouldn’t eat because he is hungry but because God says so. In short, until he shows that he has ‘died’ before his death he does not reach the level of the righteous. But when he causes a ‘death’ over himself, God would never let him die a second death. These days it is seen that when lips are opened, talk is of nothing but mockery, poking fun at others and saying hurtful things about others. Whatever is contained in a vessel, pours out. Their talk bears witness to what is within them. I can recognise a good- hearted person from afar. A person who comes with a good character and a wholesome heart is just the kind of person I wish to see. Even abuse from such a person doesn’t seem to bother. But it is unfortunate that such people with pure hearts are very few indeed. [Here an Arya person spoke to say that there are only two ignorant nations. If you don’t mind my saying so, one is that of the Sikhs and the other is that of our Muslim brothers]. The Promised Messiah(as) replied: For a man of understanding no abuse is greater than being called 34 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002 ‘ignorant’. To call someone ignorant to his face is considered a very harsh abuse. But you should consider the fact that none of our people here present have responded (to your abuse). Do you, even now, doubt the gentle and civilised manner of our people? There are many who come and give abuse to my face but none of my people dare to respond (angrily) to such a person. Day and night I give them the teaching of patience. I teach them to be gentle and forbearing. This is not the nation to which your principle (of ignorance) will apply. But we are not responsible for other common people (who are not under our influence). We would believe you if in an Arya gathering someone were to say to them that you are an ignorant people and then they, in turn, were to show patience instead of responding with something a thousand times worse! You have not seen Muslims, neither have you seen their character. If there were to be a comparison between them and the Aryas, it would be like that of a wolf and a lamb. I don’t take responsibility for those who are not under my influence but to listen to abuse and other language meant to incite and remain patiently silent is the work of real men. It remains to be seen if some (others) can also show it. Gentleness is difficult (to achieve and practice). Anyone can be harsh! References 1. Additional script from ‘Al- Badr’ newspaper of the time 2. On 28th February 1903 the Aryas, a sect of the Hindu religion, held a large meeting in which Islam was spoken of very abusively and insults were hurled at the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). 35 The Purpose of Religious Differences Review of Religions – August 2002