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The Task Ahead

A plea to engage in personal reformation and to ignore the fashions and distractions of the outside world.

37The Review of Religions – October 2004 The Perfect Guidance for Mankind two articles of faith not only require belief in the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet M u h a m m a d( s a ) but in all the revealed books of God and in all of His prophets. And finally, the Qur’an enjoins belief in the Day of Judgement where man will give account of his deeds and misdeeds and will receive the appropriate rewards and penalties. The Role of Hope and Fear Hope and fear are the two major motivating factors in man’s life. His intentions and actions are prompted either by hope of reward or fear of suffering. According to Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Khalifa: M a n ’s intentions and his subsequent actions are always guided and controlled by either fear or hope and there is no exception to this rule. Those who do good deeds do so out of fear and hope and those who indulge in vices are motivated by the same. 4 The Qur’an motivates man through hope and fear to become godly, his objective in life. It gives us hope of earning unending rewards and it warns us to fear the wrath of Allah should we be lax in d i s c h a rging our duties towards Him. Belief in the Oneness and Omnipotence of God induces one to place all one’s hopes and fears in Him alone. It liberates man from all other yokes. The Qur’an tells us that: As for those who believe and do good works, they will have Gardens of Eternal Abode, as an entertainment, in return for what they used to do. (Ch.32: V.20) Here we see why belief in the Day of Judgement is a fundamental article of faith. Without belief in the hereafter the above verse would not inspire anyone to do good nor would the following verse deter anyone from doing evil: And as for those who are disobedient, their abode will be the Fire. Every time they desire to come forth therefrom, they will be turned back into it, and it will be said to them, ‘Taste the punishment of the 38 The Review of Religions – October 2004 The Perfect Guidance for Mankind Fire which you used to deny’. (Ch.32: V.21) But even in the face of such a terrible punishment the Qur’ a n once again gives us hope: And most surely We will make them taste of the neare r punishment before the greater punishment, so that they may return to Us with repentance. (Ch.32: V.22) In other words even when we fall into error, God gives us ample opportunity to mend our ways and hence save ourselves from hellfire. And once again the Qur’an gives us hope by telling us that: Say, ‘O My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, sure l y Allah forgives all sins. Verily, He is Most Forg i v i n g , Merciful.’ (Ch.39: V.54) The above verse not only inspires hope, but the love with which Allah addresses His servants generates in His servants love for Him. The Holy Qur’an is full of verses which discuss Allah’s wrath and punishment as well as His compassion and mercy. The former inspire fear of Him in His servants, the latter hope. Hope and fear, as stated above, are what motivate man’s intentions and actions. To fulfil his objective, man needs an adequate dose of both these motivating factors and the Qur’an provides exactly that. Godliness The Qur’an teaches man what godliness is. It does this by describing the attributes of Allah thereby giving man a blueprint for his self-development. To become godly one must develop in oneself, as far as is humanly possible, these same attributes. The Holy Prophet M u h a m m a d( s a ) was the most perfect reflection of Allah’s attri- butes. By enumerating these attributes the Qur’an provides man with ample reasons to love and fear Allah. It tells of His b e a u t y, grandeur, compassion, benevolence etc. inspiring us to love Him. It tells us that He is omnipotent and vengeful inspiring us to fear Him. 39The Review of Religions – October 2004 The Perfect Guidance for Mankind Some of His attributes invoke fear and hope at the same time; for example, the Qur’an states that Allah sees everything, that nothing is hidden from His sight. This motivates us to do good and it prevents us from doing evil as He sees all that we do. We are told time and time again that Allah is f o rgiving and merciful. This teaches us that we should develop the same qualities in our relationships with the rest of God’s creation. The Qur’an tells us that Allah is just; hence we should practise justice in all our dealings. Allah is patient, therefore we should be patient and steadfast even in the face of adversity. In summary, by giving us a comprehensive ‘character sketch’ of Allah, the Qur’an shows us the qualities we should develop in ourselves. If we develop the attributes of Allah in our persons to the extent we humanly can, we become godly which is the objective of our existence. Believers and Non-believers We are told in the Qur’an the characteristics of believers and non-believers. This provides checkpoints for us in our daily lives. Some of the characteristics to be found in believers are: And those who are watchful of their trust and their covenants, and those who are upright in their testimonies, and those who are strict in the observance of Prayer. These will be in the Gardens, duly honoured. (Ch.70: Vs.33-36) And: Verily, Allah commands you to give over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men you judge with justice. (Ch.4: V.59) In the above verses, believers are described as people who are honest, upright and just. This gives man guidance on the qualities that he should develop in himself in order to become godly. Similarly the Qur’an paints a picture of disbelievers so that man can safeguard himself against disbelief: 40 The Review of Religions – October 2004 The Perfect Guidance for Mankind Surely they are too proud of themselves and have gre a t l y exceeded the bounds. (Ch.25: V.22) And And they are certainly liars. (Ch.6: V.29) And again: And woe to the idolaters, who give not the Zakat. (Ch.41: V.8) The disbelievers are depicted here as being arrogant, deceitful and niggardly. The Qur’an lists some vices that should be eschewed if we wish to become godly. Hence, the Qur’an provides descriptions of both believers and disbelievers so that man can endeavour to develop in himself the qualities of the former and avoid the failings of the latter. This gives us checkpoints in our daily lives which can be used to determine whether we are moving towards faith and hence our objective, or away from both. The Relationship between Faith and Deeds According to the Qur’an, faith should lead to action and all action should be rooted in faith. If faith, which is a condition of the heart, is not accompanied by right deeds then it is in danger of being extinguished. There is a strong inter-relationship between the two; faith leads to good deeds which in turn strengthens faith which then leads to even better deeds. Thus a virtuous cycle is formed. Faith and good deeds go hand in hand. When both co-exist both the individual and society reap the benefits. We have described above the fundamentals of faith. We now examine the Qur’an to determine what kinds of actions should proceed from faith. We read in the Qur’an: O ye who believe! Be strict in o b s e rving justice, being witnesses for the sake of Allah even though it be against yourselves or against parents or kindred. (Ch.4: V.136) 41The Review of Religions – October 2004 The Perfect Guidance for Mankind And: Verily Allah requires you to abide by justice, and to treat with grace, and to give like the giving of kin to kin; and forbids indecency and manifest evil, and transgression. He admonishes you that you may take heed. (Ch.16: V.91) In these two short verses the Q u r’an gives a most comprehensive teaching for the moral and spiritual perfection of man and for establishing peace on earth. Believers are told that they must hold fast to the principles of absolute justice at all costs even to the detriment of their own self- interests or the interests of their kith and kin. The very minimum required of believers is absolute justice. But they are then told to not remain content at that; they should move on and do more than justice by entering into the realm of benevolence. Forg i v e n e s s , charity and generosity fall into this category. Passing through this stage, the Faithful should then continue their journey by further developing their conduct with their fellow human beings so that their relationship with them resembles that of a mother’s to her children, where doing good becomes spontaneous. At this stage there is no thought of reward and no thought of doing or returning a favour; one is prompted to serve others through selflessness. Thus the journey towards virtue is a THE QUR’AN MOTIVATES MAN THROUGH HOPE AND FEAR TO BECOME GODLY, HIS OBJECTIVE IN LIFE. IT GIVES US HOPE OF EARNING UNENDING REWARDS AND IT WARNS US TO FEAR THE WRATH OF ALLAH SHOULD WE BE LAX IN DISCHARGING OUR DUTIES TOWARDS HIM. BELIEF IN THE ONENESS AND OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD INDUCES ONE TO PLACE ALL ONE’S HOPES AND FEARS IN HIM ALONE. IT LIBERATES MAN FROM ALL OTHER YOKES. 42 The Review of Religions – October 2004 progressive one, the first step being absolute justice. All good must be built upon this foundation. The first half of verse 16:91 maps out the believer’s journey towards virtue. The second half maps out the journey away from vice. Indecency means such vices as are practised in private known only to the practitioner, for example jealousy. Manifest evil describes such evils as are done in the open and the harm is confined to the doer alone. Tr a n s g r e s s i o n comprehends all vices which do positive harm to others. Acting on this one verse alone would bring about peace in society. It is the absence of justice that is at the root of all evils. Cultivating virtues and eschewing vices leads us to God and this brief verse of Surah Al-Nahl lists all the phases that must be passed through on this journey. It ends with the words ‘that you may take heed’. The Arabic word zikr is translated as ‘take heed’ but it has a much wider meaning. It means to remember the obligations that one owes God and His creatures and to celebrate His praises and to become a living embodiment of His attributes which, as stated previously, is the purpose of man’s creation. Thus the Faithful are given the glad tidings that if they adhere to the injunctions of this one verse alone they will fulfil the purpose of their existence. This verse on its own provides perfect guidance for mankind. It is balanced and harmonious; the three commandments are counter- balanced with three corresponding prohibitions. It is universal and eternal; the principles of absolute justice, benevolence and kinship can be applied in all eras and in all places. It is comprehensive and complete; the principles given in the above verse apply to all spheres of human activities. There are no contradictions or flaws. These are the characteristics of perfection given earlier. Hence it is a perfect teaching. Conclusion In this essay we have argued that the objective of man’s life is to worship the one and only God. We stated that this means the acquiring of His attributes. This The Perfect Guidance for Mankind 43The Review of Religions – October 2004 can be achieved through faith, hope, love and fear. The Qur’an is a comprehensive guide to acquiring and strengthening faith and it motivates man to become godly by inspiring him with fear, with hope and with love. By detailing the attributes of Allah it gives man a blueprint for his life’s purpose. Furthermore, every Qur ’ a n i c injunction when closely examined will be found to be perfectly balanced, harmonious and free of contradiction. We therefore believe that the Qur’an is the perfect guide for mankind as it is balanced in itself and it leads man to his objective. However, it should also be noted that while it is intended as a guide for the whole of mankind, only the God- fearing among them will be guided aright by it: This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous. (Ch.2: V.3) Bibliography 1. AHMAD, MIRZA BASHIR- UD-DIN MAHMUD (1996) Introduction to the Study of the Holy Qur’ a n, Islam International Publications Ltd. 2. AHMAD, MIRZA GHULAM (1981) The Essence of Islam, Volume II, The London Mosque. 3. AHMAD, MIRZA TA H I R (1998) Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship, Islam International Publications Ltd. 4. AHMAD, MIRZA TA H I R (1996) An Elementary Study of I s l a m, Islam International Publications Ltd. 5. AHMAD, MIRZA TA H I R (1997) I s l a m ’s Response to C o n t e m p o r a ry Issues , Islam International Publications Ltd. 6. AHMAD, WAHEED (1988) A Book of Religious Knowledge. 7. (1988) The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Vols. 1-5, Islam International Publications Ltd. The Perfect Guidance for Mankind 44 The Review of Religions – October 2004 The subject of my address this afternoon is “the task ahead” which may be described in various ways. For instance it may be said that the task ahead of us is determined by the present juncture and history in which on one side man’s intellect has arrived at a higher point than it had reached at any previous stage in its history, and on the other hand there is almost complete annihilation between man and his Creator on a scale and over such vast areas as has never happened before. Our task is to bring about reconciliation between man and his Maker. This is the purpose for which the second advent of the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) was designed which found its fulfilment towards the end of the second half of the last century and the beginning of this one. We Ahmadis have covenanted at his hands as one of his sincere devoted servants but spiritually at the hands of the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam himself and that we shall undertake to fulfil that task to bring mankind back to its Maker. That is the task ahead. As I have said it has been described in various ways but I do not want to The following is an extract of a speech delivered by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan in 1972 at The London Mosque. The author served as the President of the United Nations General Assembly and then as the President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The message of his speech remains relevant even today. The Task Ahead 45The Review of Religions – October 2004 spend time on defining the task. I wish so far as it may be given to me to draw attention to what is needed for the fulfilment of that task. How must we equip ourselves so that we may be enabled to discharge that duty and responsibility? How shall we prepare ourselves so that the fulfilment of that duty may go forward from year to year, month to month, week to week, day to day and moment to moment? I enjoin you humbly, sincerely and respectfully but in the name of the Maker of all of us, to consider honestly in examining your own selves without any kind of make-believe. Have we taken full advantage of equipping ourselves for the discharge of that duty? Are we doing all that is possible for us to do towards the discharge of that duty? To what degree are we inspired by the delicacy and the loftiness of the purpose ahead? To what degree have we succeeded in subordinating ourselves to this task we have undertaken? If we have not then we may be accounted false in the eyes of God, which alone is what matters. We have been told time and again beginning with the Qur’an itself and the admonitions of the Holy Prophet(sa); then the very detailed explanations by the Holy Founder of our Community, that Islam does not forbid us to pursue what other people describe and consider as secular pursuits. In Islam there is no such division between secular and religious pursuits. In American terminology we only kid ourselves in thinking that we have been successful in this thing or that thing. We have achieved nothing except being false to our pledge if we have pursued other goals, ideals and purposes for their own sake. We will only be blessed with success if we subordinate everything to the purpose of winning the pleasure of God, so that what might be called our secular pursuits then take on the colour of spiritual pursuits. The earning of our livelihood, marriages, bringing up of The Task Ahead 46 The Review of Religions – October 2004 children, amusements etc. are not prohibited and every one of them is a means of the achievement of that purpose only if we knew how to employ them. Maulana Rumi said at one place that if a person is devoted to his Maker then you say it is self-indulgence for him to have four wives. For such a person forty thousand wives are not an indulgence because his concept of life and marriage is different from the person who thinks this is self- indulgence. That makes a whole revolution in one’s life and it is my purpose to try to persuade you that this revolution, however difficult or unattractive it might be to begin with, is easy, rewarding, and enriching and joyful. It is the only true means of attaining happiness. A total commitment to our Maker and a burning consuming desire that if we are blessed with the ability of carrying out that commitment then every one of His creatures shall be led to the same commitment, if God so pleases, through us. If a person truly feels and believes that this is the purpose of his life then everything else will be sub- ordinated to this purpose and will become the means of the achievement of this purpose. I myself have had many occasions of talking about a person who adopts a profession which becomes, as we would say, a means of his physical livelihood. Let us assume that he is an honest worker. Fewer and fewer today are honest workers even in the sense of ordinary labours. Life has become altogether comparatively dishonest rather than honest. However, leave that aside and let us assume a certain person is an honest person. He works well, pleases his e m p l o y e r, brings home his money and does not gamble nor drink alcohol. He spends it on looking after his family. If, however, this is his only purpose to which he devotes the working time of his life then it is not a bad purpose. It is a good purpose and it will bear him certain benefits and advantages. It is, however, a very harmful, very wasteful and a very losing bargain he makes to give his life in return only for this The Task Ahead