Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of
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5: Articles of Faith in Islam:
Iman, the word which in Arabic corresponds to faith, means knowledge of a thing coupled with a conviction as to its truth so strong as to incite us to strive our utmost to live up to it. The word does not, in Quranic terminology, include beliefs which cannot be translated into action, or are not concerned with action. Consequently, belief in something accepted as verity on the basis of a dogma does not come within the category of religious beliefs in Islam. In fact, dogmatic doctrines have no significance for a Muslim. Faith, however, in the Quranic sense of the word, plays a most important part in moulding every human word or action. All our movements are the portraits of such of our concepts as are based upon sure and certain faith. Every item of our routine, however insignificant, is but a motion picture of our belief in the existence or the non-existence of things. Any change in such a belief straightaway produces a change in the routine. Even a slight movement of our lips, or of any other portion of the body, springs from some belief or other. For instance, we cannot utter a word unless we believe as well in the audibility and articulation of the sound we make as in the ability of our hearer to hear and give to our words the same meanings which they convey to us. Similar belief is always present in our mind concerning everything that emanates from us.
This emphasizes the importance of a vigilant and wise choice of faith in every avenue of our existence, since soundness of action follows soundness of belief; and more especially is this so in our religious beliefs, seeing that no other belief approaches them in strength and in influence on the ordering of our life.
As to that life, almost every religion strikes the same note. Faith in tenets diametrically opposed to each other in teaching have by different religions been invested with similar merits that are to accrue to the believer in his life after death. If a faith in the divinity of A and B, for instance, brings salvation to the believer according to one religion, it dooms him to everlasting punishment in the life to come, according to the other. No religion, on the other hand, has any decisively logical support for its assertions. No one as yet has returned from behind the veil to bear witness to the truth of his faith. Even seance-phenomena, apart from all considerations of their futility or otherwise, are not reliable evidence that such a thing has occurred. The French spiritualist, for example, accepts the transmigration of the soul as a truth on the strength of phenomenal testimony, while his colleague in England will disbelieve in the doctrine on evidence precisely similar. Under these circumstances I am forced to conclude that a religions claim for belief in its doctrines should never be heeded, unless those doctrines satisfy our intelligence and have been tested in the crucible of utility as regards our present life.
In short, this passion for devotion to some supreme Being is the dominant feature of mans mind. From a stone to a son of a woman, he has adored various manifestations of nature as his God, and he has been none the worse for it - seeing that he has been able to keep a certain moral order under any system of worship. The worship of idols has at times inspired him with noble and lofty feelings, like those which have been observed in the most worthy of the worshippers of God. Prayers addressed to images made by mans own hands have in their beauty, grandeur and sincerity surpassed even the devotional utterances of the holiest of monotheists while adoring the Most High. The Vishnuvites, for example - a class of Hindu idol worshippers in India - are often strict observers of morality. Their piety sometimes surpasses the righteousness of a virtuous Unitarian.
I also say that I see no excellence in such a belief if it exerts no influence in beautifying the character. It is useless to sing hymns at the top of our voices if we are not leading, and do not lead, godly lives. God does not stand in need of any adoration from us; and if He does, He is not worthy of the great names with which He is revered. I would go further than that; I would say that if our worship of Him lies only in bringing offerings and sacrifices to His altar, and in the recital of praises and thanks to Him, it is neither creditable to God nor profitable to man. He is only another fetish and the biggest in the world of religion. God should stand above these things. He needs no praise from us. The Quran is very explicit on the point. It says that our extolling or praising God does not contribute to His glory, nor does blasphemy retract at all from His grandeur and dignity. Our prayers to Him should consist of such expressions, whether praise or thanksgiving to God or supplications to Him for some favour, as may set us to work out our own power and ability to our best advantage.
(All) praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the day of requital. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. Guide us on the right path, the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favours, not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.
It begins with words of praise and thanksgiving, but if both these actions do not go beyond the lips of the worshipper they are of no avail in Islam.
The opening words of the Muslim prayer are: al-hamdu li-llahi rabbi-l-alamin, meaning, All praises and thanksgiving are for God. The word hamd in Arabic is very rich in meaning. It conveys four ideas. First, the word has an exclusive use. It is reserved for the praise of the Lord. Secondly, it conveys the idea of perfection; the worship per sees in God all the best and most excellent attributes. Thirdly, it expresses a longing desire on the part of the worshipper to possess all such attributes to the extent of his abilities, and hence his prayers for them. Fourthly, it means thanks, that is, for his possession of capacity for cultivating such attributes in himself. In fact, the action of praise psychologically consists of the said four ingredients. Perfection in beauty, sublimity and goodness on the one side, and our lack of them with desire to own them on the other, move our admiration and praise for the owner of those excellencies; but we never desire to possess a thing unless we own the ability to do so, and hence our gratitude for it.
Thus the word hamd on the lips of a Muslim while at prayer is no empty word of compliment that may please the ears of the Deity, but a genuine expression of a genuine desire to mould his life on Divine lines; and to this end the Muslims recite, after the word hamd, four names of God which are the most beautiful among their class. They are: Rabb, Rahman, Rahim and Malik-i-yaum-i-din. Each of them, if followed by us, would make a millennium for the world. Rabb means Creator, Nourisher, Maintainer and Bringer of faculties to perfection. Rahman means All-Beneficent Lord whose blessings go to all, unmerited, and undeserved, and not by way of compensation for any good action but of His own goodness. Rahim means One who rewards an action manifold. Malik means the owner or the king of judgment, whose sentence of punishment is only for reclamation and is not the fruit of anger on account of mans disobedience. The beauty of these four attributes is that in them God does not observe any distinction of class and creed among men. The God of Islam is the God of all nations, who is impartial in the dispensation of His blessings. I wish the rulers of the earth who hold sway over other races could show so broadminded and liberal an attitude, for then the burden of foreign rule would lose its curse. A Muslim says his prayers five times a day, which reminds him of these four Divine moulds in which he has to cast his daily life. High morality in Islam consists in the reflection of Divine morals - a truth that has recently dawned on the minds of Western theologians.
Next, the worshipper speaks of his service to God, and the best religious service. According to Islam, this consists of doing actions in conformity with the requirements of the Divine Names. The Prayer then speaks of things for which a Muslim has to pray to his God. He must not pray for earthly good, but for knowledge - knowledge of the right path that may bring him under the grace and blessings of God, and keep him away from wickedness and error.
However, I look at the subject from a different angle. If we have to seek our God in the incarnate form, I see no special reason for giving precedence to Jesus over others. Our belief in him has not helped mankind any more than the Hindu belief in Krishna and Rama-Chandra. In one respect, Christianity has been woefully at fault. In the matter of culture and civilization Christianity has proved an implacable enemy to human advancement. It crushed science as long as it had the power to do so, and would do the same today if the modern world would suffer it. Only the other day the Bishop of Ripon proposed to give scientific research a holiday for ten years. This was but an echo of the old cry of tyranny and oppression that came from the Church against culture and science in the Middle Ages, though it is clothed in the euphemisms of modern refinement.
In short, if belief in the divinity of a man has not helped the human race more than belief in the divinity of stones or elements in the days of ignorance, it is as I have shown before, not worthy of our further attention. Modern progress in the West should not be taken as the fruit of mans faith in the Church dogmas. The West made no progress so long as it was in the iron grip of Christianity.
But even our belief in the Supreme Being, or the worship of God, is of no consequence if it does not help in the betterment of our race. Religion has been regarded as a necessary human institution from the days of Adam and Eve. But it should be treated as a back number if our pursuit of it possesses no utility. The whole question depends on the articles of faith upon which a religion insists. If it asks us to believe in such tenets as have come under discussion in these pages, I think we are none the worse for dispensing with it. But if it invites our faith in doctrines that bring out all that is noble and good in us, and urges us to use all the powers of nature, whether reposed in the human frame or in the rest of the universe, to our best advantage, then religion becomes a most essential human institution. I repeat, God is not in need of human worship, but if our worship of Him inspires us to follow His ways as they are to be observed in the universe, ways that work out the best of civilization on righteous lines, it ought to be part and parcel of our life. I would go to my God fifty times a day in such a prayerful mood, though Islam prescribes but five prayers only.
If Law is all in all in this way, and our belief in it is the greatest factor in the building of our character and in the achievement of success, it needs our strong belief not only in its Maker, who invests it with full force in its operation, but in many other things connected with Law. Law demands as well the services of its functionaries, who must keep it always in force, since without them it would be but a dead-letter.
Again, Law, or such portion of it as rules human destinies, whether discovered or revealed, should be preserved in such a form as may be of service to all units of humanity. It has not fallen to the lot of all men to make researches in the realms of Law, nor to be inspired by the contemplation of its source. There are but a few chosen persons of the human race who are favoured with this gift, and it is their duty to guide and enlighten their fellow men. Again, Law loses all its force, nor can it compel universal adhesion, unless and until some reward or punishment comes inevitably to its fulfiller or breaker. Lastly, there ought to be set times for such reward and punishment - when the fruits of submission or disobedience to Law should become manifest to all. Thus if Law is the lever of the whole machinery in the universe, and our belief in it works wonders for our progress, we should also, to make it a reality in our eyes, believe in the Maker of the Law, its functionaries, its record, and the custodians thereof. We must believe, too, in the reward and the punishment ordained by such an administrative system.
For illustration, take any human institution that contributes to our civilization and we shall find it revolving on the pivot of the seven principles mentioned later, with Law as one of them. Take the government of any country. No society, even in its most primitive state, can work on healthy lines without some sort of government acting in it as a sovereign political authority. It works through its laws. It must have machinery to set them in motion. It must reduce its laws to a record - they may be laws unwritten but imprinted on the tablet of the human mind - and entrust them to intermediate officials to convey to the general public. The government also needs a court of law to administrate, etc. If the Law is a thing so important, and I may say the only key to our advancement and perfection, it should be the first duty of religion to inspire in us a strong stimulus for respecting it. I find myself unable to attach any value to a faith which lacks such incentive. I cannot imagine any greater harm to the very fabric of human society than that which accrues to us by reason of our belief in a doctrine that either weakens our sense of responsibility or enervates our energy and divests us of motive for action. A religion that belittles the importance of Law is best forgotten.
For this reason I had to give up my belief in the Atonement and other similar doctrines. I could not see, as I remarked before, any necessity for believing even in God, if belief is not attended with the results I have just mentioned. Law and its rules are the main things in the whole universe. Law demands an unswerving belief in its existence and implicit obedience. It is inexorable in awarding its penalties to its disbelievers and breakers. No other belief can save the transgressor of the Law from its demands in this life; and shall not the same apply to the hereafter? Should not religion, then, inculcate first of all the necessity and importance of our faith in Law? It must speak of other verities also, because belief in the Law, and that alone, is of no avail, if unaccompanied by belief in other essential things. Divine worship may be taken as a matter of first importance in religion, but we know nothing of God except through His ways of work in nature. Hence our worship of Him should find its real manifestation in our following His ways in our life. Our prayer or other form of adoration should act as a reminder of that Great Truth.
I cannot cite a stronger statement on behalf of a revealed religion and its necessity than which I found in the last section of the second chapter of the Quran:
Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Gods; and whether you manifest what is in your minds or hide it, God will call you to account according to it; then He will forgive whom He pleases and chastise whom He pleases, and God has power over all things. The Messenger (Muhammad) believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers; they all believe in God and His angels and His books and His messengers: We make no difference between any of His messengers; and they say: We hear and obey, our Lord! Thy forgiveness (do we crave), and to Thee is the eventual course. God does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability; for it, is (the benefit of) what it has earned, and against it (the evil of) what it has wrought: our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake; our Lord do not lay on us a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us; our Lord do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear; and pardon us and grant us protection and have mercy on us, Thou art our Patron, so help us against the unbelieving people. (The Holy Quran, 2:284-6).
First it speaks in clear terms of six things written in bold letters on every page of nature, and their existence is palpable even to a most superficial observer, since the denial of it is attended by immediate unrelenting penalty. These are the things in reality that can rightly be given the name of Truth or Verity. The so-called verities adopted as such by various persuasions are more dogmatic.
The verities spoken of in these verses are as follows:
1. The universality of Divine Government - the working of His Law in Heaven and in the Earth.
2. Our unavoidable accountability to God for our every action hidden or manifest.
3. His law of retribution ever in operation, with occasional remission under given conditions.
4. Our ability to submit to His Laws.
5. Laws of action and their results, i.e., we reap what we sow.
6. The Hereafter - the time to bear the fruits of our actions. It may be immediate, since sometimes we are punished immediately for our wrongs, or it may be in the future - what is popularly styled the Last Day or the Day of Judgment in religious parlance.
No special revelation from God, no elaborate teaching of tutor divine is needed to bring home to us these truths. Everything in nature speaks of them. No one with a grain of wisdom in his head can deny them; which being so, the case for religion and its necessity, as well as the nature of its tenets, is obvious enough. Even an atheist must bow down to these six laws. In fact, they are his creed if we eliminate the words God or His from the above. He accepts the yoke of Law quite meekly. His only trouble is his inability to believe in the Mind from which Law emanates - a thing of easy proof in the light of modern scientific researches. Even those who take exception to some of the above-mentioned verities, for example the fourth - our ability to obey the law - are compelled to believe in the working of these six laws on the physical plane. Everything in the universe contradicts their dogma.
In this connection I would make a few remarks concerning the fundamental doctrine of Christianity - the doctrine of so-called Original Sin. If sin means our violation of Law, the doctrine falls to the ground. Admittedly we are capable of doing wrong, we violate Law, but this propensity in our nature does not deny our ability to observe it. The whole machinery of a government in human society works on the assumption that the members of such society are capable of obeying the mandates of the government. Without such assumption or belief, the very existence of working of a body like the British Parliament - and in the same category come various other legislative bodies - becomes an anomaly.
We believe in the working of the above-quoted six laws in the tangible world, but some of us do not see our way to concede the same belief to them in the life beyond the grave. I need not here repeat what I said before to prove the futility of such a position. Suffice it is to observe that I have keenly studied the laws or commandments of God as given in the Bible, and there is not a single word in them that cannot be fulfilled by man. Some there may be who evince a certain laxity in observing some of the said commandments, but the human race is not lacking in those who are or who have been true Muslims - obedient to those laws. The first four commandments, as given in Exodus, demand our staunch belief in the unity of God. The rest of the commandments have been observed by a larger portion of humanity, as without their enforcement no human society, even in its most primitive steps of development, can stand, even for a short time. A Moses is needed to enforce those commandments in a newly fledged society for its healthy development.
But to return. The said six laws compel our belief. If we wish to live as good citizens under the government of the Lord, and attain true success and happiness, we must look for those laws and sit at the feet of those who are their custodians and teachers. It is in this respect that the quoted verses of the Quran speak of the prophets and the Books they bring from God. The Books come to reveal the Will of the Lord of His ways under which He rules all things in heaven and earth. There is one thing more which is so necessary to infuse in us a spirit strong enough to inspire an implicit obedience to law, and that is our belief in its unfailing and unavoidable working together, with its inexorability in the exaction of its penalties. In this connection, revelations from on High that belong to the various religious persuasions speak of certain sentient beings called Angels. According to Quranic teachings they are a body that bring Law and every force in nature into operation and keep them so. This is their function and the object of their existence. They act as a life or soul in everything in the universe. They set the faculties of nature in motion. I do not propose to enter into a long discussion of the subject, but merely to emphasize the fact that if we do need a strong belief in Law and our obedience to it, we can never achieve it unless we believe in the existence of beings like angels. It was in this light that I have named them in these pages the functionaries of Law.
We may or may not believe in any religious system, but we must and do believe in these verities. They are part and parcel of our health and happiness; and they ought to be the articles of faith in any religion which claims to have come from God. They are as follows:
God, as the source of Law.
Angels - functionaries of Law.
The Books - the record of Law.
The prophets - the intermediate persons who receive the first message from the Lord on the subject.
The Day of Judgment.
These are the seven verities spoken of in the Quranic verses which demand our belief, a belief which is given to them by every person in his mundane affairs.
The present is the mother of the future. The after-life is the child of the present life. The former evolves out of the latter. Matter, in its evolutionary course on the physical plane, receives its final perfection in the human frame, but it gives rise to another order - the order of morality, ethics, and spirituality. Life with the progressive element in it leaves the body at our death like the aroma from fruit or a flower. It is like a vapour, but it possesses vast potentialities for creating a great cloud full of healthy rain. But Law, as I said before, rules every step of progress in the course of evolution. It is in obedience to it that success or full development attends the progressive element in its journey. We therefore need a System of Law that may help us to work out our future life on the desirable lines so that we may secure a full measure of bliss in higher regions.
And the code of it must and can only come from the original Intelligence, source of all life and its progress; hence the necessity for a Revealed Religion to disclose the above-mentioned verities, with full details for working them out. Any other system of religion is but a nursery-tale, whose function it is to feed credulity and gratify the child in man. But the child matures one day in intelligence and judgment and begins to see things in the light of reason and culture. It is on this account that religions based on dogma and superstitions are becoming exiled from the lands of culture and advancement.
Before concluding these lines I should like to say a word on the Law of Remission as promulgated in the above-mentioned verses from the Quran:
God does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability; for it, is (the benefit of) what it has earned, and against it (the evil of) what it has wrought: our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake; our Lord do not lay on us a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us; our Lord do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear
It is based on Equity and Justice, and satisfies every demand for reason. The sacred Book, after mentioning our ability to abide by Law and then referring to our accountability for our actions, speaks of such mitigating circumstances as may avail to remit the penalty of Law for its breach. They are three in number:
Forgetfulness of Law, as in the case of Adam, according to the Quranic version (see 20:115 of the Quran).
Inability under particular circumstances to meet the demands of Law.
No one can take exception to the logic and rationality of the provisions. They bring Divine forgiveness for our wrongs, but we must approach the Master of the Judgment for it in prayerful humility. The Quran for this reason has formulated the said three provisions in the form of a prayer.