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Inspiration, Revelation, and Belief

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (aba)
The Review of Reviews, December 1996


Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Head of the International Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, offers on various occasions the opportunity to people of all faiths and beliefs to put to him any questions that may be of concern to them. Presented below are answers to three questions which were raised at the occasion of a seminar held in London on 29 September 1996 to commemorate the centenary of the book "The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam", written by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian.

Transcribed by Amatul-Hadi Ahmad


Questioner: My question is, if a man has led a good life, has been generally helpful to others, but he had no religion, would he have the same reward upon his death as a religious man?

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: This question is a very important question in the sense that people sometimes are not clear about the term 'goodness' used in general and the term 'religious piety'. These are two different terms. They meet only partially in the sense that all religions must aim at creating goodness in man--but that is not all. All religions promote it with the purpose of enabling man to meet his God, his Creator, when he returns to him. So, if goodness is generated without any reference to God, without any hope of returning to him, then that goodness is sometimes just a hollow shell which does not have the inner kernel and the spirit which must go with it and, hence, it is vulnerable. That is why at times of extreme trials of life it just bursts open and nothing is found from within.

All civilised nations have that 'goodness' about them. All civilised nations which speak of human need and suffering as, for instance, in Africa. There are a large number of people belonging to such nations, who really feel a sense of pain about the suffering (of other nations) and want to share their own sense of happiness with them, to a degree. This is goodness but it is without religion and because it is without religion, in their total thinking as a nation, the collective character of the same people which emerges at the level of international dealings, emerges as a callous character. Many a times they themselves are responsible for the ill treatment of the poor nations because whenever they think of giving them any aid, that aid is always confined to certain political and economic gains, with strings attached, with the result that if you analyse this question in depth, it is impossible to find any advanced nation who helps a third-world country just out of deep, genuine sympathy and natural goodness. In totality their relationships are selfish. It would be a very 'unwise' politician who speaks of the genuine rights of another country and who requires his people to sacrifice in real terms for the sake of a country that is situated in, say, Africa or in some other part of the world.

In international relationships, politics is always selfish and a goodness born out of a belief in God can never be selfish--it is impossible. If you believe in God your goodness has to acquire a universal character. It lifts above the geographic boundaries, colour boundaries, racial boundaries of all sorts--religious boundaries as well and if it cannot lift above the religious domain, and religious differentiation, then it is not a goodness based on a belief in God. That is why it is highly important for you to check yourself occasionally whether your goodness is just out of civilised conduct with which your were born, not a creation of yourself with an effort.

Some people are born good, their temperament is good, they don't want to be violent, they are sympathetic in their attitude. But they are individuals and they are good, regardless, like the fragrant flower which spreads fragrance. But the flower which is fragrant is not rewarded for the fragrance it emits. Reward is something else. Cause and effect, on the other hand, is a different phenomenon altogether. You are talking of an area where goodness is born but not with the conscious effort of sacrifice against your own personal interest. You are talking, perhaps, of a general goodness which is produced or created by a cause different from that of belief in God. Some families have good reputations. There are some families who inherit their 'noble blood' in the sense that the traditions of those families are noble (the blood is the same--there is no question of blood being noble or ignoble). But in that case why should one be rewarded for the noble deeds.

The question would then naturally arise that if someone is born in a society which is habitually vicious, or violent in reactions, which has a bullish tradition, what is the fault of the poor boy who is born in to such a society--why should he be punished? So, when there is no reward (for instinctive goodness), there is also no punishment (for acquired traditions of violence).

These are aspects which belong to the area of cause and effect. Reward and punishment belong to conscious acts which are done with relation to (the belief in) the existence of God and with the realisation that I am held responsible for whatever I do here on earth. In that case you can behave completely contrarily to your social background, to your family background. You may be born anywhere but if your moral behaviour is based on a belief in God then it will rectify you and it is this which is rewarded. Just a general goodness is not rewarded nor are such animals rewarded which have instinctive behaviour either of goodness and kindness to others, (some animals have this instinctive behaviour), nor are those beasts punished for their violence against animals of other species. This is because, again, it is an area of cause and effect where you do not have choices. Choices are essential for reward or punishment and choices can only come into play when you have a divine teaching of "do's and don'ts" where you have the option of following the teaching or not to follow the teaching and, if you are a moral person, gradually improving in your morality on the basis which I have just explained then, of course, you will be rewarded for all your goodness but if you happen to be good like a dove then neither the dove is rewarded nor will you.

Questioner: My question is two-fold. First, is it possible for a sinner to experience true thoughts and dreams--I don't mean revelation, just good dreams? If your answer is in the affirmative, how can we distinguish between a person who is a good believer and a sinner?

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: God can make communion with any one of his creatures, regardless of a person's piety or otherwise. This is what is spoken of by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Community as the expression of God's Rahmaniyyat (Beneficence). Expression of his Rahmaniyyat, like the rain, is not selective. Where there is rain, it is not the areas which are considered worthy of receiving rain from the heavens which alone receive the rain. The rain falls on the rocks, on the impervious material, even on sand which rapidly absorbs it and it disappears without any usage of that water. It blesses everything. But there are areas of God's beneficence where only such people are shown his grace who deserve it. So, the same applies to the area of revelations through dreams.

You said you are talking of dreams not of revelation, but according to our understanding of the concept of revelation, dreams are an expression of the same phenomenon. When you receive messages from Him in a state of dream, it is called a dream, when you receive messages from Him in a state of vision, it is called a vision, when you receive messages while you are fully awake and you hear sounds and voices, generally that is referred to as revelation. But when I talk of revelation, I include all these different things but only on the condition that there was a definite message delivered by God.

Now, the message itself will in fact help us to define the quality of that revelation and understand why this person was chosen. Sometimes, people who have spent all their lives pursuing vices and sinful things, have within them a flame of truth which never dies and they are potentially capable of reforming themselves. It so happens that sometimes divine revelation appears to them through dreams, creating a very strong impact upon them. They then realise that there is a God who is so kind as to come down to their level and deliver a message of love to them. This in turn triggers off that internal truth and regenerates it and ultimately covers the whole personality of such a person and evil is pushed out of his existence because of the spread of goodness. It becomes the trigger for generating the truth which is already within him.

Another reason, for the general sprinkling of such beneficence, is that if God had completely broken his ties (of communication) with mankind, except for a few pious ones, then it would be a reflection upon God's bounty. Moreover, nobody then would believe in the institution of revelation at all because there would be only a few left on earth who could be considered fit for communion with God. So, this general sprinkling of revelation helps create faith in the institution of revelation itself. That is another reason.

Sometimes there is a third reason which relates to the interests of a large area or to a large number of people. By way of showing his beneficence to a people, sometimes God saves them, through dreams, from some very large calamities which are to befall them. In such cases also it is not the piety of the person which is the prerequisite for that revelation. I refer to the case of Prophet Joseph (as), (by way of an example). In his time the King of Egypt saw a dream that seven lean ears of corn were eating up seven strong, healthy ears of corn and there were seven lean cows eating up seven strong and healthy cows. He was amazed at this dream and enquired from all the courtiers and wise men of his kingdom to help him understand the meaning of the dream but they told him that it was just his mental ravings and nothing more. But when the message reached Joseph (as), who was in prison at the time, he immediately understood the message (of the dream) and when he explained the meaning of this dream the King was so impressed that he ordered his immediate release and also appointed him the Minister of Finances and Natural Resources (not in the same terms but to that effect). What he interpreted was that God will try the people of that land with seven good years of crops followed by seven lean years of crops. So, whatever is received of God's bounty in the form of bumper crops in the good years, should not be wasted but saved for the bad years and great reservoirs or barn houses should be built for that purpose where the corn could be safely stored for use during the seven years of hardship.

If this had been a psychic expression, it could not have come true at all. It is impossible for the human psyche to look into the future as if it were appearing before him. The psychic phenomenon of dreams is also a genuine phenomena but it is recognisable as such as it relates to the character of the person experiencing the dreams. A bad person generally dreams of bad things. In Urdu there is a saying that a cat dreams of the fat discarded by the butcher--cats relish this so they dream of it. Good people have good dreams, which sometimes are the product of their psyche, but they are good. Bad people have bad dreams which are the product of their psyche and they are bad. But such dreams do not have any sign language, a sign language which could not be created by a person who has the dream, a sign language which, when understood and interpreted, is proven to be right by subsequent events. So, this is the sure sign of a dream being from God because it has an internal evidence which is externally testified, not as an internal evidence of impressions of the person who has a dream, but evidence which appears from around, from the outer world to testify to the truth of the dream as having been created by God.

This is a vast subject of interest and the Promised Messiah (as) has discussed it in detail in his book "Haqiqatul Wahi" (translated into English as) the Truth of Revelation or the Nature of Revelation. It is a large book which is supported by many personal experiences and experiences from the world at large, but I think this short answer should suffice.

Questioner: I would like to ask you about Divine revelation. It is strongly believed that divine revelation is a manifestation of experiences attained by wise men during their meditation. Can you, please, comment on the validity of this statement?

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: You see, I have already finished writing a book which is now being revised, in which the question of revelation is dealt with in some considerable detail. It is a very wide question. It is a question which has, in fact, been discussed throughout the ages, from different angles. So, (given the constraint of time), I cannot answer you fully in all the relevant areas where an answer is required, but I can tell you briefly what I understand by the term 'revelation' and how I differentiate 'revelation' from 'inspiration' and that we should also investigate the various religious claims. Some claim to have been the product of inspiration and some of revelation. So what is understood by those religions which speak of inspiration and do not mention revelation? Here I have undertaken an in-depth study of Hinduism. (Some people are 'allergic' to the word Hinduism--what would you prefer to be called?)

Questioner: I am a Hindu and use the term 'Hinduism'.

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: But once, in one of my Question and Answer sessions, I used the word 'Hinduism' and I received a very strong protest from someone in India who said that this is a misnomer for their religion. 'Hinduism', he said, is nothing--Hind is a country and 'Hinduism' means to belong to India and nothing more. What we have, he continued, are various sects or vantage points from which we observe our faith and people should mention those instead of dubbing us with this confused and confusing term 'Hinduism'. That is why I wanted to ask you. So, whatever it is called, I have made a study of it.

I have also studied Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism and, of course, the major divisions of religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam which openly claim their origin to be based in divine revelation. The comparative study leads to a very interesting analysis of the situation where I found things were mixed up in so many areas that they needed to be sifted one from the other to make the picture clear. In short, I would like you to be aware of the fact that many a times the word 'inspiration' is used but in reality it is 'revelation' which is being talked about and in some religions it is stated in such clear terms that no one can remain confused about it.

For example, in Taoism, Tao is 'truth' but not the non-descript truth as a quality that we know. Here 'Truth' is the name personified for God. 'Truth' has a consciousness. 'Truth' has power. It is majesty. It has everything about it which the major divine religions speak of when they describe God. But Taoism continues to talk of inspiration.

Similarly, in Confucianism we find mention of in-depth experience when you delve deep into your soul and discover something. In Hinduism, particularly among such Yogis who do not practice Yogaism just for physical exercise but also in search of inner truth. Many a times they claim that when they delved deep enough to reach the source of internal light, or the fountainhead of truth, having come into contact with it, they emerged more enlightened. So, the terms 'inspiration' and 'revelation' become intermixed in those areas because when we read in detail about their experiences we discover that what is mentioned as revelation in one religion, is merely inspiration in other religions.

Again, when you speak of revelation sometimes it is not revelation at all. It could be hallucination, it could be mad ravings, it could be just impressions or, according to Sartre, it could be human anguish which arises from the depth of dissatisfaction of the soul and mind. He doesn't believe in the 'soul' but what he means is when the human conscience is at pain--when it expresses that pain, it throws out that feeling of wanting something that it can't describe. This, for him, takes the form of 'revelation', but not revelation from 'above'. So, that is why I warned you in the beginning that the question you have raised covers a very wide area of human thought processes and mental exercises. Both secular sages have written on this as well as religious sages. So, my advice to you would be to wait for my book to be published. There, Inshallah, you will find these questions discussed more fully, from various angles.

Questioner: I am very grateful for answer.