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Commonality of Religions

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (aba)
The Review of Religions, April 1997

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, on various occasions, offers people from different faiths and beliefs the opportunity to put to him any questions or issues of interest to them. Presented below are answers to two questions which were raised at a session held in London on 29 January 1995.

Transcribed by Amatul-Hadi Ahmad

Questioner: What is there in Islam and particularly in the Ahmadiyya Movement which is lacking in all other religions or paths for spiritual and the worldly improvement of mankind?

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: I once gave a short address in Australia which dealt with this question under the heading of 'Some Distinctive Features of Islam' and there I presented not one but quite a few distinctive features as being unique (to Islam) which are not shared by other religions and I have shown this with reference to the Holy Qur'an and with reference to the other holy books. It has since been published in the form of a small booklet and that can be read, of course. It can be easily obtained from one of your friends here.

However, what I would point out here is the principal issue of distinctiveness of one religion as opposed to another. Why should there be such a distinction? Without first thoroughly examining this question, there should not, in fact, be any interest in what I wrote on the issue. Why should there be a distinction of one religion over another and should it be valid and will it be from the same God? These are the issues which are fundamental to the question you have raised and they must be answered first.

The Holy Qur'an itself raises these questions. To begin with it speaks of commonality of fundamental religious doctrine. It describes this as being the belief in the one and only God, the pure dedication to Him and Him alone, worship of Him and spending in the cause of God and believing in the hereafter, and so on. These are the fundamentals which Islam claims are common to all religions, without which no religion can be considered to be from the same God who spoke of these fundamentals to all the religions. So, the oneness of God requires not distinction as much as commonality and it is with this that the Holy Qur'an begins. Now, after understanding commonality, the issue is raised as to why should religions, founded upon the same base, differ from one another? The answer that has already been provided in many of my addresses, with reference to the Holy Qur'an, of course, and with reference to other religious books, is that despite this commonality, one can logically expect that there should be some differences.

There was a time in the history of man when man was only confined to the area where he lived, where he was born and grew up and there was very little knowledge, if any, which he shared with men of other areas and other religions. As a result, in previous periods of history, man is found living in isolated 'islands' of nations, clans and tribes and the religions which were revealed at these times defined responsibility in terms limited to people within relatively small areas and not in terms of the world as a whole. So, no universal idea could have been born at this stage of history. If it had been mentioned in the religious books of the time, it would have been completely outside (the boundaries of those people).

The Holy Qur'an again throws light on this subject and states that the teachings are always perfect in relation to the time in which they are revealed and (because of this) they differ and they meet the demands of the time perfectly. But when the times change then the teachings must change accordingly. So, the concept of perfection is relevant in the context of our discussion. For instance, there was the religion of Judaism where the emphasis lay on revenge, so much so that even Judaic scholars misunderstood (the full significance of this teaching). They thought that it was a must and there was no room for anyone to deviate from the teaching of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc. While the Holy Qur'an, speaking of the same, mentions it to be a necessity of the time. But, according to the Holy Qur'an, a window was open even in the Torah for forgiveness -- just a small window which was emphasised. This was due to the fact that Moses (as) appeared among a people who had been oppressed for hundreds of years. If at that time he had placed equal emphasis upon forgiveness and revenge, the people who had become weak and had lost their dignity (due to the long period of oppression) and who could not rise to the challenges of responding to the enemy with strength, such people would always seek refuge in the teaching of forgiveness -- in the name of forgiveness, in fact. But it would be cowardice which they would be seeking. So, when revenge was emphasised it was not that the God of those people was a very revengeful God, so very different from the God of Christianity -- it was one and the same God who knew human nature better than anyone else. He knew what exact prescription the ills of the time required. The Holy Qur'an does not state, with reference to Moses(as) that it was an imperfect teaching. In fact, the Holy Qur'an says 'We blessed them and gave them preference over all the people of the world'. Was the Holy Qur'an referring to an imperfect teaching? Is that how God gives preference to a people over the rest of the world -- by giving them imperfect teaching? Certainly not! What is meant, as I have already been emphasising, is that the teaching is perfect in relation to the time for which it was sent.

After the teaching of Moses (as), there then comes the teaching of Jesus Christ (as). At the time of Jesus (as), the long history of revenge has already hardened the hearts of the Jewish people to the state of stone and that is how the Holy Qur'an mentions it. But it creates also hope even in those stony hearts and states that many a time one finds that from the hearts of rocks there springs forth the water of life. So, it is not a state of utter loss of hope, a state of pessimism which the Holy Qur'an describes with reference to the stony hearts of the Jews. It is a beautiful simile because it takes us back to the time when Moses (as) struck rock 12 times and at every strike there sprang forth the 'elixir' of life. So the Qur'anic references are deeply interrelated. It says this has happened before. You saw in the material world a miracle of Moses (as) that when he struck rock, water sprang forth. Why have you lost hope in your own stony hearts? Here is Jesus (as) who could repeat the same miracle over and over again and from among you would be born people who would emphasise forgiveness and would forsake revenge of their own free will. So a teaching, again so different from the previous ones, perfectly matched the needs of the time. This is an example of the distinctive features of any religion.

So far we have been talking of religions which are confined to certain areas, certain times and certain traditions. All religions, however, have predicted a Golden Age with the appearance of a universal religion. Christianity speaks of such an age, of course, but only with reference to the second advent of Jesus Christ (as), not with reference to another universal religion being born. But let us not enter the rigmarole of differences and in-fights. Let me, instead, bring you to the modern world of our time, the age we are sharing. If there is a religion already born which can fulfil the requirements of man as a whole, what additional features should it have, what distinctive features should it possess to attract the global man as such? Refer this question to yourself and then read the small booklet I have referred to and when we meet again, Inshallah (God willing), we will discuss your reaction to that and if you are not satisfied I will be available to answer any further queries you may have.

Questioner: There are people who are 'non-believers' (in Islam) but they follow all the rules, commandments and the good things taught in (their) religions. How would they be dealt with on the Day of Judgement? Although Allah is Merciful and Forgiving and Gracious, but, I am also told that 'whoever is an enemy to Allah, Allah is an enemy to him and that there is a humiliating punishment for the disbelievers as they will be put into a humiliating fire'. I don't think Allah is an enemy to anybody. Would you please tell us how this issue may be resolved?

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: This is a very important, fundamental question of universal applicability that you have addressed. You have granted me the opportunity to address this for the benefit of all the guests. I am grateful to you for this.

First of all, on the issue of such people who are basically and soundly good people, who believe in revelation of whatever form but being from God. They believe that it is God who has given the injunctions and they follow these honestly. What would happen to such people? How would God treat them on the Day of Judgement? Now, this is a question which was raised, perhaps to your surprise, 1400 years ago, by God speaking to the Holy Prophet (sa) (of Islam). It is raised three times directly in the Holy Qur'an with slight variation of words but always to the same effect, without exception. It speaks of those who believe in the Prophet Muhammed (sa). It speaks of those who were Jews, who had believed earlier in certain Books and Prophets and it speaks of Christians, referring to both these groups by name. It speaks of all other people who believe in Divine Books. Having laid this foundation, the Holy Qur'an then states that there is no fear for people who do good deeds and believe in the Resurrection and answerability of the Day of Judgement, this being a very important condition that is laid down, that is, belief in being held to account after death for the deeds here on earth. That is the meaning of believing in the Day of Judgement. The Holy Qur'an says there is no fear for such people, there is no remorse. Their reward will be with God and they are guaranteed peace and eternal heaven.

Now, could you expect a better promise from a benign God to all the people who in his eyes are good, true believers in whatever religion they believe but act in accordance with the message of their own religion, do righteous and good deeds here and believe in the answerability. That is very important.

The Holy Qur'an repeatedly emphasises the aspect of religion that you may say you believe in God, but if you do not put his injunctions or his expectations of you into practice in your own life, then you may be believing in a mythical God without realising. This happens when you really do not believe in life after death and do not believe in the question of accountability. Then you may live in a mythical world of your beliefs but you do not bring about a change in your attitude to God or your attitude to other human beings. So, accountability is highly important.

This is in answer to the first part of your question. I now turn to the last part of your question regarding the punishment of fire for the 'non-believers'. The issue of hell and heaven is to be understood with reference to the Holy Qur'an where there is no ambiguity on the issue. It very clearly points out one fundamental fact. First of all, the verse you quoted states that those who hate God, God hates them and you said God hates nobody. I say this is true because hatred begins, not from God, but from others. So, what does it mean when it is said 'God hates those who hate God'? If you hate a creator, you hate his creation. If you are an enemy of even an artist, you would burn his works of art and destroy all his efforts. Hence, it is unreasonable to expect man to believe in a principle that a person must escape the consequences of the madness of his destruction of goodness with the consequent belief that one should be left free to do whatever one likes and get away with it after one's death. If you accept this then you deny that fundamental principle to which I referred earlier, that is the question of accountability. Remove accountability and there would be no order left in the world even in the government of those who do not believe in God. Even in relation to man made laws it is always accountability which keeps order in a state. It is the monitoring of the fact that people adhere to the law, not only to the letter of the law but also to the spirit of the law, that determines the state of peace in any particular society. The more people are mindful of their duty to the letter of the law as well as to the spirit of the law, the more peace would prevail. The less you think yourself to be accountable, the stricter become the legal measures to find you, to capture you and to bring you to law. But if there is a total lack of faith in people, in the principles of law, in the principles of accountability then nothing can be done for such a society.

So, God is an enemy of those who are enemies of God and this is something from which there is no escape. If you do, you escape into chaos. You apparently escape from the hell of the hereafter, but you create a 'hell' for yourself here on this earth. As far as the concept of hell is concerned, it is made very clear in the Holy Qur'an that each man makes his own hell. There is nothing that comes from outside and the hellish souls that are born here know that they are hellish. They are never happy and contented. They commit crime upon crime and keep on burning in a 'fire' which coaxes them on to further crime. Yet they never find any happiness or peace.

True happiness is found only in goodness and with reference to your own personal experience, you know better than anyone else that whenever you have created a 'heaven' for yourself here, you enjoy eternal bliss. According to the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community, it is this building of our own 'heaven' here on earth, and the building of our own 'hell' here on this earth that would materialise into some spiritual form to which we would be sent after death -- the heaven of our own making, the hell of our own making!