Munawar A. Saeed, Secretary, Taleem USA
The Ahmadiyya Gazette, April – June 1996
A Great Sign of Allah in Support of Islam and the Promised Messiah (as)
Given below is a review of the proceedings of the Conference of Great Religions held in Lahore on December 26-28, 1896. A note entitled “Signs of Allah manifested in the Conference of great Religions” is given before the summary of the proceedings. The main point of this note is that in addition to the overwhelming sign of the success and acclaim of the lecture of the Promised Messiah (peace on him) there were several other signs of the mercy of Allah which were shown during the conference.
An announcement was made by the Promised Messiah (peace on him) on 21 December 1896 in which he clearly prophesied that his lecture would prevail. Narrating a vision, the Promised Messiah (peace on him) said: It was thus disclosed to me that the wide publication of this paper would expose the untruth of false religions and the truth of the Quran will spread progressively around the earth till it arrives its climax…
All brothers and sisters are requested to study the book during this centennial year of this great sign of Allah. A study guide to the lecture of the Promised Messiah (Alaihis Salam) entitled, “Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam” is being printed in the Gazette.
All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.
Before the Conference, which was held on December 26-29, 1896, the Promised Messiah made the announcement which was published widely as “Grand Piece of News for Seekers After Truth.” He stated that the paper which he had written for the conference “is not the result of ordinary human effort but is a sign among the signs of God, written with His special support.” … “God, the All-Knowing, has revealed to me that my paper will be declared supreme over all other papers.” … “I received the revelation (Arabic) God is with you, and God stands where you stand.” … During the conference the excellence of the paper were acclaimed widely because:
Since the conference the paper has received international acclaim and millions have derived knowledge and wisdom from it.
There were several other signs of the support of Allah during the conference, in accordance with the promised that “God stands where you stand.”
The Conference was organized by the leaders of Sanatam Dharm faith. In the Introduction written by secretary Panjab Dharam Mahutsu, the rules established for the Conference are clearly stated:
The President also appealed for tolerance and broad mindedness in listening to the speeches.
The speech of the President was followed by a speech by Sardar Jawahir Singh, Moderator, who also emphasized that no attack should be made on the other faiths; each speaker should confine himself to the beauties of his own faith.
The first speaker, who was going to represent the Jen faith did not come. His time was given to Hazrat Mir Nasir Nawab (ra), who had composed a poem in support of the objectives of the conference.
The poem started with homage to Allah:
Sub hamd Khuda koheymusallam
Hey zat main sus sey jo muqaddam
All praise is truly due only to God Who, in His being, precedes and sustains all life.
Mir Sahib’s poem went on to state a summary of the announcement of the Promised Messiah (peace on him) which had already been publicized in the following magnificent words:
Islam ka hal yan khule ga
Qur’an ka Jalal yan khule ga
In this conference the faith of Islam shall be explained. Herein the grandeur of the Qur’an will be expounded.
Started the speech by Al-hamd, Ta’awwuz and Tasha’hhud. Then went out of his way to request that no cheers be made. It seems that he was very self conscious that he would be overshadowed by the speech of the Promised Messiah (as) and was trying to protect him.
Recited verses of the Holy Qur’an extensively, but instead of going into the subject directly, spent a lot of time on discussing what religion is and why it is needed. These comments did not address the assigned questions, and did not expound the beauties of Islam.
Maulvi Sahib then commented that the purpose of the Holy Qur’an is to reform the moral; therefore it does not give much attention to nature, “not it was necessary.” This comment was not called for and is a desecration of the Holy Quran which draws attention to the phenomena of nature repeatedly. It also shows how superficial the knowledge of the Maulvi Sahib was.
Maulvi Sahib did not restrict comments to the Holy Qur’an; he brought in some events from history and also used his own logic to make his points.
Maulvi Muhammed Husain talked mainly about Question 3 and made some references to Questions 1 and 5. Questions 2 and 4 were generally were not discussed. However, it is hard to pin down exactly which questions he discussed because there was no order in the discussion and most of the time was taken up in the recitation of the verses of the Holy Qur’an and reading their translation. The verses which recited have a direct bearing on the questions which were being discussed, but their import was not brought out in the speech.
Roy Broda appreciated Maulvi Mohammed Husain Batalvi’s eloquence and appealed for unity.
He started the speech by discussing the third question.
He stated that the Theosophical Society invited all religions to join it and that he was representing the “Hindu Theosophist” point of view.
Roy Broda talked mainly about human desires — the good and the bad. He described virtue as doing good and suppressing bad desires, but did not offer any references from the Vedas (or from the Theosophist literature) to determine what is good and what is bad. He referred mainly to ancient Indian history in support of his comments.
Roy Broda concluded his speech by apologizing that he did not possess much eloquence — “only prophets do’. He appealed to all who were present to follow their own respective religions.
The speech of Roy Broda Kantah was very courteous and he showed a lot of tolerance towards different faiths. However, his comments touched mainly on the third question. Moreover, they were a presentation of the Hindu doctrine. He did not present Theosophical Society as a faith.
Hazrat Maulana Nuruddin was appointed as the moderator for the second day. He started the proceedings by expressing his satisfaction over the orderliness with which the proceedings of the previous day had passed. He also thanked Allah for the increasing convenience in the acquisition of knowledge because of the easier access to books. He made an eloquent point that thankfulness to Allah is our duty because of His favors.
Maulvi Thanaullah Sahib talked extensively about the first question and touched briefly upon the third question. He did not address the other questions except in casual references.
Maulvi Sahib did not restrict his comments to the Holy Qur’an, but added references to the Ahadith.
On the whole the speech was well organized, and was made with a great deal of courtesy. It ended by appealing the listeners to reflect upon the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet (saws).
After the speech of Maulvi Thanaullah was concluded, Hazrat Maulvi Nuruddin (ra), who was presiding that session, appreciated the loving manner of the speech.
(Only a summary of the speech is provided in the proceedings, because a written transcript was not provided by the speaker.)
Babu Ji started by praising God and then said objectives of life can be attained through (1) Faith and (2) Marriage. He concluded his talk by saying that sacrifice in the way of God is everything, without it, nothing matters.
The available summary does not elaborate the main points. The summary does not quote any references from the scriptures, nor does it provide any other supporting material. It is not clear whether the speech of Babu Ji was made without quoting any authoritative source or whether the writers of the summary were unable to record the references.
It seems that he talked only about the third question.
It appears that parts of his speech were quite humorous and made the audience laugh.
The speech was made in English, and was translated for incorporation into the report.
Pundit Gurdhen Das emphasized the inter-relationship of the five prescribed question and stated that he would deal with them in an overall manner.
Supported the views expressed earlier by the Theosophical Society that we should all view each other as human beings and should forgot our identities as Hindus and Muslims.
He emphasized that human history is a common treasure of all human beings. We all inherit it. For all of us, each of the reformer worked, each martyr shed his blood, and each stalwart used his prowess.
He argued that when man commits himself to one belief, his faith is blinded. He suffers loss of perspective and starts emphasizing and exaggerating the theories derived from his faith at the cost of realities of practical life. Finally, faith leads people to emphasize hereafter (of which, according to him, nothing is known), rather than his life.
He did not quote any scriptures in support of his views. But he dwelled on the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you wish to be done by.” He described it as a reflection of human thought process, but said that it provides a key to the reformation of mankind. He stated that humanity is good by its inherent nature.
He stated the object of our life is to develop all our faculties in a harmonious way. To do what benefits humanity and to shun what hurts humanity.
He denied the concepts of soul and life after death. According to him if there was life before our birth, we don’t remember it. Therefore, if there is life after death, we will not remember our present life in it. He argued that if there is life after death, it is an independent new existence. The thrust of his comments was that we should forget about soul and life after death and concentrate on living harmoniously with our fellow human beings in our present existence.
Pundit Gurdhen Das did not quote any scriptures in support of his views. Indeed, contrary to the agreed rules, he criticized the scriptures of the other faiths as a reflection of human thought process. He dealt basically with the third question.
After the speech of Pundit Gurdhen Das, the speech of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was started. It continued over later sessions.
The Speech, published in English translation as the “Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam” is well known to all Ahmadis and continues to be a source of inspiration and insight into the teachings of Islam. It dealt with all questions in a comprehensive manner and based all its arguments entirely on the Holy Qur’an. It was courteous and indeed filled with the true love of humanity. It was a true manifestation of the Divine support as Allah had promised to the Promised Messiah (as). No summary can do justice to this master piece of divinely inspired piece of wisdom.
Sardar Jawahir Singh talked mainly about the first question, but touched upon the fifth question also. He admired the knowledge and wisdom of the Promised Messiah (as) and quoted from Sat Bachan about the qualities of Guru Baba Nanak. The Sardar said that Guru Baba Nanak was elevated to a high stature by God. He quoted from Granth Sahib and sayings of Guru Baba Nanak in support of the first question. He argued that the natural condition with which man has been created should not be changed (hence, not shaving any body hair and no circumcision). He stated that goodness consists of selflessness and freedom from ostentation. He also talked about chastity with reference to ancient Indian epics.
Sardar Sahib briefly touched upon the sources of knowledge and then emphasized the need of devotion to God as the ultimate stage of development. He also said that some of what he said resembles. Vedas and some resembles the Holy Qur’an. He concluded by describing ten good qualities of a strong believer.
The speech of Sardar Sahib was appreciated by the Sikh audience as a very good representation of their faith. He quoted extensively from the Granth Sahib, but also added references from ancient Indian history in support of his views.
After the interval Lala Kanshi Ram, Joint Secretary of the conference addressed the audience. He made a very eloquent speech stating that the Spirit does not die when the humans face physical death. After this speech, Lala Ramjidas, a well-known philosopher and representative of Religion of Harmony asked for permission to address the Conference, and he was permitted to do so.
Lala Ramjidas started by discussing the fifth question. Knowledge, according to him, is the knowledge about God. God speaks to every body — birds, men, animals, Pundits, Maulvis. There are four sources of knowledge — five senses, logic, historical facts, and intuition.
He touched briefly on the first question. Then he argued for universal brotherhood and universality of humanity. That according to him is the meaning of harmony.
The speech of Master Ramjidas was very soft and did not attack any other faith. However, his views were based only on generalities and did not quote any scripture in support of his views. Out of the assigned questions, he addressed only the first; the rest of his speech was about toleration and harmony.
The Christian leaders boycotted the conference even though a deputation was sent to the principal of the Mission College and to two main Priests as well as other leaders of Christianity. However, a well known Christian journalist, John Maurice, attended the conference.
Mr. Maurice appreciated the objectives of the conference — a feast in which everybody is offering spiritual food. He said our offerings should be for the Lord God alone. Then he said that all five questions posed by the conference were related to the need for religion. Therefore he would talk about his religion.
He emphasized humility as the cornerstone of his faith. Then he talked about thankfulness, prayer, love of God. The aim of life is happiness; but our happiness should be in things which make God happy. The essence of Christianity is love. He then described the doctrines of trinity and redemption of sins.
Mr. Maurice gave a new version of trinity: Wisdom, Purity, and Love. He said that this was the trinity he worshipped.
Mr. Maurice said that there are two sources of knowledge — our intellect and revelation. But soon afterwards he went against the use of intellect by admitting that the concept of God’s love by assuming human form goes against human intellect, and it makes people laugh. But this is the belief of the Christians: believe and be saved.
He concluded his speech by saying that God is One. We should believe in him and love humanity. He described his views about the relationship between love and the Grace of God.
Mr. Maurice was admittedly not a Christian scholar but a lay person. His speech consists of generalities and deals mostly with the first and fifth question. Passing references, however, were made to other questions. Nothing was quoted from scriptures. He did not make any effort to reconcile the commonly prevailing Christian concept of trinity with his statements about trinity which was consistent with the Unity of God.
A second Christian speaker, Mr. Rao agreed with Mr. Maurice and gave his time to Mr. Maurice.
Pundit Gopi Nath, a Sanskrit scholar, was especially asked to make a speech to describe the Satanan Dharm faith and the condition of making a prepared speech was waved for him. He opened his speech by describing the beauties of the Sanatan Dharm faith and bewailing the trend towards materialism and the spread of other faiths which is diverting the members of Sanatan Dharm to other pursuits. But he said that does not reduce the value of Sanatan Dharm Faith, because “the value of a precious gem is not reduced if someone does know its value.”
Pundit Gopi Nath described the reasons why he believes Sanatan Dharm to be the best faith:
First: Sanatan Dharm as the most ancient faith on earth. There is no book on earth more ancient than that of Sanatan Dharm Hinduism. Its literature is the most extensive, which proves that countless lovers of God appeared in this faith. He argues that its being the oldest is a proof of its truthfulness.
Second: Despite being old, it still holds strength. Even though the political power has been lost, it has done no harm to the Sanatan Dharm faith.
Third: Its scriptures are the oldest.
Fourth: It did not start with a single prophet or reformer. Rather, a countless number of saintly individuals have graced it. He said that people criticize us because we worship 330 million gods. He said that we don’t consider any of these 330 or 430 million to be the founders of our faith, of our faith is One God; all these are His servants.
Fifth: It does not restrict redemption to the members of any single faith. The division into castes is only to distribute work systematically. That is why Sanatan Dharm abhors the change of faith.
Sixth: Sanatan Dharm does not prostelise and does not “try to bring corruption into other faiths.” He quoted Sri Krishna: “It is better for every one to die in his own faith.”
Seventh: It shows the path of salvation to all – rich and poor. There are three means of attaining salvation: (a) true love, (b) worship, (c) true knowledge of God.
Then Pundit Ji explained what faith is according to Sanatan Dharm. There are ten qualities; whoever has those qualities is a man of faith — whether he is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or anything else:
Pundit Ji also discussed the importance of worship without any consideration for reward as the key to true worship. He concluded his speech by referring to the doctrine: “do unto others as you wish to be done by” as not being a monopoly of the other faith which claims it. It is the property of Hindus too. He said that this rule is present in the Sanskrit literature, and quoted three references to prove his point.
He concluded his speech by emphasizing again the beauties of his faith and that it needs no sword or political power to retain its strength.
A very noticeable theme in the speech was the trials alone test the faith, friendship as well as marital fidelity and made a plea to all Sanatan Dharm members in his audience to remain steadfast in their faith.
The speech did not address any of the question directly. Its main import was the good qualities of Sanatan Dharm, need for steadfastness, and the importance of adhering to the faith in which one is born. This speech was made at the spur of the moment and was not a prepared speech. It was made shortly after the speech of Hazrat Masih Mau’ud (as) had been completed.
It seems that the author of the speech and the organizers of the conference, who were Sanatan Dharm members, were fearful of the impact of the speech of Hazrat Ahmad (as) upon the members of their faith, and arranged this speech to try to protect them into their faith.
Pundit Bhanu Das was a very renowned scholar of Sanskrit and was serving as the examiner in the University. He started by categorizing people into two groups: believers and non-believers. He then talked about the cause and effects and stated three prime causes: (1) the human, (2) life and (3) a sense of purpose.
What we consider to be a living being actually consists of three elements: (1) an empty skeleton, (2) five senses and (3) life.
He described man as the paragon of nature as the agreed belief of all faiths and called upon the audience to attend to the needs of goodness and not be content with the physical requirements of this life. The object of life is “Mukti” or “Param Shartha” — i.e., attainment of the ultimate happiness. This can only be attained by not concentrating on this life.
Faith, according to him, does not refer to religion or faith. It refers to humanity. Humanity according to the Vedas consists of faith as a consequence of good deeds and disbelief as a consequence of bad deeds.
Faith requires the following:
Then he talked about the faith of the common man and the faith of the higher order. The ordinary faith consists of attaining the civil and good moral faculties whereas the faith of the higher order requires devotion and self-annihilation.
He concluded his speech by inviting all not to be the people of this world, but to attend to the requirements of faith with complete devotion and dedication.
Pundit Ji’s speech was very scholarly. He quoted extensively from the ancient scriptures, but did not identify a single source as the scripture as was required by the conditions of the conference. He talked extensively about the third question and made references to the fifth question. The treatment of the first and the fourth questions was very casual. The second question was totally untouched.
The import of the speech, just like the speech of the previous speaker, was to motivate the members of Sanatan Dharm to hold fast to their faith and not be swayed by any other attraction.
The unusual thing about the speech of Munshi Imamuddin was that before he spoke, an introduction about his religious association was read. He stated: “I am neither a Mohammedan, nor a follower of Moses or Jesus. I am a Muslim and I believe in Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. But I am not a Muslim in the sense in which the other followers of Islam are.”
Munshi Sahib then stated that redemption can only be attained by obeying God. He said that Torah is the only book which gives a criterion for determining the truthfulness of a prophet — he should teach Oneness of God and his prophesies should be fulfilled.
Then he said that the Torah has instructions both about the body and soul. It says that if you obey God, you will not die; a similar statement about Brahmans appears in the Manu Samarti. He then stated the laws concerning eating, based on the Torah, although he made references to the Holy Qur’an and Manu Samarti. He also referred briefly to one of the Ten Commandments.
He said that Torah was called a “guidance and light”, but it has been forsaken. He concluded by saying that he accepted the Torah; but he was not a Jew. He accepted the Gospels to the extent that they do not conflict with the Torah; and he accepts the Holy Qur’an.
Munshi Sahib’s speech was very brief. It was a confused statement. He claimed to be a Muslim, though not in the sense in which the other Muslim are. But he did not make any reference to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an in support of his views. His comments were derived from the teachings of the Torah.
Munshi Sahib did not really address any of the question in a comprehensive manner. The brief comments did make touched upon the criterion for judging the truthfulness of a messenger, inter-relation between the body and soul, and the laws relating to eating.
There was a lot of commotion from the Muslim audience that Munshi Sahib should not be considered a Muslim because he did not believe in the prophethood of the Holy Prophet (saws). Munshi Sahib said that he did believe in the Holy Prophet (saws).
Hazrat Hakim Maulana Nuruddin (ra), who was presiding, made very wise comments saying the speaker had attested to the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (saws) and has stated that he accepts Torah because the Holy Quran calls it guidance and light. We have patiently heard people who deny the Holy Prophet (saws), so we should hear him, who despite his beliefs accepts the Holy Qur’an.
Master Durga Parsad spoke at this time, not in his capacity as the organizer of the Conference but as a representative of the Arya Samaj.
He started by apologizing for the shallowness of his knowledge and said that what he states should not be considered the sum total of the teachings of the Vedas.
He discussed all five questions systematically and basically drew his material from the Vedas. But he also referred to the epics (Ramaina and Gita) in his speech. He categorized the various aspects of the teachings of the Vedas similar to what the other Hindu speakers had done before him and concluded by claiming that Hinduism is the most ancient of all religions. It teaches One God, who can be reached by worship and spiritual awakening.
Swami Sahib was introduced as the prime organizer of the conference. He stated his belief in the goodness of all faiths. Then he briefly gave the events of his life. Then he described his faith, which was Sadharan faith, i.e., the easy faith. He said that Sadharan faith stays with man after death; everything else stays back. He summarized Sadharan faith as “Living in this world, yet remaining aloof from it, giving up pleasures, giving up personal desires, not considering one’s intellect to be of any worth, and eschewing sin.”
Sadhu Sahib did not formally represent his faith, but was honored as the main person behind the conference and spoke in that capacity. But his speech and the speeches of the other organizers provide an important testimony in understanding the great signs of Allah which appeared at the conference; it is very obvious that the Promised Messiah (as) did not select the questions or the rules of the conference.
Sadhu Sahib’s comments were followed by a few comments of thankfulness by the secretary of the conference and the Moderator, after which the presiding officer, Maulvi Nuruddin made the concluding speech.
Hazrat Maulvi Sahib (ra) started his speech by reciting Tashahhud, Ta’awwuz, and Sura An-Nas. He said that the Holy Qur’an is the khatim of the scriptures and Sura An-Nas is the khatim of the Holy Qur’an; therefore he has recited it at the conclusion of the conference.
He introduced the kalimah and its emphasis on the Unity of Allah. He then gave a beautiful commentary on Sura An-Nas and how it is related to the physical, moral, and spiritual states of man which have been elaborated earlier by the Promised Messiah (as). He made a very moving appeal to all listeners to turn to God and repent from their sins and then he declared the conference closed.