Imran Ahmad Chaudhry
The Ahmadiyya Gazette, August 1995
In this day and age life has gotten increasingly intricate and complicated and people are looking around for answers. Mankind as has often been the case in the past, once again finds itself at a crossroad. It is being forced by changing social and global conditions to re-evaluate its outlook on life. If steps are not taken to remove this confusion, it is quite possible that the present age will in the future, be remembered as the Age of Unanswered Questions. In an attempt to find some of the answers to these questions, I would like to introduce you to the message of the Promised Messiah for contemporary society.
The Messiah concept in itself is not a new one. Christianity, Judaism and 72 of the 73 sects of Islam, all adhere to the belief of the coming of the Messiah in one form or another. What distinguishes Ahmadiyyat, the 73rd sect of Islam, is that while the others still await the arrival of the Messiah, members of this community believe that promised Messiah has already appeared. In fact he has already passed away in the personage of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (a small town in India). This Community does not profess a new faith, rather it goes back to the original source of Islam i.e. the Quran itself, for all its doctrines and tenets.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian had as his spiritual mission, the removal of misdirected conventions, falsely attributed to the faith by its followers. It was a cleaning house sort of mandate bestowed upon him by God. He did not add to the faith any new teachings of his own, he simply strived to remove the misconceptions which had slowly crept into its followers over the centuries. It is a well known fact that as a message is passed along, it is slightly altered during passage based upon the views and biases of each individual conveyor. The end result is that at the end of the chain of conveyance the original form and the final form of the message are perhaps greatly varied. The mission of the Promised Messiah was to remove the misinformation which had gotten tangled up in the truth over the ages, and take Muslims back to the original form of the faith. The reason for belaboring this point is that following this line of reasoning, it becomes apparent that the message of the Promised Messiah for contemporary society is the message of Islam for contemporary society. Let us now investigate this message as viewed through the eyes of Ahmadiyyat, and use solely as examples the Holy Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).
One of the most commonly levied charges against any message is that it is presently out of date. I would suggest to you that such is not the case, in this case. The prevailing social conditions in ancient Arabia (at the time of Muhammad SAW), closely parallel today’s modern times. The activities of a young man in Mecca in those days involved drinking, gambling and sexual promiscuity. All three of these pursuits exist today as well. Even though gambling may have presently been overtaken by other social concerns, drinking and sexual promiscuity still occupy a great area of concern within present day society.
Ancient Arabia was also a player in the struggle for global domination. Today too, various countries or blocs of countries are vying for supremacy.
In those ancient times, violence was instigated at the slightest provocation with vendettas crossing generational boundaries. This parallels the present situation of turf wars raging on for years with rival gangs clashing with one another over the smallest of things.
On a slightly different plane, then too as today, people were concerned with the environment. This is evidenced by the practice of the urban well to do of those days of sending their young ones under the care of desert dwelling tribal people so that they may be brought up in the fresh air of the open desert.
The message of Islam for contemporary society is but one part of the whole message of Islam. It is extremely difficult to divorce the two and in order to gain insight into the former, the context of the latter must be understood. The message itself is based upon the following three principles: 1) The Unity of God, 2) The Goal of Human Existence, and 3) The Dignity and Equality of Man.
The first tenet i.e. the Unity of God is the axis on which the teachings and doctrines of Islam revolve. From here proceeds the fundamental unity of the universe, of man, and of life. Islam’s objective is to establish a balance and bring about accord in the relationship of man to God and to the universe through beneficent adjustment.
The Quran emphatically rejects any doctrine, idea or concept which may directly or indirectly tend to associate any other thing or being with God as an equal or partner. In 112:25 it states, “Say: `He is Allah. the One: Allah, the Independent, and Besought of all. He Begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him’.”
God is the sole Creator, the Quran describes this in 39:63-64, “Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian over all things. To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth.”
The Quran delves into great detail on the numerous attributes of God. For example: He is the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds and leads them stage by stage towards perfection; He is the Gracious One, Who has made provision for the fulfillment of the purpose of the creation of man and of the universe; He is the Merciful One, Who causes beneficent results to follow upon righteous action; and He is the Master of the Day of Judgment, Who alone will judge and decide penalties and rewards.
The second tenet i.e. the Goal of Human Existence has been a question debated by philosophers since time immemorial. Islam also has a view on this issue. There was a purpose involved in creating the universe. The Quran states in 21:17-18, “We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is in between the two in play. Had we wished to find a pastime We would surely have found it in that which is with Us, if at all We would have been inclined in that way.”
The purpose of the creation of the universe is to aid man in receiving the impress of God’s attributes and becoming a manifestation of them within the limits of his capacities i.e. he should become God’s image.
Perhaps one distinction which can be made between ancient and modern times is that the time continuum for change within the global community has been drastically altered. The dynamics of global events have been shown to have tremendous accelerative capacities as evidenced by the fragmentation of the Soviet Union and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. In the past the status quo enjoyed a stability for much longer periods of time whereas now the face of the earth is continually changing. Many people observe these large scale changes which effect us all collectively as members of the human race. It becomes increasingly difficult to stem the tide personal anxiety coupled with global uncertainty. This is where the outlet of prayer comes into play.
When the soul has become overburdened and it is in need of solace, it naturally turns to its Creator from whom it has no secrets. This natural urge which becomes particularly overpowering in times of trouble is in itself a proof of the existence of God, and of the need and possibility of establishing communion with Him.
Allow me to more clearly highlight this point. The answers to the questions, “What is the right way” and “What is God’s way?” are most clearly begot through fervent supplication. You see, God himself will reveal to your heart what is His way. The Quran mentions in 2:187, “When my servants ask thee concerning Me, say that I am near; that I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. So they should respond to Me and have faith in Me, that they may be rightly guide.”
Turning now to the third tenet of the message i.e., the Dignity and Equality of Man, it is realized that there is a current trend towards categorizing individuals. This is both counter productive and decisive. Within the context of this message each individual has the same potential of achieving the highest stations of spirituality and worldliness. The diversities of race, color, language, culture, wealth, etc. do not confer either superiority or inferiority. No single individual can claim honor or prestige based upon membership within a certain tribe or citizenship within a certain country. The Quran makes this clear and says that the true source of honor in the sight of God is a righteous life.
The Quran mentions in 21:108 that the Prophet had been sent as a manifestation of God’s mercy to mankind. For this reason Muhammad the Prophet is held in the highest esteem possible for a mortal, by the adherents of this faith. However, the Prophet took great pains to educate his followers that he himself was just a man like themselves.
In his final days one of the Prophet’s main concerns was that he feared lest the Muslims should upon his death, assign him a position higher than other human beings, as had been done by the followers of other prophets. This is why during this period of his life he kept emphasizing over and over that he was but a man, to whom God had vouchsafed revelation for the guidance of mankind. Evidence of this concern was expressed in his Final Address, delivered in the valley of Arafat just outside Mecca. Among other things the Prophet commented that the followers of the faith should live their lives in accordance with the commandments of God, that they should treat women with due regard and consideration fully observing their rights which correspond to the rights that men had, and finally, that all human beings are equal whatever their individual status and no one could claim any priveledge or superiority over another.
With the gravity and seriousness expressed so far, let us take a momentary reprieve. It is necessary from time to time to take a look at the lighter side of life, as evidenced by the Prophet himself. Let us considered some examples.
It is related that the Prophet once challenged his wife Ayesha to a foot race which the latter won. A year later he challenged her to a rematch and this time he won. Afterwards he laughed and said, “Ayesha we are now even.”
It is also related that a poor man was once found guilty of a certain offense and the Prophet imposed upon him a fine in the form of a charity distribution. Unfortunately, the man was so poor that he did not have the money available with which to settle the fine. It so happened that the Prophet just received a basket of dates from another companion to be distributed in charity. The Prophet turned to the poor man and told him to distribute the basket among the needy. To this the man replied, “Sir, I am aware of no one more deserving of charity than myself.” The Prophet laughed and said, “Well then, take the basket for yourself and that will suffice as your penalty.”
Thus in spite of the heavy burden of responsibility which had been placed upon the Prophet’s shoulders, he still took time out to entertain humor. It is an invaluable tool and if more of us started using it, our stress levels would go down both at work and at home.
Having just covered the broad aspect of the message I would now like to emphasize some specific aspects which are of greater relevance today.
A great starting point for dealing with en masse problems facing us today, is to realize that we all brothers and sisters. It may sound simplistic yet we are all descendants from the same two individuals i.e. Adam and Eve. Global conditions contributed towards us setting off in different directions to occupy our own little niches within the vast earth. We developed in isolation from each other and somewhere along the way, we lost sight of our common heritage. We are all God’s children and thus are all members of the Universal Brotherhood of Man. Once this realization sets in, our seemingly insurmountable differences fall by the wayside and are replaced instead, by a common sense of purpose.
The present day tide of intolerance must also be stemmed. The policy of alienation through differentiation has effected our way of thinking. We must reinforce the qualities of tolerance, patience, forgiveness, and mutual respect particularly in the fields of faith, and within our personal dealings. Islam addresses these concerns and provides suggestions which are listed below.
In this faith even though the Unity of God is the cornerstone, the Prophet admonished Muslims from using harsh language against the idols worshipped by the Meccans for this might incite them to blaspheming Allah. The motto, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” helps to describe the spirit of this instruction.
Within the realm of international relations, inter-religious relations are also of significance. It is widely believed that since faith is such a private matter for each individual, it should have no role in the discussion of social or political issues. This is an oversight because common beliefs may be used as effective tools in promoting unity and accord. The recurrent theme amongst the different faiths of mutual understanding and respect invites itself onto the stage of international relations. Let us now briefly examine what the Islamic faith dictates in regard to other faiths and their followers.
In 5:70 of the Quran we see, “Surely those who have believed, and the Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians, whoso believes in God the Last Day, and acts righteously, on them shall come no harm nor shall they grieve.” Thus the faith sets a level playing field for all faiths. Then in 2:257 we observe, “There is no compulsion in matters of faith for surely guidance has been made manifest and distinct from error.” The objective of these two verses is to achieve a reconciliation between the followers of different faiths and encourage a foundation of mutual respect and honor amongst them. Furthermore, that belief and faith are matters of conscience, and conscience cannot be compelled.
You will notice that in the message there is a continuous shift in emphasis back and forth between the intra-individual and the inter-individual levels. This is deliberate for it highlights the need to ensure that both states are in harmony. It is necessary for a person to have inner peace and a personal purpose. This must be balanced however, by a healthy outlook towards others because he/she must constantly interact with them. Man has often been referred to as a social animal, the purpose of this message is to make him a social being. His needs must be fulfilled on both levels for him to be complete.
It is unfortunate indeed that the message of Islam has been misrepresented as being inflexible and intolerant towards other faiths. I would like to present one final example which will depict the attitude of this faith toward others. The example involves the putting into practice, of principles embraced by this faith by the Prophet himself, for no one would be better able to interpret Islam’s message better than he. Ikramah the son of Abu Jahl, had inflicted heavy casualties upon the Muslims at the Battle of Uhad. He had realized that a poorly guarded pass was the Achilles heel of the Muslim forces. On his command the ensuing Meccan charge through the breach resulted in exceedingly high Muslim fatalities. Years later when Mecca fell to the Muslims, Ikramah fled to the coast but his wife approached the Prophet, and asked him if her husband could return to Mecca and profess his belief in idols. The Prophet replied that faith was a matter of conscience, and conscience was free.
Thus at the time of the fall Mecca, in spite of all the hardship that Muhammad the Prophet and his followers had endured, the years of spiritual persecution and physical hardship, the senseless loss of life of his companions at Meccan hands for the simple crime of professing their belief in one God, all of this was laid aside by the Prophet and forgiveness granted to all in the Name of God.
No account of this message would be complete without mention of the family. The family is the basic unit of human society. It is the training ground for tomorrow’s world. It is the first link that a child has with this world and thus it is essential that the maintenance of this institution be emphasized. The foundation is laid through marriage and the structure put up is the children. Parents must ensure that the values their children have are the ones that they themselves have and are not ones picked up on streets. A man and woman’s true wealth is their offspring which in turn could become their greatest sources of joy or sorrow, largely depending upon the effort that was put forth in their care. One of the Prophet’s sayings was, “The best among you is he who treats his family best.”
Turning our attention to the last subject in this piece: The status of women in Islam. Due to the extensive nature of the subject (the Quran alone has over 40 verses dealing specifically with women’s issues), I will attempt to give you only a general flavor of this topic.
As already mentioned, the Prophet heeded Muslim men to consort with women in kindness and fully observe their rights which correspond fully to the rights that men had. Women were accorded positions of dignity and honor as prescribed by the titles of mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. Their rights were recognized for the first time in religious history in the fields of property ownership, inheritance, independence, child custody, spouse approval before marriage, and self-determination.
Someone once asked Ayesha (the Prophet’s wife) about her husband’s household behavior. She replied that he helped in the household chores, patched up his own clothes, mended his shoes and was kindly and affectionate companion. Gentlemen, your wives will never let you forget that example!
The Quran addresses men and their treatment of women in 4:20 as follows: “Consort with them in kindness. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good.” Thus contrary to popular belief, men do not have free reigns to do as they wish and please in their treatment of women.
It is related that a party of the Prophet was running later during a journey. There were women in the caravan as well. When the camel drivers tried to quicken the pace to make up for lost time, the Prophet heeded them by saying, “Mind the crystal.” This reference to women as crystal implied that they were delicate and sensitive and that the utmost care must be taken in according them the dignity, honor and position which is their birthright.
A lot of information has been presented in this piece, it will be up to you to reflect upon it at your leisure. I would like to bring this article to a close with a few final thoughts.
It is easy to look at the trees and lose sight of the forest and visa versa. The message conveyed to you as member of contemporary society has many different facets to it. It must be kept in mind however, that they are all parts of the whole. The beauty of the message of Islam lies in the fact that the principles put forth may be adopted anywhere in the world irrespective of geographical location, religious affiliation, gender, racial background or social status. These principles are applicable on both personal and inter-personal levels. They contribute towards solving troubling individual and global issues in a peaceful and equitable manner.
The process of change must start within. It must be realized that faith and belief are personal issues and those in search of the truth must make the journey alone. This is because no one can impose his or her views upon another. The views of others if not agreed with, must be respected. Therefore become good human beings and you have already started finding out the answers to your questions.
This is the message of Islam for contemporary society. The entire purpose of the coming of the Promised Messiah was to spread this message among humanity. The Promised Messiah himself said, “He who makes a distinction between Muhammad (pbuh) and I, has not recognized me.” I would ask you to reflect upon this message, and no matter which path you choose, may the Light of God, which contemporary society is so desperately seeking, shine on you.