We know from the Holy Quran that God created Adam and commanded the angels to do obeisance to him. The usual method of obeisance is to prostrate oneself. But this sort of self-abasement is shown only to God. To show it to others, however high and mighty, is forbidden. One may not prostrate oneself even to prophets, not even to the Chief of the prophets, Muhammad Mustafa (on whom be peace and the blessings of God). Not only is prostration to anyone other than God forbidden; it is counted among the worst of sins. Whoever is guilty of it loses the favour and grace of God. One may prostrate oneself in a different sense, however; in this sense prostration is not an act of worship.
It cannot be said that prostration was permitted when the human race was young and was forbidden when the race became more mature. Such a thing would be quite wrong. Prostration is a form of shirk. It amounts to setting up equals with God and this, according to Islamic conceptions, can never be right. Acts of shirk could not have been permitted at any time: God is One and the Oneness of God is a basic conception. If it is said that prostrating oneself to beings other than God was permissible at first, but was forbidden later on, being a species of shirk, then Satan would have an important text in his own favour. Satan refused to prostrate himself before man, saying man was not God. This may have offended God at the time, but later even God forbade obeisance to man, and to beings other than God.
When angels prostrate themselves before man
Obeisances and prostrations to beings other than God can never be right. They were not right in the past and they are not right today. When angels were commanded by God to prostrate themselves before man, prostration was not to be an act of worship. This prostration had a different meaning. The Arabic language provides for this meaning: it is complete obedience. Sajdah may mean ‘worship’ or ‘obedience’. In the Arabic lexicon Lisan-ul-Arab (vol. IV, under Sajdah), we have:
‘He who shows perfect obedience to another may be said to have performed Sajdah.’
The command to angels to perform Sajdah to Adam was not a command to worship Adam, but a command to obey him. Obedience to man was to help man in his plans and aspirations. The command to angels to help Adam is repeated in the time of every prophet. A person who claims to have been appointed to spiritual office should expect and receive the help of angels. He should receive such help because he is commissioned by God for such an office.
Help from angels
From the life of the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace and the blessings of God) can be cited a number of incidents which demonstrate the help which the Holy Prophet received from angels in his plans and projects. One such example is the Battle of Badr. In this battle the angels struck the minds of the enemy with inordinate fear. As the Holy Prophet picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them towards the enemy, a swift wind began to blow. Another example was witnessed during the Battle of the Ditch. Muslims were surrounded by the enemy. The siege might have succeeded but for the fact that a fire lit by a chief was extinguished by the wind, and this led to a panic in the enemy camp. Yet another example is the Holy Prophet’s miraculous escape from an attempt by the Jews to poison him.
The help of angels usually comes under cover of natural processes and natural events. The first conditions and causes of all natural processes and events are the angels. When a prophet finds himself confronted by enemies and a conflict ensues, angels become busy turning processes of nature to the advantage of the prophet. In spite of the worst natural disadvantages success attended the Holy Prophet not his enemies. Success which comes thus is proof of a prophet’s authenticity.
Help from the angels came to the Promised Messiah also. He experienced the support of angels and their backing. They saved him from all sorts of difficulties; they directed processes of nature in his favour. I quote a well-known example. The Promised Messiah and a group of companions including Hindus, Muslims, and men of other religions were asleep under a roof. Suddenly he woke up and felt that the roof was about to collapse. No signs of an imminent collapse were apparent. A faint sound, perhaps the sound of a worm eating into the wood, could be heard. The Promised Messiah wakened all his companions and said they should all get out. The companions did not heed the advice and went to sleep again. They said that Mirza Sahib was mistaken and that there was no danger. After a little while, Hazrat Mirza Sahib experienced the feeling for a second time. Again he wakened his companions, this time insisting strongly that they should move out of the room. The companions agreed, not without grumbling. They said Hazrat Mirza Sahib had the room vacated because of a delusion. Hazrat Mirza Sahib, on the other hand, felt that the collapse of the room waited on his own exit. He made everybody get out first before he got out himself. He then placed one foot on the staircase and had just lifted the other when the roof came down with a thud. All were filled with amazement and all expressed gratitude to Hazrat Mirza Sahib. Their lives were saved.
It often happened that during serious illness he would have cures told to him. A drug would appear in a dream, sometimes a waking dream. Drugs and the bottles in which they are contained do not move about. Their appearance could only be an act of the angels. The curative and other properties of drugs also are controlled in the last resort by angels, their first causes. Once the Promised Messiah became very ill. He used some drugs, but derived no benefit from them. Then an appearance presented itself and declared, ‘I am peppermint.’ Peppermint was the treatment and the illness disappeared.
Sometimes it happened that someone would come to murder him. Often the coming of such a man was anticipated by him through a divine premonition. Or the angels would strike the murderer with fear, as in the Battle of Badr. Murderers would change into followers. The sight of the Promised Messiah would convert them; and they would decide to join him instead of wishing to murder him (incidents reminiscent of Hazrat Omar, who became converted in an effort to murder the Holy Prophet).
Household protected from plague
The greatest sign of help by angels appeared at the time of the plague which first came into this part of the world in the lifetime of the Promised Messiah. I shall have more to say about this later.
Here I only wish to say that the plague assumed the symbolic appearance of an elephant wreaking havoc in the world. In the symbolic scene, the animal in the premonitory dream became tame and harmless and sat respectfully when it came near the Promised Messiah. The symbolic scene meant that the plague would not harm the Promised Messiah. The angels of God would see to this. In support of this promise of help through angels, the Promised Messiah had other revelations. One said, ‘Fire is our slave, nay the slave of slaves.’ On receiving such revelations he declared that he and his followers would remain relatively immune from the deadly effects of the plague. Individuals might suffer, but that would not alter the general truth, even as in the time of the Holy Prophet Muslims suffered in encounters with the enemy, but the enemy suffered much more.
He also announced that the town of Qadian would suffer much less than other places; that here the plague would not be so deadly as in other places and that the house in which he lived would remain completely immune. Not a single case of plague was to occur in the house itself. After these declarations the plague made its appearance in the sub-continent and wrought havoc. Every year hundreds of thousands of persons died of it. In spite of the fact that he had forbidden his followers to adopt the preventive inoculation, his followers suffered the fatal effects of the plague much less than others. This went on for several years. Many people were impressed. Thousands joined the fold. In fact the great majority of his followers at that time were the result of this sign.
When the plague visited the country, it seized many of his enemies. His own followers remained largely immune; only stray cases of the plague occurred amongst them. The visible protection which he and his followers enjoyed from the ravages of the plague was a clear Divine Sign. This kind of epidemic had been unknown before. It came after he had announced his prophetic vision about it. The epidemic spared him and his followers. The relative immunity demonstrated the truth of his revelation ‘Fire is our slave, even the slave of slaves.’ The angels carried out the promise. The germs of the plague acted in his favour and showed him the adoration and obedience which is their duty towards every Messenger of God. The plague travelled to Qadian as to other places. But it did not stay in Qadian for long, leaving after three years. In other towns it stayed for as long as ten years, or even longer.
The protection which his household enjoyed provides incontrovertible proof of the loyalty and obedience of angels. Cases of the plague and of death from the plague occurred next door. The danger remained for three years. The household of the Promised Messiah consisted of more than a hundred persons, and was unhealthily situated in a depression. Still no death occurred in the house. Not even a rat suffered. (It is well known that when plague visits a place, the first casualties are the rats.) A wonderful sign, which should convince those willing to think. If it was not the angels who worked in his favour, then what was it? What was it which made this tremendous difference? Rulers and kings and men of power could not control forces which worked in his favour. Processes of nature seemed to have turned from their normal course and to have devoted themselves to his service. Doctors who could adopt the usual precautionary measures fell victims. Those who lived in healthy quarters far out of town could not escape it. Those who had themselves inoculated against it had to suffer. But he and the members of his household did not suffer at all. They accepted no treatment, adopted no precautionary measures. They did not go out of the town. Even the rats in his house did not suffer. The household was not a small one. It was large to start with and had become larger because of the many guests who had come to seek shelter from the plague.
If the plague had not visited Qadian, or if after visiting Qadian it had not come and affected his neighbourhood, it could have been said that the immunity which he, his family, and members of his household enjoyed was a matter of accident. But he had proclaimed this fact of immunity long before, a prophecy based on divine communications. Some time after its proclamation, angels devoted themselves to the execution of the prophecy. The plague came to Qadian, but it came as a slave. It did its work, but under definite limitations, as though it were under someone’s vigilance. It came to the town, affected his closest neighbours, but did not touch any members of his household. This is evidence of the devotion of angels to him and to his cause. They had been told to obey him and they carried out the command in true spirit. They were appointed to protect him. Forces of nature were enslaved for his sake.
The devotion of natural forces to him and to his cause is proved by many other incidents. But I hope the examples I have given will suffice, and that they will give some idea of the miraculous protection Hazrat Mirza Sahib enjoyed. These examples should make it clear that such consistent and constant divine support could not be earned by a liar and a pretender.