To combat sin it is necessary to be able to identify sin-infected conditions. I would, therefore, give an account of such conditions so that their identification should become easy. Among them are the following:
- A person looks upon sin with horror but now and then finds himself inclined towards it.
- He still hates sin but is unable always to resist the temptation and falls for sin.
- He does not hate sin but no more does he relish a life of sin. The result is that he commits a sinful action occasionally, without really liking or disliking sin.
- He relishes sin but not without shame. If he sins, he sins in secret. If he refrains from sin, he does so because of past habit or because of social custom.
- At this stage, he sinks much lower. Past habit and social custom cease to be adequate restraints. He is now ready to indulge in and enjoy a sinful life.
- At this stage, he is not only sinful and evil, but also encourages others to be evil and sinful like him.
- At this last and lowest stage, he becomes a profile of Satan, propagation of evil becomes his daily concern.
In comparison with sin-infected conditions we have the following good conditions which are listed below in an ascending order:
- To do good for the sake of reward.
- To choose good as a commandment of God.
- To do good for the sake of good and to consider virtue to be its own reward.
- To do good as a natural habit.
- To enjoy doing good.
- To propagate good in the world.
- To become an embodiment of good and to treat its dissemination as one’s single unalloyed aim in life like the angels. There are higher grades of goodness like prophethood; but they are a gift of God and cannot be attained by mere effort.
I have explained above that human actions may be good both morally and spiritually. When human actions pertain to other human beings, they are called moral. When they pertain to God, they are called spiritual. This means that from the practical point of view, they are subject to the same practices and rules, the same exercises and the same general principles. Moral and spiritual ailments, therefore, can be classed and treated together. I do not feel the necessity of elaborating this treatment any further. Others have already done this, including Sufis. So I would not like to add to whatever little I have said on the subject. The practical side of sin, however, remains important. This has to be studied in the light of the teachings of Islam.
Islamic treatment of sin is unique. It is part of its perfect teaching. Islam does not start treating sin after it has been committed. It turns more to prevention than cure. It raises the question: What can be done to prevent sin? There is no doubt that this is the rational approach, which contains the key to the treatment of sin. When a piece of cloth has become dirty, it needs more effort to clean it. It is best to see that we do not let it become dirty. This indeed is the main difference between Islamic and other teachings. Unlike other religions, Islam does not merely tell us what to do after a person has become sin-infected, it also tells us what is to be done when sin has not yet appeared and what may be done to prevent it appearing.
It is to be regretted that despite the fact the Holy Quran has invited our attention to this subject and many Muslim saints have done the same, Muslims as a people have not given as much attention to this aspect as they should have. They have ignored the important fact that the foundations of sin are laid long before a person becomes an adult. Sin is not a sudden phenomenon. When a person suddenly takes to a life of sin, it is usually forgotten that it is not a sudden change from good to evil. It is not now that the adult has become bad. The seeds of badness were sown long ago. Only, the seed that was sown when he was a child has sprouted forth and become a tree. If the potentiality of sin was not there, where did sin come from when the erstwhile child attained puberty? Seeds of sin are indeed sown long before puberty. Muslim scholars have also pointed this out. The fact of the matter is that the seed of sin is sown soon after birth and sometimes even before birth.
When doctors of religion start worrying about the bad morals of an adult, the adult is already in the firm grip of Satan. I am not so pessimistic as to think that when a man becomes adult, he has already acquired every possible evil that he can. What I mean is that the inclination and the power to do evil have taken root. I have already said that the basic dispositions of matter out of which morals are born, are limited. If these dispositions somehow go wrong in childhood, outwardly the child would seem to be sinless and harmless, but in reality he would have acquired all the power and all the means to commit sinful actions.
Now ponder a little. Where does sin come from? Does it come from parents? No, certainly not. But we know that sometimes certain dispositions run in the family from generation to generation. The same habits, the same dispositions, the same skills keep emerging. You cannot make a people courageous overnight whose courage has been dead over many generations. When such people go to the battlefield they are certain to let you down. In any case, they will fail to show the degree and quality of courage which a seasoned force of fighting experience extending over many generations is able to do. True, there are remedies for defects and deviations, but hereditary traits acquired through generations of habit and training are hard to correct.
Similarly, sin is also rooted in greed, aggression, fear, love and excess of desire. Now ponder a little. These desires and inclinations are planted in childhood. The child is a great learner. He begins to learn as soon as he is born. His first acquisitions seem harmless enough. Sometimes he shows streaks which could become sins later on. But the parents ignore them saying he is but a child. They forget that it is in childhood that the seed is sown and impressions become deep. A person who begins to steal as an adult could have been saved from this nefarious practice if he had been checked and taught self-control when he was a child. He need not have become a thief as an adult. Similarly, a person goes to the battlefield as a soldier, but on facing the enemy, he recoils and runs away. How cowardly, exclaim the people around him. But the fault is not his. As a child he had been told tales of cowardice. It is these tales which have made him afraid of the sight of the enemy.
The same is the case with aggression and pugnacity. Parental control is lax and these emotions are allowed an unbridled play. The result is that when the child grows up, he becomes the quarreling type who would fight on the slightest pretext.
Sin is invariably rooted in lack of will-power. Lack of will-power is not a natural defect. It has its causes. How is it that a person continues throughout life making and breaking resolutions? He keeps doing this because of lack of will-power. Remember, it is in childhood and in childhood alone that this emotional sickness takes hold. Nobody notices it at the time. But a habit is being built then which it will not be easy to break later on. Otherwise, there is no reason why an understanding adult should wish to give up something and not be able to do it. It means he has been trained badly as a child. Otherwise it should be quite enough to tell him that such and such a thing is good and ought to be chosen and pursued and such and such a thing is bad and is not worthy of pursuit. On just being told, one should be able to choose the right course. How can the young child be protected from this early sickness? The first thing is to keep pure the thoughts and emotions which sway the parents, for parental thoughts and emotions also play their part in shaping the character of the child even at the pre-natal stage. The door to evil thoughts must be closed particularly while we are preparing to receive the child. What can we do except, as far as possible, to keep our thoughts always pure and clean? If you desire to do your unborn children any good, then your own thoughts must also be pure. Islam has a recipe for situations like this. This recipe is that when husband and wife consort together, they should supplicate:
Shield us, O Allah, against Satan, and keep Satan away from whatever Thou mightiest bestow upon us.
This supplication is not a magic incantation, nor is it a charm. It is not necessary either that its Arabic version must be employed. The substance of the prayer is that we say to God: O Allah, sin is a filthy thing, save us from it; and also safeguard our children against it. This prayer and this thought will act as a wall between the unborn child and the influences of Satan. The Holy Prophet, on whom be peace and blessings, has assured that the child born after this prayer will be free from Satanic influences.
Many people say that they have used this prayer but the result has not been as expected. Let me tell them that addressing the prayer like a magic formula or a charm is not enough. I am quite sure that many who complain use the prayer only as a charm. Secondly, this prayer does not cover all the subsequent delinquencies of which man is capable. Many learn evil habits after birth. Only the inheritable delinquencies are covered by this prayer.
After acquiring the disposition to sin at the parental stage, a child begins to develop sinful dispositions in his early childhood. Islam has expounded this great truth and has laid down that the training of the child should begin not only at birth, but long before birth. I almost think that the Holy Prophet — on him be peace and blessings — would have gone even further back. He would have laid down that the training of the child should begin while the child is still in his mother’s womb. But not many people would have been prepared to undertake the care of the unborn child during this delicate period. Therefore, the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — laid down that the training should begin at birth. The first thing is to recite the Azan in the child’s ear at its birth. Nobody should think that this is just a piece of magic incantation. Both the words and the meaning of Azan find their way to the mind of the child. Moreover, it is a reminder to the parents that they are responsible for the life of the newly born. The training of that life is now their responsibility. It begins from its birth. Besides the Azan, the Holy Prophet — on him be peace and blessings — has laid down, that children should be taught good manners from their childhood. He is reported to have given the following advice to Hazrat Imam Hasan, his own grandchild, when he was having his meal. The Holy Prophet said to him:
Eat with your right hand and from that which is in front of you.
Hazrat Imam Hasan was only about 2 1/2 years at the time. In our country if a child begins to manipulate the whole dish and starts taking big mouthfuls, not minding the clean clothes of his neighbour on either side, the parents only enjoy the scene and say nothing to the child. At the most they administer a mild rebuke or two. Their aim is not really to teach the child or to prevent him or her from wrongdoing. The casual rebuke is not seriously meant. There is another episode from the life of the Holy Prophet — on him be peace and blessings. A basket of dates had arrived to be distributed among the poor. Imam Hasan was very young at the time. He picked up a date and put it in his mouth. As soon as the Holy Prophet — on him be peace — noticed this, he put his finger in the child’s mouth and pulled out the date. What he meant was that a Prophet’s grandchild was not to eat what belonged to others, that he was supposed to make his own living when he grew up and not be a burden on others.
In short, childhood training is very important. What he becomes as a child, he will become as an adult. No wonder the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace and blessings, has said:
Every child is born true to nature. It is his parents who make of him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.
It is true also that it is his parents who turn him into a Muslim or a Hindu. The Hadith does not mean that when the child has grown up, his parents take him to a church to have him baptised as a Christian. The meaning of the Hadith is that a child as a child is at the mercy of his parents. He absorbs what he hears them say and does what he sees them do. The child is a great imitator. If the parents do not set before him a proper model to copy, he will go elsewhere to find a model which he can copy. Some liberals think that it is best to leave the children alone. Even Ahmadis say it and say that when they grow up, they will discover Ahmadiyyat themselves. But what I say is that this may be true if no other sound reaches the ears of the child nor any sight his eyes. But this is not true. All sorts of sounds are impinging on the ears of the child. All the time the child is learning. If angels do not communicate with the child, then it is certain that Satan will become his friend and given him his company. If good things do not reach the child’s ears, bad things certainly will.
Let Ahmadi parents take note. If you want your children to grow into good adults, then use your home as a kind of segregation camp. Keep children away from everything except good influences. This is the only way to safeguard the future generations.