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Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam

Study Guide Part IV

The Ahmadiyya Gazette, August 1996

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]

The following questions and answers may help the members in the study of the Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam during this centennial year. The answers are in the words of the Promised Messiah (as) as translated. The three previous parts were printed earlier. This part completes the study guide. Our thanks to Maulvi Mohammed Siddique Nangli who prepared the guide in Urdu and to Fouzan Pal and Ghazanfar Ahmed who helped in preparing the English version. (National Taleem Department)

  1. How do actions affect us in this life and in the hereafter?

    We have already stated that the effect of the true and perfect Divine law upon man's heart in this life is that it lifts him from a savage condition and converts him into a human being, and thereafter invests him with high morals, and finally makes him godly. Their effect in the hereafter is that a person who adheres to them will observe his spiritual relationship with God as a manifest reality. The service that he rendered to God's creatures out of his love for God which was stimulated by his faith, and his yearning for righteous action, will be manifested to him as the trees and rivers of paradise. In this context God Almighty has said: We call to witness the sun and its light; and We call to witness the moon when it follows the sun and obtains its light from it and conveys it to people; and We call to witness the day when it manifests the light of the sun and shows up the paths; and We call to witness the night when it darkens and envelops everything within itself; and We call to witness the heaven and the purpose for which it has been created; and We call to witness the earth and the purpose for which it has been spread out like a floor; and We call to witness the human soul and its quality which makes it equal to all these other things; that is to say all those qualities which are found dispersed among the other bodies that have been mentioned are all comprehended in the soul of the perfect man. As these bodies serve man in diverse ways, the perfect man performs all that service by himself. Then He says: That one will be delivered from death and will attain salvation who purifies his soul, that is to say, who serves God's creatures out of his devotion to God like the sun and the moon and the earth. It should be kept in mind that in this context life means life eternal, which will be bestowed upon perfect man. This is an indication that the fruit of conforming to the practical ordinances of the law will be the eternal life of the next world, which will be sustained for ever by the vision of God. Then it is said that he who corrupts his soul and does not acquire the qualities for which he was bestowed appropriate capacities and goes back after spending an unclean life, shall be ruined and shall despair of life eternal. This is illustrated by the event of the she-camel of Allah, which was hamstrung by a wretched one of the tribe of Thamud and was prevented from drinking at its fountain. This is an indication that the soul of man is the she-camel of God which He bestrides, meaning that the heart of man is the place of Divine manifestations. The water of the she-camel is the love and understanding of God which sustain it. When the Thamud hamstrung the she-camel of God and prevented it from having its drink they were overtaken by God's chastisement and He cared not how their dependents would fare. Thus would be ruined one who corrupts his soul and prevents it from taking spiritual nourishment and does not desire to foster it (91:2-16).

  2. What is the wisdom behind calling the creations of God to witness?

    There is a deep philosophy in God's calling the sun and the moon etc. to witness. Some of our opponents, out of their lack of knowledge, criticize God for calling to witness created things. As their intelligence is earthly and not heavenly, they fail to appreciate true insights. The purpose of taking an oath is that the one who takes an oath puts forward a testimony in support of his claim. A person who has no witness of his claim calls God to witness, for He knows what is hidden and He is the foremost witness in every controversy. Such a person puts forward the testimony of God by taking an oath in His name, meaning thereby that if God does not thereafter chastise him, that would be proof that God has confirmed the truth of his claim.

    It is, therefore, not permissible for a person to take the oath of any created thing, for no created thing possesses knowledge of the unseen, not has it the power to punish one who takes a false oath. In these verses God calling various phenomena to witness is not the same thing as a person taking an oath. Divine manifestations are of two types. One, those that are obvious and concerning which there is no controversy. Secondly, there are those Divine manifestations which are inferential concerning which people differ and can fall into error. By calling to witness the obvious phenomena God Almighty's purpose is to establish by their evidence His inferential manifestations. It is obvious that the sun and the moon and the day and the night and the heaven and the earth, possess the respective characteristics that we have mentioned, but everyone is not aware of the characteristics possessed by the human soul. Thus, God has set forth His obvious manifestations as witnesses for the purpose of explaining His inferential manifestations. It is as if He says: if you are in doubt with regard to the qualities with which the human soul is invested, then reflected upon the sun and the moon and the other phenomena cited which obviously possess these qualities. You know that man is a microcosm that comprises a tiny representation of the pattern of the universe. As it is clear that the great bodies of the macrocosm possess these qualities and provide benefits for God's creatures, then how can man, who ranks above all those bodies, be without those qualities? That is not so. Indeed, like the sun man possesses the light of knowledge and reason whereby he can illumine the world. Like the moon he receives the light of vision and revelation from the Divine and conveys it to others who have not yet arrived at the highest stage of human progress. Then how can you say that prophethood is a false notion and that all prophethoods and purported Divine laws and books are only the imposture and selfishness of certain human beings. You observe how all paths are lit up and the heights and depression become distinct when the day dawns. In the same way perfect man is the day of spiritual light, by his advent every path becomes clearly distinguishable. He points out the right path, for he himself is the bright day of truth and righteousness. Similarly, you observe how the night accommodates the weary and how the laborers, after working hard during the day, sleep in the gracious lap of the night and rest from their labors. The night also covers up all defects and imperfections. In the same way, the perfect servants of God come to provide comfort for people and the recipients of revelation relieve all wise people of extreme effort. Through them great problems of insight are easily resolved. Also Divine revelation covers up the defects of human reason and, like the night, does not let its faults to become known, inasmuch as wise people correct their mistakes on their own in the light of revelation, and thus through the blessings of God's holy revelation save themselves from being exposed. That is the reason why no Muslim philosopher offered the sacrifice of a rooster to an idol as was done by Plato. Plato was misled as he was deprived of the light of revelation and despite being a great philosopher he perpetrated such a stupid and hateful act.

  3. What is the reason for calling the sky and the earth to witness in the Holy Quran?

    The Holy Quran has, at another place, recited such an oath for the purpose of citing an instance of the law of nature in support of the phenomenon of revelation and has said: We call to witness the heaven that sends down rain and the earth that sprouts diverse types of vegetation with the help of such rain, that the Quran is God's word and His revelation, and that it decides between the truth and falsehood and is not vain talk, that is to say, it has not been revealed out of time and has come like seasonable rain (86:12-15).

    Here God Almighty has set forth a well known law of nature in support of the truth of the Holy Quran, which is His Word. It is a matter of common observation that at a time of need rain comes down from heaven and that the vegetation of the earth all depends upon rain. When rain is held back then gradually the wells also run dry, so that the water in the earth also depends upon rain from heaven. That is how in the rainy season the level of water in the wells also arises, the reason for which is that heavenly water exercises a pull upon earthly water. The same is the relationship between divine revelation and human reason. Divine revelation is heavenly water and reason is earthly water which receives sustenance from heavenly water. When heavenly water, that is to say divine revelation, is held back, the earthly water also dries up gradually. That is the reason why, when a long time passes and no recipient of revelation appears on the earth, the reason of the wise is corrupted, as earthly water is corrupted and dries up. To appreciate this phenomenon it would be enough to cast a glance at the condition of the world immediately before the advent of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. As six hundred years had passed after the time of Jesus, and no recipient of revelation had appeared during the interval, the whole world had been corrupted. The history of every country shows that before the advent of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

  4. What are the three types of knowledge?

    God Almighty has indicated three types of knowledge, namely knowledge by certainty of reason, knowledge of certainty of sight, and knowledge by certainty of experience. This might be illustrated thus. When a person perceives smoke from a distance his mind conceives that smoke and fire are inseparable, and therefore where there is smoke there must be fire also. This would be knowledge by certainty of reason. Then on a nearer approach he sees the flames of the fire and that is knowledge by certainty of sight. Should he enter into the fire, that would be knowledge by the certainty of experience.

  5. What are the means to achieving knowledge by reason?

    It should be known that the source of the first type of knowledge, that is to say knowledge by the certainty of inference, is reason and information. One can obtain the certainty of knowledge by inference through one's ears also. The books of the Prophets are also a source of knowledge through hearing, provided there should be no contradiction in the account that is heard.

    The Holy Quran is not confined merely to knowledge gained through continuity of hearing, it contains well reasoned arguments which carry conviction. It is called a Reminder meaning that the Blessed Quran does not set forth anything that is new but is a reminder of that which already exists in man's nature and in the book of nature (21:51). Thus intellectual arguments which have a sound basis undoubtedly lead a person to the certainty of knowledge by inference.

    Human conscience is also a source of knowledge which has been named human nature in the Book of God: Follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind (30:31).

  6. What are the means to achieving knowledge by sight?

    The second state of knowledge of sight. That is a degree of knowledge when there is no intermediary between us and that of which we have gained knowledge. For instance, when we perceive a good or bad smell through our sense of smell, or perceive the sweetness or saltines of something through our sense of smell, or perceive the sweetness or saltines of something through our sense of taste or perceive the warmth or coldness of anything through our sense of feeling, all such knowledge is, as it were, certainty through sight.

    With regard to the hereafter our knowledge arrives at the degree of certainty by sight when we receive direct revelation and hear the voice of God through our ears, and behold the true and clear visions of God with our eyes. Without a doubt we are in need of direct revelation for the purpose of achieving such perfect understanding for which our hearts hunger and thirst in our beings.

  7. What proof has been given in the Quran for the existence of revelation?

    In short, if God Almighty designs to bestow perfect understanding upon His seekers then He has certainly kept open the way of converse with them. In this context God, the Glorious, has taught us the supplication in the Holy Quran: Guide us along the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favors (1:6-7). Here by divine favors is meant heavenly knowledge by way of revelation and visions that are bestowed directly upon man. At another place it is said: Upon those who, having believed in God, continue to be steadfast, descend God's angels reassuring them: Fear not, nor grieve, and rejoice in the paradise that you have been promised (41:31). Here it is clearly stated that the righteous servants of God receive revelation from God at times of fear and grief and angels descend upon them to reassure them. At another place it is said: that the friends of God receive glad tidings in this life through revelation and converse with God and will also have the same experience in the hereafter (10:65).

  8. What is the meaning of revelation?

    What then is revelation? It is the living and powerful converse of the Holy and Mighty God with a chosen servant of His, or with one whom He designs to make His elect. When this converse starts in an adequate and satisfactory manner, being altogether free from the darkness of false concepts, and is not composed merely of a few inadequate and meaningless words, and is full of delight and wisdom and grandeur, then it surely is the word of God with which He designs to comfort His servant and to manifest Himself to him. Sometimes revelation is vouchsafed to a person by way of trial and is not equipped with full blessings. In such a case the recipient is put on his trial at this elementary stage so that having tasted somewhat of revelation he should order his life along the lines of those who are true recipients of revelation, in default of which he would encounter frustration. If he does not adopt the ways of the truly righteous he is deprived of the fullness of this bounty and is left only with vain boasting.

    Millions of the virtuous have been recipients of revelation, but they were not of equal standing in the estimation of God. Indeed, even the holy Prophets of God, who are recipients of divine revelation at the highest level, are not equal in rank, as God Almighty has said: Of these Messengers some have We exalted above others (2:254).

    If a righteous and virtuous servant of God should experience unobstructed dialogue with the Divine and should hear heights and delicious, and meaningful, and wise, and majestic divine utterances in a state of complete wakefulness in the shape of question and answer at least ten times, that is to say he put a question and God replied to it and then in complete wakefulness he made another submission and God made answer to it, and he made another humble supplication and God replied to that. This could have happened ten times. If in the course of such dialogue God should accept his prayers and should instruct him with excellent insights and should inform him of coining events and should honor him repeatedly with His clear dialogue, such a one should be deeply grateful to God Almighty and should be more devoted to Him than anyone else, because God of His pure grace, has chosen him from among His servants and has made him the heir of those faithful ones who have passed on before him. This bounty is most rare and is the highest good luck. For him on whom it is bestowed everything else is utterly without value.

  9. What are the means of achieving knowledge of certainty through experience?

    The third source of knowledge is certainty through experience, that is to say, all the hardships and calamities and sufferings that are experienced by the Prophets and the righteous at the hands of their opponents, or that are imposed upon them by Divine decree. Through these hardships and sufferings all the commandments of the law and its directions that were comprehended by the human mind intellectually, appear in practical shape and become experience, and by being developed by practical exercise arrive at their climax, and the person concerned himself becomes a perfect code of Divine guidance. All the moral qualities like forbearance, retribution, endurance, mercy etc. which hitherto pervaded the mind and heart theoretically, become part of the personality through practical experience and make their impress upon the total personality of the sufferer, as God the Glorious has said: We shall surely true you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives and of the fruits of your labour, that is to say you will suffer all this at the hands of your enemies, or by virtue of Divine decree. Then give glad tidings to the steadfast, who, when misfortune overtakes them, do not lose heart but say: Surely to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return. It is these on whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy, and it is these who are rightly and perfectly guided (2:156-158). These verses indicate that there is no virtue in the knowledge that is confined to the mind and heart. True knowledge is that which emerges from the mind and regulates and trains all the limbs, and manifests in practice all the store of memory. Thus knowledge is strengthened and fostered through its impress being imposed on all the limbs by practical experience.

  10. What is the difference between knowledge by experience and knowledge obtained merely through academics?

    He has warned us: You will surely be tied in respect of your possessions and your persons, that is to say, people will plunder your wealth and will kill you; and you will surely suffer many hurtful things at the hands of Jews and Christians and of those who set up partners with Allah; but if you show fortitude and restrain yourselves, that indeed would be evidence of high resolve (3:187). The purport of all these verses is that only that knowledge is beneficial which has been tested by experience, and the knowledge that is merely academic and has not been the subject of experience is without beneficence.

    As wealth is multiplied by commerce, in the same way knowledge arrives at its spiritual climax through practical experience. Thus practical experience is the principal means of perfecting knowledge and bestows a light upon knowledge. The ultimate certainty of knowledge is achieved through experience of every part of it. That is what happened in Islam. God Almighty provided the Muslims with the opportunity to illustrate whatever they were taught in the Quran in their practice and thus to become filled with its light.

  11. What was the reason for separating the life of Holy Prophet (pboh) into a time of trials and a time of great victory?

    God Almighty divided the life of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, into two phases: one phase of hardship and calamities and sufferings, and the other of victory; so that during the phase of sufferings those high moral qualities might be illustrated which come into play at such times, and during the phase of victory and authority those high moral qualities might be illustrated which cannot be displayed in the absence of authority. Thus both these types of qualities were perfectly illustrated in the life of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, by his passing through both these phases and conditions.

  12. What kind of example did the Holy Prophet (pboh) set during the first phase of his life?

    During the period of trials in Mecca, which extended over thirteen years, the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, demonstrated in practice all the high qualities which a perfectly righteous person should exhibit at such a time, such as trust in God, perfect serenity under sufferings, steady and eager carrying out of duties and fearless courage. Observing his steadfastness many of the disbelievers believed in him and thus testified that it is only one who has complete trust in God who can display such steadfastness and endurance of suffering.

  13. What kind of example did the Holy Prophet (pboh) set during the second phase of his life?

    During the second phase, that is to say the phase of victory, authority and prosperity, he demonstrated such high qualities as forbearance, forgiveness, benevolence, and courage, so that a large number of the disbelievers in him through witnessing his exercise of those high qualities. He forgave those who had persecuted him, granted security to those who had expelled him from Mecca, bestowed great wealth upon those among them who were in need and have obtained authority over his bitter enemies, forgave them all. Witnessing his high morals many of them testified that such qualities could only be demonstrated by one who comes from God and is truly righteous.

  14. How did the Holy Prophet (pboh) sacrificed his own life for the well-being of other human beings?

    His greatest quality was the one that is set out in the Holy Quran in the following words: Tell them: My worship and my sacrifices and my living and my dying are all wholly for Allah (6:163). This means that the whole purpose of his life was to demonstrate the glory of God and to provide comfort for His creatures so that through his constant suffering of death they might procure life.

  15. In the above verse, what is meant by death?

    No one should be misled by the mention of his death in the cause of God and for the good of His creatures, into thinking that he had at any time (God save us) contemplated destroying himself, imagining like the ignorant and the insane, that his suicide would be of benefit to others. He was entirely free from any such stupid line of thinking and was wholly opposed to it.

  16. How did the Holy Prophet (pboh) display high moral standards in his life?

    There is no high moral quality for the exercise of which God Almighty did not afford him an opportunity. All excellent moral qualities like bravery, generosity, steadfastness, forbearance, meekness, etc., were in his case so clearly established that it is not possible to seek his equal. It is also true that those who had carried their persecution of him to the extreme and had designed the destruction of Islam, were not left unpunished by God. To forgo chastisement in their case would have amounted to the destruction of the righteous under the heels of their enemies.

  17. What was the purpose of the wars in which Holy Prophet (pboh) took part?

    The purpose of the wars of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was not to cause needless bloodshed. The Muslims had been expelled from their ancestral homes, many innocent Muslim men and women had been martyred, and still the wrongdoers were not prepared to restrain themselves, and continuously obstructed the progress of Islam. In these circumstances the Divine law of security demanded the safeguarding of the persecuted once against total destruction. Therefore, those who had drawn the sword were opposed with the sword. Thus those wars were directed towards rooting out the mischief of those who were bent upon murder and were aimed at repelling evil. They took place at a time when the wrongdoers were bent on the ruins of the righteous. In these circumstances, if Islam had not had recourse to measures of self-defense, thousands of innocent women and children would have been slaughtered and an end would have been put to Islam.

  18. Why does the Holy Quran teach us to treat our enemies with kindness?

    It is a great error on the part of our opponents that they imagine that revealed guidance must under no circumstances inculcate resistance to the enemy and should always demonstrate its love and mercy by way of meekness and gentleness. Such people imagine that they display great reverence for God, the Lord of Honour and Glory, by attributing to Him only the qualities of gentleness and tenderness. But those who are given to reflection and pondering can easily perceive that such people are involved in gross and obvious error. A contemplation of the Divine law of nature clearly shows that it certainly is pure mercy. But that mercy does not manifest itself by way of gentleness and tenderness in all circumstances. Out of pure mercy, like an expert physician, it sometimes administers a sweet drug to us and at other times it prescribes a bitter medicine for us. Divine mercy deals with us as each of us deals mercifully with his body. This illustration should help us to realize that when God observes that His righteous servants are in peril of being destroyed at the hand of the worshippers of falsehood and that this would lead to great disorder He manifests His appropriate designs, whether from heaven or from earth, for the safeguarding of the righteous and for the putting down of disorder; for as He is Merciful, He is also Wise. All praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the Universe.

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]