Transcribed by Amatul Hadi Ahmad
The Review of Religions, March 1994
The following question was raised at a question and answer session chaired by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at West Ferry in Australia on September 30th, 1983.
Why is it essential for human beings to have the help of prophets and why do prophets have certain names and denominations attached to them?
The question raises the issue that if a prophet is born amongst the Muslims, why should Christians change their religion to accept that message? The same is true of Hindus, of Confucianists, of Zoroastrians and so many others. Why should man be put to such a trial, not only to change his way of life but also to change the name of the religion in which he is born. This, in fact, is the fundamental obstruction in the way of acceptance of other prophets. However, the question is automatically resolved if the way in which the Holy Quran explains the office of prophethood is understood.
According to the Quran, the theory of prophethood is that God always makes Himself known by manifesting Himself through the agency of those whom He chooses to speak to and He does choose only such people who are well suited to serve His cause. For example, in a society in which most people are not truthful – even if they don’t lie directly but imagine things and exaggerate – if God chooses a certain person who is given to these vices, consciously or unconsciously, what would be the result? Would God not be misrepresented to the people? If He chooses someone who is weak of heart and who cannot go through the stress of opposition, will he not lose the message half way? So, God has to be selective. He has to select only such a person who is highly capable, mentally as well as in the quality of heart, to be perfectly suited to the office of prophethood. This is how He, according to the philosophy of Islam chooses His messengers.
The second part is that whatever name He gives to a religion is just a transient thing. What is important for man is, whether someone has been sent by his Creator or not. That is the only thing which man should judge. If he worries about labels, then he is dictating to his Lord. He attaches a condition to God and says that whoever comes must have this tag with him or he would not, for instance, accept Christ if he came with a different tag. So the Muslims, naturally, would not believe in a prophet from among the Christians. They would say that the name of the religion which is true is Islam and so they will only accept God’s messengers under the condition that He sends them with their tags and not any other. This means that you are dictating terms to your God. All that God is interested in is that He wants to see loyalty towards Him with no other loyalty standing in the way. That is the only test He puts mankind through and whenever He sends a messenger, man is always put to the same test. Some adhere to the religion of the people they are born amongst. They say: how can we accept such and such a person when he has come from a different country, from a different race, from amongst a different people and in the name of a different religion when we were expecting somebody to come from within our own religion. These are the hindrances created in the way of man’s acceptance of the truth. So, only those people accept messages whose loyalties lie with their Creator alone and not with some denomination or name of a religion. This is why we are duty bound to seek out a prophet wherever he comes. But why is this so?
The reason why we need prophets is that prophets come only during an age which is distorted. They appear at a time when mankind has, as a whole but with the exception of a few, gone astray; when man has turned his back to his Lord and begun to feel the pride of knowledge; when he considers himself not dependent on any outward source and believes himself to have gained adulthood and majority; when he thinks that he does not stand in need of any outside help or any supernatural interference. Only then does God send prophets to cut man back to size with the message that either he turn to his Lord and submit to Him or else be destroyed as a civilization. And that is exactly what has happened in previous times.
There is a fallacy from which the present day man is suffering. We consider that we are the most advanced people on earth and a person belonging to previous generations was backward. Since he was not mature, he could not see things as wisely as we can and could not make choices because he was so far behind in history. This fallacy from which man is suffering is entirely wrong because if you look at the march of humanity and take a cross section at any stage in history, wherever you take a cross-section, the man of that age would be the most advanced. He would be going through the same psychological complex of superiority because to him you are not visible. To the man of previous ages, the only visible trace is of the man behind him. This is the situation of man whether he be of 4000 years ago or of 6000 years ago. He has the same haughty attitude and thinks that he is at the summit of things – the first in the procession of manhood. He thinks he belongs to people who have attained maturity in terms of human thought and so he is free. According to the Holy Quran, the same question was raised by Pharoah some 3000 or so years ago. Why do we need a God or Moses? Are we not adult enough? We know what is wrong and what is right. We alone are our gods and we don’t need any other god. Exactly the same question was raised by people before the Pharoahs’ the people of Noah and yet others before them. So, this is a question which has been asked again and again.
However, if we accept that man needs an outside agency, that is, a messenger of Allah to guide him – he needs it today as much as he needed it in the past.
The second aspect from which we should look at this very important and philosophical question is this that however advanced man is, in relation to his Creator, he stands at the same place of ignorance. As Einstein once beautifully put it, in a way, you can’t be closer to God because He is unlimited in His powers and His attributes. So the ratio which, according to Einstein, a knowledgeable or a wise person has with his Creator, is mathematically the same ratio as an ignorant person will have with his Creator because man is zero as compared to the infinity of God. So, the relationship will remain always unchanged. However much progress you make in this age with respect to your Creator and His wisdom, you remain ignorant and an ignorant person always stands in need of guidance from a wiser person. That relationship cannot be changed.