And We made them leaders who guided people by Our command, and We sent revelation to them enjoining the doing of good works, and the observing of Prayer, and the giving of alms. And they were worshippers of Us alone. (21:74)
I am only twenty four minutes through watching a half an hour documentary on BBC iplayer entitled Rosh Hashana: Science Vs Religion and I suddenly feel compelled to pause the documentary and pen my thoughts.
The premise of this documentary is that Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, interviews three well known atheists (in increasing order of militancy), from Susan Greenfield (the public face of Neuroscience for many), Jim Al-Khalili (theoretical physicist) and finally, our favourite atheist of the century, Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist – in case you hadn’t heard). Lord Sacks’ purpose in interviewing is not to convince them about the existence of God but rather to convince them that science and religion can work hand in hand towards a common goal in the search for truth (a laudable goal indeed).
Lord Sacks seems to get through Dr. Greenfield without any trouble. She agrees – science and religion occupy two different spheres and therefore both are equally valid within different realms. Lord Sacks does indeed seem very pleased with himself. One atheist down, two to go! Dr. Al-Khalili is a little more difficult to persuade and advances his view (albeit in a very polite manner) that religious belief is nothing more than conjecture upon topics that we may well uncover through science. He speaks of scientists looking behind the curtain of The Big Bang and even poking around its causes. To this, Lord Sacks does indeed give an excellent answer – that every further beauty of nature and creation, for a believer in God, is only a further glimpse into the attributes of the Creator, which He has stamped onto every particle of His creation.
Then however comes Dr. Dawkins. The conversation begins amicably enough, but seems to come undone when Dr. Dawkins poses a very direct question to Lord Sacks: “You don’t really believe that Abraham talked to God and God bargained with Him?” And here stood the Elephant in the room. Lord Sacks tried to squirm, God bless him, he really did try to squirm out of it, but before he could get out of Dr. Dawkins’ crosshairs, another question came down upon him: “Do you actually think that Abraham did truss Isaac on an altar (referring to the Jewish belief of the sacrifice of Isaac, by Abraham)”. Lord Sacks’ reply stunned me: “I definitely think something happened”…and goes on to explain the religious significance of how the sacrifice was a parable for why you shouldn’t sacrifice your children. The question was again directly put to him and again, like an experienced politician, he maneuvered his way out of answering the question by again talking on the significance of this seminal event in the Jewish religion.
This saddened me greatly. I am not Jewish and indeed, I believe that it was Ishmael (peace be upon him) who was taken for sacrifice, yet I was (and am) stunned that the Chief Rabbi of Judaism in the UK was unable to say: “yes, I believe that revelation occurred and yes I believe that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son and yes I believe that he trussed his son upon an altar”. He has ended up denying the most fundamental aspect of religion: revelation and then further, by refusing to answer the question, has indirectly denied one of the most fundamentally important events in Judaism-their belief in the sacrifice of Isaac.
What is the cause of this malady other than the rejection of God’s prophets? With the rejection of the prophets of God – first Jesus and then the Holy Prophet Muhammad and now the Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all), they have cut themselves from the source of revelation-God’s prophets-and revelation has consequently stopped descending upon their hearts. When they look at their religious experience, they do not see the same signs of God’s interaction with them as they read about in their holy books and they have only one of two options to proceed further: either they believe that God used to speak, but no longer speaks or they believe that the stories of old – of Abraham (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him ) speaking and walking “with God” and of dialogue between God and Man, are no more than just that – stories and nothing more, that have metaphorical truth but no literal truth to them. As Dr. Dawkins’ rightly points out in this documentary (and I thought I’d never start a sentence with those words!), surely it is important – over and above the metaphorical meanings of these stories and narrations – to find out whether these events actually happened. It seems that of the two options highlighted above: belief that God has stopped speaking or belief that God never did, Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, is leaning towards the latter. Perhaps it was a progression; perhaps he used to believe that God used to speak but of what comfort is that? In what way could such a belief engender love for God? Surely, such a belief that God cared more for earlier generations and cares nothing for me and nothing for my pining heart to know Him and to hear His Voice, is nothing more than a slap in the face.
It strikes me that the words of the Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are so pertinent in this instance:
The truth is that the thinking of even those who express themselves to some degree in support of the existence of God was not altogether free from atheistic ideas, nor is it free now. Consider the Brahmos (a sect among the Hindus). They do not regard God as possessing perfect attributes. They do not believe that He possesses the attribute of speech as a living being should. They do not regard him as Controller and Sustainer. They do not believe that God is Ever-Living and All Sustaining and that He can speak to righteous hearts. They consider Him as fictitious and like the dead Who has been invented by human reason through its own imagination. No voice is ever heard from Him. In fact, He is not God, but an idol lying in a corner. I wonder how these people are pleased with such childish ideas and what fruit do they expect from their fictitious thinking? Why do they not search like true seekers for the God Who is Powerful and Ever-Living and is capable of affirming His own existence and can revive the dead in an instant by the call: I am Allah? When they know that the light of reason is smoky then why do they not seek perfect light? They admit that they are ill, but they do not seek a remedy. It is a pity that they do not open their eyes so that they might see the truth. Why is not the covering lifted from their ears so that they can hear the Divine voice? Why are their hearts so twisted and why is their understanding so warped that the objection to which they have laid themselves open they advance against the followers of true revelation?[Braheeni Ahmadiyyah Volume IV, (Amritsar, Riadh Hind Press, 1884); Now published in Ruhani Khazain, Volume 1 (London, 1984) pp. 283-299 footnote 11} ]– taken from Essence of Islam Volume II, Chapter: Revelation, Inspiration, Vision and Dream
Abdullah bin Amar reported that the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated:
“Surely things will happen to my people as happened earlier to Israelites (the Jewish nation), they will resemble each other like one shoe in a pair resembles the other to the extent that if anyone among the Israelites has openly committed adultery to his mother there will be some who will do this in my Ummah as well. Verily the Israelites were divided into 72 sections but my people will be divided into 73 sections, all of them will be in the fire except one.” The companions asked, ‘Who are they O Messenger of Allah,’ Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “They are those who will be like me and my companions.” (Tirmidhi, Kitabul Imaan)
This hadith is often quoted by Ahmadi Muslims for various reasons and in various ways we use it to assert our belief that we are that one community – that “Jamaat” which is established on the pattern of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his Noble Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all). Yet there is one similarity that perhaps is not highlighted enough – indeed, cannot be highlighted enough. That is, the similarity between the opponents of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the opponents of the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) within the Muslim community and outside it – both of whom deny that revelation continues in their respective Ages and both of whom assert that the claimant to revelation is either a liar or is merely mad. The second similarity lies between the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and them all) and the followers of the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), both communities of which not only assert that Divine revelation continues in their respective Ages, but themselves witness the evidence of Divine revelation within their own day-to-day lives. We have much evidence of the companions of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them all) experiencing not only the lower forms of revelation such as true dreams, but experiencing its higher forms also, of verbal revelation – ilham, or wahi. This too is the case with the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and this is the ultimate evidence, for it is the stamp of God Almighty by which He Himself testifies to the truth of a community, for why would God speak in abundance to those who have deviated from the right path? He is Holy and being particular in his Holiness, would only vouchsafe His speech in abundance to that community which has be purified at the hand of One Whom He Himself appointed for their purification:
Verily, Allah has conferred a favour on the believers by raising among them a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His Signs, and purifies them and teaches them the Book and Wisdom; and, before that, they were surely in manifest error. (3:165)
This shall stand, I believe, as the ever-living proof of any divine community and if anyone desires to examine – critically examine the truth of the claim that Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is indeed the Messiah for this Age, sent for the re-establishment of the true and unsullied teachings of Islam and of the Holy Quran, then this is all that would be needed to prove his claim or, indeed, to disprove his claim. This was made even easier by the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) when he stated on numerous occasions in various forms and ways that whosoever desired to find out whether he is true in his claim, needs only to ask Allah with sincerity and perseverance on the issue, for a length of time –in some cases he stated a month, in other cases two months –and he promised that Allah Himself would subsequently guide that individual to his truth through proofs that would be clear and genuine. This falls under the general promise of Allah’s in the Qur’an that:
And as for those who strive in Our path — We will surely guide them in Our ways. And verily Allah is with those who do good. (29:70)
The significance of this is that it is open to all and does not require one to believe in anything other than one’s own relationship and experience with God. One need not place one’s trust in another person’s story or another person’s experience of God – one need only trust in God, the Fountainhead of all Life. When we take into account that those who have denied God’s Prophets have ended up in a form of atheism – denying that God even used to speak in the past or used to interact with people in the past, choosing, like Lord Sacks, instead to dodge direct questions on the issue – we see that this is no small matter. Belief and disbelief in a prophet of God is no less than belief or disbelief in God – for it is only through a prophet of God that the existence of God can be truly established in the heart of a human, this being the reason that He sends them. Belief in God based on stories of things that happened in the past is, as the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) stated, nothing more than another form of idolatry. May Allah open the eyes of the whole world, especially the Muslim people, and guide them away from the path of previous religions and previous nations who, having rejected the Messengers of Allah, ended up rejecting Allah Himself. This is the message of the verse quoted at the beginning of this post, that it is only through the sending of prophets – leaders – who were guided by revelation, that the true worship of Allah alone is established in the world.