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The True Islam

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad(ra), also known as Hazrat Musleh Maud, was the second Caliph and worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and served in this capacity from his election in 1914 through his death in 1965.

Over his half-century caliphate, he delivered scores of speeches on a variety of topics. Until now, many of these have only been available in the original Urdu. The Review of Religions team is currently translating many of these speeches into English and is pleased to present this speech, originally delivered in 1953, translated into English for the first time.

After reciting Tashahhud, Ta’awwuz, and Surah al-Fatihah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra stated:

‘The word “Islam” which appears in the Holy Qur’an has not only been used for the religion that was revealed to the Holy Prophet(sa), but rather, the true followers of earlier religions have also been described as Muslims by God Almighty. These followers were not confined to a limited period in history; rather, it is evident from the Holy Qur’an that those who lived in the time of Prophet Abraham(sa) and accepted him, and even those who accepted the prophets that came after him, have also been declared to be Muslims by the Holy Qur’an. In light of this Qur’anic expression, we can conclude that when the word Islam is used in reference to a particular group of people, it is used for the followers of the Holy Prophet(sa). Whoever believes in the Holy Prophet(sa), the Holy Qur’an, the Day of Judgment and the divine decree is a Muslim. However, there is one key difference in that one can only believe in the Holy Prophet(sa) after his advent; therefore, how could those who appeared before him, and had no knowledge at all regarding him, also be referred to as Muslims? Unlike the Christians, our doctrine does not state that those who came before the Holy Prophet(sa) have also professed their belief in him. This is exclusively a Christian doctrine, in that they believe that all the prophets who appeared before Jesus(as) had believed in him.

I once had the opportunity to debate with a prominent Christian priest, who was also the principal of a religious institute. I said to him that according to his beliefs, one cannot attain salvation without belief in the concept of atonement. However, the concept of atonement has only existed for the last 1900 years, but according to various religious traditions, people have been living in this world for thousands of years, while according to scientific research, they have existed for millions, rather billions of years; so how did they attain salvation during all that time? If it is said that they did not attain salvation, then in that case, Adam(as), Noah(as), Abraham(as), Zachariah(as), Ezekiel(as), who have all been mentioned in the Bible, would not have attained salvation – God forbid. On the other hand, if they did attain salvation, then one would have to admit that salvation can be achieved without believing in the Messiah. He replied in astonishment, “Who said they all attained salvation without believing in the Messiah; they all believed in the Messiah.” I asked him which verses of the Bible lent support to this argument, because one cannot make such claims based on mere conjecture.

I then said that if it was essential to profess belief in the Messiah then why was he not sent in the time of Adam(as); why was he sent after such a long period of time? He replied that the human brain had not developed enough to understand the concept of atonement. Therefore, God Almighty did not send the Messiah at the beginning, rather He sent him when mankind was able to fully comprehend this concept. I then asked if they could not even understand this concept, then how did they attain salvation, and if they were able to understand it, then why did God Almighty not send him earlier? In short, this is the Christian doctrine wherein even the earlier prophets also believed in the Messiah; however, the Muslims do not hold this belief. Even though the Holy Qur’an refers to the fact that earlier prophets prophesied the advent of the Holy Prophet(sa), this was in the broader sense, meaning that a prophet shall appear. It is not the case that the one foretelling the advent of a future prophet also professes belief in his prophethood. Nonetheless, the Holy Qur’an has also declared all those prophets and their followers to be Muslims.

Therefore, we learn that there are two types of Muslims. The first type are those who are from among the Ummah [the community of those who believe in Islam] of the Holy Prophet(sa) and the other meaning of the word Muslim applies to all those people for whom the Qur’anic definition of the term “Muslim” has been used. The word Muslim means the one who submits, shows obedience and follows the commandments of God Almighty. Now, whether one believes in the teaching that was revealed to Jesus(as), or to David(as), or to Abraham(as), they are all Muslims, in the sense that they demonstrate complete obedience to the commandants of God Almighty. The definition of the word “Muslim” in the time of Noah(as) would mean the one who followed and obeyed the teaching which was revealed to Noah(as). Likewise the meaning of the word Muslim in the time of Abraham(as) would be the one who followed the commandments of Abraham(as), and was thus a Muslim. Similarly, in the time of Moses(as) and Jesus(as), those who accepted their teachings would be considered Muslims.

In this era, however, one can be referred to as a Muslim by simply being a follower of the Holy Prophet(sa), even though it may be the case that they are devoid of the true reality of Islam. For example, some people are named Hatam Khan [in folklore, Hatam was known for his extreme generosity], but actually they are miserly; or one is given the name Abdur Rahman, but in fact he is a servant of Satan. The other meaning of the term Muslim would be in accordance to the true essence of the word. Thus, there are those who identify as Muslim in name only, just as one identifies oneself as Christian, Jewish, etc., and hence we refer to ourselves as Muslim. However, by virtue of the other definition, one who completely abides by the teaching of the Holy Prophet(sa) will be a Muslim; just as a follower of Jesus(as) would be a Muslim, the follower of Moses(as) would be a Muslim and one who believes in Abraham(as) would also be a Muslim. Therefore, we hold the distinction of being a Muslim in both respects. Firstly, we are Muslims just as the followers of all the other prophets are referred to as Muslims, and secondly we have been declared to be Muslims [by the Holy Qur’an].1

There are hundreds of books about Christianity, written by Christians themselves, in which they have admitted that the Bible has been subjected to interpolations and changes. In contrast to this, even the most bitter opponents of Islam have acknowledged that the Holy Qur’an exists today in the exact same form as originally presented to the world by the Holy Prophet(sa). 

There is no doubt that this name has been given to serve as a good omen, just as parents name their child, but there is a difference here in that the parents cannot instill the same qualities in the child that are reflected in the name. They can name their child Bahadur Khan [Brave], but the child is so cowardly that he is even afraid of a mouse, or they may name their child Hatam Khan, but he may be extremely miserly. But when God Almighty is All Powerful, whatever name He grants, He then has the power to also instil those qualities within that person. Therefore, this is not used simply to serve as a good omen; rather God Almighty wishes to make the person truly reflective of the name given.

So though the word “Muslim” is merely a name given to us, it also carries a subtle promise that if the followers of the Holy Prophet(sa) strive to make an effort, they will, in turn, be granted the ability to follow the commandments of God Almighty. Thus, the meaning of “True Islam” is to instill the spirit within us to adhere and demonstrate complete obedience upon hearing the commandments of God Almighty. Every individual who calls themselves a Muslim is a Muslim.

The Holy Prophet(sa) states:

This means that every child is born with a pure nature. It is the parents who teach the child their own religion and thus make them either Jewish, Christian or Zoroastrian. A child, however, is born in a pure state, meaning that the fear of God Almighty and His love is ingrained within its heart.

Thus, God Almighty has provided all the means through which the Muslims can make progress. On the one hand, God has bestowed every child with a pure nature at birth. On the other hand, He has created such an environment for the Muslims and has presented their faith in such a way that – if they wish to – they can easily adopt it and become the recipient of God Almighty’s rewards.

For instance, when God Almighty decreed that the followers of the Holy Prophet(sa) should be called Muslims, it indicated that whenever they had the desire to become Muslims in the true sense, they could do so. For this to take place, one of the means God Almighty made available was the preservation of the Holy Qur’an for all times to come. There are hundreds of books about Christianity, written by Christians themselves, in which they have admitted that the Bible has been subjected to interpolations and changes. In contrast to this, even the most bitter opponents of Islam have acknowledged that the Holy Qur’an exists today in the exact same form as originally presented to the world by the Holy Prophet(sa). Speaking about the Holy Qur’an, a fierce opponent of Islam, Sir William Muir, wrote that although he considered the Qur’an to be false and claimed that these words had been conjured by the one who brought forth this book, he could not deny the fact that the Qur’an which exists today is in the exact same form as was presented by Muhammad(sa).2

After all, an opponent will of course say that the Holy Prophet(sa) fabricated all of this himself, but regardless of this, it is indeed a remarkable certification that the Holy Qur’an exists in the same form today as it was first presented by the Holy Prophet(sa) to the world. They describe the Holy Qur’an in this way, however, they cannot make the same claim regarding the Gospels. In fact, some Christians have even expressed their envy that they too could describe the Gospels in similar fashion. This indeed is a great preeminence and excellence of the Holy Qur’an. Any intellectual Christian when reading the Gospels will always be doubtful of whether or not they are the actual words of Jesus(as), but the one who reads the Holy Qur’an will have full conviction that the entire Qur’an, from beginning to end, is in the exact form the Holy Prophet(sa) brought to the world. A Muslim may leave the fold of Islam, but as long as they profess belief in the Holy Qur’an, they will never harbor any doubts about its authenticity.

There are some sects within Islam who believe that certain parts of the Holy Qur’an are missing, but even among them no one claims that the parts of the Holy Qur’an that we do have been subject to interpolation. However, Christians concede that many verses of the Bible that exist today are inauthentic. When certain objections were raised by our Community, many verses of the Gospels were taken out by the Christians as a result. In fact, a new Bible has recently been published in the USA in which they have taken out all those verses which we raised objections against and they have said that these verses were added later by various commentators but were not part of the original scripture. However, irrespective of what they may claim, we have indeed triumphed because they have only come to realize now that these verses are wrong, whereas in light of the Holy Qur’an, we were already aware that these verses were incorrect.

Furthermore, in the Holy Qur’an, God Almighty has stated that He has made the book [i.e. the Holy Qur’an] easy for one to adhere to.3 It does not contain anything that contravenes human intellect, rationale or perception. It is possible that one may fail to properly understand the true meaning of a verse or misinterpret it and consequently fall into doubt about a certain matter. However, when a person discusses this with an individual who has a deeper knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, they will realize that in fact, they were in error and the Holy Qur’an is free from any flaws.

There are some sects within Islam who believe that certain parts of the Holy Qur’an are missing, but even among them no one claims that the parts of the Holy Qur’an that we do have have been subject to interpolation.

Nöldeke, a German orientalist, wrote in one of his books that the Holy Qur’an does not follow any sequence; its verses are completely disjointed in relation to their meaning. However, in the latter part of his life, he wrote that his view regarding the sequence of the Holy Qur’an was wrong and it was only when he closely studied it that he realized that in fact it had a magnificent sequence. It is only owing to one’s unfamiliarity with the text and their own misunderstanding that they begin to level allegations against Holy Qur’an. Thus, God Almighty has granted the Muslims such a book that has drawn praise even from non-Muslims and is also a book that one can practically follow.

True Islam, therefore does not mean that one claims to be a SunniKharajiAhl- e-AhadithShafiHanafi [various sects of Islam] or associates with any other group. In fact, true Islam means that one vows to demonstrate complete obedience to God Almighty and abides by every commandment of the Holy Prophetsa, because the word “Islam” means to show obedience and submission. Indeed, anyone who associates himself with the Holy Prophetsa will be called a Muslim in terms of their identity, irrespective of whether they are SunniShiaChakralvi or Ahl-e- Ahadth, but in regards to true Islam, one can only be called a Muslim when the sprit to follow the commandments of God Almighty is instilled within them. As it is stated in the Holy Qur’an that those who believed in Abraham(as) were Muslims. Similarly, those who believed in Moses(as) were Muslims, even though they did not have the Qur’an. Therefore, the very spirit of affirming to show obedience to God Almighty is known as Islam. When one instils this spirit within them, then regardless of the differences they may have with one another, they are a Muslim because they have vowed not to prostrate before anyone except God Almighty.

When the companions(ra) of the Holy Prophet(sa) launched an attack on Iran, the Iranian King, perceiving the Arabs to be wretched and lowly, thought that by bribing them, they would return to their homes. Therefore, he wrote to the commander of the Muslim army and requested him to send some of his representatives to meet with him as he wanted to discuss something. Subsequently, the commander sent a few companionsra. Generally people are accustomed to bowing their heads before the kings, but the Muslims would not bow before anyone except God. Therefore when they went to meet him, they marched in, tapping their spears on the carpet of the royal court and upon entering said: Assalamo Alaikum [may peace be upon you]. The king was perplexed at their behavior but since he had invited them himself, he offered them a seat and said, “You are a people who eat ordure and are completely unaware of the different kinds of foods eaten in the civilized world. You are unacquainted with the laws of marriage and are completely uncivilized and ignorant. You take your mothers into wedlock after your fathers pass away. What concern do you have with kingship and sovereignty? Seeing your impoverished state, I have decided to give each solider one gold coin and two gold coins to the officers. So take this money and return home.”

This shows you how much worth they had in his eyes. One would not expect the soldiers of even the smallest of states to commit treachery by giving them approximately 10 rupees and its officers 20 rupees. If today, someone was to offer a lieutenant 20 rupees and ask him to betray someone, he would in turn slap the individual. Not because he was incapable of showing disloyalty, but rather because the other considered him so lowly that he would be willing to accept a mere 20 rupees to commit treason. However, the king made a comparable offer to the Muslim army. When the companions(ra) heard this they replied, “Indeed, what you have said is absolutely true. Our condition was exactly as you have described and we do not deny this at all. However, God Almighty has now sent His prophet to us and our condition has been completely transformed. God Almighty has promised to eradicate cruelty and disorder from this world. Therefore, as long as cruelty and disorder exists, we shall continue to fight against it and will continue to do so until the sovereignty of God is not established in the world.”

The king became enraged by this response and asked for a sack full of dirt and then ordered for it to be placed on the head of the senior most member of the delegation. Similar to the Punjabi idiom:

– ‘dirt be cast on your head’, in the same way he said that dirt would be thrown on their heads and they may do as they please. This companionra calmly lowered his head and placed the sack on top. He then said to his compatriots, “Let us go! The king of Iran has handed us the soil of his land with his own hands.” They then mounted their horses and raced off. When the king heard this, he ordered for them to be captured and to bring back the soil. However, by then they had traveled far off into the distance.4

Thus, this is the true spirit of Islam. The companions(ra) did not hold anyone dearer than God and only accepted His sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. The Messiah of Nazareth(as) could only reach the conclusion that God’s sovereignty was established in the heavens, but it was yet to be established on the earth. Therefore, he taught his disciples the following prayer, “O Lord! May Your kingdom be established on the earth as it is in heaven.”5 However, the Holy Prophet(sa) stated that God Almighty’s sovereignty is established on the earth just as it is in the heavens; such was the difference between the two prophets in terms of their grandeur and eminence. Jesus(as) believed that God Almighty’s sovereignty could be established on the earth but that it had not happened as of yet, but the Holy Prophet(sa) declared that God’s sovereignty is established on the earth as it is in the heavens.6 The reality is that there is no other sovereignty except the sovereignty of God. It was this very belief that made the companions(ra) extremely courageous; after all why would they fear anyone else if they believed God to be their Master? In such a case, one will deem everything else to be mere idols made of clay. Thus, regardless of whether it is a command issued by a general, colonel, or anyone else for that matter, they will affirm that God is their ultimate ruler and stands with them. This very spirit and passion is, in fact, true Islam. True Islam is not the countless intricate details found in the books of jurisprudence; true  Islam is not the detailed explanations found  in the ahadith; true Islam is not the expositions which have been presented by Islamic scholars; rather, true Islam is the spirit of establishing the sovereignty of God in one’s heart and never to bow before anyone except God Almighty and to proclaim that He is the Living and All-Powerful God. If this is not the case then how could those who believed in Noah(as) be considered Muslims? How could those who believed in Abraham(as) be considered Muslims? They did not have the Qur’an, nor the hadith before them, yet despite this they were Muslims. This is because they agreed to follow every commandment of God Almighty. Whenever a nation resolves to only do whatever God Almighty commands them, God then enters into their hearts. No nation in the world possesses the strength to obliterate an individual in whose heart God Almighty has entered; for the one who fights against such an individual in actuality attempts to fight God – but no one has the power to defeat God.

Nonetheless, I wish to draw the attention of my dear friends towards the fact that although God Almighty has accorded you with a name [i.e. Muslim], this is not owing to any excellence on your part. You were granted this name approximately nine hundred – one thousand years ago, from the moment your forefathers accepted Islam. However, as some of you are aware, there are many people who, when they sit alone with their friends, say this world does not have a creator; some deny the Day of Judgment and others harbour doubts about the prophethood of the Holy Prophet(sa), all the while they call themselves Muslims.

When I went for Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], there were two Muslims and a Hindu barrister also on-board the ship. All three of them would spend all day mocking God and religion. One day, during a conversation, the Hindu spoke a word which was against the honor of the Holy Prophet(sa). Hearing this the two Muslims became enraged and said, “Be warned! Never again use such a word for the Holy Prophet(sa).” Since they would take up their allegations with me each day, I laughed and said, “The Holy Prophet(sa) was God’s representative, but you do not even believe in the existence of God. If God does not exist, then how does the question of the Holy Prophet(sa) even arise?” Upon this they said, “Very well, even though we may not believe in God, we will not tolerate any word spoken against the honor of the Holy Prophet(sa).”

Similarly, in 1924, when I traveled to Europe, an English gentleman came to meet me who was an atheist. We began speaking on the subject of religion and during our conversation, he suddenly uttered a profanity against the Holy Prophet(sa). It is my habit that I always speak to the opponents in a clam and soft tone because we cannot convey the message unless we speak in a soft manner. Thus, I was speaking to him in a very loving manner but without any aggression from my part, he unexpectedly used an abusive word for the Holy Prophet(sa). In response to this, I used the exact same remark about Jesus(as). Upon hearing this, his eyes filled with rage and he said, “What does Jesus(as) have to do with this?” I replied, “You were speaking on the subject of God, what was the connection with the Holy Prophet(sa) that you had to make such a crude remark about him? Now, whenever you speak ill of the Holy Prophet(sa), I will say the exact same about Jesus(as).”’

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