God in the 21st Century – Keynote Address – Islam
Keynote Address by Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at Conference of World Religions –
“Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim – In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, Ever Merciful.
All distinguished guests – Assalamo Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatohu – peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.
First of all I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the distinguished guests for attending this event. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to the eminent guest speakers, who in a very short space of time, have outlined their beliefs and views. I fully understand that to fully explain one’s beliefs in such a short period of time is impossible and so perhaps our distinguished guests will have been unable to discuss everything that they would have liked.
Nonetheless, the fact that the people of different backgrounds have gathered together this evening upon one platform proves that we, who are the followers of various religions, are united by a common desire and objective. And that common objective is to work towards improving the lives of the Creation of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth – amongst whom human beings have been deemed to be the very highest form.
Over the course of the past year, various events have been held to mark and celebrate the Centenary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United Kingdom, but today’s event is the best of all. It is an excellent means of providing a common platform for people to come together to discuss the importance of God in these times. Thus, those who have arranged this event are deserving of our thanks and gratitude. I am personally particularly grateful because through this evening’s event I have been introduced to many new people.
These sentiments of gratitude I feel actually turn my attention towards that God, who according to the teachings of my religion has commanded man to show gratitude to his fellow man wherever it is due. Thus, if someone is kind to you it is necessary to express your appreciation to them, because being grateful to man is an essential requirement of being grateful to God Almighty. It is this perception and portrayal of God that Islam provides. Certainly, if a person who follows the true teachings of Islam and who truly believes in God were to act upon just this one teaching with sincerity, he would find that his gratitude would be a means of spreading love and affection in society, just as a blossoming flower spreads beauty and fragrance amongst its surroundings regardless of which century this is being spread in.
If every single one of us were to act in this way we would find that the burning hatreds and conflicts of the world that emerge at different times, in different ways and on different occasions would all be buried once and for all and would be replaced by love and peace at all times and at all places.
Some people may think what I am saying is rather idealistic and impossible to practically achieve. Yet, when we look at the long history of religions we come to realise that such a compassionate and caring society is exactly what God desires.
God wills that mankind achieves these noble objectives and reaches such a moral pinnacle. It is for these reasons that God has continually sent His prophets and righteous representatives to all parts of the world. They have been sent in order to reform mankind and to develop a spirit of mutual love, compassion and brotherhood amongst all people. God sent His representatives so that people would be drawn towards fulfilling the rights of God Almighty and discharging the rights of one another.
God’s Prophets and chosen people were able to form around themselves a community of such people who strived to lead their lives according to His teachings, whilst those who did not accept them invariably met a sorry fate. Whenever God sent His representatives they were not universally accepted and there were people who opposed religion and dissented. They would say that the claimant was merely trying to instil fear into the people and that in reality there was no need to believe in a God who was said to be the Possessor of all Powers. Yet, those very people who denied God and who opposed the Prophets were ultimately always destroyed.
The Holy Qur’an recounts the incidents of such people who moved far away from God Almighty and consequently became embroiled in various trials and tribulations and were ultimately left ruined. Conversely, those who established a close union with God were successful and always proved to be victorious. Such narrations are given not only in the Qur’an, but in the scriptures of other religions as well. Upon reading or hearing these accounts we are forced to consider and question, whether these stories are just myths and fables or are they steeped in reality? Did those consequences that God’s chosen people warned about actually come to occur? Were the signs fulfilled that God’s representatives proclaimed? Did God Almighty reward and bestow His bounties on His chosen ones? As a result of the teachings of the Prophets, did people who believed in God come to walk upon a path paved with love and compassion for others
In this short time, I cannot explain each individual issue in depth, but I can attest to the fact that the history of religion proves that the answer to all of these questions is most certainly ‘Yes’. The Holy Scripture that I believe in, the Holy Qur’an, clearly informs us that all of these things are true and that God Almighty sends his prophets with a mission to inculcate the very highest possible standards of spirituality in mankind by forming a close union with God. Through that union man comes to fulfil not only the rights of God, but also by displaying the very highest moral standards they are led to fulfilling the due rights of God’s Creation. And as I said earlier, amongst God’s Creation it is human beings who have been deemed to be the very best by God Almighty. Both of these fundamental teachings are such that if they are established in any society, the people who abide by them will not only attain the pleasure of God, but will also be those who spread love, affection and brotherhood.
According to my beliefs as a Muslim, Allah the Almighty sent the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa for the reformation of the entire world and to instil these paramount objectives amongst mankind. In his efforts to reform, he preached this Divine message constantly and would strive endlessly, day and night. His efforts were not limited to preaching but rather each and every night he would bow down before His Lord in prayer, weeping with such anguish and heartache that the place where he prostrated would become submerged in tears.
What was it that the Holy Prophetsa prayed for so earnestly? It was not for his personal wealth or power. It was not to usurp any government or administration. Rather, his every prayer was consumed by utter torment beseeching His Lord that why people were not spiritually and morally reforming. Why did they refuse to abandon their cruelties? Why were they unwilling to forsake wrongdoing and evil? And because of all of this why were they throwing themselves into an abyss of destruction? The Holy Prophet’ssa agony and anguish was so deep and his state of anxiety and despair was so great, that in the Qur’an Allah addressed him directly, asking if he would grieve himself to death because they did not listen or heed his message.
However, God Almighty is He who listens to earnest and heartfelt prayers and so he answered those prayers of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa. History testifies to the fact that those very people who were ignorant and uncivilised, drunkards, fornicators, gamblers, thieves and involved in all types of vices, came to rid themselves of all of these evils and replaced them with the most magnificent moral values instead. Those very people were transformed. Those very people developed an unbreakable bond with God Almighty. Never could any worldly power have brought about such a spiritual revolution.
In worldly terms the early Muslims were very weak, and even if the Muslims did gain any power, it was at a much later time. During that initial period they remained poor, destitute and without means, yet due to their passionate and sincere faith and their close relationship with God they were ever ready to sacrifice their lives for His sake. They developed the highest standards of sacrifice and such an ardent desire to serve mankind that they were ready to hand over all of their possessions and whatever they had in their homes for the sake of helping other people.
If we compare and contrast the lives of those people before and after they came to believe in God, there can be no doubt of the great transformation and metamorphosis that occurred in their hearts, which was entirely due to having gained knowledge and understanding of God. Those very people came to witness the clear signs of God’s Help. The spiritual revolution that occurred was not the result of chance or due to a desire to achieve any worldly goal; rather, they witnessed and saw for themselves that the sentiments of love in the heart of the Holy Prophetsa towards other people were unparalleled.
Even Islam’s most bitter and ferocious foes were compelled to accept this fact. They were witnesses to the truth that the Holy Prophetsa responded to their brutality, hatred and vicious assaults with nothing but forgiveness, mercy and compassion. They were witnesses to the truth that when the Holy Prophetsa gained victory over the sworn enemies of Islam, who in the past had left no stone unturned in their efforts to destroy the religion, he responded with peace and forgiveness by saying to them:
“I have no personal enmity towards you. I do not wish to take any revenge for the cruelties and persecution that you inflicted upon us in the past. As long as you guarantee that you will live peacefully you are free to remain in Makkah. You will not be treated cruelly or unjustly as a result of your religious differences or beliefs.”
When the countless enemies of Islam observed this incomparable example of benevolence, they had no option but to acknowledge it. To give just one example: Upon seeing the conduct of the Holy Prophetsa an opponent of Islam called Iqrama who had committed monumental cruelties against the Muslims, instinctively said that only a person who was truly from God and whose love for mankind was peerless could act in such a compassionate way. Seeing the example of the Holy Prophetsa those enemies of Islam came to repeatedly and openly proclaim that the law revealed to him was unquestionably true and that the title the Qur’an had conferred upon him as being a ‘mercy for all mankind’ was entirely justified.
They acknowledged that from every organ, every pore and every fibre of his body gushed forth a spring of mercy and compassion for humanity. They openly affirmed that the Holy Prophet’ssa every act was an example of the very highest standards of mercy and proved the truthfulness of the Word of God. In light of these compassionate teachings one question or allegation could potentially be raised, and indeed, is regularly invoked by some non-Muslims. The allegation is that if Islam does teach Muslims to show love and sympathy towards others and if the Holy Prophetsa truly was the ‘mercy for all of mankind,’ then why were religious wars fought? To understand this question you must be acquainted with the true early history of Islam and keep in mind two important points.
Firstly, history testifies to the fact, which even impartial non-Muslim orientalists recognise, that in the early years after the Holy Prophetsa made his claim, he and his followers were subjected to the most barbaric and horrific persecution in Makkah by those who were either not religious or were idol worshippers. Indeed many companions of the Holy Prophetsa including men, women and children, lost their lives. To give just one example of the brutal nature of the opposition: There were instances of Muslim women having each of their legs tied to a different camel and then the camels were made to run in opposing directions, so that the bodies of the Muslim ladies were literally wrenched apart and split asunder into two pieces.
In fact, there is a very long list of atrocities that occurred but I am unable to mention them all here. Yet, despite enduring such inhumane and savage cruelty the Muslims did not seek any form of revenge, either openly or in secret. Rather, after years of facing sustained and bitter persecution the Holy Prophetsa and most of his companions migrated from Makkah. Some of the Muslims went to live in the city of Madinah, whilst some travelled to other places. In Madinah, where the Holy Prophetsa migrated, a large number of people had come to accept Islam. However the disbelievers of Makkah could not bear to see that the Muslims were now living peacefully and had become well settled.
Thus, just 18 months after migration they attacked the Muslims of Madinah with an army of 1000 extremely well equipped soldiers. In comparison the Muslim army was made up of just 300 people bearing almost no weaponry; just a handful of swords and arrows. If the relative merits of the two armies is assessed then there is no doubt that the best option for the Muslims would have been to retreat and save themselves, rather than to stand up and defend themselves. However, at that time, Allah the Almighty finally commanded the Holy Prophetsa to fight back. This is mentioned in Chapter 22, Verses 40-41 of the Qur’an, where Allah says:
“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them — Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty—”
From these verses it becomes clear that when those who had been remorselessly targeted were given permission to fight it was given in order to not only defend themselves but in order to safeguard all religions. And so the second reason permission for war was granted was that if the oppressors had not been forcefully repelled then the enemies of religion would not have let Christians live in peace, nor Jews, nor Muslims and nor the people of any other religion. The truth was that these opponents of Islam wished to eliminate all peace-loving people and instead engulf the world in strife and disorder for their own personal gains.
It was upon this background that Allah told the Muslims to not be afraid and that the powerful Makkan army would be defeated because Allah’s Help was with the Muslims. History testifies to the fact that with the Help of God, the few and entirely ill equipped Muslims were able to defeat their opponents who had wished to destroy the peace of the world. Where on the one hand this was a victory for Islam, it was also a timeless triumph for every person who desires for peace to be established in the world. It was a victory for every person who desires for human values to always be preserved and it was a victory for all people who believe religion to be a force for good and for establishing peace in the world.
During the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and during the respective eras of his four Khalifas (the Rightly Guided Successors), history testifies to the fact that the wars fought by the Muslims were only fought to end cruelty and to establish peace in the world. They were never fought as a means of inflicting cruelty, injustice or terrorism. When the era of the Khilafat of the Rightly Guided Successors came to an end, in its place a form of monarchy was established. Regrettably, during that era the majority of wars were fought for political or worldly reasons. However, it must be made clear that those wars fought to expand kingdoms and to increase power were not in any way fought in accordance with the teachings of Islam as taught by the Holy Qur’an.
In a similar vein, the actions of Muslim governments or opposition rebel groups today cannot be said to reflect or represent the teachings of Islam in any shape or form. I say without any hesitation that the acts of certain extremist Muslims today, which they conduct in the name of Islam, are actually only serving to defame Islam and religion itself. If people follow such a religious ideology it is quite clear that religion or God cannot play a positive role in establishing peace in the world. Indeed, we would have to admit that those people who say that religion has been a cause of spreading disorder in the world have been proved correct.
However, my faith in my religion increases when I read the prophecies and guidance of the Qur’an and of the Holy Prophetsa about the latter days. Both the Qur’an and the Holy Prophetsa prophesied that a time would come when Muslims would forget the true teachings of Islam and would not follow the Qur’an. They further prophesied that those Muslims, who would call themselves religious clerics and leaders, would in reality be the source of strife, corruption and disorder. This is exactly what we are witnessing today. As I have said when I observe all of this, my faith does not diminish but rather increases.
I do not become frustrated and nor do I lose hope, because where the Qur’an and the Holy Prophetsa prophesied about the dire state of today’s world, they also gave glad tidings that for sake of reviving true Islam, a person would be sent from amongst the Muslims who would be the Promised Messiah and the Imam Mahdi (the Guided One). He would be sent to end all religious wars, and at every level of society would transform all forms of cruelty into peace and harmony. He would work tirelessly to fulfil these noble objectives and would infuse the true spirit of Islam amongst his followers. That true spirit has been outlined in the following verse of the Qur’an where it says:
“O ye who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Allah is aware of what you do.”
Thus, this verse outlines the necessity for always being fair and just. The standard of justice required is that even if you have to testify against yourself, your parents or your loved ones, you must do so without hesitation, because such justice is a guarantor for establishing peace. This is the standard that Allah the Almighty has taught in the Qur’an; but the question is whether such a high standard can ever really be achieved? As I mentioned earlier, the Qur’an and the Holy Prophetsa prophesied that a time of disorder, chaos and corruption would befall the world and we can see with our own eyes the way in which this has been fulfilled to the letter. Indeed, it is a great proof that the truthful Word of God has been clearly manifested. In the same way, along with the revival of the faith, which is to occur through the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, this perfect standard of justice will also be established in the world whereby the enmity of a nation will not prove an obstacle in the establishment of justice.
We, Ahmadi Muslims, are fortunate that we not only have faith in these prophecies, but we also have a firm belief that the person who was to be sent by God Almighty has come in the person of our Community’s Founder, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian. We further believe that the task of reviving Islam, which was started by the Promised Messiahas, is continuing today through the institution of Khilafat – that is the system of spiritual succession. The truth of the Promised Messiahas was proved through God’s help and support and countless Divine signs in his favour.
One of the signs was an increase in earthquakes and other natural disasters resulting from the fact that mankind had forgotten its Creator and because of the widespread disorder and strife in the world. History proves that the numbers of natural disasters in the past century has exceeded those of previous centuries. Another sign was a prophecy by the Promised Messiahas relating to the downfall of the Tsar of Russia. It was prophesied that due to the Tsar’s brutalities, he would be stripped of his title and reign. As history shows, this also came true. A third prophecy was about the world wars. We have witnessed two World Wars. If we do not mend our ways and recognise our Creator we will witness more of such wars and their horrific consequences. All these prophecies prove that he was a warner from God sent to reform man and bring him towards the right path.
Further, it is quite clear that without the help of God, a claimant from a small and remote village in India could not have become renowned throughout the world. And following his demise, without God’s help he could not have left behind such a flourishing Community. A Community which, due to being firmly attached to the institution of Khilafat, was furthering his mission throughout the world, which was to develop a relationship between mankind and God Almighty and of fulfilling the rights of mankind whilst upholding the very highest standards of justice. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has very limited resources and so without God’s Help its message could not have spread to the corners of the world.
Thus, where on the one hand this all proves the existence of God, on the other it shows that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been firmly blessed with Divine help and support. Today, it is the members of the Ahmadiyya Community who are making great financial sacrifices in an effort to help others and are even sacrificing their lives in an effort to establish and maintain peace in the world. In some countries our Community is severely persecuted and the most horrific cruelties are perpetrated against us, but we do not react or retaliate in any way through which the peace of society could be put at any risk.
This is undoubtedly because we act upon the Divine teachings of the Qur’an which were perfectly outlined and explained by the Founder of our Community. And so it is my prayer that the world comes to understand the need of the time. I hope and pray that we, who are the representatives of different faiths and religions, and who have gathered here today to particularly demonstrate these loving teachings, all strive towards worshipping the One God, by treating His Creation with justice and by fulfilling their due rights. Certainly, these are the original teachings of all religions.
We should utilise all of our resources and capabilities to foster a better society, to help God’s Creation and to spread love, affection and peace at every level. The urgent and critical need of the world today is to establish peace and faith in God. If the world understood this reality then all countries, whether large or small, would not, in the name of defence spending, allocate millions and billions of dollars to expand their military capabilities. Rather, they would spend that wealth to feed the hungry, to provide universal education and to improve the living standards of the developing world.
If we assess today’s world in a fair manner then we must accept that even the economies of the developed world have become uncertain and unstable. The spending power of the members of the public has vastly diminished. Even here in the United Kingdom interviews are shown on television where it is said that in the past families used to be able to eat out regularly, but never mind eating out, now they are even forced to go hungry at home on occasions. It is simply not possible for them to eat and live as comfortably as before and the reason for this is that countries are prioritising their defence and military budgets over their social welfare budgets. There is a greater desire to send armies to foreign countries thousands of miles away and to send weapons rather than paying attention to alleviating the problems on one’s own doorstep and of solving the problems of a nation’s own people.
Thus, disorder is not being spread by religion, but it is actually being spread as a result of political games and ambitions and the fact that peoples and nations are seeking to assert their superiority over one another. Thus, it is the urgent need of the time that all people and all nations pay heed to this; otherwise the world stands on the brink of an unimaginable destruction. Some of the destruction we see in the world today is self-inflicted, whilst some is due to the horrific consequences of natural disasters.
And so in order to protect ourselves and to save mankind we need to turn towards God Almighty and we need to attach ourselves to the Living God Who did not forsake the Prophet Mosesas and his people and nor did He forsake the Prophet Jesusas and his disciples. Nor have true Muslims been deprived from attaining the blessings of God and seeing their prayers accepted.
These are not old stories or myths of the past but in fact God is an Ever-Living God who is alive today. The Promised Messiahas has taught us that God continues to speak to His righteous people and shows them His true signs. Hence, it is our duty to pay heed to the words of the Reformer of the Age and recognise our God in the true spirit. We bear witness that God did show His signs through the Promised Messiahas and continues to do so today.
At the end, I would like to say that instead of laying the blame for our mistakes upon God and upon our religions, we should take a look in the mirror and assess our own shortcomings.
With these words, I would like to once again thank all of the guests for taking the time to come and listen to what I have said today. Thank you very much.”
Endnotes & references
1. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Kahf, Verse 7.
2. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Taubah, Verse 9.
3. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Ya Sin, Verse 36.