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2. Ahmadiyya Movement

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

Mujaddid-i a‘zam, Volume 3

1. The Background
2. Religion and philosophy clash again
3. The arrival of the much-awaited Mujaddid
4. The basis of Hazrat Mirza Sahibís religious philosophy


3. Publications & Resources

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2. Religion and philosophy clash again

The Advent of Mutakallims (Rationalists)

In reaction to the absurdities of the ulema of that time, people like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan came forward. This was exactly like in the time of the Abbasids, when the writings of the Greeks were extensively translated into Arabic and the philosophy and religious freedom preached by Plato and Aristotle gave rise to all sorts of heretics and atheists who assaulted Islam and used the Greek philosophy to level all sorts of objections against it. At that time a new sect was born who were known as the Mu'tazilites.

Before this time, the Muslims adhered to the basic beliefs of Islam in a simple, straight-forward way without going into intricacies. They laid stress on practice and did not indulge much in debate and argument. But as the golden period of prophethood vanished into the distant past, the faith and practice of the Muslims gradually grew weaker while their tendency towards controversy and argumentation in religion grew stronger. The popularity of Greek philosophy in that critical period did further damage. People started raising all sorts of objections and the ulema and scholars of Hadith of that period were the sort of people who couldn't even bear to listen to any objections; they did not even allow the critics to come to their meetings.

This state of affairs could not go on for long, so the educated class had to heed the voice of the people. Some of them were so impressed by the Greek philosophy that they tried to mould religion according to its concepts. No doubt, some of the learned men amongst them framed their arguments in a most rational manner and they sincerely served the cause of Islam, but they were so very awed by the Greek philosophy that they made religion subservient to it. Wherever the two clashed, they tried to modify the religious beliefs in order to bring them within the scope of Greek philosophy. The theories of Aristotle and Plato were considered as the criteria of truth and everything else was made to bow before them. In this way, the principles laid down by the Quran could not be justified unless they conformed to the standards set by the Greeks. Ibn-e-Rashad was a famous Islamic philosopher whose ideas revolved only around the Greek philosophy. So inspite of the fact that these people had good intentions and were desirous of proving the truth of Islam to the world, they could not break the spell that the Greek philosophy had cast on their hearts. They were known as the Mu'tazilites because of their ideas.

On the other end, were the old-fashioned simple-minded ulema and scholars who did not permit any sort of interpretation in Islam. They were called the Hanbalites after the greatest of their Imams, Ahmad bin Hanbal. They were not even prepared to give an explanation of words like Yad (hand) and Samee‘ o Baseer (Hearer and Seer) when used with reference to Allah, the Most High, in the Holy Quran; they would silence questioners by saying that we have no knowledge of His condition and to raise questions is an innovation in religion. Some of these Mutashaddin even believed that God possessed a bodily form. They are known as Zahria and Mushabba, but I do not wish to go into unnecessary details; the broad division was into two main groups: the Mu'tazilites and the Hanbalites.

Then the leaders of Ahle Sunnat wal jama‘at realized that both schools of thought had gone to extremes so there gradually evolved a new philosophical outlook whose principles were suggested by Imam Abu-l-Hasan Ash'ari. I have not gone into details to avoid too lengthy a discussion but anyone can refer to the late Maulana Shibli's book, Ilm-ul-Kalam for details. Most Shafi'i ulema were followers of al-Ash'ari. Then after Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi corrected some of the principles of the Ash'arites they came to be known as al-Maturidi. Most of the Hanafi ulema were of the school of al-Maturidi. The most revered of the Ash'arites were Imam Ghazali and Imam Razi.

Imam Ghazali was of the Ash'ara but he did not think it imperative to follow their principles rigidly. He was the first man who dared to challenge the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato and expose their fallacies with great courage. Moreover, he took advantage of the positive points of Greek philosophy and used them to serve the cause of religion and gave philosophical interpretations of religious matters to make them more acceptable. So although he used the Greek philosophy to prove how reasonable Islamic principles are, he took great care to give philosophy secondary importance. When the two clashed he made sure that the validity of the religious injunction was proved and the error in philosophy was made clear. As to how successful he was in his attempts, that is a different story but these were the principles he followed, and this was opposed to the Mu'tazilites. In this conflict, when he rejects Greek philosophy in order to support the religion, he is accused by Maulana Shibli of “speaking the language of the Ash'ara”. Actually this is Maulana Shibli's error because it was really the principle of Imam Ghazali that he adhered to religion and not to philosophy. He was the Mujaddid or reformer of his time, i.e. the fifth century A.H., and the job of a Mujaddid is to establish the superiority of religion over the philosophical beliefs of his time, when they oppose the accepted basic Islamic teachings.

I shall try to elucidate the matter by giving an example. One of the areas where Maulana Shibli takes Imam Ghazali to task is on the issue of the eternal existence of matter. Islam does not believe that anything or anyone except Allah is eternal. However, Greek philosophy does have such a belief. The Mu'tazila accepted the eternal existence of matter because they were very impressed by Greek philosophy and they satisfied themselves by thinking that it had nothing to do with religion. But this was a lame excuse as I shall prove later. Imam Ghazali rendered the objections of the Greek philosophers on the subject of the non-eternal existence of matter, null and void using the accepted principles of the same philosophy. But according to Maulana Shibli, he only succeeded because he had a way with words and that if his arguments are weighed against modern Western philosophy, they collapse altogether. Today, science has conclusively proven by experiment that when wood is burnt, it is reduced to a pile of ashes but it does not vanish into nothing; neither is the reverse possible, i.e. something cannot be created out of nothing. So in his opinion the logic and arguments of Imam Sahib are worthless.

I shall answer this objection of Maulana Shibli later, God willing, but I must say here that he has been unfair to Imam Sahib. Imam Sahib could only frame a reply out of the accepted principles of the philosophy that was before him at that time. He did not know anything of the modern philosophy and hence he was unable to benefit from their experiments and observations. The objection was made through Greek literature and Imam Sahib paid them back in the same coin. And the reasons he gave were so sound that even Maulana Shibli had to turn towards modern philosophy to refute the Imam sahib's reply, and could not find help in Greek philosophy. If Maulana Shibli's criticism is that the Imam Sahib has made a play on words, then it must be remembered that the objections Ghazali was answering were themselves on a play on words. The entire Greek philosophy is a labyrinth of confused and twisted words. Then why the criticism?

Then came Imam Razi who followed in the footsteps of Imam Ghazali. Although he also rejected some of the true principles of philosophy in his enthusiasm, however his method remained the same. Then in the more recent past Hazrat Shah Wali Ullah played a vital role in strengthening the same concept. He not only proved the value of the beliefs of Islam with the help of philosophy but he also gave the philosophical reasoning and wisdom behind the various rules and regulations laid down by the Shariah (Islamic law). This was indeed a great service to Islam but then such a revolutionary change in values and ideals came about that neither the Greek philosophy remained in practice nor was its way of argument acceptable any longer. This new development was the tide of Western or European philosophy and progress in the field of science, and this wind of materialism which had originated from Europe swept over all the Eastern countries. The religious world suffered greatly at its hands and this onslaught of materialism badly crushed spirituality.

The need for a new philosophical outlook to counter the Western philosophy

The time of the intricacies of words had passed. The new Western philosophy demanded proof for every proposition on the basis of common sense, that is, on the basis of plain rational beliefs and experience and observation. The complexities of Greek philosophy were mocked and laughed at. In response to this philosophy, people like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his fellow scholars came into being. These scholars tried to make religion logical and hence they made the same mistake which the Mu'tazilites had made when they tried to follow the Greek philosophy. They made religion subservient to Western philosophy; where the two clashed they would try to interpret religion in such a way that it no longer went against the principles of Western philosophy. So they were the Mu'tazilites of that period.

Now this newly evolved Western philosophy had a very strong element of materialism in it. In fact it would not be wrong to say that it was based entirely on materialism and strongly rejected spirituality. So, in a way, the new philosophical outlook which was evolved through people like Sir Syed replaced the spiritualism of religion with materialism. Matter was considered to be eternal in origin and existence. The concept of God was reduced merely to the First Cause, Who did not possess any Bounties to bestow on His creation. The power of Dua or supplication was denied. Prophethood or Nubuwwat became no more than a natural instinct. It was said that Wahi Nubuwwat or Divine revelation of Prophethood was nothing but an idea that originated within the human heart and then inspired it. It was likened to poetry where a poet is the source of his own inspiration. The angels were regarded as just another name for material powers. Miracles were also considered to be dependent upon material sources and their spiritual component was denied. Heaven and Hell, too, were represented as empty words with no meaning behind them, merely an emotional state of the mind.

Now the Ulema or religious scholars could only counter this new philosophy by meting out fatwas of Kufr. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his party were branded as Nechris (followers of physical nature) and declared Kafirs. In these conditions there was an urgent need for a reformer sent by God to raise the standard of spirituality, so that Islam could emerge victorious in its battle against materialistic forces and make this Western philosophy serve the cause of Islam. It would not be out of place to quote a passage from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's work here. While writing about the wickedness in the times of the previous reformers he says:

“These stories were of times that were glorious as compared to the present age. Look at the darkness and the ignorance everywhere and grieve for the dearth of torch-bearers. People are wanted for service, there is a search for labourers (who would labour for the service of Islam) but they are nowhere to be found. The need is so great that one could earn gold sovereigns and diamonds by doing the job of laying bricks to mend a broken wall, because the fewer the workers the greater is the recompense for work. The doors of the treasury are wide open for anyone who comes forward. Honour and respect can easily be gained. Who will be the one to gather up the treasure in his arms and enrich himself with wealth and good fortune. These are the blessings which people yearned for in better days and prayed for fervently, crying in their earnest.” (Tazkira, p. 250-251)

So the present age is considered more advanced in evil and darkness than the times of all the previous reformers. The time is indeed ripe for the arrival of a Holy reformer from Allah to set things right. On page 250 of Tazkira Maulana Abul Kalam Azad says:

“Much has been said about the revival and awakening of the Muslim Ummah and I will not go into details here but the general idea is that a study of the deplorable prevailing conditions may prove beneficial to people concerned with reforms . . . Who knows these writings may stir the soul of an able person, someone who could follow in the footsteps of these Mujaddids and reformers. It is indeed possible for a man of action to take charge and determine to serve the cause of Islam and come forward to fulfill the need of the hour and become the very person everyone is in search of. This is the best thing which can be done today and it is the only thing everyone is waiting for.”

 Next: 3. The arrival of the much-awaited Mujaddid