Jamaat Ahmadiyya al Mouslemeen
of Hazrat Amirul Momeneen Zafrullah Domun
29 October 2010
THE NEED TO QUESTION OUR BELIEFS
After reciting the Tashahhud, the Ta’uz and the first chapter of Al Fatiha Imam Zafrullah Domun said:
In our writings and speeches we have repeatedly said that when we become adults we should question our beliefs and be satisfied with whatever answers we may come up with in the light of the teachings of the Holy Quran, the Hadiths and those whom we look up to as authorities. But unfortunately it becomes clear to even a casual observer that the majority of people grow up and die with the same beliefs that they were brought up with. Most people cannot justify their beliefs even to themselves let alone convincing others of its wellfoundedness. Thus we see that most Christians die as Christians. It is the same with followers of almost all other religions. Unfortunately it is the same with Ahmadis. I do not mean that Ahmadis should change their religion. What I mean is that like others they have also stuck to paying lip service to religion. But contrary to others the Ahmadis were fortunate to have received a teacher in the person of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas who has taught them in an excellent way that they should go along a path that would give them certainty in matters of faith. But to acquire certainty in faith requires a personal discipline that many are too lazy to pursue. So they have contented themselves with the dogmas that have been handed down to them by others. By so doing most Ahmadis and especially those in Mauritius have been doing a few things that are contrary to the spirit and letter of Islam.
By the Grace of Allah, we members of Jamaat Ahmadiyya Al Mouslemeen we will never cease questioning. We will challenge what we think is amiss and we also encourage and welcome others to question our own ideas and beliefs. We are not afraid of these questioning because we think that through these challenges our understanding gets sharpened and we get certainty in our beliefs. Most people within the mainstream Jamaat Ahmadiyya are cross with us because we have dared to question some dogmas. I have always maintained that what we have believed are not of our own making. We have been guided to the stand that we have taken and repeatedly Allah has revealed to me “You are on the right path” and “you guide to the right path”.
At the beginning of the week I came across an article written by Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan (1891-1985) in the Review of Religion of 1926. Most of our young people do not know who was Zafrullah Khan. Therefore let me say a few words about him in order to establish his credentials before I tell you what he has said in the article. He was a lawyer by profession. He was quite close to both the founder of Pakistan and to the second caliph of Jamaat Ahmadiyya, Hazrat Mirza Bashir uddin Mahmood Ahmad. After the creation of Pakistan he was its first Foreign Minister. He was the one who spoke forcefully in favour of the Palestinians in 1947 and against the creation of the state of Israel in the United Nations Assembly. In 1954 he resigned his post as Foreign Minister after the agitations against him and the Ahmadis in Pakistan. From 1962-63 he was President of the UN General Assembly. In 1970, he was elected President of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, a post he held until 1973. He was a prolific author, having translated the Qur’an into English and written several books. He was also a brilliant orator. He was the one who read the second caliph’s speech in England in 1924 in the conference about religions. So as you can see he was not an ordinary Ahmadi. By some eminent people in the Jamaat he was even an eligible candidate for the caliphate.
What he said in that article in 1926 is so profound and thought provoking that recently the article was republished in the Review of religion. You may read it on www.reviewofreligions.org. I never read that article before. I think that everyone will benefit by what he says in it. So I have decided to share it with you all so that you might know that there are some other minds who thought otherwise in the past. Since it is a long article, most probably I will speak about it in two sermons instead of only one. May Allah give us the necessary means to do so. He says:
“We are at the threshold of an era in which religion will be less a matter of form and ceremonial and a subscribing to cut-and-dried propositions laid down by others than an individual experience and realisation, a living, palpitating force moulding and shaping not merely the course of individual lives but, under a common force and impulse, the destinies of nations. This has been the experience of scattered nations at different periods in the past history of the world, but we have now arrived at a stage at which it will become the common and contemporaneous experience of all mankind. The fact that there is a tacit rebellion at present against the forms, ceremonials and even the doctrines of religion does not in itself appear to be a matter for anxiety. What would, however, be a matter for grave anxiety would be an absence of questioning, criticism and research, that is to say, an attitude of entire indifference towards religion….”
In this introduction he is telling us that despite the fact that some people may show indifference towards religion yet it will grow to become a force that will shape the entire destinies of not only individuals but also that of nations. Moreover he says that we should not be anxious because people in those days were revolting against forms, ceremonials and doctrines. What should cause anxiety would have been a lack of questioning, criticism and research about religion. Then he says:
“What is, therefore, necessary at the present moment is not the discouragement of criticism and differences of opinion, but the stimulation of questioning and criticism so that each individual may come to recognise and assign to matters of faith and practice their true position in the scheme of his life and may begin to realise that religion does not mean a dead weight of formalities to which one must submit for the sake of social peace, but a living force in the life of every one of us which supplies the motive power for our actions. Religion governs not merely life and death but also the unlimited activities of the human soul after it has passed through the portals of death.”
Here he encourages each individual to question his beliefs so that he might come to understand the importance of his religion in his life. Through this questioning one will come to understand that our religion is not a dead weight that we should carry around. But it should become the motive force for all our actions because what we believe will determine what will happen to us after death. If this is the case he therefore says that
“It, therefore, behoves every serious-minded person to face and solve the problem of religion for himself, and he should not shirk the inevitable wrestling with that problem which is bound to arise in his soul, either by divorcing himself altogether from religion or by the unquestioning acceptance of beliefs and doctrines handed down to him by others, whatever may be the degree of eminence or piety these latter might have attained in matters spiritual. For an attitude of indifference or of unquestioning acceptance of what others have settled for us is the highest disrespect we can exhibit towards religion inasmuch as such an attitude would argue that we do not consider it worth our while to pay any serious thought or consideration to religion.”
Here is the crux of what he has to say. Any individual should make it his duty to deal with the problem of religion on his own. He should not blindly follow others whatever their eminence in this matter. In other words an individual should be able to defend his beliefs for himself. He does not need to have recourse to someone else to explain what he believes. Next he goes on to say how important it is for individuals to keep in mind the purpose of all rituals. In our case it would mean that we should know why we have to pray daily, fast yearly, go on pilgrimage once in a lifetime if we have the means and pay the Zakaat. These actions should not become so routine in our life that we forget their main purpose.
Then he says:
“The first requisite for a study of religion is an attitude of absolute honesty with oneself; that is to say, one must never attempt to deceive oneself with the comfortable but false assurance that one believes in any set of doctrines or propositions when one’s inner self rejects or repudiates any of those doctrines or propositions. As an eminent English divine has at one place remarked, every one of us must pass through a stage “when the impulse becomes dominant to examine beliefs and either to justify or to abandon them.” An English writer of fame has observed: “if you were to question nine out of ten grown up men and women of today as to their religious experience, they would describe to you an evolution through three stages of discovery. First, the child’s acceptance of the dogmas handed over to it by its elders; second, the adolescent’s reaction against that acceptance; and third, the evolution of some positive personal opinion born of personal experience.” The only form of religion worth having is the form which emerges at the third stage of this evolution, after one’s early beliefs have been thoroughly examined in the light of subsequent knowledge and experience and have been either justified or abandoned, and the remnant enriched by additions made from one’s own mental workshop. The general result obtained by this process may be capable of being expressed in a few broad propositions but the details of it would be a matter not merely of individual conception but of individual realisation. The whole would not be set in any rigid form, incapable of modification or alteration for all subsequent time, but like a living organism, acting and reacting upon other living organisms, it would grow constantly and enrich itself through deeper knowledge and more varied experience which each individual is bound to acquire during his passage through life……”
You should note that he was not addressing anyone in particular in this article. He was speaking generally. So it applied to one and all. He makes it quite clear that people should go through a process of self discovery which is not an end in itself but goes on to develop into a state of higher consciousness we might say. Now observe what he says and let us ask ourselves if we are in any way inclined to think along those lines. Has anyone in Jamaat Ahmadiyya mainstream been ready to deal with the questionings of the many along those lines? We will easily come to the conclusion that Jamaat Ahmadiyya has always wanted its members not to question any of the dogmas that “Allah appoints the caliph” but according to their own interpretations. What Sir Zafrullah Khan is saying here aligns with what a modern person thinks about religion. And we in Jamaat Ahmadiyya are quite convinced that the Promised Messiah has shown us the way that will help each individual to weather through this storm of self questioning in order to arrive at the safe harbor of certainty. Allah knows best.
Then he speaks about how the general outline of our beliefs is sufficient to group people together. He says:
“These broad propositions in which an individual would ex press his general conceptions of belief would in many cases be in agreement with the general statements in which other individuals have expressed what they have come to regard as essential matters of belief. All those who find themselves in such agreement with each other would be described as the followers of the same religion. The inner conception of his religion by each individual would, however, like his inner conception of everything else, still remain entirely different from the conception of every other individual. For instance, we all agree in describing our conceptions of the phenomena of light, colour, sound, etc., in certain general terms, but none of us can be sure that our own inner conception of any of these phenomena corresponds exactly with that of any other individual. So far as outward expression is concerned we agree in using certain terms for describing certain phenomena, but it is not within our power to express and communicate to each other in words the inner realisation of any of these phenomena. For communal, national and international purposes, however, this concord in the outward expression of the general essentials of one’s belief is sufficient. Too great insistence upon agreement in matters in which no agreement in the nature of things is possible, is likely to lead to irritation and friction…..”
Incha Allah we will talk more about this article in the next sermon.