By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Famous Russian author Count Leo Tolstoy read the English translation of The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, by the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and observed: “I approved very much of ‘How to get rid of sin’ and ‘The Life to come’. The ideas are very profound and very true.”
Encyclopedia Britannica calls Tolstoy, “A master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists.”
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Никола́евич Толсто́й, pronounced [lʲev nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪtɕ tɐlˈstoj] ( listen); known in the Anglosphere as Leo Tolstoy; September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. Tolstoy is equally known for his complicated and paradoxical persona and for his extreme moralistic and ascetic views, which he adopted after a moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, after which he also became noted as a moral thinker and social reformer.
His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
This humble writer preached the Russian reformer Count Tolstoy during the Promised Messiah’s life. After the Promised Messiah’s demise and before leaving for abroad, I had the opportunity to again preach to the famous Russian leader Count Tolstoy. The letter I wrote him is as follows:
Your Highness! I read your religious views in the recently published British Encyclopaedia vol.33. I am glad that real gems can be found bowing to the manifestation of the true deity even in the darkness created by the concept of Trinity in Europe and America. Your thoughts about true ‘well being’ and prayer are exactly the same as of a true Muslim believer. I completely agree with you that Jesus Christ was a spiritual teacher but to consider him god or to worship him like a god, is the greatest disbelief.Furthermore, I wish to inform you with great pleasure that the discovery of the tomb of Jesus proves substantially that he died a natural death. The tomb has been discovered in Kashmir. This research has been publicised by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the greatest protector of the unity of God, and to whom the Lord Almighty has given the title of the Promised Messiah because he is replete in his love for the one true God. Allah appointed him, as a person from God, an inspirer and a reformer of the age and God ’s true messenger. God will bless all those who will believe in this prophet. Whosoever will deny him, will face God’s wrath. I am sending you in a separate packet, a picture of this holy person from God along with the picture of the tomb of Jesus. On receiving your reply, I would be glad to send you more books.I remain your well wisher.Mufti Muhammad Sadiq of Qadian 28 April 1903.
The detailed response from Count Tolstoy was:
To Mufti Muhammad SadiqDear friend! Your letter along with Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s picture and a sample of the magazine Review of Religions has been received. To engage in the proof of the death of Christ or in the investigation of his tomb, is a futile effort because an intelligent man can never believe that Jesus is still alive … We need reasoned religious teaching and if Mr. Mirza presents a new reasonable proposition then I am ready to benefit from it. In the specimen number, I approved very much two articles, ‘How to get rid of the Bondage of Sin’ and ‘The Life to Come’, especially the second. The idea is very profound and very true. I am most thankful to you for sending me this and am also grateful for your letter.Yours Sincerely, Tolstoy, from Russia. 5th June 1903.
There are a lot of materials available online about Islam and Leo Tolstoy. It is mentioned that he also wrote a short biography of the Holy Prophet. This article is meant to be food for thought. Our hope and prayer is that those with Russian background will seek out his books in Russian libraries and precisely link his quotes with accurate references. Another recourse could be to seek his great grand children.
Those books, which have any useful quotes could be made available online in PDF form both in Russian and / or any translation.
For starters, let me quote from Encyclopedia Britannica:
Upon completing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy fell into a profound state of existential despair, which he describes in his Ispoved (1884; My Confession). All activity seemed utterly pointless in the face of death, and Tolstoy, impressed by the faith of the common people, turned to religion. Drawn at first to the Russian Orthodox church into which he had been born, he rapidly decided that it, and all other Christian churches, were corrupt institutions that had thoroughly falsified true Christianity. Having discovered what he believed to be Christ’s message and having overcome his paralyzing fear of death, Tolstoy devoted the rest of his life to developing and propagating his new faith. He was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church in 1901.
In the early 1880s he wrote three closely related works, Issledovaniye dogmaticheskogo bogosloviya (written 1880; An Examination of Dogmatic Theology), Soyedineniye i perevod chetyrokh yevangeliy (written 1881; Union and Translation of the Four Gospels), and V chyom moya vera? (written 1884; What I Believe); he later added Tsarstvo bozhiye vnutri vas (1893; The Kingdom of God Is Within You) and many other essays and tracts. In brief, Tolstoy rejected all the sacraments, all miracles, the Holy Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and many other tenets of traditional religion, all of which he regarded as obfuscations of the true Christian message contained, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount. He rejected the Old Testament and much of the New, which is why, having studied Greek, he composed his own “corrected” version of the Gospels. For Tolstoy, “the man Jesus,” as he called him, was not the son of God but only a wise man who had arrived at a true account of life. Tolstoy’s rejection of religious ritual contrasts markedly with his attitude in Anna Karenina, where religion is viewed as a matter not of dogma but of traditional forms of daily life.
Stated positively, the Christianity of Tolstoy’s last decades stressed five tenets: be not angry, do not lust, do not take oaths, do not resist evil, and love your enemies. Nonresistance to evil, the doctrine that inspired Gandhi, meant not that evil must be accepted but only that it cannot be fought with evil means, especially violence. Thus Tolstoy became a pacifist. Because governments rely on the threat of violence to enforce their laws, Tolstoy also became a kind of anarchist. He enjoined his followers not only to refuse military service but also to abstain from voting or from having recourse to the courts. He therefore had to go through considerable inner conflict when it came time to make his will or to use royalties secured by copyright even for good works. In general, it may be said that Tolstoy was well aware that he did not succeed in living according to his teachings.
Tolstoy based the prescription against oaths (including promises) on an idea adapted from his early work: the impossibility of knowing the future and therefore the danger of binding oneself in advance. The commandment against lust eventually led him to propose (in his afterword to Kreytserova sonata [1891; The Kreutzer Sonata]), a dark novella about a man who murders his wife) total abstinence as an ideal. His wife, already concerned about their strained relations, objected. In defending his most extreme ideas, Tolstoy compared Christianity to a lamp that is not stationary but is carried along by human beings; it lights up ever new moral realms and reveals ever higher ideals as mankind progresses spiritually.