28 Oct 2016
A lecture at York University in Toronto, Canada
On 28th October 2016, the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifah (Caliph), His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, delivered a historic lecture at York University in Toronto in front of an audience of more than 180 guests, including academics, politicians, media and thought leaders. The event, titled “Justice in an Unjust World,” was organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada in collaboration with York University. We present here the transcript of the keynote address delivered by His Holiness.
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V, Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said:
“Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem – 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.
Today the world around us is constantly evolving and advancing. Unquestionably, in the past few decades, the world has moved forward in leaps and bounds in terms of technological development. Every day new forms of modern technology and scientific advancements are being developed. Progress is being made in many spheres of our life. For example, modern forms of communication and electronics are continually progressing at a rapid rate. The research and development taking place is bringing ease and comfort to our daily lives.
This proves that human beings have been able to use their intelligence and minds to move forward and to increase productivity, efficiency and personal comfort. However, it is a cause of deep regret that at a time when humanity is progressing at such a rapid pace, it is also moving further apart and becoming increasingly divided. The peace and stability of the world is being jeopardised and put at risk on a daily basis. In some countries, the leaders and governments are failing to fulfil the rights of their people and are inflicting grave cruelties and injustices upon them. In response, members of the public are rising up in opposition and so rebel groups have formed.
Furthermore, conflict zones are fertile breeding grounds for terrorist groups and extremists and so such groups have taken root in many countries. In some cases, where there is civil unrest, foreign governments are siding with the leaders of the nations, whereas other governments are supporting the rebel factions. Thus, both sides are being provided overt and covert external support and the results are there for all to see – bloodshed, violence and the merciless killings of innocent people.
Where modern technology has been a force for good, it has also been used as a force for evil and destruction. Such technology has been developed that has the capability of wiping nations off the map with the press of a button. Of course, I am referring to the development of weapons of mass destruction that are capable of inflicting the most unimaginable horrors, devastation and destruction. Such weapons are being produced that have the potential to destroy not only civilisation today, but to also leave behind a legacy of misery for generations to come. In the world today, we witness double standards and hypocrisy at so many levels of society and the resulting lack of peace is a cause of the utmost concern and grief for those people who sincerely feel the pain of humanity. As the leader of a worldwide Muslim community, it is this issue that concerns and worries me more than any other.
As a Muslim leader, it is a source of grief to me personally, that the disorder taking place today is centred around so-called Muslims and is being associated with Islam. On the one hand, most of the wars being fought and the lives being lost are in the Muslim world, whilst on the other hand, so-called Muslims have now spread their networks of terror further afield and are targeting innocent people here in the West. It is a tragedy of the very greatest proportions that such people seek to falsely justify their hate-filled and evil acts in the name of Islam. Rather than serving Islam, all they are achieving is to defame its name.
The truth is that the very meaning of the word ‘Islam’ is ‘peace, security and love’. Given this, we have to accept that either the deplorable acts of terrorists and extremists are entirely against the teachings of Islam or alternatively, that despite meaning ‘peace’, Islam is actually a religion that advocates extremism and violence. To assess which of these opposing propositions is correct, we must consider what Islam’s true teachings are. We must look to the primary source of Islam, its Holy Book, the Holy Quran and furthermore to the conduct and example of its Founder, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Therefore, in the time available, I will now present Islam’s true teachings to you and thereafter hopefully you will be in a position to understand whether the division and conflict witnessed in the world today is a result of Islam’s teachings or a consequence of moving away from them. During his life, the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) laid down, in just a few words, the foundations for peace in the world and between all peoples.
The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that a person should desire for others whatever he desires for himself. I believe that this timeless principle is as true today as it ever was in the past. Certainly, every person desires peace for themselves and to be saved from all anxieties and worries. Every person hopes that he or she has the means to live comfortably and without hardship. Every person seeks good health so that they can enjoy their lives free from pain or difficulty. Every person craves good standing in their community and the respect of others. In a similar vein, every government and every nation also seeks such prosperity. However, how many people or nations are there who truly desire peace, prosperity and success for others?
In terms of verbal proclamations, it is very easy to say that “Yes we do desire the best for others”, however in practice it is much more difficult and challenging. Wherever, there is a conflict of interests, most people tend to prioritise their own interests and welfare over and beyond the rights of others. This is true at an individual level and also true at a collective and national level. Today, rather than selflessness, sadly we tend to see selfishness. Most people or nations prioritise their own rights and are quite willing to relegate and demean the rights of others in order to fulfil their own goals and ambitions. In terms of the Muslim world, it is because the leaders and the people have discarded the true teachings of their religion that they are now riven by bitter division and unrest. Put simply, the leaders have failed in their duties to protect their people and to safeguard their rights and, in turn, rebel elements have also deviated from what is right and just.
Further afield, instead of travelling upon a path of justice and integrity, we have seen time and time again, the world’s major powers being concerned only with fulfilling their own interests. Whether they decide to side with the Muslim governments or the opposition groups is not dictated by what is fair and what is right, rather only by which party better serves their own interests. Yet according to Islam, our desire and motivation to fulfil our own interests should always be matched by our desire and motivation to fulfil the rights and interests of others. If acted upon, this is the golden principle that will unlock the door to true peace and security.
In order to establish peace, Islam also places great emphasis on the fulfilment of one’s trusts. Thus, chapter 4, verse 59, of the Holy Quran states:
“Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”
In this verse, Muslims have been clearly instructed to fulfil the trusts that have been placed in them. This includes trusts and oaths that have been undertaken at a personal level and those trusts that are collective. In terms of personal trusts, a person should not seize the property or rights of others or fail to fulfil the responsibilities he owes to other people. In terms of collective trusts, one important aspect is the duty of citizens to elect representatives of the state who they consider to be of the greatest value to their nation. When it comes to elections or nominations, a person should not vote automatically for his ally or party member, rather they should consider who is the most qualified and suitable for the task at hand. Thereafter, those who are elected and handed the keys to government or power should exercise their duties with honesty, integrity and justice.
This teaching is the model of democracy that Islam champions. In every society, there are mutual trusts and obligations placed upon all people, and for the society to function successfully, it is necessary for normal citizens and the leaders to fulfil their responsibilities towards each other with true justice. If these principles had been adhered to in the Muslim world then we would never have seen the conflicts and division that are prevalent in many countries. I personally believe this Quranic principle to have universal value and to be of benefit across the world and not just in Muslim countries.
The citizens of all nations should seek to elect those people to their parliaments or assemblies who they believe will work for the betterment and progress of their nation. This should be the guiding principle when voting for individuals or for particular policies, rather than merely following party lines or personal relationships. If the leaders of a country are those who truly seek the advancement of their people, rather than being corrupt and rather than focusing on selfish personal interests, then there will be no reason for people to turn against their governments or for civil wars or conflicts to arise.
Leading on from this, the same principle of fulfilling trusts and oaths is something that the major powers and international institutions such as the United Nations must always prioritise. Weaker nations are often forced to rely on the support of more powerful and richer countries and so the latter should seek to fulfil the trust that those less economically developed nations place in them. They should try to sincerely help them stand upon their own two feet and realise that it is in the world’s interest for weaker nations to develop and prosper.
Similarly, at the United Nations it should not be that certain countries wield undue power and influence, or that the permanent members of the Security Council care only for their own interests and utilise their veto power even where it is in conflict with the interests of the majority. Rather, all members of the United Nations should work together and fulfil the covenant of trust upon which the institution was founded – to maintain the peace and security of the world. If all nations and international institutions forgo narrow self-interest for the sake of the collective good, then the conflicts that are plaguing the world will naturally die away.
Sadly, the world is currently travelling in the opposite direction, wherein Muslim governments have failed their people, whilst self-interest is becoming the hallmark of the major powers and the powerful members of the United Nations. Hence, nations are neither fulfilling the trusts placed in them and nor are they acting with justice and equity. Recently, the former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Anthony Banbury published an article outlining the failings of the organisation in which he served. Writing in the New York Times, he said:
“I love the United Nations but it is failing. There is too much bureaucracy and little result. Too many decisions are made for political reasons, rather than following the values and objectives of the U.N or by facts on the ground…
Then he says:
“For the UN to continue and prosper it needs a complete overhaul and so an outside panel should examine the system and recommend changes.”
Thus, even those closely affiliated with the United Nations are now openly attesting to its shortcomings and the fact that it has failed in its mission to maintain the peace and security of the world. In terms of Western foreign policy mistakes, the prime example from recent years is the Iraq War in 2003. The former Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, David Miliband, who is now the President of the International Rescue Committee, spoke some time ago of the long-term impact of that war. Speaking about the continued instability and terrorism in Iraq, during an interview with The Observer, Mr. Miliband said:
“It’s clearly the case that the invasion of Iraq, or more importantly what happened afterwards, is a significant factor in understanding the current situation in Iraq.”
When asked if Saddam Hussein would have been able to hold Iraq together and to keep it free from the likes of Daesh he admitted that this was a distinct possibility. This was the admission of a former British Parliamentarian who had voted in favour of the Iraq War. Similarly, a well-known newspaper columnist, Paul Krugman recently wrote in the New York Times that:
“The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that.”
Hence, even those who initially supported the Iraq War, or who have been advocates for the United Nations, have been forced to admit their mistakes and the grave consequences of their actions. There is no doubt that such injustices have shattered the foundations of world peace and have enabled terrorist groups such as Daesh to take root and grow. These groups are now not just a threat to the Muslim world but to all humanity. However, still it does not seem that the world is learning from the lessons of the past. Foreign policy injustice continues to be prevalent and is fuelling wars in different countries, leading to the deaths of innocent men, women and children. Certain major powers continue to prioritise their business interests over and beyond everything else and so are selling extremely advanced weapons to other countries, even where there is clear evidence that such artillery is being used to kill or maim innocent people and to destroy countless lives.
What I am saying is nothing new or a secret but has long been in the public domain. For example, a number of Western countries are continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia that are being used to target the people of Yemen. No Muslim country has large-scale weapons factories that can produce such huge quantities of deadly weapons, and so their only source is the Western world. Some major powers are selling weapons to Muslim governments, whilst other governments are selling weapons to rebel elements in the same countries.
Thus both sides are being fuelled and armed from the outside. Quite simply, if this trading were stopped, the Muslim countries would have no weapons to fight one another. Even Western writers and commentators have spoken of the hypocrisy and immorality of such international trade, yet when questioned about such sales, governments either ignore the question or seek to justify what is patently unjustifiable. All they care about is that their cheques clear so that billions are added to their own national budgets. In short, money talks and morality is left nowhere to be seen. How on earth can peace be achieved in such an environment?
Terrorist groups also are able to acquire huge stocks of heavy weaponry and a continuous flow of funds. I often ask how it was possible for the terrorist group Daesh to become so rich? Where does it get its millions from? Why has its funding not been stopped? How does it continue to trade oil and purchase weaponry? Western powers and the United Nations have been able to place extremely restrictive sanctions on powerful countries, yet for some reason have not been able to curb the funding of groups such as Daesh. Even now, despite belated efforts to try and restrict the funding of Daesh, it continues to earn millions of dollars.
Recently, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety, announced that the Canadian Government would no longer refer to Daesh as ‘Islamic State’. He said that Daesh was neither Islamic and nor was it a State. His comments were well made and prove that Western governments are well aware of the fact that such terrorism is not based on Islam. However, at the same time, effective measures have not been made to stop the funding and growth of such groups. I have spoken at length about the lack of justice in the world and so I shall now explain what Islam’s concept of justice is. As time is limited, I shall cite just two verses of the Holy Quran that illustrate Islam’s unparalleled teachings of fairness and equity.
Chapter 4, verse 136 of the Holy Quran states:
“O ye who believe! Be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore, follow not low desires so that you may able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do.”
In this verse, Muslims have been directed to be ready to give testimony against themselves and their family members in order to establish the truth and for justice to be served. A Muslim’s loyalty to the truth must take precedence over everything else. Thereafter, in chapter 5, verse 9 of the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty states:
“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. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do.”
Having instructed Muslims to be willing to testify against themselves, in this verse the Quran commands them to be fair and just with all parties, including their enemies and opponents. This is the exalted standard of justice advocated by Islam and so if today’s Muslim governments are not following this teaching it is their fault. Hence, it would be entirely unjust and wrong to blame Islam for their misdeeds.
Furthermore, I say again that the Western world is not blameless and it is up to them to set aside their own vested interests and to selflessly work towards a better and brighter future for our children and future generations. If every policy made is based upon the solid foundations of justice and integrity then automatically the conflicts that have consumed the world will be resolved without recourse to violence, bloodshed and brutality. If we truly want peace in our time then we must act with justice. We must value equality and fairness.
Whether Muslim or non-Muslim we should pursue the universal standards of justice outlined in the Holy Quran. As the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) so beautifully stated, we must love for others, what we love for ourselves. We must pursue the rights of others with the same zeal and determination that we pursue our own rights. We should broaden our horizons and look at what is right for the world, rather than what is only right for us. These are the means for peace in our age.
From the depths of my heart, I pray that Allah the Almighty grants wisdom to all parties and all nations so that it is with this selfless spirit that they all work together for the betterment of mankind. With these words, I thank you all – thank you very much.”