Posted by Tahir Nasser | 17 Apr 2021
Though Sohail Ahmed has not penned formal responses to any of the Outreasoned articles, the occasional anonymous protégé has at times answered for him, usually on that beacon of sophistication — Reddit. One such individual, who goes by the Twitter name Wamaadraka, (ironically a Quranic phrase that means, “What can make thee understand?”), has criticised our general argument found in the article “Faith: An Impossible Game?”. Since many important points can be derived from analysing this criticism, it is worth a detailed response.
In our article, we argue that Ahmadiyya Islam is the only religious platform that offers the promise of certainty, not simply the offer of faith, in ascertaining the existence of God. This claim is the backbone of the argument that faith is not therefore an “impossible game” in Ahmadiyya Islam that forces people to waste their life chasing after the promise of divine reward, without knowing for certain whether their path is true or not. On the contrary, Ahmadiyya Islam claims that those who follow its path sincerely will progress from faith and belief, to certainty, through witnessing the signs of God, especially through the possibility of personal spiritual experience. In criticism of this, the writer formulates the following argument:
- To obtain certainty of faith according to Ahmadiyya theology, one must obtain personal spiritual experiences
- One must, according to the writings of the Promised Messiahas himself, be a “perfect individual” to rely on one’s spiritual experiences as sources for certainty of faith, at all. Unless one is such a perfect individual, one becomes susceptible to Satanic insinuations and false revelations. These may:
- Convince a person that he is “perfect” when he is not
- Thus deceive a person into false beliefs.
- As such, “it is the stuff of impractical legends”. Thus, the claim that Ahmadiyya Islam does not lay out an “Impossible Game” is false; it is only theoretically possible, but not practically so.
- Further, the Promised Messiahas writes that, on account of the various talents and qualities God has bestowed upon different individuals, not all are born with the capabilities for full or even significant spiritual experience. As such, like people who are congenitally blind, such individuals are unlikely to experience significant spiritual experience. How can one know whether one is such an individual or not, if one does not experience spiritual experiences. It may be that the individual is such a person, in which case, one is left chasing a spiritual experience that is not possible. This again recreates the situation of the “Impossible Game”, simply by it being a possibility
- Given the above factors, one cannot rely upon the promise of the Ahmadiyya Muslim teaching to be a means of attaining perfect certainty, since spiritual experience cannot be guaranteed to each and every person. The Promised Messiah (as) himself wrote that belief in a God who cannot make His powers felt is not worth believing in, therefore, the position of an atheist is supported by the Promised Messiah’sas own reasoning.
Is the critic right?
Three Means Of Certainty
The first of two fundamental errors the critic makes is in the very first premise of his argument, specifically:
“To obtain certainty of faith according to Ahmadiyya theology, one must obtain personal spiritual experiences.”
In fact, at no point in any of the Outreasoned articles did I write that certainty of God’s existence and of the truth of Ahmadiyya Islam can only be experienced by one’s own spiritual experience. On the contrary, I explicitly stated the opposite. Thus I wrote, as is quoted by the critic himself, in his own article:
To rely solely on one’s subjective feelings is indeed a dangerous path. That is why God offers objective evidences through his prophets. If you are unwilling to accept those evidences, nor accept the testimony of many thousands of Ahmadis who have witnessed similar objective evidences in their own families, then that is your decision based on your belief that all such people are either stupid or self-deluded. But don’t blame the faith for a lack of objective evidences, of which there are thousands, nay, tens of thousands.Does Religious Practice Cause Cognitive Bias?
He further quoted me again, directly, making the same point, in another article, where I wrote:
Secondly, most Ahmadis adhere to their beliefs based on the personal experiences they have of answered prayer, revelation either to themselves, or witnessed through members of their family, not on the basis of abstruse theological interpretations. If a person perceives a tree before them it is through touching it and tasting its fruits, not through pondering on its root structure.Do Ahmadis Not Know their Own Theology?
In both articles I emphasised that certainty of faith can be obtained not only through one’s own personal spiritual experiences, but by witnessing the objective evidences present in the lives of those with whom one is in close association.
Indeed, in the first quoted passage of the Promised Messiah’sas celebrated English compilation, The Essence of Islam, he makes this point explicitly in response to the rhetorical question: “How can such certainty be acquired?” He then gives three options. Thus, the Promised Messiahas writes:
The first duty of a person, therefore, is to acquire certainty with regard to the existence of God, and to adopt a religion through which this certainty can be acquired so that he should fear God and shun sin. How can such certainty be acquired? It cannot be acquired through mere stories. It cannot be acquired through mere arguments. The only way of acquiring certainty is to experience God repeatedly through converse with Him or through witnessing His extraordinary signs, or by keeping company with someone who has that experience…Essence of Islam Vol 1, p. 3
Aside from this passage dealing a blow to the view that certainty can be acquired by “mere arguments”, it demonstrates the absurdity of the following statement of the critic:
After misrepresenting me as saying that certainty of faith can only be obtained through personally received, directly from God spiritual experiences, the critic has the gall to claim that it is “so difficult to obtain official positions after more than a century of the Jamaat’s existence” on the question of how to obtain certainty of faith. Somehow the first page of the first volume of Essence of Islam was not obvious enough for him.
This passage demonstrates that according to the Promised Messiahas there are three routes to acquire certainty of faith:
- Experience God’s communication repeatedly;
- Witness God’s extraordinary signs;
- By keeping company with someone who has that experience (of converse with God).
In light of this passage, the two objections that form that backbone of the critic’s argument, are shown to be mere paper-tigers:
- OBJECTION 1: What if one is of a lower spiritual station and may be subject to Satanic insinuations and deception into wrong beliefs?
- OBJECTION 2: What if one suffers from a spiritual handicap, as those who are congenitally blind and cannot see the sun, such that one is unable to receive personal spiritual experiences to such a level that one cannot attain certainty through this route?
Both these criticisms are done away with when one considers that two of the three methods given to obtain certainty do not involve the individual receiving revelation at all: witnessing the fulfilment of extraordinary signs, and keeping company with the righteous servants of God, on whom God’s converse descends. If these two are also a means of attaining certainty, then even if one is subject to satanic insinuations, and even if one is spiritually handicapped, one can still attain certainty through these other methods.
The critic has therefore strawmanned my argument that I gave from the Promised Messiah’sas writing, by omitting two of the three provisions given for the attainment of certainty by the Promised Messiahas. Only on the shaky foundation of a strawmanned argument does their house of cards stand.
THE NEED FOR “ORGANISED” RELIGION
This criticism, and the answer to this criticism in fact, proves the need for organised religion. Let’s see how.
The second method, referred to as “witnessing His extraordinary signs”, pertains to such events that are grand in nature and which are fulfilled for the sake of one of God’s righteous servants. This method enables people who are at a far distance from the commissioned or appointed one of God to obtain certainty in the individual or religious faith in question.
Take for example the prophecy of the Promised Messiahas that the plague would ravage the Punjab but that his followers would by and large be spared from it. This prophecy was extensively published both throughout India and also throughout lands afar. When it occurred, it enabled people who had never met him, and never even seen his face, to send letters of bai’at accepting his religious claims, for they attained certainty of his truth and of the existence of God.
Similarly, the prophecy of World War I, promulgated by the Promised Messiahas, shows similar characteristics. This sign, including the prophecy of the death of the Czar of Russia, was extensively published through the Review of Religions in 1914, as the war was breaking out, with the 2nd Khalifarawriting repeatedly that this would be the grand event in which the Czar of Russia would be deposed. This magazine was published in a number of countries, and many people accepted the claims of Ahmadiyya Islam through them, attaining certainty of God’s existence.
New Zealand Herald, 21st April 1906, reports the prophecy of the global calamity
August 1914 Review of Religions warns that the Global War is a fulfilment of the “Grand Prophecy” of 1906. Link here.
Indeed, the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Promised Messiahas as laid out in the book Invitation to Ahmadiyyat are such powerful grand signs, that people continue to attain certainty in God’s existence and the truth of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, to this day. Take, for example, Mahershala Ali, who cites this book, and specifically the section on the Twelve Prophecies of the Promised Messiahas, as a key player in his acceptance of Ahmadiyya Islam:
A year and a half later, on June 23, 2001, I joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the 53rd Annual Convention in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was through reading lnvitation to Ahmadiyyat by the Second Khalifa, specifically the portion on prophecies, along with very simple, logical answers by Brother Ali Murtaza, to what I had believed were difficult questions, that convinced me of the truth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.By the Dawn’s Early Light; Mahershalalhashbaz Ali; p.83
Other, more recent examples of grand signs through which a person can attain certainty, include the Mubahala of the 4th Khalifara with the military dictator of Pakistan. On the 3rd June 1988, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadra opened the challenge of Mubahala, a prayer duel, against the then dictator of Pakistan, Zia ul Haq. On August 12th 1988, after receiving divine communication of Zia’s impending destruction, he stated that there was now no way back for Zia ul Haq to be saved and that he would most certainly be destroyed. On August 17th 1988, five days after that announcement, Zia ul Haq was killed suddenly and unexpectedly in a plane crash, the circumstances of which are still not clear. This is all clearly detailed, with the original sermons dated, in this part of a documentary on his life.
Suggested Reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, for the best understanding of personal religion in the 21st century and the fundamental teaching of justice
My main suggestion to the open minded readers is to read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”
I believe religion is for personal life and salvation and we promote secularism and Western democracy for public life, not organized religion:
Categories: Organized religion