Letter to Nehru

Statement of Allama Muhammad Iqbal regarding the Qadiani Ahmadiyya

(From the Book: Islam and Ahmadism, Dawah Academy, International Islamic University, Islamabad)

This Statement was produced in 1936 to Clarify Dr. Iqbal's position and request the non-Muslim Governor (Pandit) of India to declare the Qadianis a non-Muslim minority

Part I

On the appearance of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru's three articles in The Modern Review of Calcutta, I received a number of letters from Muslims of different shades of religious and political opinion. Some writers of these letters want me to further elucidate and justify the attitude of the Indian Muslims towards the Ahmadis. Others ask me what exactly I regard as the issue involved in Ahmadism. In this statement I propose first to meet these demands which I regard as perfectly legitimate, and then to answer the questions raised by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. I fear, however, that parts of this statement may not interest the Pandit, and to save his time I suggest that he may skip over such parts.

It is hardly necessary for me to say that I welcome the Pandit's interest in what I regard as one of the greatest problems of the East and perhaps of the whole world. He is, I believe, the first Nationalist Indian leader who has expressed a desire to understand the present spiritual unrest in the world of Islam. In view of the many aspects and possible reactions of this unrest, it is highly desirable that thoughtful Indian political leaders should open their mind to the real meaning of what is at the present moment agitating the heart of Islam.

I do not wish, however, to conceal the fact, either from the Pandit or from any other reader of this statement, that the Pandit's articles have for the moment given my mind rather a painful conflict of feelings. Knowing him to be a man of wide cultural sympathies, my mind cannot but incline to the view that his desire to understand the questions he has raised is perfectly genuine; yet the way which he has expressed himself betrays a psychology which I find difficult to attribute to him. I am inclined to think that my statement on Qadianism - no more than a mere exposition of a religious doctrine on modern lines - has embarrassed both the Pandit and the Qadianis, perhaps because both inwardly resent, for different reasons, the prospects of Muslim political and religious solidarity particularly in India. It is obvious that the Indian Nationalist whose political idealism has practically killed his sense for fact is intolerant of the birth of a desire for self-determination in the heart of North-West Indian Islam. He thinks, wrongly in my opinion, that the only way to Indian Nationalism lies in a total suppression of the cultural entities of the country through the interaction of which alone India can evolve a rich and enduring culture. A nationalism achieved by such methods can mean nothing but mutual bitterness and even oppression. It is equally obvious that the Qadianis, too, feel nervous by the political awakening of the Indian Muslims, because they feel that the rise in political prestige of the Indian Muslims is sure to defeat their designs to carve out from the Ummat of the Arabian Prophet a new Ummat for the Indian prophet. It is no small surprise to me that my effort to impress on the Indian Muslims the extreme necessity of internal cohesion in the present critical moment of their history in India, and my warning them against the forces of disintegration, masquerading as Reformist movements, should have given the Pandit an occasion to sympathize with such forces....

Only a true lover of God can appreciate the value of devotion even though it is directed to gods in which he himself does not believe. The folly of our preachers of toleration consists in describing the attitude of the man who is jealous of the boundaries of his own faith as one of intolerance. They wrongly consider this attitude as a sign of moral inferiority. They do not understand that the value of his attitude, is essentially biological. Where the members of a group feel, either instinctively or on the basis of rational argument, that the corporate life of the social organism to which they belong is in danger, their defensive attitude must be appraised in reference mainly to a biological criterion. Every thought or deed in this connection must be judged by the life-value that it may possess. The question in this case is not whether the attitude of an individual or community towards the man who is declared to be a heretic is morally good or bad. The question is whether it is life-giving or life-destroying. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru seems to think that a society founded on religious principles necessitates the institution of Inquisition. This is indeed true of the history of Christianity; but the history of Islam, contrary to the Pandit's logic, shows that during the last thirteen hundred years of the life of Islam, the institution of Inquisition has been absolutely unknown in Muslim countries. The Qur'an expressly prohibits such an institution: "Do not seek out the shortcomings of others and carry not tales against your brethren." Indeed the Pandit will find from the history of Islam that the Jews and Christians, fleeing from religious persecution in their own lands, always found shelter in the lands of Islam. The two propositions on which the conceptual structure of Islam is based are so simple that it makes heresy in the sense of turning the heretic outside the fold of Islam almost impossible. It is true that when a person declared to be holding heretical doctrines threatens the existing social order an independent Muslim State will certainly take action; but in such a case the action of the State will be determined more by political considerations than by purely religious ones. I can very well realize that a man like the Pandit, who is born and brought up in a society which has no well-defined boundaries and consequently no internal cohesion, finds it difficult to conceive that a religious society can live and prosper without State-appointed commissions of inquiry in so the beliefs of the people. This is quite clear from the passage which he quotes from Cardinal Newman and wonders how far I would accept the application of the Cardinal's dictum to Islam. Let me tell him that there is a tremendous difference between the inner structure of Islam and Catholicism wherein the complexity, the ultra-rational character and the number of dogmas has, as the history of Christianity shows, always fostered possibilities of fresh heretical interpretations. The simple faith of Muhammad is based on two propositions-that God is One, and that Muhammad is the last of the line of those holy men who have appeared from time to time in all countries and in all ages to guide mankind to the right ways of living. If, as some Christian writers think, a dogma must be defined as an ultra-rational proposition which, for the purpose of securing religious solidarity, must be assented to without any understanding of its metaphysical import, then these two simple propositions of Islam cannot be described even as dogmas; for both of them are supported by the experience of mankind, and are fairly amenable to rational argument. The question of a heresy, which needs the verdict whether the author of it is within or without the fold, can arise, in the case of a religious society founded on such simple propositions, only when the heretic rejects both or either of these propositions. Such heresy must be and has been rare in the history of Islam which, while jealous of its frontiers, permits freedom of interpretation within these frontiers. And since the phenomenon of the kind of heresy which affects the boundaries of Islam has been rare in the history of Islam, the feeling of the average Muslim is naturally intense when a revolt of this kind arises. That is why the feeling of Muslim Persia was so intense against the Bahais. That is why the feeling of the Indian Muslims is so intense against the Qadianis.

It is true that mutual accusations of heresy for differences in minor points of law and theology among Muslim religious sects have been rather common. In this indiscriminate use of the word Kufr, both for minor theological points of difference as well as for the extreme cases of heresy which involve the excommunication of the heretic, some present-day educated Muslims, who possess practically no knowledge of the history of Muslim theological disputes, see a sign of social and political disintegration of the Muslim community. This, however, is an entirely wrong notion. The history of Muslim Theology shows that mutual accusation of heresy on minor points of difference has, far from working as a disruptive force, actually given an impetus to synthetic theological thought. "When we read the history of development of Muhammadan Law," says Professor Hurgronje, "we find that, on the one hand, the doctors of every age, on the slightest stimulus, condemn one another to the point of mutual accusations of heresy; and, on the other hand, the very same people with greater and greater unity of purpose try to reconcile the similar quarrels of their predecessors." The student of Muslim Theology knows that among Muslim legists this kind of heresy is technically known as "heresy below heresy," i.e. the kind of heresy which does not involve the excommunication of the culprit. It may be admitted, however, that in the hands of mullas whose intellectual laziness takes all oppositions of theological thought as absolute and is consequently blind to the unity in difference, this minor heresy may become a source of great mischief. This mischief can be remedied only by giving to the students of our theological schools a clearer vision of the synthetic spirit of Islam, and by reinitiating them into the function of logical contradiction as a principle of movement. in theological dialectic. The question of what may be called major heresy arises only when the teaching of a thinker or a reformer affects the frontiers of the faith of Islam. Unfortunately, this question does arise in connection with the teachings of Qadianism. It must be pointed out here that the Ahmadi movement is divided into two camps known as the Qadianis and the Lahoris. The former openly declare the founder to be a full prophet; the latter, either by conviction or policy, have found it advisable to preach an apparently toned down Qadianism. However, the question whether the founder of Ahmadism was a prophet the denial of whose mission entails what I call the "major heresy" is a matter of dispute between the two sections. It is unnecessary for my purposes to judge the merits of this domestic controversy of the Ahmadis. I believe, for reasons to be explained presently, that the idea of a full-prophet whose denial entails the denier's excommunication from Islam is essential to Ahmadism; and that the present head of the Qadianis is far more consistent with the spirit of the movement than the Imam of the Lahoris.

The cultural value of the idea of Finality in Islam I have fully explained elsewhere, Its meaning is simple: No spiritual surrender to any human being after Muhammad who emancipated his followers by giving them a law which is realizable as arising from the very core of human conscience. Theologically, the doctrine is that: the socio-political Organization called "Islam" is perfect and eternal. No revelation the denial of which entails heresy is possible after Muhammad. He who claims such a revelation is a traitor to Islam. Since the Qadianis believe the founder of the Ahmadiyyah movement to be the bearer of such a revelation, they declare that the entire world of Islam is infidel. The founder's own argument, quite worthy of a medieval theologian, is that the spirituality of the Holy Prophet of Islam must be regarded as imperfect if it is not creative of another prophet. He claims his own prophethood to be an evidence of the prophet-rearing power of the spirituality of the Holy Prophet of Islam. But if you further ask him whether the spirituality of Muhammad is capable of rearing more prophets than one, his answer is "No". This virtually amounts to saying: "Muhammad is not the last Prophet: I am the last." Far from understanding the cultural value of the Islamic idea of finality in the history of mankind generally and of Asia especially, he thinks that finality in the sense that no follower of Muhammad can ever reach the status of prophethood is a mark of imperfection in Muhammad's prophethood. As I read the psychology of his mind he, in the interest of his own claim to prophethood, avails himself of what he describes as the creative spirituality of the Holy Prophet of Islam and, at the same time, deprives the Holy Prophet of his "finality" by limiting the creative capacity of his spirituality to the rearing of only one prophet, i.e, the founder of the Ahmadiyyah movement. In this way does the new prophet quietly steal away the "finality" of one whom he claims to be his spiritual progenitor.

He claims to be a buruz of the Holy Prophet of Islam insinuating thereby that, being a buruz of him, his "finality" is virtually the "finality" of Muhammad; and that this view of the matter, therefore, does not violate, the "finality" of the Holy Prophet. In identifying the two finalities, his own and that of the Holy Prophet, he conveniently loses sight of the temporal meaning of the idea of Finality. It is, however, obvious that the word buruz, in the sense even of complete likeness, cannot help him at all; for the buruz must. always remain the other side of its original. Only in the sense of reincarnation a buruz becomes identical with the original. Thus if we take the word buruz to mean "like in spiritual qualities" the argument remains ineffective; if, on the other hand, we take it to mean reincarnation of the original in the Aryan sense of the word, the argument becomes plausible; but its author turns out to be only a Magian in disguise.

It is further claimed on the authority of the great Muslim mystic, Muhyuddin ibn Arabi of Spain, that it is possible for a Muslim saint to attain, in his spiritual evolution, to the kind of experience characteristic of the prophetic consciousness. I personally believe this view of Shaikh Muhyuddin ibn Arabi to be psychologically unsound; but assuming it to be correct the Qadiani argument is based on a complete misunderstanding of his exact position. The Shaikh regards it as a purely private achievement which does not, and in the nature of things cannot, entitle such a saint to declare that all those who do not believe in him are outside the pale of Islam. Indeed, from the Shaikh's point of view, there may be more than one-saint, living in the same age or country, who may attain to prophetic consciousness. The point to be seized is that, while it is psychologically possible for a saint to attain to prophetic experience, his experience will have no socio-political significance making him the center of a new Organization and entitling him to declare this Organization to be the criterion of the faith or disbelief of the followers of Muhammad.

Leaving his mystical psychology aside I am convinced from a careful study of the relevant passages of the Futuhat that the great Spanish mystic is as firm a believer in the Finality of Muhammad as any orthodox Muslim. And if he had seen in his mystical vision that one day in the East some Indian amateurs in Sufism would seek to destroy the Holy Prophet's finality under cover of his mystical psychology, he would have certainly anticipated the Indian Ulama in warning the Muslims of the world against such traitors to Islam.

Part II

Coming now to the essence of Ahmadism. A discussion of its sources and of the way in which pre-Islamic Magian ideas have, through the channels of Islamic mysticism, worked on the mind of its author would be extremely interesting from the standpoint of comparative religion. It is, however, impossible for me to undertake this discussion here. Suffice it to say that the real nature of Ahmadism is hidden behind the mist of medieval mysticism and theology. The Indian Ulama, therefore, took it to be a purely theological movement and came out with theological weapons to deal with it. I believe, however, that this was not the proper method of dealing with the movement; and that the success of the Ulama was, therefore, only partial. A careful psychological analysis of the revelations of the founder would perhaps be an effective method of dissecting the inner life of his personality. In this connection, I may mention Maulvi Manzur Elahi's collection of the founder's revelations which offers rich and varied material for psychological research. In my opinion the book provides a key to the character and personality of the founder and I do hope that one day some young student of modern psychology will take it up for serious study. If he takes the Qur'an for his criterion, as he must for reasons which cannot be explained here, and extends his study to a comparative examination of the experiences of the founder of the Ahmadiyyah movement and contemporary non-Muslim mystics, such as Rama Krishna of Bengal, he is sure to meet more than one surprise as to the essential character of the experience on the basis of which prophethood is claimed for the originator of Ahmadism.

Another equally effective and more fruitful method, from the standpoint of the plain man, is to understand the real content of Ahmadism in the light of the history of Muslim theological thought in India at least from the year 1799. The year 1799 is extremely important in the history of the world of Islam. In this year fell Tippu, and his fall meant the extinguishing of the Muslim hopes for political prestige in India. In the same year was fought the battle of Navarneo which saw the destruction of the Turkish fleet. Prophetic were the words of the author of the chronogram of Tippu's fall which visitors of Serangapatam find engraved on the wall of Tippu's mausoleum: "Gone is the glory of India as well of Roum." Thus, in the year 1799, the political decay of Islam in Asia reached its climax. But just as out of the humiliation of Germany on the day of Jena arose the modern German nation, it may be said with equal truth that out of the political humiliation of Islam in the year 1799 arose modern Islam and her problems. This point I shall explain in the sequel. For the present I want to draw the reader's attention to some of the questions which have arisen in Muslim India since the fall of Tippu and the development of European imperialism in Asia.

Does the idea of Caliphate in Islam embody a religious institution? How are the Indian Muslims, and for the matter of that all Muslims outside the Turkish Empire, related to the Turkish Caliphate? Is India Dar-ul-Harb or Dar-ul-Islam? What is the real meaning of the doctrine of Jihad in Islam? What is the meaning of the expression "From amongst you" in the Qur'anic verse: "Obey God, obey the Prophet and the masters of the affair, i.e. rulers, from amongst you"? What is the character of the Traditions of the Prophet foretelling the advent of Imam Mahdi? These questions and some others which arose subsequently were, for obvious reasons, questions for Indian Muslims only. European imperialism, however, which was then rapidly penetrating the world of Islam, was also intimately interested in them. The controversies which these questions created form a most interesting chapter in the history of Islam in India. The story is a long one and is still waiting for a powerful pen. Muslim politicians whose eyes were mainly fixed on the realities of the situation succeeded in winning over a section of the Ulama to adopt a line of theological argument which as they thought suited the situation; but it was not easy to conquer by mere logic the beliefs which had ruled for centuries the conscience of the masses of Islam in India . In such a situation, logic can either proceed on the ground of political expediency or on the lines of a fresh orientation of texts and traditions. In either case, the argument will fail to appeal to the masses. To the intensely religious masses of Islam only one thing can make a conclusive appeal, and that is Divine Authority. For an effective eradication of orthodox beliefs it was found necessary to find a revelational basis for a politically suitable orientation of theological doctrines involved in the questions mentioned above. This revelational basis is provided by Ahmadism. And the Ahmadis themselves claim this to be the greatest service rendered by them to British imperialism. The prophetic claim to a revelational basis for theological views of a political significance amounts to declaring that those who do not accept the claimant's views are infidels of the first water and destined for the flames of Hell. As I understand the significance of the movement, the Ahmadi belief that Christ died the death of an ordinary mortal, and that his second advent means only the advent of a person who is spiritually "like unto him," give the movement some sort of a rational appearance; but they are not really essential to the spirit of the movement. In my opinion, they are only preliminary steps towards the idea of full prophethood which alone can serve the purposes of the movement eventually brought into being by new political forces. In primitive countries it is not logic but authority that appeals. Given a sufficient amount of ignorance, credulity which strangely enough sometimes coexists with good intelligence, and a person sufficiently audacious to declare himself a recipient of Divine revelation whose denial would entail eternal damnation, it is easy, in a subject Muslim country to invent a political theology and to build a community whose creed is political servility. And in the Punjab, even an ill-woven net of vague theological expressions can easily capture the innocent peasant who has been for centuries exposed to all kinds of exploitation. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru advises the orthodox of all religions to unite and thus to delay the coming of what he conceives to be Indian Nationalism. This ironical advice assumes that Ahmadism is a reform movement: he does not know that as far as Islam in India is concerned, Ahmadism involves both religious and political issues of the highest importance. As I have explained above, the function of Ahmadism in the history of Muslim religious thought is to furnish a revelational basis for India's present political subjugation. Leaving aside the purely religious issues, on the ground of political issues alone it does not lie in the mouth of a man like Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to accuse Indian Muslims of reactionary conservatism. I have no doubt that if he had grasped the real nature of Ahmadism he would have very much appreciated the attitude of Indian Muslims towards a religious movement which claims Divine authority for the woes of India.

Thus the reader will see that the pallor of Ahmadism which we find on the cheeks of Indian Islam today is not an abrupt phenomenon in the history of Muslim religious thought in India. The ideas which eventually shaped themselves in the form of this movement became prominent in theological discussions long before the founder of Ahmadism was born. Nor do I mean to insinuate that the founder of Ahmadism and his companions deliberately planned their programme. I dare say the founder of the Ahmadiyyah movement did hear a voice; but whether this voice came from the God of Life and Power or arose out of the spiritual impoverishment of the people must depend upon the nature of the movement which it has created and the kind of thought and emotion which it has given to those who have listened to it. The reader must not think that I am using metaphorical language. The life-history of nations shows that when the tide of life in a people begins to ebb, decadence itself becomes a source of inspiration, inspiring their poets, philosophers, saints, statesmen, and turning them into a class of apostles whose sole ministry is to glorify, by the force of a seductive art or logic, all that is ignoble and ugly in the life of their people. These apostles unconsciously clothe despair in the glittering garment of hope, undermine the traditional values of conduct and thus destroy the spiritual virility of those who happen to be their victims. One can only imagine the rotten state of a people's will who are, on the basis of Divine authority, made to accept their political environment as final. Thus, all the actors who participated in the drama of Ahmadism were, I think, only innocent instruments in the hands of decadence. A similar drama had already been acted in Persia; but it did not lead, and could not have led, to the religious and political issues which Ahmadism has created for Islam in India. Russia offered tolerance to Babism and allowed the Babis to open their first missionary center in Ishqabad. England showed Ahmadism the same tolerance in allowing them to open their first missionary center in Woking. Whether Russia and England showed this tolerance on the ground of imperial expediency or pure broadmindedness is difficult for us to decide. This much is absolutely clear that this tolerance has created difficult problems for Islam in Asia. In view of the structure of Islam, as I understand it, I have not the least doubt in my mind that Islam will emerge purer out of the difficulties thus created for her. Times are changing. Things in India have already taken a new turn. The new spirit of democracy which is coming to India is sure to disillusion the Ahmadis and to convince them of the absolute futility of their theological inventions.

Nor will Islam tolerate any revival of medieval mysticism which has already robbed its followers of their healthy instincts and given them only obscure thinking in return. It has, during the course of the past centuries, absorbed the best minds of Islam leaving the affairs of the State to mere mediocrity. Modern Islam cannot afford to repeat the experiment. Nor can it tolerate a repetition of the Punjab experiment of keeping Muslims occupied for half a century in theological problems which had absolutely no bearing on life. Islam has already passed into the broad day light of fresh thought and experience, and no saint or prophet can bring it back to the fogs of medieval mysticism...