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Home Critical Analysis/Archives Mahzarnama - The Memorandum
Mahzarnama - The Memorandum

Definition of a Muslim and the Viewpoint of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at

It is a universally agreed upon principle that before determining whether an individual or a group belongs to a particular species, an all-encompassing and exclusive definition of such a species is made, which acts as a touch-stone. As long as such a definition exists, it becomes quite easy to decide whether or not any particular individual or group may be counted as a member of that species. In this respect, it is our demand that prior to commencing any further deliberation upon this matter, first a unanimously agreeable, all-encompassing and exclusive definition of a Muslim must be formulated which not only has the unanimous support of all contemporary Muslim sects but on which may also exist the consistent unanimity of all Muslims in history. In this context it will be necessary to keep the following observations in view:

A.
Can any definition of a Muslim be found in the Holy Quran, or by the Holy Prophetsa which definition may have been applied without exception during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa? If there does exist such a definition then what is it?
B.
Can it be considered legitimate for anyone to propose any definition, in any era, which is in disregard of such a definition which is found in the Holy Quran, or by the Holy Prophetsa, a definition that can be shown to have been applied in the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa?
C.
Apart from the definition referred to above, if the term Muslim has been defined in various historical periods by different religious scholars or different sects, then what are those definitions? And what would be their religious status in contradistinction to the definition referred to in (A) above?
D.
During the time of Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiquera, when revolt against Islam was on, did he or the Companions of the Holy Prophetsa feel any need to modify the definition which had prevailed during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa?
E.
Was there any instance during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa or during the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphate (Khilafat Raasheda) of declaring anyone to be a non-Muslim despite one’s affirmation of the Kalima, La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasoolullah, and further expressing one’s belief in the remaining four Pillars of Islam, i.e., daily prayer (Salaat), Zakat, Fasting, and Pilgrimage to Mecca, any such person was still declared to be non-Muslim?
F.
If it were to be considered legitimate to declare someone to be outside the pale of Islam, notwithstanding one’s belief in the five Pillars of Islam, just because one’s interpretation of a few verses of the Holy Quran is unacceptable to some Muslim divines of certain sects; or if one is declared to be outside the pale of Islam for entertaining a belief which runs counter to Islam in the view of certain sects, then such explanations and identification of such beliefs will have to be made so as to incorporate these in the positive definition of a Muslim, i.e., the statement that if any sect believes in the five Pillars of Islam but, additionally, adheres to this set of identified beliefs, then he will be declared to be outside the pale of Islam.
G.
If the door of negation of faith is opened against Muslim sects, as referred to in (e) above, then rationality and justice would necessitate that all those issues be scrutinized on the basis of which various religious scholars have already declared Muslim sects, other than their own, to be disbelievers (Kaafir), apostates (Murtad), or outside the pale of Islam. Some instances are as follows:
i.
To believe that the Holy Quran was created (Makhlooq), or not created. (Ghair Makhlooq) [Asha'ira, Hanabilah]
ii.
To believe that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was not a human being but Light (Noor). [Barelvi].
iii.
To believe that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was not Light (Noor) but a human being. [Ahle Hadith].
iv.
To believe that the Holy Prophetsa was Omnipresent, Omniscient and Knower of the Unseen. [Barelvi]
v.
To believe that it is legitimate to seek help from the saints who are dead, and to hold that several such dead saints possess such powers as to grant the request of someone in need, when one makes such a request to them. [Barelvi]
vi.
To believe that nothing is trustworthy in the Shariah of Islam except the Holy Quran, and that one is not obligated to follow the precept of the Holy Prophetsa (Sunnah) or his reported Sayings (Ahadith), no matter how strong the basis of those traditions, and despite the consistent and unbroken chain of their narration extending to our time. [Chakraalvi, Pervezi]
vii.
To believe that in addition to the chapters (Surahs) contained in the thirty parts of the Holy Quran, some other chapters were also revealed which contained references to Hadhrat Ali, but those revealed chapters were destroyed. Therefore we have not received the complete text of the Holy Quran as it was revealed to the Holy Prophetsa. [Ghaali Shia]
viii.
To believe that, in Jama‘at Khanas, instead of observing five daily prayers, it is permissible to pray in front of the picture of a saint, and it is permissible to address this picture of a saint in the act of prayer, instead of supplicating to God, and regard such a ritual to be a substitute for the daily prayer. [Isma'ili Sect]
ix.
To believe that, with the exception of the Five Blessed persons (sic. of the family of the Holy Prophetsa) and six others among the Companions, all the rest of the Holy Prophet’s Companions—including three among the Rightly Guided Caliphs, viz. Hadhrat Abu Bakr, Hadhrat Umar and Hadhrat Uthman (may Allah be pleased with them all) had all strayed away from Islam and, God forbid, lived as hypocrites. Moreover, to believe that the first three Caliphs were, God forbid, usurpers so therefore it is permissible, indeed essential, to curse them. [Shia]
x.
To believe with regard to any saint that God has permeated within him, either temporarily or permanently. [Holooli Sect]

The foregoing points call for careful consideration because concrete and decisive evidence exists according to which the religious divines and scholars who belong to various sects of Islam have, in due course, issued religious edicts (fatwa) that those who hold beliefs as noted above are certainly outside the pale of Islam even if they believe in the other essential elements of Islam. And a person who is less than sure of their disbelief is himself to be clearly regarded as outside the pale of Islam.

In view of the foregoing, we make an impassioned plea that if the objective is to determine the status, within Islam, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at, on the basis of reason and justice, or if the purpose is to determine the status of any individual or sect in Islam, in view of its particular exegesis of the “Verse of Khaatamun Nabiyyeen,” then a yardstick must be devised which can measure the disbelief of everyone whose beliefs run counter to Islam. With such a scale there will be no room to classify the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at as non Muslim.

In regard to the foregoing issues, the viewpoint of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at can be summarized as under:

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at believes that the only acceptable and practical definition of a Muslim is one which may be definitively predicated upon the Holy Quran, one which is clearly established to have been narrated by the Holy Prophetsa and adherence to which definition is clearly established throughout the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa and the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Any attempt to define a Muslim which bypasses this paradigm will not be free of pitfalls and lacunae. In particular, all the definitions which were formulated in the era subsequent to the aforementioned period (when the continued fragmentation of Islam eventually resulted in seventy-three sects) deserve to be rejected because these are mutually contradictory and cannot be simultaneously reconciled. Accepting any one such definition of a Muslim is impracticable because such a “Muslim” will be found to be non-Muslim on the basis of the rest of the definitions. There is no way out of this quagmire. When Mr. Justice Muhammad Munir asked various Muslim divines to define a Muslim, during the 1953 Enquiry, no two divines could unfortunately agree on any single definition. Mr. Justice Muhammad Munir regretfully observed:

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kaafirs according to the definition of everyone else.”

The conclusion reached by Mr. Justice Muhammad Munir clearly establishes the fact that up to the time when this Judicial Enquiry Report was being prepared, there had never existed any consensus on the definition of a Muslim which might find corroboration with view held by the earlier saints of Islam. So if a seemingly unanimous definition is now formulated, it cannot be labelled as a definition resulting from the consensus of Muslims and corroborated by the earlier saints of Islam.

So the viewpoint of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at is that we must adopt as a Constitutional definition which was precisely formulated by the Khaatamul Anbiyaa’, Hadhrat Muhammadsa, and which constitutes a glorious charter for an Islamic country. In this context, we quote below, three Sayings (Ahadith) of the Holy Prophetsa:

Hadhrat Abu Huraiah relates that the Holy Prophetsa said: “Ask me question”, but (his companions) were diffident to ask. Meanwhile, a man came in and sat in front of the Holy Prophetsa and asked: “What is Islam:?” The Holy Prophetsa replied “Do not associate partners with Allah, offer prayer, pay Zakat and fast in Ramadhan.” The man replied, “You have spoken the truth.” [Muslim, Kitab-ul-Iman]

A man from among the people of Najd, with dishevelled hair, came to see the Holy Prophetsa. We could hear the hum of his conversation but could not capture what he said until he drew closer and we could hear him asking the Holy Prophetsa about Islam. The Holy Prophetsa replied, “Five daily prayers are appointed which span the day and night.” At which he enquired, “Are there other (prayers) in addition to these (five)?” The Holy Prophetsa replied, “No, unless of course you wish to offer some more as super-erogatory,” and further added, “You should observe fasting in the month of Ramadhan.” At this, he enquired, “Is there any other obligatory fasting besides that in Ramadhan?” The Holy Prophetsa replied, “No, unless you wish to observe it in super-erogation.” Then the Holy Prophetsa mentioned Zakat to him, at which he asked, “Is there anything apart from it?” The Holy Prophetsa replied, “No, unless you wish to offer more in super-erogation.” Then this man got up to leave, saying, “By God! I will neither add to these injunctions, nor would I subtract anything from these.” The Holy Prophetsa commented, “If he proves himself to be true in what he just said, he will prosper.” [Sahih Bukhari Kitab-ul-Iman Bab Al-Zakaat min al Islam)

One who observes the same prayer as we do, faces the same direction (in prayer) as we do, and partakes from the animal slaughtered by us, then such a one is a Muslim concerning whom there is a covenant of Allah and His Messenger; so you must not seek to hoodwink Allah in the matter of this Covenant. [Bukhari, Kitabus-Salat, Baab Fazl Istiqbal il-Qibla] [1]

Our spiritual master, Hadhrat Muhammadsa, has done us all a tremendous favour by spelling out this definition in such comprehensive and unambiguous terms, and thereby laying the foundation of the international unification of the Islamic World. It is incumbent upon every Muslim government to accord explicit recognition to this cohesive foundation in its respective Constitution. Failure to do so would perpetuate disunity among the followers of Islam and their trials and tribulations would continue unabated.

During the last fourteen centuries, various religious divines have, from time to time, issued various edicts of disbelief on the basis of their self-styled definitions. It created such a horrifying situation that there was not a single century in which these so-called definitions spared the saints, the deeply religious divines, and pious mystics without holding their adherence to Islam as strongly suspect. One cannot present even a single Islamic sect whose ‘disbelief’ is not fully affirmed by at least a few of the other Islamic sects.

The Status of the Edicts of Disbelief

A question that naturally arises in this context is: What is the status, or worth, of such edicts of disbelief? Can any religious scholar, in his individual capacity or as a representative of his own sect, be entitled to issue an edict of disbelief against another individual or another sect? How would such edicts impinge on the collective status of the followers of Islam as a whole?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at views such edicts as nothing more than strongly held opinions of some religious scholars who regard certain articles of belief to be counter-Islamic to such an extent that, in their view, Allah will consider one who holds such beliefs to be a disbeliever and such a one will not be resurrected among Muslims on the Day of Judgement. In this sense, such edicts constitute no more than warnings in this world. But as far as conducting the day to day affairs of this world is concerned, no individual or denomination can be empowered to expel an individual or a sect from the larger corpus of Islam. It is a matter between a human being and God and it can only be resolved on the Day of Judgement. Since the application of these edicts to govern worldly matters would entail disastrous consequences for the unity of the Muslim ummah, therefore no individual or sect can be declared to be outside the pale of Islam on the strength of an edict issued by the religious scholars of any denomination.

The viewpoint that if unanimity among all sects is achieved in regard to the perceived disbelief of any one sect then such a situation can call for the expulsion of this sect from Islam, is erroneous and irrational on the grounds that, in actual practice, every sect in Islam has certain beliefs which in the agreed opinion of a number of other sects makes the holders of such beliefs liable to be considered outside the pale of Islam. Indeed the existing situation underlines the need for a divinely appointed, just, arbiter.

If today a consensus of all sects can be forged against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at on the pretext of certain differences, then in the days ahead, it is quite likely to have the same outcome against the Shia sect on account of some of their exclusive beliefs. And the same can happen against the Ahle Quran sect, otherwise known as Chakrhalvi or Pervezi. An adverse consensus already exists in practice, among the religious scholars of other sects, against certain beliefs held by the Ahle Hadith, the Wahhabi and the Deobandi sects. Therefore consensus or ‘majority opinion,’ in this context, is an exaggerated notion. If any one particular sect is singled out to be condemned, the rest of the sects would appear to constitute the consensus in opposition to it. Similarly, each and every sect, taken individually, would look like engendering a potential consensus opposed to its own position and such iterations would establish a consensus-led edict of disbelief against each and every sect, taken one at a time.

In our view these edicts are predicated more upon appearance than reality. They cannot per se be taken as a ticket to Paradise or a warrant for Hell. As far as the reality of Islam is concerned, we reproduce below the definition of a true Muslim in the words of the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at. He says:

The accepted meanings of the term Islam is enunciated in this verse of the Holy Quran:

Nay whoever submits himself completely to Allah, while he is excellent in conduct shall have his reward with his Lord. No fear shall come upon such, neither shall they grieve. (2:113)

viz. a Muslim is one who surrenders his all in the way of Allah the Exalted, i.e., one who fully devotes his being to Allah the Exalted, for the fulfilment of His designs, and to win His pleasure. Then he earnestly takes to the pursuit of righteous deeds purely for the sake of God and practically devotes every ounce of his energy in His way. In short, he must attune himself exclusively to God, doctrinally, as well as practically. Doctrinally, in the sense that he really believes the raison d’etre of his whole being to be cognizance of God, obedience to Him, and attainment of His love, His affection, and His pleasure. Practically in the sense that he must perform, exclusively for the sake of Allah, genuine good deeds which flow from exercising every internal and external faculty and prowess which God has endowed him with. But he must do so with happy eagerness which indicates as if he is witnessing the countenance of the Being he worships, in the mirror of his total obedience …

Now every person of sound mind can understand, in the light of the aforementioned verses of the Holy Quran, that the essence of Islam can take root in someone only when his being, with all its objective and subjective faculties, is fully devoted to God and in His path. And whatever faculties God has endowed him with, in the nature of a trust, he must reciprocate (their full and exclusive use back) to (God Who is) the True Endower. This must be done not just in terms of belief only, but additionally, he must cause the complete picture of his Islam and its complete essence to be reflected in the mirror of his deeds. That is to say, a person who claims to be a Muslim must demonstrate that his hands and feet, heart and mind, reason and perception, his anger and compassion, his forbearance and his knowledge, all his spiritual as well as physical faculties, his sense of self-respect, his wealth, his leisure and enjoyment, and whatever he possesses—objectively or subjectively—from the hair on his head down to his toe-nails, even his motives and concerns in the recesses of his heart, as well as all desires of his self, have become just as totally subservient to God as a person’s own limbs are subject to his control. In other words he must demonstrably prove that the purity of his actions has reached a point where whatever he has is no longer “his” but has come to be devoted to God, and all his limbs and faculties are so completely immersed in the service of God as if they are God’s own instruments.

Pondering over these verses also makes it plainly obvious that devoting one’s life in the way of God, which is the essence of Islam, can be accomplished in two ways: Firstly, to accept God to be the only one Who is worthy of one’s worship, one’s sole objective and beloved, and none else should remain associated with Him in His worship, love for Him and fear of, and hope from, Him. And all decorum, commandments, injunctions and penalties which pertain to His glorification, His praise, His worship, as well as matters pertaining to the heavenly decrees, be accepted wholeheartedly. And all such injunctions, penalties, rules and divine decrees must be held in high esteem, in a spirit of complete self-abnegation and humility. Furthermore, all the eternal verities and pure depths of wisdom must be thoroughly explored which are a means to comprehending His limitless powers and a medium for understanding the lofty station of His dominion and kingdom, and which are a potent guide towards the recognition of His favours and His bounties. Secondly, the other way of devoting one’s life in the way of Allah is that one must devote one’s life in the service of His creatures in sympathy towards them, exploring ways to alleviate their burdens and genuinely redressing their griefs. So that one may undergo hardships in order to provide comfort to others, and accept pain for oneself to ensure pleasure for others.

This discourse reveals that the essence of Islam is really magnificent, and no one can genuinely be given this noble title of being a Muslim until he hands over all his being: with all its faculties, desires, and intentions, to God, and unless he withdraws his hands from his egoism with all its antecedents, and takes exclusively to His path.

So, therefore, one shall be called a Muslim in the real sense only when his life of careless abandon is transformed by a drastic revolution such that the entity of his ego that incites to evil (nafs-e-ammaara), along with all the emotions attendant upon it die readily, and after espousing this "death," on account of being "righteous, purely for the sake of Allah," a new life will kindle within him. It would be such a blessed life which would be shorn of everything except complete obedience to the Creator and selfless sympathy for His creatures.

The obedience to God will take the form of one’s being ever-ready to endure insults and humiliation for the purpose of establishing His Glory and Majesty and His Uniqueness. And one’s readiness to court death a thousand times in one’s endeavours to ensure eternal life for the attribute of His Oneness. And one hand may gladly sever one’s other hand if obedience to Him so dictates. And one’s love for the magnificence of His Commandments and one’s thirst for seeking His approbation may create such disgust toward sin as if it were a consuming inferno, or a lethal poison, or a devastating thunderbolt from which one must flee with all the powers at one’s disposal. In other words, one must abandon all the desires of one’s ego in order to obey His Wishes, and endure life-threatening injuries if only to ensure becoming grafted to Him, and sever all bondage of flesh in order to demonstrate one’s bond with Him.

The Service to Allah’s creatures takes the form of providing benefit to all other creatures in their numerous needs through a variety of ways and means in which (Allah) the Eternal Allocator has made various creatures dependent on various others by exercising all faculties of one’s being, in all such matters purely for the sake of Allah. One must use one’s God-given faculties to help everyone who is in need of help, and must strive to improve not only the needy person’s position in the worldly life but also his life in the Hereafter …

So this tremendous obedience to God and practical service which is mingled with affection and love, and filled with sincerity and perfect genuineness, this indeed is what constitutes Islam, and its essence and its crux, which one attains after one attains ‘death’ over one’s egoism, (apprehension of) other creatures, greed and self-will."

[Aa’eenah Kamaalaat-e-Islam, Roohaani Khazaa’in vol. 5, pp. 58-62]


1
This translation of the Hadith was taken from the booklet authored by Maulana Abul’A‘ala Maudoodi, A Critique of Constitutional Proposals, pp. 14-15, (Urdu).
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