Modern inventions are from God and should be used for good

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 26 January 2024

“And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We do not send it down but in a known measure.” — ch. 15, Al-Ḥijr, v. 21

وَ اِنۡ مِّنۡ شَیۡءٍ اِلَّا عِنۡدَنَا خَزَآئِنُہٗ ۫ وَ مَا نُنَزِّلُہٗۤ اِلَّا بِقَدَرٍ مَّعۡلُوۡمٍ ﴿۲۱

“When the earth is shaken with her shaking, and the earth brings forth her burdens, and man says: What has happened to her? On that day she will tell her news, as if your Lord had revealed to her.” — ch. 99, Al-Zilzāl, v. 1 – 5

اِذَا زُلۡزِلَتِ الۡاَرۡضُ زِلۡزَالَہَا ۙ﴿۱ وَ اَخۡرَجَتِ الۡاَرۡضُ اَثۡقَالَہَا ۙ﴿۲  وَ قَالَ الۡاِنۡسَانُ مَا لَہَا ۚ﴿۳ یَوۡمَئِذٍ تُحَدِّثُ اَخۡبَارَہَا ۙ﴿۴ بِاَنَّ رَبَّکَ اَوۡحٰی لَہَا ؕ﴿۵

According to the first verse that I read, everything that exists has treasures hidden within it known only to God, and God discloses them to human beings in a measured way, not all at once. This has a number of meanings, one of which is that it applies to humanity’s scientific discoveries. Humans have discovered hidden properties in the materials around them, and as a result exploited them for their physical needs, comforts and increase in prosperity. For example, metals and minerals are found in the earth. Gradually, humans have discovered how they can exploit their properties. To take one instance, it was discovered less than a hundred years ago that a mineral, Uranium, which occurs in nature, can be used to produce atomic energy. It was then used to build the atomic bomb and is also used to generate electricity. Numerous other metals, such as iron and copper, are similarly found in rocks called ore, from which man extracts and uses them. From plants and herbs, medicines have been derived.

According to the Quran, man’s acquiring knowledge of these treasures and extracting them only happens as ordained by God. It is not in man’s control as to what he will find and how he can use it. History shows that most scientific discoveries were made by people accidentally, who were looking for one thing but instead they found something else. And what they could use that discovered thing for was not determined by people but it was determined by the properties of the thing that they discovered. It says in this verse about these hidden treasures, “We do not send it down but in a known measure”. In other words, man at any time will only see certain properties in the things that he discovers. Later on, he may find further uses for the same thing.

The second set of verses I read are from the beginning of a short chapter of the Quran. It is generally considered to refer to the end of the world and the Day of Judgment. These verses are taken to mean that there will be huge earthquakes, des­troy­ing everything, and then all human bodies buried in graves will be thrown out so that they may be raised to life and stand before God for judgment by Him. But this doesn’t seem to fit in with the next verses: “and man says: What has happened to her (i.e. the earth)?”, and then earth apparently talks back to him.

The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, has explained that these verses refer to modern scientific discoveries and technological inventions. The earth is “shaken with her shaking” means that man will endeavour to extract all sorts of things from the earth, and the “burdens” or resources that it carries will be brought out by man. Mankind will go all over the earth, as well as dig down into it, scientific knowledge relating to our physical world will be discovered extensively, and all kinds of new inventions and new industries will come into being. So much so that people, when they see this enormous transformation, will begin to ask: What has happened to the earth (or the world)?

Here I would add that even those scientists and inventors who produced these new things later on wondered with astonishment at the changes which their own inventions went on to bring in the world. The man who originally invented television in the 1920s, or the man who is said to have invented the Internet in the 1990s, would themselves be astonished to see how their inventions later went on to completely change the world.

The next verses which I read tell us that when man will ask the question: What has happened to the earth, “on that day she (the earth) will tell her news, as if your Lord had revealed to her.” Obviously the earth cannot speak in words. This can only mean that the state and condition of the earth will indicate that all these new things have come about by God’s command. This is just as the Quran says:

“And your Lord revealed to the bee: Make hives in the mountains and in the trees and in what people build, then eat of all the fruits and walk in the ways of your Lord submissively” (16:68–69).

It doesn’t mean that God spoke to bees, telling them to do this, but that He created bees to perform these tasks. Similarly, the words about the earth, that it will tell man its news “as if your Lord had revealed to her” mean that the release of the hidden treasures of the earth to man was part of God’s will and plan.

But how will people know that all this was part of God’s will and plan? Hazrat Mirza sahib says that these modern developments in communications and transport have been brought about by God in order to help spread the call of Islam all over the world, just like, he writes, electric current goes in an instant to the most distant corner of the earth and illumi­nates it (book Government Angrezi aur Jihad, pages 15–16). In his day these were the railway train, telegrams and the postal system. He writes: “For everything there are now facilities available which your fathers and grandfathers did not have, as if this is a new world.” He wrote this in the year 1900. We can certainly make the same observation in our time as well, because the world has continued to change in the same way, in fact even faster. He has described the modern inven­tions and facilities of his time as “servants of the faith” by means of which the true religion can be conveyed to the people of the world.

In his time, when modern knowledge reached his home country of India under British rule, it was, of course, taught in English. Many Muslim religious scholars declared it as against Islam for any Muslim to learn English as it was the language of the unbelievers. They also opposed the use of any new invention for religious pur­poses. Going back a further 300 years or so before that time, Muslims had already suffered damage by rejecting the use of the printing press for printing the Quran, which they later came to accept. Now they rejected, for example, the use of the loud­speaker for prayers and khutbas on the grounds that the Quran prohibits you from uttering a loud voice like an ass. They opposed photo­graphy on the grounds that Islam forbids the making of images. But later on, the force of circumstances compelled them to start using all these inventions for religious purposes. Today any latest development is at once taken up for use by Muslim religious instructors in their work.

When Hazrat Mirza sahib allowed his photograph to be included in some of his books, this was raised as an objection against him by people who said that in Hadith there is a strict warning against the making of images of any creatures. He has answered this objection at one place in a book. He says that people in the West, when they read a book, like to see a photo of the author. They have ways of assessing from someone’s facial appearance if he is truthful or a liar. So for that purpose he allowed his photo to be published.

But he says in any case he does not believe that there is an absolute prohibition in Islam on making pictures and photos. He points out that accor­d­ing to the Quran the prophet and king Solomon employed what are called jinn — which some interpret as foreigners of a great stature and strength — who made for him any images that he wanted (34:13). He adds that in nature too we find images of living things imprinted on stones under water. I think he is referring here to fossils. Regard­ing modern photography he says that the camera can be used to diagnose cer­tain diseases. And he mentions a camera which he says can photograph all the bones in the human body, obviously referring to X-rays which had just then been discovered in his time. He writes:

“Many branches of knowledge have benefitted from photo­graphy, and some Westerners have published books containing photographs of every kind of animal and bird in the world, which has helped the progress of know­ledge.”

He then asks:

“Can God, Who encourages the acquisition of knowledge forbid the use of an instrument which enables the most difficult diseases to be diagnosed?”

He goes on to say that Muslim religious leaders, by issuing such ridiculous pronouncements, give the opponents of Islam an opportunity to laugh and mock at our religion. Regarding the publication of his own photo, he writes that he does not approve of his followers to publish and distribute his photo as a matter of course, but only if there is a specific and compelling need. He warns that to reproduce photos of religious leaders so that their followers can hang them on their walls for no good reason but just for reverence, leads to image worship. Such displays are contrary to the teachings of Islam, and he forbids his followers from doing so with his photo.

As you can see, Muslims in general treated these modern inventions with suspicion and doubt as to whether it was allowable to use them in Islam or not. This was because they looked at them as having been produced by unbelievers and created by a non-Islamic civilisation and environ­ment. However, they could not resist their use for long, and eventually they had to adopt them. On the other hand, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad embraced them with enthusiasm and believed that their development was a part of God’s plan to spread the message of Truth more widely and quickly.

In the publication where he has described these inventions as “servants of the faith”, he calls upon the leaders and scholars of the various religions that, with the availability of these convenient means of transport and communications, they should get together in a meeting at one venue and present the good points of their religion to each other in a polite, calm and rational way, leaving aside prejudice and bigotry towards others. In this atmosphere of harmony, he says, the true religion will become manifest to people. He also adds:

“As God has created for us so many resources to spread the message of truth, it would be highly regrettable if we do not take advantage of these God-given blessings, nor devise ways of using them to spread the truth, which would be to the great benefit of humanity.”

So may Allah enable us to use all the available tools that He has granted us to spread the message of Islam in the world, Ameen.