The few and the weak versus the many and the powerful

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 27 October 2023

“And set forth to them the parable of two men — for one of them We made two gardens of grape-vines, and We surrounded them with date-palms, and between them We made corn-fields. Both these gardens yielded their fruits, and did not fail in this at all, and We caused a river to gush forth in their midst, and he had fruit. So he said to his companion, while arguing with him: I have more wealth than you, and am greater in followers. And he went into his garden, while he was unjust to himself. He said: I do not think that this will ever perish, and I do not think the Hour will come; and even if I am returned to my Lord, I will certainly find a better place of return than this.” — ch. 18, Al-Kahf, v. 32–36

وَ اضۡرِبۡ لَہُمۡ مَّثَلًا رَّجُلَیۡنِ جَعَلۡنَا لِاَحَدِہِمَا جَنَّتَیۡنِ مِنۡ اَعۡنَابٍ وَّ حَفَفۡنٰہُمَا بِنَخۡلٍ وَّ جَعَلۡنَا بَیۡنَہُمَا زَرۡعًا ﴿ؕ۳۲  کِلۡتَا الۡجَنَّتَیۡنِ اٰتَتۡ اُکُلَہَا وَ لَمۡ تَظۡلِمۡ مِّنۡہُ شَیۡئًا ۙ وَّ فَجَّرۡنَا خِلٰلَہُمَا نَہَرًا ﴿ۙ۳۳  وَّ کَانَ لَہٗ ثَمَرٌ ۚ فَقَالَ لِصَاحِبِہٖ وَ ہُوَ یُحَاوِرُہٗۤ اَنَا اَکۡثَرُ مِنۡکَ مَالًا وَّ اَعَزُّ نَفَرًا ﴿۳۴ وَ دَخَلَ جَنَّتَہٗ وَ ہُوَ ظَالِمٌ لِّنَفۡسِہٖ ۚ قَالَ مَاۤ اَظُنُّ اَنۡ تَبِیۡدَ ہٰذِہٖۤ اَبَدًا ﴿ۙ۳۵   وَّ مَاۤ اَظُنُّ السَّاعَۃَ قَآئِمَۃً ۙ وَّ لَئِنۡ رُّدِدۡتُّ اِلٰی رَبِّیۡ لَاَجِدَنَّ خَیۡرًا مِّنۡہَا مُنۡقَلَبًا ﴿۳۶

Here is a parable, or illustration, presented in the Holy Quran, of two men one of whom has two gardens, with a river running between them, and they always give him fruit. The other man has no such thing. The one with the gardens boasts to him: “I have more wealth than you, and am greater in followers”. That is his criteria of greatness. He also believes that this greatness will last forever, he will never have to face any judgment from God for his deeds, and even if he does have to face God, and he is “returned to my Lord”, as he says, he will be granted an even better place. So having wealth and followers is also his criterion for believing that he is accepted by God as being on the right path. Now, who are these “followers” that he mentions? As he possesses such great wealth, and every year he has abundant, unfailing crops, these followers could be people employed by him in his vast estate, his servants, they could be others who are dependent on receiving material support from him, and they could also be just his admirers and people who look up to him because of his wealth and status.

In this parable, after the part which I read above, the Quran goes on to say that the poor man replied: “Do you disbelieve in Him (God) Who created you of dust, then of a small life-germ, then He made you a perfect (i.e., full-fledged) man?” (18:37). In other words, you began life as a weak being who was nothing, and now, possessing all this wealth and power, you are claiming that the One Who raised you to this status cannot bring you down. The poor man goes on to say: “But as for me, He, Allah, is my Lord, and I set up none as partner with my Lord” (18:38). So, as against having great wealth and numerous followers, the poor man has Allah as his Lord, and he does not look to anyone or anything else as equal to God. The wealthy man considers his wealth and power to be ever-lasting and imperishable, just as God is ever-lasting, so he regards these things as sharing with God the quality of being permanent. When the poor man says: “Do you disbelieve in Him (God)…?” he doesn’t mean that the wealthy man actually doesn’t believe in God. He means that the wealthy man holds other things as equal to God and believes that those things can save him. He believes that God will not hold him to account and is bound to reward him.

The wealthy and the poor man in this parable are not necessarily meant to be individual human beings. They could be nations, with some of them looking down upon others, or they could be religious communities, or sects within a religion who consider themselves as the right ones because of their worldly possessions and number of followers. When European nations ruled other parts of the world, they were staunch­ly Christian. They gained converts in the countries that they ruled. They came to believe that their wealth, power, and increasing number of followers was proof of the truth of their religious beliefs, that God had chosen them, and God would not hold them to account in the hereafter for whatever they had done but instead He would grant them a heavenly life. Many other people in the world, including many Muslims, were impressed by this line of argument. During the time of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, in the 1800s and early 1900s, many Muslims, while remaining Muslims, came to believe that Islam was a thing of the past, as Muslims possessed little power and wealth in the world, and had lost forever what they had in previous times.

Of course, it does happen that people who follow the right path, and are devoted to the worship of the One God, start from a weak position in terms of worldly resources and achieve great power and wealth in the world. It happened in case of the early Muslims, that due to their righteous character, noble behaviour and their prayers, their worldly position transformed towards the end of the Holy Prophet’s life, and shortly thereafter they became a powerful, ruling nation possessing tremendous worldly resources. But when the truly righteous find themselves in this position they do not start treating these achievements as the ultimate aim of their lives, nor do they regard these things as a seal of approval from God. They regard this prosperity more as a trial from God than as a reward. According to the Quran, Moses said to his followers: “It may be that your Lord will destroy your enemy and make you rulers in the land, then He will see how you act” (7:129). This not only proves the point that granting of power to someone is a test and trial, but we also can see that the followers of Moses today need to reflect on the words: “then He will see how you act”.

After the early Muslims had become affluent after the death of the Holy Prophet, it is reported in hadith that once a meal was brought to a Companion of the Holy Prophet to end his fast. Seeing how lavish the meal was, he recalled with pain that Companions greater than him had been killed in battles in the days when Muslims had no such comforts, and he added: “I fear that the rewards of our deeds have been given to us earlier in this world’s life”, and started crying and left his food (Bukhari, hadith 1275). He meant that having these material benefits in this life might deprive them of benefits of the hereafter. They no longer need to struggle and sacrifice as they did in the earlier times, so they fear the loss of the reward they would have got in the hereafter for that struggle. Attainment of wealth and rule in the world can be the outcome of following the true religion, but merely possessing it is no evidence that your religious beliefs were correct.

It is not only followers of religions who advance such arguments against other religion, but sects within a religion advance them over other sects. Opponents of the Ahmadiyya Movement have the attitude that because they have power over the masses, from whom they can raise huge amounts of money, this means that they are the specially chosen people whose mission from Allah is to destroy the Ahmadiyya Movement by any means, for example, by use of force and coercion, deceit and falsehood. Their behaviour is just what the wealthy man said: “I do not think that this will ever perish, and I do not think the Hour will come; and even if I am returned to my Lord, I will certainly find a better place of return than this”. They believe that their position of strength is ever-lasting, and even Allah won’t question them, but in fact He will bestow further reward on them.

It is one of their prime arguments that, since the overwhelming majority of Muslims supports their verdict that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, hence their verdict is correct and approved by Allah. However, we read in the history of Moses and Aaron, in both the Bible and the Quran, the well-known story that when Moses went away from his people to communicate with God, they made the golden calf from their ornaments and jewellery and started worshipping it. Even the presence of the prophet Aaron could not stop them from the worship of this golden calf. This shows that almost an entire nation, one which was freshly receiving a book from God, and had two prophets living in it, turned away from the worship of the One God to idol-worship. So, a large majority of a nation, in fact, as in this incident, almost an entire nation, can drift away towards the wrong path.

Sadly, a large group within the Ahmadiyya Movement, the followers of the khilafat system, employ the same attitude towards us, the much smaller Lahore Ahmadiyya group. The first argument they put forward to show that their beliefs are correct is exactly this: “I have more wealth than you, and am greater in followers”. They say this proves that Allah is on their side, they will continuously have more and more of followers and mosques in this world, the hour of Judgment cannot come upon them, and if it does they will go straight to heaven because they claim to be the only sect of Muslims that will receive salvation. They don’t pause to think that, when Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was defending the religion of Islam against its critics, this was what the Christian opponents of Islam said to him: Our religion is true because we have so many missions, churches, followers and converts all over the world.

In another place the Quran tells us: “And when Our clear messages are recited to them, those who disbelieve say to those who believe: Which of the two groups is better in position and better assembled?” (19:73) The two groups mentioned here, disbelievers and believers could be any kind of opponents and supporters of truth. It is our repeated experience that when we, of this Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at, present clear arguments we receive this very reply, whether from the anti-Ahmadiyya or representatives of the Rabwah Jama‘at, who say to us: we are stronger, bigger, more powerful, and more numerous than you. But the Quran goes on to say: “Say: As for him who is in error, the Beneficent (Allah) will pro­long his length of days; until they see what they were threatened with, either the punishment or the Hour. Then they will know who is worse in position and weaker in forces. And Allah increases in guidance those who go aright. And the ever-abiding, the good works, are better with your Lord in reward and yield better return” (19:75–76).

So we must remember that Allah may prolong the days when such people have the upper-hand, but in the end  the successful ones will not be those who brag and boast about their strength and numbers, but those who follow the right guidance and do good deeds.  May Allah make us from among these second ones — Ameen.