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Revelation and reason beyond Ahmadiyah issue
One of the problems behind the Ahmadiyah controversy is how to know and understand revelation when someone feels that he or she has received it. According to the Koran, God has given revelation to many persons in human history.
There are many prophets in this world. Besides the names of prophets mentioned in the Koran there are still many that are not mentioned. Therefore some even speculate the wise men in history like Plato and Socrates may also have been prophets.
When all or most Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad is the last prophet the question is whether the revelations also ended. All Muslims scholars, at least according to my knowledge, admit the revelation still goes on. But they don’t call it revelation (wahyu) but inspiration (ilham). Separating revelation from inspiration is important in theological Muslims’ discourse because they believe that wahyu as a high level of revelation comes from God, while inspiration that may be good comes from an angel and inspiration that is bad comes from Satan. In other words, revelation is always good while inspiration can be sometimes good and sometimes bad.
How we can differentiate between revelation and inspiration? Is what Mirza Ghulam Ahmad received truly revelation or just inspiration? It is difficult to answer because the receiver of each has the same feeling in the sense he feels informed by a source external to him. Iranian scholar Abdulkarim Soroush says that in our modern age we can understand revelation by using the metaphor of poetry.
As one Muslim philosopher has put it: Revelation is higher poetry. Poetry is a means of knowledge that works differently from science or philosophy. The poet feels that he is informed by a source external to him; that he receives something.
However, Soroush’s explanation fails to clearly distinguish the difference between revelation and inspiration. No one can verify a revelation claim. So it is dependent on people whether they trust his or her confession or not. In the matter of belief, it’s actually the domain of God.
Hence, true believers should not depend merely on the texts or sentences reportedly acquired from revelation. Revelations should be ready to be confronted by reason. Religious texts should be ready to be critically studied. Independent reasoning (ijtihad) is highly respected in Islam.
In Ahmadiyah’s case there are three main problems. The first problem relates to their belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is a prophet because he received a revelation.
Secondly is the problem related to terminology, such as is what Ghulam Ahmad claims to have received from God a revelation, and can his followers be called Muslims?
The third problem concerns the accusations of blasphemy against Ahmadiyah followers.
Since all Muslims principally agree that revelation or more precisely inspiration from God still goes on, the difference between Ahmadiyah and other Muslims is likely merely semantics. Ahmadiyah called the inspiration received by Ghulam Ahmad revelation and named him a prophet while others called it inspiration and named him just a reformer or religious leader.
Should Ahamadiyah followers be called non-Muslims? Before answering this question, another question must be asked first: Are people who believe in six pillars of faith and who are committed to five pillars of Islam non-Muslims? The judgment by MUI through its edict (fatwa) that Ahmadiyah followers are non-Muslim is, in my mind, a blunder.
Because if they are non-Muslims, they will be forbidden to perform daily prayers like other Muslims, or they will be banned to acknowledge two confessions that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. If they are allowed to do so, they automatically become Muslims in practice.
Even if they just pretend to be Muslims, it is not our business; their business is with God. I do agree with the opinion that Ahmadiyah is still within Islamic boundaries.
If Ahmadiyah will further be examined, the best way is through their teachings and their deeds. Does Ahmadiyah teach something that incites hatred to others? Do they commit something that physically will endanger others or endanger this state? Concerning accusations of blasphemy and whether they have violated article 156a of Criminal Code, the best way to settle this is in court.
In human relations Muslims are told to search for common ground with non-Muslims. Then why we can’t we search for common ground and similarities between us and Ahmadiyah members?
The writer is a lecturer at State Islamic University (UIN), Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.