Three Stages of Divine Realisation
The Promised Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, peace be upon him, wrote at length about how we can be convinced of the existence of God for ourselves. He taught that believing in God is not an on/off switch. Rather, our certainty concerning God can be of different types. He outlined three different levels of certainty of God. These were the certainty by means of inference; certainty by means of sight, and certainty by means of experience.
“The Holy Quran has drawn attention to three types of knowledge: knowledge by way of certainty of inference, knowledge by way of certainty of sight, and knowledge by way of certainty of experience. As we have already explained knowledge by certainty of inference is that a thing should be known not directly but through something through which it can be inferred, as by observing smoke we infer the existence of fire. We do not see the fire, but see the smoke and because of it we believe in the existence of the fire. Then if we see the fire, this, according to the Holy Quran, would be certainty by sight. If we were to enter into the fire, our knowledge would have the quality of certainty by experience. We have set out all this already and we refer our listeners and readers to that exposition.”
Certainty of Inference
“It should be known that the source of the first type of knowledge, that is to say knowledge by the certainty of inference, is reason and information. God Almighty sets out in the Holy Quran that the dwellers of hell will affirm:
“And they will say, ‘If we had but listened or possessed sense, we should not have been among the inmates of the blazing Fire.’”
That is, those who go to hell will say if they had exercised their reason and had approached the consideration of religion and doctrine sensibly, or had listened to and read with attention the speeches and writings of the wise and the scholars, they would not have been condemned to hell…
These verses also indicate that one can obtain the certainty of knowledge by inference through one’s ears also. For instance, we have not visited London and have only heard of it from those who have visited it, but then can we imagine that all of them might have told a lie? Or, we did not live in the time of Emperor Alamgir, nor did we see him, but can we have any doubt that Alamgir was one of the Moghul emperors? How did we arrive at that certainty? The answer is, through the continuity of hearing about him. Thus, there is no doubt that hearing also carries one’s knowledge to the stage of certainty by inference. The books of the Prophets are also a source of knowledge through hearing, provided there should be no contradiction in the account that is heard…
The Holy Quran is not confined merely to knowledge gained through continuity of hearing, it contains well reasoned arguments which carry conviction. Not one of the doctrines and principles and commandments that it sets forth is sought to be imposed merely by authority; as it has explained, they are all inscribed in man’s nature… Thus, intellectual arguments which have a sound basis undoubtedly lead a person to the certainty of knowledge by inference.”
Certainty of Sight
“With regard to the hereafter our knowledge arrives at the degree of certainty by sight when we receive direct revelation and hear the voice of God through our ears, and behold the true and clear visions of God with our eyes. Without a doubt we are in need of direct revelation for the purpose of achieving such perfect understanding for which our hearts hunger and thirst in our beings. If God Almighty has not provided the means of such comprehension for us in advance then why has He created this hunger and thirst in our hearts?
Is it not true that an affirmation by the Living God: I am present; bestows such a degree of understanding compared with which the self conceived books of all the philosophers amount to nothing at all? What can those so-called philosophers who are themselves blind teach us? In short, if God Almighty designs to bestow perfect understanding upon His seekers then He has certainly kept open the way of converse with them.”
Certainty of Experience
“The third source of knowledge is certainty through experience, that is to say, all the hardships and calamities and sufferings that are experienced by the Prophets and the righteous at the hands of their opponents, or that are imposed upon them by Divine decree. Through these hardships and sufferings all the commandments of the law and its directions that were comprehended by the human mind intellectually, appear in practical shape and become experience, and by being developed by practical exercise arrive at their climax, and the person concerned himself becomes a perfect code of Divine guidance.”
Progressing from Faith to Certainty
While there are many logical reasons to believe in God, such intellectual endeavour can only take you so far. Even if you believe in God on an intellectual level because of what you read of scientific discoveries, Qur’anic prophecies, and spiritual testimonies, such things won’t give you a personal experience of God. For that, you need to commit to the path of True Islam for yourself. You have to live your life dedicated to God. With such actions, you progress along the spiritual path. With such actions, you witness the existence of God in your own lives, you begin to experience true dreams and other spiritual experiences, and where your doubt once was you find only courage and conviction.
The Promised Messiah, writing on this topic, tells us:
“The Word of God directs us: Have faith and you will be delivered. It does not tell us: Demand philosophical reasons and conclusive proofs in support of the doctrines that the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has presented to you, and do not accept them until they are established like mathematical formulae. It is obvious that if the teaching of a Prophet is to be accepted only after being tested by the canons of current knowledge, that would not be faith in the Prophet; inasmuch as every verity when it is established clearly, becomes binding, whether it is set forth by a Prophet or by anyone else. Even if expounded by a vicious person it has to be accepted. That which we would accept by putting our trust in a Prophet, and by affirming his righteousness, must be of a nature which possesses a probability of truth in the estimation of reason and yet leaves room for a foolish person to incline towards its rejection as false; so that by taking the side of truth and affirming the righteousness of a Prophet we may be rewarded for our well-thinking, penetrating intelligence, respectfulness and faith. This is the purport of the teaching of the Holy Qur’an that we have set forth.
But thinkers and philosophers have never followed this way and have always been heedless of faith. They have always been in search of the kind of knowledge which is demonstrated to them as being immediate, incontrovertible and certain.
It should be remembered that God Almighty, by demanding faith in the unseen, does not wish to deprive the believers of certainty of understanding the Divine. Indeed, faith is a ladder for arriving at this certainty of understanding, without which it is in vain to seek true understanding. Those who climb this ladder surely experience for themselves the pure and undefiled spiritual verities. When a sincere believer accepts Divine commands and directions for the only reason that God Almighty has bestowed them upon him through a righteous bearer, he becomes deserving of the bounty of understanding. That is why God Almighty has established a law for His servants that they should first acknowledge Him by believing in the unseen, so that all the problems they face may be resolved through the bounty of true understanding. But it is a pity that a hasty one does not adopt these ways. The Holy Qur’an contains the promise of God Almighty that if a person, who accepts the call of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) on the basis of faith, seeks to comprehend its reality and strives after such comprehension, the reality will be disclosed to him by means of visions and revelations and his faith will be elevated to the stage of the understanding.”
Rationality Needs Revelation
Many throughout history have looked down upon the idea that God’s revelation is needed to convince one of God’s existence. They felt that purely intellectual arguments were enough, devoid of any interaction with God. The Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, refuted this claim repeatedly. He said that if God did not reveal Himself to mankind, there would always be doubt concerning his existence:
“It is true that reason is also a lamp which God has furnished to man, the light of which draws man towards truth and saves him from a variety of doubts and suspicions and sets aside different types of baseless ideas and improper conjectures. It is very useful, very necessary and is a great bounty. Yet, despite all this it suffers from the shortcoming that it alone cannot lead to full certainty in the matter of the understanding of the reality of things. The stage of perfect certainty is that man should believe that the reality of things exists as it in fact does exist. Reason alone cannot lead to this high degree of certainty. At the outside, it proves the need of the existence of something, but does not prove that in fact it exists. This degree of certainty that a person’s knowledge should proceed from the stage of ‘should be’ to the stage of ‘is’, is acquired only when reason is joined by a companion which, confirming its conjecture, converts it into fact, that is to say, regarding a matter concerning which reason says it ‘should be’ that companion informs that in fact it ‘is’. Reason only establishes the need of a thing; it cannot establish its existence, and these are two distinct and separate matters. Thus, reason needs a companion which should supplement the defective ‘should be’ of reason with the affirmative ‘is’ and which should give information of facts as they truly exist. So, God Who is most Compassionate and Generous and desires to lead man to the stage of utmost certainty has fulfilled this need and has appointed several companions for reason and has thereby opened the way of perfect certainty to it, so that the soul of man, whose total good fortune and salvation depends upon perfect certainty, should not be deprived of its desired good fortune and so that it should quickly cross the delicate and dangerous bridge of ‘should be’ which reason has constructed over the river of doubts and suspicions, and should enter the grand palace of ‘is’ which is the house of peace and satisfaction.
Those companions of reason, which are its helpers, which come into operation on different occasions, are not more than three. If the operation of reason relates to that which can be felt or observed—for instance, which can be seen or heard or smelt or touched—its companion, which can lead it to certainty, is true observation which is called experience. If the operation of reason relates to those occurrences which take place at different times and places, the companion of reason in such a case is history, or newspapers, or letters, or communications. These also, like experience, so clear up the smoky light of reason that to doubt it thereafter is folly or insanity. If the operation of reason relates to matters which are metaphysical, which cannot be seen by the eye, or heard by the ear, or touched by the hand, nor can they be inquired about through history, then the companion that helps reason is revelation.
The law of nature also demands that, as relating to the first two matters imperfect reason is furnished by two companions, a companion should also be furnished to it in respect of the third category of matters. There can be no discrimination in the law of nature. When God has not desired to leave man in a defective condition with regard to worldly knowledge and arts, an error in respect of which is not of any great consequence, it would be an ill thought that He desired to leave man in a defective condition regarding the full understanding of matters, complete certainty concerning which is a condition of salvation and any doubt concerning which would push man into eternal ruin. In such a case man’s knowledge concerning the hereafter would be reduced to pure conjecture. He would not have available any means which should bear witness to that which is and should bestow contentment and satisfaction upon the heart that in fact and in truth that which reason conjectures as existing does indeed exist. The need that reason establishes is not fictitious, but is real. When it is known that in matters Divine perfect certainty can be obtained only through revelation, and that man is in need of perfect certainty for his salvation and that without perfect certainty faith cannot be safeguarded, then it becomes obvious that man is in need of revelation.”
Divine Encounters in the Spiritual Realm
The Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, rejuvenated mankind’s hope for contact with the divine. Through his vivid description of thousands of divine encounters, he strengthened the faith of his followers until they too tasted a portion of the fruit of which he spoke.
“God Almighty has divided His wonderful universe into three parts.
- The world which is manifest and can be felt through the eyes and the ears and other physical senses and through ordinary instruments.
- The world which is hidden and which can be understood through reason and conjecture.
- The world which is hidden beyond hidden, which is so imperceptible that few are aware of it. That world is entirely unseen; reason has not been granted the ability to reach it, except through mere conjecture. This world is disclosed only through visions, revelation, inspiration, and not by any other means.
As is well established, it is the way of Allah that for the discovery of the first two worlds that we have mentioned He has bestowed upon man different types of faculties and powers. In the same way, the Absolute Bounteous has appointed a means for man for the discovery of the third world; and that means is revelation, inspiration and visions. This means is not allowed to be wholly suspended at any time; indeed, those who comply with the conditions for achieving it have, throughout, been its recipients and will continue to be such…
…The wonders of this third world are numberless. In comparison with the other two worlds, they are like the sun as compared to a grain of poppy seed. To insist that the mysteries of that world should be wholly revealed through reason would be like shutting one’s eyes and insisting that visible things should become perceptible through the sense of smell.
The wonders of the third world totally frustrate reason. No one need be surprised at the creation of souls for in this very world such mysteries are revealed to those who have experience of visions, that reason wholly fails to penetrate their reality. At times, a person who has a capacity to see visions can see someone from a distance of hundreds of miles despite numberless intervening obstructions. In fact, on some occasions, in a state of complete wakefulness, he can hear his voice also, and it is even more wonderful that sometimes the other person can hear the voice of the first one. On occasions, in a vision resembling the state of wakefulness, he can meet the souls of those who have passed on. As a general rule, meeting with all dwellers of graves—blessed or benighted—is possible in this manner. I myself have had such experiences.
This refutes entirely the doctrine of the transmigration of souls current among the Hindus. The greatest wonder is that sometimes one possessing the capacity for vision, through concentration, appears to another person, with the permission of God Almighty, at a distance of hundreds of miles in a state of complete wakefulness without his body moving from its place. Reason holds that a person cannot be at two places at the same time, yet this impossibility becomes possible in the third world. In the same way, a person of understanding witnesses hundreds of wonders with his own eyes and is surprised at the denial of those who altogether reject the wonders of the third world. I have witnessed the wonders and rare visions of that world with my own eyes approximately five thousand times and have experience of them happening to myself. It would take a large volume to record details of these experiences. One wonderful aspect of these experiences is that some matters which have no external existence come into being through Divine power. The author of Futuhat and Fusus [Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi] and other great Sufis have recorded a number of their own experiences of this kind in their compilations. But as there is a great difference between hearing and seeing, I could not have obtained that certainty by merely reading these accounts which I have acquired through my own experience.
I recall that in a vision I saw that I had drawn up with my own hand certain Divine decrees which related to the future and then presented the paper to God Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Glorious, for His signature. (It should be borne in mind that it often happens in visions and true dreams that some Divine attributes of beauty or glory appear in human form to the person seeing the vision and he imagines the form to be God Almighty. This experience is well known to those who are favoured with visions and cannot be denied). In short, I presented that book to that personification of beauty, which appeared as God Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Incomparable and the Unfathomable, in the state of my vision. On my presenting that document, God Almighty, Who appeared in the form of a ruler, dipped His pen in red ink and sprinkled it in my direction and with the ink that remained at the point of the pen He signed the document. Thereupon the vision came to an end and when I opened my eyes I saw several drops of red ink fall on my clothes and two or three of them fell on the cap of one ‘Abdullah of Sannaur who was sitting near me at the time. That red ink which was part of the vision became materialized and became visible externally.
I have seen several other visions of the type which it would take too long to set down, but whereby my own experience confirmed that sometimes a matter that is observed in a vision assumes external form by the command of Allah. These matters cannot be appreciated through reason alone. Indeed a person who is afflicted with the pride of his reason hears these things and affirms arrogantly that they are impossible and false and that the person who claims to have had such experience is either a liar or is mad or is self-deceived and for lack of proper research, has not been able to penetrate to the reality. Such a one does not reflect that these matters are testified to by thousands of the righteous from their personal experiences, and of which they undertake a demonstration to those who might keep company with them. Can they be set aside with mere verbal denials?
The truth of the matter is that, apart from the wonders of the world of vision, reason has not been able to comprehend fully even that which pertains to the world of reason and there are millions of Divine mysteries which are still hidden and beyond the reach of the wise.”