Q. In an answer to one question, you praised Maulana Muhammad Ali greatly, yet in articles attributed to you elsewhere, you greatly disparaged Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his understanding of the Qur'an. How can you do this when Muhammad Ali was a staunch follower of Mirza, having been taught by him?

A. There is a law in Islamic thought made very famous by the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the late Ibn Baz of blessed memory: "al ibratu bi maa qaal, laa bi man qaal -- the criterion lies in what is said, not by whom it is said." Applying this rule, I find that whether Muhammad Ali was a follower of Mirza or not is beside the point, his own erudition speaks for itself. Certainly he bought into a lot of Mirza's ideas, but let us not forget that he came to Mirza when he was already a lawyer, and had already formed his own opinions. If he saw in Mirza something akin to his own expectations and chose to follow him, then it does not necessarily prove that Mirza was smarter. An unbiased comparison of Mirza's writings with Muhammad Ali's certainly brings out the point.

It must be pointed out too that during their lifetime, certain clear divergences can be seen. Whereas Muhammad Ali was in London reaching out to build bridges with the Christians, Mirza was in Qadian seeking to indulge in all sorts of acerbic polemic. Let us not forget that Muhammad Ali later broke away from mainstream Qadianism to become the khalif of the Lahori subsect. Let me state too that in lauding Muhammad Ali, I do not necessarily vouchsafe his ideas, some of which are, to my mind, the most ridiculous when compared to the text of the Qur'an. Regarding this, I need to clarify that the knowledge of an individual may be lauded to a certain extent, but this must not lead us to believe that the person is therefore to be considered correct on every point, and we must accept his/her ideas in toto.

In fact, this observation was one of the fundamental ones in Ghazali's attempted refutation of Greek philosophy. Many Muslims marveled at the philosophers' erudition on certain matters, and mistakenly felt that their genius in one area meant some sort of pervasive intelligence in others, when in fact, especially in matters regarding the Creator, many of the philosophers were woefully ignorant.

Posted April 10, 2000