As Muslims it is our firm belief that all major religions are from God Almighty; be it Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Sikhism. All these religions have a common set of fundamental beliefs at their inception, further proving this point, after the passage of time, we find that the followers introduce such teachings and traditions as are not in complete accordance with the core doctrines, thus deviating and losing the essence which was to be found in the early days.
Let us take the example of our very own religion of Islam. Very rarely do we switch on the TV to find that a Muslim has not killed such and such people, or that a Muslim Jihadi group has not bombed the houses of the innocent, taking the lives of many civilians. It would be a breath of fresh air to us all had this not been the case, but unfortunately, this is the reality of Muslims in this day and age and it is all down to the wrong interpretation made by Muslim clerics of the teachings of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" and of God’s commandments in the Holy Qur’an.
Fortunately, God has promised us that there will always be saintly people sent to the world to revive the faith of the believers and to bring them onto the right path once again. In effect, there will always be a group of Muslims who will act in accordance with the crux of the Islamic religion; today we, the Ahmadiyya community, are that community.
But let us take a step back and have a look at the overall picture. Why is it that this is not the case with the rest of the religions of the world? The Jews were the chosen people of God and were granted superiority over the rest of mankind. But now they have become so hard-hearted that they have incurred the wrath of God and been branded مَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ. And what of the Christians? Why have they gone to the other extreme and turned a mere mortal into God? Where is that guided group in their religion which is meant to bring the Holy Spirit back to الضّالِّيَْن – those who have gone astray – once again?
There is one group of Christians who claim to be those very people. So who are these people who go by the name of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Origins of the movement
This denomination was founded in the USA towards the end of the 19th century by Charles Taze Russell. One can find the headquarters of the movement set up then in New York. There are about 6.9 million active Witnesses in 235 countries in the world (2007), including 1 million in the USA and 130,000 in the UK.
Members of the movement were originally called Bible Students. The name Jehovah’s Witnesses was later adopted in 1931. The name Jehovah’s Witnesses is derived from a Bible passage:
Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me, there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me, there is no saviour.
I have declared, and I have saved, and I have shown; and there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and I am God.Isaiah 43:10-12
Though belonging to the Christian tradition, the group believes that traditional Christian Churches have deviated from the true teachings of the Bible, and do not act in full harmony with God’s Word.
Belief in God
Witnesses believe that the God mentioned in the Bible as the ‘Father’ is the only true God and absolutely reject the idea that Jesus was also a divine being. In essence, they find the doctrine of the trinity to be based on Pagan ideas and in contradiction with the teachings of all prophets, including that of Jesus. The God of this movement is All-Powerful, above all others, Unequalled, Loving, Wise and Just. Unlike other Christian groups, this one has attributed to God a personal name which is ‘Yahweh’, or more commonly ‘Jehovah’.
Belief in Jesus
As has been mentioned, Jesus is not considered to be God nor is he the physical son of God as mainstream Christianity portray him to be. Never did he claim to be God; instead he is a separate being created by Jehovah. Interestingly enough, they believe him to be the very first creation of God.
They assert that Jesus came to make human salvation possible, and in accordance with the New Testament, by giving his own life. After three days in hell, he had a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily one.
According to the movement, he is the Messiah predicted to have come in the Old Testament. He came from heaven and was appointed by God to judge human beings on earth and decide their fate in the hereafter. This brings us to the next topic which is that of heaven and hell.
Belief in heaven and hell
The common belief among mainstream Christians is that if you truly believe in Jesus and in salvation, you will enter paradise for eternity. If you do not, you go to hell. Now, this raises the question that if Jesus went to hell does that make him a disbeliever? Well, the Witnesses have tried to dodge the bullet by limiting the punishment of hell to the punishment of the grave. In other words, such a soul which dies in disbelief will cease to exist and will remain in its grave. They prove this through the Biblical verse:
The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all … for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in (the grave), the place to which you are going.Ecclesiastes 9: 5, 10
As they no longer exist after death, souls cannot be tortured nor tormented; nothing can happen to them after passing from this world. They claim that it is against God’s nature to torture humans for eternity.
On the other hand, death is not the end of everything in their eyes. Each person is remembered by God and after a long time they will eventually be resurrected, as quoted in the Bible:
The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.John 5:28-29
So what will happen in heaven and who exactly can enter it? God wants to continue the plan he had set out at the time of Adam and Eve and will reward them with the same life they had before being deceived by the serpent. In other words, men will not have to work hard and women will not feel pain at childbirth for the rest of their lives. They will live freely and happily for eternity, on Earth.
Furthermore, when exploring the teachings of the Witnesses we find that significant emphasis has been laid on the ‘End times’. No one really knows when the exact time is; as stated in Matthew:
Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.Matthew 24:36
The End times refer to a sort of Armageddon where everyone is going to be destroyed and only 144,000 human beings, having been resurrected, will go to heaven to be Kings alongside Jesus. These selected few are called the ‘anointed’ ones.
So how do we become one of the anointed ones? They claim that it is not done by vote or selection, but God Himself chooses them directly and makes it known to them. They have the exclusive honour of partaking in the bread and wine during the annual Memorial of Christ’s death. You may still be wondering why only 144,000 people will be brought back to life while the others will remain in a ‘restored paradise on earth.’ Well, the Witnesses quote the verses of Revelation 14:1 and Revelations 14:3-5 which briefly explain that they will be godly people, they will not utter a lie and will lead righteous lives. They will be counted as among the ‘little flock’ referred to in Luke 12:32 while the others, be they righteous or unrighteous, will be accepted as the ‘other sheep’, referred to in John 10:16.
Hence we see that the perception of heaven and hell of the Witnesses is in conflict with that of mainstream Christianity. One claims that heaven is for those who believe in Jesus while hell is for the rest of the world, whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses have outright rejected the concept of hell and limited the station of paradise to a mere number of ‘chosen ones’.
In any case, the notion of eternal life is understandably very appealing and the comfort of knowing that there is no punishment for the wicked has brought many people around the world to the community.
Belief in the Crucifixion
It is worthy of note to remember that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" was put up on the cross. I do not mean to say that they do not believe in the crucifixion, for this doctrine is the very essence of all Christians, no matter which denomination they belong to. The reason why this has been mentioned is that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus died not on the cross, but on a single stake. This is based on the Greek words used in the bible for the cross which literally mean ‘stake’ or ‘tree’. You may not have noticed this before but now one can understand why Witnesses do not wear crosses.
So the crux of the matter is that their concepts of the crucifixion and the salvation of mankind are in accordance with that of other Christian denominations; the only dispute is regarding what Jesus was actually put upon.
Festivals and celebrations
The most important religious event on their calendar is the Memorial of Christ’s death. This takes place on the anniversary of the Last Supper calculated according to the lunar calendar. This, they claim, is the only festival commanded by Jesus to observe.
As a result, the two most important celebrations in the Christian calendar, Christmas and Easter, are completely discarded and their sanctity rejected. Moreover, they
consider these festivals to be based on Pagan customs. Nowhere do they find in the Bible that Jesus asked his followers to celebrate his birthday. In this respect, they have understood it to be an insult if they were to celebrate their own birthdays.
As a rule, Witnesses are encouraged to live humble lives, not to waste time in useless festivals and celebrations, but instead to spend their time in the service of religion and in propagating the message of Jesus to the whole world.
In reality, much of their lives revolve around this act of disseminating biblical literature and the ‘good news’.
All Witnesses who are physically capable of it engage in missionary work. In 2005 Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world spent over 1.2 billion hours on missionary work.
Much missionary work involves visiting door-to-door to discuss the scriptures with people they meet. A successful discussion will lead to return trips, and possibly to home Bible studies.
The aim is to persuade non-believers of the rightness of their cause so that they eventually become witness themselves. Witnesses do this work without pay and some, called pioneers, spend 70 hours a month in door-to-door witnessing.
Witnesses believe that missionary work should take priority over career, so many will choose lower-paid jobs with limited hours so as to have more time to devote to their faith.
It is worthy of note that Witnesses maintain a degree of separation from the world meaning they will not participate in any political or military activity, such as joining the army or voting. This is based on Jesus’ saying:
It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to Him alone you must render sacred service.Luke 4:8
In their eyes, this world is run by Satan so they should not involve themselves in his plans and schemes. They should try their best to maintain a high moral standard within themselves and the community.
If ever a member goes against these standards, that is; he commits sins such as theft, adultery, drug abuse, murder, etc., the elders get involved and issue disciplinary sanctions to get them back in line. If, for any reason, a member decides to leave the community or acts in a way that reveals his desire to detach himself from the Witnesses, the consequence is that the person will be considered shunned and expelled. It will be to such an extent that he will be barred from taking part in all congregations and all other members will have nothing to do with him even on a social level.
Despite all the confusion on the topic of apostasy, the true teaching of Islam is that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ and that no person should be forced to abide by any belief or faith. To act otherwise can never turn the hearts of the people. Christians often make such allegations against Islam; maybe they should think twice before they raise such allegations against other religions which can be thrown back at them.
In conclusion, one can see that Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to abide by Biblical teachings and the words of Jesus. They endeavour to live a simple and religious life and to abstain from evil deeds.
But is this enough? If it is believed that God has ceased to speak to His creatures as He did in Biblical times, faith in God and spirituality will eventually die, reducing religions to mere traditions and customs. When the root is not regularly watered by heavenly water, how can the tree flourish? It matters not whether one calls oneself Catholic or Protestant, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness if in the end, one has accepted that one will never be able to attain living communion with one’s Creator on earth. Is God no longer able to actively guide His creation and leave the door to gaining a close relationship with Him open for all times?