Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s Support for British Rule over India (Part 1)

Viewed in the Light of Previous History

by Abdul Momin

The Light (UK), February 2010 Issue (pp. 1–5)

The opponents of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad often refer to his praise of British rule over India in his writings as proof that he was a traitor to Islam. The common objection often runs something like this: Can a person praising the British be considered as one sent by Allah? Or, Can a person abrogatingjihad in favour of British rule be considered a man from Allah? He was nothing more than a British stooge, his opponents allege. The accusation against Hazrat Mirza Sahib of being a “British agent” is the common theme found in the books of anti-Ahmadiyya “scholars”. He is said to have been planted by the British to subvert Islam and to prevent Muslims from carrying out a violent jihad to expel them from India. For these extreme opponents, acceptance of any person to have truly been sent by Allah for the benefit of Muslims requires that such a person lead an armed struggle against foreign invaders, no matter what the circumstances (or consequences). The favourite weapon of choice of these opponents in confronting even non-Ahmadi co-religionists, with whom they differ, is armed conflict. In fact they have become so obsessed with the notion of physical warfare and military power that it is easy to see, in the light of the present day condition of Muslims, why so many Muslims have been deceived into worship of the gun or the use of force — more than anything else — to settle matters amongst themselves.

These objections against Hazrat Mirza Sahib have often misled many objective Muslims, who find it hard to reconcile themselves with his writings in favour of the British, and who otherwise may see his defence of Islam against attacks by Christian missionaries in a more favourable light.

One example of the writings of these anti-Ahmadiyyas can be found in the booklet Qadiani Masala (Qadiani Problem), composed of Maulana Maududi’s statements to the Munir Commission in Pakistan in 1954, in which certain quotations from Hazrat Mirza Sahib’s books are produced where he explicitly praises British rule over India and where he declares that jihad against the British is prohibited, and that members of his own Jamaat [Movement] are the most loyal citizens of the British government compared to other Muslims of India. Maulana Maududi wonders if such words can even be considered to be those of a “prophet”. This example from Maulana Maududi’s booklet is provided here because he is considered to be a leading scholar of modern-day Islam in the Sunni Muslim world.

From the writings of these anti-Ahmadiyyas, one is forced to conclude that these writers attribute to themselves the most profound understanding of how a prophet would exercise his judgment or what course he would follow in any given circumstance. They lose sight of the fact that since the birth of Islam the world has seen only one prophet, who passed away more than 1400 years ago. In fact, during the last two thousand years the world has known only a total of three prophets: John the Baptist, Jesus, and Muhammad (pbuh). There is always a gap in the knowledge of present-day people of even the most famous individuals of the past, because history of the past is never complete. Except for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the histories of the other prophets are shrouded in mystery, the Holy Quran and the Bible being the prominent sources where one finds them mentioned. So how did these opponents of Hazrat Mirza Sahib become such great experts on the conduct of prophets of God?

In the case of British rule over India, nationalistic pride has mixed religion with politics. Admittedly no one likes to be ruled by an alien people, whether they appear under the garb of traders, or as an invading army from another country. But the anti-Ahmadiyyas do not show much consistency in their stance when they demonize the British. Either because the British are ethnically very different, have a very different language, culture and religion and because they could not be defeated militarily by Muslims of the sub-continent or — just out of expediency — hostility against them in Muslim minds is conveniently used to defame Hazrat Mirza for his support for British rule.

Also, a common objection in most Muslim minds is that the British looted the wealth of India and other territories under their dominion, so how could support for them be justified? But this has been the practice of invaders since the dawn of history. Nader Shah of Iran and his soldiers took with them thousands of elephants, horses and camels, loaded with the booty they had collected after their invasion of India. They massacred those who rose against them. The plunder seized from India was so rich that Nader stopped taxation in Iran for a period of three years following his return. That loot included the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor Diamond. According to one newspaper columnist, that war booty is worth 90 billion Pounds in today’s currency. In fact, at the time the British were establishing themselves in India the countries surrounding India under Muslim control were far from citadels of Islam, palace intrigues being the norm and relatives resorting to assassination of other relatives in order to grab power for themselves. The Muslim empires of Afghanistan, Iran and the Ottomans were often at war with each other. The Kings of India could not even subdue the Marathas or Sikhs from India without outside help.

So why single out the British? Not everything the British did can be considered bad. For example, it was the British who put an end to the practice of Hindu widows being burnt to death along with their dead husbands. The armed forces in the sub-continent today are modelled after the British. In sharp contrast Afghanistan, about which it is proudly said that it always resisted foreign invaders, including the British, today has a need for a professional army which is being developed with the help of an invading army (the Americans) in order to establish order in that country and to prevent anarchy. The Sikhs, whose population in India was a tiny fraction of that of Muslims in India two hundred years ago, ruled over Muslims in the Punjab and North-West Frontier areas with an iron hand, even preventing them from performing their religious obligations like the azan [call to prayer]. It was the British who finally freed those Muslims living under oppressive Sikh rule. For this, many Muslims owed a debt of gratitude to them. The Sikhs also took part in a bloodbath against the Muslims at the time of partition of India in 1947. Yet they are barely mentioned by these anti-Ahmadiyyas. They seem to have been forgotten today, because the anti-Ahmadiyyas’ enmity is chiefly directed against Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

The need or otherwise of violent jihad against the British will not be discussed here because this topic has been extensively discussed in Ahmadiyya literature. The purpose of this article is to rebut the false notion that prophets of God do not ever agree to live peacefully and as law abiding citizens under the domination of an alien culture or under people of a different nationality or religion.

While we do not ever consider Hazrat Mirza to be a prophet but only a wali [saint] and mujaddid [reformer], one can safely say that if a prophet is prohibited by God from showing loyalty to people of an alien culture or religion, the same would hold true for a mujaddid as well, because the mujaddid’s mission, like that of a prophet, is the revival of religion and to make people worship the One True God and obey His Laws. To accomplish this, if it means that the prophet of his age must under all circumstances expel or fight foreign invaders from his land or people of a different faith until they are subjugated, the mujaddid must do so too. But if one were to study whatever history is available to us concerning past prophets, one begins to have serious doubts about the scholarship of even well known people like Maududi. As Maulana Israr Ahmad said sometime ago,

“Our ulama [clerics] do not read the Bible or the books of other religions…”

The same appears to be true of Maulana Maududi as well.

Although, according to the Holy Quran, messengers appeared amongst all nations of the world, the knowledge commonly available to us is about prophets from the Middle East, and the two most prominent sources are the Holy Quran and the Bible. After the Holy Prophet there will never be another prophet in Islam, so we have no way of knowing how a prophet would have exercised his judgment had he been in the situation in which Hazrat Mirza found himself with regard to the presence of the British in India. We only have the histories of past prophets from the Middle East region to arrive at an understanding of what course of action they took in similar situations. Of course, Muslims believe in the return of Jesus who, along with a militant Mahdi, would seek to conquer the world for Islam. This is also a topic that has been extensively discussed in Ahmadiyya literature. Suffice to say that Jesus did not (because he could not, or would not) use the sword against the Romans over two thousand years ago to expel them from a very tiny area called Palestine, when the now primitive weapon — the sword — was a dominant tool of war. How he would defeat the world’s military powers in this modern age of technology in a vastly more complex world defies understanding.

To judge for ourselves what roles prophets played during their missions, let us begin with the Holy Quran, and see what conclusions can be drawn from the histories of prophets as narrated in the Book of Guidance. The Holy Book provides us with brief histories of many prophets of God. We are told:

لَقَدۡ کَانَ فِیۡ قَصَصِہِمۡ عِبۡرَۃٌ لِّاُولِی الۡاَلۡبَابِ ؕ مَا کَانَ حَدِیۡثًا یُّفۡتَرٰی وَ لٰکِنۡ تَصۡدِیۡقَ الَّذِیۡ بَیۡنَ یَدَیۡہِ وَ تَفۡصِیۡلَ کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ وَّ ہُدًی وَّ رَحۡمَۃً لِّقَوۡمٍ یُّؤۡمِنُوۡنَ ﴿۱۱۱﴾٪

“In their (the prophets’) histories there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding. It is not a narrative which could be forged, but a verification of what is before it, and a distinct explanation of all things, and a guide and a mercy to a people who believe.” (The Holy Quran, 12:111)

The above verse allows us to apply our minds and to strive to understand and learn from the conduct of prophets of God in different situations that they faced in their lives. The common theme in the Holy Quran in most of these histories is that whenever a prophet appeared amongst his people to set them on the path of righteousness, shun injustice and idolatry and worship the Creator of the Universe, his people resisted his message and subjected him to severe torments and trials. But the prophet of his time or nation remained steadfast and patient until the completion of his mission. While the Holy Quran states:

وَ کَاَیِّنۡ مِّنۡ نَّبِیٍّ قٰتَلَ ۙ مَعَہٗ رِبِّیُّوۡنَ کَثِیۡرٌ ۚ

“And how many a prophet has fought, with whom were many worshippers of the Lord” (The Holy Quran, 3:146),

the different prophets whose mission was to show the path of righteousness to their people did so through exhortations and preaching and not by fighting. Compared to the number of prophets mentioned in the Holy Quran who fought wars, the number of those who were not required by God to fight is much higher. Fighting wars was simply not part of their divine mission.

While the Holy Quran refers to wars of some prophets, for example, David and Solomon briefly and the wars forced on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more frequently, the Holy Book does not ever give the impression that war is the preferred choice of God, because there is no glorification of violence in the Holy Quran. Violence is only to be resisted where necessary, by violence. Fighting in self-defence is just one aspect of a believer’s struggle in the cause of God. In the case of Prophet Moses, even though the Israelites were persecuted, there was never any question of armed resistance against the Egyptians. Only persuasive arguments were used by Moses to free the Children of Israel from bondage. The Pharaoh finally met his end, not at the hands of the Israelites but through the punishment of God.

No prophet would ever lead his people blindly into a battlefield. Only out of an extreme necessity, as in the case of the Holy Prophet, did a prophet lead his people into war, which is usually a destructive process. In fact, when a people face dire consequences, the prophet of his time often prays to God to save his people from destruction, whether this destruction is in the form of a natural disaster as in the case of Prophet Lot’s people, or brought about by humans as will be shown later from the Holy Quran and the Bible. According to the Holy Quran, Prophet Abraham prayed to God not to punish Prophet Lot’s people and to save them from destruction:

فَلَمَّا ذَہَبَ عَنۡ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ الرَّوۡعُ وَ جَآءَتۡہُ الۡبُشۡرٰی یُجَادِلُنَا فِیۡ قَوۡمِ لُوۡطٍ ﴿ؕ۷۴﴾

“So when fear departed from Abraham and good news came to him, he began to plead with Us for Lot’s people.” (The Holy Quran, 11:74)

Similarly, in verses 7:155–156 of the Holy Quran, Prophet Moses prays to God to forgive the Israelites for their transgressions against God and not to punish them. The Holy Prophet of Islam was also extremely concerned about the condition and welfare of his people. It was his earnest desire that his people should shun idolatry and submit themselves to the One God by accepting his message and teachings so that they could lead righteous lives and find favour with God. The Holy Quran bears ample testimony to this.

An illuminating lesson for us in the Holy Quran about the conduct of prophets of God in an alien environment is from the narrative of Prophet Joseph who was left to die in a well by his own brothers and then taken to Egypt by strangers, where he was later falsely accused of a crime. After spending some years in jail, not only was his innocence proved, but he was also made an advisor to the ruler of Egypt. Here was the case of a prophet of God, a descendent of Prophet Abraham, the upholder of the Unity of God, serving the King of Egypt and abiding by his laws, as indicated in the Holy Quran:

کَذٰلِکَ کِدۡنَا لِیُوۡسُفَ ؕ مَا کَانَ لِیَاۡخُذَ اَخَاہُ فِیۡ دِیۡنِ الۡمَلِکِ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ یَّشَآءَ اللّٰہُ ؕ نَرۡفَعُ دَرَجٰتٍ مَّنۡ نَّشَآءُ ؕ وَ فَوۡقَ کُلِّ ذِیۡ عِلۡمٍ عَلِیۡمٌ ﴿۷۶﴾

“… Thus did We plan for the sake of Joseph. He could not take his brother under the king’s law, unless Allah pleased. We raise in degree whom We please. And above everyone possessed of knowledge is the All-Knowing One.” (The Holy Quran, 12:76)

While at that time there was no war between the nation of Israel (not even born yet) and Egypt, the above is a clear example of a prophet of God serving a king of an alien nation. Prophet Joseph and the king of Egypt were certainly not co-religionists. Yet this prophet’s turn of fortune resulted in his service to the king of Egypt as his adviser and he was put in charge of the treasures of the land. He was able to attain his eminent position purely on merit and the force of his character. Even after attaining a powerful position, no thought of revenge ever seemed to cross his mind, either against his own brethren who abandoned him to die in a well or against those who cast him in jail in Egypt.

Similarly, in the histories of Prophets Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Lot, John the Baptist (Yahya) and Jesus, there is no mention in the Holy Quran of these prophets and their followers resorting to armed struggle against their fellow citizens or their chiefs to impose their beliefs or Shariah [Religious Law] on the transgressing population. From the New Testament, we find that John the Baptist was imprisoned and then put to death for no crime, except that he acted in a righteous way and would not compromise on the laws of his religion. Yet his mission did not include armed struggle against the Romans.

The Old Testament has some very interesting history. After Prophet Solomon, the Israelite kingdom split into two, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel disappeared around 720 BC after its conquest by the Assyrian Empire. Before its disappearance, the Israelites had resorted to worship of Baal as an acceptable religion. According to the article Hosea: Prophet of Divine Love by Leslie Hoppe, the political instability in Israel was exemplified by the assassination of four of its last six kings. Prophet Hosea tried to lead the people of Israel to understand why one disaster followed another. He reflected on the political manoeuvring that marked Israel’s final years. The treaties, plots, revolts, coalitions and alliances formed by Israel’s political and military leaders were as foolish as chasing after an east wind, according to him. In the end, all of Israel’s scheming would amount to nothing more than a source of shame as the nation will find itself exiled from the land.

Leslie Hoppe further writes that at that time the people frequented the shrines of their kingdom and participated enthusiastically in worship (Hosea 8:13), but from Prophet Hosea’s perspective their belief that this activity would save them was misplaced (Hosea 6:6). This was because, according to the prophet, the people had adopted Canaanite religious rituals, and did not honour God alone. Also the people’s religious activities served to free people from the responsibility to maintain a just and equitable social and economic system. Prophet Hosea characterized the rich as people who arrogantly consumed more than their share of the agricultural bounty, as if this was their due. The moral fabric of society was torn into shreds, and there was a complete breakdown of the social order. This, coupled with Israel’s service of Baal, would bring down Divine judgment. Prophet Hosea advised his people to

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love … that it was time to seek the Lord …” (Hosea 10:12).

But the people’s response to his message was that he was crazy, a fool and a mad person (Hosea 9:7). It was only after the Northern Kingdom disappeared into the pages of history that some people realized that he was not so crazy after all.

From the above history we can see for ourselves that when the religious, moral and social fabric of a society breaks down, the prophet of his time attempted to reform his people by pointing out to them the root causes of their problems rather than blindly lead them into a war or armed struggle against his co-religionists or external invaders. Nowhere does the Bible mention taking up of the sword by this prophet to save the kingdom of Israel from its own internal divisions or against the Assyrians who brought the Northern Kingdom of Israel to its end. But the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah too had a tendency to worship idols, blindly follow their priests and false prophets. The people of this kingdom also faced a similar fate that befell their northern brethren and ultimately were taken in captivity and carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in different phases. The first time this occurred was after 605 BC. Nebuchadnezzar ordered his men that some of the captured Jewish nobility be trained to serve at the king’s palace. Among these was Daniel. Daniel is considered by Christians to be a prophet, but not so by the Jews, because they claim that his prophecies related not to his own time but to the distant future. According to the Jews, a prophet must be called to a mission of reform or admonishment of his people, and not merely receive the holy spirit or be able to interpret dreams. Like Joseph before him and Mordechai after him — according to the Jews — Daniel was a court Jew who served his people whilst serving his king, but did not engage Jewry with a mandate from on high to preach repentance and redemption. He is therefore considered a righteous man, a man beloved, a man of wisdom and piety, though not quite a prophet. Whatever his status, he surely must have been an exalted person. While serving kings who were ruling over the Jewish people, Daniel continued to pray towards Jerusalem and to the One God, sometimes at odds with the official decree relating to worship. He is said to have interpreted a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar which convinced him that the God the Israelis worshipped was a very powerful Deity (Daniel 2:47). As a result, Daniel was made ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed in charge of all its wise men (Daniel 2:48). According to the Bible, Daniel continued in a position of authority under more than one king, including the Persian Kings Darius and Cyrus (considered by some scholars to be one and the same person), and had influence in the decision to restore the Jews to their homeland after their captivity in Babylon.