The Lahore Ahmadiyya Association Report (Part 1)

Our Report to the Home Office

The Muslim Thinker, October/November/December 1989 Issue (Issue 1, pp. 3–13)

Under the above title, we recently compiled and sent to the Home Secretary a Report about our history, aims, work and beliefs. It is now reproduced in this journal, starting below and concluding in our next issue.

Date: 15 March 1988

To: The Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Office, London

From: Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam Lahore (UK), ‘Darus Salaam’, 15 Stanley Avenue, Wembley, Middlesex HAO 4JQ

Sir,

It appears from The Times of 17 August 1987 that the Home Office is conducting an inquiry into Muslim organisations in Britain. As we are such an organisation, we present to you a description of our aims and work. Our organisation is very probably the first Muslim body ever in this country, and for many decades it was the only such body and the sole representative of Islam and Muslims here.

1. Origin and Parent Body:

The Ahmadiyya Movement was founded one hundred years ago in the Punjab, India, by a highly regarded scholar and saint by the name of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of the village of Qadian (1835–1908). One of the aims of this missionary movement was to correct the false image of Islam prevalent in the West, and to propagate its true teachings in these lands where this faith had been much maligned and misunderstood. Another aim was to reform certain prevalent notions and practices of Muslims which were contrary to the original teaching and spirit of the faith.

In 1914, some leading followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (whom he had appointed, shortly before his death, as trustees to administer the Movement) founded in Lahore an organisation known as The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam (Ahmadiyya Association for the Propagation of Islam). It is also sometimes called the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement. The head of this organisation was Maulana Muhammad Ali (1874–1951), who is well-known in the English-knowing Muslim world as the author of several excellent works on Islam. Another founding member was Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (d. 1932), a distinguished Muslim lawyer who founded the Woking Muslim Mission in this country.

The guiding philosophy of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman is that if Islam is presented in its original, true light, and the widespread misconceptions about it are proved to be wrong, then the people of the world will be attracted by the truth and beauty they will find in this religion. The prejudice and hostility against Islam shown by the advanced nations will decrease and gradually give way to respect and appreciation.

To this end, the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman has produced extensive Islamic literature (particularly in European languages), and established missions and branches around the world to promote its picture of Islam. The English books by Maulana Muhammad Ali have acquired international acclaim, and are a standard part of Islamic literature in English. The following may be especially mentioned here:

  1. The English translation of the Holy Quran with full commentary.
  2. The Religion of Islam: A voluminous work covering all aspects of the faith of Islam.   (A review on this magnificent book is quoted later in this Report.)
  3. A Manual of Hadith: Sayings and Doings of the Holy Prophet. (This book has proved so popular that a British publisher, the Curzon Press, have published two editions of it themselves.)
  4. Muhammad the Prophet: Biographical work.
  5. The New World Order: How Islam can deal with modern world problems.
  6. Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad: Written by the Maulana at the invitation of English publisher Cassell and Co.

Due to the immense international demand and popularity of these books, they have been translated into many other languages. This has not only been done by our Movement, but in many instances when the original books reached various non-English speaking countries, translations were produced by the people there at their own initiative. (Some of these books have been translated into Arabic by Arabs themselves, and this fact is a remarkable tribute because, throughout history, works on Islam have been translated from Arabic into other languages.)

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman has also been establishing missions and centres around the world. The Woking Mission is dealt with fully in the next section, as it is relevant to Islam in Britain. Some other centres may be briefly listed here. The Anjuman built a mosque in Berlin in 1925, which is now located in West Berlin and houses a mission. We have a sizeable following in Holland (mostly of Suriname origin), with buildings in the Hague, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Elsewhere in the world we have missions and branches in: U.S.A., Canada, South Africa, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Indonesia, India, the Fiji Islands, Australia and other places.

2. The Woking Mission:

It was in 1912 that Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din came to England in connection with his legal practice, to plead a case before the Privy Council (the highest court of appeal for India at the time). He stayed on to establish a Muslim mission here and start a monthly magazine Muslim India and the Islamic Review (later known as The Islamic Review). He learnt that a mosque had been built in Woking, Surrey, in 1889 by a deceased English orientalist, Dr. G. W. Leitner, but was lying empty and unused. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din arranged for the mosque to be opened and established the Woking Muslim Mission there in 1913. The mosque is set in large grounds with a residential building, which served as the mission.

The Woking Muslim Mission became the one and only centre of Islam in Britain, and retained this position for over fifty years. Although its primary function was the propagation of Islam among the native Christian population, it also became a cultural and social centre for all Muslims in Britain. During most of the life of the mission, the Muslim community here largely consisted of students, businessmen and diplomats from the Islamic world. Distinguished Muslim visitors to this country, such as members of royal families, political leaders, intellectuals, etc., very often made a point of coming to Woking to see the mosque and attend the mission’s meetings. (Among numerous examples, four may be cited here: King Faisal of Saudi Arabia when he was foreign minister in the 1930s; Mr Jinnah, later Founder of Pakistan, in 1932; Mr Ayub Khan, later President of Pakistan, in 1954 when he was commander-in-chief of the army; Tunku Abdur Rahman, Prime Minister of Malaysia, in 1961.) Muslim scholars from all over the world contributed articles to the mission’s magazine, The Islamic Review, and it became probably the first international Muslim organ in English.

By the early 1960s, the Eid prayer gatherings at Woking attracted congregations of about 3000 people from all over Britain. These events were covered by reporters from national newspapers and the television channels. The government for long consulted the mission when there was some matter concerning Muslims. (During the First World War, at the request of the government, the Imam of Woking performed the duties equivalent to chaplain for wounded and dying Muslim soldiers of the British army shipped here from France.)

In its missionary and religious work, the Woking mission used a totally non-sectarian policy. In fact, it had a slogan: There are no sects in Islam. It advocated that the differences between the various so-called sects of Islam relate only to secondary issues, and that Muslims of all persuasions agree on the fundamentals of Islam. In the prayer services at Woking, the same congregation contained Muslims from different Sunni sects, and Shia sects, and prayers would be led by anyone regardless of his sect.   (A mixed congregation is almost unthinkable in the Indian subcontinent due to sectarian bigotry; and this animosity has regrettably been brought into Britain now as well.) The Woking mission also had sponsors and trustees belonging to different Muslims sects. Many renowned members of the Indian Muslim community (who were not in the Ahmadiyya Movement) supported the mission, for instance: Sayyid Ameer Ali (author of the famous English book The Spirit of Islam), the Begum of Bhopal (a Muslim princess), Mirza Sir Abbas Ali Baig (a member of the Imperial India Council), Sir Muhammad Shan, etc.

Among the converts to Islam won over by the Woking mission in its early days were distinguished figures including: Lord Headley, a peer of the realm; Sir Archibald Hamilton, related to the royal family; Lady Evelyn Cobbold; Sir Umar Hubert Rankin; Deputy Inspector-General C. W. Buchanan Hamilton (Royal Navy); etc., etc.

The Woking Mission was run by an independent trust on non-sectarian lines. But heads of the mission, imams of the mosque, and many other officials were members of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman. The ideological inspiration of the mission came from the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, and the literature it disseminated for the propagation of Islam was also produced and supplied by the Lahore Ahmadiyya.

This situation lasted till the mid-1960s. By that time, a number of sectarian Muslim religious leaders had arrived in this country from Pakistan. Owing to their animosity towards our Movement, they campaigned to end the link between the Woking Trust and the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman. They were able to exploit the non-sectarian nature of the administration of the mission, and its tolerant attitude towards all sections of Muslims, to take control of the mission.

Since that time, the Woking Mosque has been reduced to the same kind of inter-Muslim sectarian squabbling which is the sad spectacle seen in many an Islamic centre in Britain.

Our Movement in England now operates from a centre in Wembley.

3. Reaction of General Muslims:

At the close of the last section, the hostility of some Muslim religious leaders towards our Movement has been mentioned. An understanding of our Movement would not be complete without considering the attitude adopted towards it by Muslims outside the Movement. Generally speaking, eminent Muslim leaders, political as well as religious, have appreciated and applauded our aims and work. On the other hand, petty sectarian religious leaders or what might be called the professional priests of Islam, especially those who seek political power under the cloak of religion, have shown us bitter hostility. First, we quote the opinions of two Sunni Muslim religious scholars and two political leaders as typical of the appreciation of our Movement.

i) Marmaduke Pickthall (d. 1936):

He was a famous British Muslim whose English rendering of the Quran is one of the most popular translations today. Shortly before his death, he wrote a review of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s book The Religion of Islam in which he said:

“Probably no man living has done longer or more valuable service for the cause of Islamic revival than Maulana Muhammad Ali of Lahore. His literary works, with those of the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, have given fame and distinction to the Ahmadiyya Movement. In our opinion the present volume is his finest work … It is a description of Islam by one well-versed in the Quran and the Sunna who has on his mind the shame of the Muslim decadence of the past five centuries and in his heart the hope of the revival of which signs can now be seen on every side. …

“Such a book is greatly needed at the present day when in many Muslim countries we see persons eager for the reformation and revival of Islam making mistakes through lack of just this knowledge. …

“We do not always agree with Maulana Muhammad Ali’s conclusions upon minor points — sometimes they appear to us eccentric — but his premises are always sound, we are always conscious of his deep sincerity; and his reverence for the Holy Quran is sufficient in itself to guarantee his work in all essentials. There are some, no doubt, who will disagree with his general findings, but they will not be those from whom Islam has anything to hope in the future.” (Islamic Culture, quarterly review published from Hyderabad Deccan, India, October 1936, pp. 659–660).

ii) Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi (d. 1977):

He was a well-known Muslim theologian of India, and a recognised leader of orthodox opinion.  In a message at the death of Maulana Muhammad Ali (in 1951), he wrote:

“To deny the services of the deceased to Islam is to deny the existence of the sun in daylight. Twenty-one years ago, when I was drowned in the poison and heresy spread by western ideas, it was the deceased’s English translation of the Quran which guided me. Otherwise, only God knows how much longer I would have been lost, and only God knows for how many people, as for me, it proved to be the guiding light. Then his writings: the Urdu commentary of the Quran, translation of Bukhari, Early Caliphate, Life of the Holy Prophet, Islam the Religion of Humanity, A Manual of Hadith — each more useful and excellent than another, are in existence.”

iii) Mohamed Ali (d. 1931):

A namesake of our Maulana Muhammad Ali, he was a famous Indian Muslim nationalist leader who worked alongside Gandhi for some time. In his autobiography, he writes:

“It was about this time that a kind friend sent to us a gift than which nothing could be more acceptable, a copy of the Quran, printed in a very high quality, accompanied by a most authentic translation and informative notes which are based on a deep study of commentaries of the Quran and the Jewish and Christian scriptures. This was the work of my learned namesake Maulvi Muhammad Ali of Lahore, leader of a fairly numerous religious community, some of whose members were doing missionary work in England. They have established a mission at the Woking Mosque. This translation and the notes under it are an essential antidote to the poison found in the footnotes of the translators such as Sale, Rodwell and Palmer … and in the frame of mind in which I then was I wrote back to my friend who had sent these copies of the Quran that nothing would please me better than to go to Europe as soon as I could get out of the ‘bounds’ prescribed by my internment and preach to these war maniacs from every park and at every street corner. And preach to them the holy religion which can silence the noise of these war-mongering nations with the unifying peace of Islam.” (English book My Life A Fragment, edited by Afzal Iqbal, published by Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1966, pp. 115–116).

iv) Mr Feroz Khan Noon:

He was a famous Pakistani statesman of the 1950s. At the time of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s death in 1951, when he was Governor of East Bengal, he sent the following message:

“This is a great loss, which not only myself but the whole Islamic world will share with you. The Maulana’s writings will live forever. I do not know of any other person who rendered such great service to revive Islam, as did the Maulana. No example can be found in the past five hundred years.” (First published in Ahmadiyya newspaper Paigham Sulh, special issue, 26 December 1951, p. 58).

The above reviews have been quoted as illustrating the high regard in which many eminent Muslim figures held our Movement’s work.

When Pakistan was created, the ruling elements belonged to the liberal, enlightened class of Muslims, who seek guidance from the spirit and purpose of Islamic teachings, and are tolerant of differences of opinion. They had high regard for the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, and often sought guidance from our literature to see how Islamic ideals could be introduced in a modern world. As opposed to this, there are the literalist religious fundamentalist groups whose objective is to restore, in every detail, that decadent form of Islam which came to prevail during the middle and later stages of Muslim history. These groups in general, and particularly the Jamaat-e Islami led by the late Maulana Maududi, opposed the founders and the foundation of Pakistan very bitterly. So, when Pakistan came into being despite their opposition, the leaders of these groups naturally found themselves discredited with the masses.

In order to gain popularity, they seized upon the idea of making the Ahmadiyya Movement a scapegoat which they could portray as an enemy of Islam, and which they could claim to be fighting in the name of Islam. In 1952 and 1953, these religious leaders instigated public disturbances in the province of the Punjab, demanding government action against Ahmadis. After the agitation was put down, the Punjab government set up a public court of inquiry headed by Chief Justice Munir to examine the causes. The inquiry produced a detailed, incisive and authoritative document, popularly known as the Munir Report (Punjab Government, Pakistan, April 1954). The court searchingly questioned all the zealots about their demands for an ‘Islamic state’, and showed that their views were a total anachronism in this day and age. The report also shows that the leaders of the disturbances were solely interested in political power, as opposed to their claims of a moral, religious basis for their agitation. This report, published in 1954 by the provincial government of the Punjab, and produced by Pakistan’s most distinguished supreme court judge Mr Muhammad Munir, is today not available from that country’s authorities. (In a book published in 1980 shortly before his death, entitled From Jinnah to Zia, Justice Munir has quoted many essential passages from his report.)

The influence of the politically-motivated religious leaders remained limited during the 1950s and 1960s. But as the memory of their opposition to the creation of Pakistan faded with time, their influence grew, and eventually in 1974 they forced Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s secular government to incorporate in the constitution clauses to say that Ahmadis are not Muslims but constitute a religion separate from Islam. (This action was an irony and a farce because during the election campaign which brought Mr Bhutto to power, he and his party had themselves been branded as kafir [non-Muslim] and outside the fold of Islam by the same religious leaders.)

Then in April 1984 President Zia-ul-Haq took further measures by issuing a Presidential ordinance prohibiting Ahmadis from referring to themselves as Muslims and following certain Muslim practices, on pain of penalty. (This is another irony and farce, because President Zia’s government considers Mr Bhutto’s regime as having been anti-Islamic with no authority or competence to act in the name of Islam.) Through its embassies abroad, the Pakistan government has been distributing extensive anti-Ahmadiyya literature in all countries where there are Muslim communities, and the Muslim public is being told today that Ahmadis are enemies of Islam and holders of objectionable and heretical beliefs. This is why we have quoted the reviews above, to show the very different views held about us by Muslim leaders of a generation or two ago.

It may be noted that the introduction of the anti-Ahmadiyya legislation in Pakistan has, as a wider consequence, exacerbated the inter-sectarian feuding between other Muslim sects. Demands are now constantly being made by one sect or another for the government to declare some rival group as being non-Muslim in the same manner in which Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim.

The response of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement to these hostile circumstances is to continue to adhere to its long-standing non-sectarian approach. Our belief is that Islam is a force for unity and harmony for all mankind. We could hardly preach these virtues of Islam and at the same time indulge in sectarian squabbles ourselves! We continue to stress, both to our Muslim brothers and to our friends of other faiths, that there are NO differences of essential belief among various Muslim groups, no differences which should lead to division, separation or mutual animosity. Secondary differences, which should be a matter of tolerance, are being exploited by politically ambitious religious leaders.

We hold, in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet, that if a person calls himself a Muslim, or if a person adheres to any of the basic signs of a Muslim (e.g., acknowledging the Kalima [pronouncement of faith], or saying prayers in the Muslim fashion), then no one has the right or authority to announce that he is not a Muslim.

(The last Section of the Report, dealing with our beliefs, will appear in the next issue.)

[Related: The Lahore Ahmadiyya Association Report — Our Report to the Home Office (Part 2)]

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