In Memoriam: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

The Review of Religions (English), June 1908 Issue (Vol. 7, No. 6, pp. 222–230)

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, passed away peacefully at 10.15 a.m. on 26th May 1908, at Ahmadiyya Buildings, Lahore, to which city he had gone on a short visit. The approaching end had been foreseen by the great seer himself more than two years before the sad event, and revelations foretelling that the time of death was very near were published in December 1905 in his “Will,” which was published in this paper in January 1906. It would not be out of place to call the reader’s attention to a few passages of The Will, which begins thus:

“All praise is due to God, the Lord of worlds, and blessings and peace be upon His Messenger, Muhammad, and his offspring and companions all.

“As Almighty God has informed me in various revelations following one another that the time of my death is near, and the revelations in this respect have been so many and so consecutive that they have shaken my very existence from the foundations and made this life quite indifferent to me, I have, therefore, thought it proper that I should write down for my friends and for such other persons as can benefit from my teachings some words of advice. I give first the holy words of the revelation which, giving me news of my death beforehand, has led me to write these lines. The following are the revelations (as translated into English):

‘The destined time of thy death has drawn nigh, and We shall not leave behind thee any remembrance of thine which should be a source of disgrace to thee. Very little has remained of the time appointed for thee by thy Lord, and We shall not leave behind thee anything which should be a source of disgrace to thee. And We will either let thee see a part of what We threaten them with, or We will take thee to Ourself. Thou wilt die in such a state that I will be pleased with thee. Thy time has come, and We will keep manifest signs after thee to show thy truth. The time that was promised has drawn nigh; therefore, tell abroad the favours of thy Lord.’”

And, again:

“‘Very few days have remained, sorrow will overtake all on that day. Such and such and such things will happen and after that will come the event of thy death.’”

This revelation was explained in the following words:

“Regarding the occurrences spoken of in the above revelation, I have been informed that death will work havoc on all sides. There will be earthquakes so severe that they will present to the eye the scene of the Day of Judgment, and will, as it were, turn the earth upside down, and the lives of many would be embittered.”

All these occurrences were not to take place in the lifetime of the Promised Messiah [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian], as one of his revelations plainly said, but some of them followed so soon [after] the publication of The Will that they left no doubt as to the fast-approaching end of the recipient of the revelations. On this point we would let others speak for us. The following note appeared at the time in the leading Indian daily, the Pioneer, on 22nd April 1906:

“The year 1906 has not yet run a third of its length, but it has already contrived to compass into its annals a series of calamities and disasters that would suffice for ten. Hardly a week has been free from the convulsions of Nature that have travelled so impartially round the world. The West Indies saw the commencement with an eruption at Martinique, said to have been the worst known for sixty years, accompanied with great volcanic activity in the neighbouring islands. Followed a disastrous storm wave and inundation in the valley of Mississippi. Formosa is visited by two earthquakes of the severest character in successive months, probably far more violent than that which has been the means of destroying ‘Frisco. An explosion of firedamp in a French mine, where such a thing was previously unheard of, produces the worst colliery disaster of which there is any record. The last survivors of this catastrophe have hardly been brought to the surface, before our sympathies are called off to South Italy, where Vesuvius bursts out with a violence unknown for centuries and threatens to stifle Naples herself under dust and ashes. Before the safety of the fair Calabrian capital is well assured, the centre of this general disturbance of underground nature has travelled to the equally beautiful and smiling coast of California, and has laid the delectable city of the Western world in ruins. It would be hard to parallel such general havoc since the first century A.D. when earthquakes and eruptions were abroad throughout Europe and Asia Minor, giving currency to ideas which are reflected in the imagery of the Apocalypse.”

It would thus be seen that the death of the Promised Messiah being in accordance with his published prophecies and his last will was not unexpected. In fact, during the last two years he had received a large number of revelations all speaking of his approaching end, until only a week before his death he was told that the time for departure had actually come. Some of the opponents of the movement are busy in declaring that with the death of the founder the movement itself must come to an end, but such allegations were answered long before by the Promised Messiah himself in his last “Will,” in which he says:

“It is a Divine law, and since man was created Almighty God has always been manifesting this law, that He assists His prophets and messengers and gives them triumph, as He says:

کَتَبَ اللّٰہُ لَاَغۡلِبَنَّ اَنَا وَ رُسُلِیۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ قَوِیٌّ عَزِیۡزٌ ﴿۲۱﴾

‘God has written, I will surely prevail, I and My Apostles’ (The Holy Quran, 58:21).”

Their triumph means that as they wish that the cause of God should prevail upon the earth, and none should be able to oppose it, so it is brought about, and Almighty God makes their truth evident by powerful signs. The righteousness which they wish to spread upon earth is sown like a seed with their hands, but it is not in their lifetime that this seed grows into a powerful tree. On the other hand, He sends death to them at such a time that their mission is still in fear of failure, and thus gives an opportunity to their opponents to laugh at them and to scorn and abuse them. After they are thus laughed at, He manifests another hand of His power, and brings means into existence by which that purpose is completely achieved which had been left incomplete in the first instance.

In short, two different manifestations of Divine power are witnessed, one at the hands of the prophet himself, and the other after his death when difficulties surround the infant dispensation on all sides, and the enemies are in the height of their power and think that the mission of the prophet will be wrecked and his followers destroyed; when even the followers show anxiety and their hearts fail and many unfortunate men apostatize. It is at such a juncture that Almighty God manifests a second time His mighty power and supports the cause of the tottering mission. He, therefore, who waits patiently to the last moment sees this great miracle. So it happened in the time of Abu Bakr when the death of the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] was thought to be premature and many ignorant dwellers in the desert became renegades and the companions of the Holy Prophet also became like madmen on account of great grief. Then Almighty God made Abu Bakr stand up, and showed a second time the manifestation of His power. … Thus it happened in the case of Moses who died in the way before he reached the goal to which he wanted to take the children of Israel, and on account of his untimely death and sudden departure the Israelites wept for forty days. Similar was the case of Jesus, and even the apostles dispersed at the time of his crucifixion, one of them having apostatized,

“Bear in mind then, my dear friends, that it being an established Divine law that He shows two manifestations of His power that He may thus bring to naught two false pleasures of the opponents, it is not possible that He should neglect this old law now. Be not, therefore, grieved at what I have said, and let not your hearts feel sorry, for it is necessary for you to see a second manifestation of Divine power, and it is better for you for it is perpetual and will not be intercepted to the Day of Judgment.

“But it cannot come until I go, and when I go, then will Almighty God send it for you and it will remain with you for ever. Thus had Almighty God promised in the Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya, and that promise does not concern me but it concerns you, as He says:

‘And I will make those who follow thee prevail over those who deny thee to the Day of Judgment.’

“It is necessary, therefore, that you should see the day of my departure, so that after it may come that blessed day whose promise continues for ever. Our God is a true and faithful God and He is true to His promise, and He will make you witness everything that He has promised.”

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born in or about the year 1837 and his age at the time of his death was, therefore, seventy-four lunar years. This was in accordance with what he had written long before, saying that he had been informed by God that he would live for eighty years or a few years less than that. It is not possible within the limits of this short article to give even a brief review of the life of the Promised Messiah or to describe the important work which was done within the short space of a life of seventy-odd years. It was after he had attained his thirtieth year that the light of Divine revelation first dawned upon him. In the year 1868, so we are told in the Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya, his first and most important work, the word of God came to him revealing the great blessings that were in store for him. It said:

“Thy God has been highly pleased with thee on account of this thy deed and He will shower His numerous blessings upon thee so much so that kings will seek blessings from thy clothes” (p. 520).

The period of his revelations thus extended fully over forty years and this may be said to be the period of his ministry.

From the earliest notice that we have of him, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad figures as a great champion of Islam and defender of the principles of the Muslim faith. Between the years 1870 and 1880 he wrote important articles in defence of Islam in various vernacular papers, and his fame as an advocate of the Muslim faith soon spread in the whole country. Four parts of the Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya appeared during 1880–1884 and then followed a series of publications whose number almost exceeds the number of his years. These publications embrace a vast variety of subjects in the sphere of religion and deal with almost all the important religions of the world. His last work, entitled A Message of Peace, he had only finished literally on the very eve of his death.

On account of his writings against Christianity, the Christian missionaries had a grudge against him which sometimes found vent in a very unbecoming manner. On one occasion they tried to implicate him in a murder case, which was ultimately found by the Magistrate to be concocted by some native preachers of the Gospel of Christ. When unable to refute his arguments, they would pose to be ignoring him altogether, but they could not maintain permanently even this attitude. The Bishop of Lahore who, in addition to his episcopal duties assumed the role of a preacher of the Gospel to the Muslims, was invited by him to a discussion on the respective merits of Christianity and Islam, but the great prelate judiciously refused to enter the lists against him, the chief reason of his denial being that his opponent claimed an equality with Jesus Christ by his claim to Messiahship. It was for this reason also that he was vilified by some unscrupulous Christian writers. The Arya Samaj also on account of religious differences assumed an attitude of hostility towards him, and in the murder case referred to above the Arya Samajists joined hands with the Christian missionaries.

The Muhammadans [Muslims] differed in their attitude towards him in the earlier and later periods of his life, the claim to be the Promised Mahdi and Messiah being the turning point. Up to the year 1889 he was universally admitted by the Muhammadans to be the best champion of Islam against hostile religions and the ablest exponent of its doctrines. In 1889 he found fault with certain beliefs of the Muhammadans with regard to the advent of the Mahdi and the Messiah. He stated that Jesus Christ whose personal second advent was expected by the Muhammadans had really died and that the Promised Messiah was to rise from among the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. He further declared that the Muhammadan belief in the appearance of a Mahdi who should wage war with the non-Muslims to convert them to the faith of Islam was erroneous and contradictory to the Islamic teachings as contained in the Holy Quran. These declarations combined with the claim which he advanced on the basis of Divine revelation, viz., that he himself was the Promised Mahdi and the Messiah, led to the raising of an outcry against him which shook Muhammadan India from one end to the other. The more intelligent Muslims remained aloof, but the masses led by the mullahs [clerics] were so infuriated against him that had it not been for the laws of the Government they would have torn him to pieces. The leading mullahs prepared a fatwa [religious edict] against him in which he as well as his followers were declared to be heretics deserving to be murdered. The hostile attitude that was thus assumed by the orthodox Muslims towards the new sect still exists, but of late it has softened in a marked degree.

The great work which Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has done in his forty years’ ministry is that he has restored life to religion. Before he began to preach, all religions were considered as so many sets of doctrines that were established centuries ago by their founders by working mighty miracles. The different religions only vied with each other in relating wonderful stories of these miracles, the time for which, it was declared by all, had long passed. Thus had religion itself become a thing of the past, a conglomeration of stories, a mass of dead matter, so to say. The preaching of Ahmad was from the very first directed against this view of religion, and he strongly preached that religion was as much a life now as it was in the time past, that men could even now attain to the close union with God to which they attained in bygone ages as the lives of the prophets, sages and saints of all countries reveal to us, that God even now spoke to His righteous servants as He spoke when these religions first came into life, and that the same Divine laws even now governed the lives of men. He pointed out that just as according to every religion God saw the deeds of men, listened to their prayers, and spoke to them in time past, so He even now saw their deeds, listened to their prayers and spoke to them. God did not change, because He was eternal and unchangeable, but men had changed because they quitted the paths of righteousness by walking in which they had at one time Divine blessings showered upon them. He showed the unreasonableness of the doctrine which holds that though God sees as He saw in the past and listens to the prayers of His servants as He listened to them in the past, yet He does not speak now as He spoke in the past. In proof of this teaching he offered himself as being the recipient of Divine revelation, as one whose prayers were listened to and answered by God and to whom deep secrets of the future were revealed. He further declared that by following in his footsteps anyone could attain to the same close union with the Divine Being and have the same blessings showered upon him. According to him true and living religion produced a perceptible effect upon the life of the individual in this very world, and the promises of the next life were nothing if their fulfilment could not be witnessed in this life.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a staunch supporter of the Government all his life. When he first advanced his claim to be the Mahdi and the Messiah expected by the Muhammadans and the Christians, the Government must no doubt have naturally felt anxious on account of the trouble which every claimant to Mahdiism had given before his time, but his peaceful role and pronounced and unmistakable expressions of loyalty soon removed all suspicions. He was a firm believer in the justice, neutrality and good intentions of the Government, and strongly supported all its measures. In the recent agitation against the Government, he strongly adhered to his own principles of loyalty and confidence in the justice of the Government, and in obedience to his exhortations, his followers all kept aloof from the agitation.

It is impossible to dwell upon the many noble traits of his character in this brief article. What has been said above will suffice for the present. The great works of the secular and religious education of the Muslims and the propagation of Islam which he had commenced will now be conducted, as even they were conducted in his lifetime since the publication of his will, by the Sadr Anjuman-e-Ahmadiyya, while Maulvi Hakim Nur-ud-Din has been selected as the successor of the Promised Messiah in the leadership of the movement.

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