The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement
A Short Study of the Life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 1: The First Forty Years
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, was born at Qadian, a village in the Gurdaspur District, Punjab, in 1836.1 His father’s name was Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, and the family is descended from the Barlas tribe2 of the Moghul family. His ancestors had long resided in Khurasan, a province of Persia, and were the dignitaries of the land. In the tenth century of the Hijra, when Babar ruled India, one of his ancestors, Mirza Hadi Beg, emigrated from Persia, most probably on account of some family dissensions, and with his family and about two hundred attendants sought refuge in India. Settling in a vast and fertile sub-Himalayan plain, called the Majjha, he there built a village, about 70 miles from Lahore in a north-easterly direction, and called it Islampur. The ruling monarch granted him a vast tract of land as a jagir with the right to exercise the powers of a Qaḍi (lit., a magistrate) or chief executive authority. Hence, Islampur became known as Islampur Qadi Majjhi, ultimately shortened to Qadi, and at last became known as Qadian.3
In the latter days of the Moghul Empire when it was undergoing the process of dissolution, the jagir granted to the ancestors of Ahmad4 became an independent state. In the early days of the Sikh rule, when anarchy and oppression were the order of the day and Islam and the Muslims were being persecuted everywhere, Qadian remained for a long time the centre of peace and prosperity. Mirza Gul Muhammad, the great-grandfather of Ahmad, was then the head of the family and, after the manner of the good Oriental chiefs, his purse was open for the learned and his table ministered freely to the poor and to the strangers. He had only eighty-five villages in his possession but, on account of his great love for piety and learning, many of the learned men who could not find shelter elsewhere felt assured of a warm reception at Qadian.
After the death of Mirza Gul Muhammad, his son, Mirza Ata Muhammad, became the chief, but he was soon overpowered by the Sikhs, who seized village after village until not a single village, except Qadian, was left in his possession. This place was strongly fortified, but a body of Sikhs, called Ram Garhis, made an entry into the town under false pretences and took possession of the village. Mirza Ata Muhammad and his whole family were made prisoners and deprived of their possessions. Their houses and the mosques were made desolate, and the library was burned to the ground. After inflicting all kinds of torture, the Sikhs ordered the family to leave the village of Qadian. Thus, expelled from their home, they sought shelter in another state, where Ata Muhammad was poisoned by his enemies.
In the latter days of Ranjit Singh’s ascendancy, Mirza Ghulam Murtaza obtained five villages from the jagir of his ancestors and re-settled at Qadian. Below is reproduced the opening paragraph of Sir Lepel Griffin’s account of the family, published in the Punjab Chiefs:
“In 1530, the last year of the Emperor Babar’s reign, Hadi Beg, a Mughal of Samarqand, emigrated to the Punjab and settled in Gurdaspur District. He was a man of some learning, and was appointed Kazi or Magistrate over seventy villages in the neighbourhood of Kadian, which town he is said to have founded, naming it Islampur Kazi, from which Kadian has by a natural change arisen. For several generations the family has held offices of respectability under the Imperial Government, and it was only when the Sikhs became powerful that it fell into poverty.”
The Sikh anarchy was, soon after Ahmad’s birth, replaced by the peace and security of the British rule, and the Punjab Muslims once more breathed freely. The family naturally welcomed the change, and Mirza Ghulam Murtaza showed his staunch loyalty to the British rule in the Mutiny of 1857. In recognition of his services, he received a handsome pension and was highly esteemed by the officials.
Ahmad’s own impressions of the Sikh misrule and the persecution of Muslims were deep-seated, and he always spoke of the coming of the British as a blessing and as saving the Punjab Muslims from slavery and annihilation. It is for this matter-of-fact statement, which finds frequent expression in his writings, that he has been criticised by a certain school of politicians who, therefore, regard him as favouring an alien government.
In his childhood, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad received his education at home. He learned the Holy Quran and some Persian books from a tutor, named Fazl Ilahi, and later on some books on Arabic grammar from another tutor, named Fazl Ahmad. When he was seventeen or eighteen years old, a third tutor, Gul Ali Shah, was employed to teach him the ordinary Arabic textbooks of those days. He also studied some works on medicine from his father who was a famous physician in his time.
Righteous and God-fearing:
From his early days, Ahmad had studious habits and he loved to remain in seclusion with his books. His father was, on that account, very anxious about him and repeatedly asked him to leave his seclusion and books for the more practical business of life, by which he meant that he should assist him in carrying out the plans which he was conceiving for the recovery of his lost estate. Such worldly occupations were hateful to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and he cared nothing for the restoration of the lost dignity and honour of the family. In obedience to his father’s wishes, however, he did whatever was required of him. At one time he was compelled to accept Government service at Sialkot, where he passed four years of his life, 1864–1868. His experience in this line of life made upon his heart a deep impression of the degeneracy of those with whom he came in contact in that sphere of action, and therefore he did not mix with them. When his day’s work was finished, he would go straight to his residence and bury himself in the pages of his books. Only those who were interested in religion, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, sought his company. It was there that he came in contact with some Christian missionaries, with whom he had conversations on religious topics. Speaking of those days, Maulvi Sirajuddin, the father of Maulvi Zafar Ali Khan, who is one of the greatest opponents of the Ahmadiyya movement, wrote in his paper, the Zamindar:
“Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a clerk in Sialkot about the year 1860 or 1861. His age was then about 22 to 23 years. We can say as an eye-witness that, even in the prime of youth, he was a very righteous and God-fearing man. After finishing his official work, he spent the whole of his time in the study of religious works. He mingled very little with others.”5
So deep was the impression made upon Maulvi Zafar Ali Khan’s father by Ahmad’s piety and learning that he paid him a visit at Qadian, later in 1877. His impression then, to which he subsequently gave expression as editor of the Zamindar in his obituary, was still the same:
“In 1877, we had the honour of passing one night as his [Ahmad’s] guest. In those days, too, he was so deeply devoted to Divine worship and religious study that he did not talk much even with his guests.”
Even at that early age in Sialkot he astonished those who listened to him with the power and clarity with which he expounded religious truths and supported the cause of Islam. Even some Christian missionaries used to listen to his conversation with rapt attention, so great was the attraction of his words.
At last, his father recalled him from Government service, and he was, for a time, again required to carry on the law-suits relating to his father’s estate, but the task was extremely repugnant to him. His father’s failures in the attempts he made to recover his family lands, and the great grief which gnawed his soul ever afterwards on that account, made a deep impression on Ahmad’s mind, and all these incidents made worldly attractions weaker and weaker for him everyday. Mirza Ghulam Murtaza had still some villages and besides that received an annual gratuity and a handsome pension, but the failures and reverses he had met preyed upon his mind and he was always in great grief. These circumstances convinced him at last that the course which his son followed was the only way that could lead to true happiness. He ultimately saw the vanity of life, and some six months before his death he built a mosque in the centre of town and directed that he should be buried in the yard of the mosque.
Even while obeying the orders of his father to pursue law-suits, Ahmad devoted a part of his time to the refutation of Christian attacks on Islam. The town of Batala, about eleven miles from Qadian, was an important Christian missionary centre. He frequented the place in connection with the affairs of the estate, and it pained him to see how Christian propaganda, unrefuted as it was, misled ignorant Muslims. The Batala Muslims, when hard-pressed by Christian missionaries, would come to Qadian to seek his help, and he sent them back well-armed to meet the situation.
Mirza Ghulam Murtaza died in June 1876. The following account of his death is from his son’s pen:
“I was told in a vision that the time of my father’s death had drawn nigh. At the time that I saw this vision, I was at Lahore. I made haste to reach Qadian and found him very ill, but I never thought that he would die so soon, for the disease had abated to an appreciable degree. The next day we were all sitting by his bedside when, at noon, he told me to rest for a while, for it was the month of June and the heat was excessive. When I lay down for rest, I received the following revelation: ‘By heaven and by the accident which shall befall after sunset’. I was given to understand that this revelation was a kind of condolence from the Almighty, and that the accident which was to befall was no other than the death of my father… When I received this revelation foretelling the death of my father, human weakness made me think that, since some of the sources of the income of our family would cease with my father’s death, we might be put in trouble. No sooner had the idea passed into my mind than I received a second revelation saying: ‘Is God not sufficient for His servant?’ This revelation brought tranquillity and satisfaction to my mind, and went into my heart like a nail of iron. I call the Lord to witness that He brought the fulfilment of the joyful news contained in this revelation in a wonderful manner… My father died that very day after sunset, and it was the first day in my life that I saw such a sign of mercy from God.6 … Thus I passed about forty years of my life under my father. His passing away from this life marked the dawn of a new era for me, and I began to receive Divine revelations incessantly. I cannot say what deed of mine drew this grace of God to me, but I feel that my mind had a natural attraction for faithfulness to God which no power in the world could alienate.”7
- In the first edition of this book, 1839 was given as the date, and this is also the date given by the founder himself in the short autobiography which he wrote in 1897 and which appeared in his book Kitab-ul-Bariyya. This was, however, a guess, as there is no written record of the exact date of his birth. Further on in this same autobiography, he states that he passed nearly forty years of his life with his father, whose death took place in 1876. On this basis, 1837 or 1836 would appear to be a more probable date. His son, Mirza Bashir Ahmad, has produced strong arguments in favour of 1836 as the year of his father’s birth. (Editor’s Note: Further research has shown that the date of the Founder’s birth was most probably 13 February 1835.) ↩
- This tribe was descended from Haji Barlas. He lived at Kush, to the south of Samarqand, but was expelled from there by Taimur when he conquered that land. Haji Barlas took shelter in Khurasan, and the family lived there till they came over to India, in the time of Babar. On account of their long residence in Persia, the Barlas tribe may be included among the Persians. Some authorities, however, say that Barlas is not a Moghul but a Persian tribe, as both Barlas and Mirza (the sur-title) are words of Persian and not of Turkish origin. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself says that his ancestors were Persians. ↩
- The name Kada, which is only another form of Qadi or Kadi, is mentioned in a hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad as the place of the appearance of Mahdi (Jawahir-ul-Asrar, p. 55). ↩
- The shortened name Ahmad is adopted instead of the full name Mirza Ghulam Ahmad for the sake of brevity. This is the name which he adopted in taking baiat (oath of fealty), though in all his letters and writings he used his full name. In his revelations, both the long and the shortened forms occur; the following reason for this is from his own pen: “In the sense of being a buruz of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (one who manifests or represents the Holy Prophet’s mission in the world), I was called Ahmad, though my name was Ghulam Ahmad” (Tazkirat-ush-Shahadatain, p. 43). ↩
- The date of service in Sialkot is wrong. He joined the service in 1864. (Editor’s Note: This and the following extract is from the obituary of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Zamindar, 8 June 1908. A longer extract from this obituary is given in Appendix 1 of this edition.) ↩
- This refers to the consoling revelation which he had received. ↩
- Kitab-ul-Bariyya, footnote, pages 174–178. ↩