The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement
A Short Study of the Life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 2: Religious Dedication
Love for the Holy Quran:
As he himself says, at the age of forty, a new era thus dawned upon Ahmad, and he began to receive Divine revelations. His father’s death brought about a radical change in his life, and his religious tendencies began to assume a more definite form. There was no longer any pressure put upon him to give himself up to worldly pursuits, and the whole of his time was from then onwards devoted to the study of the Holy Quran and other Islamic literature. He was undoubtedly leading a deeply religious life, but it had taken a quite different course from that which religious devotion normally followed in those days. Many schools of the Muslim Sufis require their votaries to undergo various forms of devotional exercises, of which no indication is found in the practice of the Holy Prophet. Ahmad belonged to none of these schools and he never practised such innovations. In fact, from his early life, he hated all ascetic practices which were opposed to the word and the spirit of the Holy Quran. His only devotional exercise was the study of the Holy Quran in solitude. For days and months, he would continue studying the Holy Book, and so great was his love for it that those who saw him were convinced that he was never tired of reading it. His son, Mirza Sultan Ahmad, who was then a young man of about twenty-five years, bears witness to this in the following words:
“He had a copy of the Holy Quran which he was continually reading and marking. I can say without exaggeration that he might have read it ten thousand times.”1
On one occasion, he saw a vision in which an old man appeared to him saying that, according to the law of prophethood, fasting was a necessary preparation for receiving Divine light. On the basis of this vision, he kept fasts for a period of eight or nine months, reducing his food during that time to two or three morsels. Nevertheless, he did it privately so as to keep the fact concealed from his nearest relatives, and made special arrangements for the disposal of the food which he received regularly. This long fasting, however, had no injurious effect upon his health. On the other hand, he saw many wonderful visions relating to the future, some of which were later on published in Barahin Ahmadiyya, his first great work. The fulfilment, years afterwards, of the prophecies contained in them showed that they were actual revelations from God and not the hallucinations of a diseased brain.
Anti-Islamic Christian Literature:
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was, however, no mere visionary. From his early life, he was a student not only of Islam but also of comparative religion. He himself says:
“I have been studying Christian literature from the early age of sixteen or seventeen, and have been pondering over Christian objections. I collected all those objections which the Christians advance against our Holy Prophet2… Their number is about three thousand. God is a witness and none greater than He can be produced as a witness that, as I have just said, I have been studying Christian literature from the time when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, but not for a moment have those objections made any impression on me, or created any doubt in my mind, and this is simply due to the grace of God.”
Christianity necessarily attracted his attention first, as that was the only foe of Islam in his early days. We have seen that, during his stay at Sialkot, he had discussions with Christian missionaries about the comparative merits of Islam and Christianity. Returning to Qadian after four years, he actively refuted the anti-Islamic propaganda of Christianity, whose centre was Batala. In fact, Christian propaganda against Islam was most active, and at the same time, most scurrilous, during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, being a devoted student of religion, closely studied that literature, and his heart ached at the way in which the holiest of men was being maligned and abused. By producing this abusive literature, the aim of Christianity was to engender, in Muslim hearts, hatred for the Holy Founder of Islam. In fact, with its numerous bands of missionaries insinuating themselves into every nook and corner of the Muslim world, and with heaps of abusive literature distributed freely among the Muslims, Christianity was challenging the very existence of Islam, and Ahmad, whose heart was full of the deepest conviction of Islamic truth, took up the challenge in real earnest. He started to write against the aggressiveness of Christianity, and articles from his pen began to appear in Muslim periodicals. The publication of such articles in the Manshur Muhammadi, which was issued from Bangalore in Southern India, shows the keenness with which he was controverting the Christian propaganda.
Comparative Study of Religion:
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was not, however, a mere controversialist. He was a student of religion, and, as early as 1873, while his father was still alive and he was engaged in law-suits relating to the family estates, he had determined to make a comparative study of religion and to place the result of his researches before the public. He had already decided to write a book, and the following memorandum in his own handwriting shows his deep consciousness of the superiority and the perfection of the Islamic teachings which it had become his life’s aim to establish and for which he wanted freedom from worldly entanglements:
“In this book, it will be necessary to state that the law of Mustafa [the Islamic Law] is perfect and more comprehensive than all other laws. To prove this, a law shall be taken for example, from the Torah in the first place, then from the Gospels, and after that from the Holy Quran, so that when the reader compares the three laws, it will be evident to him which of the three laws is the best and the excellent.”
This note is signed thus:
“Ghulam Ahmad, 17th October 1873, Friday, Qadian.”
The Arya Samaj:
He was preparing himself for this great work by studying not only the Islamic literature, the Holy Quran, Hadith and commentaries, but also the literature of other religions, in his spare time. His father’s death, in 1876, had opened the way for him to realise the great dream of his life — to establish the superiority of Islam over all other religions. While he was thus fighting single-handed against the vast forces of Christianity, another foe of Islam had appeared in the field, in the form of the Arya Samaj. The founder of this new off-shoot of Hinduism was born in distant Kathiawar, Gujerat, in the Bombay Presidency, in the year 1824. At an early age he fled from his home, and after visiting various centres of Hindu learning and formally starting his mission in 1875 at Bombay, he gave final shape to it two years later at Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, and the Arya Samaj of today rests on the principles enunciated there. Originally, this movement was directed against the idol-worship of Hinduism, but, as Western education was opening the Hindu mind for the acceptance of Christianity and Islam, the Arya Samaj, from its inception, came into conflict with these two religions.
The Punjab proved to be a fertile land for the Arya Samaj, and, by the end of the year 1878, branches of the organisation were established all over the Punjab, one being established at Qadian itself. It was through this local branch that Ahmad was drawn into a controversy with the Arya Samaj. The local discussion soon assumed importance and found its way into the columns of both Hindu and Muslim papers of Lahore and Amritsar. The Hindu Bandhu of Lahore, which was edited by Pandit Shiv Narain Agni Hotri, who later became the founder of another Hindu sect, called the Dev Samaj, opened its columns to articles for and against the Arya Samaj.
The following note from a Hindu editor’s pen shows how powerfully Ahmad was carrying the fight against the Arya Samaj:
“Our readers will remember that the final paper of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad sahib, which we published in our issue for February 1879, could not be produced in its entirety in the said number, and was therefore completed in the two following numbers. In that article, the Mirza sahib also made an announcement in which he addressed Swami Dayanand, the founder of the Arya Samaj, as well as some of his followers (whose names were given in the said number for February 1879 on p. 39). We very gladly gave room to that article in our periodical and we entertained the hope that, if the arguments given by the Mirza sahib, which were very clear and based on logical principles, were appreciated by the above mentioned gentlemen,3 they would, according to their declared principle that one should always be ready to accept the truth and to give up untruth, publicly and openly declare their faith in the falsity of the transmigration of souls, and thus establish an example of their willingness to accept the truth.”
The Brahmo Samaj:
It has elsewhere been shown that Ahmad had studied the Bible. His controversies with the Arya Samajists show that he had also studied the Vedas, from such translations as were available, and he repeatedly called upon his opponents to judge the merits of the Holy Quran as compared with other sacred books. Not only was he a student of comparative religion, but he also claimed to have the religious experience which makes man attain communion with God. Therefore it was that he had to devote much of his attention to the Brahmo Samaj, an earlier Hindu reform movement, started by Ram Mohan Roy in 1828. It is a well-established fact that the founder of the Brahmo Samaj was mainly influenced by the Muslim Sufi ideals. It was thus a very liberal movement, based on the principle that all religions are true. Yet, strangely enough, it denied the possibility of revelation, and it was this aspect of the Brahmo Samaj which attracted the attention of Ahmad. Pandit Shiv Narain Agni Hotri, the great Brahmo leader at Lahore, himself carried on this controversy, but after some time he deserted the Brahmo Samaj and laid the foundation of a new sect, called the Dev Samaj.
- This copy of the Holy Quran is now in the possession of the author, and on it, in Ahmad’s own handwriting, are numbered the Divine commandments and prohibitions in the Holy Quran. ↩
- This collection was accidentally burned later in the life-time of Ahmad. ↩
- Italics are mine (Muhammad Ali). ↩