The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement
A Short Study of the Life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 4: Mahdi and Messiah
Claim to Messiahship:
The task before him was a difficult one. The Muslims had lost that love and zeal for the spread of Islam which led the earlier sons of Islam to the distant corners of the world. Many people, however, came to him and took the pledge. While preparing himself and his followers for the great conquests, he made an announcement which fell like a bombshell among the Muslim public — that Jesus Christ was not alive, as was generally believed by the Muslims, but that he had died as all other prophets had died, and that his advent among the Muslims meant the advent of a mujaddid in his spirit and power; that no Mahdi would come, as generally thought, to convert unbelievers with the sword, as this was opposed to the basic teachings of the Quran, but that the Mahdi’s conquests were to be spiritual; and that the prophecies relating to the advent of a Messiah and a Mahdi were fulfilled in his own person.
It was about eighteen months after his call to baiat that this announcement was made and it changed the whole attitude of the Muslim community towards him. Those very people who hailed him in his capacity of mujaddid as the saviour of Islam now called him an impostor, an arch-heretic and Anti-Christ.
Recluse and Soldier:
Ahmad based both his claims, the claim to mujaddidship and the claim to Messiahship, on Divine revelation, and it is easy to see that nothing but the fullest conviction that he was commanded by God could have led him to adopt a course which, he knew, would bring him from the height of fame and distinction, to which he had attained, to the depth of degradation in the eyes of his own community. If public esteem and fame were the goal of Ahmad’s aspirations, he had indeed achieved them. He knew that his departure from an established popular conception must injure his reputation and turn his very friends and admirers into foes; but he cared little for public opinion and even less for fame.
He was then an old man and the fifty-five years of his earlier life show but one desire: the desire to see Islam triumphant in the world, and they point to but one aim: the aim to serve the cause of Islam. His father had often remonstrated with him on account of his neglect of his worldly concerns and had exhorted him to look after the family estate, but in vain. He had not shown the least desire to become a great man in the world; he did not even care to maintain the position which his family enjoyed. His love of solitude continued unabated to the last and the only thing for which he would come in contact with others was to uphold the dignity of Islam and to safeguard its honour. He was a recluse all his life, except when duty called him to fight the battle of Islam, and then he was a soldier who could wield his weapon against each and every assailant. The stream of life which had flowed consistently and constantly in one direction could not suddenly take a turn in the opposite direction. The hand of God had undoubtedly been preparing him from early life to champion the cause of Islam, and he was at this point Divinely directed to remove, by his claim to Promised Messiahship and Mahdiship, the two great obstacles which stood in the way of the propagation of Islam.
Today anyone can see that Islam and Christianity are the only two religions contending for the spiritual mastery of the world, all other religions being limited to one or two countries. At the time when Ahmad began to work, Islam seemed to have been utterly vanquished by Christianity, not only by reason of the temporal ascendancy of Christianity but also because Christianity was completely master in the field of propaganda, Islam being almost entirely unrepresented. In this helpless state, the Muslims had, to a very great extent, come under the influence of the Christian propaganda, which, on the one hand, impugned the character of the Holy Prophet, and, on the other, laid stress on the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Founder of Islam. In support of this latter allegation were brought forward certain erroneous views which had taken root among the Muslims; for instance, that Jesus Christ was alive in the heavens while all the other prophets had died, and that he would reappear in the world when Islam would be in great distress, and thus that he would, in the real sense, be the last Prophet and the saviour of Islam. To establish the superiority of Islam and to open the way for its conquest of the world, it was necessary not only to clear the character of the Holy Prophet of those false charges but also to uproot those erroneous doctrines. Thus, when Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was commissioned for the great task of leading Islam to a world-conquest, when the Divine mantle of mujaddidship fell upon his shoulders and when he began to enlist, through baiat, an army of soldiers to fight the spiritual battle of Islam, God gave him the knowledge that the prevailing view of the Muslim world relating to Jesus Christ was erroneous and not supported by the Holy Quran, that Jesus Christ had died as had all other prophets and that his prophesied second advent was to be taken in a metaphorical sense and to mean the advent of a reformer (mujaddid) with his spirit and power.
Two Baseless Doctrines:
The two matters were so closely correlated that in the solution of the one lay the solution of the other. If Jesus was dead, his personal second advent was impossible, and that prophecy could be interpreted only in the same way as Jesus himself interpreted the prophecy of the second advent of Elijah. The false conception that Jesus was alive in heaven was, however, so deep-rooted in the Muslim mind that they would listen to no arguments which militated against this long-cherished belief, even though they were based on the absolute authority of the Holy Quran and the Hadith. They were not in a mood to think that, in the very fitness of things, this exactly should be the mission of the mujaddid of this age. Christianity, practically the only adversary of Islam and the most formidable, had this one main prop to support its whole structure of doctrines and dogmas — Jesus sitting with God in heaven. To pull this main prop down would mean the crumbling of the whole like a house of cards, and this work had to be done to open the way for the conquests of Islam in the West.
Coupled with the wrong notion that Jesus Christ was alive in heaven and would come down, there was another equally unfounded conception, and equally detrimental to the cause of Islam, namely that the Mahdi would appear just at the same time and would wage war to enforce Islam at the point of sword. Already Islam had been misrepresented in the West as having been established by means of the sword, and the doctrine of a Mahdi coming to wage war to establish the superiority of Islam only lent further support to the misrepresentations of the Christian West, causing the hatred against Islam to become deeper and deeper day by day. That false notion also had to be cut at the very roots.
لَاۤ اِکۡرَاہَ فِی الدِّیۡنِ
“There is no compulsion in religion” (The Holy Quran, 2:256),
was a clear principle established by the Holy Quran, and there was not a single instance in which the Holy Prophet brought the pressure of the sword to bear on any one individual, let alone a whole nation, to compel the embracing of Islam.
قَاتِلُوۡا فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ الَّذِیۡنَ یُقَاتِلُوۡنَکُمۡ
“Fight against those who fight against you” (The Holy Quran, 2:190),
was the only permission that Islam gave in the matter of fighting, and even the Holy Prophet, to say nothing of the Mahdi, could not go against the Holy Quran. The Mahdi (lit., the guided one) was only another name for the Messiah — such was the announcement made by Ahmad, and in support of this was quoted the Prophet’s hadith:
لَا الْمَهْدِيُّ إِلَّا عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ
“There is no Mahdi but the Messiah.”1
Storm of Opposition:
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had thus, in the very cause of Islam, to combat the idea that, for its conquests, Islam stood in need either of Jesus Christ or the sword. He emphasised that men endowed with great gifts, even men like the Messiah, could rise among its followers, and that the spiritual power of Islam was greater than all the swords of the world; but Mulla mentality was too narrow for these broad views. Led by Maulvi Muhammad Husain, the Ahl Hadith leader, who had only six years before acclaimed Ahmad as one of the greatest sons of Islam, and as one who had rendered unique service to the cause of Islam by his powerful arguments and by the heavenly signs which he had shown to his opponents, the ulama now declared him to be an arch-heretic. Some of them even went so far as to declare that he and his followers could not enter mosques or be buried in Muslim graveyards, that their property could be taken away with impunity and that their marriages were void. The storm of opposition that followed those fatwas can better be imagined than described, but all this opposition did not make Ahmad swerve an inch from the position which he had taken. The most hostile critics have nothing but praise for his courage in the face of the bitterest opposition, even of attempts at physical violence. Thus wrote Dr. Griswold:
“His persistency in affirming his claims in the face of the most intense and bitter opposition is magnificent. He is willing to suffer on behalf of his claims.”2
Thus the year 1890 divides his life into two parts, and this is so from more points of view than one. As a reformer or mujaddid, the Muslims submitted to his claims and had no fault to find with him, but as the Promised Messiah there was no epithet of irreverence, no word of calumny, which was not applied to him. The whole course of his life till this time is admitted by his bitterest enemies to be free of all blame, but there is no blame which was not laid to his charge after the announcement of the claim to Messiahship. Another circumstance is that the latter period of his life is only a fulfilment of the earlier in more senses than one. Firstly, in his earlier life he was being prepared by the hand of the Almighty for the fulfilment of some great purpose. Secondly, promises made to him in revelations published in Barahin Ahmadiyya were fulfilled in the latter part of his life. The first period is the period of announcement of prophecies of future victory and discomfiture of his enemies, and the second period is the period of the fulfilment of these promises after he has passed through the flaming fire of opposition.
Resolution to Carry Islam Forward:
As I have stated, the opposition came not from one quarter but from all sides. All sects of Islam denounced him, just as they had all praised him before, while the Christians and the Arya Samajists, against whom he had been fighting in the cause of Islam for so long a time, were only too glad to join hands with the Muslims. In spite of all, Ahmad stood adamant. No abuse, no denunciation, no persecution, no threat of murder disturbed for a single moment the equilibrium of his mind or caused him to entertain for an instant the idea of relinquishing in despair the cause which he had so long upheld. Nay, in the midst of a widespread and bitter opposition on all sides, he reaffirmed with still greater force his resolution to carry the message of Islam to the farthest ends of the world, and his conviction that Islam would triumph became greater. It is the unique spectacle of a soldier carrying on the fight single-handed while the powerful forces of opposition were arrayed before his face, and he was being hit in the back by the very people for whom he was fighting.
The claim to Promised Messiahship was advanced in three books which appeared one after another at short intervals. In the first of these, Fath-i Islam, he writes:
“Do not wonder that Almighty God has in this time of need and in the days of this deep darkness sent down a heavenly light and, having chosen a servant of His for the good of mankind in general, He has sent him to make uppermost the religion of Islam and to spread the light brought by the best of His creatures3 and to strengthen the cause of the Muslims and to purify their internal condition.”4
“And the truth will win and the freshness and light of Islam which characterised it in the earlier days will be restored and that sun will rise again as it arose first in the full resplendence of its light. But it is necessary that heaven should withhold its rising till our hearts bleed with labour and hard work and we sacrifice all comforts for its appearance and submit ourselves to all kinds of disgrace for the honour of Islam. The life of Islam demands a sacrifice from us, and what is that? That we die in this way.”5
Significance underlying Claim:
Apart from the narrow-minded Mulla who could not grasp the significance underlying Ahmad’s claim to Promised Messiahship, even the educated Muslim thinks that this claim brought nothing but schism in the house of Islam. It is true that much of Ahmad’s time was taken up, after 1891, with controversy against the orthodox, and it became bitter too at times, but the internal struggle never made him lose sight of his real objective, which had indeed become more marked and definite. As to internal dissensions, they were already there; in fact, the Muslims had lost all objectives except fighting amongst themselves on the minutest points of difference. Therefore, they had no eye for the higher issues involved in Ahmad’s claim, but spent their whole force in carrying on a struggle about minor differences.
Moreover, the great cause of Islam — its onward march in the world — had nothing to lose from the claim to Promised Messiahship; Jesus’ death added only one more to the numerous prophets who, including the Holy Prophet Muhammad, had all died; but to Christianity it meant the death of its central figure, with whose death collapsed the whole structure of its dogmas. Nay, the cause of Islam gained immeasurable strength from it; for, as long as the Muslim believed that Jesus was alive in heaven and that he would make his descent at some future time to bring about the triumph of Islam, his mentality remained one of fond dreams never to be realised, and that was largely the reason why the Muslim had lost the zeal and energy of the earlier days for carrying forward the message of Islam. Islam’s triumph was, he believed, bound up with the coming of Jesus Christ and of Imam Mahdi, and he had nothing to do but to wait and see. Such was the hidden process of thought which made him quite inactive. That the Messiah who was to come had already appeared was an idea which shifted the responsibility to his own shoulders; nay, it brought back to him the zeal to carry forward the message of Islam. If the Messiah had come, the time had also arrived for the world conquest of Islam. This was the great mental revolution achieved among those who accepted Ahmad as the Messiah; a mere handful of men, but carrying the message of Islam to the farthest ends of the world, while the millions of the orthodox are either idle or occupied with their internal dissensions.
From Defence to Attack:
In Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s own work, two changes are clearly witnessed with his claim to Promised Messiahship. The first is that, as far as the contest with Christianity was concerned, he had hitherto been carrying on a defensive war — clearing the Holy Prophet of the false charges brought against him by the Christian missionaries; but his new claim involved an aggressive line of action — the destruction of the very foundations on which the Church, as distinguished from the Christianity preached by Christ, was built. Right at the beginning of Fath-i Islam, his first pamphlet making the new announcement, he wrote clearly:
“I … bear a strong resemblance to the nature of the Messiah, and it is owing to this natural resemblance that I have been sent in the name of the Messiah, so that the doctrine of the cross may be shattered to pieces. Therefore, I have been sent to break the cross and to kill the swine.” (p. 17)
Thus the contest between Christianity and Islam was no longer to be limited to the defence of Islam; the spiritual forces of Islam had to be gathered together to attack Christianity itself.
Dajjal, Gog and Magog:
The other change which resulted from the claim to Promised Messiahship was that it gave a definite direction to the mission which Ahmad believed had been entrusted to him, namely to bring about the triumph of Islam and to lead it on to a world-conquest. Henceforth, Europe or the Western world became his special objective, and that new idea was born as a twin to the idea that he was the Promised Messiah. Both ideas — the idea that he was the Promised Messiah and the idea that his mission was to carry the message of Islam to the Western world — took their birth at one and the same time. It was not a casual coincidence; the two ideas were closely interrelated.
The advent of the Promised Messiah did not stand alone in eschatological prophecy; it was essentially combined with the idea of the appearance of the Anti-Christ (Dajjal) and of Gog and Magog (Yajuj wa Majuj). In fact, the Promised Messiah’s first and foremost work was to be to put an end to the influence of the Dajjal and of Gog and Magog. Now the prevalent idea among the Muslims was that the Dajjal was a one-eyed man who would make his appearance in the latter days with the treasures of the world at his command, that he would lay claim to Godhead, carrying even paradise and hell with him, and that he would traverse the whole earth in forty days, visiting every habitation of men, inviting them to accept his divinity and enriching those who followed him, and that Gog and Magog would be an extraordinary creation of God, who would spread over the whole earth. The truth, which had remained hidden for thirteen centuries after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, flashed upon Ahmad’s mind at the very time when he was raised to the dignity of Messiahship. This truth was that the Dajjal and Gog and Magog of the prophecies were no other than the Christian nations of Europe and America. In their religious attitude, in contradicting the teachings of Christ and the teachings of all the prophets of God, they represented the Anti-Christ, while in their material power and materialistic tendencies they represented Gog and Magog.
Thus, in his first great work on the subject entitled Izala Auham, when announcing his claim to Promised Messiahship, after discussing at length the prophecies relating to the appearance of the Dajjal and Gog and Magog, he wrote as follows under the caption, It was necessary that the Anti-Christ should come forth from the Church:
“Now this question deserves to be solved that, as the advent of the Messiah, the son of Mary, is meant for the Dajjal, if I have come in the spirit of the Messiah, who is the Dajjal against me? … In the first place, it must be remembered that literally Dajjal means an association of liars who mix up truth with falsehood and who use deceit and underhand means to lead astray the creation of God … If we ponder over … the condition of all those people who have done the work of Dajjal since the creation of Adam, we do not find another people who have manifested that characteristic to the extent to which the Christian missionaries have done. They have before their eyes an imaginary Messiah who, they allege, is still living and who claimed to be God; but the Messiah, son of Mary, never claimed to be God; it is they who are claiming Divinity on his behalf, and to make this claim successful, they have resorted to all kinds of alterations and have made use of all means of deceit. With the exception of Makka and Madina, there is no place to which they have not gone … They are so rich that the treasures of the world go along with them wherever they go … And they carry along with them a kind of paradise and hell. So, whoever is willing to accept their religion, that paradise is shown to him, and whoever becomes a severe opponent of them, he is threatened with hell … There is not one sign of the Dajjal that is not met with in them … Hence those people represent the Dajjal who was to come forth from the Church.
“Now doubts are raised that the Dajjal must be one-eyed, being blind in the right eye, that Gog and Magog must appear at the same time … and that the sun must arise from the west at the same time . . .
“These doubts would vanish when it is seen that one-eyed does not mean physically blind in one eye. God says in the Holy Quran : ‘Whoever is blind in this life shall be blind in the hereafter’. Does ‘the blind’ here carry the significance of physical blindness? Nay, it means spiritual blindness. And the meaning is that the Dajjal shall be devoid of spiritual wisdom, and that, though he will be sharp in worldly wisdom, and will make great inventions and show great wonders as if he were claiming Godhead, yet he will have no spiritual eye, just as we find today is the case with the people of Europe and America that they have gone to the utmost extent in worldly scheming.
“As regards Gog and Magog, it is unquestionable that these are two prosperous nations of the world, one of them being the English and the other the Russians.6 Both these nations are directing their attacks from a height towards what is beneath their feet, i.e., they are becoming victorious with their God-given powers … Both these nations are also mentioned in the Bible.
“As regards the rising of the sun from the West, we do believe in it; but what has been shown to me in a vision is this — that the rising of the sun from the West signifies that the Western world which has been involved of old in the darkness of unbelief and error shall be made to shine with the sun of Truth, and those people shall have their share of Islam. I saw that I was standing on a pulpit in the city of London and explaining the truth of Islam in a strongly-argumented speech in the English language; and, after this, I caught a large number of birds that were sitting on small trees, and in colour they were white, and their size was probably the size of the partridge. So I interpreted this dream as meaning that, though I may not personally go there, yet my writings would spread among those people and many righteous Englishmen would accept the truth. In reality, the Western countries have, up to this time, shown very little aptitude for religious truths, as if spiritual wisdom had in its entirety been granted to Asia, and material wisdom to Europe and America … now Almighty God intends to cast on them the look of mercy.”7
Islamization of Europe:
One wonders when one finds that a man who lived in a village, far removed from all centres of activity, who did not know a word of English, whose knowledge of Europe was almost negligible, has visions that he is delivering a speech in English in London and explaining the truths of Islam to Europeans, and that the people of Europe will accept Islam. The history of Islam shows how such visions have materialised before. The great saint of Ajmer, Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chishti, saw in a dream, while in Madina, that he was preaching Islam in India, and the saint of Qadian sees in a vision that he is spreading Islam in Europe. India has fulfilled the dream of the saint of Ajmer, and Europe is undoubtedly on its way to fulfil the vision of the saint of Qadian.
Amidst all the persecution to which he was subjected, Ahmad’s heart throbbed with but one desire — the desire to spread Islam in the West — and that was the message with which he came as the Promised Messiah. Europe was identical with Dajjal, and the Messiah must overcome the Dajjal. Flames of the fire of opposition rose high on all sides, but he had an eye on the goal and he proposed to sit down calmly in the midst of this fire and write books disclosing the beauties of Islam and meeting the objections not only of Christian missionaries but also of those whom materialism was bringing in its train:
“Then so far as it lies in my power I intend to broadcast, in all the countries of Europe and Asia, the knowledge and blessings which the Holy Spirit of God has granted me … It is undoubtedly true that Europe and America have a large collection of objections against Islam, inculcated through those engaged in Mission work, and that their philosophy and natural sciences give rise to another sort of criticism. My enquiries have led me to the conclusion that there are nearly three thousand points which have been raised as objections against Islam … To meet these objections, a chosen man is needed who should have a river of knowledge flowing in his vast breast and whose knowledge should have been specially broadened and deepened by Divine inspiration … So my advice is that … writings of a good type should be sent into those countries. If my people help me heart and soul I wish to prepare a commentary of the Holy Quran which should be sent to them after it has been rendered into the English language. I cannot refrain from stating clearly that this is my work, and that no one else can do it as well as I or he who is an offshoot of mine and thus is included in me.”8
“In this critical time, a man has been raised up by God and he desires that he may show the beautiful face of Islam to the whole world and open its ways to the Western countries.”9
- Ibn Majah, Ch. Shiddat-uz-Zaman [Hadith 4039]. ↩
- H.A. Walter, The Ahmadiyya Movement, p. 21. ↩
- The “best of creatures” refers to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. ↩
- Fath-i Islam, p. 7. ↩
- Fath-i Islam, p. 15–16. (Editor’s Note: In the light of recent events, we may state here what is obvious in any case, that “Die in this way” means to devote the rest of one’s life to the service of Islam, bringing to an end one’s previous life of heedlessness and pursuit of material desires.) ↩
- Editor’s Note: By the English and the Russians are meant the Teutonic and Slav races respectively. ↩
- Izala Auham, pp. 478–516. ↩
- Izala Auham, pp. 771–773. ↩
- Izala Auham, p. 769. ↩