The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement
A Short Study of the Life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Chapter 6: Diverse Work and Activities
The years that followed were years of the greatest tribulation for Ahmad, and, at the same time, years of the greatest activity in his life. He was fifty-five years of age, the age at which a man in the Indian climate is supposed to have exhausted his energy; but in Ahmad’s case the time of his greatest activity begins just where it ends for others. His work became so diversified that it can hardly be supposed that he could find time for writing books. He received a large number of guests and visitors from all parts of India and he attended to them all personally. He had to educate his disciples, to satisfy enquirers and to meet opponents, and he passed hours with them at meals, in regular daily walks and after the five daily prayers. As he was at the zenith of his reputation when he laid claim to Promised Messiahship, enquiries were addressed to him in very large numbers, and his mail bag, although very heavy, was disposed of by him personally till very late in life. He had to undertake journeys to meet his opponents in controversial discussions — Muslims, Christians and Arya Samajists; and, the most repugnant of all duties, he had to appear in courts to answer criminal charges and defamation suits brought against him by his opponents.
Yet in the midst of all those varied occupations which would hardly seem to leave any time for serious literary work, he produced, during that period of seventeen years, over seven thousand pages, much of which was original research work, of closely printed matter in Urdu, Arabic and Persian in book form alone, while before the age of fifty-five he had produced only about eight hundred pages. An inexhaustible store of energy seems to have been pent up within his heart; and all this in spite of the fact that, from early youth, he was afflicted with two diseases, syncope and polyuria, which at times weakened him very much, but when the attack was over he was again at the helm, quite like a young man.
A few facts may be noted here showing the diversity of Ahmad’s occupations. His controversies with the orthodox ulama, held at Ludhiana, Delhi and Lahore, in 1891 and 1892, each lasting for several days, have already been mentioned. In 1893, he was engaged in a very important controversy with the Christian missionaries at Amritsar, and that occupied him for over two weeks. It was in that controversy that he laid down the principle that every claim as to the truth or falsehood of a religious doctrine, and the arguments for or against it, should be produced from the sacred book which a people followed, and he showed with great vigour that the Holy Quran alone fulfilled that condition. The proceedings of this controversy are published in a book entitled Jang Muqaddas, which means ‘Holy War’.
Guru Nanak’s Chola:
In 1895, he turned his attention to Sikhism, another offshoot of Hinduism, which had gained considerable strength in the Punjab. His enquiries into the religious scriptures of the Sikhs led him to the conclusion that the founder of Sikhism had not only come under the influence of Muslim Sufis but that he was in fact a Muslim, though the movement started by him took a different turn owing to political reasons. To set a seal on this conclusion, he undertook a journey to Dera Nanak, a village in the Gurdaspur District, and one of the sacred places of Sikhism. A chola (cloak), which is a relic of Guru Nanak himself and which is in the custody of his descendants, is preserved there. It is a long cloak with short sleeves and is made of brown cloth. A tradition in the Sakhi of Bhai Bala, more commonly known as Angad’s Sakhi, states that the chola was sent down to Nanak from heaven and that upon it were written the words of nature in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Hindi and Sanskrit. Upon Nanak’s death, the chola passed to his first successor, Angad, and thus to successive Gurus, till the time of the fifth Guru, Arjan Das. In his time, the chola was obtained by Tola Ram, in recognition of some great service done. After some time, it fell into the hands of Kabli Mal, a descendant of Nanak, and, since then, it has remained in the hands of his descendants at Dera Nanak. On account of the high repute and sanctity in which the chola was held by the followers of Nanak, the practice became common at an early date of offering coverings to protect it from wear and tear. The mystery which surrounded the chola became deeper by the increased number of coverings which hid it altogether from the eye of the worshipper. Only a part of the sleeve was shown, but, by constant handling, the letters on that part became quite obscure.
As the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement had already come to the conclusion that Guru Nanak was in fact a true Muslim, he also thought of solving the mystery enshrouding the chola. Accordingly, on 30th September 1895, he started, with some of his friends, for Dera Nanak. By special arrangements made with the guardian of the chola, the numerous coverings, mostly of silk or fine cloth, were taken off one by one, and the actual writing on the chola was revealed. This was nothing but verses of the Holy Quran, and they were at once copied. This wonderful disclosure of the writing on the chola showed clearly that Nanak was a Muslim at heart. The result of the investigation was published in a book, called Sat Bachan; and though the orthodox Sikhs were greatly aroused when it appeared, yet the truth of its statements concerning the chola has never been questioned.
After this, during 1897 to 1904, Ahmad had to leave Qadian on several occasions in connection with certain cases brought against him by his opponents. Long before these cases began, the promise of Divine assistance and success had been given to him. Apart from this, in almost every case he received revelations informing him beforehand of the institution of the case and of his success in it. It is remarkable that a person who should be sued, every now and then, in criminal courts should have success on his side in all cases, especially when it is borne in mind that prosecutions against him were often conducted by men who had mighty forces at their back. Without a single exception the prosecutions hopelessly failed. Only God’s hand could have saved a man who had all earthly forces directed against him.
In 1897, he had to appear in the court of the District Magistrate of Gurdaspur to answer the charge of abetment of murder, brought forward by Dr. Henry Martyn Clarke of the Church Missionary Society. The allegation was that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had deputed one of his disciples to murder Dr. Clarke. The orthodox Muslims, represented by Maulvi Muhammad Husain of Batala, and the Arya Samajists, represented by Chaudhary Ram Bhaj Dutt, the President of the Arya Samaj, Lahore, who offered to conduct the case free of charge, joined hands with Dr. Clarke. The District Magistrate, Capt. M.W. Douglas, after a thorough inquiry, found that the chief witness in the case had been schooled in his evidence by certain Christian missionaries who worked with Dr. Clarke, and he acquitted Ahmad.
Some weeks before the institution of the proceedings, the Promised Messiah had seen a vision to the effect that lightning came down upon his house, but that it did no harm. Along with it were the words:
“This is nothing but a threatening from the authorities”.
In the course of the proceedings other revelations were received foretelling his clearance from the charge. All these revelations are published on the title page of Kitab-ul-Bariyya. The case, though to all appearance a very serious one, ended in accordance with these revelations.
In the next year, he had again to go several times to Gurdaspur and to Pathankot to answer a charge of breach of the peace, which, it was alleged by the Police, he had threatened by the publication of certain prophecies. The other party in this case was Maulvi Muhammad Husain of Batala. The Maulvi and some of his followers had been publishing a long series of abusive and calumnious writings against the Promised Messiah. When this type of writing reached a climax, Ahmad published an announcement on 21st November 1898 in which he declared that God had informed him that Maulvi Muhammad Husain and his friends would be brought to disgrace within thirteen months, just as they wished to bring him to disgrace. The Police took this announcement as a ground for his prosecution.1 The Promised Messiah wrote a pamphlet entitled Haqiqat-ul-Mahdi, containing revelations as to the end of the case and published it before the case came for final hearing in the court of the District Magistrate of Gurdaspur. Some of the copies were distributed at the door of the court on the day of the hearing. The revelations foretold that he would be acquitted and that his opponent would be prohibited from issuing any more obscene literature against him. The judgment of the case was exactly in accordance with the prophecies, and so greatly impressed those who had, only an hour or two before, read the prophecies that even his Christian counsel, when questioned by an Ahmadi on coming out of the courtroom as to what turn the case had taken, replied that the prophecy of the Mirza had been fulfilled.
In January 1903, he had to appear at Jhelum to answer charges in two cases of defamation brought against him by Maulvi Karam Din. Both these cases were dismissed at the first hearing. At Jhelum, he was received with great enthusiasm by the public, and nearly one thousand persons entered into his baiat in a single day. Nearly a year before the charges were preferred and warrants issued, he had seen a vision, which was published in Al-Hakam in November 1901, to the effect that warrants would be issued against him but that ultimately he would be acquitted. After the institution of the criminal proceedings against him it was again revealed to him that the prosecutor would be discomfited and that he would be discharged. This revelation was published in Mawahib-ur-Rahman, which was then in the press, and the book was published and circulated three days before the case came for hearing, as the title page shows. On the very day of the hearing, the book was distributed freely in the court compound. The fact of the publication of the book before the hearing of the cases was attested by the complainant himself in a later case which he brought against the Promised Messiah on the basis of certain words used in the prophecy mentioned above. The judgment of the court was delivered two days after the first hearing, and it established the truth of the prophecy in a wonderful manner.
During the latter part of the year 1903, he had to appear several times at Gurdaspur in connection with another defamation case brought by the same complainant who had failed at Jhelum. On account of the academic discussions to which it gave rise, the case was protracted for nearly eighteen months. For about five months it had a daily hearing, and during that time Ahmad had to take up his residence at Gurdaspur. This case also ended in his acquittal on appeal. Regarding the end of this case the first revelation was that a victory would be granted like the victory of the day of Hunain, in which battle the Muslim forces were first defeated but they soon afterwards recovered their position and routed the enemy. Another revelation the Promised Messiah received at Gurdaspur on the day of the first hearing of the case was:
“I will honour you after your disgrace.”
Before the filing of this case, one of the followers of the Promised Messiah had filed a defamation case against the complainant in the other case. Regarding the end of these two cases he published a prophecy on 29th June 1903, about eighteen months before the final judgment in them was declared. In this prophecy it was foretold that he would be acquitted while his opponent would be punished in the case against him. The judgment of these cases was in accordance with these prophecies, for the lower court adjudged the Promised Messiah to be guilty of the charge brought against him, but the court of appeal established his innocence, while his opponent was punished.
Thus, during the eight years, 1897 to 1904, a great part of his time was taken up by the various cases in which his opponents tried to involve him criminally, but in all of which they signally failed.
It will be seen that in all these cases he was the defendant. In only one case he appeared as a plaintiff and that was a civil case. There too he was successful. In 1900 the way to his mosque and house was obstructed by certain of his relatives, and it was then under compulsion that he resorted to a civil court of justice for redress. In short, there is not a single case, civil or criminal, in which he did not come out successful, or in which his enemies achieved their object.
Visits to Important Cities:
After that, he again paid visits to certain important towns to remove the misunderstandings created by false propaganda against him. He first went to Lahore, in September 1904, and there delivered a lecture to an audience of over ten thousand people of all classes and creeds. After that, in November 1904, he went to Sialkot where he delivered the famous lecture in which he explained his mission to the Hindus, stating that the Hindu prophecies relating to the advent of a reformer were also fulfilled in his person. The underlying idea was clearly the unification of all the great nations of the world. Almost every nation expected the advent of a reformer in the latter days, and the fulfilment of the hopes of all nations in one person was certainly the best means of unifying them.
In October 1905 he went to Delhi where, in private gatherings, he spent about two weeks in explaining his mission. On his way back from Delhi, he stopped at Ludhiana and Amritsar and delivered lectures at both places. The lecture at Amritsar had, however, to be curtailed, owing to the interference of some fanatics, and the mob outside pelted him and his companions with stones as they left the lecture-hall. His last journey was again to Lahore, in the closing days of his life in April 1908, where he breathed his last in May in the house of Dr. Syed Muhammad Husain Shah in Ahmadiyya Buildings. For about a month, he continued at informal meetings to explain his position to the gentry of Lahore and to other visitors. The late Mian Sir Fazl-i-Husain, who was then practising as a barrister in Lahore, attended one of these meetings and asked him pointedly whether he did or did not denounce as kafir all those Muslims who did not accept his claims, and he gave a categorical reply in the negative.2 At several meetings he explained that he laid no claim to prophethood, and that in his writings he had used that word in only a metaphorical sense, to imply one who made a prophecy, in which sense it had previously been used by the great Muslim Sufis.
Scope of Writings:
In the midst of all this distraction, worry and harassment, and in spite of the persecution, which sometimes took a very serious form, he went on wielding his pen with incomparable facility and added seven thousand pages of very valuable literature to the eight hundred pages written in his earlier life which had gained him the reputation of being the greatest religious writer of his time. The value of this achievement is, however, immensely enhanced when it is realised that it deals with almost all the important religions of the world — with all the offshoots of Hinduism, such as Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Sanatan Dharm and Sikhism; with Buddhism, Judaism and Bahaism; with all the prominent sects of Islam such as the orthodox, the Shias, the Kharijites, the Ahl Hadith and others; and last but not least with Christianity which was his most important theme. He fought even against Atheism and Materialism.
The immense variety of the subjects dealt with is not, moreover, the only distinguishing feature of Ahmad’s religious literature. It is the originality and thoroughness with which he handles every topic that marks him out as the greatest religious writer of his time. Entirely fresh light was thrown on many Islamic subjects. Islam’s outlook on religion was most liberal, and the Holy Quran laid down in precise words that prophets had appeared among all nations; yet the Muslims recognised the Divine origin of only the Jewish and Christian religions. It was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who laid stress on the point that every religion had a Divine source, though its teachings may have undergone corruption in its later history, and that Divine revelation was, according to the Holy Quran, the experience not of one nation but of all nations of the world. Again, it was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who showed that, though Islam recognised the termination of prophethood in the person of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, it did not mean that God had then ceased to speak to His righteous servants, because speaking is an attribute of the Divine Being and it can never cease to function. Similarly, Ahmad threw new light on the conception of jihad, which was mistakenly supposed to mean “the killing of an unbeliever who did not accept Islam”. This he showed to be an entirely mistaken view. Jihad, he showed, in the first place, conveyed the wider significance of carrying on a struggle in any field, in the broadest sense, and the struggle required for carrying to the whole world the Divine message contained in the Quran was the greatest of jihads — “jihad-an kabir-an”, according to the Holy Book itself. War against the unbelievers was only one phase of jihad, and it was allowed, he further showed, only when it was defensive.
Lecture at Conference of Religions, Lahore:
Such abstruse problems as those relating to the next life, heaven and hell, reward and punishment, resurrection, the physical, moral and spiritual conditions of man, and a number of other similar matters were discussed with a freshness and originality which drew words of praise from some of the greatest thinkers of the time. He dealt fully with all these subjects in a lecture delivered at the Conference of Religions, held in Lahore in December 1896, to which a mixed audience of all religions listened with rapt attention for two days.
Ahmad was desirous of bringing about an agreement between the advocates of various religions as to the future spirit of religious controversy so as to make it least offensive to the feelings of others by the observance of certain rules in advancing objections against other religions or by utterly omitting such objections. It was for this reason that he proposed a conference of the different religions, but though the proposal was not met with acceptance from other religious leaders, the object he had in view was brought about a year later through the efforts of a Hindu gentleman, and a great religious conference was held at Lahore in December 1896. Five questions were set for solution by the representatives of different religions. Several days before the conference, Ahmad published a revelation to the effect that his paper would surpass all others in merit and excellence, and the announcement containing this prophecy was distributed beforehand. When his paper was read out by Maulvi Abdul Karim of Sialkot, one of his leading disciples, the whole audience in one accord admitted its superiority over others. The reports of the conference published in different secular newspapers, including the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, all agreed as to its excellence. His paper was written on altogether uncontroversial lines, making no criticism of any other religion.
Later, that lecture was translated in the Review of Religions, and when that journal was sent to Count Tolstoy he replied that he was deeply impressed by the originality of the writer. That lecture has to this day been recognised as the most powerful exposition of the teachings of Islam.
Universality of Divine Revelation:
In his criticism of other religions, he was equally original and forceful. Take as an example his discussion of the different offshoots of Hinduism. To Brahmoism, which denied revelation from God, he offered his own religious experience, claiming that not only did God speak to different nations of the world through their great sages and prophets in the past (which established the fact that Divine revelation was the universal experience of all nations of the world), but also that speaking was an attribute of the Divine Being and that He spoke even now as He spoke in the past, Ahmad himself being a recipient of Divine revelation in this age. The idea of the universality of Divine revelation was, however, carried to its furthest limit when it was further explained that in its lowest form — in the form of dreams coming true and of visions — it was the universal experience of humanity.
Another modern Hindu reform movement, the Arya Samaj, arose as a revolt against Hindu idolatry and against its millions of gods, but it was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who pointed out that polytheism and multiplicity of gods was an idea so deep-rooted in Hinduism that even the Arya Samaj could not get rid of it, and that the doctrines of co-eternity of matter and soul with the Divine Being, and the belief that they were uncreated and self-existent like God Himself, were remnants of polytheism. On Sikhism, a three hundred years old Hindu sect, he shed entirely new light by showing not only that its conception of Divine Unity and its other fundamental religious ideas were taken entirely from Islam, but also that its founder, Nanak, was actually a Muslim.
Death and Crucifixion of Jesus:
It was, however, in the sphere of his controversy with Christianity and in questions relating to the death and second advent of Christ, matters over which hung a pall of great mystery, that Ahmad showed masterly originality and thoroughness. Muslims and Christians both believed that Jesus Christ was alive in heaven. The former held that he was taken up alive just before the crucifixion and that his semblance was thrown upon someone else who was taken for Jesus and crucified in his place. The latter believed that Jesus himself was crucified but that he was raised to life on the third day after crucifixion and then taken up to heaven. Both further believed that he would come down to earth again before the Resurrection and destroy the Anti-Christ. The mystery surrounding Christ’s death was solved by showing that, although he was nailed to the cross, he did not remain on it for a sufficiently long time to expire, that he was then taken down alive and placed in a spacious room where his wounds were attended to, that by the third day he had recovered and gained sufficient strength to be present at a secret meeting of the disciples, that he then left for Afghanistan and Kashmir where the ten lost tribes of Israel had settled, and that he ultimately died a natural death at the age of about a hundred and twenty years in Srinagar, where his tomb is still known as the tomb of Yus Asaf.
This was quite an original solution of the mystery hanging over the crucifixion and the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus Christ. Every link in this long chain of fresh facts was established on the basis of the Holy Quran and Hadith, of the historical elements contained in the Gospels and of other historical, ethnological and geographical evidence, which undoubtedly required immense research work. While the mystery relating to the crucifixion of Christ was thus solved, the central assumption that Jesus took away the sins of the world by his death on the cross, on which rested the whole structure of Church Christianity, was thus demolished at one stroke, and it was shown that the historical elements in the Gospels belied the religious doctrines attributed to them.
Advent of Messiah and Mahdi:
A still deeper mystery hung over the second advent of Jesus. This subject was rendered the more complicated by its association with many others, such as those relating to the Anti-Christ, Gog and Magog, the coming of the Mahdi, the rising of the sun from the West and so on. Ahmad’s solution of this mystery was also original. The second advent of Jesus Christ was to be taken in exactly the same sense as was the second advent of Elijah before him, which Christ himself had explained as signifying the advent of one in his spirit and power. It was a very simple explanation, yet it had never occurred to any Christian or Muslim thinker before him. The explanation of the coming of the Mahdi was also original. The Mahdi was no other than the Messiah, an idea which had never previously occurred to any Muslim in spite of the Prophet’s hadith which had plainly stated that there was no Mahdi but the Messiah.
These matters having been settled, the Anti-Christ had next to be discovered. In this case too, he was original. In the Hadith, the Dajjal was clearly spoken of as coming forth from a church, and this gave Ahmad the clue to his discovery. The Church had indeed represented the teaching of Christ as just the opposite of what it actually was, and therefore the Church was the real Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ being identified, there was not much difficulty in discovering the Gog and the Magog. These were the two great races, the Teutons and the Slavs, who, as represented in this age by the English and the Russians, had become predominant in the world. The rising of the sun from the West meant, in symbolic language, the sun of Islam, whose shining in the West was bound up with the second advent of Christ. The West proper had remained unaffected by the message of Islam; it was through the Promised Messiah that the Anti-Christ had to be vanquished and the way opened for the propagation of Islam in the West.
The Review of Religions:
All these great truths were not the laborious discoveries of a great scholar which should have taken years, though a scholar Mirza Ghulam Ahmad undoubtedly was; they blazed in upon his mind suddenly through Divine inspiration, when he was required to proclaim that Jesus Christ was dead and that he himself was the Messiah whose advent was promised in the latter days. Nor were these just the visions of a great seer. These were the grand realities, the realisation of which was the great aim of Ahmad’s life. Therefore, in the midst of all those occupations and harassments to which reference has been made above, he laid with his own hands the foundations of the work of carrying the message of Islam to the West. The Review of Religions, a monthly magazine in English, was started in January 1902. It was the first religious magazine in English to deal with Islamic matters, and it was conducted on rational lines which appealed equally to enlightened Muslims and to non-Muslims, and was well-suited for presenting Islam to the Western mind.
The following judgment of this paper is from the pen of a very hostile writer, H.A. Walter:
“One of the cleverest of Ahmad’s followers, Maulvi Muhammad Ali, M.A., LL.B., was called to the editorship of this periodical, and at one time he was assisted by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din … This paper was well-named, for it has given its attention to a remarkably wide range of religions and to a great variety of subjects. Orthodox Hinduism, the Arya Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj and Theosophy; Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism; Bahaism, Christian Science and Christianity have all received attention, as well as Islam in all its ramifications, both ancient and modern, such as the Shiites, Ahl-i-Hadis, Kharijites, Sufis and such representative exponents of modern tendencies as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Syed Amir Ali.”
The Review of Religions had thus become the mouthpiece of the Ahmadiyya movement both for removing the misconceptions that prevailed against Islam and for making a comparative study of religion. It was a preliminary step for carrying into practice the grander ideas of establishing, in the West, Muslim missions for the propagation of Islamic literature, and of translating the Holy Quran into European languages, ideas to which Ahmad himself had given expression as early as 1891 when he claimed to be the Promised Messiah, but which were carried into effect only after his death. The translation of the Holy Quran was taken in hand within a year after his death, while the first Muslim mission in Europe was established three years afterwards.3 These were the natural developments of the lines on which Ahmad led the movement. He had nothing to do with the minor sectarian differences among the Muslims, and prepared a band of devoted followers for the spiritual conquest of the West. The seed was sown, the men were prepared who should take care of the tender plant, and the time had come for the master to depart.
- The prophecy itself was fulfilled within a few days of its publication. Maulvi Muhammad Husain believed in a Mahdi who would convert the world to Islam by means of the sword, but in a paper in English, and meant for the government, he expressed the view that the Hadith reports relating to the coming of a fighting Mahdi were all open to question and unauthentic. This paper reached the Promised Messiah and one of his followers undertook to obtain a verdict from the Maulvis as to a person who held such a view about the Mahdi. They unanimously declared that such a person was a heretic and applied to him all those epithets of abuse which at one time they had applied to the Promised Messiah at the instigation of Maulvi Muhammad Husain himself. Thus was Muhammad Husain brought to disgrace, his humiliation being similar to that which he had tried to bring upon the Promised Messiah. ↩
- About four years earlier, the same question had been put to him at Sialkot by Mian Sir Fazl-i-Husain who was then practising there. At that time, Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal also was present, and about two years ago, he bore testimony in a letter written to a friend that the same reply was given then. (Editor’s Note: “Two years ago” refers to 1935. For further details of Iqbal’s testimony, see Maulana Muhammad Ali’s booklet Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s Statement re: the Qadianis.) ↩
- Editor’s Note: The reference is to the English translation of the Holy Quran with commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali, the first edition of which was published in 1917, and the establishment of the Woking Muslim Mission at Woking in England by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in 1913. ↩