Verdict of History
by Masud Akhtar Choudry
The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is now about a century old and a century is long enough for history to record its verdict on the achievements or failings of a movement.
The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, a staunch believer in the superiority of Islam over other creeds, meant to revolutionise the Islamic world by and through the Ahmadiyya Movement and thus paved the way for the re-emergence of not only the Muslim world but also of all other Afro-Asian nations. If he was not born, or in other words, if the Ahmadiyya Movement was not there, the process of the liberation of Asia and Africa from the colonial yoke would have been lamentably slow and the geo-political map of the world would have been much different than as we see it today.
In order to ascertain the impact of a revolutionary movement it is necessary to look through the conditions obtainable immediately before or prevalent at the time when that movement was founded. A revolutionary mind reacts and starts its struggle for changing these obtainable conditions for the betterment. Thus a study of the background, in which a movement is founded, is a mirror wherein the impact made by this movement on the history of a nation or mankind as a whole is visible. The Ahmadiyya Movement, being essentially and basically a religious movement, a study of the historical background with special reference to religion in which Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founded his movement is warranted.
Glancing through the history of Europe we find that the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution changed the fate of European nations, which later emerged as colonial powers of Europe. The French Revolution broke out in 1789 and, as a result of this revolution, administrative reorganisation was brought in the affairs of the state which set the pattern for the rest of Europe to follow in the coming years.
One of the most important changes was the introduction of a constitutional provision about the Church and its functionaries, which is known as the Civil Constitution of Clergy. As a result of this constitutional arrangement, all the property of the Church was nationalised and the control of the Pope over the Church was finished. The Church was thus virtually turned into one of the departments of the Government. All persons concerned with the administration of the Church were declared as Government employees and their salaries were to be fixed and paid by the Government. According to a Decree passed in December 1790, all the bishops, priests and all other ecclesiastical functionaries were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Civil Constitution of Clergy.
England is one country which had been fighting against France as a result of rivalry for supremacy in Europe and at sea. It had nationalised the Church much earlier than the French Revolution. During the reign of Henry VIII, complete severance of relationship with the Pope had taken place and the Church of England was founded. The King, under the constitution of England, is the head of this Church and he, in exercise of these powers, signs and decrees the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the chief functionary of the Church of England. Thus it is evident that the state control of the Church, which was achieved in the rest of the Europe after the French Revolution, had in fact been introduced in England much earlier during the reign of Henry VIII.
After the French Revolution and the war between France and Austria in 1792, Napoleon came to power in France. During Napoleon’s time, an agreement commonly known as the Concordat was signed in 1802. The main provisions of this agreement were:
- Religious freedom was to be guaranteed to all, provided it did not endanger public order.
- The Roman Catholic faith was to be recognised as the religion of the majority of Frenchmen but other faiths were also to be given equal rights and privileges. No restrictions were to be imposed upon conversions, and citizens were allowed to join any Church or creed they desired.
- The French government was to retain its control over the appointments of Church officials. It was also to be responsible for the payment of their salaries, etc. All existing bishops and other officials were to submit their resignations and the French Government was to make fresh appointments. After that, they were to be communicated to the Pope who could disagree with any appointment but he had to communicate to the French Government his reasons for such a disagreement. The French Government, however, reserved the right to disagree with the objections raised by the Pope and in such a case the decision of the Government was to stand as final.
As is evident from the above clauses, in spite of this agreement, the Church remained virtually a department of the State.
Since almost the whole of Europe lay at the feet of Napoleon, wherever he went, these reforms were introduced and a few countries, for example, Belgium, are still retaining this, or other constitutional provisions of a like nature, even up to this date.
The principle that religion is a private matter for each individual and only incidentally a concern of the State, which later on was termed as Secularism, was also evoked by Napoleon in Europe. Previously there had always been, in nearly every European country, some sort of enforced union between the Church and the State and the Church had usually shared with the State important functions of Government such as the conduct of schools, administration of justice, power of taxation, etc. Napoleon deprived the Church of all these rights and brought it under the complete control of the State.
The Concordat lasted for a very long time in France and was abolished only in 1905 during the time of the Third Republic when the law of separation of Church and the State was passed on 9 December 1905.
Emergence of Colonial Powers:
Napoleon was master of Europe till 1815 when he was defeated by the British. The period of 1815 to 1854 was one of comparative peace in Europe. It was during this period that, as a result of the Industrial Revolution and superior know-how, some of the European nations started the process of subjugation of Asian and African countries. England and France emerged as colonial powers. The conquest of India had almost been completed by the British during this period.
There were some wars during the period 1854–71. The Crimean War of 1854–56 was imposed on Ottoman Turkey by Russia under the pretext of the protection of holy places in the Ottoman Empire. After 1856, Russia turned to the conquest of Asian territories on and along its borders. In 1853, the Russian armies occupied Eastern Caucasus. In 1854, Turkistan and Chinkent [Shymkent] were captured by the Russian armies. Tashkent was occupied in 1855. After this, the Amir of Bokhara was defeated and his territories were occupied. Bokhara and Samarkand were occupied in the year 186l. In 1873, Kira, the last independent Khanate was also subjugated. After this, the Russian army advanced towards Hirat and Afghanistan, which ultimately brought in Britain — another European colonial power. The British Government felt that if Afghanistan was occupied by the Russian armies then a direct threat will be posed to one of its largest and richest colonies in Asia, namely India. Britain at that time was considered to be the superpower of the world; therefore, the Russian armies halted their march on the borders of Afghanistan on the call of the British Government. Thereafter the Russians declared war against Turkey on 24 April 1888. Conflicts between Russia and Turkey continued till the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I.
In Europe, Italy had been unified by 1870 and the Italian kingdom came into being in July 1871. Rome became its capital. An important factor was the abolition of the temporal power of the Pope.
Napoleon III tried to establish an overseas empire for his country. He was able to lay the foundations of a huge colonial realm which was later on to become the pride of the Third Republic. France strengthened its hold upon Algeria, increased her political and economic influence in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, and established bases in Senegal and Somaliland. It also began penetration into Indo-China and participated in the opening up of China. Jules Ferry, who is considered to be the most important and influential Prime Minister of the Third Republic in France, was a staunch supporter of the policy of colonial expansion. During his time France established her protectorate over Tunis, occupied French Congo and sent forces to Tonkin and Madagascar. Then Senegal, Guinea, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, the northern part of Congo and the Oasis of Sahara were occupied.
Britain had by this time obtained supremacy on Suez and Gibraltar. Sudan had also been occupied. Some other colonies in Africa had been established. India had fallen much earlier. Openings in China were being made and the British Empire had already extended to the Far East.
By 1880, the colonial powers of Europe had strengthened their hold militarily on most of their colonies. Physical or armed effort for throwing out the foreign rulers from India had failed in 1857. In Sudan, Mehdi Sudani raised arms for the liberation of his country in 1880. This too failed to achieve its objectives. Prior to it, similar efforts had already failed in Egypt. The failure of all these efforts at arms had resulted into increasing manifold miseries of the people of occupied territories. No doubt, all these efforts were most heroic, but later reprisals by the occupant powers found the people in these countries in miserable conditions.
After the complete subjugation of the people of the occupied territories, the time had come for the colonial powers to reap the fruits of their conquests. The armies had gone back to their barracks and it was time for other departments to play their role for ensuring the full benefits of the conquest and for laying strong foundations for the colonial rule. It was here that, amongst other departments, the services of the Church were marshalled in this direction.
Church in the Field:
Human history bears conclusive evidence to the fact that religion and religion alone is that inspiring force which draws human beings to an objective higher than the considerations of colour, race and nationalism. It knits them in an international brotherhood in such a manner that its members sacrifice all their geographical, racial, linguistic and national creeds at the altar of religious unity. For example, people of European governments and kingdoms, in spite of their internal rivalries, had fought as one army during the Crusades in Palestine. Not only did traditional enemies become allies during this period but they accepted to fight under the command of their otherwise arch enemy, simply for the sake of and due to the call of religion.
Similarly, whenever a Muslim government or country fell, Muslims all over the world felt the pinch of it.
The most recent example is that of the Jews. The hearts of Jews all over the world, whether in Asia, Africa, Europe or America, throb in unison with the Jewish government and people of Israel.
In fact, the impulse of religion is so strong that the idea of one world government, if ever it materialised, will be only through the domination of the world by one of the great religions. Although Communist thinkers had been claiming that Communism is international in its spirit, yet the events of the last decade or two have belied this claim. Communism has miserably failed in its claim to internationalism as almost all the Communist states have been relegated to their national amelioration and a race for achieving and reserving all benefits for their own nationals as against other people is going on.
As stated above, religion alone is the force which knits human relationship above racial, colour, linguistic and national considerations. This aspect of human history was fully clear to the thinkers and politicians of Europe. They had successful experience of this inspiring potential of the religion during crusades against Salahuddin of Palestine. They were aware that all other considerations become subservient to religious unity. It was for this reason that, after establishing colonies in Asia and Africa, they felt the need of converting the people of these colonies to their own faith — Christianity. This sentimental unity alone could guarantee the requisite base for the perpetual rule of the colonial powers on the people of their colonies. In order to achieve this objective, the colonial powers used the services of their Church department. It has already been shown in the foregoing pages that the Church was one of the departments of the governments of Europe working under the supervision and control of the respective government like all other government departments. Under this plan, priests and bishops by the thousands arrived in the occupied countries on a mission of conversion of the local population to the faith of their rulers. One after the other thousands of churches were built to house these Christian missionaries who started their operation with the aid of and in coordination with the civil administration set up by the rulers to administer the local affairs of the Government.
Simultaneously, these countries were flooded with literature on Christianity. Strangely enough during this period lots of literature originating from European Christian thinkers, educationists, historians and priests contained highly slanderous material against Islam. All sorts of insinuations were hurled against the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Not that these people did not have the sources of obtaining true and correct knowledge about the teachings of Islam or even about the person and life of the Holy Prophet, but all this was being done purposely. There were other religions too in Asia and Africa but this attack was directed only against Islam and its Founder. The reasons why Islam was purposely chosen to be made a target were both religious as well as political. Religious, because Islam was the latest in time even compared to Christianity and had in the past demonstrated its spiritual force and appeal by attracting the majority population of many countries in Asia and Africa. Political, because a large number of the countries of Asia and Africa occupied by the colonial powers of Europe were previously under the rule of Muslim governments and had a predominantly Muslim population. This population was to be converted to Christianity in order to achieve the objective of establishing a perpetual colonial rule, hence this literature for creating hatred against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. This plan had started working well and had in fact claimed thousands of persons in each country. The achievements of the Christian missionaries had stunned the local Muslim population. They were already in a state of complete ruination both economically as well as politically and they felt quite helpless against the propaganda of the Christian missionaries and were living under great frustration and humiliation.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his Contribution:
It was against this background that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born in the year 1835. During his early age he had seen Muslim States falling to the colonial powers one after the other. In the year 1857 he was about 22 years old and had witnessed the armed uprising by Indians against the British rule. He was feeling miserable like all other Muslims. His immense love for Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, made him weep during the night and pray to Almighty Allah for the re-emergence of Islam. He had witnessed the fate of armed conflicts with the colonial rulers and understood fully well that now conditions were not conducive for such an effort. The enemy had changed his tactics and had chosen a different battlefield. It was directed towards conquering the minds of the people. Insinuation, slander, hatred, distortion, etc., were his weapons. No organised resistance worth of name was being offered from any Muslim quarters. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad took stock of the situation and joined the battle.
Another crusade started, but this time the odds were much heavier than the previous one. Previously it was simply a matter of occupying a piece of land but now it was a challenge direct to the faith, to Islam itself. He took this challenge single-handedly. One man stood against the whole of the Christian world — against all the colonial powers — and around 1890 proclaimed in one of his earliest book, Fath-e-Islam:
“I have been raised to shatter the image of the Farangi.”
Again, in his epoch-making book on the comparative study of religions, viz., Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, he advanced strong irrefutable arguments in favour of Islamic teachings comparing them with the teachings of Christianity and other religions. And then in his book, Taryaq al-Qulub, he emphasised the need of countering the slanderous attacks on Islam in these words:
“Every sensible and judicious person can easily follow this simple point that the Reformer (Mujaddid)is raised to fight against and destroy the most dangerous evils prevalent in his time. In this troubled age when people all around are falling prey to the poisonous teachings of Christianity, the greatest work of the Mujaddid should be to save the future generations of the Muslims from the effects of the poisonous propaganda of Christianity and to establish beyond doubt the superiority of Islam. This being the duty of the Mujaddid of this age, he has been named in the heavens as the Crumbler of the Cross.”
Here was one man waging his war all alone. In spite of heavy odds, he continued fighting. Only God was with him. Then a few persons, who understood his call and the importance of his mission, gathered around him. Slowly the number increased to a few thousand, and he founded a Jamaat [Movement].
It is most unfortunate that while he was engaged in a crusade for saving the future generations of the Muslims from the offensive of Christianity, he did not receive any assistance from the ulama [clerics] of that time. On the contrary, we find that some of the ulama went even to the extent of joining hands with the Christians as against him. Unmindful of all of this, he continued to make his historic contribution till his death. He inflicted defeat after defeat on his Christian adversaries. Day in and day out he was busy delivering lectures, conducting debates and publishing books and literature wherein he portrayed and exposed hidden as well as manifest beauties of the teachings of Islam and the Quran. His major ambition in life was to blow to pieces the myth of Christianity and establish the superiority of Islamic teachings over all other religions.
His efforts were ultimately rewarded by the Almighty. The Christian missionaries lost ground. In him they found an adversary who not only rebutted all their baseless charges against Islam and its Founder but adversely launched severe attacks on the fallacious teachings of the Church. The onslaught of the cross had failed. No Christian missionary or priest dared answer his challenge so much so that by 1894 the future of the coming generations of Muslims had been fully secured. By this time, breaches in the enemy defence were visible. The Lord Bishop of Gloucester, John Ely Coat, in his presidential address to the Missionary Conference of 1894, admitted that a new style of Islam was confronting them in British India. It was strongly opposed to all those bad things in Islam on account whereof the religion of Muhammad (peace be upon him) seemed hateful to them. As a result, Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] was once again regaining greatness and glory. These new developments could be re-organised easily. That new Islam was not defensive in temperament but on the contrary had attained an offensive position and that the most unfortunate factor was that some of their European people were now inclined towards it.
By his scholarly writings and strong arguments, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had seen the inherent weaknesses in the teachings of the Christian Church. He was the first person in centuries who proved beyond doubt the superiority of Islam through a comparative study of the great religions of the world. No parallel is to be found in the history of about four centuries in this respect. No faith, no sect in any faith can point out a person of his calibre who had so completely established the truth of his religion by thoroughly mastering the teachings of his own religion as well as that of other great religions of the world. He was the first Muslim who had shown the beauties of Islam to the West and as a result of his efforts, Islam which was a target of severe attacks, which was painted as a religion of brutality and immorality, came to be regarded as a great religion of the world and great European scholars and intellectuals like Bernard Shaw admitted that Islam is the future religion of the world. Who was responsible for this change? Who worked for it? Is there anyone except Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib who can claim the credit of this change? Can anyone name some other person or organisation who accomplished this feat? His services in this behalf were fully recognised and acknowledged by his contemporaries in India.
It is an undeniable fact of history that it was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad alone, who had fought the battle with the Church and had ultimately inflicted defeat upon it.
Majlis-e-Ahrar was an organisation which was strongly opposed to Hazrat Mirza Sahib. In spite of this opposition, Chaudhry Afzal Haque, President, Jamiat-al-Ahrar, paid tributes to Mirza Sahib at page 46 of his book, Fitna-e-Irtadad aur Political Qalabazian, in unequivocal terms which reads as under:
“Before the formation of the Arya Samaj, Islam was a lifeless body devoid of any missionary spirit. Swami Dayanand’s misconceptions about Islam had awakened the Muslims for a while, but thereafter they went into slumber again as usual. No organisation for missionary purposes could emerge from other sects but only one person’s heart felt the pain of the indifference of the Muslims and he rose, gathered a small group around him, and set out for the propagation of Islam. Though Mirza Ghulam Ahmad could not keep himself above sectarianism, however, he infused that missionary zeal in his followers which is worth following not only by other sects of Islam but serves as an example by itself to all other organisations.”
At his death rich tributes were paid to him by friends and foes alike. In all these comments, editorials and articles his services in the propagation of Islam and in defeating the Christian Church found special mention. We quote hereunder from a few of these editorials and articles originating from papers and persons who were not his followers or else were against him during his lifetime.
In an editorial, the Editor of the newspaper, Sadiqal Akhbar, Rewari, India commented:
“Mirza Sahib, by his strongly persuasive speeches and magnificent writings, set at rest forever the baseless charges of the opponents of Islam by providing irrebuttable answers, and proved that truth always prevails. In fact, Mirza Sahib has rendered a most valuable service to the faith of Islam by discharging to the best of his ability the duty of defending Islam, therefore, justice demands that we should mourn the untimely death of such a strong-willed servant of Islam, helper of Muslims, a great scholar the like of which is not to be found again.”
The Aligarh Institute Gazette wrote:
“Indeed he was a great stalwart of Islam.”
Mirza Hairat Dehlvi, Editor, Curzon Gazette, Dehli, who was an opponent of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, wrote:
“The services which the late Mirza Sahib rendered to Islam against the Aryas and the Christians are worthy of great praise. He changed the complex of religious debates and laid the foundations of modern literature on religion in India. Being not only a Muslim but a research scholar, I admit that even the greatest of Aryas or the greatest of Christian priests dared not open his mouth against him. I have not seen till this date an answer or reply to the exemplary books written by him against Aryas or Christianity and the irrebuttable answers provided by him to the objections of the opponents of Islam.”
Maulana Abdullah Al-Ammadi, Editor, Vakil, Amritsar, contributed an article under the caption, “Death of a Scholar,” wherein amongst other tributes he wrote:
“The death of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib of Qadian is not such a matter that we do not learn a lesson from it and sit aside with patience leaving it to the pages of history for forgetting it. Such people who create a revolution in intellectual and religious circles are not often born. A few sons, who are the pride of human history, are born and when they appear they accomplish a revolution.
In spite of differences with a few of his claims and beliefs, the death of Mirza Sahib has made the educated intelligentsia of Muslims feel that one of their great men has passed away, and with him, that glorious chapter of defending the faith of Islam, which was symbolised with his person, has come to an end. His great quality that he had been discharging the duty of a victorious General against the opponents of Islam compels us to admit that that great movement which rendered our enemies helpless and ineffective should continue, if bad luck does not befall us, from a united platform with a sense of collective responsibility based on the principles of Islam.
Mirza Sahib appeared in the vanguard of that body of lovers of the faith who offered this sacrifice for the sake of Islam. They, from birth till death, in thick and thin, sacrificed all that they had at the altar of faithfulness and call of their beloved God.”
It is abundantly evident from the above that Hazrat Mirza Sahib was considered by his contemporaries as a great stalwart of Islam who had taken the teeth out of the offensive launched by the Christian Church against Islam. Not only did he save future generations of Muslims from the poisonous propaganda of the Christian missionaries but he launched an offensive against the Church and carried the battle to its homelands as was admitted by the Archbishop of Gloucester in his speech quoted earlier. He had thus put the enemy on the run and had thwarted the plan of the European colonial powers for the conversion of the people of occupied lands to Christianity to achieve the much-needed unity of thought for attaining a perpetual colonial rule. He had thus secured the future of the people of Asia and Africa. This crusade was continued by his followers after his death and during the last three decades Africa became the battlefield. It is again an undeniable fact that for a long time only Ahmadi missionaries were confronting the Christian efforts at conversions in Africa. The much larger number of people in Africa embracing Islam as against those claimed by Christianity speaks volumes of the truth about the success achieved by the followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Now, when even Islamic States have entered this arena, can they, or, for that matter, any other Jamaat or organisation claim even one tenth of this number?
The Church had been routed only by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers and, as a result, it lost its sting. The contradictions in the teachings of Christianity were so ably portrayed and manifestly exposed by Hazrat Mirza Sahib that when these became known to the very followers of the Church in Europe and America they stopped taking the teachings of Christianity seriously. A large number of people in these countries have now completely abandoned religion.
The background and the historic role played by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad having been explained, we are now in a position to take stock of the foregoing studies and draw proper and correct conclusions therefrom. It is evident from history that the philosophy of the statesmen and thinkers of the European colonial powers for achieving a sentimental unity with the subjugated people of the colonies through their conversion to the faith of the rulers was not baseless or wrong. If we glance through the recent history of Asia and Africa with special reference to the liberation movements in various countries of those regions, we find conclusive evidence to the effect that the Church or its followers in those countries did not take any part in these efforts for the liberation from the colonial yoke. On the contrary, we find that, very often, the Church in China, India, Indo-China and also in Africa was on the side of the colonial governments. After all, why did the Church and its followers behave in this manner? Why were they found on the side of the colonial forces? The answer is not difficult to find. The forces of the Church were inducted in these areas by the colonial powers for achieving the specific objective of converting the majority of the local population to the religion of the colonial rulers and thus to provide a base of sentimental unity for granting perpetuity to colonial rule. If the Church had sided with the revolutionary forces fighting for liberation, it would not only be illogical but would amount to defeating the very objective for which it was inducted into the field.
Had the Church been able to achieve its objectives or had it not been defeated at the hands of Mirza Sahib at the early stages of its induction in the colonies, the fate and future of Asia and Africa would have been much different than what it is now. By inflicting defeats upon the Church and by thwarting the efforts of the colonial powers of Europe at conversion of the population of colonies to Christianity, Hazrat Mirza Sahib played a historic role. He not only secured the future of the Muslims but also that of the people of Asia and Africa. Thus, he paved the way for the future revolutionary forces of Asia and Africa to play their destined role.
Let the people of Asia and Africa recognise their great saviour.